This is a work of fanfiction, for entertainment purposes only. The characters and concepts of Hardcastle and McCormick do not belong to me, but to their creators.
Author's Notes: I'll admit it: I've had a penchant for songfics for a while now. I can't explain it really; just that lyrics speak to me sometimes, but they speak in voices that the lyricist probably never intended, and sound remarkably like Mark or Milt. Back in the final edition of the Star for Brian CD zines, I dragged LML into my fascination, and we offered up a section entitled Just Another Round of that Old Songfic.
In this case, there's a song by Tracy Lawrence. And while there's nothing in it about spending a night in a city jail, it nevertheless conjured up this little tale.
You find out who your friends are,
somebody's gonna drop everything,
run out and crank up their car,
hit the gas, get there fast, never stop to think
"What's in it for me", or "it's way too far"...
They just show on up…with their big ol' heart.
You find out who your friends are……
Find Out Who Your Friends Are
Mark McCormick stared at the phone on the cluttered desk, thinking hard. While there were a lot of things he'd rather do than use his one phone call to talk to Milton Hardcastle from the Torrance police department, he found himself wishing fervently that were an option. But Hardcastle was out of reach at the moment, at least for his immediate needs.
McCormick had been surprised when the judge had told him he was taking a weekend trip down to San Diego; even more surprised when the off-hand farewell of 'stay out of trouble, kiddo' hadn't been accompanied by a long and detailed explanation. After less than two months working together, the ex-con had not expected such a display of confidence. He also hadn't expected to repay that confidence by getting himself arrested.
But now, sitting here with a uniformed officer standing just far enough away to give the illusion of privacy, he fought down the panic while he tried to decide who he could call. Barbara Johnson would be the most reasonable choice, if only she hadn't already headed back east to start her new life as a law student. There were a couple of racing buddies, but none that he could be sure would be willing to deal with what could turn out to be a very big hassle. Some of his more recent acquaintances might be stand up guys if you needed a safe cracked or a head bashed in, but he was pretty sure they weren't going to set foot anywhere close to a police station, at least by choice.
Then there was Teddy. He almost smiled thinking that Teddy Hollins would probably do just about anything he was asked. And the smile didn't disappear entirely when he admitted to himself that the more accurate truth was that Teddy would want to do anything he was asked, but trusting him to get it right was a bigger gamble than McCormick was willing to take right now. And that would be assuming Teddy would be home on a Friday night, and that his phone hadn't been disconnected for non-payment. No, he couldn't waste his call on Teddy.
"Hey, buddy, you wanna make that call or don'tcha? I don't have all night."
McCormick startled slightly at the officer's voice and waved a hand of appeasement. "Yeah, sorry; just gimme another minute." He'd already invoked Judge Hardcastle's name, which was buying him a little bit of time, but he knew that leniency wasn't going to last forever. He rubbed at his temple and tried to focus his thoughts. This was a really bad time to realize that hitching his wagon to the Lone Ranger had effectively separated him from a lot of other people. He honestly didn't want to interrupt the judge's weekend plans, but the guy was only two hours away, and how much more trouble could he possibly be in, anyway?
He was reaching for the phone when another idea began to tickle the back of his mind. He hesitated, then shook his head. He didn't think . . . He blew out a small breath, told himself he was undoubtedly crazy, but decided to give it a try. After all, he had the number for a reason.
"Um, excuse me?" He turned to face the waiting officer. "There's a number in my wallet for the guy I need to call. Do you think—?"
"Your belongings have already been inventoried," the officer interrupted.
"Yeah, I know. I know it's a little strange, but you don't even have to give it to me; if you could just get the number for me, that'd be great."
"Most guys know the number of their one phone call," the officer commented thoughtfully. "You sure this is the person you want to call?"
McCormick almost laughed. "Actually, no, but I'm gonna give it a shot. I just need the number." He looked at the guy hopefully.
His guard seemed to consider it, then looked around briefly, as if he were trying to decide if this was some kind of a con.
McCormick looked around, too. The cop was standing in the only doorway into the small squad room, and the window where they'd turned in his few personal items was just around the corner; it's not like he would be able to make an escape, even if that'd been what he was planning. For further reassurance, he held up his hands, which had been handcuffed again when they'd taken him from the confines of the intake area and brought him out here for his phone call. "Where'm I gonna go?" he asked reasonably.
Finally, the officer nodded, muttered a curt 'Stay right there', and turned and left. He returned just a minute later, carrying McCormick's wallet. He pulled out the chair at the desk where his prisoner sat and plopped into it. "You can't touch it," he said, as McCormick reached out for it. "Just tell me where it is."
Mark pulled his hands back with an understanding nod, and directed the man to the folded piece of paper tucked inside a small pocket where someone else might've kept a credit card. He was briefly grateful it wasn't a business card; he didn't want to try and explain it to the local police. "That's the one," he said.
The officer unfolded it, gave it a cursory glance, then placed it in front of McCormick. "Dial."
Mark didn't have to be told twice. Now that he'd decided, he wanted to get this over with. He grabbed the phone out of its cradle and punched in the second set of numbers from the paper; it was a little late for office hours.
As soon as the dialing was completed, the officer scooped the paper up again and rose from the chair, slipping the note back into the compartment and leaving to return the wallet to its proper place. He hadn't even reached the door before the phone had been answered.
"Hello," McCormick began, "this is Mark McCormick. I'm sorry to bother you, especially so late, but—" He broke off and listened for a moment. "Oh, no, the judge is fine. He's down in San Diego for the weekend . . . oh, you knew that. Anyway, that's kinda why I'm calling you. See, I'm in kind of a jam . . . the kind where you're my one phone call."
He listened again, as there was an annoyed—though he didn't think particularly surprised—couple of curse words, followed then by a few terse questions. He kept his answers just as brief. "Torrance . . . some kind of robbery beef . . . no, not much of an interrogation, but enough that they booked me . . . no sign of a DA yet, but I don't think this is the sort of thing they run over to night court." He paused, then added calmly, "And, no, I didn't do it." When there was no immediate sound of disbelief from the other end, he plunged ahead, "Do you think you could maybe help me out?"
The reply hadn't been any more verbose than any of the earlier comments, but 'Don't say anything else until I get there' definitely sounded promising, even if the subsequent click did have an air of ominous finality.
McCormick sat there, holding the receiver, until the annoying beeping started in his ear, then he replaced it slowly, wishing he had another way to delay the upcoming trip to the waiting cell. But his escort had returned, and seemed to feel they'd already spent more than enough time making a simple phone call.
"Let's go, sport," the officer called from the doorway.
McCormick sighed and pushed himself to his feet, then crossed the room obediently. The cop steered him in the right direction, out of the front office setting and back through a locked hallway, finally pulling him to a stop in front of a cell door.
"You really work for Hardcase?" the man asked as he unlocked the handcuffs. The disbelief would've been hard to miss.
"Yeah," Mark answered shortly, "I really do."
"We haven't been able to reach him, but the sarge says you don't go into the pool, just in case." He pulled open the cell, then closed it again after McCormick stepped inside. "If what you're sayin' is true, gonna look bad for you if it turns out he's gone missing."
"I told you; he's out of town for the weekend."
"We'll see," the officer said casually, then turned and walked away.
With a sigh, McCormick looked around the empty cell, dragged a hand slowly across his face, then sat down on the cot to wait.
It seemed hours had passed before McCormick finally heard a familiar voice echoing down the hallway. Of course, he could admit that time always played tricks on his mind when he was locked up; he doubted that would ever change. But however long it had been, he was just glad the man was here. He looked up gratefully, but he didn't rise from the cot.
The door was opened, his visitor allowed inside, then the guard re-locked the cell and left them alone.
"They weren't expecting another cop," Frank Harper said by way of greeting.
McCormick shook his head ruefully. "I already thought I mighta been pushing my luck, dropping Hardcastle's name; they really woulda thought I was full of it if I told 'em I was calling one of LA's finest."
"All right; they were okay when they realized I wasn't trying to horn in and throw my weight around in their jurisdiction." The detective seated himself on the cot opposite McCormick. "Now, you wanna give me your side of it?"
"There isn't much to give," Mark began. "I was just driving down the street, minding my own business—"
"What were you doing down here in South Bay?" Harper interrupted.
"Taking my date home. I already gave her name and number to the cops here."
"Kinda early for a date to be ending, isn't it?" the detective asked with a hint of suspicion. "I mean, it's not even quite midnight; you called me a little over an hour ago; and I figure you'd been here a while before that, what with the questioning and all."
McCormick shrugged. "The evening wasn't going so well; I was taking her home."
Harper nodded noncommittally. "Okay, so you took her home; then what?"
"Then I was going home. They stopped me about twenty yards from the entrance to 107 headed north." McCormick shook his head, trying not to think about how another thirty seconds might've made the difference between freedom and this conversation. And he certainly wasn't going to tell Harper about the split-second instinct to simply ignore the flashing lights behind him and gun it onto the freeway. The fact that he hadn't acted on the impulse ought to be the only thing that mattered.
"Why'd they stop you?"
"You'll never believe it. Busted taillight. The thing got taken out just a coupla days ago in one of Hardcastle's high-speed chases and we just haven't had a chance to take it to the shop yet. But it didn't seem to do much for my defense when I told 'em it had been shot out by the bad guys."
Frank grinned slightly. "No, I don't suppose it would. So they stopped you for the taillight; then what?"
McCormick leaned forward, elbows on his knees. "You know the drill; regular wants and warrants search. They find out I'm an ex-con, which is only delaying the process. Then another call comes back; some kinda stick-up at a mini-mart somewhere in town. No real description of the guy, 'cuz he was in a mask, but the storeowner says he was 'tall'. Humph. Tall. Do you believe that? That's all they can get from the guy. But then there's a customer; his statement includes the fact that when he walked into the store, there was some kind of red sports car out in the parking lot, and after the robbery, it was gone." He didn't give any additional commentary and he tried hard to keep the bitterness from his voice, but he didn't think he'd succeeded entirely.
Harper shook his head. "So they've got a tall ex-con in a red sports car," he began angrily, "and they figure they've got their guy, right?"
Mark nodded slowly, surprised at the detective's apparent frustration with the situation. "That's about it. But you'd be surprised how often they don't even have that," he told the officer. "They think they've got a slam-dunk case."
"Well, that's just shoddy police work," the lieutenant said as he scooted back on the cot and leaned against the wall. "Kinda stuff that gives us all a bad name. It's no wonder they haven't brought a DA in yet; they'd be laughed off the case. But it shouldn't take too much longer for them to reach your date; she'll alibi you, and then we can get out of here. Shoddy work or no, they can't believe you could be in two places at once."
Feeling an unexpected sense of relief, McCormick smiled slightly as he mirrored Harper's movements and leaned himself against the wall. He'd thought he would have to do more convincing. "I really appreciate you coming, Frank."
Harper shrugged it off. "Milt insists he's keeping you around for a while;" he smiled, "no way I wanted him to come back from his vacation and find out I'd let you go up the river without so much as lifting a finger."
Mark laughed. "Ah. Self-preservation, is it? I get that, though; that might be part of the reason I didn't call him myself."
The detective arched an eyebrow and grinned across the cell. "Yeah, but you know, I was wondering why you called me."
"Ah . . ." McCormick squirmed slightly. He really didn't want to explain how he seemed to have become the man on the outside, and that the list of people who would've answered this particular call was pretty damn short. "I guess I thought maybe it would be like a two-for-one deal," he said lightly. "Maybe I figured if you couldn't help me out, you'd at least call the judge, so someone would know where I was." But then he suddenly felt that he owed the man a more honest answer. "Or maybe I was just pretty sure you'd come," he added sincerely.
Harper looked pleased with that notion, but he didn't comment directly. "So what about your date?" he asked as a non-sequitur. "I woulda thought someone like you—not bad looking, fancy car—that you'd be have to be beating them off with a stick."
"You're forgetting one pretty important thing," Mark told him. "Not bad looking, fancy car, and a prison record. It completely changes the balance of things."
"Yeah? So that's why you took the girl home early tonight, huh?"
"Happens a lot, once they find out."
The older man nodded thoughtfully. "Not with all of them, though, I'll bet," he finally said, "and for sure not with the ones that really count."
McCormick grinned fractionally. "That's what I keep tellin' myself. But I appreciate hearin' it from someone else."
"I'm sure Milt says the same thing."
"'Milt'?" Mark repeated incredulously. "I don't talk to Milt about my love life. At least not about the bad parts. That might come too close to an accusation."
The detective appeared to give that some thought. "You mean like he'd think you're saying it's his fault?" he finally asked.
"Sure. How else would he take it? And besides, it kinda is his fault. But that's not the kind of thing you want to throw in the guy's face."
"Well, I might say the primary blame lies elsewhere," Harper replied, "but I don't think I'm any less surprised than Milt would be to hear that you think otherwise."
"That's because only cops and judges think it makes good sense to send a guy to prison for driving his own car," McCormick complained. "But I'm learning to live with that. I'm gettin' used to the donkey's twisted view of justice."
"Then why didn't you call him tonight?" the detective wondered.
"He's out of town," the young man began, but Harper cut him off.
"Uh-uh, not buying that. He's not even two hours away, and he's not doing anything important, anyway. You know he woulda come back without a second thought."
"He woulda come back," McCormick agreed, "but he still mighta been having second thoughts. The kind of second thoughts that put a guy like me right back behind state bars, instead of just coolin' my heels here in the city lockup."
Harper scratched at his chin. "You think he woulda revoked you for this?" It didn't seem he shared the opinion.
The ex-con shrugged. "Dunno. The guy surprised the hell out of me, leaving for the weekend like he did. Didn't even give me much of a lecture before he headed out; just told me to stay out of trouble. I don't think he woulda been too happy to find out I couldn't manage to get that one thing right." Then he thought for a second. "Though maybe he also wouldn't've been too surprised. Maybe he just wanted to know."
"You think he was testing you?" Harper's dismay was growing by the minute.
"That sounds more calculated than I meant," McCormick objected immediately.
"Then you're not making any sense."
And completely unexpectedly, McCormick laughed. "No, I guess I'm not. Haven't I told you yet that I'm never at my best when I'm locked up?"
Frank grinned over at him. "I'll cut you some slack. But only if you tell me why you really didn't call Milt."
"You drive a hard bargain, Lieutenant." McCormick rubbed at a spot above one eyebrow, pondering the answer. And also wondering why he felt inclined to try and give this man an honest answer, anyway. Maybe just because Harper was sitting here with him in a cell at almost one in the morning instead of where he ought to be, snuggled into his own bed next to his wife, and he hadn't even once reminded McCormick of that fact; that was probably reason enough. Finally he spoke.
"Maybe because even if he wasn't really testing me, I still didn't want to fail. You know, he told me not too long ago that it was gonna be six months before he trusted me." He let his eyes meet the other man's. "I really hope that was an exaggeration, but I sure as hell don't want to make it take even longer."
"He said that, huh?" Harper wore a small smile. "You didn't really believe him?"
"No reason I shouldn't," McCormick said pragmatically. "I'm pretty sure he hasn't lied to me about anything yet."
"Nah, he wouldn't. And he wouldn't consider that a lie, either, even though I promise you it's a hundred percent untrue."
"Now you're the one not making any sense."
Frank leaned forward and looked at the young man sincerely. "Milt doesn't want to trust you yet, Mark, not really. He'd be content to keep you at arm's length for a while, maybe even forever, I dunno. But he already knows he won't; knows he can't. Whatever you've done, you've already managed to get through to him. Leaving you alone this weekend wasn't a test; that was Milt's way of saying he knew you'd be there when he got back. Trust me; if he'd been the least bit worried, he woulda put me on some kind of guard detail."
Mark thought about that and found that he really wanted to believe it. And wanted to believe he hadn't messed it up. "Then he's gonna be pretty disappointed when he finds out about this disaster."
"I thought you didn't do anything," Harper reminded him.
McCormick let the words sink in, and realized the entire conversation had probably been about the detective deciding whether or not that was true. He grinned ruefully; it was as subtle an interrogation as he'd ever seen. "I didn't," he assured the officer. "But it still remains to be seen whether that fact is enough to spring me outta here." Then he decided he might have a few questions of his own.
"Hey, how come you're so sure about Hardcastle?"
"I mean, how do you know he wasn't spending the weekend hiding in the bushes just waiting for me to screw up or something?"
"First of all, because he's not here. Pretty sloppy surveillance not to catch this fiasco."
"Okay, you've got a point there, but you know what I mean. You don't think this is gonna bother him at all, do ya?"
"Not unless they don't get it worked out pretty quick; that might tick him off."
"So how come you're so sure? And how come you think he woulda called you for guard duty if he was worried? You guys ganging up on me?"
"Hah. He woulda called me for the same reason you did; 'cuz I woulda done it."
McCormick grinned. "So you are ganging up on me."
"Are we ganging up on him?" Harper countered.
"Depends. If I get outta this, you gonna keep it a secret?"
The lieutenant's smile faded. "Ah . . ."
McCormick looked at him, aghast. "You already called him!"
"You didn't really think you could keep this from him? He's your parole officer, in case you've forgotten. Arrests tend to get reported to people like that."
Harper held up a hand to forestall the arguments. "Don't worry; he's still down in San Diego, enjoying his weekend. I told him it all seemed like a big mistake, and that it should get straightened out in a few hours. Told him I'd call if there was gonna be any problem, and that you'd call as soon as you were home."
Mark's eyes widened. "You told him all that before you even talked to me?"
"I talked to the guys here," Harper answered. "They obviously didn't have much of a case. Short of me walking in here and you suddenly confessing, I didn't figure much was gonna change that."
"Then what's all this been about?" The younger man waved a hand between them. "I thought you were interrogating me."
Laughing, Harper shook his head. "Interrogating you? I was just talking to you; passing the time; trying to take your mind off what's going on. I woulda thought you'd been interrogated often enough to know the difference. If nothing else, interrogations usually have a point."
McCormick blushed slightly. "Yeah, well, I told you I'm not at my best in here. And not that I don't appreciate the thought, Lieutenant, but if you're really just helping me pass the time, couldn't we just talk about the Raiders or something? 'Cause if you're really hoping to try and understand whatever it is that's going on with me and Hardcase, I'll probably have to get convicted, just to give us enough time to figure it out."
Frank was still chuckling. "Okay, the Raiders it is, but don't blame me if something a little deeper slips in every now and then. It really isn't intended to be an interrogation, but you gotta admit, the two of you make for pretty interesting conversation."
It took a few seconds, but McCormick finally joined in the laughter, and remarkably, though he was staring across a locked cell at an altogether too intuitive police detective, the rest of the conversation didn't feel like an interrogation at all.
It was just after two when they heard footsteps approaching down the hall and a uniformed officer came to a stop in front of the cell. Harper stood to face his colleague, but McCormick kept his seat, understanding his place. But the officer gestured him forward.
"Mr. McCormick," he said, unlocking the door, "you're free to go."
"You found the girlfriend?" Harper asked.
"Yeah, we've been leaving messages for her all night; she finally called us back." He glanced over at McCormick as he led the way back toward the entry. "Seems she wasn't too upset over giving you the old heave-ho, buddy; she and the roommate went out clubbing for a few hours."
"Why the hell not?" McCormick muttered. "I mean, she was dressed up and all."
"Anyway, she didn't seem too surprised to hear we'd picked you up, but she did confirm you were together at the time of the robbery. And not sticking up any stores. She says you actually took her to a real nice place out on the beach in Santa Monica."
"You don't have to sound so surprised," McCormick snapped, but he clamped a lid on any further comments when he felt Harper's hand briefly grab his elbow under the pretense of guiding him around a corner.
But the Torrance cop seemed to have gotten the message too—though McCormick missed whatever unspoken communication went on between the two officers—and no more snide observations were forthcoming.
It only took a minute or two longer for McCormick to sign for his possessions and complete the release processing, then he and Harper were stepping out of the station into the darkness of early morning. They stopped at the bottom of the steps, preparing to go their separate ways.
"You'll call Milt?" Frank reminded him.
"As soon as I get home," McCormick promised. "Though maybe—"
"No," Harper interrupted, "you can do it. He won't bite."
"Maybe. But he's sure as hell gonna bark a lot."
"That's what he does," the detective grinned, "but it's harmless."
"I'm gonna trust you on that," Mark answered with a small sigh, and he realized then that it just might be that he'd trust the lieutenant on any number of things. He offered a diffident smile, then more confidently, extended his hand.
"Thank you, Frank."
Harper shook the offered hand, but he dismissed the thanks. "I didn't do anything, Mark. I told you I wasn't gonna horn in on their jurisdiction here."
"Yeah, I know; you just helped me pass the time; took my mind off what was going on, right? Trust me; that's more than enough. In fact, I think it was more than enough from the minute you answered my call."
Frank smiled and clapped a hand on the young man's shoulder. "Anytime, Mark. I'll let you in on a little secret; Milt's not the only one who figures you're gonna be around a while. But you don't have to take on the world by yourself. That's what friends are for, right?" And then he turned and headed for his car, disappearing into the night before McCormick could manage a reply.
Mark stared at the darkness for a second before moving in the opposite direction toward the Coyote. He was smiling as he thought that the next time—not that there would be a next time, he told himself firmly—but next time, he'd know just who to call.