Mark slowly came awake, relishing the fact that he was able to take his time doing it. He didn’t get that opportunity often.
Wait — why WAS he getting that opportunity now?
He popped up in his bed and picked up the alarm clock from the night table next to his bed. It read almost 10 AM!
His blood froze. He threw his covers off, jumped out of bed, and ran for his clothes closet, taking the time to stumble over his shoes on the floor in the process. He caught himself against the edge of the closet.
But as he straightened up again he suddenly remembered: it was Monday, and he didn’t have law school today. Something about the teacher being away for a couple days.
Whew he sighed in relief.
But that raised another question. Hardcastle generally ran his estate like a marine barracks. If Mark happened to have a day off from school, and he tried to sleep past 8 AM, Hardcastle would usually be pounding on the door of the gatehouse and yelling for him to get busy cutting the hedges, or trimming the flower beds, or cleaning the pool, or some such nonsense. Where was he? Why was everything so quiet?
Wondering what was going on (Was Hardcastle sick? Did he leave the property on some errand and forget to wake Mark up first? Did some disgruntled former court defendant decide to kidnap him during the night and take him somewhere and murder him?), Mark got dressed and went downstairs.
It was a beautiful October day outside as Mark walked across the lawn to the main house. But there was no sign of Hardcastle anywhere. This was getting more mysterious by the minute.
He came up to the front door of the house and tried the handle. It was unlocked.
Okay, now I’m really worried, he thought. Hardcase would never leave the premises, on an errand or anything else, and leave the main house wide open.
Mark cautiously pushed the door open and stepped inside. Quietly he tip-toed across the inner hallway and flattened himself against one wall. Slowly and carefully he peeked around the corner into Hardcastle’s den, afraid of the grisly scene he might see.
What if somebody had broken into the house during the night, dismembered the judge, and left the pieces all over the place?
As he looked into the den his eyes went wide.
“Aw, geez!” he moaned.
Hardcastle was up on the top of a stepladder, hanging some orange and black bunting from the ceiling. There were monster masks and skeletons and bats and spiders hanging all over the walls of the den. Carved jack-o-lanterns were sitting on all the tables.
Hardcastle turned on the ladder and looked at Mark staring at him.
“What?” he replied testily, a disgusted look on his face at being interrupted.
Mark hung his head, shaking it back and forth.
“Don’t tell me!” he groaned. “Another Halloween party?”
Hardcastle went back to work hanging the bunting. “Of course. It’s October 31st, isn’t it?”
“What’s the occasion this year? Another Judicial Club party?”
“Naw — I just thought I’d throw a Halloween Bash of my own this year. After all, Halloween is ...”
Mark shuffled into the room and slumped into a chair. “I know — I know — your favorite holiday!” he said, waving his hand.
Hardcastle climbed down from the ladder.
“Yeah. What’s wrong with that?” he shot back defensively.
“Nothing, I guess,” Mark replied sarcastically. “After all, the Great Pumpkin needs someplace to go on Halloween, doesn’t he?”
Hardcastle stood behind Mark, looking daggers at him.
“Well, are you gonna help, or you just gonna sit there and vegetate?” he growled.
Mark sighed, reluctantly hauled himself up out of the chair, and started half-heartedly hanging things. As he wandered around the room trying to look busy (so Hardcastle wouldn’t suddenly remember that the hedges needed trimming!), he thought about how he might be able to turn this party into something other than a crashing bore, drinking lousy punch and talking to judges dressed up in weird outfits about their briefs.
Then an interesting thought struck him — he hadn’t seen Cindy Wenzek for a while. Maybe he could give her a call and have her come over to the party as his date. Then he would at least have someone to talk to.
And if things got really boring, then maybe they could go somewhere and neck for a while.
* * *
As usual right before a party, Hardcastle was a wreck, running to and fro trying to attend to every last-minute detail he could think of, driving Mark up the wall.
“The Ghostly Goodies! Where are the Ghostly Goodies?” Hardcastle wailed, throwing his hands up in the air. He was dressed as George Washington, and every time he moved, his tri-cornered hat kept flying off.
“They’re right on the end table in a bowl,” Mark calmly informed him, picking the hat up off the floor. “They’re right next to the Potato Poopies and the bottle of Pinky Fizz. ... Try to take it easy, Judge. It’s just a Halloween party, not World War III!”
Hardcastle snorted. He grabbed his hat from Mark and jammed it back on his head. Then he turned and rushed back into the kitchen to attend to some other forgotten triviality.
As guests began to arrive Mark wandered over toward the front door. As he did Cindy came in.
“Hi Mark!” she greeted him. She came over to him and posed in her outfit.
“Well, what do you think?” she asked him.
She was dressed in a tight-fitting pink leotard, with purple leg warmers on her legs.
“I’m supposed to be the girl from Flashdance,” she told him.
Mark stared at her curvaceous figure.
“Oh, man — what a feeling!” he said to her, in a manner obviously intended to be a compliment.
“Mark, how come you’re not wearing a costume?” she asked him, taking his arm. He was dressed only in a white t-shirt and jeans, since he had taken his outer shirt off earlier after getting overheated from running various errands for Hardcastle.
“Hardcase has kept me so busy all day getting ready for the party ...” Mark started to explain. Then: “Anyway, I am wearing a costume.”
“Oh really?” Cindy asked him skeptically. “And just who are you supposed to be?”
“I’m the Fonz from Happy Days!” Mark improvised.
Cindy gave him a look that suggested she didn’t quite believe him.
Mark smiled. “C’mon, let’s go get some Potato Poopies and Pinky Fizz before it’s all gone,” he said, hustling her into the den.
The party started to liven up as more guests arrived. Mark went over and turned the stereo on, putting on a record with various Halloween-themed songs on it. “Monster Mash” by Bobby “Boris” Pickett started to echo throughout the room.
Suddenly a voice called out behind Mark.
Mark turned around to see Teddy Hollins standing there, drinking a cup of punch.
“Teddy!” Mark said in surprise. “What are you doing here?”
“Ah, nothin’,” Teddy replied casually. “Just takin’ an opportunity to get to know the upper crust.” He looked around the room, and then grinned and nudged Mark’s arm. “After all, you never know when you’re gonna come up in front of one of these guys in a courtroom, do you?”
Mark looked at him.
“Yeah, well, Teddy, just don’t do anything I’m going to regret, okay?”
Teddy winked at him.
“Take it easy, Skid. I’m reformed. Honest!”
“Yeah, right. And the Pope just converted to Hinduism,” Mark retorted. “Just drink your punch and move along before Hardcastle sees you, all right?”
“Sure, Skid, sure,” Teddy replied.
Mark moved away through the crowd. As he did, Teddy pulled an expensive gold watch out of his pocket and quickly examined it. Then he furtively shoved it back into his pants, out of sight. He chugged down his punch and scurried away.
Finding Cindy again Mark pulled her aside, separating her from a pack of judges who were all chatting her up and leeringly admiring her outfit.
“I’ve got an idea,” Mark whispered to her.
“I’ll bet you have,” Cindy replied, smiling.
“No, really!” Mark replied. “C’mon!”
He took her by the hand and led her out of the room. They went outside, and Mark helped her into the Coyote. Then he ran around and jumped into the driver’s seat.
He turned the ignition key, and the Coyote roared off down the driveway.
“Where are we heading? Inspiration Point?” Cindy said to him.
“Nope. Somewhere even better,” Mark teased her.
They reached the Pacific Coast Highway, and Mark turned onto it. It had gotten dark, and they headed a few miles south in the direction of Santa Monica. But then Mark pulled off onto a small side road that was barely visible in the darkness. They traveled a mile or so down this dirt road before Mark pulled the Coyote up alongside a long low stone wall.
He turned the Coyote off and jumped out. Coming around to the other side he helped Cindy out.
“Where are we?” Cindy asked, puzzled.
“You’ll see!” Mark taunted. He led her over to the stone wall, and he hopped up onto it.
“C’mon!” he said to her, offering her his hand.
Dubious, Cindy nevertheless gave Mark her hand and allowed him to pull her up onto the top of the wall. Once there they both hopped down onto the grass on the other side.
Cindy looked around.
“Oh, no!” she exclaimed. “Mark, you’ve got to be kidding!”
They were in a cemetery!