A Matter of Trust

by Jaz

Disclaimer: The characters do not belong to me and no profit is being made.

Author's Note: Dialogue from the first section is taken directly from the episode entitled Goin' Nowhere Fast, written by Patrick Hasburgh.

00000

Hardcastle shifted his gaze off of McCormick and watched the road ahead of them over the hood of the Coyote. He sighed, resuming the conversation that had taken on an aspect of confession. "Anyway, the first night at my house, Beal slips out, steals my car, holds up a couple of filling stations. We gotta chase him all the way to Louisiana before we catch him. Then he smashes up my car in a roadblock."

"Is that why you won't let me drive it?" Mark asked as things started to make a little more sense.

"Well, you don't learn from the past, you're gonna keep on making the same mistakes," Hardcastle replied philosophically.

Mark just shook his head. He waited a beat, then reached into his own pocket, hoping the judge could at least appreciate this gesture. "Here you go." He handed over Hardcastle's lost wallet, fully expecting it when it was grabbed out of his hand.

"Where'd you get that?" Hardcastle asked suspiciously.

"Well, it doesn't take a genius, judge. I found it right where you lost it." He couldn't stop the laughter that bubbled up. "On the steps of the police headquarters!" The laughter slowed and then died altogether as he watched the older man open the wallet and rifle through the bills.

Hardcastle's expression of surprise wiped the last trace of a smile from Mark's face. "You don't have to count it, judge," he said flatly. Not sure what else to do, he let out another laugh, though it sounded patently false to his own ears.

Hardcastle closed up the wallet and stuffed it into his shirt pocket. "I know that," he said, "I know that."

00000

The remainder of the drive to their destination was made mostly in silence. Mark knew he shouldn't let it bother him. Wasn't that the whole reason they were out here in the first place? Trying to capture the last ex-con that Hardcase had brought home? No wonder the guy had trust issues. It was hard enough for any man to admit you'd been played for a fool, let alone someone who'd spent the better part of his career passing judgment.

His own stunt a few hours ago hadn't helped matters any, that was for sure. What had he been thinking, anyway? 'Trust me,' he'd said to the judge. Despite his comment to the contrary, Hardcastle had displayed that trust and gotten out of the car. And Mark had left him there on the side of the road, played like a fool once again.

It was all in the name of justice, sure; but it was still a dumb thing to do.

'It's gonna be six months before I trust you, McCormick.'

It's not like that was a big surprise either, and at least the man laid his cards on the table. No more wondering or second-guessing.

But it rankled. Hadn't he just told Teddy a few weeks ago that he trusted the judge? That was the God's honest truth. It wasn't like trusting people came any easier to Mark. But then, there hadn't been too many people in his life who were trustworthy to begin with.

Maybe that was the difference. How could you not trust a guy like Hardcastle? Honest to a fault, he'd spent his whole life upholding the law in one form or another. Everything was black and white for this guy; there were no shades of grey. His worst infraction was probably a parking ticket, and even that was unlikely. When he gave you his word on something, it was a guarantee. He'd seen that right from the start when Hardcastle had kept his promise to go after Martin Cody. Maybe that was where the trust began.

He just wished it were a two way street.

Mark knew better than to think that trust would be freely given. It had to be earned. And, yeah, a guy's wallet could be a bit like sacred ground. There was something intensely personal about the thing you carried around with you everywhere, and he'd had enough experience in turning his over unwillingly to know that you didn't want it falling into the wrong hands.

But he'd been giving his all to prove to Hardcastle that Mark McCormick was a guy who could be trusted.

Even in that, he'd failed.

His heart dropped as the realization came to him. No matter how hard he tried, no matter how many hoops he jumped through trying to please the man, if you held them up against mistakes he'd made where Hardcastle had been a front row witness, he'd be found wanting. This was more than just the judge learning from past mistakes, this was Mark himself not being able to measure up.

Guess some things never change.

00000

Mark trailed up the front steps behind Hardcastle. Sarah had gone inside to dress five minutes ago, leaving the two men in the driveway watching as the final mop-up was done. The last of the patrol cars carrying their prisoners departed the driveway. The Corvette was already being towed to the body shop in Santa Monica, though Mark had to wonder if they'd ever get the smell of salt water out of the floorboards.

They'd caught Beal, and his companions, but the cost had been high. The 'Vette was definitely in worse shape, but the den wasn't looking too great either. The glass had spread everywhere, and the hole in the ceiling from Hardcastle's shotgun blast had rained sheetrock and dust all over the main part of the room.

The current ex-con in residence wasn't sure that he'd fared any better, though he was fairly certain Hardcastle would file that under 'who gives a damn'. Mark thought if he heard one more comment about the illustrious J.J. Beal he was likely to lose it. Funny how he'd spent the last month and half here, breaking his back to do everything Hardcastle asked of him, and it was still the blood-thirsty, revenge-driven psycho who was lauded as the genius.

Mark pulled up short on the steps leading down into the den as Hardcastle stopped in front of him to survey the damage. The older man heaved a sigh as he took it all in before he crossed wearily to the desk. He reached into his shirt pocket without thought and withdrew his wallet, opening the drawer to the desk and placing it inside.

Mark couldn't help it; his eyes were fastened on the movement, and the emotions brought back by the sight of the wallet were clearly displayed on his face. He hurried to look away when Hardcastle raised his head, but it wasn't fast enough.

Hardcastle frowned, knowing where the younger man's thoughts had been, but unsure if he could do anything about it. It wasn't like he wasn't going to come right out and tell the kid, 'don't worry, I didn't mean it, I trust you'. As if. Still, McCormick had laid it on the line for this case. He had seemed to know instinctively that this one was personal for the judge, and he'd hung in every step of the way. True, some of his ideas were a bit far out, but his heart had been in the right place. Hardcastle started for a moment as the idea took root.

His heart's always been in the right place.

That was the basic difference between McCormick and Beal. Not who was smarter, or faster, or better behind the wheel. Only one of them had what it took to make this little retirement project of his work, and it sure wasn't Beal.

Would it kill you to tell him that?

Maybe not, but there were appearances to be kept up. McCormick was just an ex-con paroled in his custody. They weren't supposed to be friends; he'd made that clear at the start. If the young man had gotten his nose bent out of shape by knowing he wasn't the first choice, then so be it.

Except...

The kid had been trying. Really trying. Sure, he'd gripe and complain six ways to Sunday about the chores, but he'd do them. And he'd moan a little about chasing after the bad guys, but when push came to shove, Hardcastle knew without a doubt McCormick would be there to back him up.

Isn't that what trust is anyway?

He'd have sunk into the chair if it weren't covered with glass. As it was, the thought left him feeling weak at the knees. He'd told the kid six months...

He was still staring into space when he heard McCormick quietly clear his throat.

"Judge, I'll see if there's some wood in the garage to cover up that window." His voice was subdued, and he turned to leave the room.

Hardcastle looked up at Mark's movement. He couldn't tell him. Not yet. But maybe he could at least give him the notion.

"Hold up, there, kiddo," he said.

It was the quietness of the tone that stopped McCormick, and he turned, mentally preparing himself for the lecture he figured was coming. Hardcastle's next words were not what he expected.

"I wasn't counting the money. Leastways, not because I thought you'd taken it. But that wallet had to be sitting there for quite a while before you picked it up, and I just thought I'd better check."

The words were plausible enough, but it was the intent behind them that had Mark's spirits lifting slightly. Six weeks with the old donkey had taught him that apologies would not be coming all that often. This was probably as close as he'd get, and for now, it was enough.

"Six months, huh judge?" He allowed a small smile, knowing the jurist was aware of what he was referring to.

Hardcastle lifted his head unconsciously, a challenge clear in his gaze.

Mark's smile became a grin. "That's okay. I got time." With the promise made, he left the room, unaware of the judge's smile behind him.

Two Weeks Later

The incident with Filapiano and Tina Grey, aka the Black Widow, was behind them, and as seemed to be the case whenever they got involved in chasing after those who didn't follow the Hardcastle way of life, the estate was showing signs of neglect. Mark had already finished up the mowing yesterday. He refused to acknowledge that his sudden interest in the upkeep of the grounds had anything to do with the comment made by Beal. The man hadn't stuck around long enough to pull the cord on the lawnmower, so he was hardly an authority. Regardless, this afternoon it would be on to the endless hedges, but first up this morning was a trip downtown to pick up the new brake pads for the judge's truck. Not too many places still carried parts for a 1958 GMC pickup; fortunately the pads from less ancient models would work.

He'd let Hardcastle know at breakfast that he'd be gone for a bit and now, after a quick shower, he dressed in jeans and a t-shirt and headed up toward the Coyote. Hardcastle was exiting the front door sporting his sweatpants and a light blue t-shirt with navy trim. The ever-present baseball cap was perched on his head. Yankees today. Too bad they'd already been knocked out of the playoffs.

"Hold up, McCormick, I'm coming with," Hardcastle called.

Mark looked at him, resting his arm on the top of the car. "It's just a trip to the store, judge. I think I can handle it."

"I know that, hotshot. I want you to drop me off at the precinct on your way. They need me to clarify a couple things on my statement."

"What for? I thought they got everything they needed on the whole Black Widow thing."

"Yeah, but this is the statement for Internal Affairs on the confession Filapiano made to me about Siler Johnson. Shouldn't take long. You can drop me off and go get your stuff, then come back for me." As he approached the car, he tossed what was in his hand toward the unsuspecting ex-con. "Hang onto that for me, will 'ya? I don't have any pockets."

Mark caught it reflexively. Looking down, he was surprised to see the judge's wallet now safely ensconced in his hands. He glanced back up at the judge, trying to read the other man's intentions.

Hardcastle was the picture of innocence, but the hint of a twinkle in his eye gave him away as he dared McCormick to put into words what didn't need to be said.

McCormick laughed silently, shoving the wallet into the back pocket of his jeans before climbing in through the window.

One Month Later

They were only about five minutes out. Mark knew it wouldn't be long before he could feel his adrenaline start to kick in, the way it always did when he caught the sound of the engines, the smells of oil and gas and burning rubber, the sight of the cars weaving their way through the track. The call from Dave offering this ride had come out of the blue, and Mark had been floored. He'd wheedled and whined and used the ol' persuasive McCormick charm full force just to get Hardcastle to relent for this one race. Against Sarah's repeated admonitions, they'd gotten together some gear and climbed in the Coyote to make the trip out to the track.

Initially the drive had been peppered with conversation as McCormick shared the ins and outs of his racing history. Things had gotten quiet over the last half hour, and that's when he had caught sight of it once or twice--an expression would settle on the judge's face when he thought McCormick wasn't looking. It was fleeting, but Mark was pretty sure he recognized it anyway. The judge's uncertainty over Mark's participation in this Trans-am race wasn't because he didn't think McCormick could win it.

No, Hardcastle was afraid because he thought McCormick could.

The judge still held all the cards in this relationship, and they both knew it. There was no way Mark could have any hope of getting back into racing unless Hardcastle said it was okay. If Mark won, even if he were offered a sponsorship, it wouldn't free him from this arrangement he had agreed to. But in some ways, it would put them on more of an even footing, as the judge would have to acknowledge that there was more to Mark McCormick than what was written in his official record.

Mark had mixed feelings over the upcoming weekend. He loved racing; he always would. This opportunity that had fallen into his lap was something he would have killed for six months ago. In fact, he'd still do everything in his power to make it work. Never mind that his income for the weekend alone would put him in a higher tax bracket than his current ridiculous 'employment' situation. The chance to be seen out there by a major sponsor like DEN-CO was huge, not to mention being watched by the sponsors of the other teams he'd be competing against. If he did well in this race, the possibility of landing a sponsor of his own was almost a given, even if it was only as a back-up driver. He could be back into racing full time.

That was where his train of thought derailed. A full-fledged career in racing had been his dream for as long as he could remember. But somewhere over the past couple of months, his priorities had shifted. Somewhere along the line, he'd come to believe in this crazy plan that Hardcastle had concocted. It was working. The bad guys were going down.

More than that, they were working. A friendship with Hardcastle was the last thing he expected, but now that he had it, he didn't want to give it up. It touched him more than a little that the man sitting beside him apparently felt the same way, even if he couldn't come out and say it.

Mark pulled into the lot near the pit and parked the Coyote. As the two men made their way toward the area reserved for crew, Mark reached into his back pocket. Pulling out his wallet, he handed it to the judge.

"Hey, Hardcase, hang onto this for me, okay? There aren't any pockets in my coveralls. I'll get it back from you when I'm done here." He paused, waiting to see if the judge would pick up on the significance of the gesture.

When Hardcastle simply took the wallet and smiled, he knew his message had gotten across.