Once again Hardcastle pulled up to the entrance gate to the cemetery. There was already a police car parked there. After parking the pickup, Mark, Cindy and Hardcastle went over to where the grave in question was. There were two police officers standing there.
“Evening, fellows,” Hardcastle greeted them.
“Evening, Judge,” one of the officers responded. He knew Hardcastle from when the judge had still been on the bench.
“What do we have here?” Hardcastle asked nonchalantly.
Both officers looked at Hardcastle.
“Not much,” the one officer said.
The spot where the coffin had been was now completely filled in. There was no hole.
“Figures,” Mark mumbled to Cindy. “They got back here first.”
“Is this the spot where the alleged hole was supposed to be?” the officer asked Hardcastle.
“Yeah. But it’s probably nothing to worry about,” Hardcastle fudged. “It’s probably all just a misunderstanding. You guys can both head back to headquarters. We’ll take over from here.”
The one officer shrugged, and both of them turned and headed back to their patrol car.
When the officers had left, Hardcastle turned to Mark.
“Now, where’s this place where Jake lives?” he asked.
Mark grinned. He led Hardcastle and Cindy to the little stone cottage located on the edge of the grounds. It was a creepy-looking little old building, surrounded by untrimmed shrubs and a black, wrought-iron fence, like something out of an old horror movie.
There were no lights on in the cottage. Hardcastle rapped his knuckles on the heavy wooden front door.
“Jake!” he called. “Jake, are you in there?”
There was no answer.
“Maybe he’s asleep,” Mark suggested.
They were just about ready to go looking for a window to break into when the door to the cottage creaked open a couple of inches, and a thin, pale, grizzled old man poked his face through the opening.
“Jake, it’s Mark McCormick,” Mark said. “Do you remember me? I met you last year when an acquaintance of mine was buried here.”
The old man stared for a moment.
“Yes. I remember you,” Jake said slowly. “Who are these other people?”
Mark pointed to Cindy. “This is Cindy, my — uh — girlfriend,” Mark told him. Cindy smiled at this. “And this is Judge Milton Hardcastle, a good friend of mine.”
“Retired judge,” Hardcastle corrected. “Listen Jake, we need some important information about one of the plots in this cemetery for an official investigation. Could we take a quick look at your burial records?”
After taking a moment to digest this information, the old man nodded and opened the door all the way, allowing Mark, Cindy and Hardcastle to enter.
Once inside the old man led the trio to a small room in the back of the dark, cramped little cottage. Strangely, there were no lights on in the building, making it difficult to see any details — but Jake was able to find his way to the back room, where he turned on the overhead light there.
Once inside the room, which was a small office, Jake went to a file cabinet in one corner.
Mark described the location of the grave to him. Jake opened one of the file cabinet’s drawers, and pulled out a folder. He handed the folder to Mark.
Mark glanced at the sheets of paper in the folder.
“Well?” Hardcastle asked.
“It says the burial was just last week,” Mark recited.
“Does it have the address of the owner of the plot?”
“Yeah,” Mark said. “It’s some business on Wilshire Blvd. in Santa Monica.” He borrowed a pencil and a piece of paper from Jake, and wrote the name and address down.
“Then let’s go check out these guys,” Hardcastle said.
Mark thanked Jake for his time, and the trio headed back to Hardcastle’s pickup.
* * *
Shortly thereafter, Hardcastle parked across the street from the address that Mark had gotten from Jake. It was in a seedier part of town, and the address in question was a small, dilapidated storefront. A faded sign over the front door read “Cannell Distribution Co.”.
“What do you think?” Mark asked.
“Obviously a front,” Hardcastle told him.
Before Hardcastle could stop him, Mark got out of the pickup and sprinted across the street.
The nearest streetlight was about a half a block away, so it was easy for him to stay in the shadows. As Hardcastle and Cindy watched, Mark flattened himself against the front of the building next to the storefront. He looked around for a moment. Then he ducked down a narrow alley that was between the two buildings. He disappeared from view.
“That dumb kid,” Hardcastle grumbled. “I gotta teach him to quit doing that!”
Cindy knew Hardcastle well enough by now to realize that this was his way of expressing concern for Mark’s welfare. She was concerned too.
A few minutes later Mark reappeared. He skulked back over to the pickup and quickly climbed back in.
“There’s a big empty parking lot behind the building, and there’s a large overhead garage door in the back,” Mark explained. “I peeked in a window. The four feds — if that’s what they really are — from the cemetery are in there, all right. The coffin is there too. They’re in the process of removing the money from it and counting it.”
“Is there a way for me to get the pickup back there?” Hardcastle asked.
“Yeah. You can get into the rear lot from the side street just up the block,” Mark replied, pointing.
“What do we do now?” Cindy asked.
“We can’t waste any time!” Hardcastle said. “We gotta corral those guys while they still have the money and the coffin in their direct possession.”
He peered down at his watch.
“ — And I also gotta get back to my Halloween party!”
He shifted in his seat, pulling his pistol out of his jacket pocket.
“Get the other gun out of the glove box!” he said to Mark.
Mark did as he was told.
“What are you gonna do, Judge?” Mark asked.
“Go for broke!” was Hardcastle’s reply. He started the pickup’s engine and proceeded down the street. He turned the corner, and then turned into the driveway that accessed the lot that was behind the storefront. He turned out his headlights, and then he pulled up behind the store, facing the garage door.
“Get your head down,” he told Cindy, pushing her down into a crouching position on the seat.
“Judge, what are you —” Mark started to say.
But before he could get the rest of the question out, Hardcastle stomped down on the pickup’s accelerator pedal.
The truck shot forward. It crashed right through the garage door, shattering it into pieces that flew in every direction.
Once inside the building Hardcastle jerked the pickup to a stop and snapped on his headlights. He threw open the driver’s side door and jumped out, pointing his pistol through the open window at the four blinded men that were so startled by the sudden invasion they froze in position where they stood.
Hardcastle fired one shot over their heads.
“All right, drop your weapons onto the ground and get your hands up!” he shouted.
Still shaken by Hardcastle’s nervy maneuver, Mark nevertheless managed to jump out of the passenger side of the truck too. He leveled his own pistol at the men.
The four feds gingerly reached into their suit coats and removed their guns, dropping them onto the ground. Then they raised their hands up into the air.
“Kick ’em over here!” Hardcastle barked, referring to the weapons.
The men did as they were told.
At this point Cindy worked up enough courage to raise her head up and peek over the pickup’s dashboard.
As she watched Mark and the judge round up the four grave robbers, she realized that this was a Halloween that she was going to remember for a very long time!