Part 4

Since their recent conversation about Evangeline's first court lost, John couldn't shake thoughts of the Judge's ruling from his mind. Evangeline suspected that someone had gotten to Judge Hernandez. Judges on the take happened every day. Encountering one shouldn't have shaken Evangeline, but it did. She didn't question her ability. Her self-confidence astounded him and made him proud of her. Even though neither had any illusions about the justice system always being fair, he believed that Evangeline still harbored a tiny dash of hope. It bothered him that the small sense of innocence was gone. He couldn't bring it back, but he could do whatever necessary to get to the bottom of the problem.

So he started calling around. He got copies of the security tapes of the hallway leading to and away from the Judge's chambers. After locking his office door, he watched the tapes several times. He recognized the shadowy figure but he had to be sure. On the last viewing, he had no doubts that Augustico Santi met with Judge Hernandez minutes before she ruled in favor of Kevin Buchanan.

John locked the tape in his desk drawer and headed out. He thought of calling Evangeline with the news and decided against it. Tico Santi rubbed him the wrong way. The other man was too much in the public eye and presented too big a picture as a Good Samaritan. John didn't trust him. And Evangeline was too fiercely independent to let him finish his investigation. John had to get a few hard facts first. Then, he'd follow up with her.

He tracked Tico down at the Country Club and cornered him on a secluded patio.

"Lieutenant McBain, this is a surprise." Tico's tone dripped with condescension and false sincerity. "I wasn't aware you were a member."

"I didn't know you were a board member," John countered.

"I'm not, but I have been asked to consider a position," Tico said. "The hospitality of Llanview never ceases to amaze me. As always it's been a pleasure. If you will excuse me--"

"Not so fast. What's your relationship with Judge Hernandez? Is she a member of your elite circle of friends?"

A frown creased the other man's brow. "I don't understand what you mean."

"It's not a trick question." John rested his hands on his hips. He wanted to slug the smug expression from Tico's face, but police brutality wouldn't get him answers. "Did your friendship with her lead you to strike a bargain with Kevin Buchanan? Is that why you're helping to fund his campaign for Lieutenant Governor?"

Tico flinched. "I don’t appreciate your insinuations. I don't know this Judge you're referring to and since Kevin is my brother-in-law, there is nothing wrong in showing my support for him. You should be careful of making accusations without facts to support them. Your behavior could be construed as harassment. It's my understanding that's why you were removed from the Federal Bureau of Investigations…because of personal problems."

John refused to rise to the bait. "I'm watching you."

"I appreciate the warning."

~*~

John made a few phone calls that afternoon. He discovered that Judge Hernandez had hired bodyguards for her grandchildren and installed extra security measures at their schools and homes. The puzzle pieces began to fit. Confident that he had enough information, he was just about to call Evangeline when his phone rang.

"McBain."

"Johnny, it's Michael."

His brother's tense voice put John on instant alert. "What's wrong?"

"I'm working in the ER… Listen, Evangeline was just brought in."

Cold dread filled him. He could hardly catch a breath. "What happened? Is she alive?"

"Yeah, she's alive. It was a hit and run--"

"I'll be right there."

John made many traffic violations in his rush to reach Evangeline. He pushed his way into the ER. Michael found him immediately.

"You got here fast--"

"How bad is she? Where is she? I need to see her."

"You can't see her now. She's in Radiology. As soon as the X-rays are done, she'll be moved into a private room. You can see her then." Michael grabbed his upper arm. "Breathe, Johnny. She's gonna make it. Just breathe."

John squeezed his eyes shut. A torturous image of a broken, bloody Evangeline flashed before his eyes. He shuddered.

"She's not in danger anymore," Michael said, in a quiet soothing tone. "Are you listening? You gotta calm down before you see her. You'll scare her like this."

His brother's words registered. The frightening image faded from his mind, but the fear remained in his heart. Slowly, John opened his eyes. "I'm okay. Who called it in?"

"Evangeline made the 9-1-1 call. While we were working on her, she told us someone was following her, tailgating her. She slowed down for them to pass, but instead they ran her into a ditch."

John ran a hand over his face. "This is my fault."

"What do you mean?"

He shook his head. He wasn't ready to talk about Tico Santi and how he planned to enact his own sense of justice. "How much longer before I can see her?"

Michael glanced at his watch. "Just a few more minutes. Get some coffee and have a seat." He patted his brother's shoulder one last time. "She was asking for you."

A ghost of a smile crossed his lips. "She was?"

Michael nodded once and smiled. "She was. She's a strong woman, Johnny. I'm happy for you."

"Thanks. Me, too."

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