“C’mon, McCormick,” the judge bellowed from the dining room. “Where’s this wonderful meal you learned at the restaurant?”
A shout came from the kitchen, “Just a sec! Almost done. I gotta do the garnish, okay?”
“Better be good’s all I gotta say,” grumbled Hardcastle. He grabbed up his knife and fork and was preparing to pound them on the table when the swinging door suddenly burst inward and his server for the evening appeared.
McCormick proudly placed a plate of the best china in front of the judge. “As promised, one of the spécialités of the maison.” With a flourish, he removed the cover and gestured broadly. “Steak tartare.”
Hardcastle stared at the raw beef patty for a long moment, then nodded, slapped his palms on his knees, and pushed back from the table. “Right. Fine. I’ll go start up the grill.”
“You’re that guy?” Andrea said curiously.
Mark glanced up from his coffee. “Ah—?”
“The guy with the flashy car who did some time in prison.”
His face went unreadable for a moment before he produced a smile. He’d had a lot of practice fielding that kind of question.
“Word gets around.” He was still smiling but it felt a little tight. “Guilty as charged.”
“Then it’s true what they say.” She was leaning forward a little in the booth.
“That depends,” Mark said warily. “What do they say?”
“Oh,” Andrea barely shrugged, “that some crazy retired judge bet his buddies he could take an ex-con and turn him into a lawyer.”
Mark winced. This was a new one, though he though it was a version he should have predicted. He sighed. There’s a judge, and there’s an ex-con and there’s a bet . . . but otherwise – entirely wrong.”
Mark hollered “Judge?” as he stepped in through the front door, leading Andrea.
He headed for the doorway to the den. Hardcastle was at his desk, catching up on the mail.
Mark cleared his throat. “Judge? I’d like you to meet somebody.”
Hardcastle looked up.
“This is Andrea Portman; she’s in my class.” He turned to the girl and said, “Andrea, this is the crazy judge.”
Hardcastle threw him a scowl but just as quickly was on his feet, smiling at the young woman. “Milt Hardcastle, pleased to meet you.” He gestured her into a seat and resumed his own.
“She has a problem,” Mark said. There was a momentary pause which might have been for effect, and then he plunged ahead. “Someone might be blackmailing her.”
Mark edged sideways a little in the truck, glanced out the window at the judge as he entered the building, and then turned back to Andrea. “Don’t worry; he’s good at this stuff.” He smiled and added, “Almost as good as me.”
She looked a bit abashed. “I think I might have been a little out of line when I said he was crazy.”
Mark uttered a short sharp laugh. “Nan, he’s crazy. But he’s still good at this stuff.” The was a momentary pause and then, “How ‘bout the guy with the flashy car who did some time in prison—think you were wrong about him, too?”
“Ah, well, you gotta admit the car’s pretty flashy,” she cocked her head, “but, yeah, I guess I was kinda quick to buy the rumors.”
Mark smiled triumphantly. “That’s one down and 148 to go.”
“The Class of ’89. Our colleagues.” He waved airily. Then he dropped his chin, looking suddenly more practical. “Actually, I just need to win over enough to put together a study group.” He sighed emphatically. “Especially if I’m gonna be missing lectures.”
“Sorry about that.” Andrea matched his sigh and looked around with a bemused expression. “If somebody had told me this morning that I’d be going after some porn publishers this afternoon, I’d’ve said—”
“‘Going after’?” Mark laughed and shook his head. “Hah, we haven’t even gotten to the
going after part yet. This is just reconnaissance so far.” He glanced in the direction of the building again. “He did look kinda excited though, didn’t he?”
J.T. Haller stood on the carpet. He tried to steal himself, he just wanted to get it over with. “It looks like maybe the girl’s turned up again.”
Kayts stared at him. “After all this time and with those currents out there?” He shook his head, cool and disbelieving. “What’s left and where did they find it, Santa Cruz?”
“Not a body. Her. She showed up at Vinnnie’s—he was the photog.”
“That’s not possible.” Kayts looked just marginally less cool. “You assured me. She was dead.”
Haller winced. “Yeah, we both thought so, right? But maybe she wasn’t. Maybe somebody pulled her out, or she came to and started swimming. I dunno. But Vinnie says it’s her.” He hesitated, looking cautious, then plunged ahead. “All I know is this Hardcastle guy—the judge—he left the bench right around when she went in the drink. Now he’s got her and he’s nosing around Vinnie. Hell maybe she had some brain damage. Maybe he’s trying to put it al together for her.”
Kayts scowled. Even that was aristocratic. “If he does, the path will lead right back to us. I can’t have that.”
“Nossir.” Haller tried to sound helpful and reassuring. “I’m on top of it. I got everything there is to get on Hardcastle.”
”You can take care of the matter?” Kayts looked cool and detached again, but there was an edge of menace as he added, “I mean better than you did last time?”
“Absolutely.” Haller swallowed hard. “You don’t have to worry about a thing. I can handle it.”