-1Missing scene from "The Birthday Present"

The Loss of Innocence

By Lizabeth S. Tucker

(Originally published in Sweet Justice 2, 1986)

"Oh, God, what happens next?" Mark sat back on his heels over Weed's body, a deadened feeling spreading through him. He had killed another human being. Mark had never, ever killed anything in his life, not even animals. Oh, sure he had shot at some people since coming on with the Judge, but other than an occasional wounding, no one had been seriously hurt. Mark glanced over at Sandy Knight, lying wounded on the pavement nearby. "Sandy, you okay?"

"Yeah, yeah. Is he dead?" came the gasping voice.

Mark nodded slowly, then realized that the cop probably couldn't see him. "Yes, he's dead."

"Good job, Mark. Didn't know you had it in you," Sandy commented, coughing with the pain of his gunshot wound.

Mark flared up. "No, it's not a 'good job'! I've killed a man, Sandy, do you understand? I've killed a man!"

Sandy rolled over, propping himself up on an elbow. "He shot the Judge, who'd probably dead by now. Weed deserved to die, Mark."

"Where the hell have you been all these years? Didn't you ever listen to what Hardcastle was saying? It doesn't solve anything, k-killing Weed won't make the Judge live." Mark choked, his grip on the gun tightening.

"Drop it!"

Mark looked up to see three cops holding their weapons on him. He started to stand, but the guns and faces of the policemen indicated that he should stay perfectly still.

"You heard me, I'm not going to tell you again. Drop the gun! Now!"

Mark slowly put the gun on the ground, pushing it away from him. The officer who had spoken grabbed his arm and swung him up and around against the hotel wall, frisking for weapons. He tried to explain what had happened.

"Put a lid on it, buddy. You'll get a chance to say your piece at the station. You have the right to remain silent. If you give up the right to remain silent…" The red-haired cop handcuffed him, then read him his rights off the card. One detached part of Mark's mind knew that the Judge would be pleased at that.

"Hey, Frank, this is that PR guy from the Department. He's been shot, better tell the ambulance to hurry." One of the other cops knelt over Knight, pressing his palm against a freely bleeding hole in Sandy's chest.

The ambulance arrived just as the police officer put Mark into the squad car. McCormick watched as the attendants lifted Knight into the vehicle and covered Weed with a sheet, then was driven away. He stared out the car window, replaying the shooting over and over again in his mind.

The uniformed cops took him to an interrogation room and left him, a guard outside the door to prevent him from leaving. Mark laid his head in his hands, his elbows propped up on the table. He sat there for almost fifteen minutes, trying to calm his heart, which was threatening to race away from him. When the door finally opened, he didn't look up, his muffled voice stating what he saw as the facts.

"Look, I know I'm on parole and I stole a car and was in possession of a gun, but the gun belongs to a friend who was shot and the doctor gave it to me at the hospital, which I had no way of leaving, 'cause Sandy wouldn't take me home, and he was going after Weed and…and…" Mark stopped, hearing how his words were rushing out in an incoherent flow. He panted, on the verge of hyperventilation, the breaths coming in sharp spurts.

"McCormick, you don't have to say anything more. I've come to take you home."

The familiar voice drew Mark's attention and he raised his head to see Lieutenant Bill Giles gazing at him with concern in the deep brown eyes.

"Bill? What are you doing here?"

"I talked with Knight and he explained everything. He's in a lot of trouble. The Department will have him suspended pending his trial board hearing, and then they'll give him the option of quitting or being fired."

"How is he?" Mark didn't appear to have heard anything Giles had said. His thoughts were confused.

Giles realized that the 'he' was Hardcastle. "The Judge is still alive. And Knight is doing fine, also. What about you?" Bill asked, his hand resting on McCormick's shoulder.

"I don't know. Too soon, I guess. What's gonna happen to me?" Mark interlaced his fingers, the hands shaking. "Have you talked to the hospital about Milt?"

"Yes, in fact, I talked with him. He's awake and doing fine, but he was worried about you two."

Mark murmured a silent prayer of thanks, his shoulders slumping in relief.

"As to what is going to happen to you…" Giles waited until McCormick looked him in the face, then continued -- "nothing."

"What?"

"You were on the way home with the gun when you realized that Knight was planning on doing something stupid, that you were the only one who could find him in time to stop him from committing murder." Giles shook his head. "You should have called me, son."

"I couldn't. I don't think I knew what I would do when the moment came. I wasn't even sure I could find Sandy or Weed in time."

"I spoke to the car's owner. Since there was no damage, and I kind of intimated that it was an emergency, he won't be pressing charges."

"You've done a lot in a short time." Mark stood, looking about aimlessly. "What do I do now?"

"You go home." Bill looked at the lost young man. "Believe me, I know what you're feeling, and there is nothing a cop hates more than killing another human being, but sometimes it happens. You deal with it, either on your own, with the help of friends, or, if you feel the need, professional help. Son, if you feel the need, go to Gulls-Way and get blind drunk. It helps some people. Others sleep for forty-eight hours straight. I used to go on a strenuous hike."

Mark smiled faintly, his trembling less noticeable. "You -- exercising?"

"Hey, I used to be quite a hunk, as my daughter calls them." Bill laughed, patting the paunch drooping over his belt. "It was a few years ago, admittedly, but under all this softness is a muscular body ready to come out."

"I don't have a way home. Could you lend me cab fare?"

"I'll drive you."

"No, I want to go to the hospital -- see Sandy and the Judge first," Mark replied.

"Okay, Mark, let's go." Giles had his arm around Mark's shoulder as they walked down the hallway, feeble comfort but understood by the ex-con as genuine caring.

Mark stood in the hallway after his talk with Hardcastle. He was waiting for the doctor to come and tell him whether the Judge was doing as well as he seemed, needing the reassurance again, although the man had told Giles when they arrived that Hardcastle was a tough old bird and would be going home before a younger man would have. McCormick had almost lost it inside the hospital room, almost broken down. It would have embarrassed Hardcastle and upset him, which was something Mark wouldn't do for the world.

He had thought to visit Sandy, but he didn't have the heart for it. He knew he would scream if Mr. Perfect praised him once again for the shooting. Didn't anyone understand? He had killed another human being! It didn't matter that Weed was scum itself, or even that he had attempted to kill the Judge, although perhaps, if Hardcastle had died, Mark would have felt differently.

'Thou Shalt Not Kill' had been drummed into a young McCormick throughout his formative years by the Roman Catholic nuns at his grade school. Admittedly, so had 'Thou Shalt Not Steal', which hadn't seemed to have taken quite so well. McCormick laughed bitterly. Both Giles and Hardcastle had referred to him as if he were a cop. Wasn't that a laugh? No, he guessed it wasn't that funny after all. What he had done was quite a bit like police work, and cops did sometimes have to kill. How did they deal with that power, that responsibility? It had seemed such a joke when he had played at being Dirty Harry when he went undercover as a police officer to uncover a secret hit squad that dwelt in the heart of the Department itself. Now it wasn't so funny.

How did the Judge deal with it? He had killed two men since Mark had joined up with him, both in defense of Mark's life. He tried to remember how the Judge had appeared afterward. A little hyper, a little somber when they returned to the estate; he would growl a bit more than usual, and Mark would be careful not to push his luck too far, keeping his smart remarks to a minimum.

Mark glanced down the hallway, seeing Bill Giles, old friend and ex-partner of the Judge and new friend of his, waiting patiently in the blue and green room filled with ancient magazines and horrid plastic chairs. This self-pity, he decided, was not worth of him, not someone in whom the Judge had placed such trust and friendship. Mark gave a wry smile and admonished himself to straighten up. It might have been his first actual…killing, but he was certain that it would be his last. He had no stomach for it, and was determined not to fall into such a trap again.

The doctor was coming, and Mark had many questions for him. He pushed his morbid thoughts to the back of his mind and sorted through the long list of questions he had about Hardcastle's condition.

"Well, how is he?" Giles asked.

The drive to the estate had been completed in silence. Mark smiled his first genuine smile since the unusual case had begun. "He shocking the hell out of the doctors. They thought he'd die without ever regaining consciousness. Then his eyes opened. Then they believed that Milt would never recover enough to leave his bed, but now the verdict is he'll be going home in less than a month, if continues recovering at his present rate."

"Thank God!" Giles exclaimed fervently.

"Amen to that."

"And you?"

The car was sitting, idling in the driveway. The lights had come on automatically at dusk in the study and living room, giving an appearance of life.

"I don't know, Bill. Like you said earlier, I'm not the first man to kill someone. I guess after two years of this business, not to mention being inside, I should have a callous view of violence, but frankly, I don't much care for it. And I'm gonna make damn sure it doesn't ever happen again!"

"Good luck with that," Giles said doubtfully.

"You don't think I have a chance?"

"I think that you will never beome resigned to killing, but I also think that this may come up again. Will you be able to squeeze the trigger then? To save a life?"

"I don't know. I don't want to know," Mark replied, agitated. He got out of the car, his hands on the window's top.

"I'd think about it, lad. The next time might be to save the Judge's life." With those words, Lieutenant Bill Giles drove off, leaving Mark staring after him in dismay.

"I don't know," Mark repeated softly to himself. "I just don't know."