A/N: This was originally printed in Who Rides for Justice? 2 sometime in the late 1980s.
Seeing is Believing
By Lizabeth S. Tucker
Mark McCormick gazed off where he imagined the leprechauns had disappeared, a sense of wonder overwhelming him. "I met a real leprechaun, a whole bunch of them! Wow. Wonder what you call a group of leprechauns, anyway?"
He looked down at the unconscious circus manager, knocked out by one of his traps, and grinned delightedly. "Bet he wishes he'd never kidnapped them." The swinging tire wouldn't have worked against his pixies, it was set too high, but it was perfect for normal-sized humans.
At a rustling in the bushes behind him, he turned, expecting to see Hardcastle coming across the lawn in search of him, but his grin slipped. There was no Hardcastle, no anybody, in sight. Shrugging, McCormick knelt next to his victim, checking for signs of returning consciousness. Suddenly, he was pushed from behind and fell forward over the tire, the smell of the rubber filling his nostrils as he tried to rise. But he couldn't move. He was pinned by an unyielding weight on his back that pushed him into the ground, the pressure painful. He felt his concentration fading and made a final effort to get up. He almost made it to his knees when a sharp blow on the back of his head stilled him. He tumbled to the ground beside the tire. As awareness dimmed, he wondered how to tell the Judge that he'd turned down his free wish for capturing the leprechauns.
"Frank, you okay?" Judge Milton C. Hardcastle pried Lieutenant Harper's jacket form his arm, the blood from the gunshot wound already slowing to a trickle.
"I'm fine. I've called the troups in, but looks like all they'll have to do is clean up the garbage strewed about the estate. You do throw some kind of party, Milt," Harper teased, relaxing in the police car's front seat. "Mark really saved the day, jumping the guy like that. But, dammit, he could've been killed. I think your Crusader Rabbit routine's infecting him. Speaking of which, where is he?"
Hardcastle took a quick count of the fallen bodies surrounding the overturned buffet table. His young friend wasn't among the unconscious and wounded, for which he breathed a sigh of relief. "I don't know. Come to think of it, I haven't seen him since the fighting started."
The lieutenant straightened, frowning. "You don't think he was hurt, do you?"
"I don't know. That circus guy isn't here, either. Maybe the kid went after him," he replied, feeling increasingly uneasy. "We wouldn't have been able to hear if he called for help. I'm gonna go look for him."
Hardcastle shook his head. "You're hurt."
"A scratch, Milt. I'm coming with you. Mark's my friend, too, ya know."
Relieved, he smiled, nodding. "Okay, he didn't head for the house, I know that. Let's try this path. It's a quick way off the estate, and if he was chasing that circus fellow, they might've gone this way."
They hurried down the concrete pathway, one checking the right side in the bushes, the other peering to the left, and almost stumbled over the bodies.
Hardcastle dropped to his knees beside McCormick, the stillness of his young friend frightening him, and gently turned him over. McCormick's face was ashen, accenting a nasty cut just below the hairline and a dark bruise growing around it. The black eye, courtesy of Hardcastle, also stood out, swamping him with guilt.
Harper checked the other body. "This one's unconscious. How's Mark?"
"I don't know. He's so pale. This is the second time in as many days he's been unconscious; third time he's been hurt."
"Yeah, I noticed the shiner. Had to work to get the story behind that outta him. This guy's not going anywhere." Harper got to his feet and leaned over Hardcastle to see McCormick's condition for himself. "I'll get an ambulance."
"No!" The voice was harsh, breathless.
The two men looked at McCormick who was struggling weakly in the Judge's arms, seemingly unable to focus his eyes on either of them, his head lolling about spastically.
"Kid, you're hurt. The doctor's wanna look you over, keep you for observation." Hardcastle tried to reason with McCormick.
"No hospital…stay home…promise…no hospital…promise…"
Hardcastle looked at Harper for assistance, but there was none coming. "Okay, hotshot, unless it's really serious, I'll let you stay home." He wasn't pleased, but if it quieted McCormick, he'd make any sort of promise the kid wanted to hear. "Can you tell me what happened? McCormick?"
"He's out again, Milt," Harper commented. "Do you think that was such a good idea? I mean, he'll be really pissed when he wakes up in the hospital."
"No, I don't think he does need an ambulance. I'll call Charlie. He likes the kid, he'll come out here." Hardcastle slid his arms under McCormick's knees and shoulders, picking him up as if he were weightlifting something infinitely precious and fragile.
"What're you doing, Milt? You'll put your back out," Harper protested.
"I don't want to leave him out here on this hard concrete with that scum. I'm taking him to the den." Hardcastle stalked off, staggering a bit with the weight, his face set stubbornly.
Handcuffing the other man to a nearby tree, Harper trailed after him. "You take care of Mark. I'll call the doctor. Number in the file?"
"Yeah, Charlie Freedman," he answered as Harper, easing past him, opened the door to the main house. Entering, Hardcastle carried McCormick into the den and carefully laid him on the couch, then gently placed a pillow under the curly head. "He hasn't moved, Frank. You don't think he's hurt bad, do you?"
Harper shrugged. "I don't know, Milt. The kid's pretty resilient, but like you said, he's had several blows to the head lately. That's not good."
Pacing nervously, Hardcastle listened to McCormick's breathing, grateful that it seemed normal, then perched on the edge of the coffee table. Wonder if I made the right decision in not calling an ambulance? I know how he feels about hospitals…but what if I made the wrong decision? What if he is seriously injured? He jumped up and continued his pacing. Halting beside the desk where Harper was speaking on the phone to Doctor Freeman, he drummed his fingers on the desk, casting quick concerned glances at McCormick.
Harper hung up and smiled. "He said he'll be right over. Pretty nice service, personal house calls at the drop of a hat." Seeing that Hardcastle wasn't responding to his baiting, he sobered. "How's he doing?"
"Still out cold. He doesn't react to anything, Frank. He's been so strange lately. I'm worried about him," Hardcastle said, his eyes never leaving McCormick. "Talking about leprechauns and magic and gold in the yard. Is he cracking up?"
"Nah, I don't think so. Come on, Milt, are you sure he wasn't pulling your leg? You two do like to play it to the hilt."
"But elves? Magical little people? That's…crazy!"
"Hey, you know as well as I do that there's a streak of innocence in that boy, a childlike belief in fantasy and dreams, happily ever after. Is it gonna kill you to let him believe in leprechauns? Hell, he never got to be a kid when he was one, let him do it now," Harper urged, strolling over to the window. "My guys are here. Guess I'd better go out and direct the clean-up. Then I'm heading to the hospital, get this patched up." He turned. "Keep me posted on Mark, huh? I'll probably head back to the office after I finish at the hospital." Patting the Judge on the shoulder, Harper left, letting the doctor in as he opened the door.
"Milt? Where are you? What'dya do to my favorite patient?" a voice called.
Hardcastle rushed to the hallway, beckoning the physician to enter. "In here, Charlie. McCormick's been knocked out."
"Why didn't you have him taken to the hospital? They'd have looked him over."
Sheepishly, he shrugged. "The kid came to for a bit, made me promise to let him stay here. You know how he is."
"Yeah, that I do. I remember when you had that biopsy.1 Not to mention the time we thought you weren't long for the world.2 Let me take a look at him. Why don't you go get something to drink, Milt?" The doctor suggested, bending over McCormick.
"I'm not thirsty."
"Well, I am. Scotch on the rocks with a splash will do," Freedman replied.
Hardcastle grumbled, heading to the kitchen to find a glass and some water. "You don't fool me, Charlie. You just don't want me lookin' over your shoulder. Might find out what a quack you really are."
"And he'll be okay?" Hardcastle asked for the umpteenth time.
"Yes, Milt," the doctor answered patiently. "Make sure he's comfortable. Keep him covered and, for God's sake, in bed." Freedman headed for the door. "Oh, Milt, don't let it throw you if he's a little delirious. If he doesn't come to, say, by tomorrow, give me a call."
The Judge reached out and grabbed Freeman by the jacket, halting the doctor's progress. "Not come to? Whaddya talkin' about? Is there something you're not -- "
"Now, now, Milt. Calm down," his friend chided gently, carefully detaching Hardcastle's fingers from his jacket where it was crumpling the expensive material. "You're mother-henning it. Mark'll be fine. He'll have a bad headache and some dizziness, might be a bit disorientated, too. Make him take it easy, but don't worry, he'll recover nicely." The doctor transferred his bag to the other hand, again trying to get out the front door. "And be sure to bring him to my office as soon as he feels up to moving about."
Hardcastle shook Freedman's hand vigorously. "I will. And thank you, Charlie, thank you very much."
When the door closed behind his physician friend, Hardcastle went upstairs for a thermal blanket to cover McCormick. It had taken some effort, but he and Charlie had managed to undress McCormick and put him in pajamas, after Charlie mentioned that he might sleep more comfortably that way. Finding a blanket without too much trouble, Hardcastle laid the fuzzy cover over McCormick, carefully tucking it over and under his feet.
At a loss for anything more to do, he pulled a chair up close to the coffee table and sat, watching his injured friend. Where before there had been frightening stillness, now there was mumbling and twitches. Hardcastle couldn't make out what the younger man was saying, but he seemed disturbed about something. Watching McCormick made him nervous, so he fixed an early dinner, brining the food to the den so he'd be present when McCormick came back to consciousness.
Hardcastle jumped, startled out of a light doze, and looked over to find McCormick thrashing about, trying to kick the blanket off. Tears leaked from between the closed eyelids, and Hardcastle frowned, puzzled as to the cause. Whatever it was, McCormick was deeply disturbed about it. Rising, he grabbed McCormick's arms, holding him on the couch.
"You're safe, kid. You're okay. Nothing's gonna happen to ya," he soothed, murmuring inanities until McCormick calmed down. "What happened to you out there, son? Or are you remembering a bad time? And why'd you take on that guy with the machine gun? You're gonna get yourself killed someday."
Gradually, the sound of Hardcastle's voice lulled McCormick back into a calm sleep, his body relaxing, his breathing evening out. "That's it, Mark, go back to sleep," he instructed, tenderly repositioning the blanket back across his chest. "Dream of your leprechauns and whatever mystical creatures that might inhabit your whimsical mind. 'Cause that's all it was, a dream. A dream brought on by worry over the Coyote's repair bill and the car insurance and the fact that I haven't paid you for so long. I didn't mean to push you so far. I'm sorry, kid."
Hardcastle sat for awhile and listened to the muted sound of rain hitting the den window. As he went to the linen closet and got another blanket and pillow, carrying them back to the den, he toyed with the idea of carrying McCormick upstairs to the main bedroom. But the ex-con was too heavy to be climbing stairs with. "That's all I need, to fall halfway up, letting you bounce down one step at a time. You'd really be in fine shape then. Huh, Frank'd probably arrest me for 'child abuse'."
Hardcastle plumped the cushions in the chair and laid his bedcovers on them. He couldn't bear to leave McCormick alone for the night. He wasn't as worried as before, but he didn't want him to come to in the middle of the night, disoriented and stumbling about the den, tripping over furniture. Hardcastle switched the lights off in the room, leaving only one on dim. Pulling the blanket over him, the Judge slumped in the chair, propping his feet up on the coffee table that separated him from McCormick on the couch. Gradually, he slid into sleep, his eyes slowly defocusing as he gazed at McCormick.
Someone was talking, the sound penetrating Hardcastle's consciousness. His dreams fled, and as he opened his eyes to the faint daylight filtering in the windows, an unpleasantly pungent odor finished the waking up process. "What the…"
Glancing at McCormick, who was mumbling in his sleep again, he sniffed the air, then realized it was himself he was smelling. Damn skunk. How am I supposed to get rid of -- Yeah! Rising, he went to find the pamphlet his late son had bought when one of the dogs had treed a skunk that didn't see the humor in the situation.
Hardcastle rifled through the bookcases, then the cabinets beneath. "Dammit, kid, you've been organizing the library. How am I supposed to find anything when you do that?"
"I don't have the money, Benny, but you know I'll get it." McCormick's voice rang out, loud and clear, in the quiet den.
Hardcastle paused and looked toward the couch, listening to the pleading in his friend's voice, the quiet desperation. McCormick's eyes were closed, but his face was animated, the white bandage on his forehead giving him a rakish look.
"Please, give me a little more. The Judge hasn't paid me yet, but he will."
McCormick subsided, and Hardcastle waited for more, but none was forthcoming. "Come on, kiddo, come back to me, will ya?"
No response to this, either. Hardcastle sighed and went off to gather his skunk cleaning ingredients, having found the small white pamphlet under an old copy of a household hints guide that belonged to his late wife. Returning to the den, he mixed the tomato juice with the other household products, then glared at the odd colored concoction a hesitate second before smearing the mixture on his forearms.
"Aw, come on, Benny. Two whole months to fix my car? What… McCormick jerked upright. "Yeow!" His eyes snapped open, his hand going to the bandaged forehead.
"Easy. Easy, McCormick," Hardcastle reassured him, then explained what had happened while he had been unconscious.
Standing on the front step, gaping at the fully restored Coyote and the back-to-normal yard, McCormick pulled the blanket even closer, suddenly lightheaded. As his vision blurred and his legs turned to jelly, he reached out, desperately grabbing for the Judge, but Hardcastle was a million miles away, and he couldn't seem to force a sound past his lips.
Hardcastle turned back to McCormick, a befuddled smile on his face that quickly disappeared as the battered man collapsed. The Judge caught him before he hit the ground. "You'd better get back inside. Charlie said you should stay off your feet for a few days. Come on, you overgrown kid."
He guided the weaving, shaky McCormick inside, back to the couch, where the younger man sank limply into the soft cushions.
"You okay now?" Hardcastle asked.
"Yeah. Woozy. Thirsty, too." McCormick closed his eyes wearily.
"I'll get you some water." The Judge tucked the blanket in before going to the kitchen. When he returned, he found McCormick curled into a ball, sound asleep. Smiling affectionately, he set the glass on the table and, stretching, wandered to the window to look again at the miracle in the driveway. "I don't believe it. There are no such things as leprechauns."
"Oh, there're not, are there?" an Irish brogue asked from behind him.
Spinning around, he looked in vain for the speaker, recognizing the voice as belonging to the leader of the Donmore Guaraufrauncs, the band of gypsies who had fired McCormick's imagination and been the cause of World War III on the estate grounds.
"Why?" It was the only thing he could think to ask.
"Your young friend could have had anythin' he wanted, but refused," answered his unseen visitor. "He told me he had all a mon could want, a friend who'd do anythin' for him, no matter how ridiculous. But that friend doesn't seem ta understand him, do ye, Judge Hardcastle? Ye force him ta prove his loyalty ta ye, testing him constantly. Yet I feel ye have great love for the lad. His goodness had ta be rewarded. The gift of his beloved vehicle was small enough return for our freedom. And since the lad is responsible for the upkeep of the estate, thus the additional gift. He believes, Judge Hardcastle, he has the faith of his ancestors. Learn from him."
"Why did you come back?" the Judge asked, walking to McCormick's slumbering form.
"Your young friend was injured through a mistake of me cousin. He was afraid the lad might follow us, or tell others about us before we could slip quietly away. He tried ta use powers that were too strong for him ta control, and Mark was injured. That, too, had ta be rectified. We canna heal the lad, but we can give him the sleep of the gods to restore his strength. He shall sleep for another day and, upon awakening, will be as new." The voice grew fainter as the leader explained, the last few words almost inaudible.
Hardcastle sat on the edge of the couch, thinking over what the little gypsy had said. At last, he nodded, and gently stroking McCormick's arm, answered softly, "I guess I'm afraid of losing ya, kid. You deserve better than I've been treating you. I'll try to change. I promise."
1 "déjà vu" -- Rerun IV fanzine
2 "Do Not Go Gentle…" -- aired episode