Some time later, back at Gull's Way, the judge's Halloween party was finally beginning to wind down. Frank Harper, who had stopped by on his way home, sat on the couch in Hardcastle's den, talking with Mark, Cindy, and the judge.
"They were real JPAC members," Frank was saying. "But apparently they had turned into rogue agents some time back without the organization realizing it. They discovered a way to channel money confiscated in drug raids and other illegal activities in other countries into their own pockets, and then stash it in coffins that were supposedly carrying the bodies of deceased service personnel killed overseas. The coffins were then shipped back to the United States, where they were able to secretly recover the money. Unfortunately, one coffin filled with money slipped through their fingers somehow, and it was buried with the cash still in it." Frank looked at Mark and Cindy. "That's the one you two happened to see them digging up."
"Well, all I know is, if it wasn't for Jake telling us where to find those guys, we probably would never have located them again," Mark commented.
"Jake?" Frank asked.
"Yeah -- Jake McKee, the caretaker at the cemetery."
"What's he got to do with this?"
"He's the one who put us on to where those guys were tonight."
"When was he able to do that?"
"Earlier tonight, when we saw him at his office."
Frank shook his head. "Mark, that isn't possible," he said.
"What do you mean, it isn't possible?" Mark replied. "We all talked to him earlier this evening."
"You couldn't have," Frank insisted.
"Because McKee passed away over a month ago. As a matter of fact, he's buried in that very same cemetery."
Mark, Cindy and the judge looked at each other. As one they all turned and looked at a cardboard skeleton that was hanging nearby on the wall.
Abruptly Hardcastle cleared his throat and stood up.
"I need to see if I have any vampire coasters left over for next year!" he said. He turned and walked away, making a beeline toward the kitchen.
Cindy got up too.
"I'm going home!" she said. She headed for the front door.
Mark got up as well. "I'll go with you!" he said. He followed her.
This left Frank all by himself. He looked around.
"Was it something I said?" he mumbled, half to himself.
He shrugged. Noticing an unclaimed cup of punch sitting on the table directly in front of him, he picked it up and took a sip of it.
An expression of extreme distaste spread across his face.
"Whew!" he exclaimed. "That's the worst punch I've ever tasted!"
He put the cup down then got up too, and headed for the door.
NEXT, ON HARDCASTLE and McCORMICK – Virtual Season 4:
“I’m telling you, Frank, it’s the best thing I could do!” Hardcastle insisted as he shouldered through the door from the kitchen, a cup of coffee in one hand and a ham and Swiss sandwich in the other. “An’ think how much I’ll save the city.” He grinned like a cherub at his friend.
“Imagine: a weekend camping in Yosemite!” Opening his arms in an expansive gesture, his expression joyously focused on the sublime, he went on, “Ah, the clear, clean air with a snap of fall; the beautiful colors against the stark cliffs – heaven! And best of all, nobody would think of looking for me there.”
“You’d be safer in a safe house,” Frank insisted in a weary tone that suggested the debate had been going on for some time. “That’s why they’re called safe houses."
Mark quirked a brow and leaned around the edge of his chair to give his two friends a narrow-eyed look. “And just why would it be necessary for the Judge to be in a safe house this weekend?”
Milt left the headlights on to illuminate the area while they set up camp. After he climbed out of the truck, determined to be cheerful, Mark grinned and rubbed his hands together. “Hey, now, it doesn’t get better than this, huh? A creek to fish in practically on our doorstep and nobody around for miles to bother us!”
“No fishin’ in the park, remember?” Milt chided him as he pulled up the collar of his jacket. But, looking around, he nodded, a speculative expression growing on his face as he rubbed his arms for warmth. “Might not be a bad idea to just stay here. If we’re not where we’re supposed to be, nobody is ever going to find us.”
"Where are we? What’s going on?” Hardcastle demanded, confused and not happy about it. “Why’re we sittin’ in the dark?”
“We’re stuck on a mountain, in a blizzard, and I think we’re both sick,” Mark summarized as succinctly as he could.
“Where’s your car?” Mark asked, with an appreciative smile for her long legs – she had to be as tall as he was – and silky curls, as he moved forward to meet her. “Were you camping alone out here?”
He only saw her abrupt, rapid movement out of the corner of his eye, but instinctively he was already jerking away when the Judge shouted, “Look out!”
But he hadn’t been fast enough. He grunted in sharp surprise when she jammed the muzzle of a gun into his injured side, which made the dull pain he’d grown almost used to erupt into sharp shards of agony.
“Hold it right there, cutie-pie,” she drawled, looping an arm around his throat to hold him close as a shield between her and the truck. Instinctively, he grabbed her wrist to pull her arm from his throat because she was pressing hard enough to choke him, but she only dug the muzzle in harder. “Hardcastle!” she shouted toward the truck. “Come out where I can see you.”
“Don’t do it, Judge,” he yelled, knowing she’d kill them both.
“You better hope he does,” she murmured seductively. “I’d hate to have to shoot off an ear just to get his attention.”
“I HATE CAMPING!” he shouted at the clouds and trees in helpless frustration. There didn’t seem to be a way of getting Milt off this damned mountain and to help anytime soon.