Heading home to his lonely apartment, Teddy Hollins slipped into the dark alley through the back door of the bowling alley after finishing his evening shift on the desk. The job wasn’t particularly interesting, and he had grown to loathe the stench of the sweaty shoes that were loaned out to customers who didn’t bowl often enough, or couldn’t afford, to invest in their own. Still, the job didn’t take much thought, leaving his mind free to roam the shores of the unknown future and explore pathways to imaginary products that could, just possibly, make him rich. Like a spray that made those awful shoes smell like roses or popcorn, or that idea he’d had for frozen coffee, dispensed in cans like Coke or Pepsi, or in tall plastic cups with ground ice. He was smiling because Teddy knew it was just a matter of time before he hit on that big idea that would be the bonanza of all time, and make him rich beyond his wildest dreams.
Hands stuffed in his pockets, in no particular hurry, he sauntered along the dark lane behind several shops, a local eatery, and the back of a ramshackle warehouse. Though lost in thought, he remained subconsciously alert enough to notice things around him, like the black or dark blue sedan that was parked behind the restaurant—nice car— and to stick to the shadows. It was so quiet at that hour, everything closed up for the night, that he was startled when the back door of the eatery banged open, sending a shaft of blindingly bright light into the alley. Three people emerged. The first was a tall, lean man, his hands half-raised, who stumbled a little, his gait uncertain, as if he was drunk. The next was a small woman, her arm held tight by another man, also tall, who was growling at them to hurry.
Teddy squinted, trying to see them better, but they were just shadows in the brilliant light behind them, moving toward the car. Try as he might, he couldn’t make out their features. He was about to move on, figuring whoever they were wasn’t any of his business, when he heard a muted sob and froze, realizing that something was wrong. Heart hammering, he told himself he should do something, should intervene, offer help—but he was afraid and he had no weapon. Besides, maybe he was jumping to conclusions. Maybe the woman had just gotten bad news or something. Not sure what to do, cloaked by the darkness, he edged closer to see if he could figure out what was going on.
“You don’t have to do this,” the lead man said. “At least let her go.” Teddy gaped. He knew that voice. He glanced again at the woman, suddenly realizing who she must be. Something was badly wrong here. Teddy knew he should do something—anything—but he didn’t know what.
“Shut up and get in the car,” the other man snapped, even as he pushed the woman into the back seat and waited while the first man got into the front and slid behind the wheel. The dim light inside the car washed over the three people. They had their backs to Teddy and he still couldn’t see their faces—but he could see the gun in the man’s hand.
The guy with the gun …. He knew that voice, too. Stunned, Teddy’s breath caught in his throat. No, he thought with a sharp shake of his head. No, it couldn’t be. That wouldn’t make any sense. No, not possible. There had to be another reason, another explanation for what was going down. Then, it hit him. Of course! Oh, God, how had he found out? That guy was real trouble, crazy dangerous. But they’d been so careful. How could he have known?
Terrified now, Teddy wanted nothing so much as to turn tail and run. But he couldn’t. That was his friend and he had to do something to help. Silently, sticking to the shadows, he got as close as he could to the rear of the car, to make out the license plate and the make and model of the vehicle. As the car rumbled to life and moved away from him, he memorized as many numbers as he could. Only then did he step from the shadows, hoping the driver would see him in the rear view mirror, and would know that he’d seen what had gone down and would get help.
“Oh, man,” he gusted as he hurried to the restaurant and yanked at the door, smacking it hard in frustration when it refused to open. Desperate, he looked back and forth, up and down the alley and then, panic nipping at his heels, he raced back to the bowling alley. The phone there was closer than the one in his apartment. He had to get help right away!
* * * * *
Ten hours earlier …
Mark’s slouched sprawl in his usual seat in the back row belied his intense focus on the professor’s words. He’d thought this class in Ethics, Justice, and the Law would be one huge waste of time, good only for being light on content and workload in contrast with every other course on his roster. But he’d been wrong. The other courses challenged his mind, his ability to reason and remember facts and details. This course was different. This course went deeper, forcing him to really think about things he’d long ago stuffed into a box and buried deep in the furthest reaches of his mind. Forced him to grapple with what he believed to decide what he really stood for—not just intellectually, but at a gut level, with his whole being.
Seemed he wasn’t alone. The other students in the class appeared just as absorbed and engaged in the lecture. The professor had gotten their attention by asking them to call out their top three values and had listed them on the blackboard: honesty, hard work, truth, loyalty, freedom, dependability, courage, duty, equality, fairness, devotion to family, compassion and so on. Once they were all up and no one had any question or disagreement with the worth of any individual value, the professor had asked them if there were any on the list that the average member of a Nazi Youth Group wouldn’t also hold dear. Though the question shocked the class, the professor pointed out that those youths were doing what they had believed was right. He told them that the way values were actualized often depended on whether individuals had a sense of abundance or a fear of scarcity. By the time the discussion ended, there was a general agreement that, with the possible exceptions of equality and tolerance, it seemed that no one in the room had values much different from those who stood for all kinds of things that made Mark’s skin crawl.
The professor explained that it wasn’t about claiming to have the ‘right values’, but about behaving in accordance with specified ethics and principles. Ethics provided a foundation and framework for behaviour: client confidentiality was given as an example of one of the core principles in both professions—and was probably drawn from the original example of the binding confidentiality of the confessional. Ethics was about how values related to human conduct with respect to the rightness and wrongness of certain actions and to the goodness and badness of the motives and ends of such actions.
Ultimately, it wasn’t so much what a person thought or felt that mattered, but how they behaved in any given situation that enabled the predictable, consistent, civil interactions that allowed society to flourish. Without such a framework of agreed-upon rules—or laws—civil society could quickly deteriorate into the brute realities of who held the most strength or wealth.
The discussion moved on to reflect on what the law had to do with justice and fairness. He still harboured a core of bitterness that what had been ‘legal’ in his case hadn’t been either ‘just’ or ‘fair’. Intellectually, he understood that the application of the law relied upon the consistent interpretation of the rules as they applied to what might be very dry, even cold, ‘facts’. Otherwise, individual prejudice or bias could and probably would undermine the fairness and equity of how the law was interpreted in any particular case.
The bell rang and the class ended abruptly at that point.
Frowning in thought, Mark gathered his books together and left the class. ‘Intellectually’ he could agree with the principles involved but when it came to his own case, his gut still rebelled. He didn’t think he’d ever really be able to accept that what had happened was right. Oblivious to the chaos in the hall around him, he headed outside to get some air, hoping it would help clarify his thoughts. Squinting in the bright sunlight, he headed across the broad, tree-rimmed concourse toward the library.
For the first time, he found himself wondering what the judge had felt that day when he’d rendered the judgement that had sent Mark to prison for stealing his own car. Whenever they’d talked about it—shouted about it—which was rarely and long ago, Hardcastle had always stated flatly that it was the law: Mark had taken a vehicle registered in someone else’s name and that was theft. How the vehicle had been paid for or how it came to be registered in that person’s name was irrelevant to the law. But what if the Judge had believed it really was his car and that it wasn’t at all fair to sentence him to prison for what amounted to a misrepresentation by his ex-girlfriend? Would Hardcastle have lost any sleep over it all? Or had he just shrugged, maybe thought it was all unfortunate but it was the law and that was that.
Blowing out a long breath, Mark wondered if he could ever do that: pass a sentence that he truly did not believe was right or fair. Send someone to prison that he personally did not think belonged there? Did he have it in himself to subvert his own feelings and subordinate himself to the dictates of the law? Intellectually, he more than understood the issues and why personal motivations couldn’t enter into objective application of the law but, emotionally, he was torn. If he was honest with himself, could he be that dispassionate? Scowling, he wondered what it would mean for a career in the law. Maybe he’d do okay as a defense lawyer because he really did believe everyone deserved the best representation they could get. But maybe he’d never be able to take on the role of prosecution or, God forbid, of judge. Or maybe he should stay away from criminal law, or even civil law, and stick to corporate law, or immerse himself in estates and trusts. Shaking his head, he decided he couldn’t imagine dealing only with business or financial issues. People, not money, mattered the most to him.
So deep was he in thought that he didn’t hear his name being called, and was startled when his arm was grabbed. Irritated, he pulled roughly away as he wheeled toward whoever it was.
“Sorry, Skid!” Teddy exclaimed, stepping back and raising his hands in peace. “I called your name a couple times but you didn’t seem to hear me.”
“Oh, sorry,” Mark returned, blinking as he pulled himself away from his ruminations and back to the world around him. “No, no, don’t apologize,” he went on with a smile. “I was just thinking about something.” But then the incongruity of Teddy being on the school’s grounds asserted itself. Puzzled, Mark asked, “What are you doing here? Is something wrong?”
“No, well, not exactly,” Teddy replied even as he reached to draw another man closer.
“This is Jimmy Cavalieri, an old buddy from way back. You know, from school, sort of. Well, from juvie.”
Mark nodded and held out his hand to the stranger, who was casually garbed in a beige pullover and jeans. “Mark McCormick,” he said as he shook the man’s hand, noting that he was about the same age and height, with a sallow complexion, dark brown hair and eyes. When Jimmy didn’t say anything, Mark looked from him back to Teddy. “Uh, so … you’re here because …?”
Teddy’s expression was almost furtive as he looked around and leaned a little closer. “Is there someplace we can talk—you know, private-like?”
Wondering what Teddy might be trying to get him into, Mark hesitated. But Teddy was an old friend so, with an internal sigh of resignation, he nodded. “Sure, there’s a coffee shop just around the corner. This way.”
A few minutes later, they settled into a booth against the wall in the back corner of the busy café and ordered coffee from the waitress. The ambient noise of nearly a hundred students arguing various intellectual points of interest combined with the clash of crockery and the shouts of orders back and forth at the window to the kitchen ensured no one could overhear their conversation. Mark added some cream to his coffee and looked questioningly at the two men across the table. “What’s this about, Teddy?”
“Well, you see, it’s like this. Jimmy has a problem and he needs to talk to someone about his options. Someone objective who he can trust to respect his confidentiality. I told him you were a lawyer and you’d know what was best.”
“Whoa,” Mark protested with a nervous laugh, his hands going up as he shook his head. “I’m not a lawyer yet. Won’t be for a while.”
“Yeah, yeah, he understands that. You know what I mean. You understand this stuff and you’re smart, Skid. You can help him. I know you can.”
Mark saw boundless trust in Teddy’s open gaze, and he wondered if he was being conned. He never could be sure with Teddy if he was getting the whole story or not. But he also knew that Teddy wouldn’t deliberately do something to hurt him. Sighing, he turned his attention to Jimmy. “Okay, so what’s your problem?”
“You can’t tell anyone,” Jimmy started, sounding nervous. He even repeatedly glanced over his shoulder as if certain someone was hunting him or, at the very least, crowding in to hear what he had to say.
Figuring this was as good a time as any to practice client confidentiality, Mark shrugged and nodded. “Alright. This is just between us.”
“I’m scared,” Jimmy said, as if it was news; as if everything about him, from the tremble in his hands to the dark hollows under haunted eyes in his pallid face and the nervous twitches didn’t already shout that information to anyone who took a close look at him.
“What are you scared of—or who?” Mark asked gently, not wanting to spook him any more than he already was.
Jimmy chewed on his lower lip as he dithered about whether to answer or not, then he swallowed hard. When he spoke, his voice was low and husky, almost a hoarse whisper. “I have to get away. Disappear. I’ve got a crazy brother. He does things that get me into trouble. Nobody believes me when I tell them it’s him, not me, that’s bad.”
“What kind of trouble? What does he do?” Mark asked. “And what’s his name?”
“Joey. His name is Joey.” Jimmy stopped to take another deep breath while he again glanced back over his shoulder. Leaning forward, he said, “He’s dangerous and I think he’s going to hurt someone. Someone I care about. Just ‘cause he’s jealous. We need to get away. Disappear.”
“You said that already,” Mark replied, not happy with the vague answers. Frowning, he said, “If Joey is doing or has done something illegal, you can go to the cops. If your life is in danger, maybe the U.S. Marshalls or the FBI can help you create a new identity —”
“No!” Jimmy cried, scaring himself with his shout. “No,” he repeated, in a hoarse whisper. “He’s my brother,” he explained, sounding agonized. “Even when he got me in trouble before, he didn’t come to court to testify against me. He just disappeared until the trial was over.”
“Trial?” Mark echoed. “For what? Maybe my friend—he’s a retired judge—Milton Hardcastle —”
“Hardcastle?!” Jimmy repeated. Eyes wide, he looked hunted and absolutely terrified. “No, you can’t. You promised you wouldn’t tell anyone! Hardcastle’s the judge who didn’t believe me. Who didn’t believe Joey did the bad things. Hardcastle sent me away.”
Grimacing, Mark figured ‘away’ meant ‘up the river’ to the ‘house of many doors’; one more euphemism for prison to add to his collection. Making a calming gesture with his right hand, he urged, “Relax, okay? I said I wouldn’t say anything and I won’t. But I can’t cover up a crime, if one has already occurred. I’m not sure what you want from me.”
“I can’t go to see Lindy, to tell her Joey might hurt her. Can’t take the chance that Joey might see me there. And Teddy can’t go because Joey knows him, would suspect he was up to something. But I need her to know that we have to go away.” His gaze fell away, as if ashamed. And then he looked back at Mark with an expression of painful earnestness. “My family … well, it’s the mob, okay? But I’m not like that; I don’t want to be like them. I want to live my own life, my own way. When Joey framed me before, it was to teach me a lesson; to make me go to prison to ‘toughen up’. Joey says I have no choice but to do what the family does. But I do have a choice, don’t I? I can go away, start over someplace else? Live an honest life?”
“You’re a free man, Jimmy. You can go wherever you want. You can leave right now,” Mark replied solemnly.
But Jimmy shook his head. “No. I can’t go without Lindy. I’m afraid they’d hurt her, ‘cause they know I love her.”
Feeling as if he was playing a game of ‘yes, but’, where nothing he said would be accepted, Mark leaned back against the booth. Forearms on the table, he asked again, “Why are you telling me this? What do you want from me?”
When Jimmy didn’t reply, Teddy interjected with eager hopefulness, “We thought that maybe, well, that you could take a message to Lindy. About when and where to meet so they can run away together. He can’t call, because her phone might be tapped. I’d go—her restaurant is just a block from where I work—but, like he said, Jimmy’s sure his family would recognize me and know something was up.”
Wary of getting into a problem he didn’t understand and wasn’t any of his business, Mark looked away. “I don’t think —”
“Please,” Jimmy begged, desperation clear in his voice and eyes. “I’ll pay you. I don’t have anyone else to ask. Please. I just need you to go to her, tonight, when her restaurant closes. To tell her that Joey is going to cause trouble and that I need her to meet me at the train station tomorrow night, so we can go away together, so I can keep her safe.”
Mark’s gut was telling him there was something hinky about the whole thing. He’d never heard of the Cavalieri mob but he supposed that didn’t mean they didn’t exist. Jimmy sounded paranoid—but then, that didn’t mean that someone, maybe his brother, wasn’t out to get him. Mark wanted to refuse; he really didn’t have time for this. He had to get to the library to finish researching a paper that would soon be overdue.
On the verge of saying that he couldn’t help, he made the mistake of looking from Teddy’s hopeful, trusting expression to Jimmy’s evident terror and desperation. And he just couldn’t do it. Couldn’t refuse to help. How hard could it be? How much time could it take? One visit to this Lindy, to deliver a message, and that was it. Not a big deal, really; nothing that would take much time.
Against his better judgement, but consoling himself that he should get used to it because once he was a starving lawyer he wouldn’t be able to pick and choose the clients he’d help, Mark reluctantly nodded. “Okay. Write down her name, the address of her business, the time it closes, and what you want me to tell her, so I’ve got the details straight. I’ll go over there tonight.” He tore a page from his notebook and passed it, along with a pen, across the table.
Jimmy pulled out his wallet. “How much —”
Mark interrupted and waved him off. “No, that’s okay. You don’t have to pay me for doing you a favor.” But he turned to Teddy to add, “Maybe you and me can have a little chat while Jimmy is writing down the information.”
Looking uncertain, Teddy nodded and slid out of the booth to follow Mark to the front of the shop, where Mark paid for their coffees.
“Teddy, I know you just want to help people, but next time I’d appreciate it if you called me first and gave me a heads-up,” he said as he stuffed his wallet back into his pocket. “You kinda put me on the spot here, you know? And how much do you know about this guy? Have you ever met his brother, Joey?”
“No, Skid, I haven’t,” Teddy replied earnestly. “But I’ve known Jimmy forever, since we were kids. You’ve been in the system and juvie; you know what it’s like. Him and me, we didn’t have no one else; he wouldn’t lie to me. I know he wouldn’t,” he insisted. “Jimmy’s a sweet guy. Wouldn’t hurt a fly, you know? He’s told me about other times Joey has hurt him or set him up. That Joey sounds like real bad news.” He paused and looked briefly back at his old friend. “I knew you’d help him. I can always count on you,” he said, beaming with gratitude.
Mark looked away. Teddy couldn’t help being Teddy. So all he did was nod. “Next time, just give me a call first.”
“Sure, Skid. Whatever you say,” Teddy vowed. Mark huffed a laugh at the earnestness of Teddy’s reply—no question about it, Teddy always had the best of intentions.
Jimmy joined them and held out the piece of paper, carefully folded over whatever he’d written on it. “I, uh, put my phone number down, too, so you can call me after you’ve seen her.”
Mark opened the note and scanned the information. “Aren’t you afraid your phone line is tapped? Isn’t that why you didn’t want to just call her yourself? If I call you, will that cause a problem?”
Dismayed, Jimmy looked utterly defeated. “I don’t know what to do. What if … what if she won’t go with me?”
“You can’t control what she’ll do,” Mark said as kindly as he could. “That’s up to her. I’ll give her your message and if she’s going to go with you, then I guess she’ll meet you at the station. If she’s not there, well … I guess that means she wasn’t willing to leave everything behind.” A thought occurred to him and, recalling another instance of life-changing confusion over a meeting at an unspecified train station, he hastily added, “We’re talking about Union Station downtown, right?”
“Yeah, that’s right,” Jimmy affirmed, looking dejected. “I can’t leave her behind.”
Calling on all the patience he had, just wanting them to go on their way, Mark replied, “Then I guess if she doesn’t show, maybe you won’t leave, either. Let’s not get all tied up with what might happen. Let me talk to her tonight and then I guess it will all just play out, one way or another.” He hesitated, then added, “Look, in all honesty, I have to advise you that if you think your brother poses a real threat to you or anyone else, you really should advise the police, especially if he’s got a history of criminal actions.”
Jimmy stiffened, his expression suddenly mutinous.
“It’ll all be okay,” Teddy intervened cheerfully, patting Jimmy’s back. “You’ll see.”
Mark wasn’t so sure. There was something just a little strange about Jimmy, and Mark couldn’t imagine anyone leaving everything to run away with him. But, stuffing the note in his shirt pocket, he resisted the urge to say so. After all, what did he know? Maybe it was the great love of the century, like Romeo and Juliet, only with a happier ending. With a wave, he turned away and headed around the corner, retracing his steps back toward the library.
When he got there, he looked up the business in the phone book. Impressed by the advertisement in the yellow pages, he spontaneously decided to have his dinner there. Maybe, if ‘Lindy’ was around, he could deliver the message and be home long before the place closed around midnight.
* * * * *
“Hey, Judge,” Mark called as he stopped in at the main house when he got back from school early that evening. Without waiting for an answer, he ambled into the den, where he found Hardcastle reading the latest Tom Clancy thriller. “How’s the book?”
“Hmm?” Hardcastle murmured before tearing his attention away from the story. “Good. It’s good. Clancy has to have someone on the inside feeding him information.”
Mark grinned. “Or maybe he just has a really good imagination, and he does a lot of research.”
“Some of this stuff isn’t in books, McCormick,” the Judge growled. But, shrugging, he laid the novel aside and started to rise. “Guess it’s time I got dinner started,” he observed.
“Don’t go to any trouble on my account,” Mark replied. “I just stopped in to tell you I’ll be going out for dinner.”
“Want some company?” Milt asked, but with a pixie grin and a twinkle in his eyes, he teased, “Or are you wining and dining some hot co-ed?”
“Uh, not exactly,” Mark replied evasively. For a moment, he considered sharing his mission and his impressions of the odd Jimmy Cavalieri with Hardcastle, but then he remembered that Cavalieri had specifically not wanted the older man involved because of their prior history. Besides, he reminded himself, it was a good time to practice the ethics of lawyer-client privilege. “Just doing a favor for Teddy,” he finally added, more to pique the Judge’s curiosity than because he felt a need to explain his comings and goings.
“Teddy? Not the Teddy Hollins that nearly landed you back in the big house a few years back? The one that traded on your friendship to rob your friends? The guy who’s a slice or two short of a loaf, if you know what I mean? That Teddy?”
“Ah, Judge, don’t be like that. He likes you,” Mark drawled with a broad smile, knowing Hardcastle was just yanking his chain.
“Hmmph,” Milt grunted, but a grin twitched at the corner of his mouth. “Yeah, well, I guess he means well. Just don’t let him drag you into some hare-brained scheme or other.”
“Nah, nothing like that. Just dinner,” Mark replied. “I shouldn’t be late.”
Hardcastle nodded, tossed a vague wave in his direction, and turned his attention back to his book. Not long after he’d heard the Coyote roaring up the drive, the phone rang, dragging him up from his chair and over to the desk. “Hardcastle,” he said into the mouthpiece.
“Milt, hey, glad I caught you at home,” Frank Harper said.
Hardcastle frowned at the concerned tone in his friend’s voice. “What’s wrong, Frank?” he asked.
The lieutenant sighed. “Do you remember a case about five years ago? A pscho you decided wasn’t fit to stand trial; you ordered him into custody for psychological assessment and incarceration until he was evaluated as safe to return to society? He killed —”
“Yeah, yeah, of course I remember,” Milt replied, sobered by the memories of what the disturbed young man had done.
“I thought I should give you a heads-up that we just got word that he escaped custody a few days ago, and might be heading back to L.A.” Frank paused, then went on, “According to the reports, he’s just as dangerous as he was then. Once his meds wear off, they’re worried about what he might do. Apparently, he never stopped talking about you.”
Grimacing, Milt rubbed his eyes with his thumb and forefinger. “Uh huh, well, I guess there’s not much we can do but keep a lookout for him. Do we have a line on his known associates?”
“Well, that’s a problem. He was a loner; didn’t have any family, no friends, at least none that we knew of,” Frank reported. “Watch yourself, okay, Milt? Keep your security system engaged—and let Mark know he should keep a look out for this guy.”
“I’ll tell him when he gets home. He just went out to have dinner with his old buddy, Teddy Hollins.”
“Not the guy who robbed the poker game?” Frank asked with what sounded suspiciously like a chuckle.
“Yeah, that’s the one,” Milt agreed with a smile. “Don’t worry; he’s reformed. Unless Mark falls for one of his wild schemes to make money—like iced coffee—the kid shouldn’t get into any trouble with him.”
Frank laughed. “Okay, well, I’ll keep you posted if we get any leads on our escapee.”
Milt thanked him and hung up the phone. For a moment, he stood staring out of the window, his mind miles and years away, reviewing the case of the broken young man who had no memory of slowly and brutally torturing two people to death. Saddened by the tragic circumstances but unable to either change the past or predict the future, he returned to his chair and his book.
However, despite his efforts to wilfully lock away the past, he found himself staring blindly at the page as he gnawed on his lip and wondered if the young man would hurt anyone else before he was again caught and safely incarcerated in a mental institution.
* * * * *
The Coyote rumbled slowly along the traffic-congested Sunset Strip, and then wheeled into a parking slot in a lot beside The Fire Pit. Mark climbed out of the car and pulled his sport coat on over his sky-blue shirt and jeans as he walked out of the lot and along the sidewalk past the high, wide windows of the restaurant. The sidewalk was busy with late shoppers, tourists, drifters and beggars. He gave a few bucks to a young, unshaven, sad-looking man with a sign around his neck claiming he was a veteran looking for work. Mark wasn’t at all certain the sign was the truth, but he was sure the guy needed some kind of break; he could only hope the money wouldn’t go to booze or drugs. Preoccupied with his thoughts as he entered the establishment, he didn’t notice the man standing in the shadows of the alley across the street.
Or the flare of fury in the reptilian glare that watched his every move.