A/N: Originally published in Four Aces Beat a Full House #2 in October 1988.
Return to Terror
By Lizabeth S. Tucker
"I don't know about this, Hardcase. Maybe we should forget about the whole thing." Mark McCormick paced the den, holding a file folder and shaking his head. "It could get ugly…not to mention dangerous."
"It's not dangerous. You know the truth, don't you?" Judge Hardcastle continued typing in the required information on the admittance forms.
"Well, sure. But who's gonna believe me? Judge, don't do this." McCormick paused before the desk, pleading his case. "This isn't like our other cases. This…this is scary. They use drugs and shock treatments and God knows what else in that hospital. What if something goes wrong? What if you're discovered? I can't back you up if I'm stuck here." The ex-con resumed his nervous pacing.
Hardcastle smiled with uncharacteristic patience and explained…again. "People are disappearing in there and there doesn't seem to be any way of controlling the flow of stolen drugs out of the place. Johnson was in my court because of drug sales before and got off with a slap on the wrist from the medical board because there was no conviction. We have to stop him from being able to practice medicine of any kind. And this is the best way to catch him in the act. Besides, you're always complaining about being the target; here I am drawing the fire and you're still not satisfied." Hardcastle relented, softening his tone. "Don't worry, I'll be wired. Everything will work out okay. Just don't tell anyone where I am, or what I'm doing. There's a leak in the department already. We don't want them to know any more than they already know. Carlton has been inside for almost three weeks, posing as an aide. There's a nurse helping us, too." Hardcastle gathered the forms and stood. "No more arguments. It's settled." He started for the door.
"I thought this was a partnership," McCormick grumbled, picking up the overnight bag and heading to the truck. "Give and take, push and shove. More like a dictatorship, if you ask me."
They drove to the hospital in silence. Hardcastle was mentally reviewing the situation at the mental hospital while McCormick became more and more concerned about the Judge's backup – or the lack thereof – and cover story. Carlton was okay, but deep down he hated to see someone else doing his job.
A few hours of steady driving brought them within view of the Ashton Institution. Once a home for unwed mothers, it had been converted to house and care for the mentally ill and physically handicapped. Pulling into the long driveway, they saw well-kept gardens surrounding the white, mansion-like building. The atmosphere was peaceful and comforting, yet McCormick hated it on first sight.
Helping the Judge unload his luggage from the GMC, he roughly shrugged off help from the aide who was outside to greet arrivals.
"Nasty, aren't we?" commented a familiar voice.
"Carlton?" McCormick stared at the lieutenant. The white uniform made quite a difference. The undercover police officer would be Hardcastle's only protection. Mark hoped it would be enough.
"Ben. That's what I'm called here," Carlton corrected quietly. Taking a suitcase, he winked at both. "So, putting your old man away, huh?" He shook his head for effect. "Such ingratitude – after all the selfless years he devoted to you."
Hardcastle winced. "If you don't mind, 'Ben', the name's Milton Henderson. Not 'old man'.
The byplay didn't even get a smile from Mark. Carlton motioned toward him. "What's with McCormick, Milt?"
"He thinks we're way off base with this one."
"I agree with him. It's shaky, but it's all we have. The department won't get involved, says there are too many other cases to handle as it is – cases with solid evidence." At McCormick's look, Carlton added reassuringly, "Hey, don't worry. I'll keep an eye on him. I'm an old hand at this stuff." He turned his attention to the Judge. "Got the mikes with you?"
"Yeah, got some real sophisticated gadgets from a guy who owed me a favor. McCormick has the receiver in the Coyote. And this is the other one." He handed a white wrapped package to the black officer.
McCormick kicked at the GMC's front tire. "Since you don't seem to need me, I guess I'll head on back to Gull's-Way. Got some real important mowing to do." He walked around the truck to the driver's side. Getting in, he glanced at Carlton. "Take care."
Carlton got the message. "You can count on it. If we need any help, I'll ring you."
"Go on, kid, get out of here. And when you finish the lawn, get on those gutters – they look like hell." Hardcastle waved him on, his attention on the assignment ahead of him.
McCormick snorted, driving off with squealing tires and a spray of gravel. As they watched the brake lights of the truck disappear in the distance, Carlton admonished the Judge. "Give the kid a break, Milt. He's just worried about you."
Stalking toward the front door, Hardcastle replied gruffly, "He's afraid of missing something, that what he's worried about."