Inspired by the epilogophilia of L.M. Lewis, Cheri deFontenay, and Owlcroft, this is an epilogue for the episode If You Could See What I See. For the most part I avoided Mark Twaining it with the vernacular, assuming that the reader is familiar enough with the characters to know that, for example, Hardcastle would pronounce the line, "What do you mean?" as "Whadda ya mean?" Applying the standard disclaimer, I do not own these characters and make no profit from them.
No Uncertain Terms
by Paula Douglas
"Well, kiddo," the Judge said, "how does it feel to be in charge of the silver again?"
McCormick smiled ruefully. "Oh, great. Nothing better." He gave one last wave as Millie Denton's cab passed through the inner gate, and when it disappeared around the curve of the drive they turned together toward the house. "Say what you want, Judge, but she did some good while she was here."
"What do you mean?" Hardcastle protested. "I never said anything!"
"You didn't have to. C'mon: I know you guys didn't hit it off."
"Not everyone has the taste and discernment to like me, McCormick," the Judge said loftily.
McCormick laughed, then paused before the first of the broad flagstone steps. "Give me a hand, here, will you? And quit making me laugh: I only had half a pill."
"Whose fault is that? Hey, the doctor wouldn't have given you drugs if he didn't want you to take 'em! What's the matter with you?"
"They make me feel out of it," McCormick said sulkily.
"Well, that's S.O.P. for you. Why all of a sudden does that have to change?"
McCormick smiled at that but he couldn't spare any effort for a rejoinder. His sole focus was on negotiating the steps. While he could shuffle along fairly well now on flat surfaces, getting up and down stairs without involving any major muscle groups on the left half of his body was still a trial. The stitches pulled abominably when he lifted his left foot, and whether he took the prescribed drugs or not the broken ribs under his left shoulder blade produced shocking stabs of pain with the slightest unguarded movement. The cane—he had to hold it in his right hand—helped him favor his left side, but even so, when it came to stairs he was perfectly willing to accept help from the Judge rather than come to grief on his own. The drugs took the edge off, it was true, but at the cost of his mental alertness: what he hadn't said, and what he didn't feel up to explaining, was that he didn't want to be more handicapped than he already was, if one of the Judge's many felonious fans picked this time to show up looking for revenge. In another man, in another situation, that might have been raving paranoia, but over the last three years at Gull's Way there had been so many attempts on his friend's life that for McCormick it was simple occupational prudence. They paused at the landing, and Hardcastle, who had mended his pace to match McCormick's, pushed open the screen door and held it for him. He stepped carefully over the sill, accepted the Judge's help down the steps into the den, and limped to the sofa, where, frowning with concentration, he broke the previously simple process of sitting down into a series of deliberate, cautious steps, then leaned back with a sigh and closed his eyes, worn as much from apprehension and the emotional strain of trying not to hurt himself as from the excursion. Hardcastle settled into a wing chair nearby, where he sat silently for a few minutes, then fidgeted. McCormick didn't open his eyes. "What?" he said.
Hardcastle blinked. "What?"
"What, Judge? Something's bugging you. You think I can't tell?"
"You're bugging me, McCormick."
McCormick opened his eyes but didn't lift his head. "Ju-udge…"
Hardcastle sighed theatrically. "Okay. You're right." A small victory for McCormick: he smiled. "There is something," the Judge said. He looked out the window at the perfect blue of the day. McCormick waited patiently, but when several minutes passed like that and still the Judge seemed determined to remain silent, he said, with conscious irony, "Judge. ESP? I can't read minds."
Hardcastle scowled at him. "Alright. Look." He paused again, then plunged in, speaking with a rush. "I want you to know I'll understand if you don't want to do this anymore."
McCormick raised his head and stared. "Do…what?"
"You know. This." Hardcastle gestured vaguely. "Riding shotgun and everything."
"What are you talking about?"
Hardcastle gave an impatient jerk of his head. "I'll understand if you've had enough, if you don't want to do this anymore."
"Are the drugs affecting your ears? I'm telling you that you have a choice, here. I want to be clear about that. Now, before, I didn't give you a choice. You know: it was either saddle up or go back to the big house. But this is different. It's not…I'm not holding you to that any more, okay? I want you to understand that." He glared defiantly at McCormick, who struggled to sit upright. Seldom had Hardcastle surprised him so completely: he would not have been more astonished if he'd suggested hang gliding off the garage. "Are you saying you don't want to do this anymore?"
"It doesn't matter what I want!" Hardcastle cried impatiently. "This is your decision! Don't worry about what I want."
McCormick snorted. "Oh, that's rich. And what do you mean, 'this is different'?"
"Look at you!" Hardcastle cried. "You can't even climb the stairs! That's what's different."
"Ohhh, you mean because I got hurt." McCormick smiled serenely. Irritatingly.
"Judge, I don't know how to break this to you, but this isn't the first time I've gotten hurt running around after your agenda. Haven't you been paying attention? This isn't even the first time I've been shot. And it's sure as hell not the first time I've been shot at. Besides, we've both gotten hurt. It kind of goes with the Batman and Robin territory, you know? It says so right on the lease to the Bat Cave. Page three, the small print."
The Judge glared. "You're not answering the question."
McCormick rolled his eyes. "Okay, fine. The answer is no, I don't want to stop being Tonto. Are you happy now?"
Hardcastle looked anything but happy. "Hey, I want you to think about this. Don't just say what you think I want to hear!"
"Judge," McCormick said, grinning, "believe me, I have never just said what I thought you wanted to hear."
"You're not taking this seriously, McCormick. Don't you get it? It's my fault that this happened to you, and—"
"Your fault? How do you figure that?"
"You said it yourself: I got you into this!"
"Hah! I say that all the time. How come this time I'm right? Because I got hurt?"
"Judge…" McCormick began, then stopped, puzzled to know how to explain. He might have said that knowing the depth of Hardcastle's feeling for him made the pain of his injury a small price to pay; might have pointed out that as much as he loved life and feared death he'd stand before a firing squad for his friend, that he would change nothing and that he would do it all again—all of it, even prison—to be where he was today, and that no force on earth could make him resign from the post of Tonto. But these were things that his nature, and Hardcastle's, made it impossible to say. What he did finally say was, "Do you remember when we were driving home from D.C.?"
Hardcastle frowned at the apparent non sequitur. "Yeah," he said warily.
"Do you remember what you told me?"
The Judge shrugged. "I remember driving back," he said. "I don't know if I could swear to any given conversation. What does that—"
McCormick held up a restraining hand. "Just let me explain," he said patiently, and Hardcastle conceded. "It was at Amarillo, right before we stopped for ice cream, remember? I asked you, how come you aren't worried about all these bad guys you've been after all these years? Not just now, when we're herding them into the cattle pen of justice, but before. Before you retired. Aren't you worried that they might come after you? Do you remember that, that I asked you that?" Hardcastle shook his head. "I remember what you said, too. You said" --dropping his voice into an imitation of the Judge's growl-- "'Those guys are scumbags, and all scumbags want you to be afraid of them.' You said it gives them ef…Ef…"
McCormick looked at him in surprise. "Yeah. You do remember."
"No. No, I've just always thought that."
McCormick nodded thoughtfully. "Yeah. Yeah, well, I never did. You said if you're afraid of these guys, then you give them efficacy, something they couldn't earn on their own in a million years. You also give them power: Power over your life. You let them set the terms of your life. I've always remembered that, because it kind of hit me then: Judge, I have spent so much time doing stupid stuff and letting other people set the terms of my life. Too much time. But you know what? Until I was standing there in that pool house with Falcon and Price, I never really got it, you know? Those guys were scumbags: They wanted me to be afraid of them, and when they were standing there and Price had that gun, I was. 'Cause I knew—" He stopped abruptly, his eyes filling, his throat closed, appalled by the sudden intensity of his emotions. He hadn't meant for the conversation to turn so serious, had never imagined that just talking about that night would affect him so powerfully. He stared at the floor, blinking fast, fighting for his self-control and grateful when Hardcastle remained silent and waiting. He knew that if he made eye contact with the Judge he would lose it for sure, so he stared fixedly at a spot on the rug.
"I knew they were going to kill me," he said finally, his voice tight with emotion. "I knew it, you know? But then I thought about what you said and I wanted to…" He shook his head and brushed angrily at his eyes. "They weren't going to let me live," he began again, "and there wasn't a lot I could do about that. But I could finish…I could do that on my terms. That's why I went for the gun. I thought that if you walked in on a fight, you'd at least have a chance." He swept his hand impatiently over his eyes again, then looked up, anxious to be understood, and met the Judge's solemn gaze. "I could do something on my terms. For once." He gave a self-conscious little laugh. "I know: drama queen. Look: I don't mean I'm glad that all this happened, exactly. But I'm not sorry, either." He frowned. "That sounds stupid, doesn't it?"
"No," Hardcastle said quietly. "No, it doesn't sound stupid." This wasn't the direction he'd foreseen the conversation taking, either, and now he was profoundly sorry that he'd started it, and that he'd caused the kid more pain. He tried to steer them back to someplace safer, and added, "Insane, maybe."
McCormick appreciated the effort. "Yeah, that's the word I was looking for." When he didn't say anything else Hardcastle said carefully, "Are you saying that you getting shot isn't my fault because you're not sorry it happened?"
McCormick rolled his eyes. "No, I'm saying it's not your fault because you didn't shoot me. I don't remember a lot about what happened that night, but I do remember that Wendell Price was the one holding the gun."
"You wouldn't have been there if I hadn't made you go to that party!"
"Judge, you said I didn't have to go. You stood right here in this den and said I could stay home if I wanted to. Well, I didn't want to. If I wanted to go to the party, how is that your fault? Come on."
"You didn't want to go!" Hardcastle cried. "That's the whole point. You didn't want to go and you went anyway!"
"Well," McCormick shrugged, "I admit, if you'd decided to stay home I would have been glad. But you didn't, and you know what? There's worse things than going to a fancy Hollywood party and getting shot."
"Yeah, like what?"
"Like not going. Judge, they were going to kill us both," McCormick said sensibly. "If I hadn't gone with you and gotten suckered by that waiter, I'd be pressing dried flowers from your funeral arrangements into an album right now. You think I'd rather be in that nightmare? This is nothing."
"It's not nothing!" Hardcastle was almost shouting. "You nearly died! And besides, you don't know that that's what would have happened. It's not an either-or proposition. It doesn't work like that."
McCormick shook his head. "Judge, you know, I don't know why you're fighting me on this. I'm trying to tell you that I don't blame you for what happened, okay? I just don't. Don't you see that? I mean, I know you want to argue this all the way back to my parole and make it your fault on some deep philosophical level or something, but can you give me a little credit here? Me playing Tonto has nothing to do with the State of California's fine print. That's not why I went to the party. That's not why I'm here. That's not why I don't blame you for any of this. Judge, I went to the party because…because friends look out for each other, okay? Now, you're right: Millie told me something bad was going to happen, and I kind of believed her. You're right about that. But there's some things that are more important to me than not getting hurt. Like making sure you don't get hurt. Okay? Now: This is my life, and those are my terms, and I get to set them. And you know what else? You'd do the same thing, if the shoe was on the other foot, and you know it, because you have."
Hardcastle sat there looking obstinate and contrary. He didn't say anything, but McCormick could see him marshalling his arguments for another assault and realized that he could as profitably talked to the Judge's gavel. "Well," he said resignedly, "if you won't believe that it wasn't your fault, will you at least believe that I don't think it's your fault?"
Hardcastle knew an olive branch when one was handed to him, but he also knew that McCormick was right. A little. Maybe. Besides, even he wasn't cross-grained enough to keep trying to talk McCormick into giving the answer that he'd been afraid the kid might give in the first place. "Yeah," he said grudgingly, scowling. "I guess I can believe that. But that list of things you're wrong about is getting pretty long. Are you sure you want to add to it?"
McCormick grinned. "I'm sure," he said, and reached cautiously for the TV listings on the end table. "Hey, know what else I'm sure about? The one with the stitches gets to pick the movie."
Hardcastle shook his head regretfully. "And the list just keeps growing."
"You know what else the one with stitches gets?"
"More of 'em?"
"Huh-uh. Ice cream. C'mon: help me hobble painfully into the kitchen, and I'll think about letting you use the remote."