UNDER CONTROL

By AEIU

"I'll kill him," thought ex-Justice Milton C. Hardcastle as he paced the short length of his den. "If he's not already lying dead in an alley or six feet under the field pushing up daisies, I'm going to kill him."

The focus of the judge's ire, one parolee Mark McCormick, had been missing for over an hour. The last time Hardcastle had seen the missing man was when he placed a listening wire on him so there would be a permanent record of his meeting with Trish, the well-endowed secretary/girlfriend of Arthur Farnell. The last time he had heard from McCormick was when he had taken off the device so he could have 'private' conversations' with the lady.

"You think you'd have learned after Tina Gray," fumed Hardcastle to himself, "but no; a pretty girl gives you a wink and your brain turns to mush."

Hardcastle thought back to how he had listened with a combination of amusement and nausea while McCormick had thrown line after line to a woman who not only had been around the block but had probably built it. From the sounds of it, she was falling for it and he was falling for her falling for it. He had been angry when McCormick had agreed to leave the protection of the restaurant to go somewhere quiet to talk with her and furious when McCormick informed him, via the wire, that the eavesdropping portion of the night was over just before the wire went dead. If he could have reached across the wire, he would have shook the kid so hard that his pea-sized brain would have fallen back into place.

He had cursed every nuance of fate that had brought McCormick into his courtroom as he rushed to the restaurant to pull the kid out before he got himself into something he couldn't get out of. He lucked out and saw McCormick escort his attentive 'date' into a waiting limo. He had suppressed the urge to storm the vehicle and pull 'Mr. Irresistible' out of the car. Instead he opted to follow at a discrete distance and hope for the best.

A short time later, he watched as Trish followed by Farnell exited the car. No McCormick. The limo pulled away and he followed it until it pulled into a garage for the night; somehow he had lost the kid. There hadn't been anything for him to do but go home and wait. He hated waiting.

He had waited by the phone in the den, waited by the phone in the kitchen, waited by the phone in the gate house, and waited until he was ready to pull the silent machine out of the wall and fling it across the room.

Somewhere amid all of the waiting, he had a feeling that he wasn't alone; McCormick was somewhere nearby. He couldn't explain it and didn't want to question it. He looked out of the window toward the darkened gate house. He didn't see anything but the feeling was strong. He reached toward his desk and pulled a gun for its drawer; in case McCormick wasn't alone.

He cautiously approached the building that McCormick had called home for the many months he had been there. The first thing he noticed was the front door was unlocked when he remembered locking it earlier. He quietly opened the door and entered. He stood inside and listened but there were no sounds to indicate that anyone was there. He decided to take a calculated risk and turn on the light.

As the light flooded into the room, he saw the note on the table. He immediately recognized McCormick's handwriting. The note simply said, 'Back soon. I have it under control. Don't worry'.

"Might have well wrote did something stupid and about to do something stupider," thought Hardcastle as he went upstairs to McCormick's bedroom. Once there he checked under the bed and saw that the kid's special backpack, the one they never talked about, was gone. He knew that he didn't have to look to see that McCormick's black pants and t-shirt were, also, gone.

"I'm going to kill him," muttered Hardcastle to himself as he went back to the main house to wait because the one thing he was sure of was that if he could, McCormick would come back.

Hardcastle finished the last cup of his second pot of coffee as he stared intently down the driveway of his home. Tomorrow had become today and still no sign or word from the missing McCormick. Hardcastle watched and debated with himself whether he should kill the kid before or after he threw him back into jail. The only thing he was sure of was that he was going to kill him.

Though the darkness of the night he saw the lights of a slowly approaching car. From the sound of the engine he knew it wasn't McCormick's red racing car. If he was lucky, it was the police with the kid handcuffed in the backseat. If he was unlucky, it was the police with 'news' about McCormick.

As the vehicle got closer, he recognized it as an Excalibur Bentley; a very expensive car. The type of car a man like Farnell would drive. And Farnell was the type of person who would want to come, in person, to gloat about the capture of Hardcastle's agent.

"Dang it, kid," thought Hardcastle, "if you'd have done things my way then you wouldn't be in all this trouble. Now I got to get you back safely so I can kill you."

He turned on all the driveway and front house lights so he could get a good look at who and how many people he was dealing with. He walked out in front of the house carrying a shotgun in his hands. He'd let Farnell and his goons know he wasn't afraid to meet them toe-to-toe.

But his mouth dropped to his chest when he saw who was driving the car. He watched slack jawed as McCormick jumped out of the car.

"Hiya judge," McCormick said as he gave a jaunty salute. "Isn't she a beauty," he exclaimed as he gestured toward the car.

"What is that?"

"That judge," McCormick said grinning happily, "is an Excalibur; a perfect recreation of the 1920 classic design. And it drives like a dream. A man really feels great behind the wheels of a car like this."

"What's it doing here?"

"You know, judge," Mark laughed at some private joke, "there's a real funny story behind that."

"Are you telling me you stolen two cars now?"

"Judge," Mark said affronted, "I'm surprised you'd say something like that. You know I don't do things like that anymore. I borrowed it." He said putting emphasis on the word borrow. "Farnell didn't report the first car as stolen and he got it back so it was borrowed. And this one I took for a good cause and I'm going to take it back so it's just borrowed."

Once again Hardcastle had to close his eyes. He decided to count to ten before he reached over and tried to shake sense into grinning jackanape in front of him.

"You know, judge," McCormick said cautiously, "I can't help but notice that your grip is tightening on Old Faithful there. Why don't you put him down and we can talk."

Hardcastle took a deep breath and opened his eyes. The car was still in the driveway and McCormick was still dressed in his Burglars R' Us outfit. In a seemingly calm voice he said, "Okay, McCormick. Tell me what happened tonight."

"Why don't you put the gun down first?"

"McCormick!" Hardcastle shouted as his hand tightened on the shotgun.

"Okay, okay. Cheez," McCormick said placating. "It's no big deal."

"No big deal," Hardcastle muttered incredulously. "On parole, two stolen cars, one of them in my driveway and no big deal."

McCormick casually leaned back against the Excalibur and his eyes got a dreamy as away look as he spoke, "So there I was regaling the lovely Trish with my many and varied exploits and she was hanging on every word."

"Probably trying to stay awake. Let's speed this up, she got a telephone call."

"Well she's a pretty girl, Judge," Mark said concedingly as he repeated what Trish had told him about her mysterious call.

"And then she was ready to leave with you as soon as she got back, wasn't she?"

"She said she wanted to go to her place," McCormick said with a waggle of his eye brows. "What can I say? When you got it; you got it."

"Oh, you got it McCormick. You got sucker written across your forehead. She set you up."

"Judge, she's a nice girl. She's from the Midwest. She came out here to be an actress and she's even had a few parts in some movies. I'll bet she looks really great on the big screen. She's just fallen in with the wrong crowd and trying to raise the money so she can go back home."

"Where I'm sure she's trying to help her grandma and grandpa save the family farm from bank foreclosure."

"Her grandma has a heart condition and her grandpa broke his leg in a tractor accident."

"A tractor accident," Hardcastle said as he shook his head in disbelief and muttered, "Sucker doesn't begin to cover it."

Mark made a face at Hardcastle as he continued his story. "Anyway, that's when I started having trouble with the wire."

"You mean when you pulled it off and dumped it in the soup. By the way, I hope you realize that's coming out of your pay."

"It's not my fault it can't stand up to getting a little wet. So after I had to take the wire off, Trish and I walked to her limo and…"

"Arthur Farnell was sitting in the back seat like he had set the whole thing up with your lady friend," Hardcastle guessed.

McCormick gave a short whistle. "It's like you were there. He knew all about me, you, and my parole."

"How did he know about that, hotshot?"

"Fingerprints, judge," Mark said as he wiggled his fingers in front of him. "We didn't plan that I should have been wearing gloves during classes."

"Didn't think of that," thought Hardcastle.

"So Farnell is sitting there with a gun and tells me that he has a job he wants me to do," continued McCormick.

"Is that when he got you to steal the car?"

Mark looked at him aghast as he put his hand to his chest. "You wound me, judge. Would I do that to you? I straight out told him that I wasn't doing any jobs for him."

"So why is the car here?"

"He turned the gun on Trish and said he'd shoot her. She looked so scared. So I asked myself what would John Wayne do."

"Don't bring John Wayne into this."

"What would the Lone Ranger do?" McCormick continued without missing a beat. "Would he stand by and let the bad guy threaten the girl?"

"The Lone Ranger wouldn't have stolen the horse."

"No, but he might have Tonto borrow a horse."

"One day I'm going to have to get you a dictionary so you can look up the word borrow."

"So he pointed out this little beauty and told me to take it," Mark said as he gestured to the vehicle.

"And you did."

"I took it with every intention of bringing it back, so it's borrowed. Plus I brought it here instead of taking it to Farnell. So now I figure we got him right where we want him."

Hardcastle looked at his friend as if he had grown a second head. "How do you figure that?"

"Farnell thought I'd get caught taking the car but we surprised him."

"We did," Hardcastle said stressing the word we.

"Yes, not only did I stea…borrow the car but I didn't get caught so he's got to be impressed."

"He does?"

"Sure I got it right out of a guarded show room in front of witnesses."

"Witnesses! Are you crazy?"

"It's okay; they thought I was a display robot."

"A guy without a brain. I can see that."

"If you could stop insulting me for a minute would see how this works to our advantage."

"Enlighten me."

"Farnell set me up to do an impossible task; which I did outstandingly. Now I've got the borrowed car which he wants. He figured that I'd get arrested. He'd never imagine that I'd bring the car to you and make a full confession. So he's got to figure that I've broke my parole or that he's got some great blackmail material. Either way it means my only choice is to work for him so I go back and finish collecting our evidence.

"You just think he's going to take you back, do you?"

McCormick shrugged. "He knows a good thing when he sees it. Even if he doesn't think I can be useful to him, he's got to like the idea of sticking it to you by having me work for him. The way I look at it, if he only wanted me to get caught then he could have called the police when I was taking the car."

"Is that the way you see it?"

"What other explanation could there be?"

McCormick walked over to the judge, put on arm around his shoulder and patted him twice on the chest with the other hand. "Don't worry, I got everything under control. I'm going to go to bed. Tomorrow is going to be a big day."

Hardcastle watched with pursed lips as McCormick walked into the gate house leaving the car in the driveway. "It is odd that the police weren't after him. Even if Farnell didn't call the police, why didn't the guards from the showroom call them? Unless whoever owns the car doesn't want the police to get ahold of it."

He walked over to the vehicle and popped open the trunk. The interior lights of the trunk barely illuminated the tightly bound packages lying within. He pulled one out and examined it closely. From his years working narcotic cases, he recognized it as heroin. From the size and numbers of packages, he estimated it had a street value of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of dollars.

"You've got it under control," Hardcastle mused as he shut the trunk. "Tomorrow we got to get that dictionary and have a discussion of your definition of under control."

THE END