A/N: Inspired by the Forum Story Starter.

Countin' on a Miracle

By Lizabeth S. Tucker

"You know…there's nothing as tempting as a locked door."

That's what the Judge said to me right before he left for the police station. I didn't reply, couldn't really. I mean, I understood what he was saying, but still, did he hafta go tell Frank about it? Geez, one of these days they'll really arrest him and then what happens?

Funny thing is, this time I wasn't the one who finessed the lock. It was the Lone Ranger himself, retired Superior Court Judge Milton C. Hardcastle, a man who always sees right and wrong as black and white. So why did he do it?

For me.

The weight of that fact, the warmth that it generated will always stay with me. How can you repay a guy who puts it on the line for you time after time, finally using the skills that I idly taught him one afternoon to try and save my life? I don't know, but I'm gonna try to find a way.

As soon as I can make my body move at my command.

It started so simply, a throwaway case that should've taken no more than a day to conclude. We were looking for a runaway, the 15 year old daughter of another of Hardcastle's old judge buddies. We already knew who she was staying with and Carolyn, the daughter, had called her dad ready to come home. All we had to do was pick her up.

I volunteered to drive her to Gull's-Way by myself. The Judge would be picking up her father at the airport and would be home about two hours afterward. No problems anticipated, right? I should've known better. Whenever things appear simple in Hardcastle's world, that's when they go terribly wrong.

I got to the address Carolyn had given her father and parked the Coyote in the driveway. It was a small cottage, probably was once quite a nice place, but fifty years of wear and tear, of the neighborhood going downhill had changed it to one step from condemnation.

Not expecting any trouble, I sauntered up to the front door and rapped on it with my fist. I waited patiently, glancing around the front yard, noting the weeds poking through the dead grass.

I knocked again, this time hearing a quickly cut-off scream. "Carolyn? Carolyn Spencer!"

I was just about ready to bust the door in when it slowly opened. A young girl peered through the narrow opening up at me, her chin quivering.

"Carolyn?" I asked softly. "Are you Carolyn Spencer, Judge Franklin Spencer's daughter?"

She nodded slowly.

"I'm Mark McCormick. Your dad asked me to pick you up, take you to meet him." I wasn't too thrilled at her lack of response, but I put it down to the fact that I was a stranger. "Are you ready to go?"

"I…I guess," she stepped back, letting the door fall farther open.

I stepped inside and felt my head explode, or so it felt like.

That's the last thing I remember before waking up in darkness, unable to move. I was never so frightened in my life. I could feel the rough hemp ropes around my wrists and ankles, but I couldn't seem to move enough to even test the knots. I was breathing and there didn't seem to be any type of gag in my mouth, so I could call out for help…except I couldn't. I was paralyzed.

I couldn't tell how long I had been unconscious, but there was a sliver of light coming in under the door, so it was daytime. It looked like the light of the sun, not that of a light bulb. Believe me, when you're locked in a cell, you quickly learn to tell the difference.

I was facing the door, so I could watch that light, see the shadows moving back and forth in front of it. I could hear the screams of a young woman being beaten, her pleading for him to stop, then there was only the sounds of fists hitting flesh. There were no more cries from Carolyn.

I hoped she was unconscious, I feared she was dead. And still I couldn't move, couldn't cry out for the beating to stop. I lay helpless in the musty room, surrounded by the smell of clothes and dust.

I watched as the light faded from under the door, heard the slam of a door and the sound of a motorcycle engine moving farther and farther away. I wondered if I would ever be found, if the Judge would ever think about looking for me here.

Then I remembered that the Coyote was parked outside. Surely the Judge would investigate the house, would find Carolyn, but would anyone consider looking in the closet?

As the darkness closed in, I fell into a numb state, similar to sleep, but not the same. It was a state of nothingness.

It seemed forever before I heard noises again, but I later found out that it was about four hours after I had arrived at the house. I heard the beautiful sound of Hardcastle's voice, calling for me, for Carolyn. I heard the choked cry as he found her body.

He called for me again, his tone now worried. He actually came to the door, trying the knob, but it was locked. I almost cried as he walked away, searching throughout the house.

Hardcastle called for the police over the phone, then went outside. I struggled to move, to signal him that I was here, I was alive, but it was useless.

Then I heard it. The scritch of metal on metal. My lock picks had been in the Coyote, hidden where no police officer would find them if I was pulled over, but where the Judge was well aware that they resided. He was picking the lock on my prison door, just as he did the front door of the house.

It took him longer than it would've taken me, but soon enough the door was pulled open and I saw his craggy face staring worriedly down at me.

I've been in the hospital for two days now. The feeling is coming back, but I still can't make my body move to my command. The doctors said something about swelling in the brain and pressure on the nerves. I don't really understand it, but they promised everything will be normal if I just give it time. Okay, I guess I can believe them. Milt brought some fancy doctors here to look me over. Considering the cost, they'd better be right. I can speak and be understood, if you listen carefully. I asked Hardcastle what made him pick the lock on the door, a closet as it turned out to be. His answer sounded like something I would say.

"You know…there's nothing as tempting as a locked door."

He went on to explain that it wasn't logical that a closet would be locked in a house where there was nothing to steal. I couldn't argue with that, but still…I wish he had stayed here with me instead of telling Frank about his picking the lock and breaking in. Frank's gonna know I taught him and I'll never hear the end of it the next time we meet for poker. He'll claim I'm corrupting Hardcase.

Yeah, maybe he's right, but I'll tell ya something. I'm damn glad I did.

January 2005