Originally printed in Dial 'S' for Steele, Simon, & Sleuths at Large #2 in the mid to late 1980s.

Revenge Isn't Always Sweet

By Lizabeth S Tucker

1.

"Reports today from the District Attorney's office confirmed that Roscoe Lee Thompson will be testifying against reputed kingpin of crime, Salvatore Lorenzo next week. Thompson is being held in maximum security, his whereabouts unknown. Neither Mr. Lorenzo nor his attorney could be reached for comments on this development." Mark McCormick threw the newspaper down onto the kitchen table, watching Judge Hardcastle beating the eggs beyond death. "Wasn't Lorenzo one of yours?"

"Yeah," Judge Milton C. Hardcastle, retired jurist and current headhunter of particularly vicious criminals, answered. "He managed to have the main witness against him killed, but the prosecution couldn't prove it, so he walked free. I hope Thompson is made of stronger stuff. Lorenzo was one of the worst. Loan-sharking, pimping, protection rackets, drugs, you name it, he was involved in it."

"You forgot murder, Judge."

"Murder was a hobby for him. He liked to kill people when he was younger. Now he's too old and too rich, and much too important for that sort of hobby. Lorenzo is on the boards of half the museums and charitable organizations in this city."

"You sound a little bitter, Hardcase."

"Maybe I am, kiddo. It's bad enough that this piece of garbage keeps from prison, but he's honored at celebrity roasts. All the best people find it amusing to call him a close friend. That bothers the hell out of me."

"Well, they've got him this time. I've been reading about this Thompson guy. Seems he was one of Lorenzo's most trusted lieutenants until the big boss decided he liked Thompson's lovely wife. Only she didn't want to play the game. Lorenzo raped her and she killed herself the same night. Thompson swore revenge, and this is it. He really loved his wife. I think Lorenzo is in big trouble this time. Supposedly, Thompson knows where all the bodies are hidden and plans to tell everybody and anybody who'll listen to him."

"Yeah, so I've heard." Hardcastle shrugged into his denim jacket. "I think these eggs are hopeless. Want to head to town for some breakfast?"

"Your treat?" Mark asked, already halfway to the door.

Hardcastle grimaced. "Yeah, since I managed them, I'll spring for breakfast."

"I should've known we'd go someplace disgustingly cheap if you were paying," Mark griped, trying to pour a cup of grease off of his eggs into his coffee saucer.

"I'm paying for this, kiddo. You want something fancier, you pay for it," Hardcastle retorted. "There's Frank now."

Mark sighed. "I should've known it was too good to be true. We've been without a case for a whole week now. I should've figured you were up to something. Mind letting me in on it?"

"Hiya, Mark, Milt." Lieutenant Frank Harper, another of the Judge's old friends on the police force, threw himself into the seat across from the Judge, grinning at the goop on Mark's plate. "Horrid stuff, isn't it? Only cops with iron stomachs eat here."

"Or ex-cops, and ex-judges we all know and, at this moment, don't love," Mark sniped. "What can we do for you, Frank, or should I ask?"

"Nothing big, I had assumed you already knew," Frank said, looking pointedly at the Judge.

"Okay, Hardcase, what are we jumping into this time?" Mark asked, pushing the plate of congealed eggs away from him.

"Remember the Thompson-Lorenzo thing you were talking about this morning?" Hardcastle asked cheerfully.

"Yeah?"

"Well, we're going to help with the security arrangements."

"Don't tell me we're gonna baby-sit this guy, Judge?"

"No, Mark, you're not. But we want the two of you to check out the house for weak spots," Frank replied.

"Why us? I mean, you've got lots of cops who thrive on that type of work. Other than being a friend of the Judge's, why are you coming to us?" Mark was waiting for Hardcastle to answer, but so far the Judge wasn't responding.

"The problem is the cops involved." Frank shrugged. "There are at least ten cops on Lorenzo's payroll that we suspect, probably more than that. We aren't sure who we can trust. I know I can trust you and Milt, that's why I want you to check the place out."

"No guarding, no danger, no undercover work?" Mark prodded.

"None. Nobody will be at the place while you're checking it out. Thompson has to testify for the first time this morning."

"Then why didn't you tell me about it, Judge?"

"I wanted you to decide on your own." Hardcastle finally entered the conversation. "Besides, I didn't think you'd believe me if I said we were going to do something for the cops that didn't involve you in some sort of danger."

Mark smiled evilly. "That's the truth." Laughing, he nodded. "Sure, sounds simple enough."

Lieutenant Harper stood back up, shaking his head at the uneaten breakfast. "Tell you what, Mark, when you guys get done, I'll buy you lunch."

"What's wrong, Judge?" Mark asked after the police lieutenant left. "You don't seem too happy about this?"

"Nothing, kid. It's probably indigestion." Hardcastle threw some bills onto the counter. "Let's go check this place out."

"Whoa, what's indigestion? Judge, are you okay?" Mark grabbed the Judge's arm as he stepped out of the small diner.

"Just a little stomach pain, that's all. The dinner we had last night must have been bad. I'll be fine, really." He pulled away, climbing into the cab of the truck.

Mark, after a moment's hesitation, got into the passenger side. "Let me drive."

"You don't know where we're going," Hardcastle snapped, then relented at the concerned look on McCormick's face. "I'm okay, hotshot, don't worry. We'll get this done, I'll go home and drop a couple of antacids, no problem."

With a worried frown, Mark waved them on. "Okay, let's do it. The sooner I get you home, the better I'll feel."