The day started a little cooler than usual with just enough cloud cover to ensure it would stay that way. At last caught up on his laundry, Mark dressed with care in his nicest suit. He wanted to look his best today. It was important.
There was nothing he could do about the yellowing bruises that colored his face, or for the livid red mark that traversed half of it. He'd had the world's worst headache the last couple of days, and, if he told the truth, there was still a little of that remaining. It was nothing he couldn't deal with and nothing to bother the judge about. He looked again at his mottled reflection, and brushed his hair as neatly as he could. Finally he decided that his appearance was as good as it was going to get.
He met the judge downstairs. The older man was already waiting for him. McCormick hated the darn thing, but he used the support of the cane his new doctor had recommended, and Hardcase had insisted, he use. He'd never confess it but the cane really did make getting around on his healing knee a lot easier.
“You ready, kid?” Hardcastle asked.
Mark nodded and followed the older man out to the truck.
Mark didn't offer any witticisms on the drive to the cemetery. Frank was already there with Claudia hovering close to her husband's side.
“Frank, it's good to see you up and about,” Mark said happily, after Milt and Frank had greeted each other.
“Good to see you too, Mark, how are you?”
“Pretty good, Frank. I can hear again, that's always a good thing. There's still some ringing on the right side but the doctor said that would hang around for a little while before it eventually fades away.”
“Huh, didn't notice any difference,” Hardcastle commented. “You never hear a thing I say anyway.”
Mark shook his head, “That's where you're wrong, Hardcase. I hear ya, I just don't listen.”
The judge frowned. “Shut up, McCormick, can ya hear that?”
Mark smiled as he walked at the judge’s side, “Yeah, I hear ya, Judge, and I'm listening to ya, too.”
Milt smothered a small smile. It was great to have the old McCormick back even, no, especially on a day like today. Hardcastle looked around the grounds and at the police honor guard standing at the ready several yards from the grave site. “Looks good, Frank.”
“All I did was point out the oversight of justice. It was Commissioner Emhart's idea to do a full-honors graveside service for Bill.”
Hardcastle grunted. “Man is still a jackass, but even he could see this was right. How about you, are you reinstated yet?”
Frank opened the edge of his suit coat to reveal his holster back in its rightful place and his shield badge proudly clipped to his belt where he liked to wear it.
“Yes, Milt, I'm fully reinstated -- suspension lifted and expunged from my record. I'm fine.”
“Well, good. Shouldn't have happened in the first place,” Hardcastle grumbled.
Frank simply shook his head but didn't disagree with the older man's assessment. Mark thought Frank might have lost a little of his previous willingness to jump to the defence of the police commissioner through this experience. Ericson had all but outright told them he'd convinced commissioner Emhart to pin the entire scam on Frank's shoulders. Frank was still far more diplomatic than Hardcastle and he'd never outright call his commissioner the names Hardcastle did, but Mark noticed he also didn't appear to be in any particular hurry to dissuade the judge from saying them anymore.
“I heard they found the Commissioner’s aide was supplying Ericson information, that right, Frank?” Hardcastle asked.
Frank nodded. “Yeah, Ericson gave him up and when we questioned Jarvis, he admitted to supplying information. Emhart was pretty embarrassed by it. He’d hired the man personally.”
“What about Doctor Ormond’s patients, the ones she said she killed?” Mark asked.
Frank sighed. “Sorry Mark, but it looks like it was true. To cut a better deal, Emhart turned over evidence that implicates her in at least four suspicious deaths. They’ll be investigated. We’ll find the answers.”
Mark shook his head. “I’d been hoping it wasn’t true.”
“Come on, they're about to start,” Frank said, clapping Mark on the shoulder. He took his wife's hand and the four of them walked to the gravesite to find their places.
Mark had never known Officer William Cook but he felt a connection to the lost officer. He was glad he had been able to play a small part in helping Frank and the judge bring the men who'd killed him to justice.
On the drive home Mark was still feeling solemn and so, it seemed, was the judge.
A few days later Mark was stretched out on the patio chaise lounge. It felt good, real good, to get a little sun. He felt as though he'd been inside both day and night for weeks. The sun was nice and warm against his skin and the day bright and clear. It was so pleasant he was contemplating taking a long drive later on. He had a ton of chores still to do, along with a list as long as his arm of study notes still to go over.
Since their discussion the other day, the judge had insisted Mark find time to rest and relax. It had actually become something of a game for Mark, goofing off in front of the judge and watching him get mad without being about to do anything about it. Especially since the whole “take care of yourself and get some rest,” had been the older man's idea.
“McCormick!” Hardcastle yelled from the kitchen.
Mark quickly arranged himself for maximum effect, drink in one hand, a racing magazine in the other that he hastily pulled out of the satchel by his side and opened to a random page. He slouched low on the chaise, the position less comfortable than it looked, but this was all about effect. The result was only slightly marred by the still visible bruising of his body and face.
Mark didn't answer the shout. He knew the judge would find him soon enough.
“McCormick! Where is that kid?”
Mark could hear the judge muttering and knew he was close. He put the most innocent look he could on his face, the one he knew annoyed Hardcastle the most, and waited.
The judge burst from the back of the house and came around to the side of the pool where he could see McCormick. Mark glanced up at the older man.
“Looking for me, Judge?” he asked, maintaining his innocent appearance.
It was hard to keep hold on his act as the judge's face darkened to a near purple color.
“You know damn well I was … I've been hollering for you for the last twenty minutes!”
Since Mark had seen the judge less than ten minutes earlier he knew that was an exaggeration.
“I've been right here, Judge, looking after myself and catching up on my rest.”
The judge looked slightly confounded.
Mark let out a small laugh and decided to let the other man off the hook. He pulled himself up into a sitting position. He still had to straighten his injured knee slowly, it was doing well but it wasn’t there yet.
“It's all right, Judge. I'm plenty rested. What's up?”
Hardcastle took a deep breath. The kid had been driving him crazy the last few days. McCormick sometimes had a very perverse sense of humour, but he knew this wasn't part of the other man's game. He waved McCormick back to his seat. McCormick stopped his aborted attempt to rise, and Hardcastle pulled up one of the nearby garden chairs and sat.
“Just wanted to ask you about your schedule for the next couple of weeks, you got yourself sorted yet?”
“Yeah, Judge, I’ve got a handle on it. Why?”
“I was just reading in the paper that Kurt Sheers managed to slip those murder charges. I thought the D.A. had him dead to rights on that, but apparently there was some kind of accident in the evidence lab. The judge had to toss the lot out as contaminated.”
“He got off, huh?” Mark asked.
“Yeah and guilty as sin, but there's no way they can prove that now.”
Mark crossed his arms and looked at the judge. “Oh, and so now you're thinking this is a job for the Lone Ranger and his trusty sidekick right?”
“Got it in one, kiddo,” the judge grinned.
Mark laughed. “All right, Hardcase, let's saddle up.” Mark made to stand again but the judge's hand was on his shoulder keeping him in place.
“Nah, you keep working on your rest. I got a lot of calls to make, and it’ll be a day or two before we ride.”
Mark grinned and made a big production of relaxing back into his previous position. “Well, it is a tough job, Judge.”
Hardcastle picked up Mark’s racing magazine and whacked the kid on the arm with it before dumping it on his chest. Mark plucked the slightly bent magazine up and flipped it to an article he'd already read.
Hardcastle shook his head and headed back inside. “Don't cook too long in this sun, McCormick.”
Mark watched the older man go inside. As soon as Hardcastle was gone, he closed the racing magazine, slipping it back into his satchel. He dug around in the bag for a moment before finding his notebook. He pulled it out and with a relaxed sigh, began to go over his notes.
Inside the house, Judge Hardcastle looked back out at the man, apparently lazing by the pool. He saw McCormick dispense with the racing magazine in favor of the less ever-present notebook.
He laughed quietly to himself. “You're gonna do just fine, kid,” he said heading for the den.
He had a lot of calls to make and a lot of ground work to lay in the next few days while McCormick would be busy with school.
Harry tripped and went sprawling in the claustrophobic darkness, his flashlight rolling to the side. He’d hit hard with a dull hollow thud. The floor beneath him was a heavy metal plate. He pulled himself up and grabbed for the flashlight, shining it onto the dust-blackened surface and smiling for the first time since he’d entered the basement.
He had to put the light down again. It took both hands and the crowbar to shift the heavy iron sheet even a few inches, but once he’d pried it over, he could see there was a space beneath it. He picked up the flashlight again and shined the beam into the narrow opening he’d created. He grimaced at what he saw, a transient expression that was quickly replaced by another grim smile.
And then something touched his shoulder from behind.
“So it’s just and open and shut case of trespassing, huh? Hardcastle said.
Harper shrugged. “That’s it – no I.D. on him yet, but death by misadventure.” He looked mostly convinced.
“Then how come you’re here?”
“Maybe I was about to ask you the same question,” Harper drawled.
Mark grinned. “’Cause a mysterious lady called and asked him to look into it. He says they’re just ‘friends’.”
“A guy breaks in a basement window, then climbs practically to the roof without noticing the railings need some maintenance. I think I’ll pass on that one for a likely explanation.” Hardcastle cast a slow considering gaze on the scene. “Maybe he jumped, or maybe he got pushed, but either way I don’t think he was in here to steal some doorknobs.”
Mark smiled. “We’re gonna look into it, huh?”
“Yeah, I got a couple of questions that need answering.” He sniffed and then shook his head once sharply. “Come on, let’s get out of here. This place gives me the creeps.”
McCormick played the flashlight down over the slightly out-of-kilter iron slab then froze. He’d heard a faint sound – a creak of footsteps overhead, or just a squeak of a disturbed rodent.
He listened hard. The noise, whatever it was, had stopped. He let out a slow breath and edged back the way he came, casting his light down every potential side passage, until he finally caught a gleam off something that angled up and shiny—the banister to a stairway. He approached it cautiously. There was a closed door at the top marked “GRND FLR”.
He took the steps quickly, keeping the flashlight down to light his path and not noticing the edge of the door opening slightly. He was almost to the top and still looking down when the door opened with violent swiftness, catching him unaware.
He was knocked off balance, over the railing and down, his flashlight clattering to the ground beside him. It still worked—its narrow beam picking out Mark’s pale, still features, and casting shadows onto the shape of the man now standing behind him.
Next Monday, at 9/8 Central