The Coyote pulled up next to the hedge and Hardcastle waved a hand from the side lawn.
“Looks like a gopher hole here.” He pointed at the ground, gently scuffing the turf with his foot. “You notice this before?”
McCormick ambled over, carrying a large cardboard box. He peered at the grass, then shook his head. “No, that's new. Rotten little critters.”
The two men stared at the ground for a few seconds, then the judge looked up and jerked his chin at the parcel. “What's that? I thought you were just taking today's tickets to Frank.”
“Yeah, I did. He said Claudia's really looking forward to her first game. But then I stopped off at the ballpark to say a couple of good-byes.” Mark took the top off the box and peered inside. “Players, I mean. In the clubhouse.” He peered up at the judge and grinned at him. “That's a pretty cool thing to be able to say, you know.”
“So, you got some souvenirs?” Hardcastle smiled in anticipation. “A glove, maybe. The box is too small for a bat. Maybe a name plate from your locker?”
McCormick took a baseball out of the box and presented it with a flourish. “A ball. For you, signed by the whole team.” He watched the older man's delight as he examined the ball. “Some of them had to write pretty small to get everybody on there. You'll notice, I hope,” he pointed to a specific spot on the ball, “that Mike Haines signed it on the sweet spot. Did you know a ball has what they call a sweet spot? I know all about that stuff now.” He preened casually.
“Yeah, yeah. Hey, this is really swell. That was a nice thought.” The judge looked at the box again. “So what did you get?”
“Ah, just a shirt. Kind of.” Mark shrugged, trying to appear blasé. “Something to wear next Halloween, I guess.”
“Well, c'mon, lemme see.” The judge reached for the box, but it was pulled away.
“It's mine! Leave it alone!” McCormick danced back out of his reach, laughing. “Okay, okay.” He reached into the box and pulled out a cream-colored jersey with blue and gold trim – a Sailors home jersey. He held it up and displayed the back, which had 'McCormick' across the shoulder blades in blue and the number 87 beneath it in the same color.
Hardcastle beamed with pride. “Your jersey. The one you wore in the dugout before the game. That's really nice.” He fingered the hem briefly, then looked back at his signed baseball. “There's nothing like baseball, huh?”
“Nope,” Mark agreed, gazing with complacent satisfaction at his jersey. “Nothing at all.” He looked at his watch and exclaimed, “Hey, let's get the radio going. The game starts in ten minutes!”
NEXT, ON HARDCASTLE and McCORMICK – Virtual Season 4:
“Don’t go to any trouble on my account,” Mark replied. “I just stopped in to tell you I’ll be going out for dinner.”
“Want some company?” Milt asked, but with a pixie grin and a twinkle in his eyes, he teased, “Or are you wining and dining some hot co-ed?”
“Uh, not exactly,” Mark replied evasively. “Just doing a favor for Teddy,” he finally added, more to pique the Judge’s curiosity than because he felt a need to explain his comings and goings.
“Teddy? Not the Teddy Hollins that nearly landed you back in the big house a few years back? The one that traded on your friendship to rob your friends? The guy who’s a slice or two short of a loaf, if you know what I mean? That Teddy?”
Teddy squinted, trying to see them better, but they were just shadows in the brilliant light behind them, moving toward the car. Try as he might, he couldn’t make out their features. He was about to move on, figuring whoever they were wasn’t any of his business, when he heard a muted sob and froze, realizing that something was wrong. Heart hammering, he told himself he should do something, should intervene, offer help – but he was afraid and he had no weapon.
“You don’t have to do this,” the lead man said. “At least let her go.” Teddy gaped. He knew that voice. He glanced again at the woman, suddenly realizing who she must be. Something was badly wrong here. Teddy knew he should do something – anything – but he didn’t know what.
Terrified now, Teddy wanted nothing so much as to turn tail and run. But he couldn’t. That was his friend and he had to do something to help.
“Oh, man,” he gusted as he hurried to the restaurant and yanked at the door, smacking it hard in frustration when it refused to open. Desperate, he looked back and forth, up and down the alley and then, panic nipping at his heels, he raced back to the bowling alley. The phone there was closer than the one in his apartment. He had to get help right away!
Mark lifted his hands in the traditional non-threatening sign of surrender. “I swear, I only met him for the first time today. A friend of mine knows him and vouched for him. You see, I’m a law student, and my friend thought it would be like a lawyer representing a client. Made sense to me. Never occurred to me that you wouldn’t know who he is.”
She nodded, if reluctantly, and her tense posture eased. “Okay, I guess I can understand that.” She shrugged and started to rise. “Well, you’ve delivered your message. If I’m lucky, he’ll get on that train tomorrow and I won’t ever see him again.”
Mark looked past her and felt a sudden chill of foreboding. Jimmy was striding swiftly toward them through the now nearly-empty restaurant. Only the guy wasn’t acting like Jimmy. This guy wasn’t nervous. Nor was he particularly calm. No, this guy’s expression and posture looked scary dangerous. “I guess this isn’t your lucky day.”
Mark gradually became aware that his head was lying on something softer than concrete. Smelled better, too. It was totally dark, though, and he had trouble getting his bearings. Where was he? What had happened? A hand lightly caressed his head. Lindy? The memories crashed back, bringing with them the awareness of pain he’d been holding at bay, but the pain still felt distant, not quite real. Mostly, he felt cold. So cold. He tried to sit up but collapsed with a groan before he’d hardly lifted his head.
“You should run,” Mark gasped. God, it was so hard to breathe. So hard to think.
“I can’t. He shackled us both to the floor,” she replied, fear quivering in her voice. “He cut you,” she said then. “After he shackled you. He has all kinds of knives on the wall over there. He laughed, said it was for Hardcastle. I don’t know how bad the cut is, but you’ve been bleeding a lot from your side. I can feel the blood on the floor beside us. I… I don’t know what to do to help you.”
Took most of his strength to reach up and cover the hand she had rested against his cheek. “Z … okay,” he managed to breathe. “Nothing you can do.”