The characters and concepts of Hardcastle and McCormick do not belong to me, but to their creators.
Author's Notes: This was originally published in one of the STAR for Brian CD 'zines. It's sometimes hard to believe all of that is behind us now, but there's a star out in Hollywood that says it all really happened and that we've got a lot to thank all of you for.
The San Francisco Treat
"It's over now, you know," Hardcastle said, stepping out onto the balcony behind the young man.
"I know," McCormick answered, continuing to stare out over the horizon toward the bay.
The judge stood silently, uncertain how to proceed. It had been an interesting two weeks, these early days of his retirement. McCormick had done well, both in their initial case against Martin Cody, and up here in San Francisco bringing Joe Donaldson to justice. But there was still a discomfort between them, the newness of the relationship still apparent whenever things slowed down and there wasn't an immediate common goal.
Hardcastle thought the ex-con was doing his best to put their past behind him—or at least not let the past destroy a chance for a future—but there were times when he himself found it difficult. This was a man he had once sent to prison. And in his most honest moments, he'd admit to himself that the threat of another stay behind bars was a large part of his bargaining power currently. That made the times like these difficult. The moments when McCormick's seemingly endless quips and smart ass attitude actually came to a stop and the young man would drift into some sort of quiet reflection.
Today, Hardcastle thought maybe it was just a delayed reaction. McCormick might be an ex-convict, but the judge thought his criminal lifestyle had been fairly conservative, all things considered. He figured the kid just wasn't used to having a gun stuck to his head, and if it took a minute to come to grips with that, who could blame him?
And yet, McCormick was an employee; they weren't supposed to be friends. And the young man wasn't even an employee he knew well just yet. So while that made it difficult for Hardcastle to understand why he felt compelled to try and ease whatever concerns the kid was having, it also made it almost impossible to know how.
He stood silent for another moment, then ventured a question. "So you're not thinking about Donaldson and his security guy? About what happened, I mean?"
"Not exactly," McCormick answered slowly, still not turning away from the view.
"So, you're okay then?" Hardcastle asked tentatively. He hated being tentative.
The silence stretched while the judge tried to decide how he was supposed to get at the truth from someone he didn't want to accuse of lying.
Finally, McCormick seemed to get the idea that he was the one stalling this conversation. "It's almost like I can see it," he said quietly, gesturing vaguely northward. "I can sure as hell feel it."
"Ah . . .?"
"Quentin," he said flatly.
"That's all this place is to me," he explained, "a bunch of bad memories."
"And now there's more to go with 'em, huh?"
Mark finally turned to face the older man. "Oh, nah, not really. I mean, this week was just a job, right? Sometimes the bad guys have guns. You didn't really have to spell that part out for me; kinda figured it went with the territory."
"Yeah?" Hardcastle growled. "I think it mighta been one thing I hadn't considered too carefully."
McCormick gave a very small smile. "Better watch out there, Hardcase; that almost sounded like an apology. You're gonna ruin your reputation.
"But really, it's not a big deal; I'll just be glad when we get outta here and get back home."
"Well," the jurist began slowly, still hating being tentative, "we could go ahead and drive home this evening, I guess. It's just been kind of a long day, and I thought you might be tired. It's a long drive home."
"Not really," McCormick disagreed, "but we don't have to leave on my account. You've already paid for the room and all, and besides, it has been a long day."
Hardcastle nodded once, then wondered what he was supposed to say next. Maybe he'd been wrong about the kid putting things behind him. Or maybe he just needed a distraction. He clapped his hands together and made a decision.
"Okay. Get your jacket, then, and get ready."
"Ready? Ready for what?"
"We're going out," Hardcastle told him matter-of-factly. "We hafta eat, right?"
McCormick had headed back into the room, almost instinctively obeying Hardcastle's instructions, but now he hesitated. "Oh. We could just order a pizza or something. We don't have to—"
"Nope," Hardcastle interrupted firmly, "no pizza. We can have pizza at home. We're going out." He definitely liked decisive better.
McCormick seemed to recognize that the matter was closed and just shook his head with a small smile as he continued on into the room to get ready.
"We're gonna eat on Fisherman's Wharf?" McCormick asked as the cab pulled to a stop.
"Why not?" Hardcastle said, paying the cabbie and sliding out to join the younger man on the sidewalk.
McCormick grinned and gestured around him. "Because there's about a million people down here, Judge. We could've driven home by the time it's gonna take us to get a table somewhere."
"Don't be such a pessimist, McCormick. I know this little place right on the water; fresh crab, good steak if you want it, an amazing lasagna, sourdough bread baking all the time. And, the best thing is I know the people there, too. We'll get a table." He started off through the crowd.
"You know the people?" McCormick said, following along quickly. "Judge, we're hundreds of miles from home; just how many people do you know?"
"A lot," Hardcastle said lightly, "people from all over. You think it's strange that I know a restaurant owner from San Francisco, huh? Imagine how people are gonna feel when I tell 'em I know a race car driver from Jersey."
McCormick laughed. "S'pose so," he said. Then he added, "Hey, are you really gonna tell people I'm a race car driver?"
"Nah, I'll probably just tell them you're a pain in the butt, but the driving thing might come up."
The young man laughed again, looking around as they walked. "You know, I've never been down here," he commented.
"Don't imagine there were a lot of field trips," Hardcastle replied.
"No, not too many."
"Well don't worry; I won't take you to Alcatraz."
"Good. Though it might be nice to kinda know my way around something you didn't."
Hardcastle grinned as he grabbed the other man's arm and tugged him around a corner. "This way."
McCormick followed him along the pier, marveling at the boats, and watching the gulls warily.
"They don't bother you unless you've got food," the judge told him.
"I'm not worried about them bothering me, Judge."
"Oh. Well they are birds. Just watch where you step."
They finally came to a stop at one of the smaller cafes at the far end of the pier, but the size or location didn't seem to keep the tourists away. "Wait here a minute," Hardcastle said, then pushed his way through the waiting crowd toward the host stand. When his turn came, he leaned close to the hostess, whispered a few words, then stepped back.
"Sir," she began, "as you can see, we are very busy."
"Just tell him, please," Hardcastle said pleasantly. "I understand it may take a little while."
The hostess nodded, took the names of another two parties waiting to be seated, then excused herself. "I'll be right back," she promised.
A few minutes later she returned, wearing an accommodating smile. "Everything will be arranged, Mr. Hardcastle," she told him politely. "It looks like there's a party who will be leaving very soon. It shouldn't be more than fifteen minutes."
The judge returned the smile. "Thank you very much. We'll be waiting just outside."
He found McCormick leaning on the railing, staring across the water. "I told ya we weren't going out there," he said lightly, seeing the young man's gaze directed toward the island prison.
"Nah, that's not what I was thinking about. I just like to look at the water." He turned around quickly and pointed at the end of the pier. "Hey, you know this place circles around a little. They've got some tables right out there looking at the bay." He glanced down at his watch. "But here it is, five thirty, and us without reservations." He grinned. "Did they tell you to take a hike? Or that we shouldn't plan on eating for until maybe ten or so?"
Hardcastle shook his head. "They did say it might take a while."
"Hah. I told—"
"Maybe even fifteen minutes."
McCormick clamped his mouth shut.
Hardcastle laughed at his surprise. "I tried to tell you I knew the people."
"But all these people. They're waiting, too."
Hardcastle shrugged. "The food's worth waiting for. And anyway, I figured this was sort of a special occasion."
McCormick raised an eyebrow. "Yeah? What's that?"
McCormick just laughed and turned back to the water.
It was barely ten minutes later when they heard Hardcastle's name called and made their way inside. McCormick took in the casually furnished interior, with pictures of California notables and snapshots of local history on the walls. Somehow, this looked like a place Hardcastle would like. He smiled as they followed the hostess to the extension area and were seated at a table directly overlooking the bay. "You must have a lot of pull," he whispered as the woman walked away.
"I told ya, kid—"
"Yeah, yeah. You know people. Got it." He grinned and picked up the menu. "So what's good here?"
"Everything," Hardcastle told him. "And get anything you want."
McCormick looked up. "All right, let's have it. What're we really doing here? You trying to make up for some crazy guy holding a gun to my head?"
"Not really," Hardcastle hedged. "But we worked hard this week, even you." He grinned slightly. "You did a pretty good job. It's just a little celebration before we go home."
"Good job, huh?" Mark grinned back at him. "I'm gonna remember you said that." He glanced down at the menu. "And I'm warning you now; rewarding me with food can get expensive."
"I'll risk it," the judge replied lightly.
It took a careful study of the extensive menu, but they finally decided on an appetizer of clam chowder in a sourdough bowl with a side of crab legs, and an entrée of steak, baked potato, and broccoli with cheese sauce, with another loaf of bread. They took the server's suggestion and enjoyed a glass of Riesling with their chowder, but they switched to beer for the main course.
The conversation was relaxed, and McCormick was surprised to find himself feeling much more comfortable than he had since they'd come to Frisco. He was becoming convinced that this was more than just dinner for a job well done.
"You really don't have to worry about me, Judge," he said, cutting another piece of his steak, "but I appreciate it anyway."
Hardcastle raised an eyebrow at him, and for a minute McCormick thought the man wasn't going to admit anything, but then he relented. "I never thought you'd end up in any real danger, kiddo," he began. "And when that guard grabbed you, I thought . . . well, I thought you thought I was gonna let him shoot you rather than let him go."
McCormick chewed thoughtfully. "The thought did occur," he conceded. "But," he added hastily, "it also went away pretty quickly. I mean, I may not know much about you yet, Hardcase, but I am pretty sure that you're not gonna put an arrest ahead of somebody's life. Even mine."
The jurist grinned. "Even yours, huh? Well, I'm glad you've at least figured that out."
McCormick laughed as he took a bite of his broccoli. Then his attention was drawn back to the view outside the window. "Look," he said suddenly, "the sun's going down."
He lapsed into silence and watched in rapt attention as the water's surface slowly turned a glowing red-orange, the colors skimming over the placid waves, a perfect reflection of the dramatic change taking place in the sky above. He didn't move again until the sun had completely vanished from view, leaving a pool of darkness that still somehow shimmered in its wake.
It took him a minute, but he finally found his voice. "That was great," he said quietly. And when he finally pulled his gaze from the water to the man across the table, he was surprised to see Hardcastle watching him, not the window. "Well, it was," he said defensively, feeling the blush creep up his face.
"I thought you'd like it," Hardcastle said simply.
"You mean—? You brought me here on purpose?" Mark was astounded by the idea.
The judge just smiled as he went back to his meal. "Like I said, you did a good job." He pulled off a piece of sourdough and popped it into his mouth. "And besides, no one should have just bad memories of San Francisco."