Author's Note: I've recently been re-watching some of my Hardcastle and McCormick DVDs. What becomes noticeable, on repeat viewings, are the discrepancies. Most are probably the cause of scenes being shot several times, and then the best parts being cut together for air. One glaring inconsistency is a "wardrobe malfunction" – Hardcastle's tee-shirt style and color changes in the middle of a sequence in Man in a Glass House.

Another discrepancy I saw was the variation of McCormick's watch, in Rolling Thunder. When his watch "stops," Mark is wearing a digital watch, and it appears he is still wearing that watch when he gets to John Dalem's office. But later in the episode it is apparent that McCormick is now wearing a fairly decent analog watch.

This fic is my explanation for that change.

-ck

Disclaimer: I do not own these beloved characters, and I am writing for fun and feedback, not for profit.


KEEP WATCH

by IntialLuv

Johnny "Flip" Johnson had been staring off to the left, admiring – and committing to memory – the smooth lines and powerful appearance of a sleek new Ferrari 308, and so had not seen Mark McCormick's approach. There was no way he could miss the young man's entry into the car, though, as Mark fairy flung himself into the passenger seat and slammed the door so hard the entire car shook.

Flip turned to his friend. "How'd it go?" he asked, his eyes bright and a grin barely hidden below his gray mustache.

"Wonderful," Mark returned. "How the hell do you think it went?"

Flip ignored the angry comment, used to his friend's sarcasm. "You can't be in too much trouble, you're here."

"Nah, Dalem fell for it, thank God. Set his watch back fifteen minutes and everything. I'm sure he'll notice that later, but hopefully he just figures his watch is on the fritz. Oh, here." Mark pulled the Walkman-style tape recorder out of his jacket pocket.

Flip nodded his thanks, setting the device back between the two seats. "I need that for when my attorney and I meet with Cody later. We're gonna record it, then Tolchin will have his secretary transcribe the tape. It was Barb's idea." He smiled fondly, every inch the proud father. Then his face sobered, as he considered Barbara's sudden wariness of Martin Cody. The young woman was fairly certain the industrialist was behind the recent break-in at their home, even though there had been no proof of the fact.

Unwilling to give in to the same suspicions as his daughter, Johnson shook off the uneasiness, and focused on Mark. "So are you going to tell me what happened, pal?"

"Just drive. I want to get the hell out of here."

Flip obligingly started the Pontiac, but he only drove a few blocks away from the Probation and Parole Offices before pulling over to again park near the curb. Mark threw him a questioning look. "What, you gonna make me walk home?"

Johnson was grinning again. "I don't know. Think you need it? You're wound up tighter than a coil spring." The older man socked Mark lightly on the shoulder. "What's wrong?

Mark took a long inhale. "Before I showed, when Dalem thought I was late – "

"You were late."

Mark sent a withering glare at the older racer before continuing. "Before I showed," he repeated, "Dalem called Hardcastle. And I ran into him just as I was leaving."

Flip whistled softly. "No wonder you're in such a good mood. What did he say?"

Mark chewed the inside of his cheek. "Not much. Something stupid about how he's supposedly looking out for me. Like he expects me to really believe he cares a rat's ass about me? All the bastard cares about is how hard I can fall, how fast." Mark was now looking searchingly around the car's interior. "I need a smoke, man."

"Glove compartment."

Mark yanked down the door on the compartment, and took a long look at the several small boxes of toothpicks. "You buying them in bulk now, Flip?"

The older man laughed. "Not me – Barb. She knew I was picking you up today, and threw a couple extra boxes in here for you."

The toothpicks themselves hadn't been Barbara Johnson's idea, but it had definitely been her idea that her father stop smoking. Flip had been a heavy smoker in his youth, and although he'd scaled back both when Barbara was born and again when the nicotine fix became so strong he could barely finish a race without getting the shakes, he'd never been able to completely kick the habit. The years of smoking had greatly reduced his stamina, as well as prematurely wrinkled his skin, giving him the appearance of a man ten years older. When the trio had relocated to California in the spring of '78 (a move suggested by Flip after Mark's recent jail time had made the young racer somewhat undesirable in southern circles), Barbara had declared it was the perfect time for Flip to stop smoking once and for all. "Come on, Dad, look at everyone here!" she'd rhapsodized. "So healthy and tan, jogging and surfing and swimming – "

"Like no one ever did any of those things in Florida," Mark had muttered. Barbara had smacked him, her pretty face screwed up in a scowl. "Instead of making jokes, you could help him, Mark!" she'd said. "You don't know how hard this is for him."

Barbara was right, Mark hadn't known. . . Until he'd spent two years in San Quentin. Previously being just a casual smoker, he'd left prison with a worrisome cough and an almost scary dependency on cigarettes. While Flip was chewing gum and gnawing on toothpicks, Mark would barely finish a cigarette before igniting a replacement, and his clothes and hair smelled so strongly of smoke that Barbara often got headaches when in his presence. Father and daughter had endured Mark's new bad habit for a little over a month before both felt their relationship with the ex-con was still secure enough that they could demand him to stop. Mark had floundered at finding something to replace the cigarettes, so Flip had convinced him to try the toothpicks as well, and the younger man was doing his best – at least when he was in the company of either Flip or Barbara.

Mark now grabbed a box of toothpicks before closing the glove compartment, and sliding the lid of the box open, he shook a few of the little wooden sticks into his hand. The first one he put between his lips broke, and he tossed it on the floor before trying again. The second toothpick broke as well. "Damn it!"

"You're going to get splinters in your tongue," Flip warned. At almost the same moment Mark swore again, followed it up with an "OW!" and then lightly touched a finger to the tip of his tongue.

"Told you," Flip said lightly. "You need to settle down."

Mark dropped the box of toothpicks on his lap, then took his hands and dragged them through his hair, causing several curls to stick out. "I can't help it, Flip. What if I hadn't conned Dalem that I was on time? I don't know what would have happened, if he would have pulled my ticket, or worse – " He inhaled shakily, then let out a soft moan.

Flip leaned over, gripping his friend's arm and waiting until Mark had turned. "You have to take it easy," the older man said firmly. "I don't want you driving tomorrow when you're like this – I don't care if it's not a real race. You can tag the wall and check out just the same driving practice laps."

Mark's face was a mix of horror and despair. "No, Flip, don't – I'm fine! Really! I'll be okay!" He took several deep breaths, visibly attempting to calm himself.

Johnson drew back, shaking his head ruefully. "I don't want to take this away from you, but I can't let you in a race car like this, Skid. If something happened to you – Barb and I, we just got you back."

"Nothing will happen – "

Flip was continuing. "Not to mention, the last time you were in a race car was over two years ago."

"That's why I need to get out there and run the practice laps!" Mark said, his voice rising. The increased volume caused Flip to lift his eyebrows. Seeing the watchful gesture, Mark sighed deeply, slumping in his seat. "Sorry," he said. "It's just that judge! He runs me crazy. I swear he'd get me tossed back inside for jaywalking."

Flip chuckled obligingly at the comment, but didn't respond. Then a slow smile spread across his face. In the next moment he was removing his watch from his wrist, to hold it out toward his friend. "Here, take this."

Mark looked blankly at the wristwatch. "What – what for?"

"Because yours is shot. And if you showing up late to a parole meeting is going to do this to you, then I think you'd better be on time from now on, don't you? Why give your P.O. any more excuses to call up that nutty judge?"

Mark shook his head. "Flip, but you need it – "

"Not as much as you. Go on, take it." As Mark reluctantly took the watch, Johnson pointed at the face. "Got a stopwatch on it, too. Comes in handy for lots of things. And an alarm. You can set it for eight AM tomorrow – that should give you plenty of time to get yourself to the track by ten."

"Ten?" Mark repeated, the relief apparent in just the one word. He took off his old digital watch, shoving it into his jacket pocket, and replaced it with Flip's analog watch.

"Looks good on you." The older man reached over to affectionately tousle Mark's curls, messing them further.

Mark lifted his right arm and gazed at the watch, turning his wrist slightly to admire the dial. "I'll just borrow it, okay?"

"Forget that," Flip answered. "Keep it as long as you need."

Mark nodded with a grin, playing with the dials on the watch face. He quickly decided the unreliable watch in his pocket would only remain there until he came across a trash can. He had an urge to toss the offending timepiece out the car window, except for the fact that Hardcastle would probably see him sent back to prison for littering, as well as jaywalking.

Johnson had his hands back on the steering wheel, and he turned the keys in the ignition, bringing the Trans Am's loud engine to life. Mark looked up suddenly, distracted by the movement and the noise. "Wait," he said, frowning slightly. "I have to get myself to the track tomorrow? Aren't you picking me up?"

Flip chuckled again. "Me? I'm sleeping in tomorrow – I got that late meeting with Cody tonight. But I'll meet you at the track – how about I bring Barbara, and the three of us go out to lunch after? I can fill you both in on the meeting."

"Yeah, sounds good." Mark smiled. Then he shrugged, adding quietly, "I guess I can get a ride from someone else. Or take the bus."

The soft words were not lost on Flip. He looked curiously at the younger racer. "You've got a car. I know it's not a Porsche, but it's not the bus, either. Why can't you drive yourself?"

Mark grimaced. "Ah, well. . . You know the garage I work at doesn't pay a lot, and with rent and bills and food and clothes. . . Well, I kind of couldn't pay the insurance. And I didn't want to fall into that trap again."

As Flip pulled away from the curb into traffic, he did so with loud, hearty laughter.


THE NEXT DAY. . .

Mark continued walking down the track and Brad Bessom let him go, turning to go back to the truck. Mark hadn't even realized the man was no longer trailing behind. He walked another ten yards before the finality of Bessom's words really hit him. Flip. Dead. Dead. He looked around the nearly empty stands, knowing they would be full tomorrow with screaming fans, cheering on their favorite drivers. It would be loud, hot, and exciting.

And for maybe the first time in his life, he wanted nothing to do with it.

Mark doubled over, suddenly unable to breathe. He gasped sharply, choking back a sob, and sank to his knees on the warm pavement.

"Oh, Flip. . ."

It was even hard to stay on his knees – the shock and grief had sapped him of his energy, leaving him feeling like a rag doll. He was soon sitting, with his knees pulled up and his arms crossed around them. He gripped his hands together around his knees, and felt the shape of Flip's watch, tucked under the wrist cuff of his racing jumpsuit.

The watch that Flip didn't need anymore.

Mark started to slowly rock back and forth, lowering his head as the tears began to fall.

END