It was later that evening, back at the estate, that Mark noticed the relief had not yet come. The two men sat in the den, each nursing a beer, the remnants of a festive meal scattered on the coffee table. The celebration had been quiet, in keeping with the fact that there were still three not-yet-officially-solved deaths. Even the John Wayne movie on TV was muted and neither man was paying it any attention.
Mark stirred slightly in his chair and reached for his beer glass. “So who killed Professor Hawskworth?” he said. “And why did he want my head on a platter?”
Hardcastle grunted in acknowledgement. “And who sicced the sedan on us?”
“The real problem with always being at the top of the suspect list,” McCormick continued, “is that it makes the cops quit looking for the actual bad guys.” He looked over at the judge. “You do think they’re looking now, don’t you?”
Hardcastle nodded quickly. “Sure they are. Frank’s known all along it wasn’t you, and even Kohler had sense enough not to press official charges.” He paused, looking pensively into his own beer.
McCormick could tell that wasn’t all the man had wanted to say. “But?” he finally prompted.
“But I don’t know if there’s much of a trail.”
“You really think someone can get away with this kind of conspiracy? Hell, this much conspiracy. I thought you had more faith in the system.”
Hardcastle gave his head a shake. “I never said it was perfect. Besides, conspiracies are easy to get away with—as long as you kill everyone involved, which seems to be what they did.”
“And eventually, Hawksworth is going to be officially responsible for the first two murders,” Mark said, realization sinking in.
“Most likely. I hate to say this, but in the absence of something clear-cut, I don’t know how much energy the cops are likely to put into investigating the death of a double murderer.”
It was then that McCormick relized how tightly his hand had closed around his glass—knuckles showing white and just beginning to shake. He grabbed it with his other hand and lifted it to his lips, draining it. Finally he spoke again.
“You’re saying we might never know the truth. Whoever it was that set me up and caused three people to die—they might get away with it.”
Hardcastle cast a sharp glance. “I never said that.”
The retired jurist held up a hand to forestall questions or argument. “Someone wanted you out of the way, kiddo, and I’m betting they still do. It may not be soon—might need to let some dust settle—but I doubt we’ve seen the last of them, whoever they are.”
McCormick finally pinpointed the reason the relief had eluded him. Of course the man was right; it had been foolish of him to think this might actually be over. He mulled it a moment longer and then said, “We’re going to have to figure it out on our own, huh?”
There was no denial, just a windy sigh from Hardcastle, who finally said, “Hard to say, but maybe. Wouldn’t be the first time.”
“You think I’ll at least have time to get through finals first?”
Hardcastle flashed a tight smile—the humorless kind that McCormick had recognized long ago as pure determination.
“Probably,” he said. “But I wouldn’t make too many plans for summer vacation.”
The two men sat in silence as the darkness fell.
TO BE CONTINUED . . .