Hardcastle and McCormick: Virtual Season Four

It was the slow hour between the lunch and evening crowds at Duke’s, and they easily secured an isolated table on the broad patio overlooking the beach.  Towering royal palms fringed the dining area, providing welcome shade and a steady background clatter of fronds in the warm breeze.

When the waiter had returned with their orders the Judge and McCormick, seated opposite Noelani, looked at her expectantly.

“Alright,” she said.  “You wanted to know what’s Rossi’s problem.”  They waited, but instead of beginning she regarded them almost warily.  “You’re a retired judge, but you’re here as a tourist,” she said, as though recapping to herself.  Hardcastle nodded.  “What about you?” She looked at McCormick.  “Are you a judge?”

McCormick smiled.  “Not exactly.  But I’m in law school, and maybe someday I’ll have my sense of humor surgically removed, and then I can be a judge, too.”

"I see. Are you guys together?"

"Yes," Hardcastle said.

"No," McCormick said, kicking him under the table. "We're not together."

Hardcastle made a face. "What the hell are you talking about? We came on the same plane, we're in the same hotel, of course we came here together."

"Well, yeah, we came here together, but we're not together."

Hardcastle curled his lip.  "What’re you, oxygen-deprived from the flight?”

Noelani shrugged:  she attached no moral importance to the question.  "Whatever. Why Hawaii?"

"Because Hardcastle picked where we went last year. This year it was my turn, and I thought if we went to Hawaii we'd be less likely to spend our entire vacation eating bear meat and acorns."

"Wait'll you try poi," Hardcastle said.

"Acorns?" Noelani repeated.

"Yeah," McCormick said. "See, when Hardcastle picks where we go, we drive twelve hours to Fanbelt, Oregon, fly an airplane into the side of a mountain, get chased by psychotic nut job survivalists who want to kill us, and then spend the next month hiking back to civilization. Wearing pelts."

"Get over that," Hardcastle snapped.

"Eating acorns," Noelani said.

"Actually,” McCormick went on, somewhat carried away by the fact that she was making extended eye contact with him, “they're fantastic if you make 'em right. What you do is, you sauté them in butter and white wine, and just before they're al dente you add the cilantro. Of course, if you don't have any cilantro you can use moss, that's what we did, but moss has a smokier flavor that can be a little overpowering..."  Somewhere around his introduction of the moss it became clear to McCormick that if Noelani thought he was funny she was doing a remarkable job of hiding it, while Hardcastle was staring at him like he was impaired.  His patter limped to a halt.

"Ignore him,” Hardcastle said.  “What's the deal with you and the cops around here?"

"My sister," Noelani said. "My younger sister.  Kanai.  She died last year. Almost a year ago next month, in fact. The cops investigated it for a couple of months, but then they dropped it. They said it was an accident and they closed the case, but I know it was murder."

"How do you know that?" Hardcastle asked.

"Because her boss is an opportunistic creep who had a fourteen million dollar life insurance policy on her."

McCormick stared. "Fourteen million? Fourteen million dollars? Why would a boss have an insurance policy on an employee for so much? Why would a boss have an insurance policy on an employee for anything?"

"Because he's an opportunistic creep," Noelani said again. "Because that's how much money he wanted to end up with for himself. Because he's the kind who aims big. Pick one. If you're going to kill someone for insurance money, you might as well make it a lot of money."

“So the cops closed the investigation,” Hardcastle said.  “And they got a problem with you because…?”

“Because I know my sister’s death wasn’t an accident and I’m trying to prove it.”

“Wait a minute,” McCormick said.  “When you say you ‘know’ it wasn’t, are you saying you have some kind of evidence and the cops won’t act on it?”

She looked away.  “No.  I don’t ‘know’ in the sense of having hard evidence.  They probably would do something if I did,” she admitted.  “But if you put the pieces together they all point to a really tempting motive.”

“Tell us,” Hardcastle said.

“You’ve heard of InvestTech?”  Blank looks from both men.  “It’s a hedge fund.  Our father co-founded it.  It made him very, very rich.  After our mother died, our father set up trusts for my sister and me, but Kanai was always kind of wild, and he set hers up so that she couldn’t touch it until she turned 40.  Well, she was always desperate for money.  She liked to party and buy expensive things, and she ended up with a bad crowd, because that's where the money and excitement were. She used to tend bar at a club near here.  It’s popular with tourists—well, with single male tourists, anyway. She was pretty and outgoing and popular, and she got involved with this guy Carson—J.B. Carson—and ended up working for him."

Hardcastle blinked. "The real estate guy? Carson Real Estate Group? That Carson?"

Noelani stared at him in surprise, but McCormick made a "here we go again" gesture and said, "He knows everybody. It's his thing."

"I read about it in the papers, that's all," Hardcastle said. "I don't remember a lot of the details except that it was a classic STOLI case."

"STOLI?" McCormick repeated.

"Stranger-originated life insurance," Hardcastle said, and off McCormick’s blank look he elaborated,  “It’s insurance law.  You’re not there yet.  You get a guy, he gets a group of outside investors together, and they get someone to take out a multi-million dollar life insurance policy on themselves.  The investors buy the policy and pay the premiums, and they make themselves the beneficiaries of the policy.  They're basically betting on when an insured person's gonna die."

"That cannot possibly be legal," McCormick said. "Isn't that a really good motive for murder?"

Hardcastle looked at Noelani. "He's smarter than he looks.  Yeah:  most insurance companies won’t go for it if they know that’s what the policy is intended for, and a lot of states are making it illegal.  And it is a great motive for murder. I'm surprised the DA didn't push that a little harder. It's classic. You get people—usually some old codger—to take out big policies on themselves, then you buy the policies, pay the premiums, and collect when the person dies.  The insurance companies won't issue those kinds of policies because it violates ‘insurable interest’ laws that say a buyer has to be someone who’d rather have the insured person alive than dead:  a relative, usually.”  He drew himself up and recited from long memory:  “'A contract of insurance upon a life in which the insured has no interest is a pure wager that gives the insured a sinister counter-interest in having the life come to an end.’  Oliver Wendell Holmes, 1911.  I'm surprised the insurance company issued the policy in the first place."

"They didn't know," Noelani said. "They thought it was legitimate, that Kanai was taking it out. Carson helped her set up some bogus trust: the 'Kanai Eperona Insurance Trust,' they called it.”

“‘Kanai Eperona?’” McCormick repeated.  “You and she didn’t have the same last name?”

“Kanai was furious when our father put the trust out of her reach.  She had her last name legally changed to our mother’s maiden name,” Noelani said.  “Anyway, this trust was supposed to be the beneficiary. The insurance company says Carson never told them that Kanai signed a document making Carson Real Estate Group the beneficiary and owner of the trust. Kanai told them that she just wanted the policy for personal estate planning when she applied, or they never would have issued it."

"That's probably true," Hardcastle said. "Rich people to set up trusts for tax reasons all the time, but most places won't issue a STOLI to the trust if they know that's what it’s for: it's damned near guaranteed they're going to have to pay out on it."

"Well, they filed suit to get out of paying," Noelani said. "Carson denies that he gave the insurance company false information and he's countersuing because he says he made the premium payments in good faith. He says he believed that Kanai was an important employee in his company and that the policy was legitimate because he bought it in good faith."  Noelani shook her head. "The cops looked into it for a while, but when the ME came up with accidental drowning as the cause of death, that was the end of it.  He said it was 'asphyxia by drowning with acute ethanol intoxication as a contributing cause.'  That was enough to make the DA back off. He said it was too iffy, too hard to prove that she didn't drown accidentally because she was drunk."

"Tell us what happened," McCormick said.

Noelani took a deep breath and began. Kanai tended bar at a club called Blue Hawaii. The club was popular with tourists, especially middle-aged and older men who had  some money. Carson liked to hang out at the club, too, because these same middle-aged and older men with some money were interested in, or could be brought to be interested in, investing in Hawaiian real estate either singly or in partnerships. In spending so much time at the club Carson naturally came into contact with Kanai. She was pretty and outgoing and vivacious, and she was wildly popular with the male tourists who frequented the place.  Carson realized how valuable she could be to his real estate business if she became the face of Carson Real Estate Group. They began dating, and within two months he had made her vice chairwoman and a director of his company, although she knew nothing of real estate.  Kanai started attending the board meetings of Carson Real Estate Group in November, 1983. Kanai being a top executive was a real stretch, since she never graduated college, but she far exceeded Carson’s expectations when it came to bringing the company new investors.  In exchange for her work Kanai got paid a lot of money which kept her in nicer clothes and faster cars than a bartender and Ivy League drop-out would otherwise have been able to afford.

In spite of the extra business she brought in, however, Carson Real Estate Group was having money problems.  Part of Noelani’s independent investigation into the case had involved doing due diligence on the company, and in poring through court filings and other public documents she learned that Carson and his various subsidiary companies were having debt problems, including pending claims for non-payment of credit card bills totaling more than $40,000.  Carson Real Estate Group was not only on the hook for the loan to pay for Kanai’s insurance premiums, they were being dunned by creditors.  In March of 1984, Carson took out the insurance policy on Kanai.

"Well,” McCormick said, “I can see why a $14 million payday looked good to him, but I still don't get why he took out an insurance policy on her in the first place.”

"It's called 'key man' insurance," Hardcastle explained. "She was helping him pull in these saps from the mainland into these real estate deals of his. They might have been legitimate deals; probably were. That made her valuable to the company, gave him a pretext for making that key man designation on the policy.  Only once he has the policy she becomes expendable, because now she's worth more to him dead than alive."

"Okay," McCormick said. "I see what's in it for him, if he's the beneficiary, but you said these...STOLI schemes usually target old people, right?  So why would you take out a policy on someone so young? How old was she?"

"Twenty-seven when she died," Noelani said.

"Twenty-seven." McCormick shook his head. "Man. But that doesn't make sense, Judge. If they're betting on when she dies, don't they have a really long wait?"

"Yeah, unless they give a little assist. That's why a STOLI is a motive for murder. Usually the insured person is much older, but either way, the sooner they die, the less the out-of-pocket for the investors, and the better their return."

"Investors," Noelani snorted derisively. "They're murderers."

"Did Carson get the money when your sister died?" the Judge asked.

"No. That's the only good thing about this whole mess. The insurance company figured out it's a crock, but the cops haven't," she added bitterly.

"Well," Hardcastle said, "to be fair to the cops, they can't do much if the DA won't do much. The DA won't do much if the ME hands him an ambiguous cause of death. He's not going to put his winning percentage on the line for something that the defense can shred in front of a jury. You said they listed alcohol as a contributing cause?"

"She was drunk," Noelani said bluntly. "I know that. She was partying with Carson the night she died. She still worked at the Blue Hawaii so she'd have access to new 'clients.' They were celebrating something, I don't know what. Maybe her one year anniversary being a corporate vice president," she said sarcastically. "He says she started to get a little too rowdy, even for that place, really drunk, and decided to take her home. They left about 2 a.m.—the other employees backed that up, and the owner of the bar remembered walking them both to the car—and he drove her home; she still kept her own condo, even while she was seeing him. He says he took her inside and left her on the living room sofa and told her to go to bed. He says that's the last time he saw her: alive in her living room.  The next day, when she didn't show up to go shopping with some of her girlfriends...they found her face down in the bathtub, drowned. She was still wearing her outfit from the party," she added, "so that was one more reason the ME listed it as an accident.”

McCormick shook his head. "I still don't get the insurance thing, Judge. What did Kanai get out of it?"

"Money," said Noelani. "Cash. She never had any money. She acted like she was rich; she would have been, if she'd lived.  But she spent like she had already inherited, so she was broke."

Hardcastle said, “The insured person in a STOLI gets an upfront cut of the eventual death payout."

"Morbid," McCormick said with an exaggerated shudder.

Hardcastle nodded. "That's probably how Carson convinced her to go along with his little arrangement."

"That's what I think," Noelani agreed. "Kanai was always short of money but she liked to live the high life."

"So let me get this straight," McCormick said. "Carson hires your sister because she can convince rich guys from the mainland to invest in his real estate business. He makes her part of the company and takes out a life insurance policy on her--"

"No," Hardcastle said. "He has her take out the policy on herself, using a trust she set up in her name. If he'd tried to take the policy out in his name the insurance company wouldn’t have signed off on it."

"But you said she didn't have any money," McCormick said, looking at Noelani, “so how’d she buy the policy?”

"They lied to the insurance company. They said that she had $14 million in assets and that she'd liquidate some to pay the annual premiums, but the premiums were something like $380,000 a year.  She didn't have forty thousand in assets, much less $14 million.  The trust Carson had her set up took out a 30-month loan to pay for the premiums. Well, the interest rate on that loan was 17% a year. It was costing him a fortune to make the payments on the premiums."

"So we're right back to a great motive for murder,” Hardcastle said.

"Yeah. And here's the other thing: Carson tried to sell the policy while Kanai was still alive, but when he couldn’t, he started trying to refinance it, instead. He was going to lose the policy to the lender, otherwise. The loan's due date was September 30, 1985. Kanai died on September 27, just before the deadline."

McCormick was still somewhat behind the power curve.  "Okay,” he said, “so Carson has Kanai set up a trust in her name, the trust takes out this insurance policy plus a loan to pay for it. Carson not only can't refinance the loan, giving him a motive to kill her and cash in on the policy, but he's going to win anyway if your sister dies as soon as possible. Have I got this straight?"

"You got it," Noelani said.

McCormick gave a low whistle.  "You know something?" he said, turning to Hardcastle. "I should have an answer to this, but I don't. I never have.  Don't you wonder why bad guys work so hard to avoid honest work? Seriously: if the guy was just an honest businessman, he wouldn't have to work half this hard, and now he’s under suspicion of murder, too."

"He's not under suspicion of murder," Noelani said, "except by me and my father."

McCormick shook his head. "And us."

"You guys believe me?"

They nodded.  "We not only believe you," McCormick said, "But we can help you get this guy, because what you don't realize is that this is your lucky day." He glanced at Hardcastle.  "These STOLI things work best with rich old guys, right?”  Hardcastle nodded. "Well, then," McCormick said to Noelani, "I’d like to introduce you to Mr. R. Codger, from Malibu, California.  The ‘R’ stands for ‘Rich.’"

"And his chauffeur," Hardcastle said.

"Chauffeur?" McCormick cried. "How come I always end up being your minion?"

"Because you're neither rich nor old," Hardcastle said serenely. "Besides, if you're not the minion, exactly what would you be doing? You think I'm going to do all the leg work while you sit on the beach sipping umbrella drinks?"

"Fine. But if I have to be the chauffeur, I want to be the chauffeur who's cutting in on your action."

"Fair enough. It would be a little hard to explain if you weren't."

Noelani was staring at them both. "What the hell are you guys talking about?"

McCormick grinned. "We're talking about putting Carson in the cooler for your sister's murder."

Hardcastle held up his hand. "Don't get too ambitious," he said. "We might get lucky with that, or we might not. It's going to be damned hard to prove that without a confession. But we can put some new bait in front of him and see whether he bites."

"Well," McCormick said confidently, "As a friend of mine once told me, 'Bad guys keep committing the same crimes over and over. They find something they like to do and they keep on doing it until they get caught.'  If this Carson guy killed your sister," he said to Noelani, "he's probably willing to commit murder again, especially since he thinks he got away with it."

"Hasn't he?"

"Not yet," Hardcastle said. "Maybe not ever."

McCormick said, "Can you act, Noelani?"

She narrowed her eyes suspiciously.  "Act like what?"

"Like arm candy. For an old rich guy."

She glanced at Hardcastle and considered.  "It's not really my style,” she said finally, “but if you guys think it will help put Carson away, I can act like arm candy."

"Good," Hardcastle said. "But you're also going to have to act like arm candy that's having a fling with the rich old guy's driver."

She hiked an imperious eyebrow at McCormick, who grinned placatingly at her. "What's in it for me, exactly?"

"An Oscar," Hardcastle said, "If you can pull that off without gagging."

"Hey!" McCormick protested, and Noelani laughed for the first time that day.

"You guys really think you can get Carson to try this on Mr. Hardcastle?" she asked.

McCormick considered.  "You said the insurance company is suing him, and he's suing them back?"


"We can get him to try it on Mister Hardcastle. You know how lawyers are: they cost a fortune. Carson will be even more desperate for cash now than he was before.  What I think we should do,” he continued, “is get a good night’s sleep, and in the morning get together and decide exactly how we’re going to attack this.”  He glanced at the Judge, who nodded.  “Can you meet us at the hotel tomorrow morning?  Or—you probably have to work, right?”

Noelani shook her head.  “I took a leave of absence so I could look into this full time.  I’ve been keeping track of Carson:  what he does, where he goes, how long he’s there, who he talks to…That’s why Wilks and Rossi think I’m stalking him.”

“What does Carson think?”

“He doesn’t know.  He doesn’t even know Kanai had a sister.  For one thing, we have different last names, and for another, I was out of the country when she died.  In Chile.”

“Chile?” McCormick was surprised into indiscretion.  “What were you doing in Chile?”

“I’m so sorry,” Hardcastle said.  “He has no manners.  You don’t have to answer that.”

She smiled.  “It’s fine.  I was in the Atacama—the desert in Chile.  I’m an astronomer.”  They both looked a little blank at that, and McCormick’s expression, at least, suggested that he was trying to sort out whether that implied looking stars or telling horoscopes.  “Astrophysics, actually,” she added.  “We study the physical and chemical properties of celestial objects:  stars, planets…you know?  I was in Chile doing an optical survey of galaxies in the Fornax Cluster and—but you don’t want to know about all that.”

“No,” McCormick said, “it sounds really interesting.  Just use really small words, okay?  All I know about stars is the ‘cusp of Libra’ and ‘Jupiter rising.’”

“In that case, maybe we should call it a day and meet up in the morning.  Is nine okay?”

Hardcastle nodded.  “That’s perfect."


Promptly at nine the next morning Noelani arrived at the hotel in a gleaming, midnight blue Mercedes Benz 560 SEL, the keys for which she handed to the valet.  McCormick, standing with the Judge at the top of the stairs leading to the lobby, gave a low whistle at the sight of it.  “Nice ride,” he said.  He was tempted to add something complimentary about her appearance—white shorts, a body-skimming pale blue t-shirt with an MIT logo on the front, and sandals—but her all-business demeanor told him that gallantry would be at the very least unwelcome, if not openly resented.  He kept his mouth shut.

“Thanks.  It’ll work for this, won’t it?  It’s the only one I have with a back seat.”

“It’s just right,” Hardcastle said.  “Come on:  breakfast is served.”  He led the way to the hotel’s beachside patio, where he and McCormick filled their plates with items from the buffet table.  Noelani chose a few pieces of fruit, but only picked at them:  it was clear that her focus was elsewhere.
“Those your notes?” Hardcastle asked, indicating the black three-ring binder she put on the table.

“Yes.  From the last six months.”

The loose-leaf pages inside were covered front and back with neat, closely-written observations of J.B. Carson’s movements:  when he left his house, when he returned, where he worked, when he arrived there each day, whom he saw and for how long—every possible detail of the man’s daily movements.

Hardcastle looked up from the binder.  “You put all this together yourself?”

She nodded.  “I wanted to see if there was a pattern there, something that would make me think, ‘Ah-hah:  that’s something I can take to the cops.’  But nothing ever did.  Maybe it only works in science, and not with scumbags.  Or maybe you can see something that I missed.”

McCormick inched his chair closer to peer at the notes.  “It looks like this guy spends most of his day at his office, like a legitimate businessman,” he said.  He looked up at Hardcastle.  “What if I take a look at that, and you see if you can get anything out of the notes?”

Hardcastle seemed agreeable.  “Sure,” he said.  “And I’ll see if I can’t find something that will make me look like a rich, mainland tourist.  Maybe a Rolex on each arm.”

“I want to help,” Noelani said.

McCormick considered.  “You said Carson doesn’t know you, right?  And he doesn’t suspect you of tracking him the last few months?”

“No way.”

“He wouldn’t recognize your car?”

“No.  I was usually on foot.  His office is downtown, and there’s always a lot of pedestrians around, so it was never hard to blend in.  And besides, it’s not like I was sitting outside his office with a telescope and a Thermos, you know.”

McCormick grinned.  “Great.  Then we’ll go together.   Judge:  meet you back here after lunch?  We’ll call if it’s going to take longer.”

“Sounds good.”

McCormick stood to leave, but Noelani stopped him, laying her hand on his arm and sending an electric jolt through him.  “Hey,” she said.  “Listen.  I want to thank you guys, both of you, for this.  You’re here on vacation, and instead you’re helping me spy on a creep.”

“Oh, you’d be surprised how many times creeps figure into our vacation plans,” McCormick said.  “Besides, Hardcase didn’t want to see the Polynesian Cultural Center again, anyway.”

Hardcastle grinned.  “Now you’re cookin’.”


Carson kept an office near Honolulu’s Historic District on Cooke Street in a mid-rise building shared by dentists, doctors, lawyers, and other white collar professionals.  A five-story glass and steel structure, the building was laid out in a U-shape with the open end of the U facing the street.  The interior of the U was a broad plaza with an elaborate, noisy fountain in the center which did a creditable job of masking the noise from the surrounding city.  Concrete benches and a virtual rainforest of tropical plants and trees surrounded the fountain.  Each wing of the office complex was accessed by its own set of huge double glass doors leading to a bright, modern lobby.  Noelani drove past the building, parked a block away, and they walked back to the complex.  On the way McCormick bought two coffees from a sidewalk vendor.  They found a shaded bench near the street with a clear view of the three wings.

With a discreet nod Noelani indicated the left-hand building.  “His office is in there,” she said.  “On the first floor.  If he’s in there, which he should be this time of day, he ought to be going to lunch any time now.”

McCormick checked his watch.  Eleven-fifteen.  “Kind of early, isn’t it?”

“He takes long lunches.  Besides being a criminal he’s a lazy---well, he’s lazy.”

“Where does he usually go for lunch?” McCormick asked.

“The same place he goes after work:  the Blue Hawaii.  He’s usually there until at least one, unless he has a live one and they come back here to his office or he takes some sucker to see a property.”

After some five minutes passed in silence McCormick reached his limit of restraint. “Hey, uh…it’s okay if you don’t want to answer, but…I was wondering:  what did you do to that guy on the beach?”

“I punched him.”

“No, I mean, what was that?  Was that karate?”

“Kung fu.  Mostly kung fu.”

“Get outa here.  Like ‘Kung Fu Fighting’?  Like that song?”

“Not that lame.   My parents thought we should be able to protect ourselves, at least a little--”

“A little?”

“—so they made my sister and me take at least a year of lessons.  Kanai quit as soon as she could, but I liked it.  I got my fifth degree black belt two years ago.  It was really my mother’s idea.  She knew chin na, which she learned from her mother, who was Chinese.”


Chin na.  It means ‘trap break.’”


“Yeah.  It uses leverage, not brute strength.  It was developed a long time ago by a Chinese woman.  That’s what I was doing to the guy’s wrist to keep him under control.  It only hurts if you fight against it.”


“I’ve never used it in real life before.  I mean, outside of testing for belts.  I don’t usually go around punching pickpockets.”

“It was fast.  One second the guy took a swing at you, and the next second he was on the ground.”

“I’ve had a lot of training,” she said, but she seemed reluctant to talk about herself and to forestall any more questions she said, “So…your friend’s a famous judge.”

“You say famous…bad guys say notorious.”

“And you’re a law student.”

“This fall will be my first year full-time.”

“So…you’re what, like his intern, or something?”

McCormick grinned at that.  “More like, ‘or something.’”

“What did Rossi mean when she said the Judge likes to ‘rehabilitate strays’?”

“Oh, you caught that, did you?”

“Detailed observations are my job.”

“Yeah,  I guess they would be.”  McCormick hesitated.  He had no concrete reason to expect that his liking and admiration for Noelani would ever result in any kind of payoff for him.  He was reluctant to reveal to her, as he was to most people, his checkered past, but he also felt obscurely that it was important for her to know.

He sighed.  “I had a car.  I had a girlfriend.  I had a lot of speeding tickets.  I put the car in her name, and when we broke up I took the car back.  She called the cops.  Hardcastle was the judge presiding over the case.”

“So your friend sent you to jail?”

“Two years.  He wasn’t my friend then.  He was doing his job.  Doing the law’s job, I guess. I was sore about it for a long time.  But now…It would be too Stockholm Syndrome to say it was a good thing, but I don’t know if anything less would have gotten my attention.  Maybe he knew that before I did.  Anyway, once I got out things were going really good until I ‘repossessed’ another car for a friend—long story—and I’d have spent a lot longer than two years in the can that time, if Hardcastle hadn’t offered me a deal:  help him take down some of his old cases, guys who beat the rap on technicalities, and get a get-out-of-jail-almost-free card.  Plus my own personal set of hedge trimmers.” 

“Well, you seem to have kissed and made up.  Metaphorically,” she added, seeing his consternation.

“Very metaphorically.  Extremely metaphorically.”

“You must have a very forgiving nature.”

He shook his head.  “There’s nothing to forgive.  There never was, but I wasted a long time being too stupid to figure that out.”

“Why law school?”

“Well, I’ve spent a lot of time involved with the wrong side of the legal system.  So…karmic balance?”  He smiled.   “Okay, how about this:  once I got over the idea that Hardcase and I were on different teams, I started to notice that it felt…I don’t know…good, I guess, or right, to see the bad guys take a fall.”

Noelani was studying his face intently.  Finally she seemed to reach a conclusion and said, “You wanted to be like your friend.”

“I wanted to do good, like him.  There’s a difference.  I mean, did you see that shirt he was wearing?”

Noelani smiled.  She sipped her coffee but as she glanced toward the office building her expression changed abruptly.  “That’s him,” she said grimly.

Two men were exiting the building together:  One was a tall, grey-haired man of nearly sixty, tanned and slim, wearing an expensive-looking charcoal-colored suit and a fat gold watch.  The  other was shorter, somewhat younger, and much more muscular.  He wore navy slacks, a button-down shirt, and a loosely-knotted tie, but he looked like he’d be more comfortable in gym clothes.

“Who’s the muscle?” McCormick asked.

“That’s Brian Toller.”


“Bodyguard, driver, gofer…whatever.  He’s got a criminal record as long as your arm:  assaults, that kind of thing.  He did a couple of years back in the 70s for stabbing a guy in a fight.  The guy lived,” she added, “or he’d probably still be in prison.”

“And this Toller sticks with Carson a lot?”

“Like gum on a shoe.”

Carson and Toller turned the corner and disappeared around the building, toward the parking garage next door.

“Come on,” McCormick said.  He tossed the coffee cup in a bin and headed for the building entrance.

“Aren’t we going to follow him?”


“Why not?”

“Well, for one thing, I don’t want him to see either of us yet, or the car.  For another, unless we catch him red-handed murdering someone, just watching him eat lunch isn’t going to tell us very much.  And third, I want to see what kind of security arrangements he makes.”  He stopped at the directory inside and scanned the list of names.

“You don’t need that.  His office is 107,” Noelani said.

“Okay,” McCormick said, but he didn’t move away.  Although he was facing the board and appeared to be reading it, he was carefully scanning the lobby.


“We have to look like visitors,” McCormick explained, “not prowlers.  But that should do it.”  He reached into his pocket for the coffee receipt. “Do you have a pen?”  He scribbled something on the receipt and returned the pen.  Noelani was looking at him like he was simple.

“It’s 107,” she said again.  “You don’t have to write it down.”

He showed her the receipt.  On it he had written the name of the doctor in suite 109, not Carson’s office number.  “That’s what we call in the trade a prop,” he said, and winked.  He led the way toward Carson’s office, moving slowly and indecisively and glancing now and then at the scrap of paper as though he was confused about his bearings.  Wide corridors led left and right off the lobby, lined on each side with offices.  He didn’t seem very interested in Carson’s office itself once they reached it and just gave the closed door a glance as they went by.

“That was it,” Noelani whispered.  “You just passed his office.”

“I know,” McCormick said in an undertone.  “Come on:  keep walking.”  He was much more interested in the next office they passed, the door of which was propped open.  He looked at the door handle from both sides—just a quick glance, one any observer would have put down as someone looking for signage.

“Have you been inside his office?” he asked as they continued slowly down the hall.

“No.  I didn’t want him to see me.  Why?”

“I was wondering whether all these suites are the same.  Same configuration, I mean.  Do they all have a reception desk like that dentist’s office?”

“I think so, but I don’t know for sure.”  Noelani said nothing else until they were out of the complex and walking back to the car.  Then she said, “What the hell was that all about?  What were you doing back there?”

“Yeah, sorry about that.  I wanted to see what kind of guy we’re dealing with, here.  What kind of security measures he takes, how his office is protected, how careful is he, how paranoid, that kind of thing.”

“Why?  Are you going to break in?”

He looked surprised.  “No.”

“But you could look for evidence.  Or I could,” she added, seeing his expression.

“No,” McCormick said emphatically.  “No, you can’t.  I can’t.”

“I thought you said you stole a car.  Now you don’t know how to pick a lock?”

“It’s a single cylinder deadbolt with a one-inch throw.  Of course I can pick the lock.  I mean I can’t legally.  If you want to get this guy and make the fallout come down on him, you have to keep your hands clean.  Besides, if you break the law you make yourself like him.”

“Like a murderer?  For breaking into an office?”

McCormick stopped and faced her, even taking the risky step of putting his hands on her shoulders.  Her expression suggested that she was considering resenting it, but ultimately she allowed it.  “Noelani:  I’m sorry.  I really am.  I know how hard this is for you, how frustrating it is to have to spend so much time trying to get at this guy.  I really do.  And this is kind of hard to explain, but...I've done that.  I've...'procured' evidence for Hardcastle that way. He didn't know I was going to do it," he added quickly, "or he'd have arrested me himself. But I did it a couple of times.  A few.  Several. But it wasn't right.”  He sighed.  “Look:  I used to think that he and I were on opposite sides. He was 'The Law' and I was the home team.  When I thought the law was stupid I'd break it right the hell in half. We weren't always on the same page about that, but we are now. "

Again she looked searchingly at him, studying his face as though she was trying see what he’d left unspoken.  "You don't want to disappoint your friend," she said at last.

“Not to save my life."

She considered a moment longer, then turned and continued toward the car, making him hurry to keep pace with her long strides.  “You’re like a reformed smoker,” she said.

He glanced sharply at her and realized with delight that she was teasing him.  “Hey,” he said.  “We got some good intel today:  we know the guy’s not a raving paranoid with world-class security.  And contrary to popular belief, most bad guys aren’t criminal geniuses, you know.  They’re morons.  They do a crime they like, or that’s easy for them, or both, and they keep doing the same thing over and over until they get caught.  If this guy got away with one insurance scam and murder, it’s probably because he’s done it before, and he’ll probably do it again.  All he needs is the right incentive, and we’re going to give it to him.”


Hardcastle was waiting for them in the hotel lobby.  McCormick groaned when he saw him.  “Okay, I know you didn’t leave the house with that.  I checked your suitcase before we left.”

Hardcastle looked down at his blue and yellow aloha shirt.  “Nah, I found this at the drugstore down the block.”

“You left the tag on,” McCormick said, plucking it off.  “Eight dollars?  You paid eight dollars for that?

“Nah.  They were having a sale:  three shirts for eight bucks.  Nice, huh?”

“I’ll give you eight bucks if you get rid of it.”

“Don’t worry, I got something for you, too.”  The Judge tossed a small paper bag at McCormick, who caught it and peered suspiciously inside.

“It’s a tie.”

“I see that.  I wasn’t planning to wear a tie on vacation.”

“Come on.  You can’t drive us around looking like that.  Noelani,” he said, turning to her, “Do you have something to wear that has ‘golddigger’ written all over it?”

She frowned.  “I kind of try to stay away from that look.  But I know where I can find something.”

The Judge glanced at his watch.  “It’s almost one now.  While you find something to wear, McCormick here can fill me in on your little reconnaissance mission.  Meet us back here at seven?  Then we’ll get the show on the road.”

Coming soon, on your local ABC station . . .
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