This story originally appeared in the now out-of-print fanzine Maxwell's House, in 1991.  Beauty and the Beast and its characters are owned by Witt-Thomas Productions and Republic Pictures. This story is presented merely for the enjoyment of fans.

 

The Marker

by BeeDrew


"Joe, you are so full of it. That dart was nowhere near the bull's eye, no way, no how."

So saying, Jackson Moore folded his arms and leaned his rump nonchalantly against the boss' desk, glaring at the man across the room.

Joe, on all fours as he scrounged for a dart that had taken cover beneath a vinyl chair, threw an annoyed glance over his shoulder.

 "You're blind, man. It hit and bounced off. You just didn't see it because you were looking at Escobar's--"

 Just then, someone gave two smart raps at the door. Without waiting for permission, the visitor opened the door and stepped inside.

 "--legs," Joe finished. His eyes traveled up a pair of very shapely limbs, passed a trim ivory suit that would have cost him two paychecks, and kept on going until he met Cathy Chandler's amused green eyes.

 "Oh hi Cathy," he mumbled, wondering if he looked as foolish as he felt. "I was just--"

 Without a word, Cathy leaned down, slipped her arm between the chair and the wall, and came up with the dart he'd been looking for. She held it out.

 Joe took it, sensing at once that something was wrong. Ordinarily, on finding her boss on his knees two inches from the tips of her Italian pumps, Cathy would have had a comment about the floor being the best place for her boss.  Today she said nothing.  And he'd known her long enough by now to read the set look to her jaw and the tense way she held herself when something was up.

 "Have you got a minute, Joe?"  Her voice betrayed nothing.

 Joe got to his feet, already braced for trouble.  Jackson was looking from him to Cathy like an umpire at a tennis match, and Joe got ready to hustle him out of the office.   "Jack, are we firm on the Krezinski thing?  Get I.S. to run the traces while you're deposing the wife, and let me know what you find out."

 "Sure." Jackson's tone was just a bit disappointed. He gathered the files he'd brought--rather clumsily, with two people watching him in silence--and made himself scarce.

 "Radcliffe, if it's more vacation time, there's no way. There's just no way."   Joe retreated behind his desk, irritably tugging at his tie. She was making him nervous.

 "It's not that." Cathy crossed to his desk, placed a file folder in front of him, and then took a chair, watching him intently.

 "You were at the Tombs this morning, right? How'd it go?" Joe asked, reached for the file.

 "All right." She ran her fingers through her honey-colored hair, mussing it the way he liked, and looked at him again.

 Okay, so can the small talk, he told himself, and began to read.

 

*****

 Of course, it was a day he never forgot.  Anyone could understand that.   But the weird thing was--the thing that always bothered him was--how normal the day had been. Regular ol' Saturday, common as dirt. He always felt, thinking back, that there ought to have been some warning, some omen to tell him the world was ending.

 His mother was washing strawberries in the sink, fruit she'd picked moments before from her own garden.  She was humming tunelessly over the sound of the water, and every so often she would take the towel that lay over her shoulder and wipe beads of perspiration from her face.  It was only nine, but already the humidity was building.   The ceiling fan in the Maxwells' cheerful blue-and-white kitchen couldn't do a thing to touch it.

 His mother glanced over her shoulder at him.  "Joey, I need you to go down and cut Mrs. Wilson's grass before you go to practice.  No grass cut, no uniform washed, capice?"

 Joe couldn't answer at once, since he'd just shoveled a jumbo spoonful of Cheerios into his mouth.  He hated it when she called him Joey.  If his friends got wind of it, they'd never let it rest.  "Yeah Mama, I'll do it," he mumbled.

 Once she'd turned back to the sink, he slurped the rest of the milk without benefit of his spoon, managing to get the bowl back on the table quickly enough that she didn't catch him at it.

 "I'll go do the mowing now," he said, heading for the back door. "Dad home yet?"

 "Not yet.  Your brother's still asleep, don't slam the--"

 Wham. Joe winced as the screen door impacted with the house, loud enough to send Bessie, the Maxwells' beagle, scuttling under the house.  Joe slunk off to the garage to get the lawn mower.

 

*****

 

He lifted his head. He didn't realize he was crushing Cathy's handwritten notes until she eased them gently out of his white-knuckled hands. He couldn't believe his eyes. He'd been waiting for this for twenty years, had dreamed of it since his first day with District Attorney Moreno, and now that it was finally here, he couldn't trust it.   Not right away.

 "Your informant was positive?  This guy admitted to a cop killing?  It's all the same--the South Bronx, early morning, you checked it out--"

 She was nodding.  He felt his heart begin a slow, hard beat.  Cathy's eyes, locked on his, were full of the pain that had to be screaming from his face.  He just couldn't control it right now, couldn't even try.

 "Hodge says his cellmate bragged about cutting a cop's throat at the age of fourteen, which would have been the year your father died," she told him.   "All the details check with the records at the 52nd.  And apparently Radanik believes he can't be charged with crimes he committed as a minor."

 Joe snorted. "His mistake.  So, this `Sly,' what's the situation now? Paroled, what?"

 "His real name is Simon Radanik.  He was indicted for possession and trafficking in cocaine, and he made bail.  The police found a kilo in the trunk of his car when they pulled him over for speeding," she supplied.

 "Hot damn!  He's nailed!  Who's the prosecutor?"  Leaping up, Joe grabbed his suit coat from the back of his chair and left it spinning as he came around the desk.

 "Joe, wait.  It's Hollings' case.  He's in court right now, but I checked with one of the interns--"

 "Come on."  Joe grabbed her arm and pulled her out of the office with him.  "Let's get over there.  I want to talk to him now."

 He dashed past the D.A.'s staffers without a word of explanation, leaving them fixed for gossip all morning. Cathy, trailing behind him like a kite on a string, kept trying to tell him something, but somehow never got it out of her mouth in the bedlam of morning traffic and his loud efforts to flag a taxi.

 Finally luring one of the yellow bandits to the curb, he shoved Cathy in ahead of him and started talking. He couldn't help it; he'd never felt so pumped, not even after graduating law school third in his class.

 "All my life, Cathy," he said, craning his neck so that he could adjust his tie in the taxi's rearview mirror. "All my life, it seems like I've wanted to get just one of them. Just one.  Dad hoped I'd go to the Academy, but after he died it would have killed Ma."

 He had the tie fixed now. The taxi was crawling; he wished the driver would hurry. "I knew the D.A.'s office was where I needed to be. I knew one of them would screw up again, and end up on my desk, hung up by the short hairs. He'll do time for the drug trafficking--all the time we need to stick him with Dad's murder.  It's payback time!"  He slammed a fist against the wall of the taxi and grinned across at Cathy.

 She sat still in the other corner, watching him. And somehow, that steady look punched through his euphoria as no words would have.  "What?"

 She sighed.  "Joe, I've been trying to tell you.  Hollings is in court right now because Radanik's attorney made a motion to suppress."  She held up a hand to forestall his questions.  "That's all I know.  And even if Radanik goes down for the drug charge--the trail's cold on your father's case, you know that.   Twenty years cold."

 A chill ran lightly across the back of his neck.  Joe shook his head. He could feel himself coming down, easing off that first adrenaline high. But that didn't mean the sucker was going to walk. No way. Not after twenty years, not after murdering his father in cold blood. No way. "Not going to happen, Radcliffe. Hollings would've briefed me if something had come up with one of his cases."

 "You were at a press conference when he left for court."

 Joe just kept shaking his head. "No way, Radcliffe. No way."

 

*****

 

Joe held his breath, and reached for the starter cord. He always felt like a wuss if he couldn't get it on the first try.  Curling his fingers around the handle, he hauled back with everything he had.

 The engine caught and sputtered to life, belching smoke and covering his exultant "Ye-e-ow!" with its roar. As he pushed the mower out onto Mrs. Wilson's handkerchief of a lawn, he glanced up the street, casually, trying to see whether Amy Ferullo had appeared yet.  She was a senior at the high school, a cheerleader, and Saturday morning usually found her out on a lawn chair, doing tan maintenance.  If her mother had had to work the early shift, Amy'd be in a bikini.

 No sign of her.  Whistling, Joe swung the mower around for another pass and yanked off his tank top, using it to mop at the sweat already tickling between his shoulder blades.  He'd work on his tan a little, too.

 

*****

 

The courthouse was a thinly controlled bedlam, with spectators milling and kibitzing; lawyers poring over their notes and talking to themselves, or huddled in low-voiced conference with their clients; doors opening, doors closing; voices and footsteps from the hall a neverending movement in the background.  It was chaos right up until the jury trooped after the rest into the courtroom, and the bailiff intoned, "All rise."   Then all the players rushed for their marks and everywhere there was the sour, wired hum of anticipation.  Joe loved it.  Court days were good days; they were the days when the chips went down, and if he'd worked hard enough and long enough, justice raked in the pot.

 An extra twenty to the cab driver had gotten them to the courts building with ten minutes to spare. Joe barrelled down the hallway at a clip that sent others diving out of his path, and they caught Hollings just exiting a conference room, stuffing file folders into his briefcase.

 "Joe.  Cathy."  Hollings' eyes behind his thick glasses were as large as a carp's.  He grabbed a quick look at his watch. "What are you doing here? I mean--"

 "The Radanik case," Joe broke in. "Any problems?'

 Hollings grimaced. "Plenty. I had him folded up and put away.  But the defense attorney pulled an end-run; seems the search and seizure of the coke was illegal. Rutherford's on the bench, he's sure to suppress it, and then all I've got is a teenager's testimony on the trafficking charge.  I think we're out of luck on this one."

 Joe felt a clutch at his ribs, like something didn't want him to breathe.   "Why didn't you get with me on this?"

 Hollings coughed. His eyes slid over to Cathy, then back to Joe.  "I tried--you weren't available, and Rutherford had court time today.  I'll argue it, of course, but..."  He shrugged helplessly.

 "Christ!" Joe spun away from Cathy's restraining hand on his arm. He was both hot and cold, every muscle clenching. This isn't happening, he told himself. An echo of the agony in his fifteenth summer: It's not happening. It's just not happening....

 

*****

 

"'Help! ...I need somebody. .. Help!  Not just anybody--Help!   You know I need someone...' "

 Under cover of the racket he was making, Joe belted out Beatles lyrics and swung the mower around one-handed. The machine spewed new-cut grass that lifted on a puff of wind and stuck to his legs. He sneezed. In his imagination, Amy Ferullo stretched on her lawn chair. turned onto her stomach, and reached behind her, elbows jutting. to unhook the bikini strap. She swept her hair off her neck--

 A clammy big-knuckled hand closed on his shoulder.  Joe yelped and spun around to face tiny, polyester-clad Mrs. Wilson.

 "Jes--I mean, gee, Mrs. Wilson. you scared me!" Joe yelled, and kicked at the mower.  The noise cut at once, leaving a vacuum of unnatural silence.

 Mrs. Wilson looked up at him out of her muddy hazel eyes.  Ice trembled in a tall glass of water she'd brought for him, and there was an anguished look to her that he never forgot, when he thought on it afterward.  But when she spoke, he wasn't looking at her.  Head tipped back. he drank in great gulps, relishing the cold liquid as it slid down his throat.

 "Joey, you'd best get home now."

 He paused to take a breath.  Water dripped from his chin and he swiped at it, grinning at the old woman. "I'm not finished with the lawn yet, Mrs. Wilson. Ma knows I'm here--"

 She pulled the sweaty glass from his fingers.  "Joey, go home now."

 

*****

 

"Joe?  Joe!"

 Cathy's voice, as insistent as her hand was gentle on his back. He was leaning into the marbled wall, one arm braced above his head. His other hand was a fist, pressed hard against his gut.  He was breathing like a marathon runner.  "Not happening," he whispered. And he turned around, and met her eyes. It seemed he couldn't bear the sympathy, the pity. He'd had enough of those--enough to choke--at his father's wake. He could only be thankful that Hollings had gone to court, and it was only Cathy seeing him like this.

 "Joe," she said softly.  "It will be all right.'

 His lips thinned. "Let's get in there."

 They took seats in the gallery. The judge hadn't arrived, and Cathy crossed to the front to brief Hollings. She spoke quickly. gestured with her hands. Beyond her Joe could see the back of the defendant's head--Radanik, sitting quietly beside his lawyer. Somehow it was a shock to see a grown man sitting there--in some crazy way, he'd been expecting a fourteen-year-old punk.

 It's me who's still fourteen, Joe realized. Still so angry, still hurting so bad....  As he sat, watching his father's murderer, he felt a welcome numbness seep into him, diffusing his rage. He even smiled at Cathy when she returned to take her seat beside him.

 Radanik's case was third on the docket, and the lawyers were like marionettes, going through the motions. Hollings' argument was paper thin, and no one was surprised when the judge returned his finding:  the evidence had been illegally obtained, and would not be admissible.  Radanik's lawyer asked that the drug charges be dropped.

 Hollings looked back at Joe and Cathy, and shrugged.  It was over.  Joe thought once again about those arthritic wheels of Justice--so slow in turning, so slow to mete out punishment, while Injustice, it seemed, went about its business like a greased pig.

 The man who'd killed Joe's father pled guilty to the original traffic violation and was fined.  Joe lingered, waiting to get a good look at Sly Radanik.

 Vaguely Greek in appearance, he had the look of a pile of a pile of unwashed clothing, messy and neglected.  He was large, with slick hair, sloping shoulders and a doughy middle.  His black-stained fingers, as he lifted them to shake hands with his lawyer, bore evidence of his one-time occupation as a mechanic.  His smile held one gold tooth. And he was walking out of the courtroom, essentially a free man.

 Joe stared. And stared. Unblinking, he stared, until Sly Radanik twitched, and his eyes came hunting for the source of his discomfort.  Joe met the black gaze.  Then he took Cathy's arm and hurried them out.

 "Joe--" she began.

 "Not here."

 He waited until they were back in the office.  Striding through the bullpen, he ignored the questions put to him as he passed and waved aside his assistant's sheaf of pink called-while-you-were-out slips. He pulled Cathy into his office behind him and slammed the door so hard the glass rattled.

 "It's payback time," he said.

 

*****

 

Joe ran all the way home.  It seemed as he went that he was standing still, and it was the neighborhood jogging by him, the houses and streets that breathed loudly in his ears.  There was a squad car in the driveway and his dad's old Impala was nowhere to be seen.  The front door stood open.  It rushed at him.

 

*****

 "What do you mean?'

 Rock steady, that was Radcliffe.  She'd lose her temper on a dime if a client got the shaft, but she wasn't one to panic.  She took a chair across from him and folded her hands in that ladylike way of hers.

 "It's payback time," Joe repeated.  He put the desk between them and dropped back into his chair so hard it slammed into the wall behind him. He turned granite eyes on Cathy Chandler.  "You know how it works. You need a favor, I help you out. You need another favor, I help you out again. Then you owe me. And I figure..." he paused, measuring her, "that you owe me big, by now.  I'm calling in the marker."

 Her gaze frosted over. That was the only indication that she'd heard what he had said, but he knew how hurt she was.  How angry.  He couldn't let himself feel what he was doing to her with this. There was no room for anything but vengeance.

 He couldn't look at her. He tilted his chair back and studied the ceiling as he spoke.   "I want Radanik's address. Not the one he gave the cops--the real one. You've got the contacts. I need it soon, in case he decides to rabbit."

 "This isn't right."

 His chair came down with a thump, and he slammed both hands down on his desk.   "Not right? Not right? Was that bullshit in court today right? The slime walked!  He's a murderer and a drug dealer and he walked."   Unable to sit, he vaulted out of his chair and turned toward the window, jamming his hands in his pockets. It was building again--red, seething rage in his gut.  Joe clenched his teeth against it, and neither of them spoke while he fought it.

 "Look, Cathy," he managed, a moment later.  "I know this is irregular, that your caseload's already a nightmare.  But I've hung myself out to dry for you more than once. We both know that.  And I've let you keep quiet about why.   Whatever your secret is, I respect it.  I'm not threatening you."   With an effort. he made himself turn and face her. "I'm asking you.  I need you to get the goods on Radanik, and I need you to trust me on what I'll do after that.  No questions."

 His eyes locked with hers. She wore outrage and fear like a mask, but he was reaching her, he was sure of it.  This kind of anger, this kind of loss, spoke directly to the woman who'd been a victim, and to the little girl I who'd lost her mother.

 The war of wills was over in seconds.  She rose from her chair and stood across the desk from him. The silence ached.

 "I do owe you," she said evenly.  "I'll get the information. But I wish I'd never gone to the Tombs today."

 He sighed and raked his fingers through his hair, feeling the weak backlash of his anger stealing over him like chills after a fever.  "I wish you hadn't either."

 

*****

 

Radanik had gone to ground after his close call, and it took Cathy three days to track the man to a flophouse near Chinatown.  Joe spent the time not working. not sleeping, and drinking too much beer. By the third morning, he was utterly strung out, operating on habit alone. He passed Cathy's desk as he arrived at work an hour late. She glanced up, obviously watching for him.

 "Joe? I've got the... information you wanted."

 She waited until he stood before are her desk and then silently passed him a folded piece of notepaper.  He glanced at it. and blew out a short, sharp breath of relief.

 "Thanks."  He started to turn away.

 "Be careful," she said, to his back.

 He paused, then kept walking.

 

*****

 

Joe waited, slouched low on the passenger side of his car.

 He'd have liked to be on the street, but he was a stranger to the neighborhood.   He'd be noticed, and someone might tip off Radanik. So he'd parked twenty yards back from the building which matched the address Cathy had given him. He'd been there nearly two hours, and he'd seen Radanik leave a few minutes earlier on his nightly run to the liquor store.

 Twilight seeped through the air like a pool of ink, cloaking the dingy storefronts and adding a faint air of menace to the figures who slipped in and out of the flophouse; a faint edge of glamour to the streetwalkers hustling on the corner.  It wouldn't be long now.  Radanik had been half-tanked when he'd left.  Later. he might have gone down to a poolhall or to a bar, to drink in company.  He might have...except that Joe was waiting for him.

 

*****

 

He stood in the doorway to the living room, and all the faces turned toward him. They were like funhouse mirrors, huge and misshapen. Two navy-and-brass police officers stood by the cold fireplace.  His mother sat an the couch with his brother Michael, whose arms were wrapped protectively about her.  She looked up, and reached out a shaking hand to her second son.  Her fingers were still stained crimson from the strawberries.

 "Joey," she gulped.  And began to sob.

 

*****

 

Joe's eyes narrowed as he saw the shambling figure round the corner a block up.   "Payback time, you bastard," he whispered.

 Radanik walked straight toward the car.  Joe slid behind the wheel and started the engine.  He leaned across the seat until he could see the sidewalk again.

 Closer...closer... Radanik paused to take a long pull at his bottle, then he stepped off the curb to cross the side street that flanked the hotel.  Joe pulled himself back to the driver's side, darted a look in the side mirror, and gunned his car into traffic.  The car leapt the few yards to the corner.  Joe wrenched the wheel savagely to the right, clipping the curb as he turned into Radanik's path, and missed a vehicular manslaughter rap by inches.  He punched the brake, threw the car into park, and opened his door in one fluid motion, using both legs to slam the door into his surprised target.  Radanik dropped his bottle and went sprawling across the curb.

 "What the hell--you tryin' ta kill me, man?"

 Radanik had just enough time for the one question before Joe hit him with all his weight.  The man's head thudded against the concrete and he groaned, his arms flailing weakly until Joe pinned them.  "Hey--s'mbody help me, he's tryin' to--"  He squeaked like a rat when he felt the thin line of metal against his throat. "Hey man--hey man--" he wheezed, eyes rolling.

 "Shut up," Joe gritted.  The sharp, sweetish scent of whiskey rose in a cloud around them from the broken bottle.  He grabbed a handful of Radanik's hair and wrenched his head back, wringing out another moan.  Radanik's neck hadn't seen soap in a week or more, and he smelled strongly of garlic.

 Ordinarily, Joe could never have held the larger man down, but Radanik was drunk, stunned by the double blow of Jim Beam and the car door.  The sharp angle of the curb cut into his back, making it harder to breathe if he struggled.  And the kiss of the knife on his skin made his eyes bug out.

 "You--killed--my--father."  Joe spat the words into Radanik's face.   Just a slight movement of his wrist, and the skin would pop beneath the blade. He had never wanted anything more.

 "Wha--"  The tiny shift of Radanik's larynx was all I it took. He froze again as the knife made the merest slice into his skin.

 "You killed him. This is what it felt like."

 Radanik whimpered.  "No, man, no--"

 Too much time. Joe knew he had only a minute, maybe two, before the police or Radanik's friends--assuming he had any--interfered.  He leaned down to whisper against the man's rank hair.  "Please, Sly. Screw up again.  Just one more time. One more time, and I've got you."

 Joe stood up, shoving himself off the prone body in disgust. Something dark moved across his face as he stared down at his father's killer.  Radanik saw it, even through his whiskey-blurred vision. He scrambled to his feet and ran.

 Joe made no move to stop him.  Pocketing his knife--just an old, reliable Swiss army Michael had given him when they were boys--he glanced around.  This neighborhood's head-down, nose-clean attitude had away of discouraging spectators, as he'd known when he made his plan. There was only one witness to the ambush.

 Across the street to his left, standing under the full glare of a street lamp, was Cathy Chandler.  Jean-clad and slender, she looked completely out of place, completely vulnerable, with the light gleaming an her smooth hair and her face cast in shadow.

"My guardian angel,"  Joe muttered, shaking his head. He raised his voice.  "Get over here, Chandler."

He saw her smile as she glanced right and left before she crossed to him.  She took his hand in both of hers and looked up, solemn-eyed.  "Better now, Joe?"

He nodded.  "Better."

Suddenly, she flung both arms around him and hugged him, hard.  He could feel her trembling.  "Damn you, Maxwell," she said, her voice muffled against him. "You scared me."

He was glad she couldn't see his face. With those farseeing eyes of hers, she'd have seen more than he ever wanted to reveal.  "I need a drink," he announced, and pulled gently out of her grip.  "Anything but Jim Beam."

She cocked her head.  Her eyes were wet.  "You need some food, and then some sleep," she corrected.  And smiled.  "I think I still owe you, Maxwell.  Let's go to dinner.  My treat."

He laughed and grabbed her hand, pulling her toward his car, which he'd left running when he'd tackled Radanik. Reaching to open the door for her, he looked up just as she glanced over her shoulder.

"What is it?"  He peered beyond her into the shadows, and for an instant he saw--didn't he?--a tall, indistinct figure disappearing at the far end of the alley.   He gave his companion a sharp, searching stare, but she had turned her attention back to him, her face carefully blank. "Cathy?"

"It's nothing," she said, and slid into the car.  "Just keeping an eye out for trouble, like Isaac taught me.  Seems like you're the worst trouble around here tonight."

Joe stood silent for a moment.  Then he shook his head, and gave a noisy sigh.   "Radcliffe. why do I have the feeling that you are lying like a rug?"

She only smiled, and reached to fasten her seatbelt.

 

End