Loose Ends- cheride
Disclaimer: This is a work of fan fiction for entertainment purposes only. The characters and concepts of Hardcastle & McCormick do not belong to me, but to their creators.
AN: This story originally appeared in the first S.T.A.R. for Brian CD-zine, Pastiche a Trois. Thanks again to everyone who has helped toward the goal of seeing Brian Keith immortalized on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
And, just in case it's been a while since you've seen the eps, today's guest stars first appeared in Poker Night and Once Again with Vigorish.
"McCormick, what're you doing? You're not even dressed yet!"
McCormick didn't look up from his cereal. "Good morning to you, too, Judge," he said around a mouthful of toasted oats. "I slept just fine, and I'm feeling wonderful this morning, thanks for asking; and how 'bout you? Oh, and by the way, come on in."
Hardcastle grinned as he slipped into the second dining chair. "Okay, sorry, but it's after nine already, and we've got an appointment downtown."
That got the young man's attention, and he plopped the spoon into his milk. "Downtown? Ah, c'mon, Hardcase, it's my—" He paused very briefly. "My day to weed the rose garden," he finished smoothly. "And you know it needs to be done early, before it gets too hot."
The judge was still grinning. "It's already past early, kid, and it's practically October, so I don't think it's gonna get all that hot. And, besides, I didn't forget it's your birthday."
McCormick grinned back at him. "Yeah? Then what'd you get me?"
"You said you didn't want to make a big deal out of it," Hardcastle reminded him.
Mark's grin faded slightly. It was true that after last year's fiasco, he had intended to keep things fairly low-key. But even so . . . "Well, yeah, but I thought I might at least get a break from playing Tonto. Just for the day."
"Ah, c'mon, McCormick," Hardcastle mimicked the other man's whine, "it's nothing major, just a little legwork at the courthouse. Won't take long at all."
McCormick raised an eyebrow as he took another bite of breakfast. "Just the courthouse?" he asked after a moment.
"No bad guys? No guns?"
"Nope. Not even any fast driving."
"Well you don't have to go overboard," Mark laughed. He picked up the pace with the spoon. "Just give me about twenty minutes."
"Okay," Hardcastle agreed, rising and turning toward the door. "Oh, and later, Frank and Mattie want to take you out to lunch."
The young man just nodded, and kept eating.
McCormick grinned over at the judge as he pulled into the parking lot. "Hey," he said reasonably, "it's my birthday. There can be fast driving if I say so."
Hardcastle was shaking his head as he climbed from the Coyote. "You're lucky you didn't end up gettin' dragged here in the back of a squad car."
Mark thought about telling him that one of the unexpected perks of playing Tonto was that it had been a long time since anyone had pulled him over, but why give up a perfectly good gig? He'd hate for Hardcastle to make a few well-placed calls and tell patrol to quit cutting him slack. Instead he just shrugged. "Must be my lucky day," was all he said, and followed the older man up the steps to the building.
Nodding at the various court personnel, McCormick was still following Hardcastle, making his way through the halls energetically, waving at the attorneys, a quick hello to the bailiffs.
"Hey, Kemosabe," Mark said lightly, "you gonna tell me what we're doing here or what?"
With a sideward glance, Hardcastle answered, "Gotta wrap up a couple of things from a case, that's all; just a few loose ends. I told ya, it won't take too long." He stopped outside a set of double-doors. "Now, hold it down," he instructed, "court's in session."
"Oh, great," McCormick said sarcastically just as Hardcastle opened the door and led them inside.
They slipped silently into the back row, and Mark smiled fondly as he recognized Mattie Groves on the bench. He leaned close enough to whisper at Hardcastle. "Nice to see a friendly judge," he grinned.
Hardcastle didn't speak, but the answering expression was closer to a grin than a scowl.
They sat silently as Mattie worked efficiently through the items before her. It was a morning of motions. Mark found himself a little bit disappointed that there wasn't some kind of interesting trial going on. And yet, as the various people got up one by one to state their cases, he couldn't help but find himself just a little bit . . . interested. But that wasn't the kind of thing he could tell Hardcase. Not yet.
"Looks like she's going to get through the morning without sending anyone to the chamber," he commented, as the crowd dwindled to just a last few.
"Must be all caught up on her quota," Hardcastle shot back. "'Sides, there's still afternoon session."
McCormick just shook his head with a wry grin, and was hit by the thought that still came to him every now and then: Life sure has changed. Sitting here in a courtroom, joking with the guy that had sent him to prison, was not a situation he would've ever imagined. And yet now, he couldn't really imagine it any other way; couldn't fathom the circumstances that would lead him back to—
"Now hearing State vs. Mark McCormick."
The words were so stunning, McCormick almost thought he'd imagined them; thought he'd sat right there and transported himself a few years into the past. But when he turned to laughingly confess this brief lapse of reality, Hardcastle was already on his feet and looking back expectantly. And in that instant, McCormick was so filled with remembered fear that there was no longer any hint that life had changed at all.
Except for the one unexpected constant: Trust Hardcastle.
McCormick didn't rise, just lunged sideways to grab the older man's arm and tug him back to his own seat. "Judge," he whispered frantically as Hardcastle dropped abruptly next to him, "what's going on?"
"You're up," the judge answered, as if that should explain everything. "C'mon, it'll be quick."
McCormick didn't release his grip. He was too busy running through possible recent transgressions and calculating time. "Quick?" he repeated, disbelieving. "You mean like two to five quick? What the hell is going on?"
"State vs. Mark McCormick." The repeated announcement carried a touch of annoyance, but McCormick was too distracted to notice.
"Come on," Hardcastle repeated, rising again.
But the ex-con was still glued to his seat, trying to make sense out of the unthinkable. And he had pretty much decided that nothing short of physical force was moving him from this spot, until Hardcastle leaned back down to whisper the only thing that could change his mind.
"Trust me, kiddo."
Swallowing hard, McCormick rose and started toward the front of the room just as the clerk called his name the third time. He slipped into place behind the defendant's table, Hardcastle at his side.
"Nice of you to join us, Mr. McCormick," Mattie said from the bench. And though she was smiling, Mark saw only a judge who'd been kept waiting.
"Sorry, Your Honor," he mumbled.
Judge Groves hurried on. "We're here today for the final disposition of pending charges filed in this jurisdiction on September 14, 1983. Who appears as counsel for the defendant?"
"1983? What?" McCormick inquired quietly, but Hardcastle was conducting business.
"Milton Hardcastle, Your Honor."
"And for the State?"
"Pamela Munson, Your Honor."
McCormick leaned around his lawyer and looked at the prosecutor's table for the first time. "Pam?" This was getting weirder and weirder. He looked back at Hardcastle. "Judge, please, what's this all about?"
But Hardcastle just shushed him and pushed him down into the chair as Pamela began her recitation.
"In September 1983, Your Honor, Mark McCormick appeared before the court on multiple charges, including grand theft auto, breaking and entering, flight to avoid arrest, willful disobedience of peace officers in discharge of their duties, reckless endangerment, and vandalism."
If McCormick had not been working so hard to suppress a groan, he might've laughed. Had they really been so eager to convict him they thought it necessary to add vandalism to the list? He shook his head slightly and tried another question. "Hey, I thought most of those charges had been dropped?"
Hardcastle waved him back into silence, and Mark was beginning to have the very real idea that the older man was taking some pleasure in leaving him in the dark. But Pam was still talking, and he got his answer there.
"Following the suspension of proceedings, new facts came to light concerning the rightful ownership of the vehicle Mr. McCormick was charged with stealing, and the State no longer had a good faith belief that his confiscation of that vehicle was more than a rather unorthodox repossession. Consequently, that complaint was withdrawn from the filing, as were the two other charges directly related to his removal of the vehicle, breaking and entering and vandalism. The property owner was advised of his right to pursue civil recompense.
"However, the charges stemming directly from the defendant's refusal to submit to lawful arrest remain an active part of the filing, and it is those charges we wish to revisit today."
"Thank you, Counselor." Mattie glanced down at a page on her desk, then back toward the defendant.
"Mr. Hardcastle, you are in agreement with the charges and specifications?"
"Yes, Your Honor."
McCormick was still silently adding up the years. Of course, he'd known he was racking up quite a bill when he took the Coyote.
But even through his haze of fear and confusion, he was certain Hardcastle wouldn't just ship him back off to prison without so much as a word of warning, so maybe the guy had worked out some kind of suspended sentence, or something. If so, that would only leave him with a revocation hearing to get through.
Only a revocation hearing, he thought disgustedly. How many times can you dodge that bullet?
"Those are serious charges, Mr. McCormick," Mattie interrupted his thoughts.
The judge looked down at him consideringly. "You did understand that those charge were still pending?"
"Ah, yes, ma'am. 'Indefinitely' was the timetable I was given."
Mattie smiled. "It might surprise you to know that there was a slightly more specific guideline entered for the record." She lifted a page from her desk and read aloud.
"'At Magistrate's discretion, these proceedings shall be held in a state of abeyance until such time as the condition of parole is satisfied or revoked, or until defendant has demonstrated to the court a remarkable and verifiable solidity of character and determination toward reformation of behavior.'"
She looked at Mark again. "The original Justice has recommended that this case be brought forth now."
McCormick was running the words around his mind, putting the pieces together. His parole hadn't been satisfied. And by the grace of God—and Hardcastle—it hadn't been revoked. That only left . . . He smiled slightly as he leaned his head toward his attorney. "Indefinitely, huh?" he whispered.
"Layman's terms," Hardcastle whispered back, but he was smiling, too. Then he stood to face the bench.
"Your Honor, the District Attorney has received notice of our intent to seek dismissal of these charges. The foundational crimes that precipitated Mr. McCormick's attempted arrest have been removed from consideration of these proceedings. And even with a legal obligation to follow lawful orders of sworn police officers, my client also had an obligation to return stolen property to its rightful owner. I have affidavits from all of the subsequent arresting officers that attest to the fact that no resistance was offered once said property had been returned.
"Further, as to reckless endangerment, this charge is baseless. At the time, my client was a professional driver, perfectly capable of removing the vehicle in question without risk to person or property. And while one officer was slightly injured in pursuit, Mr. McCormick is the one who witnessed the injury and pulled him from a burning car to save his life. There is nothing reckless about that. The officer in question will testify that my client appeared genuinely concerned with ensuring his well-being."
McCormick thought that had gone pretty well, until the judge spoke again.
"It does appear that you've done your homework, Counselor," Mattie said with a slight grin. "However, these issues seem to be not matters of law, but questions of fact to be decided at trial." She glanced at the other table. "Ms. Munson?"
Pam rose. "We agree, Your Honor, that these would be issues best considered at trial. However, after review of Mr. Hardcastle filings, we also believe that there is sufficient cause to find that the circumstances surrounding Mr. McCormick's actions mitigated their criminality. We are therefore withdrawing our complaint in its entirety, and request that the record so reflect."
McCormick's smile returned as he watched a well-laid plan in action.
"Any objections, Mr. Hardcastle?"
"None, Your Honor."
"Very well. In that case, in the pending matter of the State vs. Mark McCormick, I hereby affirm that all charges and specifications have been withdrawn, thereby releasing Mr. McCormick from any further responsibilities to appear before any court in defense of said charges." Her eyes met Mark's. "This case is dismissed, Mr. McCormick."
And then the clerk was calling the next case, and Hardcastle was hurrying him away from the defendant's table, up the aisle, and into the hallway, Pam following just behind.
The judge was the first one to speak. "Good call, Counselor," he grinned at Pam.
"Well who wants to try a case against the great Milton C. Hardcastle?"
McCormick finally found his voice. "You scared the hell out of me, Hardcastle." He didn't wait for an answer. "And thanks, Pam, for helping out. But, hey," he whirled back to Hardcastle, "I thought you didn't pull strings?"
But it was Pam who answered. "Oh, this wasn't pulling strings, Mark, this is legit. When the GTA charges were dropped, the remaining case really did get a lot weaker. Honestly, somebody was probably just being petty to leave the charges hanging at all. But then the Lone Ranger over here drums up some pretty compelling witnesses whose testimony is going to help you more than it is us, and that's not even counting the other affidavits he was hinting could be gathered, all from people who'd rather sing your praises than convict you."
Mark cast a sideward glance at the older man beside him, but the DA continued. "There's nothing to be gained by prosecuting you, Mark. And, besides, I hate to lose."
McCormick laughed, and reached out to give her a quick peck on the cheek. "Well, thank you anyway, Pam. I appreciate it." He had a sudden idea. "Hey, are you comin' to lunch with us?"
"Oh, I can't do it, Mark; I'm sorry. I'm in court all afternoon. But I'm glad I got to do this." She hugged him briefly. "Happy birthday, and congratulations." She tossed a quick wave, then hurried away.
McCormick watched her for a moment, then turned back to the judge. "And I guess I should thank you, too, you old donkey."
"Just a little birthday surprise," Hardcastle shrugged it off as he directed them to a bench out of the way. "Mattie'll be done in just a little while."
"And it's a nice gift," Mark admitted, "but you couldn't've warned me first?" he complained, plopping onto the seat.
"Then it wouldn't have been a surprise," Hardcastle pointed out reasonably.
"Still. You 'bout gave me a heart attack."
Hardcastle twisted to look at the younger man. "Why?" He seemed honestly puzzled by the idea. "You know I'd never let anything happen to ya."
McCormick took a second to marvel over that simple truth, but decided not to admit that it was the only thing that'd gotten him through the last fifteen minutes.
"It's just that I never thought I'd have to deal with that stuff again."
The other man cocked an eyebrow. "You knew the deal."
"Yeah, I knew 'indefinitely'. I thought maybe that meant 'forever'."
Shaking his head, the judge commented, "Well, your PD understood the terms; didn't he explain it to you?"
McCormick rolled his eyes. "That chipmunk, Miller? Gimme a break. He couldn't explain ice to an Eskimo. Besides, I only talked to him because you told me I had to. I'd already made my decision, you know. I woulda signed your papers right there in the cell."
"No one should make decisions concerning their case without consulting their attorney," Hardcastle said formally.
"Yeah, yeah, so you said. Anyway, first of all, Miller wasn't too happy to have been dragged downtown in the middle of the night over someone like me. And second, all he kept saying was that I should sign up before you had a chance to change your mind. Seriously, Judge, if you thought that was a productive legal consultation, you were sadly mistaken."
Hardcastle was beginning to look a little discomfited at McCormick's description of his previous legal counsel, but Mark waved it away. "Never mind that. I want to talk about today."
The older man simply looked back openly and said, very steadily, "Okay, what about it?"
McCormick lost a little bit of steam. "Well," he began hesitantly, eyes dropping shyly away from the jurist's gaze, "I guess I just wanted to thank you."
"You said that," Hardcastle reminded him.
"Yeah, but . . ." The ex-con took a breath and started over. "I meant specifically; the criteria you set. That stuff about solid character and reformed behavior." He still didn't meet Hardcastle's eyes. "I know there've been times you've wondered about that."
"Well," Hardcastle smiled, "maybe. But that was a long time ago."
McCormick thought he had kept the surprise off his face, but the judge seemed to pick up on it anyway.
"What?" Hardcastle demanded. "You didn't think we're doing this now because it took this long to convince me?"
McCormick shrugged. "Not exactly. But I suppose I might've given you reason to doubt."
Hardcastle looked directly into Mark's eyes. "No," he said earnestly, "you haven't. Oh, I might've questioned your methods from time to time, but I've never doubted your motives."
McCormick's smile lit his face. "Yeah? Then this is probably the best present you could've gotten me."
"Present?" Hardcastle leaned back and examined the other man. "You mean this would've been enough?" He huffed dramatically. "Then I'm taking your gift back."
And as Mattie Groves finally stepped into the hallway, McCormick was laughing with the man who had once sent him to prison, and knowing that no gift would ever be better.