A/N: Suggested by Amy on the Gull's-Way forum.
Disclaimer: I wish I did own anything of SJC, 'cause then I'd have enough money to buy Gull's-Way and have a huge slumber party, followed by a beach picnic, since the pool is gone.
Shades of Love
By Lizabeth S Tucker
"I'm telling you, Judge, it's not safe for you to be out in the open like this. Not with Guzman killing people left and right." Mark McCormick struggled to keep up with retired Superior Court Justice Milton C. Hardcastle while keeping the garden center's flatbed cart from veering off on its bad wheel and still scan the surrounding area for possible danger.
"Kiddo, if I hid away every time some lowlife threatened me, I'd never see daylight," Hardcastle growled.
"But this guy is serious! He's already killed two witnesses from his drug trial as well as his own attorney, just for losing the case."
"McCormick, I appreciate the concern, but I have no intention of giving in to Guzman's threats."
The two men walked into the shade of the archway, momentarily blinding the younger man. A slight noise, the scrape of leather on rough concrete, caused McCormick to release the flatbed and push Hardcastle behind him as he spun about.
"What the hell are you doing, McCormick?"
"Thought I'd find you two here." Frank Harper took note of McCormick's protective stance. "Expecting trouble?"
"Guzman," Mark replied, as if that said it all.
"Ahhh, heard he escaped, did you?"
"Heard from him."
"It's nothing, Frank. Just a note that came in the mail a couple of days ago." Hardcastle ignored the police lieutenant's startled reaction, walking on through the garden center.
"A note? From Carlos Guzman?"
"None other," Mark threw over his shoulder as he resumed pushing the cart of plants and mulch, hurrying to catch up with the Judge. "It was a death list and Hardcase was on the top of the list."
"And would someone like to explain to me why this is the first I've heard about it?" Harper frowned, trailing after the two men.
"Tonto wanted Sheriff to know, but Kemosabe refused."
"It's no big deal," Hardcastle insisted.
"Milt, don't be obtuse. It's a threat against an officer of the court which is a crime. I want that note."
"I tossed it in the trash where it belongs."
"Threw it out?!" The lieutenant's voice was raised in anger until McCormick grabbed his arm. "What?" he snapped at Mark.
"I've got it. And the envelope it came in." At the Judge's sharp look, the younger man shrugged. "Sorry, Judge, but Frank's right. It's a death threat and it has to be reported." He turned back to Harper. "I was careful, Frank, didn't touch it more than I had to. It's at home in a plastic bag."
"Good. Glad to see that someone has common sense."
Hardcastle bristled at this dig. Mark idly listened to the two old friends wrangle about the situation. He kept his own eyes on the surrounding area, convinced they were being watched.
-- H&McC --
"I've got him in my crosshairs, boss. Why not take him out now?" Leo Lipman kept his eye locked to the scope of his sniper rifle.
"Oh, no, my friend. That would be too easy. First we kill the others. Then we go after Hardcastle, up close and personal. I want to know everything, from the layout of his estate to floor plans for the house. And I want information on the young stud who seems to accompany him everywhere."
Guzman shook his head. "No, he's long dead. I recall reading about it when I had him assigned to my first trial. If this young man is equally close, we may be able to use him to inflict more pain. I will have to see."
"So why are we here?" Leo asked, losing sight as the men moved farther into the garden center, joined by a third man he immediately recognized. "There's a detective by the name of Harper down there."
"Only to be expected, Leo," Guzman said. "As to why we're here? I wanted to see if the letter I sent to the esteemed judge was having any effect."
"The young guy looked a little antsy."
"Yes, he did, which means he knows about me and the threat to Hardcastle. Yet I don't believe he is a cop, so I need to know exactly what his relationship is to the Judge."
Leo caught sight of the men as they doubled back, following the curving path. "You think the Judge is a little light in the loafers? I've gotta admit, the young guy's a looker."
Guzman thought about that notion, finally shrugging. "I wouldn't have guessed it, but you never know. I can't believe there wouldn't have been a rumor or two floating around if he did play on that side of the fence. I did a fairly extensive search for dirt during the trial, believe me. He could have waited until he was off the bench to indulge that particular vice. Might be another way to get at him, cause him pain, even if it isn't true. Get me goods on this young man, Leo."
"You've got it, boss."
-- H&McC --
Unwilling to trust Hardcastle not to delay the delivery of the threatening letter, Frank Harper followed the Judge and McCormick back to Gull's-Way. The black and silver pickup truck was loaded with bags of fertilizer for the lush green grass as well as some bedding plants for near the front door.
Frank chuckled. Although Hardcastle had a gardening service that came every six months, the majority of the day-to-day grunt work of being a gardener fell to McCormick. It was a source of endless arguments, the Hardcastle and McCormick form of conversation.
Frank parked his department issue Ford behind the truck, watching as Mark jumped out of the vehicle, hurrying to the Gatehouse. Frank got out of the car.
"Milt?" He called to his old friend, currently glaring in McCormick's direction.
"Sneaky little…" Hardcastle muttered as he joined Harper.
"He's worried, Milt. He's got good reason to be. It hasn't hit the news yet, but three of the jurors were murdered yesterday."
"The jury forewoman was blown up on her houseboat. The other two were shot at long range."
"How good were the shots?"
"One each, square center of the forehead," Harper replied.
"Couldn't be Guzman. When Carlos personally fired a weapon, he was more a 'spray the bullets' kind of guy."
"Sounds like he's hired a sniper," Mark commented, scoping out the distance between the estate and the nearest hill just a short half-mile away. "Maybe we should take this inside."
Frank's smile was understanding as he watched Mark try to usher the Judge inside the main house. After listening to the older man grumble and drag his heels, the amused lieutenant decided to help. "Milt, don't be a donkey. Get in the house."
Tickled, Mark grinned. "Donkey! See, even Frank recognizes what you are. Heehaw, heehaw!"
"Doesn't even sound like a donkey," Hardcastle tried to sound annoyed, but the smile gave him away.