Mark was surprised that he did actually manage to sleep. He'd been incredibly tired, and when he took pain medication it always wiped him out, but he hadn't expected to actually fall asleep. He thought it likely that if he hadn't had the foresight to set his alarm he would have slept the night through. He thought it equally likely that neither Frank, nor Hardcastle, would have woken him had that been the case.
He rolled to the edge of the bed and sat up, testing his knee's strength before attempting to stand. It was starting to hurt again. He hadn't realised how much pain there had been until he'd taken one of Doctor Ormond's magic pills and the pain had faded. Now it was starting to come back. Mark looked at the pill bottle sitting on his bed-side table and with regret decided against taking another. He was going to need to keep a clear head tonight.
Especially if things went the way the judge's plans usually went.
Before heading into the shower, he found himself some close-to-clean clothes. He really needed to get his laundry done, and soon.
Mark made his way to the main house as soon as he was dressed and Frank greeted him with a grin. The judge's welcome was far more appraising. Eventually the older man grunted and nodded and waved Mark over to join them. Mark offered a small smile of his own, apparently he'd passed assessment and was being allowed to join the 'adult's table.'
“You look better,” Frank said.
“Yeah, I feel it too. I guess I really was tired,” Mark agreed.
“Well I coulda told ya that,” Hardcastle groused.
“How'd it go with the mechanic, what was his name again?” Mark asked.
“Mattock, you really have been out of it, Mark, huh?” Frank commented.
“He wasn’t too pleased to see us. Seems he tried to go to his cop partners to get us to back off. By the time we got there he was already spooked. Looks like there is trouble in the partnership,” Hardcastle said.
“Milt’s sure he’s gonna run tonight,” Frank added.
“Maybe he's not as dumb as you thought, Hardcase. Maybe he figured out for himself that he's bound to be the fall-guy in all this,” Mark offered.
Hardcastle shook his head, “Nah, kid, he's plenty dumb. He wouldn't have gotten mixed up in all this if he was smart, now would he?”
Mark shrugged. “I don't know, Judge, sometimes you can get in deep before realizing it happened. Maybe he's like Taylor, just got mixed up in something bigger than she'd thought.”
“Don't start, McCormick.”
“You do this every time we have a case with a good looking woman in it. You get all cock-eyed, fall madly in love, and then I can't get anything useful out of you for weeks when she ups and dumps you!”
“I do not!”
“Oh, yes you do. What about that ex-racer friend of yours?”
“Hey, that was different... we'd been friends before the case.”
“Still counts. What about that secretary, Kathy?”
“She did not dump me, Judge. She moved away!”
“You mooned for weeks. What about…”
“Guys! Hey, guys, enough,” Frank interrupted.
Both Mark and Milt looked a little surprised to see him there and Frank suspected that both men had forgotten he was present.
McCormick looked contrite at the argument, and from the slight flush of red around Milt's neck Frank guessed he too was a little embarrassed. Frank couldn't have been happier. The pair of them arguing like ten year-olds was about as normal as things got at Gulls’ Way.
“Sorry, Frank,” Mark muttered.
Frank cuffed him gently on the shoulder. “Come on, Mark, Let's go see what the good doctor has to say.”
“Okay,” Mark said, getting to his feet.
The small misstep he made when he stood wasn't missed by either of the older men but they let it pass. The kid was trying and both knew McCormick would simply follow anyway if they tried to bench him. It was safer by far to have him close, where at least one of them could watch him. Beside McCormick was damn useful in a pinch.
Frank followed Mark from the room, pausing at the doorway to look over at the older man.
“You be careful, Milt, and let the cops handle the actual take-down.”
“Of course, Frank. Less for the defence to question under trial that way, especially if we want whatever evidence we find against Ericson, Foster and Davis to stick,” Hardcastle said, with a grin.
He was clearly looking forward to the upcoming arrest.
Frank heard the roar of the Coyote starting and smiled; giving the judge a small wave, he headed out. He didn't get to ride in the Coyote very often but every time did it was a thrill. It was a hell of a car and with McCormick behind the wheel, it was exhilarating. He could feel a small thrill of adrenaline flow through him, even though he knew McCormick would keep the speed exactly to the limit with him in the car. He thought that someday he'd have to ask McCormick to take him out to the track, or somewhere where they could forget he was a cop for a few minutes and just have some fun.
Frank slid into the Coyote's passenger seat and gave his companion a grin.
“You know the doors do open, Frank.” McCormick was grinning too.
Frank thought it was likely that McCormick had slid into the driver's seat too, despite his bad knee.
“Yeah, I know, but this is better.”
As Frank thought, Mark didn't once exceed the speed limit the entire drive but they still made good time and arrived at the clinic a little ahead of schedule. Mark pulled up close to the front entrance and looked over at the building.
“We're early. Do we wait or do we go in?” he asked.
Frank nodded to the light gleaming from the window of the ground floor offices. “She's here and there are no other cars in the lot so I doubt she's with another patient. We go in.”
Wisely, Mark popped open the door and climbed carefully from the car. Frank followed suit and looked around. Everything looked calm and quiet. He could hear the noise from the highway a few streets over but there didn't seem to be any cars approaching or anything out of place.
Together they walked up the path to the door and knocked.
“Mr. McCormick, is that you?” a woman's voice asked from inside the door.
“Yeah, we’re a little early,” Mark confirmed.
Frank heard the sound of the door locks being unbolted and the door opened. Doctor Taylor Ormond stood beside the door as it opened.
“I wasn't expecting you so soon, but please come in,” she said, as she gave them both an appraising glance before gesturing with one hand for them to enter.
Frank gave the woman a smile and a nod as he passed her.
Stinging fire stabbed into the back of Frank's neck and he instinctively raised a hand to slap away the sudden pain.
His hand came into contact with the doctor's hand and a small smooth object. It took Frank a moment to recognise the object as a needle but by then he was already feeling the first effects of whatever it was that had been injected into him. He staggered and felt McCormick clutch at him before he was overwhelmed by darkness.
Mark had walked through into the outer office ahead of Frank and had just turned around so he could make formal introductions between Frank and Taylor when he saw Frank stumble. The other man's eyes rolled up and he began to fall.
“Hey!” Mark yelled and moved as fast as he could to stop Frank from crashing to the floor. The awkward movement caused his leg to flare with agony, but he managed to get his arm around his friend's chest and bring him down to the floor safely. Unfortunately the only way he could do it was to go down with him. He and Harper landed in a heap on the floor. Frank, heavy and unmoving, landed mostly on top of McCormick.
Mark could see the slim syringe still protruding from his friend's neck. He pulled it free and looked at it. It was empty. Whatever was in it had already been injected. He looked up at the doctor in shock.
He was even more surprised to find himself staring into the business end of a compact revolver.
“Don't move, Mr McCormick. I'd hate to have to kill you, yet,” the doctor said coldly.
Mark had no doubt she was serious. He just wasn't sure why.
He felt the side of Frank's neck and was happy to feel a strong, steady pulse under his fingertips. Frank’s breathing was even and his color looked good. He held up the syringe.
“What do you think you’re doing? What the hell is in this?” he demanded.
“Methohexital, it's a sedative. Relax, Judge Hardcastle will be fine. He'll just be out for a little while. Now, please take that weapon out of his shoulder holster, carefully, and slide it over here.”
“Judge?” Mark muttered in confusion looking back down at Frank.
He realised that Taylor had never met the judge, she'd only spoken to him on the phone, and Frank hadn't had the chance to say a single word before she'd taken him out. She thought Frank was Hardcastle.
She thought it was the judge and her first act was to knock him out… not the actions of an innocent woman caught up in a bad situation. It seemed the judge had been right again. He’d let a beautiful woman make a fool of him. Mark sighed. He really, really hated it when the judge was right about things like this.
“The gun, and please do it slowly.”
Mark decided not to correct her on her mistaken identity. He obeyed her order and eased Frank's gun from its holster and put it on the floor. He gave the gun a shove and let it slide along the floor in the woman’s general direction. There was no telling what she would do to Frank and him, or Hardcastle for that matter, if she found out she didn’t have who she thought.
“I guess this means you're not going to help us with the investigation. You're not being blackmailed into helping Foster and Davis, are you?”
“No. Foster and Davis do the leg work. They're idiots… useful ones, but idiots all the same. They wouldn't know a real opportunity if it walked up and bit them.”
Mark looked round the clinic at all the medical paraphernalia. “This whole side of the scam was it your idea?”
“No, Foster actually really did try to blackmail me, that part was true enough. But once I saw what was going on I went to Lars and together we developed this side of the business.”
“Lars… you know Lars Ericson?”
“You really have no idea what you’re into. Lars thinks your friend Hardcastle is dangerous, but he doesn’t look so tough to me,” the doctor said looking down at Frank.
“Lars and I are more than just partners. We're going to be married once we've taken all we need and Lars has his political career underway we will leave all this behind us. Lars has the talent and the intelligence. He just needs the money to back his campaign. We're going to have such a life. He loves me. If it wasn't for those idiots, Foster and Davis, no one would ever have suspected a thing. But they got greedy – greedy and careless.”
“So, what happens to us?” Mark asked, with a gesture to the still unconscious Frank resting in his arms.
Taylor shrugged. “That's for Lars to decide. He's on his way and should be here soon. But I wouldn't make any long-term plans if I were you.”
“You'll be an accessory to two counts of murder, you know?” Mark challenged, trying hard not think about the fact that his own murder would be one of those counts.
Taylor laughed. “You never did find out what Foster and Davis had on me, Mr McCormick. Would you like me to tell you?”
Mark had the feeling that he really didn't want to know. But she didn't give him the option.
“It was years ago. I was treating a patient, young guy, not much older than you. He'd been in a bad accident. Poor thing was severely depressed. He told me he wanted to die. I started to think what it would be like… you know, to take a life rather than save it. I gave him a prescription for the pain. Then I told him that it was safe, if the pain got bad, for him to take more, a lot more. I told him it would just knock him out for a day. A week later he was dead. It was ruled a suicide from an overdose, of course. He was only the first.”
Mark looked at the woman in front of him with a growing sense of horror. “The first?” he asked. Then he mentally kicked himself for the question.
“Oh, yes, there have been others.” Taylor looked to the gun in her hand. ”I've never done it directly before. I wonder if it feels any different?” she mused.
Mark had a strange moment of vertigo as his preconceptions rearranged themselves. The doctor had seemed so genuine before but she wasn’t. The woman wasn't even just a criminal, and she was certifiably and homicidally crazy.
The doctor smiled at her conscious captive. “I never thought anyone would put it together. I thought I had gotten away with it, but somehow Foster and Davis found out. Lucky for me Lars was there.”
Mark thought it far more likely that Lars Ericson had been the one to discover the doctor and had sent his dirty cops in, but he didn’t think the woman in front of him was in the mood to hear any alternative theories.
Mark found that he really didn't have much more to say to her. Besides, there was a chance that anything he did say to her would set her off. He resolved to do all that he could to look after Frank for as long as he was able. There was no way Mark would attempt an escape, unless he could find a way to take Harper with him.
Hardcastle sat in the squad car beside Officer Collins, a man from Frank's precinct. Frank had vouched for him and he had been watching Mattock while Milt had been back at the estate. It had been nearly an hour since nightfall and Milt was getting restless.
No sooner had Milt resigned himself to a long stake-out, than one of the roller doors to the garage opened. A candy-apple red '67 Mustang slowly drove down the garage's curb and, with a brief check for traffic, turned north and accelerated away. Officer Collins moved their car out from its protected hiding position behind a large van a hundred feet down the road and followed the car.
“That's Mattock,” Milt confirmed unnecessarily.
Milt had, over recent years, developed enough love of cars to appreciate the beauty of the powerful machine they were following. He thought it a shame McCormick wasn’t here to be a part of this since Mustangs had always been a favourite.
Officer Collins decreased the space between themselves and the other car. The moment Mattock spotted the police cruiser behind him, he floored it and the Mustang sped away. Hardcastle grinned as Officer Collins hit the siren and lights. Milt had been counting on Mattock's paranoia and fear that Foster and Davis would come after him to panic when he saw the police.
Mattock's reaction and flight gave them a perfectly legitimate reason to pull Mattock over and perform a search. Anything the officers found during a search like that would be admissible evidence.
The only problem was that Mattock wasn't likely to pull over if he saw the police lights. Not if he thought there was a chance that it was Foster and Davis coming to kill him. Mattock accelerated even harder, throwing the Mustang through a tight corner. Officer Collins kept tight on his tail and Milt handled the radio. He coordinated with the other cruisers in the area to converge on the fleeing suspect.
The chase didn't last long. Mattock took another corner, his Mustang spinning out of control as the driver reacted to the obstruction in the road ahead. Two police cruisers were parked nose to nose, effectively blocking the way with a third cruiser, approaching at full speed from the only other road in the intersection. Realising that he was trapped and more importantly, that it wasn't Foster and Davis after him, Mattock surrendered.
Milt was pleased with how efficiently and well Officer Collins handled their suspect. He even read the man his Miranda rights from a well-used and slightly battered card he had in his pocket. Mattock stared daggers at the judge throughout the entire process of his arrest but seemed to have nothing to say. Once the police had Mattock secure in the back of one of the cruisers, they concentrated on searching the car for evidence. It didn't take them long to find it. A box in plain sight in the passenger-side foot well held a number of files, along with what looked to be several photos in an envelope.
Officer Collins brought the box over to Hardcastle. “Is this what you're looking for, Judge?” he asked.
Milt could barely wait to get his hands on the material. He felt like a ten-year-old on Christmas morning. He took the first folder out of the box and perused its contents.
“Oh, yes, this is definitely what we were looking for,” he chortled.
He glanced over to the squad car with the subdued looking Andrew Mattock in the rear seat. There was an officer stationed nearby. “Has he said anything?”
“Only to demand a phone call and his lawyer. Other than that, nothing,” Collins said.
Hardcastle nodded. “We have enough here to at least go after Foster and Davis.”
Milt opened the second folder and read some of the contents.
“There's a little here on Ericson. Not a lot, but maybe with Mattock's testimony we might…”
The judge had opened the envelope and pulled out the four photos that were inside. The top three were different shots, in different locations of Foster and Davis talking to Ericson. One of the locations, Milt was pretty sure was the medical clinic.
It was the fourth photograph that held Milt's attention. It was a picture of Ericson and a woman wearing a doctor’s coat that he assumed was Doctor Taylor Ormond, outside the same clinic. That wasn't totally unexpected, but it was the pose and the expression on the subjects' faces that was. Ericson held the doctor in a close embrace, one that could only be described as intimate.
“Damn!” Hardcastle swore.
“Something up, Judge?” Collins asked.
“I'm not sure, could be.”
Milton looked at the photo a second time. Sometimes the camera did lie and what looked like a smile might not be so. The longer he looked at the picture the more he became convinced that there wasn't anything forced or contrived about the pose. Taylor's embrace was relaxed and gentle, not the expression or actions of a woman forced.
If Taylor was so chummy with Ericson then she'd lied about not knowing him, and she'd lied about being blackmailed. If that was true why would she want to meet the kid and Frank at her clinic and … oh, hell.
“Collins, can you round up a couple of your guys?”
“Sure, Judge. I'll have one of the guys drive Mattock in and start the booking paperwork, but the rest of us can come with you. Where are we going?”
“Do you know the medical clinic over on Park road?”
“McCormick and Frank are there, and I think they're in trouble.” He handed over the fourth photo. ”They went to meet with this woman. I think she's in deep with this whole mess and might be trying to clean up a few pesky trouble-makers. We need to get there, and fast.”
Collins signalled to the other officers and in just a few seconds they had climbed into the patrol cars and headed out. Milt could only hope that Frank and McCormick were all right.
Mark had been keeping his eyes open for an opportunity. Unfortunately, the doctor seemed content to simply sit and watch them, a small smile on her face. The gun wasn't pointed directly at them but Mark has no doubt that it would snap up if he made the slightest move she didn't like.
Frank worried him. He still seemed to be breathing fine, but he'd been twitching and moaning softly for the last several minutes. Mark wasn't sure if it was just the other man trying to come around or if he was in some kind of pain. He didn't trust Doctor Ormond's assurance that the drug was harmless. The woman might look good but she was a nut-case. Actually, as Mark looked at her he began to realise that she really wasn't all that attractive at all.
Mark saw a flash of headlights in the dark as a car pulled into the lot and stopped next to where he had parked the Coyote. He felt a spark of hope that it could be the judge, hopefully with half the police force behind him for backup. That hope died soon afterward. There was a discrete knock.
Taylor got up with as small squeal of delight and went to the door, all the while keeping her gun trained on Mark. He thought it a little unnecessary, unless it was Hardcastle who miraculously walked through that door, he was about to be completely outnumbered.
It wasn't Hardcastle. Three men entered the room. Mark didn't recognise the first man, other than from the photos that the judge had shown him, but he was very familiar with the other two who followed him. They were the same cops who had pulled him over, then beaten the hell out of him just a couple of days before. It was pretty clear they both recognised him as well, if the evil grin they shared between them before looking back at him was anything to go by.
Come on, Hardcastle, now would be a very good time for you to show up, Mark thought.
“Lars!” Taylor sang and, forgetting about her hostages now that there were plenty of reinforcements, she swung her arms around the man's neck and gave him a passionate kiss.
Mark was a little surprised to notice that Lars Ericson was nowhere near as interested in the kiss as Taylor was. From the way she'd spoken about him, Mark had thought Ericson was her psychotic match made in hell. It seemed that the relationship was mostly, or entirely, on one side. Mark felt the smallest spark of pity for the woman. She was so sick she really had no idea that she was, at best, a convenience to the man she professed to love.
“Taylor, darling, I thought you had secured Judge Hardcastle for me,” Lars said.
Mark could hear the condescending inflection in his tone and decided that even if the man hadn’t been a bad guy he wouldn't have liked him. He reminded McCormick a lot of a certain professor at his law school who constantly spoke down to everyone.
For a moment Taylor looked confused before her expression cleared and she put on a smile.
“Lars, honey, this is Judge Milton Hardcastle.”
Mark could see the flash of angry irritation on Ericson's face that Taylor missed. It was a lethal look. Mark had been in enough perilous situations and around enough dangerous people to recognise the face of a stone-cold killer.
Lars Ericson detached Taylor's hands from his arms and pushed her away.
“Taylor, darling,” Ericson took a deep breath, clearly attempting to calm himself. “This is not Judge Hardcastle. This is Detective Frank Harper, a man I have spent a great deal of time setting up to take the fall and a man I had planned to leave alive, at least for the short term. Not only have you not delivered Judge Hardcastle to me as you promised, you have now put me into a position where I must modify my plans.”
Taylor looked confused. “But he has to be Hardcastle, I saw them together before. You told me McCormick was always close to the judge. Lars, darling, are you sure?”
“Of course I'm sure. Do you think I'm an idiot?” Lars snapped.
Mark saw the gun in Lars' hand slowly shift direction from pointing in his direction to point at Taylor. Either Taylor didn't see that, or refused to believe it.
“Taylor, dear, I'm sorry, but I don't think we can see each other anymore. I need to have someone beside me I can rely on. Someone stable, from a known and respected, well-bred family. You, my dear, are a beautiful woman but you are neither stable nor are you from the right family to advance my career. It's over.”
Mark saw Taylor move toward Lars. He wasn't sure what her intention was, but it seemed it was enough of a reason for Ericson to fire his weapon. The sound of the gun shot was incredibly loud in the small room and it left a moment of surreal silence in the moments after it died away. It was quiet enough for Mark to hear the small gasp of pain Taylor made as she slowly slid to her knees.
She knelt there gasping for breath for a moment. Lars leant forward and cupped her chin in his hand and tilted her face upward.
“Goodbye, Taylor,” he told the dying woman before letting her go.
Taylor toppled to the side and after a few more pained breaths lay still. Mark was horrified. Over the last few years he'd seen some of the worst that people could do but he’d never before witnessed such a cold-blooded murder.
The sound of the shot seemed to have brought Frank closer to consciousness. Harper's eyes opened and tried to focus on Mark's face.
Their position on the floor made Mark feel very vulnerable. When Lars Ericson decided that he had no more use for them he would shoot them. Mark had the distinct feeling that the only reason they weren't already dead was because Ericson hadn’t finished re-evaluating his options.
Frank mumbled a little before his eyes slid closed again.
Ericson turned to Davis. “Go to the car, get the stuff.”
He looked down at Taylor's body sprawled on the floor of her own surgery. There was no sadness or regret on the man's face, just a faint look of disgust.
“Maybe we can salvage something out of this mess.”
Davis nodded and left the room. Ericson watched him go then turned to look appraisingly at Mark.
“Mr. McCormick, we've not met. I'm Lars Ericson, and you, Frank Harper and Judge Hardcastle have caused me some trouble recently. I can't allow that.”
“I can see how you deal with problems,” Mark said, looking to the dead woman. “Why all this? Why haven’t you killed us yet?”
“I want to offer you a deal. You see, I know a lot about you, Mr. McCormick.”
“I really don't think you do,” Mark said firmly.
Ericson just smiled. “We'll see.”
Davis had returned, carrying a large bag. He put the bag on the magazine table and began to unpack it. Davis built a haphazardly-stacked mound of bags, each filled with pills. Mark assumed these were the illegal prescription drugs Hardcastle had told them about.
“I’m offering you a choice here tonight, Mr. McCormick, and I am betting you will chose the smart option. The not smart option is for you join the lovely Taylor on the floor. The smart option is that you give me what I want and I’ll let you leave.”
“You’ll let me go, just like that?”
“Just like that, no tricks. Of course, you will then become prime suspect as the perpetrator of several murders.” Ericson patted one of the pill bags on the table, “And implicated in a number of serious drug offences. But if you can evade the police you will be free.”
Mark didn’t think much of either choice.
Ericson gestured to the unconscious Frank. “Of course the only way this will work for me is if Detective Harper and Judge Hardcastle are removed. I can't have either Hardcastle or Harper gunning for me.”
Mark gripped Frank's shoulder tighter. The protective movement didn't go unnoticed by Ericson and he smiled, clearly enjoying himself.
“You can’t save him Mr. McCormick, and while the entire Los Angeles police department is hunting down a cop killer, I will have the opportunity to tidy up any loose ends connecting me to this unfortunate tragedy. It's a shame to see a young man like you going back to a life of crime, just when he seemed to have straightened himself out. But these things happen.” Ericson shook his head in dismay.
“What do you want?”
“I want Hardcastle. He wasn’t at his estate, I want you to call him and bring him here alone. We’ll take care of the rest.”
In a second, Ericson had stepped forward and struck Mark across the mouth. The blow stunned him for a moment.
“Have a little respect, Mr. McCormick. I am offering you your life. Don’t try my patience.”
Mark licked the blood from his split lip but he made no other concession, refusing to give Ericson the satisfaction.
“I wouldn’t give you Hardcase, even if I could,” Mark said, shaking his head.
“Are you sure, McCormick, think about it. I could make Frank Harper’s death an incredibly painful one.”
“Mark?” Frank's soft, confused voice drew his attention. Frank's eyes were open and he seemed to be able to focus on his surroundings. Mark couldn't help but think it might have done Frank well to have stayed unconscious for a little while longer.
“Your time has run out, Mr McCormick. This is your last chance. Tell me where I can find Hardcastle and you get to walk away with your life.”
Mark didn't believe for a moment that either he or Frank would be walking away from this alive. The moment Ericson found out where Hardcastle was or, more likely, realised that neither of them was going to tell him, they would be dead, followed a little while later by the judge.
“Go to hell,” he said firmly.
Frank began trying sit up and Mark helped to support him. The older man let out a pained groan and raised both hands to grip the sides of his head. Mark winced in sympathy for the headache he knew Frank was suffering.
“You okay, Frank?” Mark asked quietly, never taking his eyes from the dangerous Ericson. The man had his gun pointing directly at Frank's heart so Mark wasn't going to do anything to provoke him.
Frank looked around taking in the scene.
“So, not a simple witness interview then?” Frank asked.
Mark quirked a small smile. “What would be the fun in that, Frank?”
“Sometimes you and Milt have far too much fun for my taste.”
Frank carefully pushed himself up a little straighter, keeping a wary eye on Ericson.
“Ah, you don't mean that, Frank.”
“I might.” Frank waved towards the murdered doctor. “Who killed Doctor Ormond?”
“Mr. McCormick did,” Ericson said, before Mark had a chance to answer. Ericson looked down at Frank. “Just before he killed you. Then in a murderous rage he killed his benefactor, Judge Hardcastle.”
“No one is going to believe that,” Frank said.
“They will. By the time I'm finished even Mr. McCormick would think himself guilty.”
Frank tensed in anger. “You won't get away with this, Ericson.”
Ericson laughed. “I already have, Harper.”
Frank looked across at Mark. “Over-confident isn’t he?”
Mark laughed a little. “Tell me about it, Frank. I've had to listen to him all night.”
Mark saw the gun come up, this time it was aimed directly at his head. It seemed anger had changed Ericson's mind, there wasn't going to be a long-drawn-out torture session. He was going to be shot in the head.
Time seemed to slow as Mark watched Ericson's finger tighten on the trigger. There was no way to stop the shot or avoid the bullet. In a second he was going to be dead and there was nothing he could do to stop it.
He was surprised to find that he really didn't have that many regrets any more. There were a few, but not big ones, not like he’d had in the past. Mark just wished that he'd been able to do something to help Frank, and the judge. He had the absurd impulse to smile. Hardcastle would never know it but, because of him, Mark had finally found a way to make tracks that might just last a little while.
The world faded away until all Mark could feel was his gratitude to the absent judge, and all he could see was the seemingly cavernous aperture of the revolver pointed at him. The gun barrel seemed to glow an evil red but in that last moment Mark felt his fear slide from him.
The gunshot when it came was deafeningly loud.
Hardcastle could sense time slipping through his fingers. He didn’t know where the urgency was coming from but he’d learned to trust his instincts. Doctor Taylor Ormond wasn't telling the whole truth about Ericson, and, while that didn't necessarily mean the kid and Frank were in trouble, Milt couldn’t shake the feeling they were. He was grateful when Collins floored the cruiser and turned on the lights and sirens to help clear traffic out of the way.
The closer they got to the clinic the faster Milt wanted them to go. From experience working with McCormick he knew that sometimes in a case nothing would seem to happen for days, or even weeks, then all of a sudden you would find that there was simply no time. Funny, but it always seemed to be McCormick that ended up on the wrong side of those time pressure situations. Of course, the kid said Milt was the one always getting into trouble.
Collins had the perceptiveness to turn off the sirens, leaving only the lights to clear their path as they got close to the clinic. The cars following copied the lead car and also fell silent. It felt a little surreal to Milt to be tearing down the city streets in relative silence. The loss of the sirens did nothing to alleviate the anxiety he felt.
In quick succession the three cruisers pulled into the clinic's parking lot. There were two cars that Milt didn’t recognise, parked on either side of McCormick's Coyote. There had to be more than just Doctor Ormond in there with Frank and the kid.
Hardcastle was out of the lead cruiser before it had fully stopped. Because he was outside the car, the shot coming from inside the building sounded especially loud.
“McCormick!” Hardcastle yelled, heading for the door without waiting for the others.
Before he made it to the front door a second shot sounded. Frank, Milt thought, followed by a sharp spike of grief.
Mark was more than a little surprised when the gun went off and he was still alive.
The shot had been so close to him, pointblank range. It seemed inconceivable that Ericson had missed him. His ears were ringing from the blast. Suddenly the scene in front of him made sense. Frank was struggling with Ericson, doing his best to simultaneously keep the gun away, and keep Ericson between Foster, Davis and himself. Frank had moved against Ericson at the last second and saved his life.
Frank needs help, Mark realised.
Foster and Davis both had their own weapons up and were looking for an opportunity to get a clear shot at Frank.
Before Mark could formulate a conscious plan, he surged up from his knees, tackling Davis around the middle. Because of his injured knee, he wasn't able to get any speed or strength behind his attack, but what he lost in skill and technique he made up for with gritty determination. He was rewarded with a grunt of pain.
Davis staggered, his arms flung wide in a vain attempt to maintain his balance. Fortunately, Mark had managed to push him into Foster's way, putting both men out of the fight for a moment. A second gunshot passed close to Mark’s ear, effectively deafening him, and shattering the glass in the window behind him.
Mark wasn't sure how close that shot had come but he could feel a blaze of heat across his cheek. It stung, but adrenaline flooded through his system and even the close call didn't slow him down.
Unexpectedly, there were a lot more people in the room than there should have been. For an instant Mark thought he might be suffering the effects of a concussion. Then Davis was pulled from his grip and thrown bodily against the wall by an incredibly familiar shape.
Two or three more cops pushed through the door behind the judge and Mark was sure there were more outside trying to get in and join the fun. The first cops on the scene went for the closest threat, Foster. The dirty cop tried to fight but the good guys were on him before he could do a thing.
Mark saw Ericson pull Frank around by the neck and shove him. This time there was just no way Mark could catch the falling man before he crashed into him, and sent them both to the floor.
Ericson took the opportunity the distraction created to make his escape. Taking the only exit available, he yanked the window blind away in a violent pull, and went out the broken window into the darkness beyond. Mark saw him run past the flashing lights of the police cruisers parked in the lot outside.
Frank had his head clutched in his hands and it worried Mark.
“Hardcastle!” Mark shouted.
At least he thought he shouted; he could barely hear himself. The yell had sounded muffled and indistinct, but it managed to get the older man's attention. Hardcastle spun around from where he'd been helping another cop secure Davis. Mark could see the jurist's lips move but couldn't hear a thing past the ringing in his ears.
“Judge, Frank's hurt!”
Frank slowly shook his head. One hand pressed tightly against his forehead, and used his other hand to try wave Hardcastle away.
Hardcastle was by his side in a second and checking their friend over, just as Mark had done a second before. The judge said something, but the words were lost to Mark. Fortunately, the relief on the older man's face told McCormick everything he needed to know. Frank was going to be okay. Mark closed his eyes in a short prayer of thanks.
There was a strong hand on his shoulder and a gentle hand under his chin turning his face.
Mark recognised the judge's touch and allowed it without any resistance. He opened his eyes. The judge was looking at him critically with concern on his face.
“Are you okay?”
The words were hard to hear but it wasn't hard to read the simple question on the judges' lips.
“Yeah, I'm good,” McCormick said, trying to speak clearly.
The judge could apparently understand him because he nodded, even though he didn't look convinced.
Hardcastle was pulling him upright and saying something else, but Mark couldn't make it out. He glanced around the room and remembered Ericson's escape. He returned the judge's grip tightly.
“Judge, Ericson got away! We have to get him!”
There was a momentary flash of annoyance crossing the judge’s face that Mark couldn't interpret.
“Come on!” Mark yelled. There was no way he was going to let Ericson get away after everything he’d done and everything he had intended to do. He pulled the judge towards the door and felt the other man follow. They made it outside in time to see Ericson's car take to the road. There was a dazed cop on the ground nearby holding his head as another cop went to his aid. Mark ran as fast as his damaged knee would let him, to the Coyote.
The ringing in his ears was still bad, but he didn't need his ears to drive. The judge got in beside him, gun at the ready. Mark knew how to drive and chase down bad guys. It was the definition of being Tonto. The judge pointed, his finger waving into Mark's field of view to indicate the way he wanted Mark to drive. Mark smiled, he was just so damn glad to be alive and to know that Hardcastle and Frank were okay. Only a few minutes ago he'd been ready for the end. It was liberating.
McCormick brought the car up alongside the fleeing car so the judge could do his thing. It was a little bizarre to know that Hardcastle was firing a .45 close by and barely being able to hear the gun's report.
The moment Hardcastle had burst through the door into the clinic office he'd gone on the attack. There hadn't even really been time to be grateful to see both Frank and McCormick on their feet, alive. But he could see they were outnumbered and not likely to win the fight.
Of the two, McCormick was in the most trouble. He was trying his best to bring Davis down, but didn't have a good angle. Davis' face was a mask of murderous rage and Hardcastle could see the man's gun arm coming down and around. In a moment the barrel would be against his head and Mark would be dead. He roared in anger and grabbed Davis by the shoulders, jerking him backward away from the younger man.
Collins and another of the cops passed him to take care of Foster who was also trying to get a bead on McCormick. Milt shoved Davis up against the wall hard, hard enough to get a grunt out of him. He made pretty quick work of securing Davis's gun. From the corner of his eye he could see McCormick and Frank had fallen onto the floor.
“Kid, are you okay?” he called out.
He got worried when there was no immediate answer. He glanced over and saw Mark had a grimace of pain and a bright red crease of raw skin across one side of his face. It looked like a muzzle burn.
Another cop had made it through the door and came to help him secure Davis.
“Damn it, where’s Ericson?” Hardcastle shouted across the chaos of fighting men.
Milt looked in time to see Ericson go for the broken window. In a second he was gone. A cop dashed for the door, trying to cut Ericson off before he could get away. With Ericson gone, the fight seemed to go out of Foster. The odds were definitely now against the man.
“Hardcastle!” McCormick shouted at the top of his voice, loud enough to make Milton wince.
He turned his attention to McCormick who was on the ground besides the obviously-dazed Frank Harper.
“Is Frank okay, McCormick?” Milt asked.
“Judge, Frank's hurt!” McCormick shouted.
Milt hurried over. “Well, I can see that, McCormick!” Hardcastle grumbled.
Frank waved him off, holding his head. “I’m fine Milt, just dizzy.”
He knelt beside McCormick as he checked Frank over.
“I think you’re going to be all right, Frank.” Milt said.
Hardcastle looked over to McCormick. He didn't like what he saw. The kid's eyes were closed and he was mumbling softly. Up close the welt across the side of his face looked painful.
“Are you doing okay, McCormick?” he asked.
He got no response and his fear ratcheted up a notch.
Hardcastle gently gripped the kid's shoulder and tilted his face upward into the stronger light. The skin around the muzzle flash welt was red and raw-looking with small blistered sections. The damn bullet had to have passed very close. McCormick's eyes opened and looked to him. Milt was relieved to see Mark's gaze was clear and focused. Both of the kid's eyes seemed to be tracking properly and were evenly dilated.
“You okay?” he said loudly and clearly.
He saw McCormick's gaze drop to his lips as he spoke and the young man nodded.
“Yeah, I'm good, Judge,” McCormick hollered, loud enough to make Hardcastle wince.
He thought it likely McCormick had a slight case of blast deafness to go with the mark on his face. It sometimes happened when a large caliber gun was fired too close. He felt a surge of sympathy for the kid. As soon as McCormick's adrenaline wore off he was going to have the mother of all headaches.
Hardcastle could hear a commotion coming from outside. Ericson had broken free of the cop who'd gone out to detain him. He took McCormick by the shoulders and carefully pulled the younger man to his feet.
“I hope that's true, kid. Ericson is trying to get away and we've got to stop him.”
“Judge, Ericson got away! We have to get him!” McCormick shouted directly into his ear.
Geez, kid, are you trying to deafen me, too? Milt thought in annoyance. A small push in the direction of the door got the kid moving. McCormick wasn't as fast on his feet as normal but once he was upright his knee seemed to hold his weight.
“Take care of Harper, and get these bozos downtown,” Hardcastle called, going for the door after the younger man. “We'll get Ericson.”
He could hear an engine starting up and the whine of a car reversing then peeling out of the parking area at high speed.
By the time he got outside of the clinic with McCormick, Ericson had made it to the road and turned out onto it. The young cop who'd chased him out was struggling to sit up on the ground.
“You okay?” Hardcastle shouted to him, still trying to keep up with his injured friend as they went for the Coyote.
“Yeah, Judge, he just clocked me one. Go get him!” the cop said with a wave of his arm, another cop already going to assist the fallen man.
McCormick was sliding into the driver's seat of his beloved car and starting the engine by the time the judge caught up to him and dropped into the passenger seat.
McCormick reversed quickly and spun the Coyote around, seamlessly changing from reverse to first and gunning the engine. The Coyote responded like the race car it was, and they were off after Ericson. The judge glanced over at his companion seeing the concentration on his face and the small smile on his lips.
“Damn fool crazy kid,” Hardcastle muttered.
McCormick twitched the car wide, and then swung it in tight through a corner, the back of the Coyote only sliding out a fraction before the superior traction of the wide tires caught the road again. The move gained them a good amount of distance on the fleeing car and its less capable driver.
“Hey, watch the corners,” Hardcastle shouted, forgetting the kid couldn't hear him. “Try to get up alongside him so I can get his tires,” Hardcastle instructed, checking his gun.
Realising that McCormick couldn't hear his instructions, Hardcastle pointed. McCormick put the car exactly where the judge wanted it to be. He fired twice. The first shot hit the back of Ericson's car but caused it no damage. McCormick threw the Coyote through another tight corner, but quickly gained ground up beside their quarry. Milt's second shot was far more effective, which was a good thing since they were fast approaching a more populated area.
The bullet hit the rear tire causing Ericson to begin fish-tailing out of control. McCormick's reflexes were as quick as ever. He tapped the brakes bringing the Coyote safely behind the increasingly erratic car.
It was obvious Ericson was nowhere near as good a driver as the man sitting next to him. Unable to control the damaged car properly, Ericson attempted to take a corner and lost control. The car side-swiped a pole and jumped the curb before beginning to flip.
McCormick had the Coyote slowing and pulling up as Ericson's car began to roll.
The car flipped twice before coming to rest on its roof. McCormick pulled up a safe distance from the car and hauled himself up to sit on the driver's side door. Milt was already clear of the Coyote and running to Ericson's over-turned car. He pointed back at McCormick and shouted.
“You stay put. I'll get him.”
Hardcastle was pretty sure the younger man hadn't heard a word he'd said but he must have gotten the message anyway since he made no additional move to get out of the Coyote and assist. With the condition the kid's knee was in, Milt doubted he'd be able to help if it turned into a foot chase.
Ericson was still alive and conscious, if a little dazed, when Milt looked in through the shattered driver's window.
“Come 'ere,” Milt growled as he reached in through the opening and, grabbing Ericson by the scruff of his jacket, pulled him free.
Milt checked to make sure the man was no longer armed before half dragging and half supporting him away from the wreck. It didn't look like the destroyed car was going to catch fire, but it was better to be safe than sorry. When he got the man back to the Coyote, Milt gave him a small shove, letting him topple onto the hood of the race car. He ignored the dirty look McCormick gave him. The kid hated it when he tossed his crooks across the Coyote. Of course, McCormick had no similar reservations when it came to using his truck.
Snapping a pair of cuffs around the now subdued Ericson's wrists first, Milt then pulled out his laminated Miranda card. Even though he knew the words printed there verbatim, he was careful to read them from the card.
Milt shared a smile with his young friend. “We got him, kiddo. You did a good job.”
McCormick looked confused for a moment then suspicious. “Judge, did you just say something good about me?” he asked, loudly.
“Of course not,” Milt said with a firm shake of his head and then looked away from the younger man.
“You did!” McCormick crowed.
“No!” Milt said firmly so that even reading his lips there was no way McCormick could miss it.
“Oh, yes ,you did… what did you say?”
Milt refused to answer, he simply shook his head.
“Oh, come on, Judge. You can tell me, I won't tell a soul!” McCormick shouted loud enough to draw away the attention of a few of the onlookers from the crash scene.
“Shut up, McCormick,” Hardcastle growled.
He had no doubt the kid had understood that too, since McCormick smiled in satisfaction and stopped yelling.