“Now hold your arm out to the side, then raise it straight up, like this.” A slight, fair-haired man with 'Archie Pemble, Trainer' embroidered on the pocket of his polo shirt held his arm up pointing toward the ceiling.
Hardcastle grunted, then slowly moved his arm out then up. “See, nothing wrong. It's just a bruise, I'm telling ya.”
Pemble nodded, frowning. “I think you're right, but I'd still be happier if you got an x-ray.” He sighed at the judge shook his head emphatically. “Okay, your call. But we're still going to ice it and I want you to tell me if it starts to hurt any worse or stiffen up.” He looked at the manager, Brickman, sitting to one side. “Where was everybody when this happened?”
Brickman snorted. “The guys were on the field, even the scrubs. There was a presentation before the game – one of the old-timers – and there was nobody in the dugout or the clubhouse. I was going to be late, but nobody looks at the manager, anyway. Perfect opportunity, huh?”
“Yeah, but it clears the team.” The judge stood, slowly flexing his left arm and shoulder. “Unless one of them is working in cahoots with somebody else, we know they're not involved, so that's a help.”
“Well, I never suspected any of my guys anyway.” Brickman squinted at him. “So why take a shot at you? You find something out?”
McCormick burst into the training room suddenly. “Judge? What happened?” He took stock of the situation immediately and scowled in disgust. “I can't take you anywhere, can I?”
Hardcastle waved him off. “No big deal. In fact,” he paused thoughtfully, “I've been creamed by a baseball bat before and this was nowhere near as bad. That other time, I blocked it and it broke my arm. This. . . was maybe more like a first shot, you know? Just to get me down so whoever it was could whale on me for a while after that.”
The trainer, Pemble, scowled at him. “So you're experienced at this kind of thing?”
The judge waved him off then said, “I'm wondering if,” he paused for an instant, thinking, then turned to the manager, still sitting behind his desk, “whoever it was heard you yell when I hit the door and scrammed, figuring they might have a witness if you came out to see what was going on. But that doesn't answer why now, and why not a shot to the head that would have taken me right out.”
“That's easy.” McCormick, smirking slightly, raised his eyebrows at the other man's naïveté. “You managed to stir somebody up and they were too short to reach higher than your shoulder.”
He paused for a moment as the others stared at him as if he were the rising sun. “You think that actually makes sense? Really?”
“You mean somebody short?” Hardcastle nodded slowly. “That makes a weird kinda sense. It might also explain why it was such a feeble attempt, too.”
“So we take out all the players, 'cause they're all bigger than I am – even the shortstop, which was a surprise --” Mark was starting to get enthusiastic about his theory, “and all the coaches --”
The judge held up a palm. “We already ruled out everybody in uniform.” He scrubbed his chin with a fist. “And this seems like somebody who's not real strong, maybe. Someone little and not an athlete.”
Brickman scratched his chin. “So who does that leave? The vendors, the concessionaires, security --”
“The usherettes,” said McCormick abruptly. “Judge, we talked about that one you interviewed. She was pretty upset about Jennifer Ames, you said.”
“Yep.” Hardcastle looked grim. “And I know how we could find out.”
The changing room/lounge for the usherettes was spartan in appearance, but contained several lockers and comfortable-looking chairs.
The door opened slowly and Hardcastle quickly turned away to face the opposite direction. Mrs. Bunning crept in, carrying a baseball bat in her right hand, with a wickedly sharpened knitting needle thrust through her blue patent leather belt. Quietly, she crept up behind the judge, raising the bat with both hands, her eyes slitted.
Hardcastle's lips moved as he counted to three, then he turned suddenly and backed away from the surprised woman. “You gotta be kiddin' me,” he said mildly. “Not that I'm really all that surprised to see you, but that bat's almost as big as you are.”
She backed away from him, slowly, scowling but silent.
“I figured you'd be here as soon as we spread the word that Perry was under arrest.” The judge moved a little to his right and folded his arms across his chest. “All I had to do was make a show of coming in here, looking for evidence, and bingo, here you are.”
“She was a creature of evil,” the elderly lady said softly. “She would have ruined Perry's life and I could not allow that. He's a good boy, respectful and decent. She was another Jezebel and deserved the same fate.”
“I don't remember you being appointed to the position of fate-decider.” The judge slitted his eyes at her. “You just kind of took on the job yourself, which isn't the work it works. You must believe you're the hand of God or something, don'tcha?”
“I will give you strength, I will bring you help, I will uphold you with the right hand of my justice,” she quoted proudly. “I will inflict on you the sentence of adultery and murder; I will bring on you bloody wrath and jealous anger.”
The judge eyed her in irritation. “Yeah, and the Devil quotes Scripture to serve his own purposes.”
Unnoticed by the angry woman, McCormick, Harper, a uniformed policewoman, and Brickman had crept into the room and stood listening intently.
“It was always about protecting Perry, wasn't it?” Hardcastle moved again to his right to keep her focused on him. “He's one of 'your boys' and you'd do anything for them.”
“The woman tempted me,” she hissed. “And she deserved death. I was proud to administer the justice of the Lord.”
Hardcastle stared at her. “Deuteronomy 32:35. Look that one up sometime.” Then he turned and walked past the small group at the door and out into the corridor.
Harper took the bat from the usherette and began to read the Miranda warning to her, and the policewoman took the usherette by the arm and confiscated the knitting needle. Brickman heaved a deep sigh and turned to head back toward his office.
Up ahead of him, the judge stalked quickly down the concrete corridor. McCormick trailed after him, looking curiously at the grim man pacing beside him. “You gonna make me look that up?” he asked quietly.
“To me belongeth vengeance, and recompense.” And the judge kept walking.