Ok, everyone. I hope you've stuck with this so far. If you make it this far, this is the final chapter so please review after reading. Thanks, Joni

000000000000000000

It had been a long day. The cars were loaded, equipment packed up, the kids taken home, the car carrier that Kiki borrowed returned, Mark's statement given to LAPD, and pizza picked up on the way home.

Back at Gulls Way, Hardcastle was more than glad to return to his easy chair and John Wayne movie. He was just beginning to relax when he heard a car pull up in the drive way. Looking out the window, Hardcastle now saw why McCormick hadn't made his way up from the gatehouse to watch the movie, as he recognized the familiar Burgundy Thunderbird.

00000

Before Kiki got to the door, it opened. Mark stood there freshly showered holding a glass of wine, "I thought this might go good with the pizza."

Kiki took the wine and smiled when she saw the living room lit with candles and a small fire burning in the fireplace even though it wasn't needed. "It looks like you've been busy. What's this all about?"

Mark said as they sat down in front of the fire, "About being sorry. I was childish ..."

Kiki knew what Mark was talking about, "No. You weren't childish. He was."

Mark smiled, "Kiki, ... I gave him that push that he threatened me with when I was on parole. I know how easy it would have been for him to have done the same thing to me back then. I baited him, because I knew he'd jump. I tried to tell myself it was because I was worried he'd come after you again, and that I did it for you," Mark shrugged his shoulders, "but, even I don't buy that now. I know that the whole thing must have hurt you and I'm sorry."

"Mark," she touched his cheek, "It didn't hurt me. I know Sammy and I had some good times, but it took you showing me his true colors last time. Had I been at that track and run into him without your being there, I would have been worried myself. I know last time he came after me was because he didn't want his team's involvement in the money laundering to come out in the divorce, but he still may not have left me alone. Now, I don't have to worry about him for awhile, right?"

"Well, that will be up to his parole officer and whether he revokes him over the battery charge." Mark explained briefly. Some Parole Officers were more strict than others.

Kiki nodded, then smiled, "We're not going to let this candle light go to waste talking about my ex-husband all night are we?"

Mark smiled, "I certainly hope not," he leaned in to kiss her.

00000

Hardcastle glanced out his bedroom window before heading down for coffee. The Thunderbird was still parked behind the Coyote. "Here we go again. Will that kid ever learn?" He mumbled.

Coffee in hand Hardcastle stepped out on the patio to find McCormick with not only the morning paper but the mail. "Morning, Judge. Here's the mail." he said, still holding the paper.

"It's not the mail I want with my coffee. The bills can wait," he grumbled. Milt knew Mark was not interested in bills either, "Listen, kiddo, it hasn't even been a week yet. If you start looking for those results this soon, you'll be nuts by the time they get here."

Mark smiled, "I know," he sighed, "but, there's a lot riding on them."

Milt tried to reassure him, "Look, the world won't end if you don't pass, but I know you did."

"I just don't want everyone thinking I'm a failure." Mark replied.

Milt said matter of factly, "There's one person who knows you are not a failure."

Hearing some of the conversation and getting the gist of it, Kiki's voice seconded Milt's statement, "Make that two. Morning, Judge."

"Good morning, Kiki." Hardcastle said.

00000

The next few weeks passed without much excitement. McCormick was throwing himself into the chores that he'd put off while studying for the bar exam.

Hardcastle had noticed that each morning, McCormick had gotten to the mail first, which was not like Mark. He usually slept in as long as Hardcastle let him.

Kiki was becoming an expected feature around the estate, though you couldn't actually say she had moved in.

Sammy's parole had been revoked. It seemed that his parole officer was on the verge of revoking him even before the run in with Mark. He had his chances but had missed or been late for several meetings. The parole officer had told Hardcastle that it seemed like O'Connell thought that he was better than the system and should be cut some slack because he used to be a big racing figure. He actually had said he had more important things going on than being on time for such a petty thing as a meeting with his parole officer.

0000000000000000

Five weeks to the day after the bar exam, McCormick tossed the covers back from himself, put his feet on the floor, grabbed a pair of jeans that were laying on the chair by the night stand and stumbled down the stairs to the bathroom. As he splashed water on his face he had to admit that this routine was getting old, very old. Dressed only in jeans, a T-shirt and tennis shoes he made his way out the front door toward the front gate where he'd be nearby when the mail was delivered. He checked the mailbox, nothing, but it was too early for the mail. He found himself outside the gate messing with a few weeds that had managed to appear since he trimmed. By the time the mailman pulled in, it appeared that Mark had used a magnifying glass and tweezers to find the weeds before they appeared.

Mark met him at the mailbox, not even letting him put the mail in the box before he had taken it out of the guys hand. He flipped through the envelopes, grumbled and stomped off toward the main house.

The mailman grumbled as he drove off, "I don't know what that guys is looking for but I wish he'd get it!"

McCormick was still stomping toward the house when he heard the sound of the basketball bouncing. Instead of going to the house he turned toward the basketball goal where he placed the mail to the side and perfectly timed his approach to take the ball away from Hardcastle.

A game of guerilla basketball followed. One elbow had led to a second, them a third. Both players had found themselves face down in the flower bed several times during the game, both had been fouled, tripped, shoved, and pulled. Neither had heard the Thunderbird pull in.

Kiki had heard many a tale of their basketball games but hadn't witnessed one like this one. She was beginning to worry that they were really going to hurt each other as she sat on the hood of her car watching from a relatively safe distance.

Finally, they stopped, with McCormick holding the ball and grinning. He said as he gasped for air, "That's 21. ... Game."

Hardcastle gasped himself as he replied, "That ... kid ... was ... luck!"

"Nah," Mark replied, "Skill." Taking in another deep breath, he asked, "Go for twenty?"

"You're on!" Hardcastle replied as he reached for his wrist and looked at his watch.

Mark replied, "110."

Hardcastle reached in his pocket and grumbled, "115." Then he continued, "I sure wished you'd get those test results. Not only are you trying to kill me but I'm going broke trying to keep you busy."

McCormick had the good graces to drop his head as he laughed at Hardcastle. "Come on, I'll buy breakfast."

"You mean you'll cook breakfast. I bought it." Hardcastle grumbled.

"Hey, remember, it's a partnership. I'm meeting you half way." McCormick replied. Still neither had seen Kiki watching them.

Hopping off the hood of the car and catching up to them, she asked, "Are you all through trying to kill each other yet?" she paused, before they could answer, "Are you both all right?" she said, taking in the sight of both ball players. Both had torn shirts, scratches on their arms, and were in total disarray.

They both looked at her like she was the crazy one.

Mark replied, "Never better."

Hardcastle answered, "Sure, I'm okay. Why?"

She glared at them both, finally deciding to suggest, "Judge, if you'll show me the way, I'll cook breakfast and you two can clean up, and maybe you both can find your sanity!"

Neither understood her concern but figured her breakfast had to be better than theirs. They replied together, "Deal."

00000

After a shower, both guys felt almost normal.

It was Hardcastle who started the conversation, "Kid, I've said this for five weeks and I'll say it again. You could be waiting weeks for those results, but I'll give you a hint. A big envelope is good news, and small envelope is bad news."

"Huh?" McCormick asked.

"A big envelope will have your certificate. A small envelope will have the 'I regret to tell you ...' letter folded up in it." Hardcastle explained.

"Now you tell me that!" Mark hissed, "I'm surprised the mail man hasn't filed charges with Frank yet, with me trying to look at the mail. Now I know to look for big envelopes!"

00000

After breakfast Mark took Kiki up on her offer to do the dishes. It was crazy but he needed to get started on the lawn. Hardcastle hadn't told him to do it yet, but it would burn up the built in frustrations of not knowing about the test results.

Hardcastle came in the kitchen when he heard the mower start. "Why are you doing the dishes?" he asked Kiki.

"Judge, I offered. Besides, he's wound too tight to be in here. It would be like putting a bull in a china closet!"

Hardcastle smiled at her, "You know, you just may know him far too well!

Kiki blushed as she smiled at Hardcastle's statement.

"I've never seen him like this." Hardcastle admitted.

Kiki said, "I have." she sighed, "It may not be pretty but, I'll share, as long as that mower keeps running."

Hardcastle poured two glasses of tea and pulled out a chair for Kiki at the table before taking his own.

"It was the day before the last race that would decide the Championship. The night before I had lied to Mark. I told him that I was pregnant with his child. He of course asked me to marry him. I put him off for the moment. Well, thinking that he was going to be a father, ..." Kiki saw the look from the judge. "I told you it wasn't pretty. I didn't know anything about his family life at this point or I couldn't have been so cruel." She sighed and continued, "Anyway, before dawn he hit the door wide open, he checked everything on his car, made his crew recheck him. He almost drove his crew crazy. He threw himself into his work. All day long he couldn't sit still. He wanted everything perfect so he could beat Sammy. On any other day, he could have taken Sammy hands down. I know I shouldn't have lied to him in the first place, but looking back, I know my timing was way off, which made his timing off when it counted and Sammy won the Championship."

Hardcastle concluded, "So, you married Sammy?"

Kiki nodded and barely said, "Yeah." she sighed, "The point is that frustration in one area, caused him to obsess in another."

Hardcastle said, "Ultimately, causing failure in both."

Kiki saw what he meant, "That's what he's scared of now. But, the test is a done deal. He just doesn't know the outcome."

"Right." Hardcastle said, "Think you can get him away from machinery and maybe talk him into a day on the beach, if you think he won't drown."

Kiki smiled wickedly, "I just maybe able to. And Judge, I can probably handle the mouth to mouth if things get bad. How long will it take him to do the lawn?"

It was Hardcastle's turn to blush as he answered, "At least a couple hours yet."

"Well, I don't see him quitting in the middle so that gives me time to get my game plan in order. Now, go read your paper or a file or something and give me room to work." Kiki said with a hint of an evil grin.

Hardcastle had only seen this look from only one other woman, Nancy! If Kiki was a tenth as persuasive as Nancy, McCormick was in deep trouble, thought Hardcastle.

00000

Knowing that the mail again ran in the afternoon, Kiki was determined to sidetrack Mark for at least a little while. She put on potatoes and eggs to boil while she fried a batch of chicken. She then made the potato salad. While it was cooling she slipped to the gate house to put on something a lot less revealing, then put on a short terrycloth robe to cover the bathing suit to keep Hardcastle from getting embarrassed. She then found a nice bottle of wine in Mark's kitchen. Then, she went to the main house and packed a picnic lunch for the beach. For added good measure she also fixed Hardcastle a large plate and took it to him as she went to 'talk' Mark into going down to the beach.

Mark had returned the mower to the garage and was considering washing all the vehicles including Kiki's, when he turned at the knock on the open garage door.

Standing as a silhouette in the doorway, Kiki had dropped the robe. When Mark turned to her she set the basket down and crossed the garage to him, took his hand and said, "Come on. You know what they say, all work an no play ..."

Mark swallowed hard. All thoughts of the mail, mailmen, and test results went right out with the tide. "Where are we going?"

"Not far, just down on the beach." she said.

Mark was in jeans and a T-shirt, "Well, OK, but I've still got to change."

Kiki smiled wickedly, "I was in the Girl Scouts!" she tossed him his swimming trunks and said, "I'll be waiting right outside."

00000

The postman sorted the mail for the afternoon run. He sighed. There was mail for the Hardcastle residence. He just couldn't get a break, he'd have to face that crazy 'kid' again today. He wasn't sure what he was waiting for but he wished he could see the retired judge about the kids behavior. Normally, he was patient and polite, but in the past weeks things had gotten really bad and he was always there, ready to pounce on him as he tried in vain to put the mail in the box.

This time the postman parked further down the drive and walked up to the gate, hoping not to see the young man who lived here. He was pleasantly surprised to see the judge waiting for him. "Judge Hardcastle ..." he said as he pulled the mail out. He intended to talk to him about the young man.

Hardcastle caught a glimpse of the mail. In it was a large envelope. Hardcastle reached out, took the mail from the post man, checked the return address, and ran up the driveway like something possessed.

"They are both crazy!" the mailman said, walking back to his vehicle, "I gotta get a new route."

00000

On the beach, Kiki and Mark had frolicked in the waves; stuffed on chicken, potato salad and wine; and now were engaged in what could pass for a re-enactment of a scene from the movie, Blue Lagoon. Mark wrapped his arms around Kiki kissing her most passionately as a wave came in covering the two up to their waists as they lounged on the beach. It was at this moment Mark heard, ...

"McCormick! Hey, McCormick! Get up here now!"

Not thinking, simply reacting, Mark was on his feet and running full speed toward the path to the house. He expected to see the house on fire. A plane landed in the pool. The yard full of Mafia or KGB agents.

Kiki had the presence of mind to move the things back from the tide before following Mark up the path.

What Mark and Kiki found was Hardcastle at the top of the path alone, fine, not bleeding, no fires, or planes. He was simply standing there waiting until they both reached him before he announced calmly, "Mail's here, McCormick."

Mark looked at him in dismay, and repeated as a question, "Mail's here McCormick?" Then, he began, "Judge, I could have seriously hurt something there. I thought we were being attacked, or that maybe the house was on fire. But, the mail's here? Judge, you are the one who's been telling me ..."

Hardcastle remained totally silent. He smiled at Kiki giving her a bit of a wink before he said, "McCormick, if you'd hush. Have you ever heard the saying 'that a watched pot never boils?' "

McCormick just looked at Hardcastle, confused, "Yeah, but what does that have to do with you trying to kill me?"

Hardcastle was enjoying this to no end but figured it was time the 'game' was up. He simply pulled a large envelope out from behind his back. "It sure seems early to me. These usually don't come in until near Thanksgiving, but the address ..."

Mark's expression changed at least a dozen times before he took the envelope.

Hardcastle nudged, "Well, are you going to open it?"

Mark looked at him, "What if you're wrong Judge? I mean it might be bad. Coming this early."

Hardcastle said, "Don't be ridiculous. Like I told you, it's good to get the big envelope."

"Judge, things could have changed. I mean it has been awhile since you got your letter." Mark said worriedly.

Kiki just watched the exchange, feeling just a bit the outsider.

Hardcastle grumbled, "Well, we may never know if you don't open it."

"Huh?" Mark questioned, "Open it? Yeah. Right. Open it." He took his hand through his hair and said, "I don't think I can. I need to set down."

"Well, let's go over to the pool." Hardcastle said as he turned Mark toward the pool.

Once seated at the pool Mark examined the envelope thoroughly before turning it over and gently unsealing it. He opened the envelope first seeing a letter. He pulled it out and began to skim it, before saying out loud, "Due to the extremely small number of applicants in this testing phase, the tests were able to be processed much quicker than normal." Mark passed the letter to Hardcastle, then took out another paper on much thicker paper. He looked at it in amazement, then looked at Hardcastle.

With a huge smile on his face Hardcastle said, gently, "Turn it over. Your score is on the back."

Still in near shock Mark turned the certificate over seeing written in the corner a number. He swallowed before finding his voice, "This can't be right. If it is, I missed one."

Hardcastle said, "Well, you did say that you knew that you missed one when you came home from taking the test."

"Yeah, but I can't comprehend that I only missed one!" Mark said. He still was feeling pretty numb.

00000

Kiki had watched Mark read, and re-read all the papers included with the certificate.

Mark had been very quiet since getting the test results.

By evening Milt had called Frank to tell him the good news and invited him and Claudia over for a small celebration dinner.

As coffee and dessert were finished, Mark looked at Hardcastle, "Judge, I've been thinking. I guess I've been thinking a lot since I took the bar exam, but more so after getting the results today. You know I was so worried what everyone would think if I didn't pass the test, but now that I have passed it ..." Mark let the sentence fall, then moved on to another, "Included in the information was a list of times and places of the group ceremonies for the swearing in. Most all the ones I took the test with are younger than me, they were faces and didn't mean anything to me or me to them. The information says that candidates aren't required to attend on of these ceremonies, but can be sworn in by any judge."

Frank, Claudia and Kiki were all very aware of the very private moment they were witnessing between the two friends.

Looking Hardcastle in the eyes, his gaze never moved, "Judge, will you do me the honor of swearing me in? Here? With just us and Barbara," he made a sweeping motion of the ones in the room, "I mean, you are my friends, the only family I have and you all are the only ones I really care what you think of me. If it weren't for you and Frank, this wouldn't have been possible."

Hardcastle had his own difficulties finding his voice as he said quietly, "It would be my pleasure, son."

The entire room was silent for several minutes. None in the room had seen these two so open with each other.

00000

The day that Mark had chosen to be sworn in finally arrived. Hardcastle had insisted on having lunch for the small group catered. He had insisted, when he found out that Sarah was coming in. Neither him nor Mark wanted her to work the short time she'd be there, so Mark had conceded to letting Hardcastle spring for the caterer.

Frank had taken the day off so that he and Claudia could pick up Sarah at the airport.

At Gull's Way, it was a toss up who was the more nervous, Mark or Milt.

Kiki found it amusing. Mark did not, when he couldn't tie his tie and Kiki had to help.

Sarah had insisted on re-ironing Hardcastle's robe. She just wasn't satisfied with the job the cleaners had done. She knocked lightly on Hardcastle's bedroom door, "Your Honor, I have your robe."

Hardcastle had been deep in thought when he heard the knock on the door, "Come in, Sarah."

"You just can't get quality work done any more, Your Honor. Why it looked like someone had slept in your robe and they called it pressed!" Sarah fumed.

Hardcastle smiled at the woman that had been his employee and friend for years until she went to take care of her sister, "Thank you, Sarah. I guess I better hurry," he said putting on his shoulder holster, then the robe over his Hawaiian print shirt and shorts.

Sarah looked at him and noticed the basketball shoes that she had thrown out and been sent to retrieve from the trash years before. "Your Honor?" She gasped, "I mean..."

Holding up his hand in a calming motion, "Shhh. Sarah it will be okay. You just go make yourself at home."

She stopped at the door, turned and said, "He did well. I told you from the start he was a good boy."

Remembering that had not been Sarah's initial impression of McCormick, Hardcastle smiled as Sarah walked away. He said just above a whisper, "Yes, you did, but it took you awhile to see it."

00000

In the den, with only Frank, Claudia, Kiki, Barbara, and Sarah in attendance, Retired Superior Court Justice, Milton C. Hardcastle swore in the newest member of the California State Bar, Mark McCormick.

After the ceremony, the small group headed out to the patio for lunch, where Hardcastle took off his robe.

Everyone there was a bit surprised at Hardcastle's choice of outfits, except McCormick who couldn't contain his laughter, "Judge, you never change!"

"Now you're cookin', kid!" Hardcastle replied as the two shared just the briefest hug, "Congratulations! You did good. Real good! I'm proud of you."

0000000000000000000000000000

Thanks for all the nice review from you all. I know Kiki isn't several people's favorite character, but being in the minority, she is one of mine. I hope maybe the much older Kiki that I wrote about has straightened her 'act' up enough to be a different woman than she was at 21. Like Mark said, "The girl he thought he had never existed." (At 21) but who knows who'll she became at 30?

Thanks also to Cheri for correcting all my blunders!

Please review! Joni