Over the next week, Gabriel and Sara spent six hours a day, three in the morning and three in the afternoon, practising martial arts. Gabriel’s kicking was getting better, and his punching was almost perfect. He and Sara even learned some defence moves.
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Steve taught them one of the easiest moves. He had Pete grab Gabriel’s arm and said, “Sometimes, the bad guys will grab you like that. Simply grab them by the wrists, and squeeze them as tight as you can. They won’t hurt you, and they’ll let go.”
“Although, when I grab bad guys by the wrists,” Pete added, “I usually hurl them over my head before letting go.”
Steve gazed at him and said softly, “Uh, Pete, they’re not strong enough for that.”
Gabriel didn’t delay. He clutched Pete’s wrists tightly until his hands turned red. Pete could feel his grip, and he let go of Gabriel when he could no longer take it.
“Geez, Gabriel, you sure have a death grip all of a sudden!” he exclaimed.
“It was all that punching I practised,” Gabriel replied. “It made my hands stronger.”
Two days later, the brothers went to fight one of Napoleon’s newest henchmen, who threatened to blow up a general store. It was Gabriel’s first real battle with his heroes. After Steve blasted all the weapons out of the henchman’s hand, Gabriel punched him hard in his stomach, while Ken hit him in the head. While he was clutching, Gabriel and Pete grabbed his legs and flipped him into the air.
Brent used his powers to make him stay in mid-air. Around him, boxes, cans and bags were flying off the shelves at the henchman. Moments later, he fell hard on the floor. Gabriel and the brothers turned him over on his stomach, and tied together his hands and legs. When they defeated their enemy, the brothers gathered around Gabriel and told him, “Nice job.”
Gabriel beamed. “Thanks, guys.”
The next day, the brothers read about the store fight in the newspaper. They read about Gabriel, and Brent said to him, “You should stay here in Marigold City, man. I think we could use you.”
Then, they noticed a disturbing story. Two police officers and a fire fighter had vanished mysteriously while they were at a house fire. Gabriel and Sara were horrified. Valerie read the article and asked, “What’s this all about?”
“It’s been going on for a while now,” Ken explained. “Police, fire fighters and local military have been disappearing out of nowhere. At least forty of them are gone now, and fifteen have disappeared since you got here.”
“Are there any clues?” Gabriel asked. “Anything they left behind.”
“Police have left behind notepads, pens, flashlights and guns,” Brent answered. “Fire fighters and the military left nothing. They’ve disappeared in different ways – sucked into strange gateways, going into small rooms and not coming out, holes that appear and disappear under their feet. One cop even vanished when he went through a wall.”
“Did you take this to Napoleon?” Gabriel asked.
“Every time it happened,” Pete answered. “He keeps saying he has nothing to do with it, that he doesn’t know anything. But we know he’s lying.”
“So far, we haven’t found a way to make him come clean,” Brent added.
Valerie whistled. “Then we’d better be careful out there.”
“Yes, we’d better,” Ken agreed.
They kept practising until the following Saturday. At one o’clock that afternoon, the brothers took Valerie, Gabriel and Sara to the trade section of the city.
“You know, guys, I find this really weird,” Valerie said. “I like this ad about the new gym, but I’ve never read anything about it in the papers lately.”
“Me neither,” Ken replied. “That’s why I still feel uneasy about this.”
“Come on,” Steve laughed. “If Vinnie Napoleon wanted to trap us, wouldn’t he come up with something more suspicious, like a fake sale at a made-up sporting goods store?”
“If you were opening your own gym, Steve,” Brent supplied, “would you really put it in the trade area?”
Steve thought hard about that. “You have a point there.”
Moments later, Ken parked the van outside a brown brick building. He checked the address again. 1897 Viscount Way. “This is the place,” he announced.
They all stepped out of the van and studied the sign. Hercules Gym, it read, with a banner under it that read, “Grand Opening.” Ken looked at the words, “Hercules Gym” on the ad again. The lettering matched that of the sign.
“Okay,” he said. “Maybe it could be real.”
They walked inside and saw a man at the front desk, smiling at them. He wore long blond hair down to his shoulders, and looked just like the Manhearts. He walked up to them and shook all their hands.
“Welcome to Hercules Gym,” he said. “I’m Hercules Atlas, the owner. You must be the Brothers Manheart. I hear you’re all into working out and staying in shape. Well, I have just the thing for you.”
Ken was looking at the man, studying his mass and long hair. It looked like he was wearing a body suit and wig. He turned to Pete and whispered, “Okay, now I’ve got a really bad feeling about this.”
The man led the group of seven into the workout room. It was a large training room – almost as large as their own gym – with all the equipment. Treadmills, exercise cycles, bench presses, weights, and everything else a training fan could ever need. The fluorescent lighting, and a wall that was covered with full-length mirrors, awed them.
“Wow, this is so cool,” Steve said, looking around. “Awesome!”
“This is heaven,” Pete sighed. He turned to Ken. “What do you think of this now? Still think it’s a trap?”
Ken looked around. “I don’t know. I’d look out for anything fishy if I were you.”
“Oh, Ken, stop it!” Sara scoffed. She and Valerie went to the step machines and started working out.
After a few minutes, the girls started to go faster. They started looking around the room, taking in everything they saw.
They looked over at the boys. Pete was practising some boxing-style punching with a small punching bag made of leather in a corner. Ken was running on a treadmill. Brent was busy adding weights to some dumbbells. And Steve was spotting Gabriel at the bench press.
“How’s it going over there, you guys?” Valerie called.
“Everything’s just great, thanks,” Steve replied.
The girls looked over at Ken. He looked relaxed on the treadmill. Sara asked him, “Hey, Ken what do you think of this place now? Not bad, huh?”
“I guess not,” he replied.
Valerie looked up at the fluorescent light facing her, and noticed something odd on the side. It looked like a small video camera. She got off her step machine and looked at the other lights. They all had video cameras on sides facing the equipment.
Steve was looking at her suspiciously. “What are you doing, Valerie?” he asked.
“You guys, look,” Valerie announced. “There are cameras everywhere in this room. I have this feeling we’re being watched.”
Meanwhile, in the back room, Napoleon and his henchmen were watching the gang on monitors. They laughed with delight, and Napoleon said quietly, “Oh, you bet you’re being watched.” He turned to the “owner,” who was really Terry the Terror; he had taken off his wig. “Terry, we have them where we want them. Why don’t you go out and send them to the mirrors?” Terry nodded, put his wig back on and left the room.
He saw Valerie run up to him. She pointed at the lights and asked, “What’s with all the cameras?”
“Security measures, miss,” he explained coolly. “We have expensive stuff here, and we want to be on the lookout for anyone who might steal.”
He looked at the whole gang and said, “Why don’t you all go to the mirrors and see how well you’ve done? I’m sure you’ve gained muscle and lost some weight.” He disappeared into the back room, while they were staring at themselves in the mirrors.
“Hmm,” Sara said, “I don’t think I lost any weight.”
“I think you’ve gained some muscle in your calves,” Valerie replied.
Suddenly, the air conditioning was turned up full blast. Everyone’s clothes were flapping around, and the girls could see their hair blowing in their faces. It was as if they were standing in a strong wind.
“What’s going on?!” Gabriel screamed. “We’re not outside!”
Suddenly, the mirrors began to open like sliding doors, revealing a blue gateway. The children and the Brothers Manheart were all blown into it. When they were all gone, the mirrors closed up, and the air conditioning stopped.
In the back room, Napoleon and his gang cheered wildly. “We got them!” Napoleon declared. “Now, with them gone, they won’t be able to stop us!”