Edited by Paula Smith
Starsky glared at his partner until the laughter in the squadroom dropped to a point where he could be heard. "You're too old for this, and too young for second childhood. Whassamatter with you?"
Hutch wiped his eyes, caught his breath. "You know what they say about contamination."
"What?" Starsky asked, against his better judgment.
"It comes from constant exposure. All these years with you, what'd you expect?"
"A dry shirt." Starsky made a production of getting up to dump the dribble-cup into the wastebasket. He really should've caught on when he'd realized the coffee was only lukewarm.
Ever since he had been allowed to return to duty, such as it was, his partner was exhibiting a juvenile penchant for practical jokes of the basest sort -- the last thing he would've expected from a Hutchinson. Whatever had turned him into a prankster, Starsky wished he'd get it out of his system, and quick. Sure, they were both bored out of their skulls, and maybe that was Starsky's -- well, not fault exactly, but he was the cause of it. Gunther's assassination attempt had left him weaker, and his superiors doubtful about his capability. He had his job back, but basically behind a desk. By default, Hutch was also stuck behind one. The blond wouldn't hear of another pairing and got downright nasty if someone dared mention anything of the sort, including Starsky.
However, Starsky decided, he was going to draw the line at whoopee cushions.
The desk sergeant stuck his head in. "Starsky, Hutchinson, Dobey wants to see you in the DA's office, pronto."
"Oh, terrific!" Starsky grumbled, looking down at his coffee-stained shirt
"Come on." Hutch took Starsky's arm and led him out the door. He tended to do that a lot lately. "We'll stop by the lockers and you can change."
"Into what? Didn't get around to doin' the laundry yet. Nothin' left in there." He yanked Hutch's shirt front out of the jeans and took great pleasure in drying his still dripping hand on it.
His partner didn't seem to mind and thoroughly spoiled Starsky's enjoyment. "We'll find something. Come on."
In the locker room, Hutch dug a dark green shirt out of his locker. Starsky stripped off his wet shirt and pulled on the offered one. "Hey, didn't you just buy this?"
Hutch haphazardly shoved back the clutter in his locker. "So?"
"So, thanks. What're you gonna change into?"
The blond looked down at the stains Starsky had left on his shirt, tucked it back into his jeans, and zipped up his jacket half way. "Fuck it."
Starsky buckled his holster back on. "No, thanks. Your shirt's not my idea of a turn-on." Following the blond out, he stopped to check the new shirt in the mirror. Just to make sure no tags were hanging out. Trusting his partner with his life was one thing.
At the door to the garage, he was forced to stop and wait, fidgeting. Hutch's back, firmly to the door on the outside, barred exit. With a lot of effort, Starsky stifled the urge to shove the door into his partner's back, preferably hard enough to knock him flat on his face, as he wondered if he'd ever again have the simple pleasure of stepping out into the garage freely, ahead of the neurotic blond.
Let it go, babe. Will you please let it go.
Hutch finally seemed satisfied, at least for that moment, and allowed him enough space to open the damned door. "Aren't you coming?"
Adding insult to injury, Starsky thought, bit back the reply. "Wonder what's goin' down at the DA's?" he mused, instead.
Whatever was going down at the DA's, it wasn't going down well with Dobey, to judge from the expression on the wide, dark face. "Detectives Starsky and Hutchinson," he said to the strangers in the room, with a choppy wave of the hand toward his men.
District Attorney McNeil and Commissioner Warner they knew already.
"Captain Mallory," Dobey continued, indicating a very tall, thin, balding man, "and Detective Anthony Rizzo." The last was aimed at a dark-haired man in some ridiculous leather suit, lounging loose-limbed, almost insolently, in a chair. "From New York City."
Nobody seemed inclined to shake hands, although Rizzo waggled his fingers at both detectives. "Which is which?" he asked.
"Starsky," Hutch said like an automaton programmed to clarify that one issue forever, pointing at his partner, and then at himself, "Hutchinson."
"I see what you mean," Rizzo continued. His disinterested gaze swept over Starsky, disconcertingly sharp for an instant, then turned bored again. "But only to a point."
Starsky never liked feeling out of things. "Any chance of us seein' what this means?" He resisted the urge to squirm. He was being studied intensely from head to foot as if he were some zoo animal. Hutch saw it too, and it obviously bothered him. He stepped in front of his partner, cutting off the scrutiny.
"What's going on, Captain?" the blond asked, got a growl from Dobey.
McNeil spoke up. "This will take a while. Let's all sit down. Detective Starsky." He motioned at the empty chair next to Dobey, the only seat unclaimed by the crowd gathered around the DA's desk.
Starsky saw Hutch scowling. This obviously relegated his partner to a couch in a far corner. Just as obviously, the blond didn't care for it. Deciding there was no reason to keep the seating arrangements made for them, Starsky steered Hutch into the chair slated for himself, then perched on its arm.
A young man, somebody's secretary, offered both detectives coffee. Hutch accepted a cup. Starsky motioned the second one away, indicating the one his partner had picked up. The secretary looked puzzled, then moved away. Hutch took a sip of the coffee, passed it to Starsky automatically, and asked. "Well?"
Commissioner Warner began. "Captain Mallory and Detective Rizzo have been involved in an undercover operation in New York for a long time."
"Three fuckin' years!" Rizzo piped up, hostility suddenly crackling through his impassive demeanor.
"Tony." Captain Mallory's voice was low, but the one soft word bore a definite warning. Rizzo clamped his mouth shut.
All isn't paradise there, Starsky suspected.
Warner addressed the secretary. "Give Detective Starsky the file."
The young man handed it to Hutch. Naturally, Starsky thought with resignation, and leaned over his partner's shoulder to see.
Warner corrected sharply. "To Detective Starsky."
The thick file was hastily snatched out of Hutch's hold and thrust into Starsky's hand. Wondering what difference it made in the long run, he returned the coffee cup to Hutch, flipped the folder open and held it down so his partner could also read.
Captain Mallory's mild voice interrupted. "Detective, please keep it to yourself. We're operating on a need-to-know basis."
Starsky's nape prickled. "What I need to know, so does my partner."
"Not necessarily. This concerns only you."
"We were both called in," Hutch interjected. Starsky could feel him bristling.
Mallory, McNeil and the Commissioner all threw disapproving glances at Dobey, who returned the looks with an obstinate one of his own.
Hutch wasn't supposed to be here, Starsky realized. Dobey threw a monkeywrench into the works. He was torn. Where Hutch wasn't wanted, he should prefer to be unwanted himself, but whatever was going down seemed to be big. It just might be the chance to break him out of the moldy corner he'd been parked in. He glanced at Hutch. The light blue eyes that met his were noncommittal. Your choice, they said.
For just a second, he wanted to take advantage of the permission, so desperately hungry was he for a real case. But he knew it would hurt Hutch, and after all, however moldy their corner was, his partner had opted to stay there with him for all these months.
He spoke up. "If Hutch don't need to know, maybe I don't need to know, either." He closed the folder, put it down. "Guess that's all, then. Wanna go grab some lunch, partner?" Hutch's smile somehow eased the tug of the file's lure. They rose as one.
"Dobey," the Commissioner said, apparently expecting the Captain to keep his officers in line.
The black man shrugged. "I warned you. In fact, I saved you time by calling them in together. Why don't you save some too, and include Hutchinson? I'll vouch for both unconditionally."
Rizzo jumped in again. "Why don't you all save even more time and let me continue my own job? I don't even have to read the goddamned file -- I wrote it!"
Once more, it was Captain Mallory who blocked him. "It's decided, Tony."
Tony isn't a happy boy, Starsky thought.
The District Attorney seemed to feel someone had to make the final decision. "Starsky, Hutchinson, sit down. Mallory, I understand your sensitivity about this case, but Detective Starsky fits the bill. You'll have to conform to his conditions. For my part, I've never had reason to think Sergeant Hutchinson can't handle confidentiality."
Slowly, one by one, nods came from all assembled. The detectives resumed their seats, and Starsky opened up the file for both of them. Concentrated reading would have to wait for later. At present, they skimmed it, looking for the main thread and paying attention to names. It was too detailed for immediate comprehension, but very impressive. Starsky had gathered from Rizzo's comments that it had taken three years to compile.
He was under for three years, it suddenly occurred to him. Three years of playing the bad guy. Whew. Must've been awfully cold. So far, the man had seemed merely irritating. Now Starsky glanced up at him with a new perspective.
Hutch claimed his attention. He looked down at the papers the blond was holding out. Some familiar names, thought unreachable so far, jumped out at him. He realized that Rizzo's investigation had led him from New York to an LA connection. No, headquarters, it sounded like. "So now it's in our backyard," he commented to Dobey.
Captain Mallory answered instead, "The roots are here, yes. We have enough to clean our corner, but we all know how that goes. You prune the branches and they sprout again. Someone has to go under here, do more digging, and we'll hold off on our end until the whole thing can be uprooted at once."
Starsky now knew where they were heading and wanted more clarification. "So I guess you're -- "
"Why Starsky?" Hutch asked, staring at Mallory.
This time Commissioner Warner answered. Starsky felt like he was at a tennis match with too many balls on the court. "Time. It would take too long to establish a new persona, and have him infiltrate the top levels of as big an organization as this. The situation is ripe in New York, and Captain Mallory is afraid it'll go sour if we wait too long. We may have to take that route, but we thought -- "
Hutch interrupted again. "I see."
Whoa, babe, Starsky wanted to say, you wanna hold it until I see too? Then he felt totally lost when Hutch turned to Rizzo and asked: "Mind standing up?"
Rizzo obligingly uncoiled from the chair with the smooth, assured motions of a man at ease with his body. He stood up, then smiled and executed a slow, mincing turn, the parody of a model. Hutch didn't look amused at the exhibition. "Your walk," he said. "Natural walk."
Rizzo shrugged, walked to the door and back. He had a free, casual gait, and carried himself confidently. Too confidently, Starsky thought, watching the swagger that seemed choreographed to draw attention to the pelvic area. A hair more blatant, and it could've been cause for arrest.
"Okay, age, build, maybe coloring," Hutch commented to Dobey, "and he moves like Starsky, but it's not a perfect resemblance by any means."
Suddenly, Starsky understood how he fit into the picture, while a portion of his mind was surprised and a little indignant. I move like THAT? I do NOT! Do I?
He studied the man who had sprawled in the chair once more. Rizzo was a New Yorker, so background and speech wouldn't be problems. Knowing he'd be the worst judge of physical similarities, he didn't waste time comparing those. Instead, he paid attention to the differences. Eyes were almost black. He'd probably hate contact lenses. The hair was definitely black, noticeably darker than his own, with blue highlights instead of auburn-brown, almost straight in the front, slicked back into waves around the neck. His eyes fell on the prominent gold cross the man was wearing on a choker. Of course, Italian. His persona has to have the trappings. Ma'd be horrified if she saw her Davey-boy. And what's with the leather suit? Fine for the City, but I'll melt down a drain here.
"It doesn't have to be," Mallory was answering Hutch's observation. "There's little or no personnel traffic between the East and West Coast organizations. It's all done on long-distance phone. Tony will fly out of the City and Detective Starsky will arrive here on the same flight."
Hutch shook his head stubbornly. "Even one of them coming out here, say on vacation, will be one too many. It stinks."
Starsky was getting irritated with his partner. When I wanted you in on this, buddy-boy, he thought, I didn't mean you could snatch the ball and run with it -- especially to where I don't want to go. He was about to open his mouth and suggest -- subtly, since they were among company -- that Hutch better check the game plan with him first, but Rizzo snickered at his partner and spoke up, dripping sarcasm:
"LA's finest, eh? If you only have the balls to bet on sure things, I can certainly see why."
When an attack came from outside, ranks closed. "Cut the crap, Rizzo," Starsky snapped. "Finest means stupid in your neck o' the woods? If balls're all you've got to bet, it's a miracle you stayed alive this long."
"Enough!" The same word came from both captains, simultaneously.
"Save it, Tony," Mallory continued. "These men have every right to be worried about their safety. I'd be worried otherwise." His look at his detective clearly said Rizzo had given him more than enough reasons to worry.
"I'm worried already." Dobey plainly had had enough of being a bystander. "I don't like this setup. Too many things can go wrong, and there's no way to anticipate them. You're talking of too deep a cover. No bugs, no tails, damn near no way for us to know what's going on out there in the cold. Also, you're telling me we can't take any independent action here that'll sour the deal in New York. What if it's needed? How long do we hold off? What danger to my officer is considered sufficient reason, or is he expendable? I'll tell you right now that he's not." He glanced at Starsky, looked uncomfortable about continuing, but went on anyway. "Starsky's been through a lot. He's been inactive for a long time. Now just because he's closest to the package Rizzo comes in...." He shook his head. "I don't like it."
Gee, thanks, Cap'n, was all Starsky could think. Just a shell that fits the bill, and nothing else left in there? Maybe I should've quit while I was ahead.
"Are you telling us Detective Starsky can't handle the job?" Mallory asked bluntly.
The Commissioner joined in. "If that's what you're saying -- "
"Harold, I'm a busy man," the DA put in.
"Hold it!" Hutch's sharp voice interrupted everything. He stood up, his tall form suddenly dominating the room. "Should be some top brain power in here, and I don't hear it clicking. If Captain Dobey was saying Starsky couldn't handle the job, he wouldn't have called him in. See my partner sitting there? That settles that."
Damned if it doesn't, Starsky realized. Just as well you're carrying the ball, pal. I'm not clicking too well myself today. Too close to it, I suppose.
Hutch continued. "He's just saying he's got reservations. So do I. For all those slow on the uptake, not about my partner, but about this case you're dropping in our lap. You, Rizzo, I don't know who's stepping on your toes and why, but we didn't ask to adopt your baby, so knock it off. Which brings me to my next question. Why can't you stay on your own case? You obviously want to."
One side of Rizzo's mouth twisted into a bitter smile. "You want to field that, sir?" he asked Mallory.
"Tony is a stranger in LA. We decided someone at home here had a better chance," the New York captain explained, too blithely.
Something was being left unsaid. Starsky saw Hutch aim a questioning look at Dobey. What couldn't be said in public might have been mentioned between the two captains. With a small nod, Dobey signaled at Hutch to accept the inadequate explanation.
"Okay," the blond told Mallory. "I'll accept that and you'll accept my partner's qualifications. A little cooperation would be nice, too." He took in the DA and the Commissioner. "We've been working for you two for a long time. I don't think we have anything left to prove, and we expect to be treated accordingly. So, can we dispense with the nonsense and get back to work here?" he slowly looked around, as if to make sure he had everybody in line, then sat back down. "Anytime you're ready."
There was silence. Suddenly, Rizzo made a short, barking guffaw, while, with a finger in the air, he chalked one up to the blond. Then he announced to the room, "I like this guy."
Starsky could tell that the sentiments weren't returned. Hutch was regarding the man as if he were a specimen in a dirty cup. The Hutchinson cold shoulder was hard to miss, and Rizzo didn't, but he seemed only amused by it. "All right, Blondie. Just for you." He looked past Hutch. "Listen up, Curls." Before continuing, he dug out a pack of cigarettes and lit one.
Just what I needed, Starsky thought, remembering when, seven years ago, Hutch had all but sat on him to make him give up the habit left over from Vietnam. He hoped he wouldn't get hooked again before the case was wrapped up.
Rizzo drew the smoke deeply into his lungs and didn't seem to need to let it out in a hurry. It trickled out leisurely alongside his words. "Anthony Caporetto. That's a village in Udine, Italy, in case someone's big on roots. My own mother's, incidentally. I don't know shit about it myself, so don't dig out the encyclopedia," he started conversationally. "Caporetto grew up in Little Italy. He was a rotten kid. Juvie records, petty crimes later, all of 'em phony but in the files. I was told you're from The Apple. You know the scene. The first time anybody's heard of Caporetto was three years ago, when he passed on a timely tip about a raid. He's been graduatin' through the ranks ever since. See, the man's sharp. He's a goddamned lieutenant now, he's earned 'respect,' you understand? But he's gonna get into real hot water with the cops in a coupla weeks and come out West to cool off. I bet he'll be sent to one o' the five top guys in the organization here, with good credentials. And that's as close as you're gonna get to Poppa Marruzzi. The rest is up to you. I busted my ass for years, so don't screw it up."
"Not so fast," Hutch said before anything had a chance to come out of Starsky's mouth. Again. "Where, in this enviable history of yours, will I be able to fit in?"
"Nowhere. Caporetto's a loner. We have that in common."
"Come on. You must work with someone."
"I work with a lotta someones. Guess I even have what you might call a 'partner,' if you're bein' generous. They all stay in their cozy little offices, by their neat little phones. My choice. On the field, I trip over no one. I work alone."
"Whatever turns you on," Hutch snapped unkindly. "Me and Starsky, we don't solo. Period."
Bullshit, Starsky was thinking when Dobey also put his two cents' worth in. "I won't allow it in any case. My men go in together, or they don't go in at all."
Wait one lovely minute here, Starsky wanted to say. Since when? It wasn't the time or the place to contradict his superior and his partner. Besides, he suspected the answer: since Gunther.
"So rifle through Caporetto's lifestyle and find me a niche," Hutch insisted.
Rizzo smiled toothily. "Whatever turns YOU on, Blondie. Too bad Caporetto's never exhibited the tendencies, or he could've just picked you up at a bar and decided to keep you. Not hard on the eyes, are you?"
"Tony." The barely audible warning came again from Rizzo's captain, and sobered the man.
"Won't be easy. It's United Nations in the rank and file, but the top levels are family or close to it. You're not the ethnic type. You won't blend in. Well, Caporetto likes cards. Guess one day you can strike up a poker game, like each other's style and become bosom buddies."
The furrow between Hutch's eyebrows deepened as he considered. "Not bosom buddies. I'll have to approach some way and get into the circle. Close, but not too close. That way, if one of us is made, the other won't automatically land in the same boat."
Close association between partners when undercover, especially if it was for prolonged periods, meant sanity. The other meant safety, someone still able to operate if all hell broke loose: a lifeline. It was a tough call, the pros and cons of both equally heavy. Starsky would've made the same call, except Hutch had decided all by himself. His jaw was starting to ache from being clenched.
The blond got up from his chair. "Starsky and I have to discuss it before we decide."
Gee, thanks! Let me introduce myself. I pose as your partner. Starsky stifled his resentment, and preceded Hutch to a far corner of the room, where an inset window overlooked the courthouse steps. He leaned his back against the wall and glanced out at the busy crowd. His partner, facing him, put his elbow on the wall, over Starsky's shoulder, and leaned close. Any closer, Starsky thought, and he'll be standing inside my skin. Don't hover over me so much. I don't need it, and it's fast getting to where I don't like it.
"What's the matter?" Hutch asked in hushed tones.
"Nothin'." It wasn't the place. "What'd you wanna discuss?"
"Nothin' to discuss there. I want the case and you damned well know it."
Hutch put his arm down with a sigh, thrust his hands into pockets, and looked out the window, shoulders hunched. "It's big, unwieldy. Dobey doesn't care for it."
"I want it."
"Going to take a long time. No telling how long. No back-up to speak of. No break. We're going to go under and stay under. Rizzo's leaving a bad taste in my mouth. He's unstable."
"I still want it."
Hutch looked back at him. Starsky expected more arguments or a small sampling of the Hutchinson temper, but the blond only smiled softly. "I know."
There was a sad look in his eyes, and Starsky couldn't help smiling back. "I already said you knew it."
"Well then, what're we standing here for?" He started to turn away.
Starsky held his arm. "Hey."
"Ease off, huh?"
"Think about it." His hold turned into a pat before he released the arm. He strolled to the middle of the room and announced: "We'll take it."
"On one condition." Hutch spoke up from right behind him, unexpectedly.
Starsky glared at his partner. If you won't goddamned quit springing things on me, I'm gonna goddamned kick your ass when we get outta here!
Hutch barged on, ignoring his look. "When Starsky takes over," he said to Rizzo, "You're going under wraps. There'll be no accidental double appearances. None. Don't so much as glance out a window."
Rizzo seemed ready to bristle, but Mallory overrode him. "Of course. Anything else?"
"Yeah. He'll be right on top of a phone, every second of every day. We might need fast answers. Also, in case the new Caporetto has to call his dear Uncle so-and-so back home about a shipment of real Italian salami or something. Maybe he can field those."
"You don't miss a trick, do you, baby-blue?"
Hutch had clearly decided Rizzo's smart-ass comments weren't worthy of his attention. He turned to Dobey instead. "How long do we have to get ready?"
"Take the rest of the day off. Get familiar with the information in the file. Tomorrow you tell me how long you need."
Mallory added, "Tony and I will stay here for a few days."
"I shouldn't even be here now," Rizzo grumbled.
"As long as necessary," Mallory stressed, without sparing a glance at his subordinate. "After we leave, say, two weeks or so to set up the circumstances for Caporetto to come out west. How does that sound?"
"That sounds fine," Starsky jumped in before his partner. For a change.
Downtown traffic was getting messier by the day, Starsky could swear. At the wheel, Hutch was swearing, spitting out the words under his breath. He tried to concentrate on the file. It read like the Who's Who of the underworld. A mountain that police forces of two large cities had been chipping away at for years, doing only minimal damage. Starsky kept flipping pages, trying to establish patterns, see how various chains linked together, and hoping to find the weak spots.
"Are you moving in with me, or vice versa?" Hutch asked out of the blue, his first decipherable words since leaving the courthouse.
"There's one file."
"So we gotta move in together?"
"Until you go under, yes, I think so."
"Why?" Starsky repeated.
"So we'll save time, won't duplicate effort." Hutch sounded testy. "We'll get our acts together. There's a lot there to memorize. Easier with two people. You can try the Caporetto act on me since I can see both Rizzo and you from the outside. Enough?"
"Your place or mine?"
"Mine," Starsky chose arbitrarily, then remembered the thorough cleaning he'd just done on his apartment and Hutch's housekeeping habits. He quickly reversed his decision. "Yours."
Both places seemed to serve equally well for the blond. "Fine. We'll stop by your place to get your things."
Starsky gave his attention back to the file. He fished out a thick stack of papers, found that it was one piece folded on itself, big as a map when unfolded. The organizational structure and its various functions -- complete for the East Coast connection, mostly suppositions for the West Coast one -- were drawn in a detailed diagram. Rizzo had saved him some time, and he appreciated it.
He didn't have the strong antipathy Hutch seemed to have instantly developed toward Rizzo; neither did he have any love lost for the New Yorker. Still, he was impressed. Something this big couldn't be toppled by putting chinks in it. Rizzo had slowly, painstakingly set it up so that, with Starsky's contribution, it just might be brought down all at once. It must've cost the man. Three years undercover, alone, was something Starsky couldn't even imagine. He doubted he could've managed it himself without going over the edge. He wondered what was driving Rizzo. Dedication didn't seem to cover it. Obsession, more likely. Maybe Hutch had a point. A fanatic, in any cause, was something to be leery of.
However, this promised to be the biggest thing that would come his way. Only twice before they had come across comparable cases. The assassination network that was responsible for Durniak's death, but that case had been yanked out of their hands by a government agency that wouldn't even identify itself by an acronym almost as soon as they had stumbled on the desert hideout. The lid had clamped on so tight that they hadn't heard another whisper of it in years. Then, of course, Gunther. But Hutch had been the one to topple that colossus while he had vegetated in a hospital bed. This was his now, damn near on a platter, at a time when he wanted it most. Hutch's quirks weren't going to deprive him of it, by God.
"Want to pick up some lunch?" his partner asked, intruding on his thoughts.
The file was too absorbing for him to think of food at the moment. He realized he had let minutes go by without answering when Hutch spoke again. "Did you eat breakfast at least?"
"Uh-huh," Starsky grunted, getting irritated at the interruptions when he was trying to concentrate on his case.
"What? Something more than a candy bar, I hope."
Exasperated, Starsky slapped the papers down on his lap. "Yes, I had breakfast," he snapped. "Yes, it was more than a candy bar. I also took my vitamins, changed my underwear, remembered my hankie, and kept my sweater buttoned up! Anything else?" He glared at his partner until he decided Hutch wasn't going to look at him, let alone answer, then went back to his file.
It was a long time and many pages before Hutch spoke. "What do you want me to say?"
Starsky answered without lifting his eyes from the written page. "You can say you're gonna cut out the mother-hen routine."
The car stopped in front of his apartment. Hutch put it in park and turned off the motor. "I can say it." There was a helpless note in his voice.
Feeling uneasy, as if he'd caught his friend with his defenses down, Starsky busied himself with tucking the scattered reports back into the folder. Obviously saying and doing were two different things. Admitting that couldn't have been easy, either. Best to close the subject.
He put a hand on Hutch's leg, squeezed lightly. "Come on. Help me get my stuff together. And I want chili with all the works, but I suppose you'll bite my head off, so I'll settle for a hero sandwich."
Unexpectedly, Hutch chuckled. "You got it. Just don't take it too much to heart, huh?"
Hutch came out of the bathroom, ready for the day, and glanced into the bedroom, seeing that the noise of the shower hadn't awakened his partner. For a normally high-spirited man, Starsky was very tranquil in sleep. If Hutch had slept in that bed, it would've looked like a battleground by morning. Starsky hadn't moved since he'd been dropped into it. Or maybe he was too exhausted to move. He tired much too easily now. And Hutch knew that, left to himself, he would've spent the whole night poring over the miserable case. That was another reason why the blond had wanted his partner right under his nose for the next few weeks. If the damn fool insisted on charging into the lion's den, Hutch at least wanted to make sure he wasn't half wiped out by the time he got there.
He checked the time, quickly fixed some breakfast, and when the smells also failed to rouse Starsky, he went in to waken the man. "Hey," he said, gently shaking him by the shoulder. "Come on, time to wake up. Hey, Starsk. Come on, babe. Another glorious day in Smog City."
Starsky stirred, cracked open his eyes, squeezed them shut again, yawned, then blinked a few times and made a concentrated effort to open his eyes and keep them open. Hutch noticed that what he'd thought were shadows cast by the long lashes were in fact dark smudges under the eyes. Lately, Starsky didn't bounce back as fast as he used to, either. One late night, and now he looked like he was just coming off a whole week of allnighters.
His partner knuckled his eyes, the image of a pouting, sleep-tousled child, then happened to glance at the clock and all traces of the endearing look vanished. "What the hell! Why didn't you wake me when I told you to? You know I had more to read. Dammit, Hutch! You want me to look like a dummy at the briefing? That's the last time I'll let you talk me into -- "
"Hold it, hold it," Hutch interrupted the tirade. "Everything's under control. I studied the whole damned file. Now, you can shower, shave and eat, and I'll give you the rundown in the meantime, okay? You'll be fine at the briefing."
"Oh." Starsky simmered down. "Okay."
Hutch watched him, comparing, with a wrenching tug inside, the time when his partner could jump out of bed, a bolt of irrepressible energy, to now, as Starsky slowly persuaded his sleep-dulled, scarred body into facing another day. He wanted badly to reach a hand, offer to rub the stiffened muscles, but he had heard the message loud and clear the day before. He shoved his hands deeply into his pockets instead.
Starsky swung his legs off the bed and looked up at him with a frown. "How much sleep did you get?"
"Enough," Hutch hedged. None was more like it, but he was sure it didn't show. "Get a move on, will you? If we're late, Rizzo's bound to have a smart-ass remark. I already think the jerk's teeth belong in his throat, and I just might oblige him."
"Tonight, you get the bed," was all Starsky said. He brushed past Hutch and headed straight for the coffee.
We'll see about that, Hutch didn't say. "You think you see right through me, huh?" A smug, crooked smile was his only answer.
Captain Dobey looked like he had also spent a long night. He grumbled a greeting when the two detectives stepped into the briefing room, not raising his head from a duplicate of the file Hutch wished he'd never seen.
The New Yorkers weren't around. It was a good time to clear up an issue. "Captain," Hutch said, "why was Rizzo taken off his own case?"
"What do you think? The man was under for three years, hardly a break. Mallory thinks he's on the edge of burn-out. Nothing that should affect you two."
"Guess not," the blond said. "Coffee?" He definitely wanted some himself. He'd been all but mainlining it since the night before and was already high-strung on caffeine, but he needed it to last through the day.
"None for me," Starsky answered.
Dobey's grunt Hutch assumed to be a 'yes,' and went to the coffee machine in the hall. As he was persuading the temperamental machine to cough up his order, he saw Mallory and Rizzo walking toward him. Mallory was talking in hushed tones and trying to close the distance between them while Rizzo scowled and kept stepping away from his superior. Hutch wondered how hard it was to exert authority over the obviously difficult man. He didn't envy Mallory his job.
He got his two cups of coffee and went back to the briefing room, Rizzo and Mallory following shortly. Without much preamble, they all settled down to discuss the case. Hutch stayed out of it, listening and filing away the information carefully, but determined not to preempt Starsky as he had done the day before. The discussion was mainly between the two captains anyway, establishing the parameters of the case.
Finally, Dobey turned to his detectives. "All right, you've had time to hear it all and think it over. One last time, do you want it?"
Hutch kept his mouth shut and let Starsky answer. "Definitely," his partner said.
Dobey leaned back and waved his hand between Starsky and Rizzo. "Get on with it then."
Hutch watched both men slide lower in their chairs and prop their feet on the large table heedless of the superiors in the room. Their actions were almost mirror images of each other. The tableau intrigued him. There really wasn't all that remarkable a resemblance between his partner and the New Yorker, only a passable one that needed artificial help, but their body languages were similar enough to surprise even him. Street-trained, both of them. Cocky, jaunty, stubborn, fighters both. He knew what was behind Starsky's exterior. Rizzo was an enigma he didn't care for, but had to get to know now. He leaned onto his elbows on the table, the picture of concentration, while his partner looked almost detached. It was standard operations. Starsky usually sat back and absorbed the overall feel of a situation on an instinctive level, while Hutch catalogued details meticulously.
"I know what Caporetto's been doin' for three years," Starsky started out. "Now, I wanna know him."
Before answering, Rizzo reached for yet another cigarette, paused with the pack in his hand and looked at Starsky. "You don't smoke. Caporetto does. Here." He slid the package across the table. "Might as well start now."
Starsky grimaced at the pack, then pulled himself up and reached for it. Before he even knew what he was doing, Hutch slapped his hand on the pack, an inch ahead of Starsky's, and sent it sliding back toward Rizzo. "No. Caporetto will quit. You have a couple of weeks to make a production of it. After that, pollute your lungs all you want." Both Rizzo and Starsky glared at him. He ignored Rizzo's look and returned Starsky's. Okay, so I'm mother-henning. Too bad, buddy. If you don't remember your lungs now look like the switching yards of Grand Central Station, I still do.
Suddenly, his resolve to stay unobtrusive vanished. Starsky's anger was something he could deal with later. If he couldn't deal any other way, he would just have to suffer through it. Establishing Starsky's cover securely was much too important. No, vital. And Starsky seemed too willing to accommodate Rizzo, too careless of his own welfare. "While we're on the subject," he said to the New Yorker, "what other habits does Caporetto have?"
"Meaning you can't be under for three years and stay pure as the driven snow. For example, coke is the latest social amenity on this coast. What does Caporetto do if he's served some? What about the harder stuff?"
"Hutch," Starsky interrupted in a soft but prohibitive tone.
The blond turned to his partner. "We have to know."
After a second of obstinacy, the dark blue eyes granted he was right. Starsky addressed Dobey. "No disrespect, but maybe this is a good time for you captains to go get some coffee or somethin'."
"Mallory?" Dobey looked ready to remove his own authority from the room.
Mallory was studying Rizzo. "Should we, Tony?"
Rizzo made a sound between a laugh and a snort. "Whatever I say now, you'd have your answer, wouldn't you? Not nice, Jake, not nice at all."
Mallory locked eyes with his subordinate, making Hutch wonder about the working relationship between them, then he made a move to leave the room. "Too late, Jake," Rizzo said. "Oh, siddown, will ya? Anything about me left to shock you anymore?" Mallory sank back into the chair, looking unhappy.
Rizzo turned to Starsky. "Caporetto fits in, okay? Not hard junk, but grass, coke, well, he doesn't cringe. You're just gonna have to take each situation as it comes up, but if you blow my case because you're too prissy, I'll skin you alive."
Hutch couldn't help jumping in. "Can the threats," he snapped. "You're not impressing anybody. Your case is back in New York. This is Starsky's, and he'll call the shots as he sees fit."
Starsky mumbled something under his breath. Hutch could swear he'd said, "Don't I wish."
Mallory interceded. "I think we're all getting unnecessarily bogged down in details. Of course nobody is asking Detective Starsky to compromise himself. Of course he's free to make his own decisions. In the long run, the discrepancies between Caporettos won't matter. New York is quite a distance from LA. Who's going to take note of every detail when they don't even know him here?"
The blond already had his mouth open, but Dobey took over. "Maybe no one. But better safe than sorry. I've seen covers blown over the most insignificant things. Let's try and leave nothing to chance. Go on, Starsky."
Hutch decided to leave the ball where Dobey had passed it and not exasperate Starsky any further, but what came out of his partner's mouth was too general for his taste. "Anything else I should know?"
Hutch found himself talking again. "I want to know something. Captain Mallory, yesterday you said there was little or no personnel traffic between the coasts. What do you mean by 'little'?"
"Oh. There's a courier. Makes two or three runs a week. Shouldn't be any trouble. He won't have many reasons to see Caporetto."
"Not good enough. Rizzo, does this courier know you by sight?"
"Talked to him a few times, yes, but -- "
Hutch wasn't about to be mollified. "Bust the man, on anything," he told Mallory and went back to Rizzo. "Make sure the next one doesn't know Caporetto from Adam."
"You're a whiz at givin' orders. I don't run the personnel bureau, how am I supposed to -- ?"
"Come on, Rizzo. You've earned, what, 'respect,' right? If you can't manage a simple maneuver, I'm going to have serious doubts about the rest of this case you say you've got all locked up."
"All right, baby-blue, you've got it," Rizzo came back, and let Hutch know he had calculated accurately. The man took challenges no better than Starsky did.
Dobey asked some more questions, Starsky had a few comments, and Hutch kept track to make sure all bases were covered. Then he thought of a subject nobody had touched on yet, and chances were, left alone, they wouldn't. "Rizzo, I take it Caporetto's not married?"
"Avoids it like the proverbial plague."
"So what are your sexual patterns?" He ignored the choking sound Starsky made in the process of sipping long-cold coffee.
It seemed to throw Rizzo as well. "What?"
"You heard me. Come on, if Caporetto's been living like a monk for years, Starsky should know better than to go eyeing all the skirts. If you've been jumping into every available bed -- " He cut off abruptly, something occurring to him.
Rizzo looked amused at the pause. "That bother you, Blondie?"
Hutch returned the look coldly. "As a matter of fact, it does. My partner has a chest full of bullet and surgery scars. Unless you also have them, or you're in the habit of just unzipping for the occasions, yes, it bothers me. Someone might have a big mouth."
Rizzo sobered, casting a glance full of curiosity at Starsky. "I keep it simple, find someone not likely to become a problem and stick with it. If it gets uncomfortable, I go on to somebody else. Routine."
Hutch got an idea he liked. "Would Caporetto go for a smart, wise-cracking, uprooted New Yorker? Dark and shapely?"
"Sounds too good to be true."
"Linda?" Starsky asked.
Hutch nodded. "Nice and safe. It'll give you another contact with the outside."
Starsky turned to Dobey. "Cap'n?"
"It's a good idea. Baylor's not on any important case right now, and she works very well undercover." Dobey glimpsed the expression on Mallory's face. "Before we bring in anybody else, though, let's discuss it." Both captains got up and retreated to a corner of the room.
An officer in uniform opened the door. "Detective Hutchinson, there's a Mr. Bear out here to see you."
Hutch remembered the phone call he'd made early that morning. He also remembered he'd forgotten to tell Starsky about it. "Be right back," he said and stood up.
"What you want with Hug?" Starsky asked, sounding annoyed at not knowing the answer already.
"You have your connection into the fold, I need mine. Know anybody better than Huggy?"
As he left, he heard Rizzo snicker. "Mr. Huggy Bear, huh? And I thought the City was weird."
Being inside a police station made Huggy Bear grouchy. As soon as Hutch stepped out into the hallway, the black man protested, "If one wants a favor, one should be gracious enough to ask it on The Bear's own turf, y'dig?"
Hutch pulled him into a remote corner. "Listen, then forget. The five captains of the Marruzzi organization, Joseph Labruzzo, Frank Colombo, Vito Luchese, Carlo Genovese, Stefano Gambino. Know any of them?"
Huggy took time out to whistle. It was just as well that the names weren't spoken in his establishment. "All, by reputation. Count me out," he said decisively. "Do yourself a favor, too, and stay outta whatever it is."
"Can't," Hutch said shortly. "I need an in with one of them. I'd like to pick and choose, but I'll settle for anyone you can manage."
Huggy set his jaw with determination. "I'll manage nada, m'man. You ain't jus' talkin' street here, you talkin' a goddamned government. I'll start forgettin' right now, if you don't mind. I'm gone."
Hutch startled him by grasping his arm none too gently and holding him in place. "Does that mean you won't or you can't?"
Huggy looked pointedly at Hutch's grip on his arm. "Won't. Period."
The pale eyes were shards of ice. "It's a bit late in the game for me no start putting on the pressure, but make no mistake, I will."
The black man was taken aback. It had been many years since the blond had stopped being a cop to him and had become a close friend. Right then, Huggy was looking at the cop again. He didn't care for the about-face at all. He glared at Hunch in return, trying to calculate how far he dared to challenge the man.
Hunch continued in clipped tones. "Find me enough of an in to get me into the vicinity of the Family and keep me there, that's all, you're out."
Something occurred to Huggy. "Only you? What about your darker side of the force?"
"He's got one already," Hutch snapped. "He's in."
"Ah-ha," said Huggy. There was no sense in trying to be the immovable object to Hutch's irresistible force in this case; he'd only be sorry. "Should've said so. Okay, okay, ease up." Hutch relented enough to release him. "Luchese's big. Too highbrow for me. Gambino runs the narc side of the house. I couldn't get you a foothold there. He plays too close. Labruzzo's into unions, Colombo into bookie operations, protection rackets. Possible, possible...."
Hutch shook his head. "No, not skirting the edges. I mean in."
"Then your best bet is Genovese. Gamblin' and prostitution. The man runs a club, The Familia, out at the Marina. All the top men are constantly in'n outta there. How're you at runnin' gamblin' tables?"
"I know something. What I don't, I'll learn from the best. The Professor is still around."
Huggy took a step back and studied the detective. In a tux, with hair trimmed and combed, wearing a nicer expression than he did at the moment, any club owner would be happy to display him at one of his tables. "Okay. You work on that and I'll work on gettin' you an intro. Some brothers with IOU's to me work there, mostly in the band. Let's see. How about if you just came in from Reno?"
"No, too many mob connections between here and Nevada. This cover has to last. Mexico?"
Huggy shrugged. "With your Spanish, it'll do. Let me know the details so I can introduce you properly."
"I'll get back to you." Hutch started to walk away, then paused and came back to pat the black man on the back, all friendliness now. "I appreciate it, Huggy. Thanks, and I owe you a big one."
If you live to pay off, Huggy thought. He knew it was the closest thing to an apology he was going to get. With another shrug, he left.
Dobey had persuaded Mallory to include Linda Baylor in the case. Hutch hadn't yet returned. Rizzo's slitted eyes were studying Starsky, who was brooding. In fact, to Dobey's eyes, the carelessly sprawled man looked on the verge of boiling over. Over Hutch.
The currents between the two men were painfully obvious to the captain. Starsky wanted the case so badly that he could taste it. His partner was plain scared. Starsky had what he wanted, and Dobey wished he could understand that the only way Hutch could handle his going into danger again was by trying to control all factors. But Starsky wouldn't see it that way, especially at this point when he thought he had a lot to prove.
Dobey wondered what they would think if he revealed than he hadn't been keeping them off the streets because he was waiting for Starsky to get over the shooting. Contrary to popular assumption, he was waiting for Hutchinson to get over it. He had seen the blond man during the days Starsky had been near death, knew by experience how he'd felt. It still hurt to think about Elmo. And he'd had a family to keep him together. Also, maybe death, the finality of loss, was actually simpler, mourning easier than constant dread of what could be, again, any moment.
Rizzo's voice broke his reverie. "Doesn't he ever let you do the driving?" the man asked Starsky with a motion of his head toward the door, a sneer on his face. "What part do you play in the partnership?"
Bad move, Dobey thought. Rizzo had just alienated Starsky as well.
"How we choose to work is none of your business. Keep your mouth to answer my partner's questions and maybe you won't find out what part I do play."
The answer was so predictable that Dobey could've mouthed the words alongside his detective. However, he knew that the remark had hit home for Starsky. He decided to wait until he saw what the fallout was going to be before he committed his men irrevocably to the case. A faultline was no place to put a critical reactor.
Hutch chose that moment to come in. "Carlo Genovese," he told Rizzo. "Can you get Caporetto assigned to him?"
"Gee, Blondie, I'll do my best, considerin' this is the first time you asked instead of orderin'. Anythin' else?"
"Not at the moment."
Rizzo straightened. "Now I've got something to explain. You might know your jobs, but I see none of you know shit about this organization. Not where it counts. All these 'families' that have roots in Southern Italy work on three basics, all interconnected. Favors, respect, loyalty. The roots go back so far that nothing you can do today will ever break the basic chain. Accept the fact that you're never going to get Poppa Marruzzi. He'll be insulated. You can't touch him unless his consigliere, that's counselor to you, turns traitor, and no consigliere has ever committed that sin. All you will do is to cripple him, put his caporegimes out of commission. His captains, that is. So he won't be able to function anymore. You're a fool if you hope for anythin' else." He motioned at Starsky to pay attention. "Go easy until you understand the mind-set. The most important word you'll ever hear is 'omerta.' Learn it, understand it, respect it. It is the ten-century-old law of Sicily, the Code of Silence. It's the axis everything turns on. You ask anybody to break it before you know exactly what you're doing, and you're dead."
Hutch spoke up, "What does -- "
"Dead," repeated Rizzo.
Dobey decided it was time for a long break. "Obviously, we have a lot to learn from you, Rizzo. We better start fresh tomorrow." Mallory nodded his assent as well, and they all started gathering up the paperwork.
Hutch rushed off to corner Minnie and charm her into putting overtime at the records computer. Back in the squadroom, he found out that Starsky had just left for the day, and hurried to catch up with him. He saw his partner heading out of the building, and took the steps three-four at a time. He was level with the man at the door and about to pass him, but Starsky grabbed him by the arm, shoved him back to step through the door first.
Hutch's immediate reaction was a stab of irrational panic. Then he froze, only then realizing what he couldn't help doing consciously for the first few days Starsky was back on duty had since become a habit. Obviously, it had been irritating the hell out of his partner. He would have to control himself. If he worked real hard at it, one day the garage would become simply a place again.
It was late in the evening, and Starsky was stretched on the couch, propped by some pillows, reading, when Hutch returned from a visit to the card-shark known as The Professor. He went into the kitchen and started fixing something.
"Professor sends his best," he stated casually. Starsky said nothing. Nor had he opened his mouth since leaving the precinct. Hutch babbled on. "The man is incredible. He has more intelligence than a faculty of real professors. More articulate than any of them, too, I'd bet. Remember the masseuse? He's still living with her. He's really getting old. Cards and dice still do anything he wants, though. If I can learn a quarter of what he's got to teach -- hey, you listening to me?"
Starsky didn't answer. Hutch came out of the kitchen, holding a steaming mug. "Starsk? Hey, are we speaking?"
"I'm tryin' to read," Starsky answered shortly, eyes on the file. He was trying to keep from saying something he might regret later, and wished Hutch would just let him be.
"Sorry. I thought you might be interested. Here, have some tea." He held out the mug.
Starsky deliberately ignored it. "I'm working."
"Same here. After all, Professor's skills are going to be my cover."
"Fine. Work on that, and I'll work on mine."
Hutch lost the light tone and snapped. "Excuse me, I thought we were working together."
"Could've fooled me!" Starsky couldn't help snapping back. "Just leave me alone, will ya?"
"Gladly, partner, except you went and dumped us into one hell of a case."
Starsky slammed the file shut. "I didn't dump us into anything! If you can't handle it, you can get the hell -- "
Hutch interrupted in a tight voice, rounding the couch to stand over his partner. "Don't say it. I don't deserve that. I'm doing the job the best way I know how."
Feeling dominated by Hutch's tall frame hovering over him, Starsky bounded off the couch to put distance between them. "If your idea of doin' a job is leadin' me around by the nose, shove it! I don't need it. For your information, pal, those bullets went through my chest, not my balls!"
"I GODDAMNED WELL KNOW THAT!" Hutch shouted with a violence that penetrated Starsky's anger and startled him. "What's that supposed to be? A guarantee?" the blond asked, confusing Starsky further.
Hutch paced off, swung back to his partner, fury on his face. "They'd never gone through your chest before that day, either. It didn't stop them, did it? So I can't handle it, so I go a little crazy sometimes -- I goddamned well know that, too! What do you want from me? Sanity? Rationality? Living the way we live? Should I laugh now, or later?" He made a jerky motion, causing the scalding-hot tea to splash on his hand. He gave a small gasp of pain. His expression was almost comical when he looked at the mug as if it were an alien object and he had no idea how it had gotten to be in his hand. Then he simply opened his fingers, letting the mug fall, paying it no more attention.
"Now, I think," he said in a strange, flat voice, and made a sound that could be called a laugh only by a stretch of the imagination. "If I can't stop, you can have me committed and solve all our problems." He didn't continue laughing, after all, but stuck the side of his scalded hand into his mouth, a child-like gesture of consolation, and went to the bedroom.
Shaken, Starsky let him go. They had never talked about the shooting except in the most general terms, and he had never realized how much it had affected his partner -- until now. After a moment, he went to the kitchen, got out some ice, wrapped it in a dish towel, and followed his partner. Hutch was sitting on the bed, left hand tightly curled over the other one.
Starsky sat next to him, gently pried his hands loose and looked at the damage. Over the thumb and the index finger the skin was mottled red, but it didn't look bad. He pressed the ice on it anyway, and looked up at his partner who was following the procedure with a detached expression.
"Hutch, I didn't know. I'm sorry."
"It's all right." Hutch pulled his hand away, held it out. "See, it's okay."
"You know that's not what I'm talking about." The blank expression in his partner's eyes was scaring Starsky. He got up to pull at Hutch and rested the man's back against the headboard, then lifted the legs onto the bed. Hutch just let himself be manipulated.
Starsky climbed on the bed himself, in front of the blond, tucking his legs under him. "Come on, partner, talk about it." Hutch didn't seem inclined to start. "Hey, look, I'm all right, I'm right here. How bad can it be?" Hutch actually smiled, and the contrast between the mouth and the eyes got to Starsky. "Okay, so it can be pretty bad. But it's over and done with. You have to let go, babe. You know I've been where you are. I lived those nightmares, too. I know how you feel, but -- "
Hutch finally spoke. "No, you don't."
"You don't know. You can't."
"How can you say that!"
"It's true. You've been hurt before, but I didn't know it, either. Not until Gunther."
Starsky leaned closer. "Okay, maybe I don't know. Tell me."
Hutch shook his head slowly. "Can't. It's..." He gestured with his hands, the motion of a man at a loss for words, then just spread them and shrugged. "Can't."
Understand me anyway, the eyes asked. Starsky nodded, trying very hard to do so. "All right. But Hutch, just because I almost died once, did die once, you can't hold me back from livin', or what's the use, why did I pull through?"
"Starsk, I -- " He stopped.
"Go on," Starsky prompted.
"I don't want to hold you back," the blond continued, eyes shying away. "I just want to hold on. I know I lose the balance sometimes, but that's all I want to do, honest. If I don't have that right, let me know now."
Starsky couldn't answer directly. "Can't we find a happy medium, Hutch? I won't react so badly to what you want to do, and don't come on so strong against what I want to do. Can we make that work?" Hutch looked back at him but didn't speak. "Come on, babe, after all these years, we can certainly meet halfway." He held out his hand, and after a second, Hutch extended his the same distance. Starsky squeezed the hand briefly before releasing it. "Back to work, partner?"
Starsky went to get the file, but when he settled on the bed again, he noticed that Hutch looked out of it. "You don't really want to, do you?"
His partner took a deep breath, ran his hands wearily through his hair, rubbed his face. "Not tonight."
"Okay. I can use the rest myself."
"Take the bed, please," Hutch said, his hands dropping into his lap. "God, I'm tired," he added, almost too low to hear.
Starsky decided not to argue with the sleeping arrangements for the moment. As Hutch went into the shower, he undressed and obediently got into the bed. He waited for his partner to come out of the bathroom.
"Hutch," he softly called out to the blond rummaging through the drawers. "Guests take the couch."
"You're not a guest," Hutch pointed out, pulling a pair of pajamas out of the drawer, then stuffing the top portion back into it.
"No, I'm not. So get in here, will ya?"
Starsky patted one side of the mattress. "Come on. It's big enough."
Hutch spared a glance at the bed. "Right," he said simply. Without further ado, he pulled the towel from around his waist, put on the pajama bottoms, turned out the lights, and climbed under the covers. "Goodnight." He turned his back and curled to a side.
"'Night," Starsky mumbled. He closed his eyes and tried to relax, but couldn't, somehow. Long minutes later, he was aware that neither could sleep. Something unsaid, unanswered, lay heavily between them. "Hutch?" There was no answering movement or sound, but Starsky knew his partner was waiting for him to speak. He reached to hold a shoulder, feeling the tension in the blond's body. "You've got the right. Of course, you do. Always."
Hutch didn't say anything, but Starsky felt him relax noticeably. He removed his hand, got into a comfortable position, suddenly in the right mood for sleep. Shortly, he felt Hutch stir and turn toward him. He opened his eyes. Diffuse rays of the moon through the blinds highlighted the fair hair, made a soft smile visible in the darkness.
Fingers tugged gently at the thick curl over Starsky's forehead. "One day I'm going to have a long talk with your mother." Hutch pulled his hand away, letting it fall next to Starsky's laying open-palmed on the pillow.
"Naming you David."
"I know my Bible, Starsk."
Drowsily, Starsky smiled to himself. "David won."
"He had a slingshot."
"I've got you."
"Don't you forget it."
"You kiddin'? Wouldn't leave home without it."
Sometime later, almost asleep, Starsky realized, without the first idea about who had initiated the move, that Hutch's hand was cupped over his palm and their fingers were loosely laced. Aren't we a pair, he mused distantly, two grown men, tough street cops, holding hands to fall asleep? For the sake of their image, he was glad nobody could see them like this. However, the contact felt very comfortable to him. Peaceful. Nice. Safe.
Dobey walked into the briefing room and found his two men already there. Hutch was tangled in miles of computer printouts, while Starsky was pacing around, a light bounce to his steps, with a book in one hand, gesturing wildly with the other, mouthing things incomprehensible. A quick look at the printouts showed Dobey that Hutch had made somebody do overtime and compile every bit of information on the Marruzzi family available on the West Coast.
"Listen to this," Starsky said, drawing his partner's attention. He spat out some gibberish, accompanied by hand gestures that reminded Dobey of badly exaggerated Italian movies.
Hutch made a face. "Ten points for enthusiasm above and beyond. Now lose the Jewish accent."
"Whadda you know? The only thing I'd get from you would be a Spanish accent, and we both know what happened the last time you tried that -- to me."
"Can I help it if the best you can ever manage is a unique and quaint Starskish?"
"Shove it, buddy. Remember four years ago? If I could make you pass your Midwestern WASP ass for Scanlon from the Bronx, I can certainly make myself pass for a son of Hell's Kitchen."
Hutch went back to the printouts. "Dig out the red jammies and try a pitchfork. In the meantime, remember, better no Italian than bad Italian."
Starsky strolled next to the blond. "I'm not givin' up that easy. This is the language of romance, partner. Amore is made of this. Take Caruso, Mario Lanza. They looked like stuffed sausages, but dames turned to jelly when they sang."
"They had more than language going for them, Starsk. They had something called voice," Hutch said absentmindedly, trying to track down something on the endless papers which were fast making him look like a technological-age mummy.
Starsky ignored the sarcasm. "If I can get some of this down pat, I bet I can be the next great Italian tenor."
Apparently goaded past his limits, Hutch snatched the book out of Starsky's hand, slammed it down on the table, and jabbed at the printouts. "If you don't sit your ass down and help me wade through this shit, you'll be the next great soprano, Italian or otherwise!"
Undaunted, Starsky grinned at his partner. "You're bellissimo when you're angry, bambino." Hutch extended a threatening finger at his partner. Starsky made a motion of surrender. "Okay, okay, what're we lookin' for?"
Dobey studied the contrasting heads, now bent seriously over the papers. Obviously, things were back to normal. Normal for them, anyway. The captain could safely consider them assigned to the case. Checking his watch, he saw there was time before the New Yorkers were to arrive, so he went to order a big breakfast. His appetite had taken a turn for the better.
After five days, Dobey was heartily sick of the briefing room. The specialists who had transformed Starsky into Caporetto had left, so at least it was resembling a workplace again. Only the police photographer and his paraphernalia remained. Dobey watched Starsky inspect himself in a mirror and scowl. He wasn't yet used to his new image and neither was the captain. His detective now looked too...tidy. Somehow the man needed the rumpled look and his unruly mop to be himself. But then, that wasn't the idea at all.
Starsky tugged at the silk shirt, patted the sides of his hair unnecessarily, looking like he'd prefer to rearrange his skin altogether. "Could've been worse," Rizzo commented, watching his counterpart's discomfort.
"I could've replaced you, Shirley Temple."
Not rising to the bait, Starsky restricted himself to throwing the man a dirty look. The effect was rather spoiled, though, as he kept blinking against the unaccustomed lenses.
"Ready, Sergeant?" the photographer asked.
"Hold your horses, will ya!" Starsky snapped, grabbing a Kleenex to dab at his eyes. "Soon's I can stay dry."
Rizzo had been mostly silent during the proceedings, an angry quietness that seemed to cover defeat, now that Starsky's appearance proved that the New Yorker could be replaced. His one attempt to irritate Starsky thwarted, he grabbed his jacket. "Meet you at the airport," he snapped to his captain and stomped out of the room.
Dobey approached Mallory. "Will he be all right?"
"Sure," Mallory said, adding with less confidence, "I hope so. He'll be at the airport, and he'll complete the job. Tony may have some shortcomings; doing a haphazard job isn't one of them." He studied Starsky, who had managed to compose himself enough to pose for the photos to accompany the documents that would identify him as Caporetto. "Don't worry about your man. However Tony might personally feel, he'd never jeopardize another officer or a case. Tony's cover will be as secure as -- I mean, Detective Starsky's cover...."
Dobey threw him a curious glance. Mallory looked just as puzzled at himself. "Habit, I guess," he said, with a lift of his shoulders. "Tony and me, we go back a long way. Not duplicates, I can see," he continued, indicating Starsky, "but there's something about him like this, I don't know, something familiar. He reminds me of Tony years ago, when we -- " He hesitated. shrugging again. "Before he changed...hardened."
Dobey didn't push. He was already aware that Mallory's concern over Rizzo's well-being went much deeper than a superior's toward someone who happened to be working for him.
The photo session over, Starsky couldn't seem to wait to get out of the silk shirt and into his own disreputable one. "My God," Mallory whispered, almost inaudibly, making Dobey look up at his detective and see the scarred body. "Hutchinson had mentioned it, but -- what happened?"
"An assassination attempt, right here at the police garage. He's lucky to be alive."
"And he's back on duty? I know he must've qualified, but he actually wanted to?"
Dobey felt obligated to explain. "Being a cop is not what Starsky does. It's what he is."
"No wonder he reminds me of Tony."
Starsky was dressed and fussing with his hair again when the door swung open and Hutchinson walked in. Dobey saw the dark man turn toward his partner, visibly brace himself, and assume a ready-for-any-indignity look.
Whatever he was expecting, Hutchinson disappointed him. "All done, huh?" He inspected his partner closely. "Looks okay." He turned to the photographer. "The photos ready?"
"In a minute."
"Get a move on, will you?" He gave his attention back to Starsky. "How'd you do with imitating the signature?"
"Our expert says it's passable." Hutchinson was ready to ask something else, but Starsky held up a hand. "Forget it. No way in hell can I write anythin' anybody can read with my right. I'm just gonna have to stay left-handed."
"What if you pretended an injury -- ?" the blond started to suggest.
"Quit makin' a big production outta everything. Got enough to keep on my mind. Nobody's gonna notice, let alone announce it coast to coast. Caporetto's just another workin' stiff in the ranks, that's all."
The photographer handed Hutch some photos while leaving the room. "Not bad. Oh, yes, Linda starts working at The Familia's reception desk next Friday."
Starsky objected. "Hey, we won't get there for another week an least."
"There was an opening, she took it. By the way, Captain, the commissioner's waiting for you."
By all means, let's have our priorities straight, Dobey thought, irritated at the delayed information. "If you can wait, I'll drive you to the airport," he told Mallory, and hurried to meet his boss.
Hutch had gathered all he needed and was heading out of the room. "Hutch," Starsky called out.
His partner paused. "What?"
Starsky indicated himself. "Gimme a break, huh? This is like waitin' for the other shoe to drop. Laugh and get it over with, will ya?"
Hutch looked him over. "Oh, yeah. Sure, soon's I have a minute." He grinned wickedly at his partner and left.
Starsky sighed, sitting down and resting his feet, crossed at the ankles, on the table.
"Is he always like that?" Captain Mallory asked, nodding towards the door.
"That's not bad. You should see him during a full moon," Starsky grumbled, then thought better of his attitude. "Don't get me wrong. He drives me up the wall sometimes, but I wouldn't have it any other way. It's the only way to live. Literally. That's why I can't understand guys like Rizzo. In this job, without a partner, where are you? How can he have no use for one?"
Mallory started packing his briefcase. "Tony once had a partner for six years. It was good, too."
Starsky was genuinely interested. "What happened?"
The captain smiled strangely. "I got married, then really blew it and wanted off the streets," he said, surprising the detective. "I was older. Promotions came through. I took them."
"Oh." Starsky took a moment to digest that, then couldn't help asking: "And now he works under you? Isn't that -- I mean, I couldn't do that. It'd be too uncomfortable."
"Uncomfortable? Yes, at times. In the beginning, I thought he'd transfer. I was wrong. Every once in a while, he threatens, but never carries through." His hands were forgotten in mid-air, holding some papers. Starsky got the impression he was mainly talking to himself. "Sometimes I think he's waiting to see who's going to break first. Other times I feel he likes it just where he is, and always tries a little harder to prove a street cop is more useful than a paper pusher." He finally dropped the documents into the case and put the lid down. "Or maybe some habits are just impossible to break. Who knows?" Suddenly looking impatient with the subject, he closed it, picked up his briefcase, and approached to extend his hand. "I'd better go find Dobey. I still have to pack. Good luck. Give my best to your partner. We'll be in touch."
Starsky got to his feet quickly to shake hands and see the man to the door. Afterwards, he hesitated, knowing he should go and see if Hutch wanted any help, but he closed the door instead and sat back down, needing some time to think.
Changes tended to spring out at him when he was complacently sure of his lot. His childhood had been shattered unexpectedly when his father, the man he'd thought indestructible, had been gunned down in the streets. He hadn't only lost a father, but his whole family, the only life he'd known, when his mother, unable to cope with a confused, wild teenager and a younger son, had sent him to live with relatives in LA. He had settled down finally, managed to finish high school. Just as he was beginning to own his life, he had been pulled out of it to be deposited in the middle of the Vietnam War.
He had carved a corner for himself since then, obviously not the safest existence he could lead, but it satisfied him just as it was. He wasn't as much concerned with safety as he was with stability. But taking something for granted didn't necessarily make it stable. Was the ground due to shift from under him again?
The door opened suddenly. "What're you still doing here? McNeil wants us." Hutch backed in, tumbling Starsky's thoughts of past and future into a harried present. "Gotta eat on the run. Got some takeout Italian food. Fitting, right?" He handed over a styrofoam plate, kept one for himself.
Starsky opened his, found meatballs in tomato sauce. He stabbed at one with the plastic fork and it skittered off the plate, hit the floor, bounced, leaving a red trail. He poked at one of the remaining balls on the plate. "Rubber meatballs? You got no class, Hutch."
The blond snickered. "Did you look in the mirror lately?"
On his way out the door, Starsky appropriated his partner's food. He tried to eat quickly, before Hutch started a tug-of-war, then realized that now he was stuck with a rubber fork. He turned to glare at the blond.
Hutch was laughing. "You do look ridiculous, you know."
It was over two weeks later and past midnight when Starsky got around to asking the questions he had been shelving in favor of this and that. Early in the morning, they had to catch a flight to Chicago to meet Rizzo. Nothing was left to be done except for Caporetto to arrive at LAX. Although it was late and they were already in bed, Starsky decided he could take some time to talk to his partner. It was going to be a while before the opportunity came again.
"Hutch?" he whispered to make sure his partner wasn't asleep.
"You wanna get married?"
The blond chuckled, a rich, throaty sound. "Gee, Starsky, I thought you'd never ask."
Starsky playfully punched an available shoulder. "What, a lousy housekeeper like you who wouldn't feed me worth a damn? Think I'm crazy? Seriously, Hutch, you wanna get married again?"
"Again being the operative word," Hutch said, serious now.
"Something like that."
"Come on, Hutch, that's not good enough. You're not a quitter, or you couldn't go on doin' this job day after day."
"There's a very big difference."
"In this job, I sometimes succeed." He turned toward Starsky in the darkness. "I can't say the same thing for any relationship with the ladies. And you know it wasn't for want of trying."
"So you're just gonna give up?"
"Seems destined, doesn't it?"
"Maybe, I don't know. I wouldn't mind being pleasantly surprised one day, but if it's all the same to you, I'd rather not plan on it."
Obviously, Starsky wasn't going to get a firmer answer than that. He'd just have to leave it as an uncertainty in the hands of the future.
"Do you?" Hutch asked.
"Do I what?"
"Plan on it?"
"No, not exactly. But I don't automatically consider it impossible, either. Who knows?"
Hutch laughed softly. "Sometimes I envy your resilience. Or are you just too stubborn? But you're right, I guess. Who knows?"
"I know one thing, though."
"It wouldn't change anything. For us, I mean."
"Of course, it would."
"I won't let it!" Starsky protested immediately, then wondered why he'd felt it necessary to be so forceful about it.
"Hey," Hutch said soothingly, "I just said there'd be a change. I didn't say it'll be for the worse."
"Oh." Starsky couldn't consider qualities of change at the moment. Just thinking of dealing with change was bad enough.
"Something wrong, Starsk?"
"Just idle chatter, huh?"
"Have it your way." Hutch rolled away again.
Some time later, Starsky found himself posing another question. "You think you wanna get promoted?"
"All right, that does it!" Hutch straightened to flick on the bedside lamp and started to turn around. "What the hell's bothering -- " He cut off as his eyes fell on his partner. "Damn."
"Nothing. It still catches me by surprise. Your hair." The blond started laughing. "This is going to sound too bizarre, but you know what I just felt? Like a stranger was in the bed, and I was being unfaithful or something." He shook his head at himself. "Does that make sense?"
"Weird sense, but what else is new?"
"I don't know, pal. You tell me. What else is new?" he tugged at a pillow to prop himself against the headboard. "What's with all the questions suddenly?"
"I just wondered, that's all. How long you wanna stay a sergeant?"
"How long do you want to stay one?"
"I ain't got a choice, Hutch. I don't have a college diploma. This is as far as I can go."
"What, they shut down all the colleges lately?"
Starsky grimaced. "Oh, sure, and just how long you think it'll take me to get a degree workin' full-time and goin' to school part-time? On the kinda schedules we keep?"
"The point is, it can be done, if you want to. Do you want to?"
Starsky thought for a while, aware that Hutch was watching him too intently. "I don't know. I like bein' on the streets."
Suddenly, the blond looked weary. "That settles that, doesn't it?" He slid low into the pillows and closed his eyes.
"You didn't answer my question," Starsky insisted.
"No. But you did."
"You mean you'll stay where I want to stay, as long as I want?" He didn't get an answer. "Hutch, that's not fair to you. I mean, what if -- "
"Oh, no," Hutch interrupted, sounding ill-tempered. "You don't get to choose across the board. Staying is my choice, make no mistake."
Starsky stayed silent for a minute. "Hutch, uh, it's not fair to me, either."
"Goes with the territory, partner. Live with it."
There was nothing to say to that. Starsky told himself he should feel reassured of where they stood, so why was he feeling anything but? "Rizzo and Mallory were partners for a long time," he said conversationally.
"It was to me. Mallory said it was a good pairing."
"So what hap -- don't tell me. Did Mallory get promoted or married?"
They were quiet until Starsky said: "Let's get some sleep. Turn out the light, huh?" The room became dark again. Hutch settled in but didn't turn away.
"Let Rizzo and Mallory worry about their own problems." His voice was again gentle. "I'm not going anywhere. You know that, don't you?"
If there was to be a change, Starsky realized, it would have to come from him. Hutch had practically said so. It was too tempting to relax, knowing his partner wouldn't rock the boat. How selfish was that? Later, he decided, and suspended those thoughts. First, there was the case, and the morning was fast approaching.
TWA Flight 167 from New York was only a few minutes late in landing at Chicago's O'Hare Airport. It was taxiing into its berth when Starsky tapped his partner on the arm to signal he was leaving and took off. Hutch watched the plane dock and the passengers start to disembark, looking for the detective from New York. There was really little reason for the blond man's presence, but he wished to be there to see Rizzo board another plane back to New York where Mallory would meet him and keep him under wraps for however long it took.
Rizzo was walking toward him. Hutch made sure he was seen before he turned and preceded the man, leading him into a bar. He entered the bathroom, saw that the coast was clear except for Starsky, then left. Rizzo went in while the blond stood outside assuring that they weren't disturbed during the last minute exchanges. It didn't take long. The New Yorker came out, found a table, and proceeded to order a drink.
Aware that it was the last time they could speak freely for who knew how long, Hutch went back into the bathroom to see Starsky. "Don't forget to develop a cold and keep it for a while," he said. Just in case any concerned person in New York called to check how Caporetto was settling in.
Starsky gave him a long-suffering look. Hutch shrugged apologetically. "I'll be about three hours behind you," he said, unnecessarily straightening Starsky's jacket, brushing off nonexistent specks, "but there's no telling when I'll actually get to see you."
"Don't worry. I'll find you if I need you."
"Right," Hutch mumbled.
"I gotta go."
"I know." While the blond wished his partner wouldn't look so much like an eager kid on his way to Disneyland, Starsky patted him on the back, picked up the flight bag Rizzo had passed to him, and started to leave. "Hey," Hutch called out. "Take care of yourself."
Starsky smiled at him, giving a thumbs-up signal. "See you, partner."
Hutch followed him out, watched him disappear into the crowd, then went to join Rizzo, prepared to endure the man until the flight to New York was called. His own back to LA would leave an hour after that. Then would come the time for patience.
One of the first things Starsky noticed when he got off the plane was that none other than Captain Dobey was there to confirm the first contact. The detective smiled to himself. In the striped shirt, flowered tie, checkered suit that struggled to stay wrapped around bulges, topped by a speckled sporty hat, the big, black man looked too conspicuous to be actually conspicuous.
His attention was drawn by a man whose thin face and sharp features contrasted with a stocky frame. Followed by a nondescript young man, he approached the detective without hesitation, letting Starsky know his disguise was good enough, and held out his hand.
"Welcome to LA, Mr. Caporetto. I'm Jack Valenti."
The words sounded grudging. For just an instant, Starsky touched the bony hand with short fingers -- the man seemed made up of spare parts that didn't fit each other -- before it was drawn back. "Your claim ticket."
Valenti didn't seem inclined to chatter or waste time. Starsky followed suit and dug out his ticket. The young man who hadn't rated an introduction took it, and left quickly. "This way," Starsky was told by Valenti.
Outside the terminal, a silver limousine was waiting. Starsky pretended to look unimpressed. "Your luggage will follow," Valenti said, opening the door, but getting in first.
As if he was used to classy treatment, Starsky casually sprawled in the indecently soft seat. The vehicle took off smoothly. "Cups, ice, drinks, snacks, TV," Valenti pointed at the different amenities, but made no move to be of service.
"Transportation," Starsky said shortly, not availing himself of anything else.
"The limo belongs to the club, used for daily service," he was informed, seemingly for no reason. He understood that Valenti didn't want him to attach too much importance to the fact that he was furnished with a classy car. He also understood that Valenti, for some reason he didn't yet know, was hostile to him.
No, to Caporetto.
It was time to find the balance. David Michael Starsky couldn't take anything too personally from now on. Through his body and senses, another being had to live and function, act and react. Behind the darkly shaded windows of the limo, he started studying the city he knew so intimately as if he were seeing it for the first time, and not particularly caring for it, either.
For some reason, Starsky realized, he had been expecting The Familia to be dark, smoky, with small booths, tightly packed with solid, brown furniture, heavy velvet drapes and chandeliers. It had to be all those late-night movies of the Prohibition Era. Hutch, having already had an interview there a few days ago, had described the workings and the discreetly tucked away gambling rooms, but not the decor.
In daylight, everything about the place was light and airy. And Starsky realized why Pop Art deserved the name. It tended to pop out at one. Glass, pastels, and panels dominated the large place, contrasted by shockingly loud colors and abstract shapes distributed around; artistically, he supposed. At the moment, bright afternoon sun was streaming through the immense patio doors opening on to a deck, and pooling in sharp angles on the floor and furnishings through random picture windows cut into the ceiling. No artificial light source was visible. They were probably hidden behind the panels. At night, the place would look like a confusing maze. It was a typical, very expensive LA club, now in a flurry of preparation for the evening.
Valenti leading, they passed through it quickly, into a corridor, then an office. The scattering of variedly colored and angled panels made it hard to distinguish what was decoration and what were doors or closets. Carlo Genovese was also very far from the image Starsky carried of a fat, cigar-chomping mobster and club owner. He was in his mid-forties, rakishly handsome, slender and dapper in an outfit that would be in place on a yacht. But when they came close enough to shake hands, Starsky's trained eye detected that some indulgence had started taking its toll. Still, he cautioned himself against taking the man lightly. From his record, he guessed that Genovese wasn't controlled by whatever he partook of.
The greeting over, Genovese introduced the other two men in the room. "Luigi," was directed at a man for whom a second name didn't seem to be necessary, built so much like a cube that Starsky wondered how he'd get up from the large seat he was occupying without a crowbar. However, the man rose with the agility of an athlete. Starsky's hand was encased in a crushing grip for an instant, accompanied by a grunt of acknowledgement.
"Salvatore Marruzzi," Genovese said, with no more than a dismissive wave toward the young man sprawled on a couch, looking asleep. "Say hello, Sal, if you can."
Starsky's attention was instantly drawn at the mention of the name. So this was Marruzzi's grandchild, the only son of an only son, long dead. The young man fought to open his eyes, squinted, mumbled something about "the infernal hour" instead of a greeting, then turned to Starsky. "Come back tonight, when I'm alive," he managed to put together. Trying to chuckle, but only coming up with a cackle, he added, "You see, I'm the family Dracula."
"Enough, Sal!" Genovese said sharply. Unperturbed, the young man waved weakly, as if in farewell, and lapsed into stupor again.
Starsky took note of the unnatural dilation of Sal's eyes, the ravages in the face that could've otherwise been almost too beautiful, the tremor in the lax hands, and concluded that here was somebody not only controlled by vices, but damn near lost to them. He decided to attach himself to the young man, if possible. Where there was vice, there was weakness.
Genovese dismissed Valenti, ordered drinks and some food for later, then launched into small talk of the accommodations for Caporetto, and what some of his future duties might be. Starsky was alert not to say or do something wrong. But in one corner of his mind, he was busily calculating.
The extent of the information on the grandson was that Marruzzi had one, period. From the looks of things, that seemed incredible. The man himself, and Genovese's attitude toward him, clearly said he was a major embarrassment. But he had been hidden successfully. Salvatore's clothes and jewelry proved he was pampered, and his look was not that of a hungry junkie. Starsky wondered to what extent Marruzzi was keeping the family name clean, and to what extent he cared for the young man personally. If there was a real attachment there, the grandson just might be the chink in the untouchable old man's armor, a way to get to him.
His brain was racing too far ahead, he knew, and wished he could discuss it with Hutch. Then he immediately discarded the idea. After all the warnings from Rizzo, if Hutch even guessed at how high Starsky was thinking of reaching, he'd bodily pack his partner right out of the case.
The thought was enough to sober him, though. This was no time to get carried away. He decided not to let enthusiasm outstrip good sense, filed away the notion for the time being, and prepared to let Caporetto settle in while the cop took it a step at a time.
Business was brisk in the gambling room, but the bar wasn't overrun at the moment. Linda fixed a tray of drinks for one of the waitresses to circulate among the customers busily betting their lives away at the tables, then turned to rearrange her bodice in the mirror. As tight as it was, constant vigilance was needed not to pop out of it. She was no stranger to undercover work, but this one was a pain in the ass. Her own life had gone on hold to maintain an around-the-clock cover, to the point of sharing an apartment with another woman working at The Familia. She missed her cat, her pad, her friends -- and in that order.
With a sigh, she patted her wavy hair. At least she wasn't playing a street-walker this time and hadn't needed to change her natural dark color to brassy red or bleached blonde. Small favors, she thought, wrinkling her nose. After some weeks, she had managed to be transferred from the lobby to behind one of the bars servicing the gambling room, a preferable position. Alcohol loosened tongues. Of course, she didn't know why she had bothered, since she was little more than window dressing for one Caporetto. The case, she had been firmly told, belonged to Sergeants Starsky and Hutchinson. Both pleasant enough men, but neither particularly considerate toward a female colleague, except in all the wrong ways.
"Hey, lovely lady, give your man a brew," came from behind her as if on cue, Starsky's voice carrying a suggestive leer. "And anythin' else you'd care to."
Through the mirror, she noted his eyes were, as usual, on her buttocks inside the tiny hot-pants of her uniform. She knew he was only partially playing Caporetto's scenario. Starsky's eyes didn't need an excuse to roam. Not feeling kindly toward him at the moment, she swayed her hips, teasing on purpose. Want a look, get an eyeful. It was already settled between them that it wouldn't go beyond teasing.
She liked him just fine and obviously someone had been very generous while dishing out his sex appeal, but Linda was fond of fads. She'd tried all, from Catholic schools to Zen, from motorcycle gangs to commune living, and now she was into the New Celibacy. She didn't think it was going to last long, recognized it as a fad, but she liked going all out for each new phase. The only thing she didn't consider a fad was her job. That was her foundation, what she worked hard at while she played at the rest of life. Worked hard, that was, when she was given half a chance. The frosty mug she put in front of Starsky hit the bar a little too hard. "Come back for the rest later, lover."
Starsky lowered his voice. "Wish I may, wish I might."
Linda leaned close to him over the counter. "We can't all get what we wish for, capisce?" she said pointedly.
"Ain't that the truth," Starsky agreed with a sigh. He almost pouted.
Linda couldn't help smiling. He was really quite endearing. The problem was, she couldn't be sure he was artless about it. That wistful little-boy look could've been practiced and honed on anybody from an adoring grandma to half the female population of LA. She kept her smile carefully indifferent. Pa Baylor raised no pigeons, boy. In fact, he was a lot like you.
Probably aware of wasting his best expression, Starsky turned just friendly. "Okay, I know you don't much like this set-up, but it wasn't my choice, sweetheart. Talk to Captain Mallory. And remember, the last time we teamed, you starred while Hutch 'n me were just backup."
"I ain't likely to forget, considerin' I got a lengthy hospital stay outta it."
"We'll try to do better this time." He reached to play with her hair, and added seriously: "Do me a favor? Don't say anythin' like that to Hutch, even in jest. He felt bad enough about it."
Now there was an honest expression if she'd ever heard one. Starsky also seemed to have things he wouldn't play at, wouldn't let anybody play with. Linda glanced toward the subject of their conversation, then her attention was caught and she studied the blond. Hutch was at his table where women converged in droves. He was leaning close to an over-dressed, middle-aged woman as if her next move was of personal importance. "Will ya look at him?"
Starsky followed her gaze. "What?"
"Get a load of the stakes. He just asked her if she's in."
"So watch her."
The woman nervously fingered the few chips remaining in front of her, signed a marker, and pushed both the chips and the promissory note toward the middle of the table, her hands shaking but her eyes never leaving Hutch's. The blond bestowed a dazzling smile on her. "So she bet more than she should've. What else is new?" Starsky asked.
"Why do you think she did that?"
"How do I know?"
"You wouldn't." Glands on the wrong wave length, she decided. "Damn him, he ain't playin' with chips, he's playin' with hormones."
"Hutch? Oh, he's just brought up to be polite to women."
That kinda courtesy, she thought, we don't need. "Bullshit." How did Starsky think Hutch turned in more markers than anyone, and why did Genovese keep transferring him to higher-stake actions? "Face it, your partner's lethal. He can make a killin' and leave the poor suckers feelin' like he's done 'em a favor." Her words made Starsky look puzzled, then spin around with the barstool to watch the blond.
Hutch was in the regular outfit all dealers wore. On others, it was a uniform. On him, the silky whites covering him snugly from neck to feet looked striking. Breath-taking, Linda corrected herself. His fair, long hair attracted light, formed a platinum-gold halo. He looked as pure and virginal as an angel, except for the arrogant lift of his head, the languid smile, his bedroom eyes -- the perfect and totally unfair combination of don't-touch right alongside come-and-feast. And his customers looked willing to bet all for the chance to devour him.
Linda leaned forward to look at Starsky's face, curious about what he was seeing. Starsky's expression was affectionate, amused, and perhaps a little proud, as if he were watching his beloved, precocious child stage an elaborate act. He noticed Linda's scrutiny. "Nah," he said. "It's just that he can play the game with the best of 'em."
She gave up. Obviously, they were seeing the same thing with different parts of their anatomy. Starsky continued, "He's doin' great, too." He turned back around. She detected a shade of depression in him. "Wish I could say the same."
Linda knew Starsky was getting uptight that in over a month he had made little headway. He constantly complained about Jack Valenti blocking his way. In the pecking order, Valenti occupied a place equal to Caporetto's and the man wasn't going to get passed over because of an upstart from New York. "You're gettin' there," she said with an encouraging smile. Yes, that wistful look of his should certainly be banned.
"Oh yeah? Where?" He drew her head close, and whispered under the cover of a man cavorting with his lady. "This set-up with Genovese is fine, but what does it get me? Buncha whores and gamblers. Big fat fuckin' deal. As for the junk, this is just an outlet. I gotta get to the rest o' the caporegimes."
"Well, I'm on to another set of marked bills," she said, thinking it might cheer him up. Starsky had stumbled on the fact that someone was passing dirty money at the club. He had put Linda on the lookout, saying anything could be a stepping stone.
"Don't get too hot. I haven't had time to run the numbers down. Maybe I should tell Ken, too."
"No rush. He doesn't handle any real money at his table, so what's the use? Anyway, it might come to nothing after all."
"How about some service?" came a familiar voice over their bent heads.
Linda pulled away as Hutch threw one long leg over the stool next to Starsky, using it as support rather than a seat. "Break already? Beer?" The blond nodded.
She gave him his beer, then started wiping the bartop, glancing at the partners periodically. The men didn't speak unnecessarily, didn't even see much of each other except in passing. There were too many video cameras around, and mirrors were always risky. They were taking no chances. Linda was the only steady link between them. She wondered if she should warn them about their body language, though. Normally, two men sitting at a bar would lay definite boundaries between them. There was almost a visible lack of one between Ken and Dave, although they weren't touching or even looking at one another. Somehow, they seemed to gravitate toward each other naturally. They looked as different as day and night, Hutch in his whites and Starsky in a dark, classy suit. Still, in some undefinable way, they were clearly a single unit.
A waitress drew Linda's attention. Maybe it's just me, she thought while filling the large order. As friendly as both men had always been toward her, she had felt like a third wheel when they had teamed before, was feeling it now. Anyway, it was time to pay attention to being the barmaid.
Starsky saw Hutch lean his elbows on the bar and rub his forehead as if it hurt. "Headache?" he had to ask.
His partner nodded, frowning. "The smoke, noise, and most of all the incredible stupidity of people -- God, I hate this job."
"Don't knock it. The back office is crazy about you."
"Whoopee," was Hutch's dead-pan reaction.
Starsky covered his mouth by bringing the large mug up. "Cheer up, babe, you're doin' hell of a lot better than I am." He might not be crazy about that fact, but if Hutch was feeling down, he didn't mind admitting it. At that moment, he spied Salvatore unsteadily making his way out of the gambling room into the club proper. "Ooops, gotta go babysit."
With very little effort on his part, Salvatore Marruzzi had become his charge. For some reason fathomable only to his grandfather, the young man was kept in the family business. Genovese was obviously under orders to involve and educate him, to what use nobody could imagine. Genovese pretended, and Salvatore pitifully went through the motions, no doubt to keep Gramps happy. The young man needed a watchdog. Simply by not looking terribly adverse to the notion, Starsky had found himself elected for the job others were only too glad to be rid of. In a short while, something in the drug-dulled brain had decided to like Starsky, perhaps because the detective was doing his best to be amiable while nobody else had ever bothered.
He followed Salvatore into the club, but no further when he saw the man join Genovese at his special table. That would be presumptuous. Still. Instead, he chose an out-of-the-way table to sit and wait, something he was doing too much of. Hutch didn't seem to have a monopoly in headaches.
Trying to see past the smoke, of cigarettes and other things, plus the wildly scintillating lights keeping beat to the music, he studied the occupants of Genovese's table. Gambino was there, with two of his lieutenants. So was Luigi. Starsky had yet to figure out exactly what that hulk of a man did to earn his living in the organization. He drew a hefty paycheck, and seemingly did nothing for it except be present anywhere and everywhere. There were some other men at the table he didn't recognize, except a glimpse of one of them left a nagging itch at the back of his brain. He tried to invent a reason to join them, wanting to get closer to Gambino, who ran the narc operations.
"You forgot your change."
He glanced up at Linda. Knowing he had done nothing of the sort, he checked the serial numbers of the bills she gave him.
"Believe it or not," she leaned to say, "Valenti handed them to me."
That sounded wrong. "Really?"
"Don't mean he knew what he was passin'."
He probably didn't, Starsky decided. Valenti was too cagey to risk his neck on his own turf. If Genovese ever stumbled on the fact that someone was passing marked bills at his club and who it was, that person's life wouldn't be worth much.
Linda drew his attention elsewhere. "Don't look now, but we got competition.
"At the boss's table. Isn't that Bauer from Narco?"
Starsky glanced around and realized that her sharp eye had identified what had been nagging at him. "Sure is. What the hell's he doin'?"
"Same thing we are?" Linda suggested.
A narco operative close to a narco dealer wasn't that strange a sight -- normally. But what Linda didn't know was that the commissioner had suspended all sting operations on the Marruzzi organization, in order not to muddy the waters for Caporetto. "Can't be."
"Oh? Should I check it out?"
Some instinct made Starsky grab her arm. "No! I'll handle it. In fact, stay out of his way."
"Of course you'll handle it," Linda said, sweetly but not meaning it in the slightest, "I'll be a good girl and get back to my work now."
"Hey, I didn't mean it that way," Starsky called out after her but she was gone.
What was Bauer doing, obviously being buddy-buddy over there? Starsky recounted to himself all he knew about the man, and came up with a guess which he decided made perfect sense. However, it might be awkward to have the man around on an unrelated case, even if Starsky happened to sympathize personally.
The customers were leaving the gambling room, either going home in defeat or to drown their sorrows at the club. Only a few would be celebrating. Hutch pasted on his best smile and politely talked to the stragglers, wishing they'd all be gone and fast. Starsky appeared at his side, as he did every night at the closing of the tables, to collect the markers. Hutch gathered them up for him.
His partner leaned close. "Something came up. We gotta talk. Expect me." Hutch nodded, knowing he should be glad that something was breaking after so long a dry spell, but finding himself only apprehensive. It must've showed on his face. "Not that big a deal," Starsky added.
"I'll go straight home."
"Take your time. I still got a coupla hours of accountin' to do," his partner grumbled disgustedly, sweeping up the markers. "To think I became a cop so I wouldn't be stuck with this kinda crap."
Hutch changed into his own clothes, badly missing the comfort of his jeans, but stuck with suits as the club regulations demanded. He started to leave, but lingered on the patio overlooking the sea, trying to clear his head and lungs. The gambling rooms were basically sunken tombs, too full of smoke, noise, and fools. He was spending altogether too much time at The Familia, and not enough. Starsky had to be there constantly, and being at the club only during the nights didn't suit the blond. Pretending to be a frustrated musician at heart, he had gotten close to the band members, which gave him reason to be there during rehearsals and such.
The club was still crowded, people spilling out onto the deck. There was a lower level, only a few steps up from the beach, with light wooden furnishings under gaily colored awnings, where the clientele changed drastically. People were younger there, with less money to spend, but drug business was brisker, at least in small, individual sales. Hutch went down, ignoring the customers in favor of the dark scenery highlighted by reflections in the water.
"You like something to drink?" someone asked him in a deep Mexican accent.
He turned from the railing he was leaning against and saw one of the scantily-clad waitresses. She had rich black hair and richer curves, was quite short, looking like a ceremonially-painted little Aztec doll that someone had forgotten to dress properly. He seemed to remember running into her before and thinking she was too young to be there. "No, thanks."
"Food?" she suggested brightly, almost hopefully. He shook his head. Her smile turned to a sincere pout while she fiddled with the cocktail napkins on the tray she was holding to her body, under her breasts. The tray was pushing them up, supporting them like an offering. He didn't think she was issuing a come-on, but the sight was suggestive. Hutch smiled at the notion that flashed through his head when she asked, innocently, "Anything you like?"
Child, he thought, tearing his eyes away with some effort, don't ask questions like that. He shook his head at her and at his own whimsy. "Nothing, thank you."
She seemed to want to linger, but started to leave. Backing up, she bumped into somebody behind her. Before she could turn to apologize, the man had wrapped himself around her like an octopus, slurring a crude suggestion.
Obviously, the girl didn't want to be pawed, but the man was drunk and a lot bigger than she was. Hutch reached to grab his wrists and pulled away the hands, then pushed him back. "Hey, Casanova, why don't you take it where they're giving it away?" he said, indicating the club. The drunk started to bluster, but Hutch cut him short with sharp jabs against his breastbone. "Want to walk or get carried?" That seemed to take care of it. Grumbling, the man staggered away. Hutch turned to the girl. "Are you all right?"
"Sure," she said, straightening her brief skirt. "Happens alla time."
He felt the need to apologize for his gender. "I'm sorry."
She shrugged lightly, dismissing the incident. Hutch thought it was a shame for a young girl to be so resigned to the inevitable. "Thank you," she said.
"I can't get you anything?"
She seemed so eager to be of some service, he reconsidered. "Why not? How about a club sandwich to go?"
Happily, she bounced away. However, when she came back, she was crestfallen. "I'm sorry. The kitchen, it closed."
"It's all right. I wasn't that hungry anyway."
"I'm off now. You want, I fix you food."
Uh-oh. Maybe she had taken his interference with the drunk as interest in her. Not that he wouldn't have been interested -- twenty years ago. Before she was born, he thought, sobering himself. He was about to turn her down gently, but she spoke up first.
"I live close. Right there."
Without at first attaching it any importance, he followed her finger, then asked incredulously, "You live there, in that house?" She was pointing straight at Genovese's villa, about two hundred yards from the club, the grounds facing the beach surrounded by thick shrubbery.
"Not in the house. Behind it. I work there."
Hutch suddenly found himself interested in the girl. "Wait a minute. I thought you worked here."
"Oh, only sometimes. You know the man own this club, he live there. I work for his wife, but the mistress, she don't stay home much. When she go to islands, I've no work. So I work here."
"Genovese makes you do waitress work, because there isn't enough for you to do at the house?"
"No, no. I want to work in club. Of course, Mr. Genovese, he take no accountta what I want, but his man, Bruno, I tell him, he tell Mr. Genovese, so I work here when the mistress's away. Bruno's good to me."
I bet, Hutch thought, identifying Bruno as an ex-fighter who was now one of Genovese's bodyguards. She continued, pointing up at the club, "He say I'm real good, one day I work up there."
"Why would you want to work up there?" he muttered, knowing the answer. Glitter attracted.
"I meet people, maybe stars," she answered predictably.
Hutch kept himself from shaking his head. "What's your name?"
He looked at her disbelievingly. "Come on. Connie?" Looking stubborn, she nodded. "Let me take a wild guess. Consuela?"
Her eyes widened. "How you know?"
"Told you, it was a guess. Besides, I like Consuela. It's very pretty, like you."
She blushed, making Hutch wonder at her reactions. As young as she was, she couldn't be very innocent. Was she really attracted to him? "You call me Consuela, I don't mind."
"Then you can call me Ken. Come on, Consuela, I'll walk you home, but I can't stay. I have an appointment."
She went to get a wrap while he waited, despairing at himself. He was going to lead along a girl young enough to be his daughter, just because she might come handy on the case one day. Sometimes I detest this job.
She came back with a sweater, her brown, shapely legs still very much in sight. He started up the steps into the street, but she pointed down. "I go on beach. There are guards at the gate. They bother me sometimes. You know."
"And none this way?"
"Some, but I know when and where." She skipped down the few steps onto the sand, sat to remove her high-heeled shoes, then looked up at his tidily-suited form. "Maybe you not like this way?"
"What's not to like?" He took off his shoes and socks, turned up the pantlegs. "A walk through the moonlit beach with a pretty girl?" Who can show me the back door to a mobster's home, he continued to himself. "Is this how you were going to sneak me in?"
She looked embarrassed at having proposed to sneak him into a place. "They won't let you in at the gate. You want, I come to your house."
"That's not a good idea."
"No, Consuela, I'm not married, but I do have an appointment I want to keep, so come on."
A little later, she spoke up again. "Tall, blonde, long pretty legs, right?"
He couldn't help laughing. "Tall enough, dark, and his legs are just fine, I guess."
"His?" She sounded disappointed.
"It's a business appointment, Consuela."
"Oh." She didn't take the opportunity to inquire into his business. She had obviously learned not to ask too many questions. In business matters, at least. "You got a girl?"
"Not a steady one, no."
"I see you at the club alla time. No girl."
Evidently, she thought he was just a regular customer of the place. "Enough about me. Tell me about yourself."
She started talking about Mexico, which she had left four years ago. Reading between the lines, Hutch concluded she had grown up in a barrio, and was, more than likely, an illegal alien. She was trying very hard to be an American. He said a few things in Spanish, and while she looked delighted at his knowledge, she kept answering in her accented English.
He studied her, merrily chattering away next to him. Her face wasn't beautiful, but cleansed of the ridiculous make-up, it would be fresh and pleasant. Her ripe, dark-skinned body was something else again. It would broaden and lose tone too early, but right then it was at the peak of bloom, a definite influence on a man's glands, his own no exception. She was unrefined. Years and the wrong kind of experiences might turn her coarse, but she was still young enough to get away with it. He looked for a descriptive word and came up with one that fit perfectly: unadulterated.
"I go this way." She pointed into the shrubbery surrounding the estate.
He couldn't see a convenient opening. "You'll be all right?" he asked, ready to offer to go further.
"Sure. The dogs know me."
That decided him to let her go on. "Okay. I'll see you." She tilted up her face expectantly. Hutch sighed. "How old are you?"
Terrific. She might be even younger, but didn't look as if she'd admit to any more. He lightly kissed her on the temple. "Buenas noches, Consuela."
It was past four o'clock in the morning when Starsky finally arrived at Hutch's 'cover' apartment. "Sorry I'm late. Had to tuck in the Marruzzi baby first."
Exhausted, he threw himself on the couch, then rallied to look at the place he hadn't seen before. It was a roof-top apartment, close to the Marina, little more than a square box, furnished typically for convenience rentals, but Hutch had managed to cram it full of his green parasites. "Couldn't leave the jungle behind, huh?"
"And who was going to water them?"
"See if you can hack a hole through it, buddy, and find me some coffee. I can't keep my eyes open."
Next thing he knew, a hand was shaking him by the shoulder. "Starsky, hey." Hutch was perched on the coffee table, holding out a mug. Starsky struggled to sit up, then reached for the coffee, while he rubbed his eyes with the other hand. "Don't do that." Hutch tugged at his sleeve to pull his hand away. "Your eyes are bloodshot already."
"I can't see worth a damn. And they burn."
"Sure they do. You shouldn't fall asleep with those contacts. Dammit, don't rub. Can't you take them out?"
"No. Can't stay too long." He had a room at the Marina Hotel, and only after he closed the door could he count on not being seen. He blinked until the hazy film lifted as the lenses centered again. "It's okay now."
"So what came up?"
"Coupla things. One, somebody's passin' dirty money at the club. I came across serial numbers too much in sequence, and Linda ran them down for me at Metro. They're from middlin' jobs, mostly."
"Is that strange? I mean, considering everything that goes on at the club."
"If a customer is passin' them, no," Starsky answered. "But there's too much of it floatin' around for that. If somebody in the organization is doin' it, he's in a lotta trouble. I gather a while back there was a big stink because of marked money, so now it's taboo. Sure, they launder money, but only very large amounts, and that goes to Luchese. I don't know the exact details yet, but he's got contacts to send it to Switzerland. Maybe diplomatic pouches or somethin'. Anyway, it all goes into the European market, and maybe a bit of it comes back through tourist trade and bank exchanges, but that's it."
"So what do you want to do about it?" Hutch asked.
"Find out who's contaminatin' Genovese's turf, see if he's open to savin' his skin for a price."
Hutch didn't look too pleased. "Go easy. Remember what Rizzo said about their Code of Silence."
Starsky thought it best to quickly go onto the next subject. "Two, remember a cop named Bauer, from Narco?"
"Sure. That big load confiscated outside the bay last year, two boats' worth of Mexican brown, wasn't that his?"
"Right. And the fiasco afterwards, when it disappeared right out of Property Warehouse."
"Yeah -- hey, wait a minute. That was linked to Gambino."
Starsky hated it when Hutch remembered things that he'd racked his brains for, and just prattled them off. It stole his thunder. "Exactly."
"Nothing proved, though."
"I think Bauer's still tryin' to prove it. Guess where he's spendin' his time lately? He was at the club tonight, damn near on Gambino's lap."
"What!? That's impossible. The commissioner has suspended all undercover investigations in favor of ours."
"Yeah, maybe Bauer don't listen too good."
"He damn well better! I'll call Dobey first thing in the morning and have him pulled off. We certainly don't need to clash with another operation."
"Uh, Hutch, don't be so hasty, huh? What if Bauer's boss doesn't know about it?"
"All the more reason -- " Hutch started.
Starsky cut him off. "No, no, think about it. Last year they almost traced the whole thing to Gambino. Remember what happened then? Bauer's partner got blown away."
"So what are you saying?"
"Hutch, if my partner got killed and I knew who was responsible, what would I care if it was God Almighty himself personally comin' down to tell me to back off? Think I'd listen? Would you?"
"Oh." Hutch stood up, attempted to pace, seemed to find the area too restrictive and sat down again. "Okay, but we can't risk tripping over each other."
"I know, so I wanted to check with you. Think I should just talk to Bauer and -- " He got stopped when Hutch's hand clamped on his wrist.
No! You didn't already go and do it, did you?" Hutch asked.
"I said I came to check with you, whaddaya think?" His wrist was released. "But it's the simplest thing to do. We can cooperate even. Maybe he has something on Gambino. Heaven knows I don't have it. I mean, we're all on the same side."
"Are you sure about that?"
"Aw, come on, Hutch." You'd suspect your own mother, he was about to say, but remembered that his partner hadn't started out that way. If anything, Starsky had been the one with the more suspicious nature then. Through the years, Hutch had become the result of too many lessons learned too well the hard way.
"Come on, nothing! Okay, we don't want to get the man in trouble if he's pulling a Lone Ranger act, but you're not going to bet your life on that, you hear me? Stay out of his way until we find out exactly what he's doing."
That was acceptable enough for Starsky. However, if Bauer was a threat, there was something else to worry about. "Deal, on one condition. Take some days off while I dig."
"Look, I can move around. I can see before I'm seen. I'm behind the scenes. If he steps into the back, you're like a friggin' beacon at that table. Stay away for a while."
Hutch's answer was short, simple, and definite. "No."
"Hutch, you're bein' ridiculous."
"We're in together, we stay together. It's bad enough already. I'm not sitting here going out of my head while God-knows-what happens over there."
Starsky sighed deeply, recognizing an insurmountable obstacle when he saw it. "You know you can blow the whole case with that attitude."
"If I blow it, I blow it. Really, Starsky, don't you know I can't care that much anymore? Say we brought down the whole Marruzzi circus. How many more are out there? What the fucking difference is it going to make in the long run?"
"I can't believe you said that. You, of all people. If that's how you feel, why are you on the case?"
"Do I have to answer that?"
He didn't, but the unspoken answer bothered Starsky. "Hutch, a partner is not a cause. I don't want to be yours."
"Sorry, I'm fresh out of others. You'll have to do."
"Hutch -- "
The blond jumped up, a bundle of nervous energy. "Do you really want to continue this conversation, Starsky? You're not going to like it."
Starsky took a moment to draw in a deep breath and slowly let it out. "Please, Hutch, don't do this to me now. When it's all over, I promise I'll listen to what you have to say, but don't play with my head in the middle of a case."
Hutch seemed to deflate. "You're right, I'm sorry." He sank onto the couch next to his partner. "You do what you have to do and I'll be there -- just don't ask me not to be there." He turned, smiled suddenly, a lively expression coming across his face. "Hey, this is the first chance we got to talk in a month. Tell me, partner, what's new?"
His erratic mood swings were wearing on Starsky's nerves. "Not much. What's new with you?"
"Let's see. I took a walk on the beach tonight with a pretty girl."
"You don't say."
"Yeah. Consuela, works at the club. Not that anything's going to come of it. She's just a kid."
"She's what, five?" Starsky asked at the description.
"Close. Nineteen, she says. For some reason, she likes me."
Starsky thought he might as well contribute to the banter. "Wish Caporetto can say as much."
"He's got a girl. Remember Linda? Solves all your problems."
"All but one," Starsky grumbled.
"Ah. Well, you can try asking nicely."
"No, thanks. There's little enough of my face left to look like me. I don't want it rearranged."
Hutch laughed heartily. "So you tried already." Starsky made a face. "Well, buddy, I have only one solitary suggestion left."
Starsky slapped his partner's arm backhanded. "Solitary bein' the key word, shut up, and join me in a cup of coffee before I gotta go."
He was seeing it through an elongated, dark tunnel, the watcher at one end, the youth at the other, and he was both. He was there and far away at the same time. It was so hot. Sweat ran unchecked down his body. Others cavorted in the cool waters of the lake. He had to sit and wait, no relief from the sweltering heat until his partner came back from break. He was the watcher of others' safety.
It was.... Had been.... Would be...?
Then the call for help came. Over the cacophony of sounds, it called to him. He plunged into the water, a shock to his overheated system. The distance looked so great suddenly, time so scarce, and the worst was knowing he had watched over others but had neglected his own partner. He was terrified of being too late.
When he arrived, there was nobody there. His over-taxed muscles took him into the dark depths. Over and over again. His lungs felt like bursting. Nothing. He came up, called out the familiar name uselessly over the empty stretch of sparkling blue, was ready to burst into tears....
The water broke, his friend's face surfacing, very much alive with merriment.
"You fell for it! You actually fell for it."
He was swimming/walking/running away then, and behind him Jack kept calling out:
"It was a joke. Hey, it was just a joke. Come on, Kenny, it was only a joke."
Suddenly, he was running through the tunnel, and it wasn't dark anymore, but white, cruelly bright and endless, then standing still, looking at some long paper, also white and endless, rolling in/out of his fingers, with only a thin blue tracing running its length, the steady pattern suddenly flattening out --
"It's not a joke," he heard himself whispering as cold machines buzzed around his ears, "Dear God, it's not a joke." The buzzing got louder, became unbearable, making him raise his hands to cover his ears....
The movement awakened him. Hutch became aware that it was late in the afternoon, the small apartment felt like a hothouse, his clothes were sticking to his body, and the phone was ringing. He groped for it. "Yeah?"
His throat was dry, he was short of breath, and couldn't form words.
"Hutch," Starsky's voice came through the wires. "Hutch?"
"I'm here," he managed.
"Hold on." He found the soft drink sitting next to the couch, took a flat, tasteless gulp. "Nothing's wrong. Fell asleep on the couch. I'm getting too old for these long nights."
"Sorry I woke you up, but, buddy, isn't it time to get ready for work?"
Hutch glanced at his watch. "Right," he said, grateful to be awakened, not necessarily only to avoid tardiness. "Why are you calling?"
"I won't be around tonight, and I didn't want you to worry. Sal's having his idea of a party on his boat. Guess who gets to watch over it?"
Starsky growled in place of a response and hung up. Hutch stayed on the couch for a while, the remnants of the dream still with him, wondering at the idiosyncrasies of a human mind. He'd have thought he had totally forgotten the lousy excuse for a joke that Jack had pulled during the summer they had spent as lifeguards at a camp. The last portion of the dream he didn't have to wonder about, used to its surfacing in more variations and more often than he cared to count.
Taking a deep breath, he rose. He needed another shower.
Action was slow on Sundays. Hutch found himself leaving early, grateful for it after the interminable hours he had put in for the three previous nights. He took time to walk down to the beach, not particularly looking forward to getting back to sleep. As soon as he had descended the steps, he noticed he wasn't alone. A figure that had been sitting on the sand a little way down jumped up and ran to him.
He smiled at the Mexican girl, noting she was in jeans and a halter top. "Hello, Consuela. Aren't you working tonight?"
"The mistress back now."
"What are you doing here then?"
"Waiting for you. You mind?"
Despite himself, he was flattered. "Not at all."
"I come every night, but you don't come."
"I was working late," he explained, omitting to specify where.
"You have another appointment?"
"No, not tonight."
"You eat already?"
"Good." Her small hand fitted itself into his, pulling him to where she had been sitting. "I said I fix you food, I fix you food."
"Oh, it's all ready." There was a blanket spread on the sand, under a picnic basket, which she opened, enthusiastic. "But maybe it's cold."
The food wasn't that cold, but it was too spicy for Hutch's taste. He started eating anyway, thinking that Starsky would be the one to appreciate the burritos.
"Yes, very much," he lied. "I also know someone who'll positively fall in love with it. And with you, if you feed him like this." She shrugged, obviously not in the slightest interested in someone else. He continued, "This is very nice, Consuela, and I appreciate it, but please, don't wait around for me every night. I can't show up all the time. Also, I bet you have to get up early in the mornings."
"I don't mind."
"I do. For one thing, I'd hate to think you were waiting for no good reason. For another, the beach gets too dark and empty. It's not safe for you." He reached to hold her by the chin. "Promise you won't make me worry."
"But...how do I see you?"
Why would you want to, he didn't say. Obviously, she did. "If I'm free, I'll leave you a note with the cashier."
Her large eyes asked for assurance, making him feel bad. "Yes, if I can." Some assurance, he thought. "Consuela, if I can't, that's all it means. I just can't." He knew how lame that sounded, and couldn't imagine any woman in his experience letting him get away with it. He would have either been asked to explain himself, or told to go to hell.
Consuela, however, seemed to accept it as a given. "I'll wait," was all she said, making him feel worse, because he knew he'd call on her if he decided she could be useful and forget about her otherwise.
She asked him if he was a native Angelino, and he was explaining that he was just as uprooted as she was, when she decided to lie down, using his leg as a pillow, her abundant hair fanning out over his lap. Hutch couldn't help looking down. From his vantage point, the already brief halter top concealed absolutely nothing, and the denim cloth was covering her carelessly sprawled legs too tightly. The night air started to feel a little too warm to the man.
"Uh, sit up, huh?" He urged her off him with one hand, then felt obligated to invent an excuse for pushing her away. "You're not eating. Here, eat something." He grabbed a burrito, holding it out to her.
Instead of taking it, she covered his hand with one of hers and got her mouth around the food. That didn't do wonders for his blood pressure either. He pried her hand off and transferred the food into her palm, then looked for a napkin to wipe the sauce that had leaked onto his fingers. She took his hand and proceeded to lick it clean.
For a few seconds, he indulged the rising heat in his body, then pulled away brusquely. "Consuela, don't." He found a napkin and cleaned his hand.
"You don't like me?"
"I do!" he snapped, wondered why he was taking it out on the child, softened his voice. "I do, really. I'm afraid of liking you a little too much."
"Consuela, I'm twice your age."
"You are beautiful," she said and totally threw him. "I'm sorry. Maybe a man don't like beautiful, but you are." Her hand reached, stopping a little short of his hair. "Gold. Eyes like sky. Like the angeles I see in church when I'm little."
"Hardly," he choked out, grabbing her by the wrists in a no-nonsense hold. "Not by the longest shot. I'm just a man, a man you don't know at all, wouldn't like too much if you did, one who's far too old for you, and I'm trying very hard to remember that. So cut out the Lolita act."
"Never mind. Look, I like you. For some strange reason, you seem to like me, too, but this isn't a good idea at all, and before -- "
"Ken. Hey, Ken."
Hutch instantly identified Linda's voice calling out to him and turned. She was waving at him from the railing of the club. Forgetting everything else, he jumped up and ran toward her while she hurried down the steps.
"Been lookin' for you. If it wasn't for that hair of yours, I wouldn't've found you either," she said as she approached. "You got company at your place. He called me, tryin' to locate you. Said it wasn't an emergency or anything, but he sounded a little strange to me. I was about to go myself."
While she was talking, Hutch was already bounding up the steps. Only at the top of them he remembered Consuela and glanced back. She was walking away on the beach, a small, dejected figure carrying the basket and dragging the blanket after her. At the moment, he didn't spare her any more thought, except for wishing he had gone straight home instead of wasting time with her.
The apartment was dark. "Starsky?" Hutch called out upon opening the door, squinting into the befoliaged space.
"Why are you sitting in the dark?" He reached for the light switch.
"My eyes -- " his partner cut off and grimaced when Hutch flipped on the overhead light. " -- hurt," he finished, shielding them.
"What's wrong? You look sick."
"I am. To my stomach, mainly. Cut the light, will ya? I've got a headache."
Hutch first turned the light on in the bathroom, then turned it off in the living room, leaving a dim illumination. "How's that?"
"Okay." Starsky sniffled, reached for a kleenex and blew his nose.
"Catching a cold?"
"No," was the terse answer.
"Oh, I see. Couldn't get out of it, huh?"
"There was no way of gettin' out of it, short of swimmin' to shore. They were free-basing it in the cabin. Couldn't breathe without catchin' it and I couldn't stay on the deck. The shape they were in, they could've blown up the boat playin' with the fire. Shit! Where do you keep the aspirin?"
Hutch got him two tablets and handed them over with a glass of water. "Lie down." He took the glass back and sat down on the chair next to the couch "Uh, Starsk, you don't get the sniffles from just breathing in free-based coke," he ventured, tentatively.
"That was later, when Sal 'n me were at his place," Starsky explained freely. "He was doin' lines, as if he hadn't had enough. He was talkin', and I wanted to keep him talkin'. I joined him in a few lines, and he opened up as if he'd found a long-lost brother." Hutch waited for his partner to pass on the information he had gained, but Starsky didn't seem inclined to get on that track. "I don't know what they see in this shit. It's like having a fuckin' cold, 'n I don't know anybody who enjoys that, let alone rush out to get one. What the hell's the attraction, Hutch? Can you explain that to me? I mean, how could anyone with an ounce o' sense -- "
The glass in Hutch's hand, forgotten, somehow slipped out of his fingers. At the sound of it hitting the floor, harmlessly, Starsky caught himself, froze, then jumped up into a sitting position. "Oh, God, I'm sorry. I didn't mean it that way. Hutch, you know that's not what I meant. That was different. I was talking of people who have a choice. I never think of that, Hutch, believe me, I..."
"I do, I do," Hutch interrupted the words rushing out of his partner. It had stung for only a second, then he'd realized that Starsky would have chosen his words more carefully if he had made the connection at all. "Relax, it's all right. So what did Sal open up and say?"
Starsky laced his fingers in his lap, looking like he needed one hand to support the other. "A lot," he mumbled.
"Do I have to guess, or what?"
"You couldn't guess this one -- dear God."
"Okay, okay. Why do I find it hard to say? First of all, Bauer's not a stranger to Sal's crowd. Seems he's a supplier on the side. Small stuff, for pocket change, I guess. I hear he gets better pay from Genovese, for keeping him notified of Vice and Narco operations. He's also on Gambino's payroll. Tips on drugs coming in go to Gambino rather than his own department. If anybody infringes on the organization's turf, well, Bauer pulls them in, all official. Shows himself as a good cop in the process. Nice deal." Starsky looked nauseated.
"Is that what upset you? Aw, partner, don't waste it." Hutch wondered why he wasn't upset, at least mildly surprised, himself. There had been a time when he would have been shocked, now he couldn't even work up a good anger. Disillusions piling up turned one jaded and cynical. "So he's a bad apple, fine. Not the first one we've found. Now that we know...."
Starsky interrupted. "That's not all."
Hutch prompted. "Well? Come on, spit it out."
Starsky finally spoke, sounding like the words were hard to push out and left a bad taste. "He shot his own partner."
Hutch realized there was one area he hadn't become blas頡bout. "What!"
"Obviously, the man was gettin' too close, and Bauer was up to his neck in that drug disappearance."
"Are you sure? I mean, Sal isn't your basic reliable source."
"I know him enough to judge by now. He was there. I got it all in glorious detail." Starsky sighed wearily, then added, impatient with the subject, "Take my word for it."
Hutch knew that unless Starsky was sure beyond any doubt, he couldn't have brought himself even to voice such a charge against an officer in the first place. "Okay. Bauer's got to go. How do we implicate him? Did Sal give you anything that can be traced?"
"On a year-cold trail? Just witnesses. And we know they won't talk, or can't. I won't do. It's only hearsay coming from me."
"How about Sal himself? It wouldn't take much pressure to break him."
"We can't put official pressure on him, Hutch. How? You subpoena him as a witness, there'll be an army of lawyers to make sure he'll stay deaf and dumb. Think Marruzzi's gonna let his grandson be slapped with an accessory charge by opening his mouth? You pull him in on drug possession or something and try to cut a deal, well, he's not an idiot. He knows all he has to do is clam up and grandaddy will take care of it. Besides, try anything of the sort, and there goes my cover along with the rest of the case."
Starsky's voice was dull, and Hutch realized his partner had already been racking his brains for a way to attach the hook to Bauer, obviously to no avail. Neither did the blond see a solution from that angle. "All right. We'll have to work from the other end. Dirt's bound to stick somewhere on him."
"A cop was killed, Hutch. You think they didn't investigate every which way then? Bauer's still free, so what does that say?"
"Well, if we can't get him for that, we'll get him for something else."
Starsky jumped up, seeming unable to contain himself. "The sonuvabitch killed his partner! I want him for that!"
Hutch gently pushed him back into the couch again, realizing that the drug in his system was making the man alternate between depression and fury. "Don't we all? But we may have to settle for what we can get." His main concern at the moment was the threat to their covers. He had to remove Bauer, one way or another. "Think you'll be all right if I showed up only at nights? Well, actually, I don't have to do the investigating myself, but...."
"No, you do it. This is one thing I want done right. I'll be fine." He rubbed his forehead, then shivered. "Damn, why do I feel so lousy?"
Remembering, Hutch felt a sympathetic reaction stir in himself. "You're coming down, babe," he answered softly. "You didn't take in much, so it shouldn't be bad the first time. I think you can just sleep it off. Can you stay?"
"Yeah, guess so."
"Go take those lenses out and I'll open out the couch."
Hutch was tiptoeing around his partner curled up in a ball, thinking him already asleep, when Starsky murmured: "I don't understand.... How can anyone -- ? His partner, can you explain to me how...Hutch...I can't understand...." Then he seemed to drift off finally.
Why do we have to keep going on like this, the blond wondered, caught in circumstances beyond our understanding? Why? Can you explain that to me?
"Mr. Genovese, were you looking for me?" Starsky asked, sticking his head into the club owner's plush office.
"Yes, Capo. Come in."
Starsky closed the door behind him, gritting his teeth. Sal had started it by truncating his assumed name, and others had picked it up. Now, it seemed, so had Genovese. No doubt they all thought it complimentary since "capo" meant 'captain' to them, an enviable rank that Caporetto didn't yet qualify for. However, to a Jew it meant Kapo -- the worst kind of traitor -- and was anything but complimentary.
Genovese rifled through some envelopes on his desk, pulling one out and handing it to the detective. Starsky opened it, wondering why Valenti, who was also in the room working on something with Genovese, looked daggers at him. He glanced at the gilt-edged invitation. "From...Mr. Marruzzi? For me?" he sputtered, genuinely astonished.
"Congratulations," Valenti grumbled, nothing but asperity in his voice.
"It's an annual event," Genovese explained. "Salvatore's birthday."
"Sal's got a birthday comin' up?"
"Salvatore, not Sal. Nobody has ever called Salvatore by a nickname."
Starsky caught on, but it didn't make any sense. "You mean...Sal's father? But isn't -- I mean, isn't he dead?"
"One thing has nothing to do with the other," Genovese said sternly. "Remember that." He studied Starsky's confusion and seemed to conclude that more explanations were in order. "Sit down. We'll pick this up later, Jack," he dismissed Valenti. The man huffily strode out of the room, and Genovese continued, "This party is for close family members, closest business associates, and very few friends."
"Then why am I -- " Starsky started, but Genovese cut him off.
"Sal seems to be attached to you. Obviously, Mr. Marruzzi wishes no meet his grandson's...'friend.' You work for me, and I don't intend to be disappointed by your behavior, so I'll fill you in. Salvatore Marruzzi was truly his father's son -- a pezzonovante, understand?"
Starsky had heard the word used before. It seemed to mean A Real Man, and was the highest compliment that could possibly be paid in these circles. He nodded as respectfully as the occasion evidently called for.
"Have you heard of the Infamante War, oh, ten years ago?"
The detective knew that it had exploded all over LA when he was just out of the Academy. The body count had been staggering, worse even than the time when 'designer' drugs had hit the junkie population of the city. Through his recent interest, he had learned that Marruzzi's son had been among the massacred that had had to be scraped off the streets. It had raged so mercilessly that the press had labeled it The Infamante War. Whys and wherefores were still mostly unknown to the police. "Some," he hedged. "It was before my time, 'n we tend to keep to ourselves in New York."
"The Tramonti Family instigated it," Genovese said. Starsky remembered reading in the files that a small, struggling outfit headed by the Tramonti clan had put itself on the endangered list by encroaching on Marruzzi's bookie runners and drug dealers, basically harassing and stealing from them. Genovese continued: "We used to do them favors at one time, if they needed change. There was a mix-up with the cash flow and the wrong change was given, quite inadvertently, but the Tramontis thought we wanted to push them out of business."
Starsky translated that to mean that the Marruzzi organization had laundered illegally-gained money for the Tramontis and someone had screwed up badly enough to replace dirty money with more of the same. The small family wouldn't have been thrilled when they had tried spending the money they had paid dearly for and thought clean.
"Mr. Maruzzi is an understanding and scrupulous man. He would have gladly reimbursed them and more for the inconvenience, but they didn't ask; they started taking. Things escalated, well, got out of hand. Still, he was generous. As a show of goodwill, he sent his son to negotiate, to stop the senseless killing. Salvatore never came back from that meeting."
Genovese didn't continue the narrative, but he didn't have to. Starsky could follow the scenario very well from then on. Swiftly and mercilessly, the Tramonti family was extinguished. He also understood why marked money wasn't tolerated anymore in the organization.
"Salvatore isn't forgotten, won't ever be forgotten. In this family, we keep The Faith."
The detective heard the capitalizations clearly, and concluded than in this family "faith" was what Marruzzi decreed it should be. If the old man wanted his son's birthday acknowledged even after his death -- well, people still celebrated Christmas after two thousand years, didn't they? Surely Marruzzi could commandeer a measly ten. Who'd dare argue with him?
"Being invited is an honor," Genovese pointed out.
Starsky tried to look suitably honored. "Anything I should, uh, do? Specifically?"
"Yes, stay very close to Sal. He mustn't embarrass himself or anybody else at the party. I'll see that his house gets a thorough cleaning today. See that he doesn't dirty it up."
Starsky translated some more. The young man would be deprived of drugs until after the party. "Mr. Genovese, you cut Sal off like that, and he'll just be a gibbering wreck for the big occasion."
"No, no. We'll keep him at maintenance level. He'll get enough. Just enough, no more. His doctor will be staying with him for a while. So will you, to make sure Sal doesn't try to push the man around or sneak away."
Oh, great, Starsky thought, house arrest and I'm the warden. That ought to be interesting. "Yes, sir," he said. "I'll do my best."
Cesare Marruzzi's house -- mansion, Starsky corrected -- was very different from the residences of his grandson or Genovese. Sal kept a beach house, opposite the Marina from the club, made up of expanses of strangely-angled white, rough-textured plaster walls, chrome and glass, unpredictably split-leveled here and there and everywhere, furnished sparingly in stark black relieved only by abstract paintings and pillows in primary colors. Genovese's house was a sprawling villa that looked uprooted from some South Mediterranean cliff-top, pillars, arches, wrought-iron decorations and long marbled walkways inside and outside, feeling, to Starsky, more like a classy monastery than anything else.
Marruzzi's dwelling was the first he had seen that fit his image of a mobster's lair. The same road that ran along the front of the Marina led up a hill where the imposing house sat. All the VIPs of the organization lived close to the padrone. This house crouched in the middle of high walls and well-tended grounds, three stories of ivy-drowned dark-red brick, wood shutters, and massive, intricately carved doors. Starsky didn't know what it looked like inside; the party was set on the lawn, on and around lace-covered tables under temporary canopies, catered by waiters more numerous than the guests, with more food and drink than an army could consume in one afternoon.
More people were in attendance than Starsky had figured from Genovese's description of the affair. He realized Italian families tended to be big, and one close friend meant at least half a dozen extensions. With some surprise, he noted the young children dashing about, heedless of damage to the finery they had been stuffed into. Wishing he could be as careless with his own monkey-suit, he wondered why he was surprised. Most men in the organization were married, and that naturally involved wives, children, and grandchildren. It was just that he'd never considered them anything but adversaries to pit himself against, almost like the flat cartoon figures that popped out on targets at the firing range. It was profoundly disturbing to see, instead, actual human beings with loves and loyalties.
Children got rowdy in one corner. Someone chided while others ignored them. Somebody laughed at a joke. Another called out a greeting. A child fell, got consoled. Two friends hugged. A man put an arm around a woman. A young girl kissed an old man who patted her hair affectionately. Two young people ducked behind a large potted fern.
Stop that! Scolding himself that here was the opportunity to meet and become familiar to his targets, Starsky isolated the key figures. He shouldn't have much interest in the rest of the crowd. However, a small representative claimed his attention by running into his legs and wrapping his pudgy self around them to keep from falling. The detective leaned over and helped steady him.
Four chubby, and somewhat grimy, fingers were held up into his face. "I'm fouw yeaws old," he was informed most solemnly by the miniature person who didn't seem to have a handle on the letter 'r.' "I was thwee," the fingers attempted to give form to that number as well, but weren't yet coordinated enough, "now I'm fouw."
"That's terrific," he answered with matching sobriety, but couldn't help giving a gentle whack to the small, rounded bottom as he sent the boy off onto the more important concerns of four year olds.
"That's Mario Luchese," Sal said from beside him. "Uncle Vito's great-grandson."
"Cute kid," Starsky commented, watching the boy get swept up by a harried-looking woman and carried into his great-grandfather's circle.
"Want a drink?" Sal asked, indicating yet another waiter who had materialized next to them.
Starsky accepted one, if only to avoid more waiters for a while. So far, he'd stayed away from the liquor, since Sal wouldn't accept any for himself. Again, the young man refused. He was obviously determined to be on his best behavior, which was, to put it mildly, astonishing compared to his usual lifestyle. Following his aimlessly wandering charge through the grounds, Starsky studied Sal. Except for the first day or so, and a few expected but mercifully brief outbursts since then, he had gritted his teeth and gone through the partial dry-out, as if he also didn't want to disappoint his grandfather. Today, he was acting almost normal.
A shame and waste he wouldn't stay clean. He was a pleasant and companionable young man, and beautiful enough to stand out even in this city of the beautiful. His hair, combed neatly for a change, was a mane of burnished copper, swept back high from a widow's peak and streaked silver by the sun. The eyes, cat-like with their tilted tips and lighter-than-hazel color framed by startlingly dark lashes, still held a slightly unfocused look. But now they showed enough intelligence in their depths to compel one to see the classical lines of the face. He was on the thin side and a little too delicately built for a man, but in the white tuxedo he looked more than presentable.
"I feel strange bein' here and hardly knowin' anybody," Starsky said.
"Come on, I'll introduce you around," Sal offered readily. "We'll start with Uncle Vito."
They headed for Vito Luchese, sitting in a peacock chair, well-propped by pillows, now holding little Mario on his lap, plainly much to the disgust of the child who was squirming to be off after better things. The man was quite old and had something about him that commanded respect; Starsky found himself almost bowing to shake hands. Within the bald, skeletal-thin form, the detective knew, lived a high-level manipulator, the man who looked after the organization's interests in political and judicial circles, but within minutes he found himself conversing with an amiable grandfather. When he realized, uncomfortably, that he was enjoying himself, he decided it was time to move on.
"Uncle Vito is Grandfather's best friend," Sal filled him in. "They grew up together, fought in something or another in the Old Country. They couldn't be closer if they were twin brothers. His health is failing, and Grandfather is terrified of losing him. Wants him to retire and take it easy, but Uncle Vito won't even consider it until Grandfather retires himself. That would've happened a long time ago if Father had lived. As it is, I'm the only heir -- imagine that."
Sal introduced him to Joseph Labruzzo, whom most big corporations of the city feared because he held too many labor union strings, including those of the movie industry. He was an utterly average man. His wife, Marruzzi's younger daughter, was as ordinary looking as her husband. The older Marruzzi daughter, on the other hand, was striking. Taller than most of the men around, large-boned and angular in a masculine way, in her late forties, she was by no means pretty and had never been, but beauty seemed irrelevant in her presence. She was a lot older than her husband, Stefano Gambino, a handsome man barely forty years of age, and seeing them interact, Starsky got the feeling that their nuptial bliss mainly consisted of spectacular fireworks resulting from the clash of two indomitable personalities.
"We call her Aunt Valkyrie," Sal confided, on their way from one group to another. "Too bad she couldn't manage being born a boy, or she'd be running the show now. Grandfather had a fit when she married Gambino, which is probably why she married him in the first place. He did it because it was the quickest way to the top. Family is family, even though I think Grandfather has everything he touches in this house sterilized. I was very young, but I still remember how Father and Grandfather used to fight over whether or not they should open up to narcotics. Grandfather considered it too dirty a business. Father argued that nothing was going to keep it from being the major commodity and it was do or die for the family. He won and brought Gambino in."
The young man studied his hands, which were none too steady, thrust them back into his pockets out of sight, laughed and continued ironically. "Grandfather probably figures I'm his fitting punishment from God for giving in -- and maybe I am, although I find it hard to imagine myself as the instrument of anybody's wrath. Somebody's sense of the absurd, maybe. Still, I can just see all three of us, our Unholy Trinity, in hell one of these days, Grandfather pointing me out to Father and saying, 'Take a good look at your son -- are you proud of yourself now?'"
Starsky had been aware of Sal's capacity for self-deprecating humor. In fact, it had been the only thing that had kept the young man's constant company from being a drudge. Now that he was seeing Sal as sober as he was ever likely to be, he could hear the pain underlying the caustic comments. Don't start going soft, he chided himself, feeling a vague sympathy stir inside. It's just a job. No more. You're not here to save lost souls.
Meeting the last caporegime, it was, thankfully, easy to keep in mind that he was only a cop at work. Frank Colombo, who ran bookie and protection rackets, was as unsavory a character as his occupation implied. With no connection to the family, he had clawed his way up from the gutter and still stank of it, and no amount of refinement bought by hard cash could be tailored to fit him. Coarse, he looked like a scavenger nipping at the edges of civilization. But Luchese was as respectable as an aged college professor, and the others filled the spectrum in between. And what about the young man at Starsky's side -- villain, villain, who's got the villain? The edges are blurring, Hutch, can you help?
The introductions seemed to be over, but there were still some men to one side, looking ill-at-ease and out of place in clothes that spoke of lower or maybe middle class at best. Starsky saw nothing familiar about them.
"Oh, those are just supplicants." Sal dismissed them. "They want something or another from Grandfather, and they're in luck, because he never refuses a favor asked on his son's birthday."
"What if it's something he can't..." Starsky thought better and reworded, "...doesn't want to do?"
Sal chuckled, making Starsky glance at him worriedly. There was a certain mindless, brittle sound to Sal's laughter at the best of times. The hastily applied veneer was showing cracks, and Starsky hoped the festivities weren't going to last too long. "Well, there's a limit to Grandfather's generosity. Brasi, that's his consigliere, first screens the applicants and admits only those Grandfather feels inclined to accept."
"In other words, they already know the favors will be granted."
"Sure, but they still have to supply the proper groveling. You wouldn't deprive an old man of his little pleasures, would you? God's supposed to know every thought in your head, but he still expects you to get on your knees to ask him to intercede, right?" Sal checked his watch. "And he'll be coming down Olympus any minute. We should get in line."
Starsky noted that there was a general drift toward the stairs which led down from the front door. Luchese was already installed at the foot of them, still in his large chair. The rest seemed to be jockeying for prearranged positions. That was when Starsky saw that Luigi was among the guests, wondered again what this man was who didn't even have a measly traffic ticket to his name.
Having no idea where he fit in the order of things, Starsky let Sal guide him to an appropriate spot. He wound up at Sal's side, who stood second only to Luchese and his clan. Obviously, appearances had to be maintained and Sal, however unworthy a son he appeared to be, was occupying the spot that would have been his father's. However, the young man didn't look very comfortable there. He wiped the perspiration off his upper lip, took some deep breaths. "You all right?" Starsky asked him quietly.
"I'll hang in there. Just stay with me, okay?"
"Sure, kid, I'm right here," Starsky assured with a pat on the thin arm, vaguely irritated that the sincerity in his voice was no pretense. Why not, he thought. He could've been my brother. After all, the one I've actually got doesn't exactly make the chest swell with pride, either, so why the hell not? As long as I don't let it interfere with the job, what's the harm?
A few minutes later, the massive doors opened, and closely followed by Brasi Fontane, his consigliere, Cesare Marruzzi descended the steps. The padrone would never see his seventieth birthday again. He wasn't tall, only about 5'8" or so, but gave the impression of being taller, and was almost impossibly solid for his age. The skin tones were totally different, but Starsky could see the family resemblance between Sal and the grandfather. The same high forehead, the rich mane of hair, silver in the old man's case, the classically chiseled features -- except Marruzzi looked carved out of dark granite, and Sal out of fragile alabaster.
Marruzzi stopped in front of Luchese, kept him from rising with a soft touch on the man's shoulder, then leaned to hug him. Cheeks were kissed in the old-country tradition, but affectionately, and Starsky was struck by how tangible the caring was between the two old men. Us one day, Hutch?
Sal also got hugged and kissed, but the contact seemed uneasy. Marruzzi stepped back to study his grandson who fidgeted restlessly. "I hear you haven't gone back to church." Fidgeting became a definite squirm. "Go back. A man needs the Church," Marruzzi said firmly, then added in a pointed way, "Or else, he needs to have a good woman to intercede for him. You must decide soon."
The old man's attention shifted to Starsky. He didn't seem to need an introduction. "Mr. Caporetto," he acknowledged, extending his hand. "I've been remiss. Belatedly, I welcome you. How do you like our city?"
The detective found his hand in a firm grip, himself pinned by the man's dark eyes. "The city -- " he started, paused, somehow intimidated by the intent gaze, then collected himself. "Sorry, the City will always mean New York to me. This one'll take some more getting used to."
"I trust you'll find yourself able to do so. Mr. Genovese tells me you're a promising employee. I gather he would like to keep you. How are you settling in?"
"I'm getting there. Had to learn the business all over, and it's not easy to settle in a hotel room, but I'm quite -- "
"A hotel room?"
"Yes, at the Marina."
"All this time you have been living out of a hotel room? What kind of welcome have we given you? Our cousins in New York must have expected better of us."
"Oh, it's not so -- "
"Nonsense. A man shouldn't live like a gypsy." Marruzzi picked Genovese out of the crowd. "Carlo, this is disappointing. See to it Mr. Caporetto finds a place fit for a man, not an itinerant harvest picker."
"It's not easy, sir. I'd like to have him close to the club and accommodations in the area aren't -- "
Marruzzi overrode him. "I'm sure it won't tax your considerable resources."
Sal spoke up for the first time. "He can...uh, stay with me," he ventured tentatively, then seemed to find the notion appealing. "Yes, I don't know why I didn't think of it before, Capo, but you're with me a lot anyway, so -- "
"Capo?" Marruzzi cut in, making Starsky wonder if anybody got to finish sentence before the man. "Is that what you call your friend?"
Sal was flustered again. "Uh, yes...I just...."
"I suppose that's what my grandson considers an expedient abbreviation of your name, Mr. Caporetto. What do you consider it?"
"Excuse me, what?"
"Capo is a title you don't have a claim to."
Starsky wondered if he should sound modest or ambitious, but Sal interfered before he could decide. "It doesn't mean anything, Nonno. He didn't ask to be called that. I just did, that's all. I didn't think."
The old man's look spoke volumes about actions without thought. "Choose another form of address, piccino," he ordered, and turned to the detective. "No reflection, Mr. Caporetto, but titles have to be earned."
Starsky nodded with appropriate servility. Well, that got rid of the lousy nickname, he decided, and one day you'll find out my real title is 'Sergeant.'
Marruzzi continued down the line, welcoming visitors. Greetings over, he came back to help Luchese to his feet, and they proceeded to the table. It was the signal for the seating to commence. Starsky once more found himself close to the center of things, by virtue of Sal's presence. He noted the utensils that seemed to stretch a mile on the sides of his plate, some totally baffling. He grimaced. A knife cut, one fork or spoon got the food where it had to go, thank you. Hands didn't do a mean job, either. So why these big productions?
He would never understand the mind-set, but he knew it was intrinsic to Marruzzi's lifestyle. The man wasn't a poor immigrant who'd fought tooth and nail for his pot of gold on this side of the ocean. He came from a rich and powerful -- albeit just as lawless -- family back in the Old Country, sent to the New World to get away from feuds, where he'd built an empire, first on the East Coast, then in LA.
A plate of antipasto was placed in front of the detective. Eeny-meeny-miny-mo, he went in his head, eyeing the array. In this one instance, it was too bad that Rizzo hadn't been tall and blond.
Dobey's expression had been growing morose. It hadn't been too sunny to start off with after being dragged away from more pleasant weekend activities. He glared at Hutch once the blond had had his say. "That's it?" he asked.
"I'm afraid so."
The black man leaned back and heaved a great sigh that blended with his chair's groan. "What do you expect from me? Tell you what, you point to what I can do and I'll do it."
"I don't know, Captain. That's why I'm here. I've been pounding the pavement for a week now. Bauer stinks to high heaven, but nobody's willing to put a lid on him. They're scared of the man; he's a double-edged sword. Maybe if the department takes the first step, someone will feel secure enough to open up. Something has to be done. For the sake of all that's decent, for starters. And the man is a danger to us, to the whole operation."
Impatiently, Dobey tugged at the collar of his golf shirt. "Remember a trifling matter of evidence? Or even probable cause? Did I miss it somewhere or am I right in thinking you have nothing but a junkie's word to go on? Hearsay, at that!"
Hutch tried to contain his own impatience. "Starsky believes it. I believe Starsky."
"And I believe both of you, but what does that get us except a mutual admiration society?"
"Something has to be done," Hutch repeated stubbornly.
Dobey studied his desk top with a scowl, then shook his head irritably. "Bauer's not even my man, so I can't tighten the leash on him for no good reason. You know what's been happening at Narco. Up until a year ago, it was a sewer. One captain and three lieutenants got fired for incompetence. How many went up on charges? The new captain, well, he's been proud as a peacock of his shiny house since he cleaned it. With his record, Bauer's the apple of his eye. He won't want to hear this unless I have something solid to give him." He raised a hand to stop Hutch from arguing. "All right, I know it's important, so never mind solid. I'll settle for anything, a second bank account, extravagant spending, anything."
"You think I haven't tried, Captain? He's as cagey as they come. I suspect a fat bank account exists in Mexico somewhere, but I don't think he's touching it. How do I get to it without at least a subpoena? If I didn't have to stay with my cover, I'd stick to him around the clock and sooner or later we'd get the drop; as it is...."
"All I can say is keep digging. As much as you can. The commissioner's out of town, but I'll talk to him as soon as he gets back. Maybe he can instigate something from the top."
The blond rose. "So until then, we live with it. Is that what you're saying?" Dobey made an open-palmed gesture. Hutch whirled on his heels and headed for the door.
"Hutchinson, for all purposes, you're holding down two full-time jobs. Go a little easy on yourself. Get some rest."
"I'll be fine, Captain," Hutch snapped, half inside the door and half outside.
Starsky was stuffed. The food had been good, but that was his only gain. Small talk had dominated, even when the men Sal referred to as 'supplicants' had placed their woes at the padrone's feet. Marruzzi had only commiserated, period. Not a word had passed that could be considered remotely incriminating.
The old man had mostly talked to Luchese -- and that in Italian -- or his consigliere, Fontane. He'd paid little attention to his grandson, except for periodically telling him to, "Mangiare, mangiare." In obedience, Sal had eaten more than Starsky had ever seen him eat. Caporetto had rated more attention. Belatedly, he gave Hutch thanks for grilling Rizzo so thoroughly and making him memorize everything down to the personal details. He couldn't have made it through this day without Hutch's earlier bull-headedness.
Not a word about the macabre occasion for the gathering had been said, and the detective had almost forgotten it himself. But he now saw numerous presents being piled up on a table. Is it time to get weird, he wondered, gifts for a dead man? Shortly, though, he realized he was mistaken, when at a signal from Poppa Marruzzi, the children happily rushed there, sorted through, tugged at, shouted over, and tore into the packages. That's not bad, he thought. Kinda nice, in fact. Fitting, in a way.
Marruzzi sat, eyeing the boisterous tableau with an indulgent smile, a wistful expression, then he rose, causing everybody to follow suit. "What now?" Starsky wanted to know.
"A walk through the grounds, the visit to the greenhouse," Sal supplied, trying to grab the chair that had tilted too far back when he got up.
Starsky quickly righted it, held Sal by the elbow. "Okay?"
"Yes." He leaned closer to the detective. "My hands, were they shaking too bad?"
"You did fine. Anyway, he knows, right?"
"Of course, he does. He knows everything. But appearances have to be maintained, as he would say." Sal studied the garden path Marruzzi was leading his flock up. Starsky had seen drunks do that, as if they had to chart a course and plan their strategy before they embarked on the venture of getting from one place to another. Sal seemed to find it within his capacity and pulled out of his steadying hold. "Come on."
The greenhouse was a huge, glassed-in extension of the back of the house, rows and rows of familiar and exotic flora, of which Marruzzi seemed extremely proud. He was clearly showing off. Starsky thought it was a shame Hutch couldn't see the place. The blond would be in horti-whatever's paradise. Starsky, on the other hand, felt stifled. It was a feast for the eyes, sure, but it was also hot and humid, and the overwhelming fragrances threatened to bring on a headache.
"Poor Nonno," Sal said softly.
Starsky regarded him incredulously. "Poor? I don't see anything poor about your grandfather."
"Look at him. These are his babies, his pride. Look at me. Where it counted, his seed didn't take root quite right."
"Easy, Sal. We're not here to live up to anybody's expectations, except our own." The young man could certainly use better expectations of his own, but Starsky wasn't sure if it would do any good to say that.
Marruzzi called everybody into the house. Starsky took a few steps, noticed Sal wasn't keeping up, turned to see he had gone sickly pale. "What's wrong?" he asked, approaching, seeing beads of perspiration pop out all over the face.
Sal shook his head as if coming out of a daze. "God, I can use a -- nothing, let's go."
Following the crowd, they wound up in a viewing room. Seats were lined up facing a projection screen. He took one next to Sal, accepting a drink from one of the ever-circulating waiters. Sal refused again, although he looked like he wanted one, could use one.
Light went out, a machine whirled. Old home movies took over the screen. Grainy, scratched, jumpy, they started a silent chronicle. It took Starsky a while to identify the participants in the pastoral family settings.
Marruzzi had been a very handsome young man, his wife plain, stocky, solid. The infant boy had to be Salvatore, a miniature copy of his father, obviously pampered like royalty. In the later frames, Starsky couldn't decide which little girl was which of the daughters he had met.
The quality of the pictures improved, and Salvatore was a young man, energy seeming to radiate from him even in the flat images. Movie clips got interspersed with slides, wedding scenes showed up. Starsky realized Sal had gotten his coloring and delicacy from his mother, a beautiful but somehow timid-looking woman. He followed Sal's appearance on the scene, watched him grow from a charming baby to an awkward boy of about ten.
This much concession to memories, I can take, he was thinking, and wasn't prepared for what followed. One picture was brightly colored, three generations of Marruzzi men smiling at something or another, and the next one was in stark black and white, instantly bringing to mind the countless photos of violence that paraded through his desk, courtesy of the crime lab. No, he realized, it must've been taken by a news photographer, acquired later -- for this? It was hard to recognize the mutilated, blood-covered body as anyone or anything, but he knew it was the last frozen image of Marruzzi's beloved son.
For a drawn-out instant more, the image stayed, then was gone with a click of the machine that sounded jarringly loud, got replaced by a bright rectangle, and that too was gone. The room stayed silent and dark. When the lights came back on, Marruzzi had left.
Shaken, Starsky cast a glance at the grandson who had sat and watched this -- probably had been watching for ten years and would go on watching it every year until the old man died. Sal looked ready to pass out. And no wonder, Starsky thought, pressing his drink into the young man's unsteady fingers. "Take a sip," he encouraged, supporting the glass to Sal's mouth until he was sure there was a firm hold on it. Then he found Genovese in the crowd.
"Can Sal leave now? I don't think he can take much more."
Genovese glanced over the detective's shoulder, not bothering to hide an expression of disgust. "Never gets used to it," he said disparagingly.
What Genovese seemed to consider a shortcoming of manhood was exactly what had stirred sympathy in Starsky. Maybe even empathy. He opened his mouth, but Sal was at his elbow, preempting him. "May I have some... now...please?" Sal looked like a refusal would be the last straw.
Genovese dug into the briefcase he always carried, and Starsky saw relief all over Sal's face. But the man only took out a sheaf of papers, stuffed them into an envelope. "I have a meeting. Be a good boy and take these to my safe." He held them out, as if totally unaware of what Sal wanted. Starsky flinched at the small cruelty. Genovese closed the briefcase with one hand. "You can go now."
"Will I find...any in the safe?"
"Of course not," Genovese snapped. "In my home?"
"Where then? When? When?" Sal insisted, the desperation of craving in his voice raising an echo and cutting into Starsky's heart.
"Maybe tomorrow. Say, about noon. Or afternoon."
"Carlo, I can't! I can't wait. For the love of -- please!"
Genovese grabbed Sal's arm roughly, turning the threatening hysteria into a plaintive whimper. "Stop your whining! Can't you stay clean for one night out of respect for your father? Can't you at least pretend to be a man under your grandfather's roof? You make me sick. Get him out of my sight," he ordered Starsky, letting go of Sal's arm as if it was something odious. "See that he puts the envelope in my safe. Take him home and make sure he stays there until tomorrow."
Without a word, Starsky took the envelope, put it in Sal's pocket, and led the young man away. "Please, please, please," he was sobbing as the detective found a bathroom and pushed him inside.
"Come on, Sal, don't beg. It ain't gonna help, so at least don't beg. Wash your face, get yourself together. I'd like to see you walk out of here, not crawl."
Sal dipped his face into a sinkful of water. Quickly, Starsky grabbed a towel to wipe his face before the water dripped down his suit. "Thank you," the young man remembered to say. In whatever shape, he hardly ever forgot the little courtesies. Someone had raised him right at one point. "Can you get me something?" he asked, hopefully.
"I can't, Sal, you know that. But I'll stay with you if it helps."
The whining tone was back. "You can get some, you can. I need it. Bad. Plea -- " Suddenly, he stopped himself from begging anymore. "You'll stay?" he asked instead.
"Sure. Ready to leave?" He got a nod, and offered, "Need an arm?"
Sal reached, then pulled back. "Walk, huh?"
He's not a total loss, Starsky thought, following. He wondered if anything in there was salvageable, while at the same time he tried to remind himself he was a cop on a case, not a social worker. It didn't quite work.
Sal had driven them earlier. Now he was in no shape to drive and aware of it; he handed the keys to the detective. Before he started the brand-new Jaguar, Starsky took some seconds to luxuriate in the contoured seat. Custom-made, flawless black body, low and sleek, streamlined, rich burgundy interior -- the car was a beauty. He turned it on, heard the smooth, deep rumble, felt its leashed power go through him.
"You like this car, don't you?" Sal asked.
"Like it?" he caressed the steering wheel, put the Jag into drive and heard the sound change into a soft roar. "It's the most beautiful machine I've ever handled." The car was so responsive it took barely fingertip touches to maneuver it. "Beautiful," he repeated.
"I said keep it."
"I heard. You can't be serious."
"I have another car."
Starsky shook his head. "Beside the point. Come on, Sal, don't be ridiculous."
"I want you to have it. All I'm going to do is to wreck it one day. You like it, it's yours."
"Sure I like it, but that don't mean I'll accept it."
"No, really, why not? Usually people can't wait for me to give them things. This time, I want to. You put up with enough from me, so -- "
"Uh-uh," Starsky cut him off. "If you're talkin' about compensations, forget it. Some things ain't for sale." He realized he sounded gruff and softened his tone. "Besides, you've got it, kid, so you don't have to buy it. You don't have to give me things to make me like you."
"Do you?" Sal whispered after a beat.
"I do," the detective admitted, to himself as well as to Sal.
"Why? I mean, I'm just a job Genovese gave you, right?"
"Well, at first, yes. Not anymore. And if you're interested, I don't get a bonus from Genovese, either."
"So...does that mean we're...friends?"
Starsky found a need to consider before he answered. It was easy to feed people lines. Sincerity required consideration. "That's not a simple thing, Sal. It takes time, work." And honesty, he reminded himself. And trust. How much can I honestly give you? "But I'm willin' to start workin' on it if you are."
He turned into the short drive that led to Genovese's villa, got waved in by the guard at the gate, and stopped in front of the house.
"You mean it?" Sal asked as if there hadn't been a pause.
"Nobody -- I mean, I never really -- I mean, I accept." The words sounded shy.
"Great. Come on, let's put the thing in the safe and get you home." The young man was visibly shaking and sweating, although he still seemed to have a pretty firm hold on himself.
"Please, you accept the car, huh? It's a present."
Starsky sighed impatiently. "Will you quit it with the car? I like presents, but in their place. And fitting ones. This ain't it. Something like this, I have to earn all by myself, or it'll be too expensive, you know what I mean?" Sal looked befuddled. Starsky smiled at him. "Never mind, kid. It's just that I'm old enough and experienced enough to know that you take something not rightfully yours, and there'll be no pleasure left. The price tag just won't be worth it."
He got out of the car and went to open the passenger door when Sal didn't readily join him. "Comin'?"
The young man kept staring at him. "You're wrong."
"No, I'm not. You'll understand one day. Come on."
Sal shook his head, still in the car. "No, you are wrong. You don't fit. You...you act...and think differently. You don't belong here, with us."
And you've picked one hell of a time to go perceptive on me, kid. "Of course, I'm different," he gruffly brushed it aside. "I'm a New Yorker; they break the mold each time they make one of us. And don't go thinkin' I'm a saint, 'cause I ain't, and that you'll also understand one day." Which is only the God's honest truth, he thought. I'll keep on using you, and the only thing I can promise you is that I'll try and not break you in the process. "Come in. let's get this over with."
Finding himself in Genovese's study for the first time, Starsky wondered if he could get rid of Sal for a while to look around. In the next breath, Sal gave him the opportunity. He looked from his hands to the combination lock on the safe and said, "I can't. Here, you do it." He handed over the envelope and sank in a chair, reeling off the combination. Starsky memorized it.
Taking a brief look, Starsky placed the envelope inside and closed the safe. He knew how to get back into it. "Let's go. You need rest."
"I need more than that."
"Not today, I'm sorry." By then Sal seemed to need support, so he hauled the man up.
"I can make it," Sal weakly protested, half-hearted.
"It's all right, kid. I know it's gettin' rough. Lean on me."
Sal apologized for the umpteenth time when Starsky brought him back to bed after another bout with vomiting. "Don't worry about it," Starsky said, wiping the pale face with a towel, feeling a sense of deja-vu. "I know very well it's like."
"You...you know? You too...? You've been...?" Sal's teeth were chattering and he couldn't talk clearly.
Starsky tucked the covers around him, although he knew nothing was going take away the chill until the episode passed on its own. So cold, so cold, Hutch had kept repeating despite all Starsky's attempts to warm him. "Not personally, no," he answered the fragmented question. "But close enough. Maybe even closer."
"Wh -- what?"
"Never mind. Hey, think you can sleep for a while?"
"No...please...stay. Talk...talk to me. It hurts."
"Take it easy." He perched on one side of the bed, felt it vibrate with the young man's uncontrollable shaking. "Tell you what, you try and talk to me, get your mind off it."
"Actually, kid, you're makin' more sense now than when you're floatin'. Come on, if we're gonna be friends, we gotta talk."
"Capo, I -- Oh, can't call you that.. anymore."
"Call me Da -- " What's the harm, huh, genius? You should know better. Let your emotions get involved and it's goddamned easy to screw up. "Tony," he quickly amended.
Sal was in no shape to notice. "Tony, it hurts."
"I know, but wrong subject. Tell me, is the program for this 'birthday party' the same every year?"
Something inside Starsky twisted with pity -- and a sense of kinship. "I was also thirteen when my father was killed," left his mouth. Shit! That didn't jibe with Caporetto's fictional parentage. I'm going to blow this. He tried to cover up. "Say, you're gonna start goin' back to church like your grandfather asked?"
It was hard to distinguish a head shake from the rest of the shaking. "Hy...pocri...sy. I don't know how...he does it. I...I can't."
Starsky decided that there were a lot of things the old man could do that were beyond Sal. Maybe that was what had sent him into the oblivion of drugs. Maybe he'd been also terrified of sharing his father's fate one day. "Well then, your choice seems to be to find a nice girl to marry. That sounded like an order to me."
"All I'm good for...he thinks. I'm no good, so maybe I can, you know, give him another." Suddenly, he convulsed, making gaspy barks. It took Starsky a while to figure out he was laughing. "Not even...if he lives...forever," Sal managed in between the jarring sounds. "That's gone, too. No more. He...doesn't know. Isn't that funny?"
Catching the implication, the detective thought it distinctly unfunny. "Goddammit! You're only twenty-three years old, for heaven's sake. What have you been doin' to yourself?" Nothing in his cover would account for what he was about to say, but he said it anyway, "You've got to get out from under, Sal, kick this habit. You can do it. It'll be hell, but I've seen it done. First, you have to get away from here, cut all connections to the family."
Sal had lapsed into hiccups. "Nobody leaves the family...not alive."
"What about your mother? Where is she?"
"Somewhere...I don't know. Travels all over. Sit at home, be a widow forever...go away, still a widow forever...only choices. She went...not free, though. Never."
"How old were you? Didn't she try to take you?"
"Don't know. Maybe she tried...maybe didn't. Went...anyway."
A father dead, and a boy left behind. A father dead, and a boy sent away. Starsky shook his head impatiently. You're getting in too deep. It's dangerous. Pull back.
Sal's halting speech suddenly turned into a gush of words. "If I go, can't, but if I can, nobody can tell me, no Carlo, he hates me, but puts up only, because he's not family so he puts up with me, he's hooked too, on junk, on too young girls, if grandfather finds out -- so I'm the insurance -- no Carlo and I can have all I want, never hurt like this...."
"No, no, kid. That's not the idea at all," Starsky muttered, mainly to himself. Telling Sal that going after freedom didn't mean changing one prison for another would be no use, obviously.
Starsky watched him curl into a tighter and tighter ball of misery, his hands frantically gathering his own body to himself for comfort. He patted a shoulder, then drew back, knowing it wasn't helping. Holding his partner for days when he'd felt like this had been one thing. Besides, there had been something to strive for then, although, he admitted to himself, it wouldn't have mattered if there hadn't been in Hutch's case. He felt for the boy, but there was a difference.
He was embarrassed enough to toy with the idea. If he made an effort, if he stuck by Sal himself, could he -- no, it was probably a lost cause anyway, and he already had a full-time cause which he might just blow if he got too involved with the boy. Would've blown it already many times if Sal hadn't been out of it -- one crusade at a time was enough, thank you, and he weary himself, and....
Shortly, he heard a car drive up. He went to the door and called out, "Rudi." Sal's manservant who doubled as a bodyguard appeared. "If that's Doctor Vincent, send him in here."
The doctor, when he showed up, was slightly off-balance. Obviously, he'd been indulging at The Familia again, courtesy of the house. "What's the matter?" he asked the detective.
Starsky waved at the huddled figure on the bed. "You're the doctor, you tell me."
Vincent cursorily checked Sal, turned, clearly irritated. "There's nothing wrong with him. Just normal withdrawal symptoms, that's all."
"No kiddin'. Do something about it."
"Mr. Genovese gave strict instructions -- "
Starsky cut in. "Mr. Genovese can get his kicks some other way. He's your patient and he's hurtin'. Give him something to knock him out at least."
"Mr. Genovese -- " the man started again.
In one motion Starsky was nose to nose with him. "Genovese isn't here, I AM!" he shouted. "If you won't help him right now, I'll stuff more than your worthless Hippocratic oath down your throat!"
The doctor wisely believed him and obeyed; he produced a hypodermic of something, probably Methadone or Valium, injected Sal. "Mr. Genovese will hear about this," he threatened, putting the syringe away.
"Is that like the AMA hearin' about you?" Starsky retorted without missing a beat. The man left with alacrity, muttering to himself.
It took about fifteen minutes for Sal to relax. "Can you sleep now?" Starsky asked.
"Have to...don't I?" Weak fingers wrapped around the detective's hand. "I'm so glad...you came to LA. You're a good friend...thank you."
"Sure, sure." He slid Sal's hand under the cover. A few minutes later Sal was asleep and Starsky was free to leave. He felt exhausted, but a churning inside wouldn't allow him to go to his hotel room and collapse. I have to get away, he decided. Get all the way away and regroup.
Whoever sang praises of LA winters had to be a fool. Sure, it stayed warm, but it also got sticky-humid, gray and foggy. At least, Hutch preferred think of the murkiness of the night as fog rather than the choking pollution it actually was. After all the years he still missed the Minnesota winters in a virginal blanket of white, and the crisp, clear air.
The radio crackled to life. He took the steering wheel with his left hand and picked up the mike. "Patching Sergeant Starsky through," said Dispatch.
"On anything promising?" Starsky asked.
"Hell, no. The Sahara Desert couldn't be drier. Off the record, half the criminal population of the city will sing me hosannas if I put Bauer away. On the record, well, nobody wants to be the one to go on it."
Starsky cursed, then continued, "Well, if you can spare the time, wanna stop by my place for a while?"
"Sure. Give me a reason to visit Caporetto at the Marina."
"My place, Hutch. Mine. Remember me? David Michael Starsky? The cop? Your partner?"
Aha, Hutch thought, hit that bend, have you? "I'll be right over." He replaced the mike and turned the car around at the nearest intersection.
He could remember the lecture at the Academy given by a guest speaker, a psychiatrist/psychologist with an impressive set of letters after her name. It had been described on their schedule sheets as: Behaviorism of Alienation -- The Symptoms of Disassociation, which had instantly put Starsky in a fussy mood. The lecture itself hadn't helped any, with words like "group absorption," "psyche conversion," and "syncretism impulses." After the lecture, a dazed looking Starsky had pulled Hutch to one side to ask, "What the hell did she say?"
Hutch had stripped away the verbose terminology, and then Starsky had summed it up in his practical way, "Oh, I see. In undercover work, it ain't only 'When in Rome do as the Romans do,' but 'When in Rome watch out for turnin' into a Roman.'"
The blond had laughed, not at his friend, but at suddenly realizing the waste of time and words to say something which Starsky could sum up so simply, just as relevantly and a lot more understandably.
"Now I know why I started keepin' you around," Starsky had said by way of thanks.
Vice versa, Hutch had thought.
Music drifted out of Starsky's apartment. Hutch walked in to find him sitting Indian-style on the floor with his records, pulling some out into a small stack. The blond watched the selection process briefly, then sat on his heels across from him and joined in.
His partner looked up, making Hutch smile spontaneously at the sight of the familiar indigo gaze. The lenses made his eyes flatly opaque, hard to read, and just plain alien to the blond. "You look beat," Starsky observed.
I look beat? Hutch shrugged and forbore comment. He kept on picking through the records. Starsky looked at the ones he was selecting, then stopped his own work in favor of watching the blond. "It'd be a perfect battin' score," he said when Hutch was through, pointed to an album, "except for that one."
"That, I want to listen to."
Starsky shook his head ruefully. "You get the feelin', Hutch, that we're turnin' into an old married couple?"
"What's wrong with that?"
"Oh, I don't know. When we can predict each other, well, that's nice. Kinda cozy. But when we get to a point where we goddamned well know -- won't it get boring?"
"I'll try and surprise you every once in a while, how's that?"
Starsky chuckled softly, and twisted around to change the record. He caught himself with a visible flinch, pulled back, then had to roll to his knees to reach the stereo. Hutch felt a familiar wrench as if scar tissue were catching at his insides as well. Starsky no longer vaulted over hoods of cars or got impatient with stairs and swung himself over banisters. Neither did the blond engage his partner in wrestling tricks without a thought anymore. But, on the whole, it didn't show, except when Starsky got tired. Since he never complained or even referred to his injuries, Hutch also felt obligated to keep quiet. It was a fact of life anyway.
After changing the record, Starsky stretched out on the floor. Casually, Hutch handed him a pillow. If Starsky raised his arms to prop his head, it would pull at the muscles uncomfortably. They also served who did it unobtrusively. He waited for whatever Starsky wanted to discuss, wondering why they usually found themselves sprawled all over the floor when something heavy was in the air. Maybe it had to do with the absence of barriers such as the arms of chairs.
Starsky pointed to a stack of papers on the coffee table. Hutch flipped through and found them to be detailed, extensive reports. "Dobey will have a heart attack. When did you become so efficient?"
"I've been home for a coupla hours. Had to get my head together, so I got everythin' down on paper -- voila, instant reports."
"Did it work otherwise?"
"Mostly. Oh, you'll have to type 'em, though."
"Knew I'd get stuck with the short end of the stick," Hutch grumbled, mainly because he knew it was expected. "How was the party, by the way?"
The blond bad started taking the pages one at a time, and he was getting interested in them. "Oh?"
"One thing for sure, we find who's been makin' free with marked bills, I'd lay you odds he'd rather talk to us than face Marruzzi. Snowball would have a better chance in hell. The man ain't ever gonna forget what killed his son."
"What, wiping out a chunk of the population wasn't enough for him?"
"No way, Hutch. It was weird today. Marruzzi doesn't strike me as a man who can bury revenge, least of all where this is concerned."
"Useless..." Hutch commented absentmindedly.
"Huh? Oh, not this. Revenge, I mean."
A strange note in Starsky's voice made Hutch look up. He'd been intent on deciphering his partner's impatient scrawl and only peripherally aware of their conversation. He had to back track to why he'd said revenge was pointless. As usual, it made him uneasy, and he looked down again. "Take it from me, it is." What would've happened if he'd gotten his hands on Gunther before he had known his partner would survive, he didn't know. But he knew it'd have been futile. "One life can't bring back another. A thousand lives wouldn't. It's useless, has no purpose -- worse, it's only self-serving. What can it possibly do except drag you down, lessen you?"
There was a long silence, then Starsky spoke, almost inaudibly. "Did you have to put it that way?"
"Huh?" Hutch glanced up again.
"Nothin'," his partner mumbled. "Just follow up on the marked bills, okay? Especially since the Bauer investigation ain't goin' nowhere."
"Yeah, sure." The blond wondered why a few feet of floor space suddenly felt like miles. Then he got immersed in the papers once more. Threads started to tie together. "Starsk, it looks like we can move in with just what you've got here." All of a sudden, the music sounded merrier, he felt lighter. "You don't even have to go back. We can wrap this up."
Starsky was frowning at him. "You sure you're readin' what I wrote?"
"Look at all this," Hutch said, enthusiastically going through the pages. "You've got drug routes, who's dealing where, where the bookie operations are -- a lot of them anyway. I bet some of the people paying protection will testify, and -- "
"I know what I've got," his partner interrupted, sounding oddly cheerless. "I've got more than enough on Genovese, and maybe enough to tie in Colombo and Gambino, put some operations outta business. On Labruzzo and Luchese, I've got zip. Zilch. The idea was to dig the whole thing out by the roots, not prune, remember?"
Hutch couldn't let go easily. "Starsk, please, let's err on the side of prudence for once. New York's getting itchy; I can't remove Bauer; we're both getting overloaded...." He indicated the report. "This isn't shabby at all. Let's not push it, partner, what do you say?" He studied Starsky's expression, sighed. "And I'm talking just to hear myself talk." He tossed the reports back onto the coffee table. It seemed he'd have time to study them at leisure. Leisure? He couldn't help a bitter smile. "Have it your way. I'll type them for you and I'll investigate who's doing the laundry. Anything else?" he finished, unable to help a snide tone.
Starsky contemplated the ceiling for a while. "Sorry, shouldn't've called you -- it's late. Why don't you go home, get some sleep. Guess I should, too." He rolled to his feet, restless, and went to the kitchen.
"You didn't call me just for the reports, Starsk."
"Well, I -- " His voice got muffled inside the refrigerator. Containers rattled, aluminum foil crackled. "Damn it," Hutch heard, followed by sounds of things finding their way into the garbage can. Starsky slammed the fridge shut. "I dunno," he continued. "I just needed a break, I think. Sometimes it's gettin' to be that I don't know where Caporetto stops and I start. I've never been under so long at a time before. Wanted to be just me for a while." Cabinets opened, boxes shook, got dumped out. Starsky's voice was barely audible over the sounds, and there was an apologetic tone to it. "Habit, I guess."
Hutch added up the cryptic comments, listened to the total. To be the Starsky I needed the Hutch, his partner seemed to be saying. Hutch's depression had started to settle in once more, but he found that it could be, if not dissipated, at least disregarded for a while.
Starsky was still muttering to himself and cleaning out the stale items from his cupboards when Hutch circled his waist with one arm, turning and getting him into a dance hold. The music played, a medium-tempo tango. "Hey!" His partner's voice squeaked with surprise. "Will ya cut -- !" He stumbled, helplessly following the lead. "Whatcha think you're doin'?"
"Dancing," Hutch solemnly, and redundantly, informed him.
For a minute, Starsky seemed to consider it prudent to concentrate on synchronizing their feet, probably not trusting the blond's. Then he asked in an infinitely patient tone, "Hutch, why are we dancin'?"
"So there'll be no doubt in your head as to exactly who you are."
"Who else but David Michael Starsky would even consider dancing with his partner at three o'clock in the morning? Certainly not Caporetto."
"I swear, Hutch...." But he was smiling.
Hutch pulled them into the living room for more space and tried a little whirl that came off only because his partner went along, smoothing it out. "Ready for the dip?" the blond asked.
"Not unless you're ready to rush me to the hospital."
Hutch had been kidding anyway, only too aware of Starsky's limitations lately. After a while, his partner appropriated the lead. Being left-handed, he accomplished it simply by taking the hold Hutch had on his waist and transferring the blond's arm to his shoulder. Hutch let him, felt himself maneuvered swiftly.
"Besides, nobody can dip like Ramon," was his only warning. Next instant, he was bent backward and dropped.
He didn't fall far. Starsky had made sure the back of the couch was there to catch him. However, it caught him very awkwardly across his buttocks, and his heels kept slipping on the wood floor as he scrambled for purchase. His partner laughed raucously at his teetering. No sooner had he managed to place his feet somewhat firmly than Starsky jabbed at his stomach, making him lose it all and drop backward onto the couch in an undignified heap, his kicking legs held up in the air by the backrest.
Starsky was already backing away from the wrath he expected. A picture of vengeance, Hutch rolled to his feet with a muffled oath and went after his partner. Even slowed down and tired, Starsky was still as slippery as an eel. It took some effort to catch and hold him, immobile, against the refrigerator.
Hutch mock-snarled. "Feisty, aren't you? We'll settle this like men -- where's the Monopoly board?"
"Oh, no!" Starsky squealed. "Not the Monopoly board, anything but the Monopoly board!"
He sounded so much like the damsel facing a fate worse than death in an old grade-B flick that Hutch cracked up. He leaned his forehead against the refrigerator over his partner's shoulder, laughing helplessly. Starsky took advantage and ducked under his arm to get away.
When Hutch turned around, wiping his eyes, the Monopoly board was already set up on the floor. "You're weird."
"But cute," Starsky pointed out.
"Matter of opinion, and yours is inflated. Hey, are you -- " Hutch stifled the urge to ask if the tussle had hurt him, suddenly realizing he had forbidden them their brotherly rough-housing ever since Gunther. Obviously, it had always served a purpose. Just as obviously, they had both missed it.
Starsky pointed at the board. "Hang onto your pants, Blintz, gonna beat 'em offa you."
With a disdainful snort, Hutch arranged his long legs into a comfortable fold. "The day you're big enough to wear them, Dirtball. Not today."
Hutch was evaluating the house cards carefully when he was prodded. "Come on, you just got sick," Starsky urgently whispered into his ear.
The middle of a hand was no place to call a halt, but he put the cards down and rose while his partner announced a short break to the customers, pushing the blond ahead of him. Hutch turned to Starsky once they had ducked through a back door leading to the offices. "What's wrong?"
"Bauer's headin' back there. He must be in a gambling mood."
"Shit! I can't leave a hand in the middle."
"You will and that's that. Think he's likely to miss seein' you?" Starsky's back was to the offices. Hutch leaned weakly against the wall, wrapping his arms around his middle, and that was enough to alert his partner that they weren't alone. He instantly looked solicitous.
"What's going on?" came Jack Valenti's voice.
"He got sick, had to leave the table," Starsky explained while Hutch did his best to look woebegone.
Valenti came between them to grasp Hutch's head roughly to turn it up toward the light. "Are you on something?"
"No, I'm not on something!" Hutch snapped while Starsky spoke simultaneously: "Can't a man get sick?"
Valenti studied the blond out of narrowed eyes. "At the busiest table on a Saturday night, preferably no."
"Come on, give the man a break," Starsky said as Hutch moaned piteously. "He's not gonna do us any good like this. We can find a replacement."
"So you didn't even do that yet." Valenti looked disgusted. "Get him of here. I'll take care of the rest -- as usual."
"You're good," Starsky said once they were at the parking lot. "You looked so miserable that I was startin' to worry."
Hutch got into his car. "We can't keep doing this, Starsk, or it's going to blow up in our faces."
"Tell me about it. I can't move for fear of trippin' over the bastard. At least Linda's with a private party tonight."
"Bauer's got to go and fast."
"Short of breakin' both his legs, how?"
"I don't know, but I'll think about it." Hutch started the car.
"Let me know," his partner said through the window.
"No, I want to surprise you," Hutch called back, sarcastically. He had to leave now, and Starsky had to stay, which felt like the last straw. Suddenly, in his mind, the plan took shape. Took shape? It had been there already, just not brought forth. But he couldn't tell Starsky, at least not until it was too late. "Be careful in there," he said after he'd backed the car out and turned it.
Starsky waved him away. "You bet."
Boundless energy and the ability to practically glow with joy even after a long day had to be the province of youth. Given his choice, Hutch would've opted for Disneyland as the appropriate place to take Consuela, but he had left it up to her. She had been delighted that he had asked to spend Sunday with her, and had shown up on her day off, overdressed, overly made up, her gorgeous hair tortured into a style she shouldn't consider for another thirty years. She hadn't let him apologize for his earlier rudeness or neglect. They had spent the day touring the homes of stars -- a pastime that Hutch would've gladly exchanged for a week at a rock quarry -- and in and out of clubs and restaurants she'd read about in gossip columns.
At least, she was happy. And he had the information he needed. He knew he could've gotten it without devoting a day and an evening to pleasing her, but he had felt guilty enough at using her only to plan a clandestine foray in and out of Genovese's villa.
He brought her home after dark, but while it was still too early for the dogs. This time, he didn't stop at the shrubbery facing the beach. She pulled him by the hand through them, as eagerly as if they were kids playing follow-the-leader. At a dark corner of a clearing where he had an overall view of the estate, he stopped, pulling her up short. "What?" she asked, peering up at him.
Scouting the area, but he could hardly say that. He took her into his arms, memorizing the layout over her head. Without the high heels and the hairdo, she'd barely come up to his breastbone. He had to step back to smile at her. "Had a great time, Consuela," he lied. "Thank you."
She pointed to a row of rooms behind trees, some lit and some dark, in motel-like arrangement, separated from the main house by a short walkway. "That one. There. That's my room." She tugged at his hand. "Come on."
"No," he whispered, felt more than saw her disappointment. "I'd like to, but not tonight," he lied some more. At least, he hoped it was a lie. Her natural, earthy seductiveness had taken a shortcut around his best intentions and called to his glands all day long. "I can't," he said, denying both of them. "Goodnight, Consuela."
He leaned to kiss her. She rose on tiptoe and offered her full lips and he took them, tearing himself away before it got out of hand. He'd be back the next night, but she wouldn't know it. Hopefully, nobody would.
Monday night, Starsky showed up at Linda's little flat that she shared with another young woman who also worked at The Familia. Her roommate hadn't left for work yet, so Linda had to greet Starsky enthusiastically, with a hug and a steamy kiss. Although he knew perfectly well why, and appeared otherwise distracted himself, he made the best of the occasion. The rat, she thought, pulled him into her bedroom and dropped the pretense.
"You wouldn't happen to know where Hutch is, would you?" he asked quietly.
"Misplaced the big blond, huh? No, haven't seen him at all."
"He came in late yesterday, I don't know why, and tonight I can't find him."
"It's his night off," Linda reminded.
"Mine, too, so what?"
Linda shrugged. I don't know so what. You tell me. In fact, all three of them had the night off, having lately arranged it that way at the blond's insistence. Why Starsky thought his partner shouldn't take some time off just for himself was beyond her.
Starsky continued, in ill-humor. "He's in neither of his apartments, his own car's at Metro, who knows where the other one is -- heaven knows where he is."
"Give the man a break. Maybe he's taking a real break -- you know." Heaven knew all of them needed to. Pretending to be somebody else for months on end wasn't easy.
Clearly, Starsky was not in a mood he could easily be cajoled out of. "He ain't supposed to get lost on me while we're under," he grumbled. "If I did it to him I'd never hear the end of it."
Linda decided not to argue with things she didn't know much about. "So why don't you take me to a movie?" she suggested instead, jerking her thumb at the closed bedroom door. "It's either that or stay here and pretend to breathe heavy. Come on, he'll surface soon."
"Uh, I think I'll just go to the Marina. He might call or somethin'."
He was doing it again, looking like a woebegone little boy with his favorite toy taken away. "If you've got a pack of cards there, I'll keep you company," she said, despite herself.
"Sure, come on." He started to smile but ended up grimacing. "Just cards, huh?"
Hutch quietly closed the door to a second-story balcony, leaving it unlocked as he had found it, and secured his bag by looping the long strap over his head and one shoulder before climbing down. Wooden frames built in squares to accommodate twining grape vines creaked a little but supported his weight. He waited, holding his breath, in the concealing shadows of the overhang before he attempted to cross the clearing between him and the edge of the property.
He had delayed longer than he'd intended to, waiting until he had a clear way in and out of Genovese's study. The man and his cronies were at the club, but there still had been considerable traffic in the house. He stuck his head out to check the windows facing the back. They looked deserted.
He was about to step out of safety when he heard a rustling and a faint but rapid movement ahead of him. Quickly, he pulled back. The bag caught at something and tilted. He realized he hadn't snapped it when he heard a heavy thud and various clatters on the tile paving. He froze for a full minute. Nothing moved. Slowly, hardly breathing, he went to his knees, feeling around for the dropped items. He found the leather folder that held the ledgers immediately. For the loose jewelry, he had to search carefully. He had only taken the damned things so it would look like a real burglary. He snapped the bag securely, wondering if he should risk a dash to the other side. A low growl came, got answered by another, confirming his suspicions. He'd delayed too long and the dogs had been let out.
"Just as well Ken's the card dealer," Linda joked, putting down her hand. "You stink."
Starsky threw his cards carelessly, making them slide all over the table. "My mind's not on it."
"That's your excuse." She went to the room's compact refrigerator to get some beer.
When she turned around, he was at the window, tapping on the blinds. Linda held out a can of beer, popping one open for herself. "You always worry about him like this?" Personally, she found the notion ludicrous.
"'Course not," Starsky snapped. "We ain't Siamese twins. It's just that -- I don't know how to explain it. Every once in a while, I get a, uh, a feelin', I suppose, like...well, this ain't exactly it, either. It's not full-scale alert. This is just a nagging, like an itch you can't quite reach, if you know what I mean." He saw her expression, shrugged. "Of course you don't know what I mean. I don't know what I mean. It just is, that's all. It may not make sense, but it works, take it from me."
She would have to. She had worked with just about everybody who'd traipsed through Metro, but she'd never had a constant partner. Maybe there were things she couldn't appreciate, let alone understand. "Must come in handy."
"Sometimes. At times like this, it's a pain in the ass -- which I just night return with interest."
"Drink up," she said. Looking like he had nothing better to do, he obeyed.
The dogs growled threateningly when Hutch stepped off the paved walkway next to the house. Quickly, he stepped back onto it. The growls muted to a soft rumble. Experimentally, he tried another direction. Soon it was clear he could stay on the walkway, but wasn't going to be allowed into the garden. That left one alternative.
Consuela's door opened shortly after he knocked on it. Immediately, he reached in to snap off the room's lights that had come on. Just as immediately, Consuela had her arms around his neck, practically hanging there. Awkwardly, he got both of them in and closed the door, let out the breath he'd been holding.
Ignoring her excited greetings, he pried himself loose, made sure the shades were down, then turned on a small lamp, careful not to step between it and any of the windows. She had stopped talking to him. She simply stood, curiously peeking out at him from behind a cascade of sleep-tousled hair.
He realized he hadn't thought past this point. "I changed my mind," he said in absence of anything else plausible.
The eyes turned fearful. "But the dogs -- they could've hurt you!"
"I was lucky," he said dismissively and added for good measure, "I wanted to see you. Do you mind?"
She just laughed at that. Incredibly enough, it seemed a sufficient explanation. She said not a word about his dark outfit, the bag he was carrying, or the black cap and the gloves which were ridiculous for the weather. Neither did she comment on the holster that was revealed when she took his jacket. But then, she was probably used to men going around armed. Hutch wrapped the holster and the bag inside the jacket to place on a nearby chair, sank into another, at a loss about what else to do. The next instant, she had pulled off his cap and curled up on his lap.
He had painted himself into a corner. But she was warm and soft, sleep-lax and sweet, and it really wasn't all that bad a corner. He wrapped one arm around her. "Now that I'm here, how do I get out in one piece?"
"The dogs, they take away. Before deliveries." Her lips were moist on his neck, his chin, the hair tickling his nose. "Early in morning."
So what was he supposed to do for the next hours? He admitted that it was the most inane question he'd ever asked himself. What he was going to do was obvious, becoming a lot more obvious the more she wriggled, the longer her hands roamed. "Honey, I'm all sweaty. Let me, uh, let me take a shower." The gentleman protests too much.
The bathroom was a tiny cubicle. He dawdled, feeling ridiculous. Despite her age, she wasn't that much of a child, was clearly experienced and more than willing. If only his conscience would shut up, stop insisting he was just using the girl. Of course, he also knew that soon after he stepped out his libido was going to out-shout his conscience, and he felt all the worse for it.
She had given him one of her towel robes, absurdly tiny and tight for his shoulders. After drying off, he wrapped it around his waist by the sleeves. When he came out, her hair was brushed neatly and she had changed into a tiny, lacy number which she must've thought more appropriate for the occasion. But she had left her face alone and Hutch realized he'd been right. The clean, fresh glow of youth was more attractive than anything makeup could hope to bestow. God, she's so young.
Not that young, he knew, as she tugged her robe off of him and took a step back.
"Madre mia," she breathed. "Que lindo."
He blushed at being called beautiful, closing the distance and pulling her into his arms. He found out he had to pick her up off the floor if he wanted to kiss her without doubling over himself and bending her neck back uncomfortably. She twined around him, melted into him. So much for reservations, he thought as his body quickly reacted. Sex had been sporadic at best lately, and since the start of the case, nonexistent.
Secure in his hold, her arms came off his shoulders and she tugged at her negligee. He loosened one arm to let her pull that side up, then the other. Her arms extended high over her head as she drew the flimsy material off, lifting her breasts. Hutch heaved her up higher, bringing her buttocks to rest on his forearms instead of palms, so he could reach her breasts with his mouth. With a warm giggle, she curled over him, her hair falling over his head and shoulders.
Her legs fell away from him. The squirming told him she wanted some freedom. He let her, controlling her descent with his arms, enjoying the slow, tight slide along his length while her mouth and hands punctuated it. Finally she was on the ground and stroked him, took him into her mouth, warm and wet.
It felt...wonderful. He looked down at her, and had to laugh softly. His legs were too long. To reach him she crouched on tiptoe with bent knees. Then she pulled him in deeper and he threw his head back, soaking in the sensations.
"Stop," he said, when he realized he had to fight them, got his fingers firmly in her hair and pulled her to her feet.
She looked puzzled. "You not like? Men back home, they don't care, but American -- "
He had no desire to listen to history or comparisons. "I like it fine. Don't want to like it too much just yet." He swept her up to carry her to the bed. The least he could do, he decided, was to make it good for her.
Her dark skin looked exotic and warm on the white sheets, against his own pale color. The body was firm with youth, pliable with desire, and tasted sweet. She squirmed when his mouth left the softly-rounded navel and descended, one leg coming over the other in a strangely prim way. "What's wrong?" he asked, trying to meet her eyes through the tangle of hair.
"You don't...don't have to."
"Have to? Consuela, this isn't a chore. I want to. I'd like to." Gently, he tried to part the thighs but they wouldn't give. "What's the matter, you don't enjoy it?"
"I don't know," she said shyly.
He wondered why he was surprised. The little Mexican maid, fair game for the taking but not for returning the favors. He stroked her. "Relax, sweetheart. Just let me. If you don't like it, tell me and I'll stop, okay?"
Once he started, she didn't ask him to stop. The only reason he eventually did was because he thought it wise to cover her mouth with his before they were heard. She was frantic for him and he was more than ready. After so long, it felt incredibly good -- too good, and she wouldn't let him slow down. He finished too soon.
Aware of how tiny she was under him, he rolled them to their sides, trying to catch his breath, feeling miserable that her body was taut, still bearing down on him although she couldn't be feeling much. "Lo siento," he apologized.
She stilled instantly, except for her fingers caressing his moist, heaving chest. "Muy bueno," she said.
He cradled her head with a palm. "Don't snow me, Consuela. I know exactly how good that was...or wasn't. I'm not nineteen anymore, so you'll have to wait a bit until I can make it better." In the meantime, there were other ways. He gathered her to him.
The card game had been called off due to lack of interest on Starsky's part. The TV hadn't made it, either. Linda could think of better ways of spending a night than sitting and staring at a brooding man. Every once in a while, when she saw a partnership that lasted, she tended to wonder what she was missing out on, both on the job and off. If it was sleepless nights, she was fine as a loner, thank you. Worrying was not her strong suit. Ditto for subtlety.
"This is boring," she said.
"Sorry. Didn't think you'd care for it if I tried makin' it more interesting."
"You never know." She wasn't sure if she was kidding or not. However, he didn't take her up on it, making her wonder how much of his Casanova of the Western World act was just that: an act. "Look, it's damn near mornin'. We gotta get some sleep."
She got up to tug at him. He came readily, let her tumble him onto the bed, clothes and all. She threw one side of the comforter over him. "Now, sleep."
One midnight-blue eye surfaced, with some of its usual twinkle in it. "Yes, Mom. If you tell me a bedtime story."
"Little Boy Blue, come blow your horn. The sheep's in the meadow, the cow's in the corn. And where's the boy who tends the sheep? He's under a haystack, fast asleep." She gave a firm whack to where she estimated his nicely-rounded rump would be under the covers. "Which is probably what Ken's doin' anyway."
"I bet you think we're weird."
"Hey, who am I to say? I mean, I never understood what my mother sees in my charming bum of a father, either. But it works fine for them. There's little enough in this world that works right, and things that do, well, they don't need nobody's approval." On impulse, she ruffled his hair. "And that's all the philosophy you're gonna get from me. I'm getting outta here before I blow my image."
"You know," he called out as she was halfway through the door, "you're all right."
"Be still, my heart," she called back, closed the door.
Hutch was dressed and ready to leave before dawn. Outside, the dogs were being called away. He stepped close to the bed, gently covered the naked body, innocently wanton in sleep. She was totally relaxed, smiling peacefully, looking satiated, happy. Used, his mind still insisted. His own body felt undeservedly good, but nothing helped a heaviness deep inside.
Dear God, I'm pushing forty and she's all of nineteen years old -- or so she said. He fervently hoped that she hadn't lied about that at least. He resisted the urge to push the stray strands off her face, gently stirred by the even breathing. He shouldn't awaken her.
Plans had been shaping in his head as he had quietly, sleeplessly, waited for the right time to leave. When the case was concluded, she would be out of a job. He was going to take her away. Of course, he couldn't tell her. She'd misunderstand, hope for things he couldn't deliver. Kiko and his mother had given refuge to Molly. Maybe they wouldn't be averse to taking in another stray until he could help her build an independent and stable life.
At the moment, though, he couldn't even say goodbye. He left.
The dogs were gone, and he had no trouble getting away. Heading straight for his car, then the closest bus terminal, he deposited the ledgers into a locker. Within the pages were proof that one Sergeant Bauer, Narco's pride and joy, was on too many payrolls. Considering how he had obtained them, he couldn't very well place the things on Dobey's desk, not if he didn't want to be instantly kicked off the case, and that just for starters. He'd have to do everything in a roundabout way.
Briefly, he wondered what he should do with the jewels, then dumped those into the locker as well. If Genovese wished, he could claim them from the police. He wouldn't, of course, but all that interested Hutch was to be rid of them. He put the key carefully into his pocket. The streets were barely beginning to come alive when he placed it, making sure he wasn't seen, in Bauer's mailbox.
The Captain had stepped into his office first thing in the morning and had found his detective already waiting for him there. "Around the clock stakeout, huh?" Dobey said, when Hutch was through, glumly stirring his first cup of coffee. "No telling how long it'll take, either. What kind of manpower do you think I have?"
Hutch was standing to one side of his superior, looking out the window behind the desk. It was preferable to facing the man, but not by much. "I know, Captain, but it's important. I'd do it myself if I didn't have to be at The Familia. It shouldn't take too long, if I read Bauer right."
"You're sure this is worth it?"
Hutch fiddled with the blinds. "It's a good tip. The, uh, source is good -- I mean, reliable."
"Care to tell me who it is?" The blond shook his head. "We get Bauer with the incriminating evidence in his hands in one swoop. At the right time." Dobey continued. "I can say this is...fortuitous."
"Yeah, Captain, you can say that," the blond mumbled.
Dobey picked up the phone but didn't dial. "Do I want to know any more?"
"No, sir, I don't think so."
"Don't do that."
"Anytime you start getting formal, I start getting heartburn," Dobey muttered as he dialed. "All right, Hutchinson, I'll assign a unit."
Hutch left without looking at his captain. This time he drove to his makeshift apartment for the next stage. By the time he got there, the units had had time to settle in. He picked up the phone. It was a plausible story, one which policemen experienced periodically, so Bauer wouldn't be too surprised.
The man was still home. "There's a key in your mailbox," Hutch said without preamble.
"What? Who is this?"
"Never mind. I'm only calling for a friend."
"That's what they all say."
"Humor me. Anyway, my friend took something he shouldn't have, now just wants it out of his hands. It's too hot, you understand?"
"I'm not a fence."
"That's good, since all my friend wants is to stay anonymous."
"What're the goods?"
"Let's just say they belong to one of your employers, and I don't mean the taxpayers. Why don't you see the rest for yourself?" Hutch gave the directions for the locker, then hung up. It should at least get Bauer to the locker to check out the story. The cops could take over from there. He had to get some sleep before he fell on his face. He was also hungry, but there was nothing in the kitchen. Later he'd go to the convenience store on the corner, but it could wait until after a nap.
Balancing two full brown bags in his arms, Hutch left the grocery store and discovered that it had started pouring down rain. He didn't have far to go, so he put his head down and started walking quickly. He didn't notice Starsky's car until, seemingly out of nowhere, it screeched to a stop only inches from actually grazing him, and the passenger door was flung open.
"Get in," he was told, not politely.
Obediently, he was levering himself into the car when his partner reached, grabbed him by the arm and yanked him in. Hutch righted the grocery bags that threatened to spill, reached for the door already closing on its own by the momentum of the car speeding away. "If this is your idea of getting me in out of the rain, it leaves something to be desired." He dropped the bags next to his feet, avoided hitting the dashboard as Starsky ungently took a curve. Evidently, his partner wasn't speaking to him. Yet.
After a few more turns, they were in a narrow alley. Starsky parked next to some dumpsters. "All right, what the hell did you do?"
"Huh?" It wasn't eloquent but Starsky's hostility had thrown him.
"Come on! You get lost on me. I go to the club this morning and all hell's breakin' loose. Some ledgers and IOUs are missing, stolen, I hear. Genovese's runnin' around like a chicken with his head cut off, everybody's catchin' heat -- I don't know what you pulled, but I know goddamned well you pulled something."
Hutch took a deep breath, described his operation and where he hoped it would lead, then he waited for the explosion. He didn't have a leg to stand on. Breaking and entering, theft, planting evidence, conspiracy, entrapment. He idly tried to speculate which one Starsky would light on first. But the reaction, when it came, wasn't quite what he had expected.
"When you said you'd surprise me, I didn't know it was gonna be a beaut," his partner said from between clenched teeth. "Go on, get out."
"Hey, it's rai -- what'd you mean get out?"
"You don't wanna hear what I have to say right now. Take my word for it and go."
"Of course I want to hear what you have to say."
"Yeah." Hutch almost smiled at the childish exchange, then Starsky turned to him and his expression was nothing to encourage a smile.
"Okay, you asked for it. I say your idea of this partnership stinks lately. I can't blow my nose without you wipin' it for me, and then you go and pull this stunt on me. And to top it all off, you have the gall to look surprised?"
"Starsk, if you'll let me get a word in edge -- "
"Don't push it! I'm mad, I got good reason to be, and you know damned well why. Next time you don't need a partner -- hell, when you don't even need me as a lousy backup, let me know, huh? I can use my goddamned sleep! Just don't push it right now. Get out before I say or do something I'll regret. In your case, it's a little too damn late."
Hutch got out of the car.
A waiter brought a phone to the blond when he was busy at his table. "Call me," was the only thing that came through the wires. He recognized Dobey's voice, but had to wait until his break when he could find a safe phone.
"We lost him," his captain said.
"You've -- you've lost Bauer?"
The man's voice was weary. "He did show up at the locker, got the stuff out of it, but the area was crowded. By the time our people made a move, he was gone."
Hutch cursed. "You can find him. He lives -- " But where would the evidence be?
"Nothing doing. He didn't go back home or to work. Even his car was left at the bus station, which is one of the reasons our men lost him. They didn't expect him to head away from his car and desert it. He must've been prepared. He's gone, dropped out totally. We're looking, but...."
Hutch felt like hitting his head against the wall with frustration.
The first chance he got to tell Starsky about it was the next day, when he found his partner having dinner at the cafeteria of the Marina. The conversation had to be held quickly in a restroom.
"I can't tell you where Bauer is," his partner said, cold, distant, "but I'll tell you exactly what he's doing. He's retiring. After he's through squeezing the last drop from the stone, I mean. The ledgers came back to Genovese late last night. Since Bauer claimed to have paid a great deal to secure them, so did Genovese. No jewels, of course, but it's assumed that the 'thief' has kept those."
"Oh, that's not important. What's important, what's got Fontane hangin' around the club, breathin' down Genovese's neck, is that the IOUs that were with ledgers didn't come back. Bauer claims to have no knowledge of 'em. Before he went underground again, that is. Today we've been hearin' from the folks who'd signed those IOUs. They want to know exactly who's holding 'em and why they're being blackmailed for them. This is not the way the Marruzzi organization likes to do business, you understand."
"Starsky, I just wanted to -- "
Obviously, his partner wasn't in the mood. He interrupted. "You wanted to start something and you sure did. Let's hope it's something we can control." With that, he left Hutch.
It was two days later and the club had emptied out when Genovese entered the outer office Starsky was working in. The detective had the day's receipts spread out on the desk.
"Let somebody else worry about those, get the main ledger out," he was told, and handed a folder. "Every account in here, close them on the books as paid in full. Tomorrow, call each person to tell them we're sorry for the inconvenience, they owe us nothing, and they can claim their IOUs to tear them up personally."
Starsky knew before looking that the missing IOUs were somehow found, and the club would be taking a big money loss to save face. What he was itching to know was how. "Did the cop see reason?" he asked.
"Hardly. Don't worry about it. Mr. Fontane will be coming over. Send him directly into my office." Instructions concluded, Genovese left.
Starsky quickly brought the accounts up to date, then put everything into the safe from which Genovese would later transfer them into a newly-installed system at his house. He waited for Fontane. The consiglieri was probably coming over to get a first-hand report to carry to the padrone and Starsky wanted to hear it. Behind Genovese's office was a soundproof cubicle holding a video-taping facility, carefully concealed from those visiting the club owner. It would be deserted at this time. A perfect place to eavesdrop.
Starsky tapped the prearranged signal on Hutch's door. "It's open," he heard from inside. He pushed the door. His partner was sitting on the couch in his robe, staring at a local news broadcast with unseeing eyes. He must've decided to tune in before he went to bed.
He turned the TV off and sat next to the blond. "I came to tell you, but I guess you've heard, huh?"
Hutch waved vaguely at the set. "It was just on." He fell silent, dropped his eyes to his hands worrying the belt of the robe.
"Hey, partner, talk to me.
"That's a switch."
"Okay, I was angry. This is different."
"I didn't count on this!" Hutch burst out. "This isn't what I wanted. I just wanted him out of the way, but not like this. I wanted him arrested, not killed. I swear, Starsk, I didn't mean it to happen this way."
"What do you think, I don't know that? Come on, he played with fire and he got burned. He was the lowest of the low. Bet he didn't agonize over blowin' his own partner away half as much as you're agonizin' over his worthless life."
Hutch jumped up, pacing restlessly, having to change direction every few steps in the cramped room. "You don't understand. I've been sitting here, trying to feel something for him and I can't. Sure, I'm angry at myself, I miscalculated, but...for heaven's sake, Starsky, for all purposes I put a contract out on the man and I can't even feel remorse."
Starsky shook his head. Who else but Hutch would go on a guilt trip because he couldn't feel properly guilty? Maybe he shouldn't tell his partner any more. "If it helps, neither do I. Come on, Hutch, don't waste it." Save it, you're going to need it. "You know damned well he could've chosen other ways. You're not responsible for his greed."
Hutch didn't look consoled. "I have to tell Dobey the truth," he said, reaching for the phone.
Starsky lunged across the couch to grab his wrist. "No, not while you're in this mood. Besides, I bet Dobey's got it all figured out by himself."
"That has nothing to do with it. I have to."
"We have to make a report, yes. Let me take care of it."
"No, I started it, I'll finish it."
"At least let's discuss it first." He pried the receiver out of Hutch's hand and replaced it. "It's done. What difference can a few minutes make?"
Sighing, the blond pulled his hand away. "Then why wait?"
"Because...because I need it, okay?"
"I gotta think. Please, Hutch, give me a minute. How about a cup of coffee?"
The blond studied his face for a while. "Sure," he said finally and went into the kitchen.
Starsky realized there was no way out of his corner, however much he hated to tell Hutch the rest of the bad news. From what he'd overheard that night, he thought his partner's cover hadn't been compromised, and that was a small miracle in itself. However, Hutch wouldn't let it be. Soon he'd be hell-bent on finding the girl, and give himself away. He followed the blond into the kitchen and started rummaging through the cabinets.
"What do you want?" Hutch asked, then frowned when Starsky pulled out a glass and proceeded to pour a shot of liquor into it. "Hey, it's already tomorrow, you don't need that. The coffee will be ready in a minute."
Starsky reached to turn off the stove, then pulled the blond. "Come back and sit down." He steered Hutch to the couch, handed him the glass, sat down himself. "Drink it."
His partner stared at the liquor, at Starsky, and seemed to remember another time and place. "Tell me," he whispered, his voice already shaky.
"Consuela," Starsky said shortly.
Hutch kept staring at him, shaking his head slowly. "No."
"I'm sorry, babe."
"What...what happened?" the blond managed.
"I don't know much. I know she's dead."
"How -- why? Where is she?"
"Where, I don't know. I got the feeling that nobody ever will. Why? Somehow she was connected to the break-in. A necklace that was found in her possession, Genovese said. Belonged to his wife, lost that same night."
"That's impossi -- dear God, I dropped them outside. I thought I picked them all up. She must've found it."
"Don't start in on yourself again," Starsky quickly said. "You're probably right, but it isn't your fault if she took it instead of returnin' it like she should've."
Hutch hurled the glass against a wall, where it shattered, the liquid running down, pale amber. "She was just a kid! A kid who liked pretty shiny things!" He started to jump up from the couch.
Starsky moved faster, shoving him back into it, staying in his way by standing in front and placing his hands on the back of the couch on either side of the blond. He had to check Hutch's reactions every step of the way or there'd be no controlling him in this mood. He also knew, from experience, it wasn't the safest thing to do. "Pay attention, partner. How much did she know about you? Did she have anything than can be traced to you? Anybody see you together?"
For a while, it looked like Hutch was going to backhand him. He stood his ground until the moment passed and only then realized he hadn't been sure if it was going to pass. His partner seemed to collapse. "She had nothing," he whispered, "except a name. Not even a complete one. She didn't know who I was, what I was, on either side. She couldn't have given them anything -- God, how I wish she had something to give."
"Wouldn't've made any difference."
"Whoever got to her would've come after me!" Another abrupt move that Starsky checked with one palm against the blond's shoulder. However, any more pushes now, and he knew he was going to get pushed back, with no holds barred. Luckily Hutch focused on another target. "Who was it?"
"I don't know."
Starsky softened his voice. "I swear to you I don't know. Genovese must've ordered it, but I don't know who carried it out. We'll find out. I promise you, before this is over, we'll get both him and Genovese. I promise."
Hutch's head fell to his chest. Starsky relaxed his guard, going to his knees in front of his partner. "Babe, I'm sorry. But there's nothing you or anyone else can do right now. From what I've gathered, they think she helped somebody to break in, a thief who didn't know any better. Bauer's out of the way. As long as they have what belongs to them, they'll leave it alone, I think. And that's where we have to leave it, too, for now. But that's not the end of it and you have my word. Do you hear me?" He got a tiny nod.
For long minutes they stayed silent, motionless, then Hutch lifted his head, shook it. "I have to tell Dobey, get myself off this case."
Starsky gently arrested his vague groping for the phone again. "Don't."
"What do you want me to do, Starsky, leave a longer graveyard in my wake? You expect me to go on after this? You think anybody would let me even if I tried?" The words were angry, the voice defeated.
"Let me worry about anybodies. I don't know if I can expect you to go on, but I want you to."
"Simple. I need you."
"Come on, Starsky, you were ready to take this case with or without me. You even told me to get off it."
"So I was an idiot. Hold it against me if you want, but don't desert me right now. I've never been under this long, Hutch, I can't do it alone, and I can't do it with somebody else."
The blank glaze over Hutch's eyes was now replaced by something else, a trapped look. "Starsk, don't -- don't do this to me...I...even if I...they won't let me, don't you understand? I can't keep this a secret...I can't -- don't ask me that. And once they know...."
Starsky placed his hands on his partner's knees. "Hutch, trust me, please. Lie down, try to get some rest. Let me go talk to Dobey. I swear I'll tell him everything. I won't leave anything out. Let me take care of this. For once, leave it all to me, at least until the morning. Don't do anything until I come back. Please, can I have just until the morning? Will you wait for me?"
After a while, Hutch shrugged, resigned. That seemed to be the closest thing to a permission Starsky was going to get. He settled for it.
Starsky had called Dobey and by the time he got to Metro, the captain had arrived there, rumpled, grumpy, but present. After listening to his man, he had decided to call the DA and the commissioner. Those two hadn't been thrilled about rising with the birds and had taken their time arriving, making Starsky stew. He hated to leave Hutch alone longer than absolutely necessary.
McNeil was carrying on and on, showing no intention of running out of steam. "After all the lectures I gave both of you about coercion, entrapment -- maybe I should've covered petty crimes and on up to conspiracy! I expected better, a lot better, from an officer of his years and experience. And you, how could you go along with him?"
Starsky kept looking at the DA levelly. That he'd been unaware of Hutch's actions was nobody's business. McNeil could draw any conclusions he wished.
Dobey interceded. "What's done is done. Let's stop wasting time and find out where we stand."
McNeil gave the captain a sour look. "Are you filing a charge against your officer?"
"No! This is departmental first. If and when it's indicated, you'll have any charge that concerns your office in writing. You're here because the case is restricted, and under those circumstances you're the only legal advice available. We can cover all bases here once and for all."
"Okay. Well, stupid or not -- and believe me, you two were mighty stupid -- I don't want my office sidetracked on this affair. All it'll do is contaminate the larger one. The Marruzzi organization is too important. The case involves two cities, years of taxpayers' money."
"Oh, I see," Starsky couldn't help saying. "It's inconvenient, huh?"
"Starsky," Dobey admonished.
"I should think you'd consider me generous," McNeil said.
"Sure, just as soon as I can believe you're not after bigger glory. What's a piddlin' cop -- "
"Detective, are you all here? Surely you realize Sergeant Hutchinson is getting a break he doesn't deserve. Your partner should be grateful."
"Oh, yeah, right up Hutch's alley," Starsky muttered under his breath, then asked, "Are you tellin' me he won't be held responsible?"
"Of course he's held responsible! He committed a crime -- "
"He made a mistake!"
McNeil ignored him. "And people are dead. A man is morally responsible for the results of his actions."
"Nobody has to remind Hutch of his moral responsibilities. Give me the legalese, huh? This ain't Sunday School. I'm gettin' old here."
If possible, McNeil's face got even longer. "Legalese? I'll prosecute him the day Genovese files charges. Bauer is primarily Narco's problem. And yours, Commissioner. As for the girl, you're telling me she was an illegal alien. Who knows if or when the body will turn up. By that time, we may not even be able to identify her. What's there to do? For all purposes, she doesn't even exist, dead or alive. So your partner is off the hook as far as my office is concerned."
"Terrific. That'll make him feel all better."
"Frankly, Sergeant, how he feels about it doesn't concern me in the slightest. And the same goes for you, too." He rose. "I don't have time for this, Harold. I'm forgetting it, and try not to remind me of it."
"Commissioner?" the captain asked. "What's your opinion?"
Warner studied his fingernails. "The best thing for all concerned seems to be to let it alone. I expect no more shenanigans, though. I'm going to have my hands full with Narco and Bauer. Bet you dollars to doughnuts that information about exactly how bad a cop Bauer was will become public very soon. They'll do that to cool our ardor for the killers. I don't need another blot to worry about. You're on your own." He also rose and joined McNeil. "However, Sergeant, I hope your partner wasn't expecting a promotion anytime."
Which was just hot air, Starsky knew. They couldn't put anything in Hutch's record unless they wanted to take official action. With nothing in the record, that threat would last as long as the incumbent commissioner. But he was upset at the man for having equated Hutch with Bauer and couldn't stay quiet. "That's just great. A felon can spend ten years breakin' the law. We sweat and put him away. He spends a year pretendin' to be a good boy and he's out on parole. Bauer plays both sides of the street and we can't touch him. Hutch works for ten years with a good record, almost gets killed for it times over, makes one mistake and that's it? If you're gonna put this in his record and do somethin' about it, go ahead. If not, don't threaten my partner. If it comes to that' I can make a few -- "
"Shut up, Starsky!" The bellow came from Dobey, predictably.
The DA and the commissioner left, and he was left alone with his captain. "They think they're bein' so generous," he grumbled. "They don't realize Hutch don't need help to drive the nails in." He was exhausted, but his partner was waiting. He hoped. He talked his legs into taking over from the chair. "Gotta go, Cap'n, before he cooks up another wild idea in that blond head of his."
"Starsky." Dobey's stern tone stopped him at the door. "I'm not happy. You can tell him that. You can also tell him I don't care how generous the DA and the commissioner might be. He answers to me first. I won't concern myself with what goes into the record and what doesn't; as soon as this case is over, he's on suspension."
"Yeah, sure," he muttered. Only after he had closed the door he stopped to consider, then stuck his head back in. "Thanks, Cap'n." Dobey scowled at him. He grinned tiredly at the captain.
Hutch hadn't moved one inch, and Starsky was glad enough, although he knew that that much containment might end up in an eruption. He sat down, didn't seem to be noticed. "Hey." He had spoken softly but Hutch jumped, wouldn't look at him.
"Did you bring a warrant?"
"Once was enough, never again. There isn't one, Hutch. There ain't gonna be one."
"How did you manage that?"
"I didn't manage anything. I just laid it on the line. NcNeil and the commissioner, it was their decision."
"How's that possible?"
Starsky told him. Not word for word. But he realized that however he softened the phrasing, Hutch would know. They both knew the system well enough. By the time he finished, his partner had lost the disinterested attitude and seemed to be going directly in the opposite direction. The pale blue eyes fixed him with something very much like accusation.
"You already knew," Hutch said and there was no doubt about the accusation in his voice. "That's why you said you'd handle it."
"I didn't know, Hutch. But it wasn't hard to figure they weren't gonna touch it."
The blond laughed, or tried to. "What's the joke, I can't even get arrested? It's no joke, is it?" He lifted one hand, fingers spread, studied it. "Funny, I don't look like a skeleton in anybody's closet."
"Aw, come on, Hutch. It ain't like you'll be a repeat offender. They know that." The blond yanked his hand away from Starsky's attempt to lower it, then pushed away from his partner with a sudden move, stood up, went to the window.
"How magnanimous of them. Go and sin no more -- that's God's province, dammit, not McNeil's or the commissioner's!" His voice was rising.
Starsky was tired enough to be wobbly, but he followed his partner, then had to keep following since Hutch wouldn't stop at one place longer than a few seconds. "If it helps, Dobey's suspending you after the case."
Even though he knew that if he also raised his voice they were going to end up screaming at each other, Starsky couldn't help it. His nerves were already worn thin. "Exactly what I told him. Anyway, who appointed you God?"
"If McNeil and the commissioner shouldn't distribute his amnesty, who the hell're you to dish out divine vengeance? Come off your damned high-horse and join the human race, partner. You didn't commit an unspeakable sin. You got pushed into a corner and you made a mistake. Or are you too good for those?"
"Mistake? I decided the end justified the means. When did I start doing that? Remember Iron Mike? My God, I remember thinking I never wanted to get to that point. I wouldn't. I'd quit before I did. Never. Not me. Now I find I'm there already, and just didn't know it. Maybe I even knew it but couldn't admit it. How do I look at -- "
"Stop it, Hutch!" He also wished the blond would stop roving. More than anything, he wished they could stop yelling at each other. "You're your own worst enemy. Anybody who can flog himself so mercilessly can't go bad. You'll destroy yourself first. Okay, you blew it once. It's done. The question is, are you ever going to forgive yourself?"
"Two people died because of me!"
"Hutch, it ain't like you conspired to kill 'em."
"Makes a hell of a lot of difference to the dead, doesn't it?"
Starsky decided he was really too tired for this. "All right, damn you, don't forgive yourself! But will you please, for God's sake, forgive me? I can't take much more."
That brought Hutch up short. So abruptly, in fact, that Starsky ran into him. "You?"
"Yes, me!" Starsky pulled back, shook his head. "Don't you think I know if I hadn't wanted to prove so badly that I still had it, that Gunther didn't carve it all out of me, you wouldn't be in this mess? You pleaded with me a week ago, but I couldn't settle for a little glory. I wanted it all. If this is the price, I don't want any of it. I'm sorry I ever wanted it. Marruzzi can have the whole city, the whole damned country if he wants. Nothing's worth your pain to me."
"Starsk, don't. It's okay. You don't have to...I don't blame you. You didn't know. How could you?"
Hutch was no longer shouting. Starsky gentled his voice, too. "Neither did you. How about not blaming yourself?"
His partner stayed silent for a long minute. "Not very nice, babe."
There was perhaps a bit of truth in that. Starsky had the grace to blush. They knew each other too well and sometimes a little emotional blackmail crept in unnoticed, like second nature. "Just because I know the right thing to say don't make me any less sincere." He was truly sorry for dragging Hutch into the case and keeping him there. He'd have no compunctions about dropping it immediately, three years and the taxpayers' money be damned -- except there was a promise to be kept now. "I really am sorry."
Hutch seemed to have worked the anger out of his system. "I know," he said softly.
Starsky knew depression would follow. "Will you stand still for one blessed minute until I open the couch? I gotta lie down or I'm gonna fall. It's a miracle you didn't cut yourself on that broken glass already, so will you just stay where you are?"
Hutch looked at where he had thrown the shot glass a few hours ago and promptly headed there to pick up the shards. Starsky heaved an exasperated sigh. "Hutch, you're worse than a kid. Put something on your feet and get the broom if you insist."
"Oh," the blond said and started looking for slippers.
"Oh," Starsky mimicked to himself. And they let him carry a gun.
Once he opened out the couch, it was beyond him to do anything but fall onto it. He'd learned that when he started noticing each breath going in and out it was time to give the body its due, lessen the exertion. Talk or move, one or the other. If he managed carefully, nobody noticed.
Hutch sat on the other side. "Business as usual?"
"Up to you. I'm not goin' on without you. I mean, the next time I start to slip, who'll dance with me to remind me who I am. Who'd even begin to think of it?"
A half-smile appeared on Hutch's face, didn't stay long. "I don't know how good I'll be."
"You'll be fine."
"I don't know."
Some more discussion was in order, obviously. "Stop makin' me look up. Lie down and tell me why you don't think you'll be good."
Hutch lay down, stared at the ceiling. "I don't know what's left there to get a hold of. It's been going, slowly and slowly, bit by bit, chipped away. You know all those things we grow up learning: truth, right, justice, beliefs, pride. You try to hold on, but truth becomes whatever's convenient, right gets dictated to you."
He rolled away. Starsky heard the bitterness creep into his voice. "Beliefs are just interpretations, pride is archaic anyway, justice turns into expediency -- and you keep on going. You change your definitions, twist them around, or just keep them to yourself, and you keep going. Because by that time you have something else fueling you. I've finally figured out that it's anger. You see the wrongs and how people get away with them, so you build this righteous anger. Then you do something wrong and then...they let you get away with it, too."
The blond paused, thought for awhile, then faced his partner. "Starsky, that leaves nothing. If you happen to be the gander, how can you get righteous over what the goose gets? Great leveler, our system. What do I fall back on?"
Starsky had to think hard. Hutch's philosophical forays weren't easy to keep up with. But this wasn't an abstract meandering he'd normally balk at or cut short with something totally inane. It mattered to his partner, so he concentrated. "There's one more step, Hutch."
"In your case, tenacity, I know. I don't have it."
"Sure you do, but that's not what I was talkin' about. There's tolerance. Okay, it's a screwed-up world, but all we've got. I'm not sayin' you don't try to make it better. Still, you bear with it at the same time. You gotta start with yourself, though."
"Yep." His partner didn't look convinced. "What's wrong with it?" Starsky wanted to know.
"Nothing, in itself. But one more step down and you hit acceptance. That's sheep. I left my fold a long time ago to escape exactly that."
"Don't worry, partner. We're the rebels, remember? I think we'll be dead before we can get there. Besides, you just said there was no place to go, and we found some more. Leave it to us and who knows what else we can come up with." His eyes were closing. He let them. But Hutch spoke after only a short break.
"Why?" His eyes felt just fine closed, thank you. Except the pillow was lumpy.
"A few days ago you said you didn't like this partnership anymore. And here you are willing to go through all these changes with me."
Starsky punched the pillow. It didn't help. "I didn't say that. I said I didn't like your idea of it lately. If you think it's the same thing, you've got a lot to learn. A ship that gets battered doesn't necessarily get flushed with the bathwater. You don't throw the baby out with the sink."
"Are you out of it, or are you doing it on purpose?"
"Mixing your metaphors and making me dizzy."
"Is it workin'?"
"If the aim was to short out my brain, yes, I'd say."
"Good. Try to get some sleep."
He felt Hutch rolling over. Shortly, though, he felt a very faint movement of the bed. Just a slight...tremble? He leaned on an elbow to look over his partner's shoulder. "Hutch?"
"She was so young. Did...did you see her?"
Starsky had to strain to hear. "Must've," he answered. "But by the time I was payin' attention, she wasn't at the club anymore."
"She was tiny. Had this...simple way about her -- oh, damn."
"I wanted to get away from the dogs, I didn't know I was throwing her to them. I took her, I used her. And I don't even know who killed her. Except me, of course. There isn't even a body. There's nothing I can do for her. Nothing."
In the dim light cast by the drawn blinds, Starsky saw the throat muscles working, the chest movement that was almost like cramping, knew what Hutch was trying to contain. "Hey," he whispered softly, "nobody says you can't cry for her." That brought a single sob. He wrapped his arm tight around his partner and that brought out the rest. What remained would be up to time to take care of. He lay his head on Hutch's shoulder and drowsed.
Two weeks later, Linda cornered Starsky in the lobby of the club as he was just coming in. "You're late tonight."
"I was sent out on collection," he grumbled. It was a step up for Caporetto, another tireless chore for Starsky. "Something had better break soon, or I'm going to."
"Let me help," she said, all seductiveness.
Starsky instantly saw behind it. "Got something?" he whispered, looking round, finding little privacy.
"Toy with me," Linda suggested, kiddingly, pulling him next to the wall. He put his elbows on it to lean close to her. "All that strong-arming must've brought out the machismo; you can pretend better than that."
"Sure, and then where do I take it?" He scowled at her chuckle. "Glad you're havin' a ball; I just hope it means you've got something good. Give."
She walked her fingers up his shirt, as someone passed by. "I know who's doing the laundry."
Finally a break? "Who?"
"How do you know?"
"He was at my station a lot and I noticed he kept payin' with big bills when I'd just given him change. Normally, customers don't like accumulatin' change, especially when they're all dressed up. Gets cumbersome. So I kept track. He does it all over the club." Starsky nodded, accepting the information. "That ain't all. I confirmed it."
"I lifted his wallet."
"You did what!?" At his outburst, heads turned around. He pulled closer to her. "Linda," he started, threateningly.
"Don't worry. I made sure it was found and returned. For all he knows, he just dropped it. He carries the marked bills together in a separate compartment. Seems a positive to me."
It seemed so to him as well, but he gave an exasperated growl. "And where the hell did you learn to pick pockets?"
"Hey, you're not the only one with a street education."
"I don't know how to pick pockets," he hissed.
"So I'm more resourceful. The question is, where do we take it from here?"
"You, sweetheart, will take it and your crooked, gorgeous self behind your bar. I take it to my partner."
"What else is new? When do I get a piece of this action?"
"Keep your hands to yourself from now on, and if you're lucky, never." She gave him a dirty look, ducked under his arm and started to walk away. "Hey," Starsky called out. "Good girl."
"You like livin' dangerously, don't you?" she retorted with a toss of her head.
Hutch would be unavailable until closing time, so there was no sense in getting impatient, but he couldn't help it. For a while there, he'd been glad to take it one day at a time and actually hadn't wanted anything heavy coming down while his partner pulled himself together. Luckily, Genovese had started sending him out of the club on jobs and it had been easier to spend some time with Hutch. The blond had needed it. Now he was pretty much himself again, and Starsky couldn't wait to get on with the case. He decided to take time out for dinner, mull it over. Then he'd have to give the day's report to Genovese.
"Excuse me," Hutch said, tapping the large man on the shoulder. "Could I see you for a minute?"
Once Luigi glanced over his shoulder and identified the blond man as one of the dealers, he turned with the barstool to face him. "Yes?"
Hutch shrugged. This place would do as well as another. Most patrons were intent on drinks. "Mister...uh, I don't know your last name." Actually, he did, but his undercover persona wasn't supposed to.
"You don't need to."
"Fine. Luigi, if you will meet me somewhere, we have something to discuss."
Thick eyebrows connected. "Like what?"
"Like...." Hutch extended some bills. "Yours, I believe. Interesting number sequence there. Careful, not very clean, I'm afraid."
Luigi wouldn't touch the money. He looked nonchalant, but the small eyes were narrowed. "I don't know what you're talking about."
"I'd be glad to elaborate, but not here, don't you agree? Of course, if you think I'm mistaken, we can let Mr. Genovese decide."
Luigi plainly didn't believe in wasting time. "Where?"
"Harbor Inn, South Franklin. After closing tonight, say, one-thirty."
There was a brief nod of the massive head before the man turned away.
Hutch left the club, crossed the parking lot and entered his car. As he was inserting the key in the ignition, for a second he froze, then completed the action, but didn't turn the car on. "Am I supposed to wait until you go 'boo'?"
"Some cop you are," came Starsky's voice from somewhere close to the floor at the back. "Leavin' your car unlocked. Good radar, though."
"It's your aftershave. Cheap stuff."
"Gotta be. You gave it to me."
"Oh. Well, I must've been striving for synonymity." He expected more than saw the disembodied hand coming and ducked his head, chuckling. "Ooops, didn't think you'd catch that." This time it was either let the hand connect or smash his nose into the steering wheel. "Hope that made you feel better."
"Good. Now, should I drive or is this a shortie?" He checked his watch; he didn't have too much time.
"How're we doin'?"
Hutch surveyed the lot again. "Private enough."
Starsky became visible in the rearview mirror as a low, dark shadow in the back seat. "I found out who's been passin' the dirty money."
They spoke simultaneously. "Luigi." Hutch felt Starsky's glare on the back of his head. Same words left their mouths in tandem once more. "How did you know?"
"You first," Hutch said to break them out of the me-and-my-shadow routine. "How did you find out?"
"Who, me?" Starsky grumbled. "Oh, I'm just the chopped liver, don't mind me. It was Linda."
Hearing Starsky's irritation already, Hutch realized his sin of omission. He'd left Starsky out again. "Well, that's confirmation, anyway," he said uneasily.
"How did you know?"
"From the other end. Leaned a little, somebody bent and gave me the name of his laundromat."
"Just found out this morning," Hutch fibbed a little; he'd had hints ore then. "I was going to tell you. Anyway, I was just following your lead."
Starsky seemed to accept both the explanation and the cajoling. "Well, at least something paid off. I wanna stay right on top of this, Hutch. I've had it. I'm gonna have a heart-to-heart with Luigi soon's possible."
And that's why, the blond thought, I've been sneaking around. "Whoa, pull up a bit. We know nothing about the man, nothing."
"Except he's got a lot of information, has to, and he's put his head on the choppin' block. I can't let this one pass. It may never come again."
"Will you wait a minute! We're not going to let it pass, but don't rush into it, okay? Think about it. We'll be asking the man to break the all-important Code of Silence. It's goddamned sacred to them. What if he won't play, at any risk? You talk to him and he balks, and so much for your cover."
"So what're you sayin'?" Starsky asked.
"I should talk to him."
"Your cover under warranty, or what?"
"No, but if mine's blown, we haven't lost three years of Rizzo's work, not to mention ours. Caporetto goes, and both operations are down the tubes." There. Starsky had to accept that argument. It was good. Somehow he didn't think his other one would be acceptable: let me, because I've got a bad feeling about this. There was a point Starsky wouldn't be pushed past. The silence from the back seat was long, stubborn.
"I don't like it," Starsky finally said.
Ready to play his next hand, Hutch turned toward him. "What's the matter? It's your case, is that it? Or...Starsky, come on, are you worried about who does what and who gets the credit at this late date?"
In the dim light, the widening of Starsky's eyes was still visible, and the indignation in them. "'Course not! When was that ever an issue? It's just -- forget it, you're right. It's your show; go to it."
Hutch felt a pang of remorse, especially since his manipulation had worked exactly as he had planned. Sorry, babe. You let me know you too well. Call us even. He faced the front again. His partner didn't budge from the back seat. "Something else?" the blond asked, throwing a glance at his watch again.
"No, just no place to go, nothin' to do. Wanna go for a drive?"
Take your medicine, Hutch told himself, but attempted one more dodge. "I'm kinda tired."
"Let's go to your place. Had a depressing day. I can use a break from this routine."
Maybe some penance would actually make him feel better. "Starsk, uh, I'm meeting someone."
His partner snorted. "Tired, huh? Not enough to disappoint the lady, I hope." He reached for the door handle. "Okay, I'm gone."
Hutch found himself unable to take the easy out. "No. It's Luigi." Here it comes.
Silence. Long and thunderous.
"'I was going to tell you,'" Starsky parodied him. "When, Hutch, after you'd wrapped up the whole case? Just what the hell do you call -- " His voice had started to rise, but he cut off, took a deep, audible breath, let it out. "What's the use?" he mumbled to himself, then asked the blond, "When and where?"
Hutch told him, heard him start to leave the car. "Where are you going?" he asked, loath to part like this.
"I'm goin' back to the club," Starsky stated evenly. "You're goin' to meet Luigi. As for the rest, didn't we have that argument recently? You know how I feel; you know I don't like it. Ain't nothing I can do if you don't give a damn about it." He was too much of a cop to slam the door and draw attention, out as softly as the door closed, Hutch heard it slamming.
Luigi was prompt. He also had sharp eyesight. In the ramshackle bar, through the haze and the clutter of seafarers' memorabilia, he instantly spotted his objective. He deposited his oversized body into the booth, across from the blond.
"Drink?" Hutch offered, got a grunt for his pains. Amenities dispensed with, he parted his jacket enough for the holster to show.
Luigi noted it with a downward flick of the eyes, then faced the detective squarely. "You're playing a dangerous game, sonny." His large hands were on the table, immobile but menacing.
"So are you," Hutch retorted. "I wonder what Genovese would do if he knew there's a lot of dirty money circulating at his club, and who's channeling it? On second thought, why settle for underlings? Mr. Marruzzi should handle this. After all, the last time somebody screwed around with dirty money, he lost his only son."
"I'm awake." Luigi rumbled. "I can follow the scenario. What's the punch-line?"
"What, you're not enjoying the performance?"
"No, and what I don't enjoy, you'll regret later. Blackmail can be hazardous, Blondie."
"Oh, I nave a lot of scenarios, and you're wrong about this one. There's a plot-twist, you see." Hutch reached into his pocket. "You have the right to remain silent," he continued, flipping open his badge. "If you give up that right -- should I go on?"
Luigi spared a glance at the gold shield, studied the ID card facing it. "What's the deal, Hutchinson?"
"Information. I keep mine, you spill all yours."
Luigi motioned for a drink, and sat still, almost unblinking until it arrived, took only a sip, then disregarded it. "Omerta," he intoned, as if invoking an ancient, wrathful god.
"Ah, yes. Well, Luigi, a corpse tends to stay silent forever. If you want to be loyal to your code to that extent, it's your funeral. I'm a police officer; I have to respect your rights. In fact, I was about to give them to you." Hutch articulated clearly and slowly to give the man time to think. "You have the right to remain silent. If you give up that right, anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to have an attorney present during questioning. If you so desire and cannot afford one, one will be appointed to you at -- stop me anytime, Luigi. Once I pronounce arrest, I can't take it back even if I wanted to."
"Go ahead," the man growled.
"Let me digress a minute. It might tickle you to think you can thumb your nose at the law, and it still has to protect you. We'll assume you're right. I'll take you in, and I have enough to make the charges stick. Let's also assume Marruzzi will think that's enough punishment for you, although that assumption seems shaky to me. I know another code of your kind: any man who lets the police settle his accounts is less than a man. But just to make you feel better, let's say you'll be safe in prison. Let's say Marruzzi will not make an example of you to let others know the dangers of disregarding his orders. Are you with me so far?"
The large man was bland as a boulder, but his color was definitely off. Leisurely, Hutch took a sip of his beer, dried his lips with a cocktail napkin. "Let me tell you something about myself. I've been a cop for a long time, and I'm getting damned sick of creeps who think laws are for anybody else but them, and when the going gets tough, it's a whole different story. I resent that. As far as I'm concerned, you're fair game."
Hutch leaned forward. "You seem to have something working upstairs, so I'll outline another scenario, and you write the ending. You've figured out I've been undercover. Don't take it personally, but I wasn't after you. I want the organization. I think you can give it to me. If not, fine, I'll settle for you. I can arrange for the DA to go easy, find a friendly judge -- you've heard of those, I'm sure. I haven't been twiddling my thumbs all this time. With what I have, I'll move in. If you get off with just a slap on the wrist, and I start applying the heat at the same time -- ready to write that ending?"
Luigi considered, finished his drink in one gulp, put the glass down. "I won't give you Marruzzi," he finally said, "even if I could. I can't, but in any case, I won't."
Honor among thieves? Or fear of heresy? "Okay, but I want all five caporegimes, and enough on their operations."
"Full immunity guarantee, up until this moment. Across the board," Luigi bargained back. "In advance."
"For that I'll have to know all your past, and you can forget about in advance."
"Fine, I'll take the immunity after you're satisfied with the information, but you'll give it blind."
"Maybe. No promises. It's up to the DA."
"Just information and evidence. No testimony," Luigi stressed.
"I can't promise that, either."
"All right, if necessary, only closed-door testimony. And I want protected witness status after that. Until then, I stay where I am. Safest way. You don't give me away, I won't give you away. I'll deal directly with you. The DA is okay, too. Anybody else involved, I have to approve first."
Hutch wondered if the man was extraordinarily sharp, or just experienced. He seemed able to cover all bases quite efficiently. "For a man who doesn't have a leg to stand on, you're getting awfully pushy."
"Take it or leave it," Luigi said with finality.
"The Commissioner and the DA will decide that. Just hope what you've got to sell is worth it."
"It's worth it. Better information you can only get from Marruzzi himself or his consigliere. Try knocking on those doors."
Hutch wondered, again, just exactly who or what Luigi was in the organization. It was risky to deal with unknowns. "All right, Luigi. Don't get lost. Because I won't bother looking for you. I'll just drop the hints and let Marruzzi worry about it. Expect to hear from me. I'll let you know if we have a deal." He had planned on leaving first, but he changed his mind. "You can go now."
He waited until Luigi disappeared, then he carefully wrapped the glass the man had used in paper napkins and took it with him.
Hutch was about to close the double doors to the foyer of his cover apartment when they were pushed. Starsky quietly slipped between them to the inside. Hutch glanced up and down the street through the glass. "Where did you come from?"
"I was just ahead o' you." Starsky started up the steps.
The blond man frowned, annoyed that he hadn't spotted his partner, then shrugged and followed him. Fed up or not, you couldn't help covering me, could you? Should've known.
Once the apartment door was closed behind them, Starsky immediately, and peremptorily, requested all the details. Hutch supplied them while he put the glass away carefully, then came back into the single room. "Went fine so far, I think," he concluded.
Starsky opened out the couch.
"What're you doing?" Hutch asked. His partner didn't seem to be in a talkative mood, not that the blond had expected otherwise. "Are you staying?" Starsky nodded. "Why?"
Hutch conceded the point by spreading his hands. "Okay, but it's not necessary."
Starsky inspected the two pillows, grimaced at the lumpy one and threw it on the chair, appropriating the fluffy one.
"You're worrying needlessly," Hutch pointed out, watching him cast off his shoes and stretch out, clothes and all.
"Wake me up at five. Then you can sleep until seven-thirty. McNeil should be available around eight. Turn the light out, will ya?"
Hutch did as he was asked, shaking his head at Starsky, who might feel like strangling the blond, but would allot each of them the same amount of sleep in his fair fashion. Hutch also had to admit his partner had a point. If Luigi was willing to go to drastic lengths to try and squirm out of the deal, the next hours would be the time to do it, before it was put before the DA. A little precaution wouldn't hurt.
He also shrugged out of his jacket, kept his holster on, sat on the bed to remove his shoes, then shifted to lie down.
"What're you doin'?" Starsky asked.
"I won't go to sleep. I just want to stretch out. In case you haven't noticed, this is the only horizontal surface except the floor." At the moment, he wouldn't put it past Starsky to suggest that he take the floor, but his partner stayed quiet. Hutch picked up one of the seat cushions, put it under his head, discarded it for being too high, and settled for his arms.
"There's another pillow," Starsky's voice came out of the dark.
"Yeah, I saw the elimination process. No, thanks."
A long string of mumble-mumble-grumble issued from his partner, then a put-upon sigh, then, "Oh, hell, here, use half of this." The said half plopped down into his face. He pulled out from under, shifted a little more toward the middle of the bed, placed his head over it.
About ten minutes later, Starsky spoke up again. "At this rate, I'm gonna have to make an honest man outta you one o' these days."
Starsky's ways were unique. A consolation attempt might come out as "Wanna drive my car?" Sympathy might be expressed in a barrage of irrelevant information memorized off baseball cards. This one, Hutch knew, was his way of saying, if not "You're forgiven," then at least "We're still all right."
"I do give a damn," the blond said softly.
A resigned grunt, followed by, "Figured that."
"Explanations," Hutch offered, "or apology?"
"Shut up, I'm tryin' to sleep."
This time the DA was thrilled by the information they'd put into his hands. Depending on the integrity of the information Luigi would supply, he granted the detectives their discretion in giving the man immunity. And, apart from looking daggers at Hutch, McNeil seemed to abide by his promise to forget the Bauer fiasco.
Afterwards, Hutch insisted on stopping by Metro briefly. Starsky brought the captain up to date while the blond visited the lab. When he rejoined his partner, Hutch had cornered Minnie.
"I did this favor already," the woman was objecting. "Hire a personal secretary. I have other—"
"I know, I know," Hutch interrupted, his most ingratiating smile pasted on. "But now we have Luigi's fingerprints, whenever they can get into gear at the lab. And this time you think we might go beyond our own computers? I don't like dealing with a mystery man. Come on, Minnie, who else can do a thorough job? Who else can I depend on?"
"That and a quarter," she grumbled, but now looked interested herself. fingerprints, huh? Last time I couldn't find those, not even in the man's driver's license application. Not to mention the application itself. Oh, dammit, Blondie, go exercise the charm on somebody else. There go my evenings."
Hutch leaned to give her an affectionate peck. Starsky decided to contribute to upholding the good diplomatic relations and claimed the other cheek. "All right, already." She waved them away, but only after both sets of lips had landed. "You won't get off so cheaply."
"Name it, Minnie," Hutch offered, expansively.
Starsky was the one who got the speculative look. Minnie had definite preferences, even in jest. "Feel like paying your partner's bill?"
"Careful, sweetheart," Starsky leered. "Fight about now you're playing with fire."
"Oh, go away, Curly. Check back with me when you don't sound so desperate."
They were in the car again when Starsky asked, "What next?"
"I'll let Luigi know we have a deal and wait for delivery."
"Anytime he's ready. I'd push for soon. The sooner the better."
"Take my schedule into account, huh?" Hutch stayed silent but it was one of those loaded silences Starsky was familiar with. He gave the blond a few minutes to break it on his own, then prompted, "Don't choke on it."
"Uh, Starsk, I, uh...."
"All right, I can tell I'm not gonna like it, but delay ain't gonna make it better, so spit it out."
Hutch watched the scenery gliding past. "I think we should keep it the way we started. Let me be the one to deal with Luigi. You stay behind the scenes."
Starsky let some blocks go by before answering. "You've got a lot of nerve, partner. Whaddaya mean we started? I don't remember startin' a damn thing."
"Okay, you're right, but it makes sense, Starsk. Luigi knows me now. If I've got an unidentified partner keeping an eye on things, he's not likely to try any cute tricks. It's safer."
For who, Starsky wondered. "You do realize, don't you, that I'm getting sick of side-lining?"
"But you still want me to humor you -- because that's what it'll be, Hutch." He had a hard time hearing his partner's reply.
Starsky sighed. "Okay, but this credit line's fast reachin' the limit, so don't charge any more anytime soon." He considered that fair warning.
His own suspicions about Hutch's motivations notwithstanding, Starsky knew his partner's choice of operating procedure actually made sense. If it wasn't for one small catch, he suspected as he stood at one corner of the club and watched Luigi brood into his glass, no doubt about the delivery he now knew was expected of him. The large man kept raising his head to glare into the mirror over the bar which had a clear view of Hutch's table. Starsky didn't know what was cooking in the man's head, but didn't care to take any chances with it. The threat of a partner watching over the blond might deter any nasty ideas Luigi might get, but only if the man knew one existed. Whether Hutch had so informed him on his own or not was another thing Starsky didn't care to chance. At least, not lately.
He got one of the portable phones, found a booth hidden behind some potted plants, plugged it in, dialed the number for the bar and asked for Luigi. Through the openings between the wide leaves, he followed the receiver being handed to the man. He whispered into the mouthpiece.
"What -- who?"
"You don't know who, but I still see you. I also know you've got an audition coming up. Singing, you know. Now before you get all upset and spill that martini -- your third, right? -- on that expensive beige suit, let me say that I'm on the same side as that blond you keep glarin' at. I happen to like the big hulk, no accountin' for taste. Wouldn't want anything to happen to any part of his packaging, so I'm gonna keep my eye on you. Get my drift?"
"Should've known there'd be two of you," came the grumble.
Starsky realized that, no, Hutch hadn't told the man. "Just play nice with my partner, Luigi, and we'll get along fine."
He hung up. Watching and waiting remained, neither of which he cared a great deal for, at any time. We're gonna have a long talk, Hutch, one o' these days.
In a few days, Luigi delivered the goods. Hutch suspected that what had taken time was hesitation on the man's part, and perhaps fear, rather than collecting the information he'd bargained away. The list of events and witnesses, copies of ledgers and correspondence, all the way up to copied video tapes of some important meetings at various levels of the organization couldn't possibly have been compiled in that short a time. Luigi had to have been hedging his bets all along.
Then Dobey called the blond with the results of the latest investigation into their mystery man, and mystery was no more. Hutch arranged to meet his partner at one of Starsky's favorite Mexican restaurants to bring him up to date.
By the time the blond walked in, Starsky had already put away a great deal of the food he had been missing lately and was ready for his second demolition run through the buffet.
He got up and picked up the tray as Hutch slipped into the booth. "What do you want? They've got the greatest -- " His partner's look and color suddenly registered, interrupting him. Been to the morgue again? Shaking his head, he swept the greasy plates onto the tray and cleared the table, came back to sit down.
Hutch's words confirmed his suspicions. "Do you know how many Jane Does turn up in this city daily? There's a factory here churning them out and we're all part of it."
Starsky knew it'd be no use telling Hutch to stop torturing himself. He'd go on until he found Consuela's body, or failing that, until he located a stray in need to take care of, and made amends that way. "How does the delivery look? Luigi come through okay?" he asked to change the subject.
After a brief silence, Hutch shook his head as if to clear it, then had to push his hair out of his face. "Yeah, fine. Offhand I'd say McNeil's going to be in heaven. The commissioner, too, I suppose. From a quick look, I think a lot of unsolved case files can be closed for good. Nobody can accuse Luigi of skimping on the deal."
Starsky was not sanguine about criminals bearing gifts. If Luigi had paid off handsomely, his first inclination was to wonder what the man had thought worth buying at such a price. His life, yes, but what else?
"We have to find the time to go through it," Hutch continued. "When can you get away for at least eight to ten hours?"
"Today's no good. I'll try hard and make it tomorrow." He wished his partner would smile, just once. "Hey, Hutch, it's just about over, huh?"
No smile. "It's going to take a while to sift through and organize. Once we move, we'll have to move quickly, before they know what hit them. In the meantime, I can give Luigi his immunity -- again."
"We'll have to coordinate with New -- whaddaya mean again?"
Hutch looked like the jacket was stifling him. He kept fiddling with it but couldn't remove it in public. "Luigi is one hell of an interesting character. You know how we couldn't trace him back further than six years? That's because he didn't exist then. Not as Luigi, anyway."
"What're you talkin' about?"
"Now that we have his fingerprints, it seems the flag went up when Minnie hooked into the FBI computers. It didn't cough up any info, but it coughed up two agents -- directly into Dobey's office. Luigi was born Johnny Delano in Chicago. He was a bouncer, a heavyweight hopeful who didn't make it. He hired out as muscle when some serious intimidation was needed. Seems he couldn't stay away from the horses and high-priced girls. Fell into the middle of a federal investigation. He rolled over then, too, became a protected witness, got relocated in Florida. Then just disappeared. Didn't like the lifestyle, I suppose. Guess he surfaced here, went back to his old business."
It bothered Starsky that the man seemed to have a history of rising to the top like oil. "So he's used to insuring himself this way."
"I did notice that he knew a little too much about how these deals go down. He's done it before. Guess that's why he had a wealth of information. He must keep himself ready. Of course, it was mostly small stuff in Chicago. Marruzzi is a hell of a lot more dangerous."
"Talkin' of which," Starsky said, "wonder if Padrone know his history. It don't follow he'd accept a squealer into the fold. I mean, if omerta is that all-fired important."
"Who knows. Maybe it's all right to squeal on the competition. I tend to suspect Marruzzi knows his past. When he disappeared in Florida, the man had nothing, no resources, hardly any money, and expensive habits. How did he get to where he is without a sponsor? The cover-up job on him is too thorough. It Has Marruzzi written all over it."
Starsky grimaced, absently rubbing the tip of his nose. "So what the hell makes him worth all the trouble? Something's sittin' heavy at the pit of my stomach, Hutch."
"And you don't know what it is?" his partner muttered pointedly.
He ignored the jab. However, it made him aware that Hutch's color hadn't improved. He had never become immune to visiting the morgue, and the smells of the restaurant couldn't be helping any. "Come on, let's get some fresh air," Starsky said. "I can take a quick look at Luigi's goods." He was itching to do more than that, but it had to wait.
If Starsky never again saw a ledger it would be too soon. He had had more than his fill of accounting during his stint in the back cubicles of The Familia. But he had come back from his collecting rounds with a lot of cash, it was lunch break, and he couldn't readily find someone to dump the work on. Deciding he might as well get it over with so he could meet his partner later, he pulled out the large book.
Actually, he thought as he flipped through the pages, he hadn't done such a bad job of bookkeeping, something he'd never dreamed himself capable of. Maybe he could even try and make his own checkbook balance. Hutch would appreciate it since it was the blond who stepped in, fussing endlessly, whenever fiscal disaster threatened. Too bad he couldn't hold on to the money Genovese had been paying him. The wrong side of the law definitely paid better.
And how, he thought, looking at last month's payroll. The club had come dangerously close to a deficit, what with those IOUs canceled for the sake of reputation and an incredible bonus that had been paid to --
What the hell -- ?
At first it struck him as funny, the incongruity of Luigi receiving a huge amount of money just as he was getting ready to sell everybody down the river. Why, surfaced immediately after. He noticed there were two entries that had added up to the sum eventually paid. And then he saw the date.
The door opened behind him and he jumped, keeping himself from slamming the book shut. He'd look guilty by acting guilty. Anyway, it was only Sal.
"I thought I saw you come in," the young man said. He looked mellow, but Starsky saw the door jamb was necessary, not just useful, to his casually leaning pose. "Come and have lunch with me."
Not that he'd eat, the detective knew, but nowadays Sal couldn't wait for him to come back from the jobs. He'd even asked to go along, only to be refused by Genovese. Now Rudi, his manservant, was charged with keeping an eye on him and Sal didn't like it one bit. "I got some work here," Starsky said, his mind racing on another track.
"Come on, Tony. I've been waiting around all morning. Nobody has the time of day here."
"Kid, I said -- " Starsky cut off when he saw Sal's face fall at his impatient tone. The clinging dependence was, strangely, annoying and appealing at the same time. Nicky had been pesky, too. And the big brother hadn't been able to resist indulging him, either. Many years ago. "All right, I'll do this later." He closed the ledger, the suspicion like acid in his brain. He had to find out soon. Very soon. How, was another matter. "Let's go eat," he told a visibly brightening Sal after he deposited the book and the cash into the safe.
The lunch crowd mainly consisted of the employees eating at the club's expense and various people in the organization dropping by. Halfway into the meal, Luigi walked in, took a solitary table and ordered something. After a while, Sal leaned close to Starsky to whisper, "What is it with you and him?"
"Luigi. You watch him like...I don't know, but you do. Why?"
Starsky realized his eyes had been fixed on the man too long. "Nothin'," he mumbled, pretending to pay attention to his food. Sal had a disconcerting habit of noticing too much, even when half-zapped.
"Whatever it is, don't. Okay?"
"Drop it, Sal. I said it's nothing."
The young man didn't look convinced. "Please, Tony, just stay out of his way."
Starsky raised his head to study his companion. "Okay, I'll bite. What is it about Luigi I should stay away from?"
"No, that's not...I meant...just that...."
Sal had a tendency to make perfect sense one second and drift away into the Twilight Zone the next. Starsky patted his hand. "Come on, kid, stay with me. Tell me about Luigi. Hey, Sal, you with me?"
A frown of concentration appeared. "Shouldn't."
"Aw, come on, Sal. You know I'm still new here. I gotta know the ropes if I'm not to trip over somethin' I shouldn't."
"If I tell you...will you stay away?"
"Hey, I got nothin' to do with the man. He's always around and I'm just curious. But one day I might need to know, right? You wouldn't want me to make a mistake, would you?" He knew he was playing on Sal's attachment to him but didn't care.
"Not with him, no."
"So tell me."
"He's a -- he's afraid of nothing," Sal started. "Except grandfather, of course, and..." a small giggle interrupted, "...water."
Starsky despaired, wondering how he was to sift through an addict's chatter that might or might not be meaningless. "What?"
"Phobic, you know. Water. Ocean."
"Oh. Okay, I promise not to invite him to go skinny dippin'. What else?"
"He's...a specialist. Nonno believes in specialists. A job for every man and a man for every job. That's order. There has to be order. Grandfather likes order. His neat little pigeonholes. Need a job done, you reach in and pluck one out and dust him off and the job's done and we have order and -- "
"Whoa, whoa, stay on the track, kid."
Sal giggled again. "That's where they say Nonno found Luigi."
Starsky was thrown once more. "Come again."
"Tracks. Races. Except he wasn't Luigi then. Can't stay away from horses but never wins, they say. Anyway, Grandfather said he was trash -- lower than a pagliaio thief."
Starsky didn't know how the phrase had come about, but had heard the insult often enough. It seemed to describe a low-life who'd stoop to stealing even from the poorest. Lower than that, in these circles, would mean someone who turned traitor to his own. It made him suspect that Marruzzi knew Luigi's past. "So why did the padrone take in a piece of trash?"
"Somebody's got to take out the garbage. See? Order."
"No, I don't see, not really. What use was Luigi?"
"Take a nothing, make him something, and he'll be anything for you. grandfather needed a lupara."
Lupara was a nasty weapon, a Sicilian shotgun. With the suspicion already nagging at him, it didn't take much to make the leap. "You mean Luigi is his hit-man?" Who got paid a big bonus on the day Bauer and Consuela died -- oh, shit!
"Good, too. Never a mistake. Grandfather can pick them, can't he?"
Not as well as we can, Starsky thought. Damn. No wonder he wanted blind immunity. When hell freezes over! "Sal, I gotta go. Just remembered, I have to be somewhere. See you later." It took a bit of effort to shake himself free of the young man, but he managed it. He had very little time to set things right. In a few hours they were due to meet Dobey and a very eager DA.
"You're early," Hutch said when his partner came into the apartment. Starsky leaned against the door briefly. He should never again run up four flights of steps. "You okay?" the blond asked.
"Yeah. And I'm not early. We were almost too late." He took himself to the couch, found it littered with papers, and took the chair. "All this," he waved at the clutter. "You didn't give anybody specifics yet, did you?"
"No. You know we're seeing Dobey and McNeil in a little while."
"We may not show up."
By then Hutch was looking worried. "What's wrong? What happened?"
"Sit down, will ya?" Starsky said, unmindful that he was occupying the only free seat. Hutch sat at his feet, shifting some papers on the floor. "I hate to bring it all back, partner, but I just found out something about Luigi. For six years, he's been Marruzzi's major hit-man."
Hutch stared up at him. "You sure?"
"Damn! I knew we were moving too fast. It was rash to give him full immunity. Everybody was in such a goddamned hurry. I was, too, I guess. I was wondering why there's nothing in all this information that can be traced to any gangland slayings. Should've -- "
"Hutch," Starsky interrupted softly. "The day Bauer and Consuela were killed, Luigi was paid a lot of money by Genovese. Bonus, as it shows in the books. Two of them, in fact." He watched the realization dawn in the light-blue eyes. Hutch didn't speak. Didn't have to. After a few minutes, he uncoiled from the floor and went to a window to look out. "Hutch?"
"I gave him immunity. I sat there, looked into his face and without a reservation gave him freedom -- oh, God, where does it end?"
Starsky approached his partner. "Right here, babe, right now."
"I know it! I ended any possibility of -- "
"No, no." Starsky turned the blond around by the arms. "Listen, Hutch, he chose to talk only to you, right? Nobody else knows what we got from him. You know and I know, period. The deal was immunity in exchange for solid info. We just went through it and it was zilch. We ain't obligated no more. We can take him down."
Hutch pulled out of his hold. "There's only one thing wrong with that."
"He did give us solid info or we'd still be nowhere."
Starsky glared at him. "Don't tell me you've missed the point."
"Don't push it, Starsk! I'm trying very hard to miss it."
"Hey, you ain't gonna tell me the creep deserves a break, are you?"
"No, but that's not -- "
"Aw, come on, Hutch! Don't go all noble on me now. For a piece of trash?"
"Who gives a shit about him? You think I'm going to ask you to get on the stand one day, take an oath, and lie?"
"You don't have to ask. All you gotta do is go along." His partner was stubbornly shaking his head. "For heaven's sake, why not?"
"Starsky, you're not thinking. All this information, all this evidence, and we're just going to flush it down with the rest of the case? Refuse Luigi immunity and we can't use anything he gave us."
"Bullshit. I could've found all this on my own and who's to prove otherwise?"
"Come to your senses, Starsky, I'm losing count of the rules we're breaking here."
"Don't go into shock, partner, but I don't give a good goddamn."
"I do! And you're doing nothing of the sort, you hear me?"
"Hutch -- "
"No! And that's final. I played fast and loose once, and look what happened. I don't want that kind of burden again. Once is more than enough."
That effectively silenced Starsky. But I promised you her murderer.
Hutch perched on the windowsill, staring out blankly. "It won't be worth it, Starsk, in the end, it won't. I've learned that much. Let it go."
"Hutch, doesn't it hurt to let him get away with it?" A small protest and a very stupid question.
"What do you think? But I'd rather live with that."
He put his arm around the stiff curve of his partner's shoulder. "You don't have to. Not too long anyway. He doesn't have indefinite immunity. He's bound to cross the line again, sometime, somewhere. When he does, we'll get him. I promise." There he was again, promising.
The blond head nodded desultorily. "Yeah, sure." He shrugged in a way that told Starsky he didn't want any form of contact at the moment. "Uh, could you put my notes together? We have a meeting."
Starsky obeyed. Hutch wasn't going to care a great deal for his next plan, either, but he had never believed in promising simply because it sounded good. Maybe his partner didn't need to know too much about it. What he had to know was going to be enough to get him upset in the first place.
Even though this seemed to be a satisfactory wrap-up of the Marruzzi business, this case was stretching itself into too many late nights. Dobey decided he'd be happy to see the end of it. The afternoon had become evening, the evening two o'clock in the morning. In the meantime, chiefs of various squads and precincts had been called in, given their assignments along with the necessary warrants, and were waiting for the next day. The witnesses named by the informant were already getting rounded up. The same activity, Dobey knew, was going on in New York.
For once, McNeil wasn't complaining about the hours. Flanked by his assistants, he was in his element and riding high on anticipation. The two detectives, on the other hand, didn't act like they were closing a successful case, and after hearing about Luigi, Dobey couldn't blame them. Hutchinson was functioning on pure nervous energy. Conversely, Starsky was almost too quiet, too contained -- something that always made the captain expect the other shoe to drop.
Once everything seemed to be wrapped up, it wasn't long in coming. "Starsky and I will take the club," Hutch was saying when he was interrupted by his partner.
"You'll take the club. Make sure Caporetto doesn't get any breaks."
"Caporetto is history," the blond said.
"Not yet. I think I'll keep him just a little longer."
Hutch closed his eyes wearily for a second before turning to his partner. "Why?"
Starsky didn't answer him directly. He addressed the superiors in the room. "We can get more use outta him. All this is fine as far as it goes, but we haven't touched Marruzzi."
"We never set out to!" Hutch had made it, tightly-wound but efficiently, so far. Now he sounded ready to lose his equanimity. "That was understood from the start. Why are you changing the rules now?"
"I'm not changing the rules," Starsky explained patiently. "That's not what I meant. There's Marruzzi, untouchable. He's still got his consigliere and all his wealth. Okay, maybe he'll retire gracefully, but I wouldn't make book on that. The man was filthy rich when he came across the pond, but he didn't choose to go into toy manufacturin', did he?"
Dobey decided to contribute something. "What can he do? He'll be crippled."
"Not that badly," Starsky objected right away. "Yeah, we'll get his captains, close down a lot of the operations, but with money you can relocate, open up new routes. His customers will still be out there. Sure, the higher-ups in the organization will fall from sheer weight, and the small fry from anything, starting with parole violations. But there'll be a lot of people in the middle ranks that'll slip right outta the net." He turned to McNeil. "Right?"
The DA conceded the point, but Dobey noticed Starsky hardly waited for it. "Right. Demand out there, some work force left, capital -- who says he can't organize again?"
"So what do you suggest?" McNeil asked. He had an added gleam in his eyes.
"They're gonna be shook up. Mistakes will be made. Let me stick around and maybe we can scoop up one more load."
The black man shook his head. "Starsky, I don't think it's wise to -- "
"No, no," McNeil interrupted. "Sergeant Starsky is making perfect sense. Why not get the most out of a good cover?"
"By all means, let's get our money's worth." Hutch rubbed his forehead as if he had a headache. "We're still in then."
"We?" Starsky asked. "Caporetto, yes. But you? As what? The club ain't gonna open to business again, Hutch, not anytime soon, let alone for gambling. You don't have a cover. Besides, any day now you'll have to start givin' depositions. You're the one who dealt with the informant and heaven forbid we expose him."
The blond man had a wounded look. He spoke softly, and the words didn't make sense to Dobey. "Because I chose to deal with him? Is that why? You only said don't charge any more. I didn't realize you were going to extract payment, too."
"Oh, shit, that's not -- " Starsky rose. "All right, time out. Excuse us."
Hutch would've been angry, the captain knew, if he had the energy to spare. As it was, he only sounded quarrelsome. "Didn't take you long to change your mind between little and big glories, did it?"
Starsky urged him to his feet. "Laundry in private, huh, partner? Come on."
As they left the briefing room Dobey was taking no bets on who'd be the winner when they walked back in, but if pushed, he'd lay it on Starsky. In the early days, it had been Starsky who tended to bend to the blond's force. Since they had become indispensable to each other, they seemed to have realized the need for a better balance. The pendulum swung evenly now. Starsky had opted to take the case, and Hutch had been controlling the moves since then. It should be just about his turn to back down. Once past the point of easily saying 'Go to hell,' when that kind of resolution became unthinkable in a relationship, mutual compromises remained.
"What is it with those two?" McNeil chose to ask. "Did you ever give some thought to separating them?"
Dobey could only smile at that, somewhat sadly. One day the two men might grow out of being cops, but they would always be partners. Some things became more than the sum of parts, but the DA probably couldn't appreciate that. Politicians rarely understood partnerships beyond those dictated by contingencies.
"Things might get done a lot faster," McNeil added when no answer came, got an unconcerned shrug in return.
When the two detectives walked in, it was clear to Dobey he had guessed correctly. "I'll stay under and we can reevaluate in a week or so. Oh, Linda can stay, too. She's got a good enough cover to hang around me," Starsky said and the captain realized that Hutch had still managed to enforce a few conditions in the meantime.
"Captain," the blond spoke up, "could you call New York right away and make sure Rizzo stays under wraps?"
Captain Mallory was going to have one pissed-off detective on his hands, Dobey knew. He made the call. By the time he was through, the DA had left with his entourage, and Starsky was also waving goodbye. After the door closed, he was alone with Hutchinson. "Go home and get some sleep. You're going to need it."
"Yeah." Hutch started to rise, then dropped back. "Oh, Starsky drove."
"Come on, I'll give you a ride."
"No, Captain, it's almost an hour out of your way. I can take a -- better yet, may I just crash on your couch in the office?"
"Sure, but that's not -- "
"It'll do. Save time, too." He kept sitting, and Dobey couldn't just leave him. After a while, Hutch gave a small, derisive laugh. "Used to think I could move the world. Now I don't even know if I can move myself across the hall." Then he seemed to regret the words and gathered himself together to rise. "I will, anyway. You don't have to think about putting me out to pasture yet, Captain."
"Hutchinson," Dobey called out softly, stopping him from leaving the room. He didn't turn to face the blond man; his gruff facade was too ingrained. "You know how we all start on this job, all fire and zest? That's when we think heroes are the daring-doers, the ones that jump into the fray, go charging in, and no doubts, no hesitations, no fear. You know what most of that is? Too many storybooks, too active glands, and overdoses of adrenaline. When you get to be my age, you realize that what really takes courage and strength is the determination to put one step in front of the other and keep going until you're done. Nobody's going to put you out to pasture for maturing, son. You're more valuable now." A silence followed, and he shifted uncomfortably.
"Thanks, Captain," Hutch whispered, then he was gone.
The operation was designed for speed. It happened very fast, and quietly enough to be anti-climactic. Nobody offered hassles or objections. The standard orders seemed to be to go quietly and never doubt that the boss would take care of it soon. However, that was before people realized the scope of the arrests. By the time Starsky was getting printed and booked as Caporetto -- he'd lost count of the times he'd gone through the routine under different names -- panic was setting in all around him.
It didn't last long. Shortly there were lawyers everywhere to establish order, and nobody was ignored. A lawyer from an impressive firm took charge of Starsky as well. He was told to say absolutely nothing and not to worry about the rest. His bail would be paid, legal representation was assured, and if he had to serve time, it'd be easy. Anybody he left outside would be provided for, and when he came out, a job would be waiting. He listened to it all, amused but chagrined. Marruzzi certainly knew how to buy silence and loyalty, and it was going to be hard to get anybody to talk.
Starsky, by design, was one of the first to be arraigned and set free on 'insufficient evidence.' He returned to The Familia, closed to the public now, but crowded with the remnants of the organization. Already, there were signs of regrouping. Marruzzi's consigliere, Fontane, showed up to establish personally interim order. Starsky decided that if governments had half the efficiency of the organization there'd be fewer hassles in the world. Dictatorships had something going for them -- if you didn't mind jumping when your strings were pulled. Jack Valenti inherited what remained of Genovese's group, his job basically to hold things together for the time being.
The detective poked around, watched, listened, tucked away any information, but that was just in passing, a way to justify to McNeil his staying under cover. For his real purpose, he became Luigi's shadow, anticipating the man's first wrong move. There would be one, he was sure. Marruzzi's organization had been too powerful and there were always jackals around waiting to take nips out of a wounded mammoth. If they threatened, Marruzzi might find reason to use Luigi.
Then Starsky would be right there.
The Familia was still functioning, but only as a kitchen and a bar for the remaining organization members. People converged on it in the evenings. It was a good time to have a few beers and eavesdrop. Tonight, Starsky was on his second one, waiting for Linda to join him for dinner, when he was told Jack Valenti wanted to see him in the back.
As soon as he opened the door to Genovese's old office, before a word was said, he felt something was wrong. Sal was slumped in a chair, but there was nothing new in that. His bodyguard, Rudi, was with him, and that was also normal. Valenti was sitting at the desk, facing a stranger, a middle aged, overweight man Starsky didn't recognize. For some reason, he wanted to back out, but Rudi was suddenly between him and the door.
"There you are," Valenti said, not amiably but he'd never been a friendly soul. "I don't think you know our courier from New York. Galante, meet Anthony Caporetto."
Galante scowled. "I don't know who this is, but he's not Caporetto. There never was one anyway."
"Are you sure?"
"Of course I'm sure. The cop passing off as Caporetto arrested my boss yesterday, in front of my eyes."
Valenti rose. Starsky saw he'd been holding a gun in his lap. Obviously Rudi had one out, too; metal pressed into his back. There was silence. Sal's shaky voice broke it.
"You lied to me."
Hutch wanted to finish typing at least the sentence before he reached for the ringing phone, but it occurred to him it might be Starsky checking in, as he was supposed to, twice daily. Leaving the report hanging, he picked up the receiver, rubbing his eyes with his left hand. The evening shift was already in, but most day shift people, including Dobey conferring with the DA, were still there, buried under paperwork. It made the room crowded, noisy, smoky, and the people short-tempered.
"Hutchinson," he said into the phone, couldn't hear the voice from the other side clearly. "Quiet!" he called out to the rest of the squadroom. The noise level dropped slightly. "Yeah?"
"Ken...." It was a whisper.
"Who -- Linda?"
"Yes. Listen, I can't speak up. Can you hear me?"
"Barely. Hold on." He covered the mouthpiece and yelled, "SHUT UP!" All noise instantly ceased. "Captain, it's Linda." Dobey picked up another phone to get on the same line. Hutch asked back into the receiver, "What's wrong?"
"I just overheard. Dave's cover's blown. I don't know how."
Hutch went cold all over. "Where is he?"
"I don't know. He's not at the club. I'll find out."
"Wait. Nobody's thinkin' about me. They haven't made the connection yet. I can look for him."
"I'll be with you in -- "
"Dammit, will ya cut the cavalry routine! They know who you are. You show your nose and watch 'em clam up. They'll dig him in so deep we might never find him. Stay put and don't crowd me. Gotta go. I'll call you soon's I know anythin' for sure." The line went dead.
"I'm coming," he repeated needlessly, half into the phone and half into the air, dropping the receiver. It hit the corner of the desk, rebounded, and ended up dangling on its cord. Paying it no attention, he grabbed his gun and jacket, and was struggling to strap on the holster while heading out of the squadroom. Suddenly, McNeil and Dobey were barring him from the door.
"Where're you going?" Dobey asked. Hutch considered it a monumentally stupid question, and attempted to push past without answering. His arm was gripped by the captain. "Hutchinson, where are you going?"
He realized he didn't exactly know, hesitated. "To...to the club."
"He's not there."
"I'll find him."
"Baylor's looking already. Wait until you know."
That wasn't acceptable. He shook his head.
"You won't get anywhere," the captain continued. "Baylor's right, your cover's long gone; nobody will talk to you. Hers is still secure. Let her do her job."
Hutch was set to argue, but McNeil also saw fit to grab him by the arm. "Besides," the DA put in, "you're not thinking. So far we've arrested and charged people. No evidence has been made public. Everybody there knows you've been under, and now they've got Starsky. Somebody might think the evidence consists of the testimony you two can give and jump at the chance of taking out both of you. There's danger to you, too."
Hutch didn't bother pointing out the one thing wrong with that argument: that he didn't care. He just shrugged off the DA's hold. However, he found out Dobey was made of tougher stuff.
"You don't know how Starsky's playing it," the captain put in quickly, with a look at McNeil that clearly told the man to keep his mouth shut. "Maybe what's keeping him safe is that you're out here; isn't that how he usually plays it? What if you're his insurance? Don't precipitate anything. Wait until we have definite information."
That made Hutch stop and think. Reluctantly, against every impulse clamoring inside, he turned back, saw his phone off the hook, and rushed to hang it up so it could ring again. Hopefully, soon. Come on, Linda. You're good, baby, so come on. Hurry up.
McNeil spoke up behind him. "And without a warrant, you're going no -- "
Hutch whirled around. "Fuck the warrants!"
"Hutchinson!" Dobey warned.
Hutch swallowed once and continued, "Just don't be in my way when I go out that door," he stated clearly, for everyone's edification.
"I'll dispatch units to the area," Dobey said in his best defusing-the-situation tone. "Maybe we'll get lucky and spot him." He turned to the DA. "Why don't you get a judge lined up so we can get a warrant quickly when we need it?"
The wires securing his wrists behind him weren't terribly bad. It was the one that looped around his elbows, pulling them close at his back, that was almost unbearable. Unable to pull his hands up, he had to sit leaning forward, but the bonds around the elbows were stretching his spine in the other direction. He could only manage a stiff, awkward crouch on the divan in Sal's house. Across from him Sal was brooding. Rudi watched him, hardly blinking.
Valenti, not high enough to decide what should be done, had tried to contact Fontane or Marruzzi, had been unable to locate either. With Rudi as guard, he'd sent Starsky to Sal's house as a safer place to hold the cop until someone could make a decision.
Starsky considered. Would Linda simply assume he was late? Of course, Hutch should be waiting for his call, but at no specific time. He had only himself to count on for now. Rudi still had his revolver out, but Starsky knew it wouldn't be used indiscriminately, not until ordered. However, being bound didn't leave him many options.
"You lied to me," Sal repeated for the fifth or the sixth time, addressing some place in the distance.
"Kid, look," Starsky attempted to speak again.
Rudi cut him off, as usual. "Shut up, pig."
This time Sal didn't let it go by. "You shut up! Let him talk."
"He ain't got nothin' to say. What's he got to say? You got no need to listen to a -- "
"Don't tell me what to do! Everybody tells me what to do. I'm sick of it!" Rudi shrugged at the outburst. Sal wiped his nose on his sleeve, looking like a child close to tears. "So say it. What have you got to say?"
Now that he was allowed to, there really wasn't much Starsky could say. "I didn't intend to hurt you. I tried hard not to."
"What do you call this?"
He'd seen that kind of hurt, heard the similar accusation before. From a woman he had loved once, from the little brother who'd felt betrayed, deserted. He'd felt just as helpless those times, too. "I had a job to do." Lame.
"Sure. It's always a job. Only a job. Nothing personal, Sal, just a job. As Grandfather always says. Sonna Cosa Nostra -- our world, Sal. Why can't you understand? We all have our jobs. I trusted you. But you're no better than anybody else."
"Probably not," Starsky mumbled. "We are what we are."
"Yeah, and I'm Cesare Marruzzi's grandson. That's all it was, right? At least the others didn't pretend friendship!"
What was there to say? Nothing Sal would believe at the moment. "I'm sorry."
"Why're ya wastin' time with him?" Rudi put in righteously. "He ain't gonna bother nobody no more."
"Shut up, just shut up! You, too," Sal directed at the detective, although Starsky hadn't been about to say anything. "I don't want to hear." For a while he sat, twitching, rubbing his hands together in jerky motions. "Get me something," he told Rudi.
The man reached into his pocket and dropped a small bag of white powder onto the coffee table. Impatiently, Sal swept it off with the back of his hand. The plastic container was open, and a cloud of the drug rose. Rudi coughed, waved it away. "Dammit! You know how much that cost?"
"It's my money!"
"Bullshit. It's your grandfather's."
"Yeah, remember that. The only way you'll get any of it is by taking care of me. I want it stronger, a real rush." He was rolling up one sleeve.
Starsky sighed at the sight of the needle tracks. "Sal, don't. It's not worth it."
"What do you know? It's the only thing worth it. Things make sense then." He giggled. "Or maybe they don't, but then you don't care, see?" He yelled at Rudi. "Set it up!"
"Yeah, okay." The man looked around, obviously checking if he could leave the detective alone, then seemed to consider it safe enough. "Keep an eye on him," he told Sal and disappeared into the back of the house.
Sal immediately withdrew into himself, pulled up his legs, dropped his head onto his knees. After a few seconds, it dawned on Starsky that nobody was watching him closely. He'd worry about Sal later. He got to his feet, which elicited no reaction. Where to go was another problem. He couldn't unlock the front door, the latch was too high for his bound hands. Rudi was between him and the back exit. But the door to the garage was unlatched, since they had come in that way. Wasn't the automatic garage door opener about shoulder level?
He backed out quietly. Sal hadn't uncurled by the time he was out the door. He pushed it closed gently by leaning into it sideways. It left him in the dark. He took the steps carefully, trying not to make noise or trip over anything. He rounded the cars, seeing them only as darker lumps, approached the two glow-in-the-dark buttons. He avoided the light switch, leaned into the other one. The struts on the door gave a metallic groan as they started to rise. He gritted his teeth at the sound, waiting until it was high enough to duck under it. He had to stay on his feet or getting up would take time.
The door behind him was thrown open, sending out a fan of light. He heard footsteps clattering down, Rudi cursing. By then, he was running.
He was out on the driveway, but almost immediately he was yanked to a stop by a hand in his hair. He gasped with the pain, then helplessly yielded. Backwards, Rudi dragged him without a pause, cursing all the while. Starsky scrambled to keep up; it hurt too much otherwise. They were in the garage, he was being pulled up the steps, and the door started coming down.
Through eyes he could barely keep open, he saw a sudden movement outside against the lighter darkness of the driveway. Right before the garage closed off for good a form cleared the descending door in a roll, then was lost to sight behind one of the cars. Metal clattered against metal, light glinted off the gun muzzle extended over the hood.
"Hold it right there. Police!" came Linda's voice.
Backlit by the door to the house, Rudi was already pulling his captive to block himself. Starsky felt the cold steel against his temple.
"Don't even think it," Linda yelled, "unless you want your brains to go with it."
"Close that door," Rudi shouted. He had to be addressing Sal, but he wasn't obeyed.
"Drop it," Linda called out.
Starsky had had enough of being jerked around like a dog on a leash. He squirmed experimentally, not enough to set anything off, but it worked. Trying to get a better hold on him, Rudi forgot to keep the gun steady. Starsky kicked against the stair railing with one foot, suddenly throwing himself back with all the force he could gather. They tumbled back together. He felt the man's arm between his back and the edge of a step, heard the gun go skittering out of his hand onto the top landing, saw Linda break cover and rush to them to press the advantage. Then he was forcibly pushed up and hurled down toward the woman. He had no way to brake, had to go with it.
She could've stepped out of the way. Didn't. By instinct or intent, she broke his fall. In the split second before he crashed into her, he saw the weapon drop out of her fingers, couldn't decide if it was accidental or if she wasn't about to chance a cocked gun between their bodies. His momentum knocked her off balance. They stumbled over the lower steps and went down in a heap. Starsky concentrated on rolling off of her as fast as possible, knowing Rudi would be on top of them soon and he shouldn't hinder her. Linda scrambled to disentangle herself as well, but Rudi was already there. She was dragged away, pulled up. Starsky pushed himself to the wall to gain some purchase to stand up, watching the tussle. Her strength wasn't going to be equal to the task.
However, she managed to turn enough to face the man, then proved her street training. She went straight for the eyes without the slightest cringe. Trying to duck, Rudi gave her an opening. Her knee came up immediately into the groin. With a yell of agony, Rudi doubled up. She was ready for that as well. A quick jab upwards with the heel of a palm, and blood started flowing from the man's nose. Enraged, he lunged for her, but he was slowed down considerably. She stepped back, looking around for the gun and trying to keep an eye on him at the same time.
The shout stopped everything, made them look up. They had all forgotten Sal. He was at the top of the steps, holding the gun Rudi had dropped, pointed at the group.
Starsky tried to speak calmly. "Put it down, Sal. You're going to hurt somebody." He could clearly remember hearing the safety being clicked off before it had rested on his temple.
"Kill the bitch!" Rudi shouted, doubled over.
To override him, Starsky had to shout, too. "Sal, put it down!"
"SHUT UP! EVERYBODY JUST SHUT UP!"
Evidently, Rudi wasn't about to gamble with a gun in an addict's hand, especially when it pointed in his general direction as well. However, Linda didn't seem to consider the young man much of a threat. She approached the steps. "Don't," Starsky warned quietly.
She didn't listen, took a step up. "Sal, you don't know what you're doing with that. It's all over. Give it to me." Slowly, she took another step.
"Don't tell me what to do!"
"Linda, don't, he's on edge," Starsky warned again, feeling desperately ineffective, unable to move in any way that counted.
"Give it to me," she repeated, resolutely approaching.
"Don't listen to her," Rudi shouted.
Starsky saw that Linda's main objective was her gun lying on the steps. Rudi had to be seeing it, too. Too many things happened at once. Linda reached for her gun. Rudi started to rush toward her. Starsky got ready to push off the wall into the man at least to delay him. Sal screamed something.
The gun discharged. Everything froze. For a second, it felt like the still tableau was going to hold forever, then Linda dissolved it. She seemed to fold into herself, then out. Only when her body had completed the involuntary motion and come to rest, strangely angled on the steps, her chest visible, did Starsky realize she was shot. There had been no sound.
"No!" He found himself next to her, having no idea how he'd gotten there. "Linda? Linda?" The gun fell out of Sal's fingers, clattered down the steps, came to a stop close to Starsky. Two guns in reach. For all purposes, they could've been on the moon. They were scooped up by Rudi. He stepped over the detectives, went up.
"Good boy. Come on," Starsky heard him tell Sal. He was intent on Linda. If only he could put pressure on the wound, stanch the flow. He leaned awkwardly across her, trying not to touch the injury, but his shoulder brushed it. His own lungs were laboring, controlling them was beyond him; he couldn't tell if she was still breathing. He pulled back and laid his head on her chest, heard and felt the heartbeat, not all that weak. The side of his face came away bloody, his hair stuck to his temple and cheek.
"Hold on, sweetheart, just hold on." He didn't know if she could hear.
Rudi was there again, hauling him up and pulling him back into the house, closing the door behind them. unceremoniously, he was thrown onto a couch, couldn't straighten for a while. He wasn't as resilient as he used to be. If Linda had called for a backup it'd have arrived already. It was probably up to him again, but he simply had to catch his breath first.
Rudi disappeared into the kitchen briefly, came back, drying his face with a dish towel. Sal was babbling something incoherent. He seemed more shook up than anybody else. "You done good," Rudi was telling him. "Now we got a problem, though. I can't find Mr. Valenti, so we gotta do it. We gotta get rid o' the body."
"There's no body!" Starsky couldn't help protesting. "Sal, she's still alive."
"Not for long, not with that bleedin'," Rudi said.
"A...alive?" Sal stammered.
There was a repugnance in Starsky toward the young man now, but he also knew there had been no malevolence in the shooting. Sal had been caught in a situation that was totally beyond him. And he was the only way out at the moment. "Yes, alive. Sal, help her, please. You're not a killer. She never hurt you. I know you didn't want to hurt her. Please, get help."
"Shut up," Rudi told the detective.
"She's...alive? We have to do something." Sal struggled to rise from the seat.
Rudi roughly shoved him back. "You ain't got no spine, worm. Don't listen to him. He's the enemy, remember?"
"Sal, forget me, never mind me. Think about her. What did she ever do to you? How're you goin' to live with it if she dies? Sal, please?"
"I said shut up!" This time, Rudi seemed to want to make sure. He yanked the dish towel from around his neck.
"Sal, I'm beggin' you," Starsky had time to say before it was shoved between his teeth and tied behind his head.
Rudi stood over the young man. "Now you listen to me. Mr. Valenti left me in charge. For once they gave me somethin' that's more'n wipin' your ass, and no snivellin' junkie's gonna botch it for me, understand? What you did is shoot a cop. She lives to tell of it 'n you're a goner. They'll put you behind bars, boy, and throw away the key. No juice, no coke, no rush, no high, no nothin', never. Just you, a lotta hurtin' that ain't ever gonna stop, and a bunch o' big boys who'd love to get their hands on a pretty piece like you. So for once you're gonna make like a good trouper, make your grandpa proud o'you. You hear me?" Sal gulped, nodded.
"Here," Rudi shoved a gun into the young man's hand. "Hold it!" he barked when Sal cringed. "Hold it like a man. Like this. Point it that way. Right. Straight at him there. He ain't goin' nowheres anyway, but you make sure. I gotta go now. I'm gonna find a car, somewheres uptown. Bring it back here, take the body and leave it far away. I'm savin' your ass, boy, don't forget it. Just sit there and don't even think. Someone'll be here to do it for you soon. Tell me what you're gonna do."
"Sit, watch him and don't move, don't let him move." Sal sounded like something mechanical.
"That's right. Good boy." Rudi made sure all exits were secured before he left the house. Starsky heard one of the cars drive away. He'd bet the garage door could only be opened from outside by the remote control now.
For long minutes, Sal sat stock-still, gripping the gun as if his life depended on it, aiming it as he'd been told, directly at the bound and gagged man. However, Starsky knew that the young man would soon defeat his own purpose. Muscles tightened so desperately were bound to give, and the gun was going to fall of its own weight. Providing, of course, Sal didn't fire first, unintentionally, because of cramping. Starsky watched closely.
The first sensation Linda felt was a strange pounding in her head. Then she became aware that she couldn't breathe easily. Dazed, it took a few seconds to remember what had happened, and realize she was lying practically upside down on the stairs. She attempted to straighten. Instantly pain centered, flared. She almost blacked out, tried to fight it.
Can't be that bad, she told herself, can't be that bad.
Oh, God, it hurts.
Can't be that bad -- can't -- didn't -- never knew it could be so bad.
It's dark. I hurt. A lot.
Tears sprang into her eyes and a sob left her throat.
That got her mad.
Sure it can hurt that bad, dummy. Guess what? You're stuck with it. So quit bawlin' like a baby and shift your ass.
She was losing blood and her position on the steps wasn't helping any. She groped for the railing, took a second to brace for the pain she knew would come, heaved herself up half-way. By the time the pain had hit hard enough to stop her, she had both hands around the railing. She held on tight until she could breathe again. Elevate the wound higher than the heart, she thought past the dizziness, but couldn't pull up any more, dragged her legs down instead. Right. That's right.
One hand she left tightly wrapped around the railing. Something to hold on to. With the other, she probed gingerly around the wound. Her shirt was spongy from blood, soaked. All her life she'd sidestepped getting hurt. In every sense. Basic rules of the street: don't get involved; don't get caught. She'd been hurt bad physically only once before, but that time she had come around at the hospital, cleaned, bandaged, the pain controlled.
Gee, nobody to make the boo-boo go away now. Tough luck, sweetie. You chose it that way, remember? What's the matter, chickenin' out? You've seen enough blood.
But this was hers.
So what? It's still red. It was always in the cards, and you picked the hand.
Dumb, dumb, dumb. Should've listened to Dave. Should've called for back-up. Should've let Ken come.
The anger came back.
What, no knight to the rescue and you're helpless? You stupid bitch, got a death wish? Stop the goddamned bleeding, already!
She bunched her vest in her fist and pressed against the wound, gritted her teeth as the pain got worse. Getting up, or even crawling out, seemed to the out of the question, so she'd just have to do what she could and hope for the best. It dawned on her that she could pass out again and ease up on the pressure. Pulling up some more, she shifted until the cloth was trapped between her body and the edge of a step, draped one arm through the railing, wedging herself in place.
She concentrated on breathing evenly. Okay. I'm okay. Linda Graciela -- one day, Daddy, I'm gonna wring your neck for that name -- Baylor's okay.
For how long, she didn't know.
The gun in Sal's hand started shaking. Shortly afterwards, it fell. Sal was trembling violently. "I need...I need...I can't...have to," he muttered, pushed off, stumbled out of the room.
Starsky rolled to his feet immediately. It would take perhaps five minutes for Sal to shoot up. He didn't have time to try the exits. He badly wanted to check Linda, but couldn't indulge. He ran upstairs, careless about noise, suspecting Sal would be too preoccupied. The bedroom was open. He slipped in, pushed the door shut, went to the phone on the nightstand. With his back to it, he knocked the receiver off the cradle. Carefully, he counted by feel and punched the emergency number for Metro. Distantly, he heard the call go through, and the switchboard operator's answer. The dishtowel gag made him unable to speak so he kicked the nearest pedestal holding one of the abstract, crystal statuettes Sal was so fond of. Hopefully, the crash would give them the right idea.
He heard a car drive up and stop. Too soon for Rudi, but somebody was coming. He had to give the operator time to trace the call. Awkwardly, he pulled open the drawer, dropped the phone and the receiver inside, closed it. Might not be noticed.
Someone was definitely in the house, in a hurry, too, judging by the heavy, searching tread. He had no place to go, so could only brazen it out. He faced the door and waited, braced. When the knob turned and it started to open he rushed it, throwing his whole weight into the frame. Just for a second it gave, then got shoved back with more force than he'd have thought possible. It didn't only push him back, but literally threw him into the patio door angled on the adjacent wall. Luckily, his leather-clad shoulder crashed through it first, and when he found himself on the floor, half in and half out of the room, he didn't think he was cut anywhere, at least not badly. But pain was vibrating down his arm and back.
Before he could think to move, he was yanked to his feet. He found himself looking into Luigi's face. It seemed somebody had made a decision, a final one. This isn't quite what I had in mind, Hutch, he thought, feeling strangely light-headed.
"So it was you. Sorry, cop, but once the padrone has you, you'll talk. I can't take the chance."
Starsky reevaluated. Obviously, Luigi was free-lancing. But it really didn't make much of a difference. Dead was dead, ordered from above or not. He couldn't fight the man's strength, and he was so sick of feeling helpless. Maybe he had been overestimating himself. Maybe all this had gone beyond him and he'd been too stupid to realize it.
They were downstairs and halfway to the door when Sal's voice came from somewhere behind them. "Lu...Luigi. Where...where're you taking him?"
Luigi didn't bother answering, relentlessly pulling the detective to the door.
"What're you doing?" Sal shouted, a hysterical note in his voice. "Where's grandfather? Where's Brasi? What's -- stop! No! Who said you could? You can't. Stop it!" Suddenly, he was tugging at the large man. "Stop it, stop it, stop it!"
"Cut it out!" Luigi yelled, trying to push the young man away, but Sal was attached to him with arms and legs like a clinging child, and he couldn't extricate himself while holding onto Starsky. They stumbled back into the room. With an impatient growl, Luigi hurled the detective away, and concentrated on peeling Sal off of him, having more trouble than he should have had. Starsky suspected that the man didn't care to hurt Marruzzi's grandson, and Sal was like a leech.
"I wasn't told," he was babbling, attaching each removed hold anew with more insistence. "Nobody told me. Who said you could? You can't, you can't." Luigi finally managed to pry him off and hold him firmly at arms' length. "Youcan'tyoucan'tyoucan'you -- "
"Shut up! He's nobody's concern any more, you hear me?"
The totally new voice from the front door stopped everything. Luigi and Sal froze, then turned around. Starsky craned his neck to see, and struggled to his feet.
Cesare Marruzzi stood there, looking as bland as if he'd walked into an orderly conference, flanked by Brasi Fontane and two bodyguards. Nobody spoke or moved while Marruzzi dispassionately studied the tableau, then approached, his level gaze giving each participant equal time. Sal squirmed, opened his mouth, then quickly clamped it shut at a slight, forbidding hand motion by his grandfather.
The old man directed his attention to the detective. "Remove the gag. How can men reason if they can't talk?" His order was immediately obeyed by one of his bodyguards. Starsky moved his jaw muscles to ease the cramping and slowly closed his mouth.
Marruzzi addressed him directly. "Mr. Valenti informs me that you would be a duplicate Anthony Caporetto, if there were one, but since there isn't, it's a moot point. I assume you're a police officer, probably the partner to the one who's been a nuisance. Our mistake. We should've realized he'd have one. Your name?"
Thrown by the sudden change in the tone of the confrontation, Starsky kept his peace. The old man spread his hands in a low-key version of a typically Italian gesture. "What objection could you have to giving me your name?"
Starsky would've shrugged if his shoulder didn't hurt so badly where he'd crashed into the patio door. "Detective Sergeant David Starsky," he supplied, holding the man's eyes.
"My God!" Sal burst out. "You even lied about your name! Call me Tony, you said, we're friends, call me Tony, and even that was a -- "
"Sal," Marruzzi interrupted, never taking his eyes off the detective, "unless you have something worth saying, be quiet. And if you do, which I doubt, say it without whining." His next words were for Starsky. "Thank you. It is so much easier to conduct a civilized conversation with identities established."
Starsky decided that if the man wanted to play charades, he'd oblige. With a tilt of his head, he indicated his bound hands. "If you're interested in civilized conversations, this ain't no way to conduct 'em, either."
He hadn't expected it to yield any sort of results, but Marruzzi nodded solemnly. "You're right. Release Mr. Starsky --not you, Luigi," he told the large man who attempted to comply, and waved at his bodyguard to take care of it. "You tell me what you're doing here. If Valenti had dispatched you, he'd have informed me. Besides, Valenti can't make the kind of decisions that might require your involvement."
"I heard what was going on at the club," Luigi said in his rumbling voice, "and just came to see if I, uh, could help Sal here."
"Do I assume, then, that private business matters are bandied about all over The Familia, or that you were listening too good? Also, you just sounded like you had plans for Mr. Starsky. An individual action? A rash one at that? Why, Luigi? In whose interest?"
Luigi stayed stock-still and silent, staring as if spellbound. Starsky realized that this mountain of a man, a ruthless killer, was terrified of the old one. Marruzzi suddenly smiled and patted Luigi's shoulder. "No matter, paisan'. You will tell me, I'm sure. Are you more comfortable, Mr. Starsky?"
"Relatively speakin'." He rubbed his wrists and arms to restore circulation. The blood was drying on his temple and cheek, irritating him. "I'd like to wash my face."
"Of course. Afterwards, we can continue our conversation in comfort at my house. I fear my grandson is a deplorable host."
Starsky grimaced. "Guess you wouldn't be interested in RSVP's?"
"Didn't think so."
Marruzzi gave brief instructions to his bodyguards to escort the detective, Luigi and Sal to his house, then left with his consigliere. Cagey, Starsky concluded, he'll avoid being seen with me in public.
The bathroom had no exit, and anyway, he wasn't allowed to close the door. The only thing he managed to do was to casually shrug out of his jacket then conveniently forget it, and the man accompanying him didn't seem to attach any importance to it. If it stayed forgotten, and if his call was traced, Hutch would at least know he'd been there. It didn't show against the shiny black surface, but Linda's blood was on it. By this time, he had little hope that Linda would be more than a body found somewhere, if that, and he wanted to leave some trace of her behind.
The first reports from the patrols reached Dobey. Since everybody seemed interested, he relayed them out loud. "No sight of him, or Baylor. Nothing unusual at the club. Nobody important seems to be there. They're patrolling the area."
"Told you they wouldn't hold him at the club," was Hutch's terse comment. "There're already search warrants on the place. No, he's somewhere they feel safe."
Dobey decided to take care of one more piece of business and told an officer to call Captain Mallory in New York. With Starsky's cover gone, there was no more reason for Rizzo to hide.
In the meantime, Hutch was counting off the possibilities. "They don't have many places we haven't cracked already. What does that leave? Would Marruzzi involve himself? Or maybe Sal's..."
McNeil protested. "I can't get warrants on hunches. Besides, it's a big city. Abandoned warehouses, derelict blocks -- take your pick."
"No, they wouldn't dare cart him all over the city."
The DA opted for a conciliatory tone. "Relax, Hutchinson. Actually, they wouldn't dare harm him, either. What good will it do?"
"Heard of grudges?" Hutch snapped. "He sure isn't free, or he'd have called in by now. What're they doing, throwing him a party?"
"Naturally they'll want to find out what he knows."
"And then what? 'Obliging of you, Detective, and Godspeed'? And how the hell do you think they'll ask the questions? Their hands aren't tied by some goddamned -- "
"Enough!" Dobey shouted as Hutch's voice rose. The blond cut off, glaring at the DA. The captain wished McNeil would take himself away; an irritant was the last thing the situation needed.
"Captain Mallory is unavailable," the officer calling New York told Dobey. "Another officer on the case is still there, though. Do you want to talk to a Sergeant Rizzo?"
What the -- ? Dobey instantly regretted silencing Hutch. "I'll take it in my offi -- " he started, but it was too late; the blond had heard. The captain saw him make a grab for his phone and stop, obviously preferring to keep his line free. As he jumped to his feet and came around his desk for another phone, Dobey took the receiver held out to him. "Rizzo, this is Captain Dobey. What do you think you're doing out? We had an understanding." A click told him Hutch had hooked into his line, but the blond stayed silent, jaw set, gripping the receiver.
"Took you long enough," came the arrogantly languid voice through the wires. "Don't you believe in confirming your messages over there?"
"Jake sent you a teletype yesterday. I've been out for three days. It's old news, so spare me the tirade."
Dobey felt his blood pressure soar. "Messages get lost every day, equipment breaks down, and you relied on teletype?! Mallory couldn't pick up a phone? What do you mean you've been out for three days anyway? And you saw fit to warn us only yesterday?"
"Ease up, will ya, Captain? Jake didn't know I was out, and we're buried under over here."
Dobey wished he was given to swearing. "You've endangered my officer, Rizzo, and I promise you I'm personally going to follow -- "
Rizzo interrupted, sounding short-tempered himself. "With due respect and all that, it's my goddamned case. Three years of my life! You think I was gonna make like a mole while my case broke? Follow up on whatever you please. If you think I'm scared of you -- "
Hutch's utterance was whisper-soft, but it cut through like a scalpel. Dobey knew his most impressive bellow couldn't compete and kept his mouth shut.
"Who's -- ? Ah, that sounds like Blondie. Hey, man, we sent word. Obviously someone screwed up."
"Yes, you did."
"Oh, shove it! The case's split open like a watermelon -- why's your partner still under anyway?"
"My partner is not under. My partner is missing," Hutch stated, clean and clear. Dobey decided he'd never seen a true case of white fury; obviously it was a very quiet thing. "If anything happens to him because you couldn't wait to crawl out of your hole, there isn't going to be one deep enough for you." With a deliberate motion, Hutch cradled the receiver.
There didn't seem to be a point in saying anything else. Rizzo was still talking, but Dobey also hung up.
Starsky was led into a study/library on the ground level of Marruzzi's house. It was a cavernous room with high ceilings. The massive, smoothly polished wood and leather furnishings, and the arched bay windows draped in rich, maroon velvet, kept it from being a cold place. He'd bet he could afford not one piece of the art or bric-a-brac around. It wasn't ostentatious, but very rich. Whether it was tasteful or not, he was no judge, and although it was designed for comfort, he was in no position to feel comfortable in it. However, he didn't intend to show that. His stance was properly arrogant when he faced Marruzzi across the expanse of desk.
It seemed the old man missed little. "Where's his jacket?" were the first words out of his mouth. Starsky's entourage looked blank. Marruzzi sighed. "Did anybody bother to make sure our conversation can be private at least?"
"Uh, Padrone," one of the bodyguards ventured, "if he was wearin' a wire, the cops would've showed u -- "
"Shut up!" It was from Fontane.
Starsky realized that the quieting shout had come from the consigliere at Sal's house. The old man didn't seem to believe in raising his voice. The detective grinned at Marruzzi. "Hard to find good help lately, huh?"
"At the moment I am somewhat...inconvenienced."
Starsky indulged in a boastful snicker. "Gee, I wonder why?"
Marruzzi let it pass. Instead he made a repeated upward motion with his hand. "Do you mind?"
Starsky pulled his shirt up high and turned a circle to show he wasn't wearing a wire. If they thought anything could've been squeezed into the leather pants except himself, they were free to check.
"I see you're an old soldier," Marruzzi commented, on the scars, no doubt.
"Not that old," he retorted.
"It wasn't derogatory." The old man indicated a seat.
Starsky took it, wishing he could lounge insolently, just for appearances' sake, but his shoulder and a stiffening in his constantly tender midriff wouldn't allow it, so he opted for squaring his shoulders.
"Would you like something to drink?" Marruzzi offered politely.
Starsky gritted his teeth. This 'gracious' routine was getting on his nerves. But he wasn't sure of the rules of the game. The wisest choice was to follow the lead. "No, thank you," he answered, just as politely.
"I take it you're not Italian, but your New York accent seems to be genuine. Are you attached to a police department in New York?"
"So, you're with Metro."
"That's been givin' you sleepless nights, yes," Starsky couldn't resist adding.
Marruzzi just smiled good-naturedly. "Mr. Starsky -- "
"Sergeant," Starsky corrected.
"Very well. Sergeant Starsky, I'm a reasonable man. Do you know what ragione means?"
"Must've been left outta the briefin'."
"It means to reason, rejoin -- a concept I've lived by all my life. Do you think we could?"
"Rejoin, forget it, seein' how we were never joined before. Reason, your move."
Marruzzi leaned back, looking like a chess master leisurely considering his strategy. Everybody was respectfully silent. The only sound came from Sal, deep into stupor now, who was pitifully sniffling. The old man's eyes briefly flickered to the sight his grandson presented. Fontane took the hint and led Sal to an out-of-the-way seat, gave him a handkerchief.
Marruzzi broke the silence. "Tell me, Sergeant, are you a clean one?"
The first impulse was to say 'squeaky,' but that was just pride, and the next one was to pretend being open to coercion and bribes to gain time. As civilized and relaxed as outward appearances were, Starsky's instincts screamed he was poised on the razor's edge.
Marruzzi didn't miss his brief hesitation. "I must admit your covert operation was excellent, but don't try and match wits with me. The truth."
To hell with it, Starsky decided. There's a lot to be said for pride. "As clean as it gets."
"I thought so. Inconvenient. You've caused a lot of inconvenience lately. It is enough."
Here it comes, Starsky thought and considered claiming he'd had a check-in time and that he was being missed already. But on one hand, he didn't believe Marruzzi would fall for an old ploy. On the opposite hand, it was too close to the truth if his call had been traced to Sal's place. Hutch would be tearing into there, and he certainly didn't want Marruzzi's gang to be ready for him.
The old man preempted any decision with his next words. "To do what you did, you had to have inside information. Your cover wouldn't have been enough. Tell me how and from whom, and walk out of here freely."
As much as he wanted to, Starsky couldn't afford to let his eyes stray to Luigi to see how he was taking all this. He purposefully stayed silent for a drawn-out minute, just to make the man sweat. He wouldn't give him up, not yet, not when there still seemed to be a chance to do it the right way. "I can't do that," he finally said.
"Would I be wasting my time if I insisted?"
Everybody was silent, intent on the padrone. "Now what?" Starsky asked, doing his best to sound casual.
"Now you may leave anytime you wish."
It was a few seconds before it dawned on Starsky to close his mouth. "Leave?"
"Certainly. What can I offer a man who won't sell at the price of his life?"
Starsky knew there was a dumb look on his face, but couldn't seem able to help it. "I can get up, walk to that door, all by myself, and leave, and that's that?"
He stood up, testing the preliminaries, and let curiosity get the best of him. "How come?"
"The damage is done. I don't extract payment indiscriminately. There has to be one of two reasons. I'm a businessman; profit is naturally one of them. I'm also a traditional man. If you were really Anthony Caporetto, a man I'd expect loyalty from, you wouldn't walk out of here. You're a police officer, loyal to your own cause. I can't fault that just because we happen to be on opposing sides. Profit? What would I gain? If you were the only witness the prosecution has, you wouldn't have been left expendable in the cold. No chargeable offense passed between you and me. I'd gain nothing by holding you. In fact, I might lose."
The old man smiled up at Starsky indulgently. "You're not aware of it, but you were wise in not second-guessing me. If you were a 'dirty cop,' I might have been tempted to act otherwise. Police departments can't afford to get sanctimonious over one of those. Weren't they anxious to cover up just such a case recently? A case I now suspect you know a lot about? A clean cop -- well, that starts a crusade. I have no time for one."
I'll be damned, Starsky thought, absentmindedly brushing his hair back with one hand. He was used to his hair flaring out from his scalp, not constantly straying into his face in long strands. "Well, in that case, I'll -- "
Marruzzi interrupted, sharply. "Do that again."
He paused, with his hand still up. "Huh?"
"Run your hand through your hair."
Instantly uneasy once more, Starsky slowly lowered his hand without complying. Marruzzi motioned at one of his men, who approached the officer and stood, uncomprehending himself. "Check and see if there's an injury to his head," Marruzzi told the man, "although I expect not. Touching didn't seem to hurt."
At a loss about what was going on, Starsky silently suffered the inspection. "Nothing there," the man told his boss.
Marruzzi frowned at the detective. "There was blood on your hair and temple. I thought Luigi had gotten carried away. Since it wasn't yours, where did it come from?"
Starsky stood quietly, feeling that the ground was about to drop out. Should've left right away. Curiosity didn't do wonders for the cat, either.
"Luigi?" the old man asked.
"I don't know. He was bloody when I found him."
The young man had been following the conversation with bleary eyes, but it still took him a while even to understand the question, and then he had to think some more, visibly struggling to dredge up facts from the morass of his brain. "The...uh...the other one...the lady cop..." he finally managed to put together.
Marruzzi heaved a sigh. "I may have been too hasty," he said in Starsky's direction, almost apologetically. "Watch him," he told his bodyguards, and went to his grandson, followed by Fontane. What went on, Starsky couldn't hear, but obviously the two men managed to drag out an account from Sal. They came back. "Sit down," Marruzzi said.
No more Mr. Nice Guy, Starsky concluded when he was pushed down roughly, before he had a chance to comply on his own. Hitting the side of his ribs against the arm rest, he winced, straightened.
Marruzzi sat down again, and now there was an air of menace about him. "Gavones!" he blurted out to Fontane. "Fools! I'm left with no one with an ounce of brains, and that -- that -- " he jabbed at the air in the direction of his grandson, " -- disonore. How did the blood run so thin? Infamante!"
The consigliere leaned to whisper something in his ear. "I know," Marruzzi said. "What else is left to do?" he distanced Fontane with one hand and addressed Starsky, his voice calmer now, but decisive. "I'm truly sorry, Sergeant, but I can't let you go. Sonna Cosa Nostra -- such are the affairs of our world. I hope you understand it's nothing personal."
Hell of a way to pass a death sentence, Starsky thought ruefully. "Right. I'm an impersonal problem. So what the hell are you gonna do with the personal one? That's your grandson there. Thin or thick, blood is blood, isn't it? Are you gonna make him keep me compa -- fuck it, I'm tired of this polite routine. Are you gonna kill him, too? Oh, right, you don't kill; you order. Neat and impersonal. Well, it's goddamned personal to me! It's also personal to me that the blood of your blood over there killed a police officer." Sal whimpered. Starsky ignored him. "If she wasn't dead then, she's dead now. So what're you gonna do about that?"
For the first time, he saw a measure of confusion in Marruzzi's face. "Without you, it'll just be another unsolved case."
"Bullshit! Great lecture you gave me, but the old brain circuits ain't so swift when it hits too close, huh? She was on a case, with me. Sal's my known contact. How long do you think it's gonna be before they pay him a visit? She was bleeding all over his house. We've all kinds of hot-shots at the crime lab; they'll connect him. This ain't no piddlin' possession charge. It's homicide, involving a police officer. Davey-boy here makes two. Your overpriced lawyers can t make short work of that. Look at him and tell me he ain't gonna break. One night without his baby-bottle, and he'll give up himself, you, and anybody else he can think of."
Starsky realized he had stood up and nobody had stopped him. "So unless you're gonna face your dead son one day with the blood of his son on your hands, killin' me ain't gonna gain you a thing. Unless you wanna live out what's left of your life countin' the ways you wiped out your whole family -- look at him, dammit! He's already half-destroyed. Great care you took of your son's legacy after you sent him off on your errand to be massacred. Is what you've got so important that you're willin' to sit on his corpse as well?"
Marruzzi had gone pale. Starsky realized he'd wrested the upper hand and pushed. "Face it, it's over. Your organization is in shambles, and there sits your future. There's nothing left worth killing for."
For the length of the silence that followed, he thought he'd won. Then Fontane spoke, and Starsky knew he'd underestimated the number of players on the board. "The plane can be ready by the time Sal gets to Manderlay Heights," the man calmly told Marruzzi. "Mexico?"
And that's why he's the consigliere. Starsky sank back into the seat. What's keeping you, Hutch? How long does it take to trace a call? He knew his partner wouldn't have a clear way of locating him once he arrived at Sal's, but couldn't believe Hutch wouldn't start promptly overturning every stone. It's time to pry up this one, babe.
The old man took a shuddering breath, held it, let it out slowly. The next second, he had totally collected himself. "Not Mexico. Too accessible."
Marruzzi shook his leonine head. "South America, addict's paradise. No. Europe. Home. Once and for all, I want him rid of this abomination."
Apparently, Sal had been plugged in on some level. His voice rose hysterically. "No, please, no. Grandfather, you -- you can't...I don't want to go, please, I don't want to go...don't make me -- oh, God, please...."
Marruzzi ignored the continuing pleas as he would a buzzing insect. "You'll have to be the one to take him, paisan'," he told Fontane. "Take him away and clean him out."
Fontane objected. "I should stay here. You need me, especially now."
"Always, but what can I do? Who else do I have left to trust? Just bring me back a grandson."
"You'll kill me!" Sal screamed. "I can't -- I'll die!"
Marruzzi spared him a brief glance. "You'll die or come back a man. Your choice." He addressed Fontane. "Get everybody with a record off my premises immediately. Let's not leave the police any excuse to trump up a warrant just to get a foot into the door."
"It'll leave you very short-handed."
"Can't be helped. Also, see to it that Sal's house burns down tonight. To the ground."
No half-measure and no loose ends, Starsky thought. Except me. As if on cue, Marruzzi's attention focused on him. "Luigi, have my yacht prepared. You'll be taking Sergeant Starsky sailing." The big man paled noticeably. Starsky remembered his fear of water, which Marruzzi also seemed to know. "I know, but the roads might get too crowded. Do me this favor."
Luigi gulped, but nodded, looking like a well-trained dog. "Yes, Padrone."
"Don't get me wrong," Marruzzi said, turning back to the officer, "I'm not enjoying this."
Starsky noted that Luigi, on the house phone now, wasn't intent on them anymore. You won't like this, Hutch, but a promise is a promise. He managed a grin. "Don't worry about it," he said, pretending casualness. "A leopard doesn't change his spots -- even if he does have a history of backin' the wrong horses."
Luigi was trying to locate someone on the phone and didn't react to Starsky's seemingly irrelevant comments. For just a second, it looked like Marruzzi had also missed their import, but the old man was sharper than that, Starsky realized with satisfaction, when a suspicion dawned in his eyes. He glanced at Luigi, then quickly looked away, the narrowed eyes tellin the detective that the message was loud and clear.
All right, Starsky thought, another debt paid. I may not be around to bring you to justice, Luigi, but you've got it coming one way or another. And doing it this way, maybe, just maybe I've got a chance, too, if Marruzzi acts as fast as I think he will. Come on, he silently urged the old man, think how much cleaner it'll be this way. Two birds with one stone and all that.
As if responding to the mental tugging, Marruzzi pushed the button on the phone, cutting Luigi's connection. "You're wasting time. Half the staff is gone. Brasi, go find Luigi someone to handle the yacht. Maybe Gatto, if it isn't his night off."
Starsky saw a message pass between the two men out of Luigi's sight, and that name seemed to have a meaning for Fontane. He started racking his brains as the consigliere left the room. Who the hell was Gatto? Record sheets spread in front of his eyes. He mentally rifled through them. Come on, Hutch made you memorize every miserable sheet; think Gatto, Gatto...Pico Gatto. Distinguishing marks: shaved head, smallpox scars, small and index fingers missing on one hand -- why? Vietnam. Dishonorable discharge from -- Army, yes, but more specifically? Ordnance? No. Demolitons. Yes.
Maybe. Just maybe. Depends on how fast that yacht will be ready. Heard of out of the frying pan into the fire, but actually hoping for the fire? Think. It can't be too close. It has to be far enough off shore so the evidence will sink too deep for recovery.
Somehow, he was ridiculously amused. There had been a time when he would have relied on sheer brawn and charged like a bull in a china shop without a second thought, leaving the brain-hurting processes to his partner -- Hey, Hutch, guess what? I'm growing up. If any cockiness was left in him about his durability after Gunther, this night had dissuaded him of it. Physically, he couldn't cope with all the muscle around. He'd only incapacitate himself. That left him only his wits. He hoped they were in working order.
If I come out of this, Hutch, you can no longer claim the only brains in this team. And if you got any, get here. Soon.
Hutch's tension seemed to be contagious, affecting everybody in the crowded squadroom, making the silence echo. McNeil had been hopping mad when Dobey had ordered the switchboard to hold all incidental calls for Hutch, and to connect Officer Baylor directly to him. But the captain knew that these little concessions were the only things keeping the blond from going over everybody like a steamroller and on out the precinct.
The door to the squadroom opened and Dobey was surprised to see Minnie walk in. "What're you doing here at this hour?"
"Heard what's going down, decided to stick -- Hutch, I might have something."
The blond pounced on her. "What?"
"Might be whistlin' Dixie here, but came upon something at the switchboard. There was a call a while back, nothing on the other end except a crash, but the line stayed open and they traced it routinely. It came from Salvatore Marruzzi's residence."
Hutch yanked away the paper she was holding. "It's Starsky."
"We don't know that." McNeil stepped between the detective and his holster and jacket hanging on the chair. Hutch removed him. Dobey could swear the man's feet had left the ground for a second.
Minnie was talking in the meantime. "I just checked with the phone company. The line's still open."
Hutch swept up his things. "It's him."
McNeil and Minnie spoke simultaneously and they were both talking to Hutch's back.
"Hold it, hold it."
"Hutch, the call came about an hour ago."
"Do something," the DA demanded of Dobey. "Stop him."
Dobey waved angrily at the empty air where the blond had been. "What do you want me to do, have him shot? That's what it'll take."
"If he charges in without a warrant and causes -- "
"Enough!" Dobey bellowed. "I've got one officer missing, one silent, and another going in alone, and I don't want to hear it! Get on that phone and get the damned warrants so I can send in back-up. Here's your probable cause; it'll have to do." He threw the page with Salvatore's address, which Hutch had let drop, at the DA, then started issuing orders. If he couldn't actually send units into anywhere, he could at least flood the area with them, ready to go in when the warrants showed up.
It was time to go. Starsky stood up before anybody hauled him up by force. Obviously, the two bodyguards were to accompany him and Luigi. As far as the boat, he supposed. Any further, and I'll know this plan was a bust
Sal was also being led out, steered by Fontane. His blubberings had turned into sobs and then just sniffles, all of which his grandfather had pointedly ignored.
Suddenly, Sal stopped, turned. "What...what're you d-doing w-with... him?" he stammered, indicating the cop.
Boy, have you missed a lot, Starsky thought.
"Not your concern, Sal. Come on." Fontane urged the young man in the direction of the door, but Sal stubbornly, albeit unsteadily, stood his ground.
"No -- what? Tell me."
"Let's go, Sal."
With unexpected agility, Sal was at his grandfather's desk. "Don't. Mother of God, please don't. Please. Don't...don't send him with Lu-Luigi. Send him with me -- yes, just let him come with me. That'll work. Right? That'll work."
Fontane held him by the arm and attempted to pull him away which only made the young man dig in his heels and struggle. "Let me go! Grandfather, Nonno, please, don't. You want me to go, okay, I'll go, I'm going, leave him alone, please." Marruzzi had motioned at one of his men who came forward and got a good grip on the struggling man.
"Stop that!" Starsky interceded, bringing himself close to the young man. "Sal, you're just wasting your breath here. Go on, go with them."
Sal looked at him out of tear-clouded, unfocused eyes. "But...."
"Sssh, I know. There's nothing you can do."
Starsky reached to ruffle his hair. "It's okay, kid, it's okay. Go on." Sal was sobbing again as he was led out of the room.
"Coraggio?" Marruzzi mumbled after him, almost wonderingly, then looked at Starsky. "The only time he exhibits anything approaching courage, and he does it on your behalf." He shook his head and motioned at his men. "Take him away, before I regret this more than I already do."
They tied Starsky's hands behind his back again, before leading him outside, then down the steep, endless steps to the beach, and onto the private dock. Looking at the curve of the bay and the roads that ran its length, he thought there seemed to be too much traffic, but with the Marina right there, he couldn't be sure it wasn't normal congestion.
Gatto was waiting on the vessel, the engines idling. Three pairs of hands had no trouble dumping the detective onto the softly swaying deck. Luigi hesitated until one man gave him a shove. Once he was also on board, the moorings were released. Starsky had time to see a small, lightweight motorboat hooked to a pair of davits on one side of the deck, then he was pushed along a corridor with four cabins opening out to it, and into one of them.
There was a brief argument on the other side of his door. "Not until we stop," Gatto was telling Luigi. "Those are my orders."
Starsky couldn't catch Luigi's words because the man's voice was too deep a rumble, but he was obviously objecting. "Where it's really deep. I'll tell you," Gatto said. "I don't know what the fucking difference it makes. Those are the orders and that's good enough for me." Another grumble came. Gatto continued, "Take it up with the padrone if you don't. I just do what I'm told. I gotta move this thing now, so get off my back."
Luigi came in, chose a chair across from the detective, and placed a gun in his lap. Starsky studied the huge hands that looked more deadly than the weapon. Overkill.
The boat started moving. There was already an unhealthy color to Luigi's complexion, and it was getting worse the further they moved away from the shore. Starsky decided to let the man's phobia do some of the work for him before he started the next round.
As Hutch was driving up the road, the first sight of Sal's house showed a dark and shuttered place. About an hour, Minnie had said. How late am I? Then he saw in the distance the garage door rising. Silhouetted against the slight illumination inside the garage, a car left, heading his way.
Somebody to answer questions, was his only thought as he swerved into its path, blocking the road. The other car came to a screeching stop. Hutch was out his door and yanking open the driver's on the out-of-place looking, battered station wagon. The man inside was holding his head as if he'd hit it. Hutch grabbed by the lapels, pulled him out to hold against the car. He recognized Sal's bodyguard.
Rudi looked dazed. "Huh?"
Hutch shook him. "Starsky, Caporetto, where is he?"
"I don't know...what you're talking about."
The blond caught the brief hesitation in the middle of the sentence. "Don't play games! I don't care how many bones you have broken before you tell me." He leaned a forearm into the man's throat and caught one of his fingers to bend back. "Make up your mind. Fast."
Rudi gasped. "I don't know, I swear, I don't know." There was real fear in his voice and he couldn't seem to tear his eyes away from the blond's. "I swear, man."
Hutch forced the finger back some more. "Okay. This is for starters."
Rudi caught his breath, then the words rushed out. "He was there, but I hadda go somewheres, and when I came back nobody was there, I don't know, I swear I don't know, I was just goin' home, and I don't know nothing."
Hutch spied the garage door opener on the front seat. He pulled the man's arm through the window and cuffed him to the door, then reached in to grab the remote control. He was heading back to his car when he felt something sticky on his fingers, put his hand down in front of the headlights. It was red, viscid.
Clamping down on speculations, he grabbed his flashlight out of the glove compartment and went to check Rudi. The man's sleeve was bloody. "Where did this come from?" Rudi stayed silent, eyes darting about. Hutch grasped him by the hair, bringing his face close to the edge of the door frame. "If you don't start thinking real fast, you're going to get a lot bloodier."
"In the...the back -- but I don't know nothin'."
Hutch saw something in the back of the car covered with blankets. It was large enough to be a body. He swung the man and the car door out of his way, yanked the keys out of the ignition. "I swear, man," Rudi was babbling. "I ain't had nothin' to do with it. I don't know how it happened, I was just told to drive the car, that's all."
He lifted the hatch, swept the back of the wagon with the beam of his flashlight. Froze. The only thing escaping the blanketed mound was a strand of dark hair. It took him a few seconds before he could finally reach out and lift the cover. Gently. Fearfully. A slow inch, two, then another. It sank in that the tendril of hair was too long. He remembered to breathe, lifted the blanket firmly. Linda.
Thank God, was his first, instinctive, totally helpless reaction, then it was overwhelmed by a burning shame.
Carefully, he straightened her out as well as possible in the cramped space. She was still warm. The wound was halfway between the right breast and her collarbone. The blood had started to congeal. The trickle down the side of her mouth was bright, fluid. He saw it bubble slightly. She was breathing. Alive. The pulse on the neck was thready, but there. Gently, he slipped a hand under her body, couldn't feel an exit wound.
He ran to his car, requested an ambulance and backup, then returned to her side. There wasn't a thing he could do to help, but neither in case she stopped breathing. A thought went in a loop: if one cop was expendable...
Rudi was wisely quiet. He might have more answers, but Hutch was scared to look at him, let alone get close, no longer sure he'd stop at threats. It didn't take long. Within minutes a black-and-white drove up, one of the units Dobey already had patrolling the area. Two uniformed officers jumped out.
"The ambulance is on the way, stay with her, and give that son-of-a-bitch his rights," Hutch called out to the younger one, "Come with me," to the other. He ran for the house.
The yacht was gently swaying, the motor idling. Luigi's hands were restless on the gun. "Impatient, huh?" Starsky broke the silence. No answer. After the engines had wound down, there had been other sounds outside, a whine of pulleys, a splash, something thudding against the side of the boat. Totally out of his element, Luigi hadn't attached any importance to them, his instincts worthless in this situation.
"Why doesn't Gatto come and tell you to get on with it, right?" If he had his hands free, Starsky would've snapped his fingers in front of the man's face to see if he was catatonic. The eyes looked dead. Only the fingers moved. "Got news for you, big boy. Gatto ain't coming. He's gone. Didn't you hear the boat lowered? Who do you think left in it?"
It took a couple of beats before some intelligence showed in the man's eyes. He jumped to his feet, ran out of the cabin. Starsky heard oaths, useless; gunfire, probably just as useless. When he came back, he looked panic-stricken.
"Told ya," Starsky said smugly. He didn't know how fast time was running out, but had to play the hand right. "Nobody here but us chickens and all that water out there." With a jerky motion, the gun faced him point blank. "Sure, shoot me, then it'll be only you and all that water. You know how to move this monster? I do." A lie.
"They'll come for me."
"Oh, yeah, sure. That's why they left you, huh?"
"Boy, have you missed the boat. See, Luigi, it don't make no difference if you pull that trigger or not. They didn't leave it up to you this time. This time you're it, too. So are you gonna stand there and wait for the big bang?"
"Unless I miss my guess, there's a little package somewhere on this boat, just ticking away. A present from Marruzzi -- surprise, surprise!"
"Wh -- what -- ?"
"Oh, don't be dumb. He knows, don't you understand? Neither one of us is goin' back to shore ever again if you don't get your brains outta where they don't belong. You wanna be food for little fishies, Luigi? Wake up! This boat's gonna blow to kingdom come and nobody's gonna find the pieces again."
Luigi started to run out of the room. "Where're you goin'? You know how to swim?" Starsky shouted, stopping him dead in his tracks.
"I -- I'll find it."
"How? Do you know what belongs in a boat's engine and what doesn't? And then what? Gonna yank it out with your bare hands?" The man froze, totally lost. "Untie me."
"Come on, dammit, or it's gonna be too late! Gatto must've set it up to go soon after he's outta range."
"What can you do?"
Starsky lied some more. "I was in 'Nam, whaddaya think I did there? You're in over your head, Luigi. Let me loose and maybe we'll both get outta this."
There was a brief hesitation, then Luigi roughly turned him around and freed his hands. However, his neck was gripped tightly. "We'll look."
"Sure, whatever you say." He'd offer no resistance until they were on deck. Once there, though, he started again. "Look, we don't have a chance like this. It could be in the engine room or by the fuel tanks. You'll be lost with the engines, but you can check the tanks. Either orange cylinders in a bunch with a timer, or a box about eight by ten, attached with plastique, looks sorta like pinkish clay." Uncertainly, Luigi's grip loosened. Careful not to move fast enough to spook the man, Starsky pulled away, pointed aft. "Right there, go! Call me if you see it."
Luigi was befuddled enough to start that way, but two steps later, he whirled around and shouted, "No!"
Starsky heard it an instant before he hit the water. Then, cold and dark, it closed over him.
Sal's house was totally deserted. The garage had blood stains all over it, but the rest was relatively clean, except for the bedroom where things lay in disarray, broken glass littered all over. Hutch tried desperately to figure out where to go from there.
The patrolman called out to him from the door of the bedroom. "Sergeant, I found this in the bathroom. Some brown stuff is flaking off it. Could be blood."
Hutch took the leather jacket. If he needed further proof that Starsky had been there, he was holding it on his hand. He noticed it was damaged, cut several times across the top of a sleeve, inspected it closely. Yes, there was blood on it, but it hadn't come from inside the material. "Put this in a bag and tag it," he told the officer. My God, what am I collecting evidence for?
"Sergeant Hutchinson!" The call came from somewhere downstairs.
He ran out and leaned over the railing. "Here."
"Your name's Ken, right?"
"Officer Baylor's awake. I think she's asking for you."
He was rushing down the steps when there was a sound, a distant boom that rattled the windows, but he was too preoccupied to pay much attention. The road was more crowded now than when he'd left it. There were at least six black-and-whites in addition to the ambulance, emergency lights bathing everything in flashing red.
Linda was on a litter, paramedics clustered around her. He shoved one out of the way and went to his knees. "Linda, it's Ken, talk to me." She didn't look aware.
"She's drifting in and out," one of the paramedics said. "We should take her away, but she wouldn't let us until she saw you."
"Linda, I'm here. Do you know what happened? Where's Starsky? Linda?"
The dark head tossed. A paramedic steadied it. "We better take her."
"No! Linda, come on. I'm lost, baby. Give me something, anything."
"Really, Sergeant, enough!" The man was aiming a syringe at Linda's arm.
Hutch grabbed his wrist. "What's that?"
"She's in pain. I'm going to knock her out."
"Give me a second, just a second, please."
The man looked angry and ready to argue, but a faint whisper from Linda stopped him. "Ken?"
"Yes! I'm here. I'm listening."
"D...Dave...I heard...they took...."
"They took him? Who? Do you know where?"
"Marruzzi? They took him to Marruzzi? To his house?"
She couldn't talk, started coughing, tried to nod, stiffened with pain. The paramedic sank the needle into her arm. "Enough, Sergeant."
"Okay, okay. Take good care of her."
Hutch briefly stroked the dark head. "Thanks, honey." Then he was on his feet, issuing orders. Some patrolmen were saying something about an explosion and a fire, but it sounded like it was somewhere far away, so he couldn't spare it any thought. He shouted the address for Marruzzi's house. "Block the road to it. Nobody goes in or out. Stop and search everyone, every car. I'm going in. Somebody call Dobey and tell him what's going on."
His own car was blocked in. He grabbed the nearest black-and-white.
For a few minutes, Starsky thought he was going to black out. At first he'd stayed under as long as his lungs could possibly take it, surfacing twice for air, but very briefly since Luigi had been shooting like mad. The explosion had caught him the third time he'd surfaced, its impact forcing him to sink again, this time uncontrollably. Then the first shock wave had tossed him, immediately followed by more as gasoline tanks went off in chain reaction, tumbling him every which way.
At last, when his lungs were strained to bursting and he gasped, air was there, mixed with only a small amount of water. It was hot, thick with fumes, tasting like gasoline and burning his lungs already on fire, but he was on the surface. He used the dead-man's-float until his head cleared a little and the pain in his chest stopped threatening to black him out.
He raised his head. Water wasn't his element, either, but he was stuck with it. He hadn't been doing so badly with the things he was stuck with that night. In fact, he was a little proud of himself. He couldn't quit yet, though. The shore was miles away. Marruzzi's landing was the closest straight shot, but that would be plain dumb. The Marina, he decided. He knew he wouldn't make it on his own. But he also knew the safety patrols of the place would soon put out to sea to investigate an explosion right off their coast. As if on cue, he saw a number of tiny lights separate from the string along the shore. He hoped his arms could stand some more strain and headed for them.
Ahead, Hutch saw the gigantic iron gates were open, letting out some cars. Starsky could be in one of them, but the roadblock would take care of those. If not, he would still be in the house, and anyway, Marruzzi was the man with the answers, he was sure. Slowly, ponderously, the gates were swinging shut. Once they were secured, he might not be able to get in.
He floored the gas pedal, calculated he just might make it, and with a tiny adjustment of the steering wheel, put the car directly in the center of the road. Peripherally, he was aware his vehicle was halfway into the wrong lane and that oncoming cars were rushing toward him. But he was fixed on the gates and the only way in was right up the middle. Anything in between would just have to get out of the way.
They did. Lights swerved left and right, away from him, with screeching and scraping sounds. His car reached the gates, almost got snared on both sides, then shot through them. He hit the brakes briefly in order to negotiate the curving driveway, barely kept the car from going into a spin, fed it gas.
Backlighted figures rushed out of the house, voices yelled, guns fired. The windshield splintered into a spider's web. He kept going, following the driveway around the house. He wasn't about to waste time with confrontations.
He had no conscious plan for entry into the house. His mind had already latched onto a piece of information garnered from Starsky's descriptions. With the instincts of a hunter, he went unerringly for the weak spot. The greenhouse loomed in front of him, lit with plant lights, a delicate, glass-paneled palace -- a breach in the fortress wall, and he sent the car crashing into it like a battering ram, stopped only when he had to. He was inside.
"Nobody else out there in one piece." Starsky gasped for breath to continue answering the shore safety guard's worried questions. "I'm a police officer. No badge to show you right now, though." Someone threw a blanket round his shoulders. He grabbed it greedily, chilled to the bone, shivering uncontrollably both from cold and fatigue. "Got a radio in there?"
"Call Metro Police Department. They'll vouch for me. Tell 'em Sergeant Starsky wants to talk to Captain Dobey." His teeth were chattering and it took a few tries for the man to get all the names and titles straight.
"Come in out of the wind." They drew him into the cabin and pushed him onto a cushioned bench. Somebody tried to rub warmth into him. They offered a thermos. He gulped the hot tea down, starting to feel a little better.
He heard Dobey's voice through the radio, several decibels louder than was necessary, as usual. It was accompanied by engine noises and the siren. The captain seemed to be on the road, going somewhere in a hurry. "Starsky, where are you?"
He rose to reach the mike. "Here, Cap'n. On a shore patrol boat off the Marina."
"You all right?"
"I'll live. Cap'n, listen. Linda was shot in Sal's house. I don't know where she is now, but she was alive when I -- "
"She's at the hospital, still alive. Your partner found her."
Starsky silently gave thanks. "Oh, so you knew -- where is my partner?" He heard an expletive that very rarely came out the black man's mouth.
"From all I've been able to gather, at Marruzzi's. Alone."
"What's he doin' there?"
"Take a good guess. They said he talked to Baylor and dashed there. I got units outside and I'm taking the warrant up myself right now so we can get in and find out what the hell's going on."
"Turn this thing around!" Starsky shouted at the people around him. "Take me to that pier, right there. Call the units, Cap'n. Tell 'em to go in. They don't need a warrant. I got all the justifiable causes you need." He was about to let go of the mike, but remembered something else. "Oh, Cap'n, Fontane and Sal're leavin' the country from Manderlay Heights. Try to stop them. Sal shot Linda."
The boat changed course for Marruzzi's estate, but somebody voiced concern. "Sergeant, we really should take you to our infirmary."
"Forget the infirmary. Just give me back that thermos, and push this raft, will ya?"
Hutch's break-in was so uncontested that it was almost ridiculous. There was no one left from the huge staff Marruzzi had. Maybe those cars on the road had been carrying them away. People who'd tried to stop him were still scattered all over the garden. Inside, he managed to snag one of the servants before the man scurried into the wood panelling like the rest. Readily, he old Hutch where Marruzzi was. In the library. Alone.
The old man was gazing out of a bay window, looking curiously detached from the chaos outside. "Who was it?" he asked at the sound of the door opening and closing, as if he had been waiting for a report.
"Not was. Is."
Marruzzi gave a small start. But he didn't turn, only shifted a little until, Hutch supposed, he brought the speaker into focus on the window. "Who are you?"
"Detective Sergeant Hutchinson." He locked the door as he spoke.
"I see. Do you have a warrant?"
"I don't need one when I'm met with gunfire."
"My staff isn't made up of fools. Your manner of asking admittance must've left something to be desired. No matter, we can leave that to my lawyers."
Lawyers. Staff. A white-haired, ultra-civil man -- "Turn around and come closer," Hutch snarled. He was obeyed. "Where's my -- " A hammering on the door cut him off. He whirled and covered the entrance. "Call them off!"
"I'm fine. Stand by," Marruzzi called out and the door was left alone. "Actually, Detective, I'm glad you're here. I was about to call the police myself."
"Oh, really? Why's that?"
"I'm worried. My grandson borrowed my yacht for some of his friends and soon after they left there was an explosion off the coast. I'd like to make sure my -- "
To the blond, it was so much drivel. "Save me your troubles. Where's my partner?"
Marruzzi was regarding him as if he were a slow child. "Really, Sergeant, how would I know that?"
Hutch contained himself with great effort. "Cut the crap! I know he was here. If you have to play games, you know him as Caporetto."
"This is confusing."
He had had enough. He advanced on the old man. "No, it's real simple. You tell me my partner is all right and where I can find him, you get to take your chances with a judge. You take them with me, and you don't have any chances."
The man stood firm against the blond's towering presence, not intimidated by the gun or the cold voice. His attitude imposed a strange restraint on Hutch. But it was the wrong time for it. The lid on a pressure cooker held only for so long, the small vent helped just so far, before it exploded. Hutch felt something inside reaching a critical point. It scared him. Whenever he lost control unexpectedly, he didn't have time to worry about it. He could feel this one coming, could tell it was going to force some deliberate violence out of him. And Marruzzi still stood, damnably nonchalant, like a blind man unconcerned about the tornado right in front of him.
Hutch was scared enough of himself to plead. "Let me find him. Just tell me he's all right."
Strangely enough, Marruzzi, who hadn't retreated from overt menace, now took a hasty step back. "If your partner is the man I know as Caporetto, I can't tell you that, Sergeant. I've been trying to explain. I think my yacht had an accident. He was on it."
It suddenly came together. The distant explosion he'd heard, the fire off the coast at the edge of his vision as he had driven up, all things he'd ignored then. He didn't ask any other questions, not interested in answers couched in unincriminating terms. Besides, hadn't this been a foregone conclusion anyway? Something he had already known, something that had been coming, had been bound to arrive?
He found himself at the window. The glass pane held a hundred images, like a hall of mirrors but without a sense of depth. The objects in the lit room overlaid the dark sea and sky, and for a second he couldn't tell which bright reflection belonged behind him and which was unreachably far. Then he saw it. It was burning, superimposed on the reflection of his own face, the flames visibly dying down. He brushed the glass in front of his face as if it were a match come too close; it failed to disturb the image. It looked like he could almost close his hand on it and it'd fit like a toy, except maybe some flames would spurt through his fingers, and if he squeezed real hard -- he put his hand down.
Something disturbed his neatly frozen picture. Distantly, he noted on the reflection that it was Marruzzi reaching for the door knob. "Touch it," somebody seemed to say, quite calmly and distinctly, "and you won't have a hand." The man pulled back. "To the middle of the room. More. Yes. Stay there. Right there. Don't move."
The old man was saying something and off somewhere else were loud, staccato sounds he should, for some reason, react to, but he didn't consider any of it worth hearing. He turned around. The gun was too heavy, dragging his arm down. He really should give a thought to a smaller piece like his -- stop.
"I know you," he said to the white-haired man standing in the middle of the room.
"Officer, you're wrong. We have never met before."
"I know you very well," he asserted, dispassionately. "I know this room. I stood here before."
"I don't understand what you're -- "
He interrupted. "The same." He waved at the room with his left hand, some instinct warning him against moving even slightly the one holding the weapon. "The best of everything money can buy." A large painting caught his eye briefly. "That must've set you back a bundle. Very nice. Of course, Starsky wouldn't appreciate it. Gee, Hutch, he'd say, it don't look like nothin' -- Yes, double negatives and all."
He felt a crazy urge to smile and maybe he did, a tender affection sluicing through the cold knot in his center. Spring trickle. Melting into winter ice. Out of season. No. Stop.
Quickly, he froze it again. If the arctic block melted, nothing might be left of the whole. He waved at the sumptuous room again. "Is there anything left that money can buy you? How much more can you have? Or maybe you're right. If you want only one thing in life, what happens when you lose -- " That was a dangerous track. He retraced. "Maybe you're right, but tell me, how are you going to take it all with you?" Now that was an intriguing thought. He was aware of lifting his gun.
"Or isn't it the material things anymore? Of course it isn't. It's power. What do you think, if you're powerful enough nothing can touch you? You'll be sacred, immortal? Because you deal death you can cheat it? Think again, old man."
His left hand came up, wrapping around the one already gripping the magnum. He braced his legs apart, arms outstretched directly in front of him. "You kill, I know. You order it and it's done. But did you ever kill someone when you're looking straight into his eyes, when you're close enough to smell the fear? I have. Many times."
The first time he'd cried. Crazy world. Man could kill. Man shouldn't cry. Had wanted to hide. Hadn't been allowed to. "Hey, it's all right," he had been told. "The day you don't feel like cryin' is when I'll start to worry."
Guess what, Starsk.
"I don't feel like crying," he said, or thought he said.
There was a lot of noise somewhere. He didn't care. The old man wasn't moving and that was enough. At the moment, it wasn't a person he was seeing through the gunsights. A spider, gorged but never full. And Hutch had stood at the center of this web already one time too many.
The barrage of gunfire on the estate had stopped almost as soon as Starsky had shrugged off the blanket and climbed onto the pier. He found his footing, with some effort, on the landing. Intermittent shots and shouts accompanied his climb up the steps, making him push past what his body had long since deemed enough. When the adrenaline wore out, he'd be presented with the bill, but not yet.
By the time he was at the top of the hill, the police were in control. Officers out of other precincts were everywhere, as well as those from Metro. He directed the questions to the familiar faces, and they were the ones who cleared his way, minus answers. Nobody knew where Hutch was, unless he was behind the only remaining locked door.
When Starsky reached it, the patrolmen had just broken through. He saw them surge into the room, then halt, noticed officers going into defensive postures and drawing weapons. "Drop it," several voices shouted.
Quickly, he ducked into the doorway. Over and around heads, he saw his partner quietly holding Marruzzi at gun point, and took a relieved breath. "Hutch," he called out. No response. Then he got a clear look at Hutch's face.
The other officers still had their guns drawn on the blond. "Drop it, or -- " someone was saying.
"No!" Starsky shouted, struggling to cut through the ranks, but he was held back.
"Let him go, that's his partner," came a voice and he was released. But he was aware, as he approached, that nobody had relaxed behind him.
"Hutch, put it down. It's over." No reaction. "Hey, partner, come on, lower it. Cavalry's all over the place." He put his hand over Hutch's holding the Magnum, and instantly got the impression that if he shoved real hard he might move his partner, but only as one solid piece of rock. He doubted if he could push the arms down, let alone pry the gun off. "Hutch, snap out of it! It's all right. It's over." Nothing seemed to register and he started getting frantic about the reactions of the patrolmen who didn't know Hutch as he did.
Or maybe didn't. He felt Hutch's fingers tighten inside his palm, totally unexpected. During the microsecond before the gun went off, the only thing he knew was that his body was protecting Hutch from the other cops. They wouldn't answer the fire right away.
The blast was deafening. It was a moment before he could register the echoes, the tinkling of a chandelier, and the thunks of plaster falling down. He realized that Hutch's hands, still cupped inside one of his, were raised high, the gun pointing at the ceiling.
I knew him after all, was the dizzying thought, then the Magnum simply fell into his palm. He fumbled to catch it as Hutch's arms dropped, clicked the safety on and stuck it inside his waistband. He started to turn toward Marruzzi.
His head whipped back around at the shaky whisper. Hutch's eyes didn't look glassy anymore. Neither did they seem normal. "Yeah, right here." His partner frowned, seemed to grope for something to say, stayed silent. "Hey, it's all right." From the looks of things, it was anything but.
The uniforms had approached, waiting to be told how to proceed by someone with more rank. Normally, Starsky would have considered the moment a crowning touch and relished pronouncing Marruzzi's arrest personally. Right now, though, he couldn't care less. "Read him his rights and get him outta here," he said, pointing over his shoulder without even a glance. "Conspiracy will do for now. I'll fill in the blanks later."
He detected a tremor in Hutch's frame, knew his partner was about to come down spectacularly. He raised his voice. "Everybody, clear outta here, close the door, and stay out. That's an order." There were advantages to being the highest-ranking officer on the scene. They had privacy fast.
He didn't quite know what to do, almost scared to touch his partner, lest he precipitate something. "It's all right," he said again, then decided it might as well be his touch that set Hutch off. Something had to, obviously. He reached.
Hutch instantly backed away. "So the joke's on me." His voice was unsteady. "Again."
"Hey, it's all right, really." He was aware that he kept repeating himself, and doing even that inadequately, but he was at a loss.
"No, it isn't all right!" Hutch pushed away the hand Starsky reached out to him once more. "Goddammit, it isn't all right. I thought you were dead. I believed it, dammit, but there you are, and you think that's all right?"
Starsky was bewildered. "Uh...isn't it?"
"No. There you are, a fucking miracle -- again! What happens when yours runs out? Nobody up there owes me one, dammit, don't you know that?"
"Hutch, are you...mad at me?" For being alive?
"Yes! No. Yes! I told you to get down, damn you, why didn't you?"
It took some effort for Starsky to comprehend. "Hey, partner, that's ancient history."
Hutch whirled away and continued as if he hadn't heard. "No, you had to stand and face it. You always have to. How the hell can I cover you on all sides at the same time? I can't, and I'm sorry, but how long do I get punished for it?"
Starsky realized Hutch wasn't railing at him, at least not as much as the blond was railing at himself. He wanted to protest, but the dam was finally crumbling after a year and a half. He let it come, wishing Hutch would face him.
"So, okay, a warning isn't enough, but you think I wouldn't've covered you if I could've? Did you have to die on me for that? I kept telling myself, Starsky's gonna die, he's dying, so maybe I'll be ready, but I didn't believe it, and then Dobey tells me and I still don't believe it, but I have to believe it, then the doctor says you're all right and I think it was just a joke, a sick joke, so I walk into the room, there you are, just the same, but there are all those papers out of that damned monitor all over the floor, and it's all there, in white and blue -- no joke. You died. What could I do? Do you know how it feels to be totally helpless?"
"Hutch," Starsky started, but was overridden.
"I never did. Not before. Before, there was always something I could do. And all at once, I could've torn the world down and built it up again and it wouldn't've made one bit of difference in that room. There wasn't a thing you needed from me. Nothing. I was careless once and all choices were taken away. I don't ever want to feel like that again, can't you understand?"
"Babe, yes, I understand. You should've told me sooner." That was unfair, he knew. Hutch had been telling him in many ways. Just because it hadn't been spelled out clearly, he'd felt at liberty not to pay enough attention. "I'm sorry," he mumbled, weakly. Hutch was still riding his adrenaline high down, but his own had bottomed out suddenly. His body was only waiting to fall.
The blond paced, swinging out his arms. "So I think if I'm never careless, if I try real hard, it won't happen again. But you won't let me, nobody does. I let them hold me back tonight, so that's why I believed you were on that boat. What else, right? If I'm late, what can I expect?" Abruptly, he glanced back. "Weren't you on it?"
Hutch's eyes were on him, Starsky knew, but his mind was far away, or how ridiculous his question was. Starsky looked like a drowned rat. "I was. I got out in time. Luigi didn't make it."
Starsky thought that maybe the news would make Hutch feel better. "You don't have to worry 'bout him no more, Hutch. I promised you he wasn't gonna get away and he didn't." Hutch turned away from him again. A silence followed. Vaguely, he wondered if he'd said the wrong thing.
"That's why you stayed under," Hutch said finally. There was accusation in the quiet voice. "Keep your promise or die trying? What the hell makes you think I'd pay that price for anything?"
Starsky tried to explain he hadn't planned on its turning out this way, but the room was swimming in and out of focus. Anyway, Hutch didn't sound too angry.
"Damn it, Starsky. I can spout all kinds of drivel for why I do what I do, but past everything that's already knocked out from under my feet, past anything we can invent...the bedrock is you. Don't you know that? That's something I can't let even you yank out from under me. Yes, I'm that selfish. I think 'What about me?' when something threatens you, and okay, it's not noble, maybe I'm not proud of it, but it's the truth, and there's not a thing I can do to change it. I know you don't like it much, but...."
The words had been registering so far, but now they were getting distant. Folding up on his partner wasn't in the rules, but Starsky didn't have a choice. "Hutch, please...look, I know...I mean, I hear you, but -- Hutch, I'm cold, I ache in the places I didn't know I had..." If I was sure I wouldn't miss the floor I'd fall. He didn't know if the last was thought or spoken.
A beat of silence. Then a whisper, "Oh, my God." Hands wrapped him in a jacket, warm from Hutch's body. "I'm sorry. I keep running my mouth, and -- I can't believe I didn't notice; damn, Starsky, I'm sorry."
"Are you hurt?"
"Tired, 's all. Just take me home 'n tuck me in."
He was laid on the couch. That steadied the room, so he opened his eyes, saw Hutch look around searchingly and go to a window. The blond grasped a panel of the velvet drapes and yanked hard. He covered Starsky with it.
"I'll be right back," Hutch said and went out.
Now that he was horizontal, Starsky didn't feel so bad. He closed his eyes, relaxed. From the sounds outside, he figured higher authority had arrived. He heard Hutch assure somebody his partner was okay but not available tonight, probably Dobey. The blond told somebody else to bring a car to the door and get the lead out, and yet somebody else that they'll get to something or another when they were good and goddamned ready for it, that Starsky was going home, and if late reports didn't suit the man he could take them and --
Starsky smiled to himself. The person on the losing side of that exchange had to be the DA. Aw, we didn't put the bows on his present yet. Gee.
Somehow, it was pleasant to lie there while his partner held the world at bay. It suddenly struck him how in charge and in control Hutch was sounding out there. Not at all like the man teetering on an edge a few minutes ago. Maybe, unknowingly, he'd given his partner something he needed at this point. He'd dropped himself into the blond's hands to be cared for. Maybe he'd been wrong in trying to adjust things to his own comfort between them. That might be just as unreasonable as Hutch wanting to hover over him just because that suited the blond best. Of course, these were special circumstances, and there was no way he could live with it as a lifestyle. However, at the moment, it seemed to be working for both of them. He'd worry about later...later.
He felt a gentle hand on his shoulder, struggled to crack open his eyes. "How're you doing, son?" Dobey asked. "Hutchinson's displaying his Viking genes out there and there's no talking to him. Thought I'd check for myself. You need a doctor?"
"No, Cap'n...nothin' serious. I'm...just...beat."
"Okay. Let Hutch take you home now -- what army's going to stop him anyway? Both of you, rest, and I'll hold things off at Metro."
Starsky mumbled thanks, felt the hand pat his shoulder. Shortly, Hutch was back, stripping the drapes and the now-damp jacket, wrapping him in a dry blanket. Shit, gotta walk, he thought and made an attempt, felt cramped as an infant in swaddling clothes.
"Sssh, take it easy," Hutch said, scooping him up into his arms, grunting with the effort.
"Let me give you a hand, Sergeant," a stranger's voice offered. Probably a patrolman.
"I got him. I got him." Starsky had to smile at the proprietary tone in his partner's voice. I ain't heavy, huh? "Just secure the blanket behind him, will you?"
"Got the car you've requested. Right at the door," the same voice said. "Need a driver?"
"No, uh, yes, good idea. Thanks. Call you tomorrow, soon's I can, Captain."
"Fine, fine. Get going now."
Starsky freed one arm to hook around his partner's neck, hoping to be less of a burden. Hutch heaved his weight up into his arms more securely, until his head rested on the blond's shoulder, then they left the room. He felt a little self-conscious being carried out through the crowds like a cradled baby, but was too tired to care all that much. Going down the steps, Hutch was barely able to stay steady. He took them one at a time, pausing on each until they were balanced enough to attempt the next.
"Put me down, I can walk," Starsky said, but he had timed it right and they were already at the car. The patrolman had the door open. Hutch eased him into the back seat, picking up and swinging in his legs afterwards, then rounded the car and got in from the other side. Starsky considered the shoulder and lap for prospective head-rests and opted for the shoulder. It was closer. Hutch's arm went around him to hold him in place. The car started.
"Any specific reason you want to go to your place?" Hutch asked. "Mine's closer and your stuff's still there."
"Whatsa difference?" Starsky mumbled, already dozing off. "Just...home."
He slept until Hutch and the patrolman woke him up by trying to get him up the steps of Venice Place. He rallied, and got into the apartment on his own. Then Hutch was peeling off his wet clothes, and he was helped into the full tub. At first, the hot water made Starsky's cold skin tingle uncomfortably, stung the scrapes and the cuts, but soon he got used to it and sighed, content, at the warmth seeping through his pores. "T'rrific."
"Lean back. Right. Not that far! You idiot, you'll drown. What, you didn't give it a good enough shot already?" Hutch's hands firmly arrested his easy slide into the warm water, held him in place.
He floated until his body heat matched the water's as his partner gently sponged him. It tickled. Helplessly, he giggled, and Hutch seemed to consider it enough. "Out you go." He was helped out of the tub, given a hand with the toweling, then supported to the bed. "Must be all that Italian pasta. You weigh a ton."
"Nope, waterlogged," he quipped.
"You nut. Lie down." Hutch wasn't done with him. Soon some antiseptic, cold and stinging, was dabbed onto the various cuts and scrapes. He winced, squirmed, even tried a little whining, but he already knew Hutch wouldn't be swayed in this case. "Good, you're rallying," was the blond's only comment when Starsky gave up on trying to elicit sympathy and let out an oath.
Finally he was tucked in, and felt expansive enough to say, "Thanks." The phone rang. Hutch went to answer it. Can't leave us alone for nothing, Starsky thought, but felt obligated to pay attention once he realized his partner was talking to Dobey.
"Yeah, he's okay, Captain," his partner was saying. "Me, too. What? Hey, that's great." He called out to Starsky. "Linda's going to be all right, not even on the critical list."
Starsky felt a weight lift off his chest, thought he wouldn't blame her if she never wanted to work with them again.
"I see." His partner was continuing into the phone. "Yeah. He wants what? Oh, okay. Hang on, I'll check." The blond head appeared around the partition. "They got Sal and Brasi Fontane. Sal wants to use his one call to talk to you. Feel up to it?"
The nap and the bath had restored him a bit. "Sure."
"Stay there. The cord's long enough." Hutch told Dobey to put Sal on and handed over the receiver.
"Yeah, Sal," Starsky said into it.
"Tony -- uh, that's wrong, huh? What is it? I-I can't remember."
"Okay, but that's -- feels strange."
"Not to me."
There was a chuckle, discordant, hollow, but still, Sal didn't sound too spaced out now. "Right. Okay...D-David. You, uh, you don't mind talking to me, do you? I thought -- but they told me you were okay, and I had to -- "
"I don't mind," Starsky assured. "I'm glad you wanted to talk." There was silence on the line. "Sal?"
"I'm glad you're all right, To-David, I really am, I never wanted you to get hurt, you know that, don't you, believe me, that other officer, I didn't want to hurt her either, please, believe me, I didn't know what to do, how to, but I never -- "
Starsky interrupted the rush of words. "Yeah, I know all that. In case they didn't tell you, she's going to be all right, too."
"I'm sorry, I never meant to harm anyone, I'm sorry."
The young man sounded about ten years old. Thirteen, Starsky amended, he was never really allowed to grow up after that. "I know, kid, I know. I'm sorry, too. I didn't want to deceive you, and in a lot of ways I really didn't. Not where it counts. Do you understand what I'm saying?"
"Yeah." It was barely more than an exhaled breath. "I wish -- "
"Nothing. Just...thank you. Goodbye."
"Is there anything you -- "
"Goodbye," Sal repeated, and hung up.
Hutch took the receiver back. Starsky noticed he had a steaming mug in his hand. He was blowing on it to cool it down, and Starsky figured he was about to be the recipient. "Whazzat?"
"Hot toddy. Here, drink some."
Hutch raised his eyes heavenward. "It's how my ancestors survived the arctic. If it was manly enough for them, it'll certainly do for you. So, drink it or wear it."
Catching a whiff of the sharp aroma as Hutch held it out, Starsky wrinkled his nose. "Hutch, if I tried holdin' that now, I'd be wearin' it anyway," he argued in a tiny voice.
"Bet your mother couldn't stand your Camille routine, either," Hutch grumbled, putting the mug on the nightstand, but his hands were gentle as he sat Starsky up, lowered himself on the bed behind him, his legs on either side of his partner's body, and made a prop of his chest to rest against. He brought the mug around to Starsky's mouth. "Careful. It's very strong."
It was. But a few seconds after the liquor hit his stomach, warmth was spreading all through his insides. Halfway through, Starsky decided that it was delicious. By the last drop, an easy lethargy had enveloped him, loosening all tension, and the aches and pains were distant echoes. He dropped his head back against Hutch, enjoying being held there, totally warm now, relaxed, hazy. "'M sorry."
Hutch's breath brushed against his cheek. "What for?"
"Bein' a...burden," he mumbled.
"Idiot," Hutch softly retorted.
He smiled, or thought he did. "Tomorrow," he made his tongue form, "your turn."
"Sssh. We got one. That's enough."
Starsky's breathing had turned even and the body against him felt boneless. Hutch only had energy to press his lips to the living warmth of his partner's temple, softly, in an instinctive, mute expression of... gratitude, he supposed. If there were any divine beings hanging around, waiting for their due, they'd just have to wait; his system was fast shutting down. He eased out from under his partner, covered Starsky, then blindly navigated to the couch.
The phone rang. Hutch scrambled up from sleep to reach it, understanding the reason for his haste only when he'd picked it up and automatically checked to make sure it hadn't awakened Starsky. It was Dobey. Hutch listened quietly. "It'll probably be in the morning editions," his captain concluded, and that's when the blond realized it was light outside. "Wanted to let you know before you read about it. Tell Starsky I'm sorry."
He mumbled something to get across he'd heard, hung up, sank back onto the couch. Never ends. He glanced back at the slumbering figure of his partner. I'm tired, he thought, knowing he'd have to pull himself together before Starsky woke up. More than one piece of bad news this morning, partner. I can't go on like this. It's not just watching you jump into where angels fear to tread and hoping for a miracle. Last night I've learned that I can be a cop, or I can be your partner. I can't do both. Like a Roman candle, I start burning at both ends, and that makes me dangerous. What am I supposed to do now? Please, babe, you got any answers?
An hour, a shower, and three cups of coffee later, he had come to no conclusion, but had read the accounts of the case in the morning edition of the Times. He sat back, glad that it was all over. He was also surprised at finding in himself not only relief but a measure of satisfaction. Once a cop, always a cop? He started folding the scattered papers, noticed a slight tremor in his hands, wondered if it were too little sleep, too much caffeine, or lingering reaction from the night before.
"Did we make 'em?"
He gave a start, turned to see Starsky still in bed, but awake. "How're you feeling?"
"Sore. All over."
"Go back to sleep. Talked to Dobey. We don't have to be in until two."
"You don't look too hot yourself. Where did you sleep?"
"On the couch."
"What was wrong with the bed?"
The blond shrugged. "I toss and turn. Didn't want to disturb you."
"Hutch, you could've held the World Series in here and I wouldn't've known." He indicated the papers. "So, did we make 'em?"
Hutch finished folding them away. "Yeah."
"Get some more rest, huh?" He went to the bed and attempted to replace the covers Starsky was attempting to throw off.
"I'm okay. Gotta get up."
"What's the rush?"
Starsky frowned irritably at the reverse tug-of-war they were playing with the covers, which he was losing. "For starters, I gotta go to the bathroom -- you mind?"
"Oh," Hutch backed off, squeezing his hands into the pockets of his jeans.
Starsky sat up slowly, gingerly, as if movement hurt. "Also, I think we oughta see Sal. He sounded funny on the phone."
"Uh, Starsk...." He couldn't continue, unsure how best to word it.
Starsky misunderstood his hesitation. "Oh, hey, if you don't wanna deal with Sal in his condition, I mean, considerin'...it's all right, really. I'll go."
"It's not that." Right out, Hutch decided. "Sal was found dead in his cell this morning. Hanged himself." For a long minute, Starsky kept staring up at him, then his head fell to his chest. "I'm sorry. Starsky?" Hutch reached to hold his partner by the shoulders.
"I'm all right." His eyes met Hutch's, one side of his mouth tilted upwards, his expression equal parts of sadness and irony. "I still gotta go to the bathroom," he said with an apologetic lift of his shoulders. Wordlessly, he put on the robe Hutch found him, and disappeared behind the door.
After a long wait, the blond was considering knocking on that door, when Starsky preempted him, and they almost collided. Hutch stepped back. Starsky stayed still in the doorway, looking directionless. A push on his elbow was enough to steer him back into the bedroom. He stretched out on the bed again, lifted one arm with a grimace to prop his head, staring up at the ceiling. Hutch sat next to him, his elbows on his knees.
"You know, he tried to save my life last night -- not very well, but he tried. Come to think of it, maybe he did. If he hadn't delayed Luigi.... Dammit, why couldn't he have waited long enough to give me a chance?"
It sounded like a rhetorical question, but Hutch answered anyway. "Who knows, really? But I know how low you can hit coming down." He still distinctly remembered wanting any kind of cessation of the pain, except in his case he'd had a stubborn presence who wouldn't let go, wouldn't give in to his pleas one way or another, except just hold fast until it had passed. "Maybe he couldn't take it."
"I should've gone last night."
"It wasn't your fault! You were dead on your feet. You couldn't have possibly -- "
Starsky just smiled up at him and interrupted. "Relax. I'm not going to beat my breast. I really don't think it would've made that much of a difference. He wasn't a fighter. Takin' the easy way out, quittin' on himself -- hell, he'd been doing that for years. Maybe he was never given a chance and I wish...but, I'm tired, Hutch. I can't keep holdin' people up when they don't have any interest in stayin' afloat." The dark blue eyes shied away. "God, I sound cold. I don't mean to."
Hutch patted his shoulder. "No, no, you don't." His hand felt right there, so he left it In place, rubbing.
"It isn't that I'm not sorry for the kid, but -- I begged him to help Linda last night; he just rushed off to shoot up. When that's your only answer to everything...if he'd done one thing, just one thing, to try and break out by himself, then maybe -- " He cut off to look back at Hutch. "I forgot. You don't know what I'm talking about."
"No, but it's okay."
"I guess it is. Just strange."
"Oh, I don't know. For some reason, whatever happens to me, I expect you to know about it -- strange. Anyway, I'll tell you later, huh?" He looked down at Hutch's fingers rubbing his arm. "Must be all that swimming. That feels good." Hutch shifted sideways, drew the arm to his lap and started massaging earnestly. His partner sighed and closed his eyes. "He was a quitter," he said softly. "I can't help that. Wish I could've, but I can't." After a while, Starsky rolled onto his side and held out his other arm. "Guess we couldn't salvage anybody from this case."
Us, Hutch thought. "What we set out to do, we did. That's something."
"Sure is. Hope you're hearin' yourself." Starsky pulled his arm away, flexed both of them. "Much better. Uh, you tired? My back's killin' me, too."
Hutch laughed softly. "Big baby. Roll over."
Starsky decided to stop Hutch before he fell asleep again. "Is that coffee I smell?" He didn't move to help himself, though. It wouldn't have worked normally, but he knew this morning Hutch would serve his coffee without fuss. He propped himself, and sure enough, a mug was soon in his hands.
Hutch was munching on a slice of buttered toast. "Don't have much in the way of breakfast. The bread was in the freezer, so that's okay. I can get you some toast."
"I don't want any," Starsky said, while simultaneously reaching to pull at Hutch's hand to take a bite of the toast.
"Then why are you eating mine?"
"Because it's there."
Hutch's eyes went heavenward again. He took another bite out of his own toast, looked down at the last piece, and with a sigh, stuffed it into Starsky's mouth. "I'll get some more."
"I don't wanna eat. I wanna talk to you."
His partner made an uneasy sound that was evidently meant to pass as a laugh. "Not very nourishing."
"Shows how much you know. Sit." He patted the side of the bed. Hutch sat, but didn't seem inclined toward conversation. "I cut you off last night," Starsky started. "But, believe me, I heard. Actually, I've been hearin' for a long time. I should've paid better attention."
Hutch held up a hand. "Starsky, please. Drink your coffee. I don't want to talk about last night. I don't even want to remember last night. Leave it alone."
Starsky had learned long ago that when Hutch posted one of his 'No trespassing' signs, it was time for a well-placed kick. "Too bad. You've already used up your amnesia allocation in one big bash. No way you get another turn, especially while the account's still open on the first one."
The blond managed to look embarrassed and indignant at the same time. "What? Now I owe you?"
"Got that right," Starsky told him bluntly.
Hutch spent some time charting the depths of the comforter. "What am I supposed to remember? What I said? I said too much. What I did? Jesus, how could I forget? I even remember the lecture I gave you, what, a month ago? All that noble talk about revenge, and how futile it is -- and I almost killed an old man. In cold blood. I would've, too, if you hadn't pushed my hand up. Now I have to remember what I've turned into? How do -- ?"
Starsky paused in the middle of taking a sip of his coffee. "Whoa, hold it right there." He placed the mug on the nightstand. "What're you talkin' about? I didn't push your hand up."
"Of course you did."
"No, really. Yeah, I was tryin' to talk you into givin' up the gun, but I never thought for a second you'd actually shoot. I was more worried about the patrolmen who might think you would; I was afraid one of 'em might get trigger-happy. I felt your finger tighten, but by the time that sank in you'd already fired. I didn't have time to react."
"Then..." Hutch faltered, "...then, how?"
"You pulled up yourself."
The blond looked at him, all skepticism. Starsky could follow the progression in his partner's head as if he were inside it: Is he telling the truth? Is he lying to spare me? Is he fooling himself as well?
"Is that for my benefit or yours, Starsk?"
"I swear to God, Hutch. You know I don't lie to you. And as for my benefit -- " All Starsky's conviction had been in his voice, but suddenly it broke and he looked away. "Hell, I'd have to have a lot of nerve to judge. When I stood in those shoes, I didn't aim away, did I?"
It didn't seem to connect readily for Hutch. "What?"
"You know what."
"No, I don't. What?"
"The Haymes kidnapping case, what else?"
Hutch shook his head. "I remember the case, but I still don't know what you're talking about."
"Come on, Hutch!" Starsky felt impatient, wished his partner would drop the subject, realized that he himself hadn't granted the man the same break earlier. "We almost didn't find her in time, remember?"
"Yeah, because the explosion killed Mo-Mo and the other one, whatever passed for his name. So?"
For the first time it dawned on Starsky that maybe Hutch honestly didn't know. "How did that happen? Tell me. All you remember."
Hutch frowned. "I wasn't there. I was out of it. Let me see. You saw the kidnappers' car, shouted a warning at me. I got hit, went through the store window. You gave chase on the motorcycle, took a short cut. The car came out of the alley into your path. You got thrown off, shot at the fleeing car. It hit the gas tank and the car exploded. Then you came back for me."
"What did you do, Hutch, memorize the report?"
"Yeah," his partner said, looking a little surprised himself. "I guess I did. I remember reading it over and over. I don't know why."
Starsky did. Hutch had instinctively known something was wrong with it, probably more so because Starsky had clammed up. "You really didn't figure it out."
"Starsky, you're giving me a headache."
"I always thought you did, and I guess.... I didn't lie in the report. I listed everything that happened in order, but nobody ever asked me the next question. Hell, Hutch, I could've righted the motorcycle and gone after them again. Nothing was wrong with it. I rode back on it, remember? I could've called for a backup -- there was a black-and-white right around the corner and I knew it, but I went for the rifle...." He trailed off, twisting the ring on his little finger.
Hutch let the silence stand a beat. "And hitting the gas tank was not an accident."
"I aimed for it. I didn't stop to think how we were gonna find the girl. I didn't think about anything, except what I'd just seen, and all I knew was that they weren't going to get away with it."
Hutch's fingers stilled the nervous twisting motion of his own. "Aw, babe, it's all right."
"Even though it...'lessens' me?"
"It -- ? Oh." Hutch pulled his hand away. "Damn. I didn't mean to -- " Silence fell, stretched, until the blond broke it. "People who live in glass houses.. I'm sorry."
Starsky shrugged. "You didn't know then. Now you do. Warts and all."
"I'll take it."
"You got it, as long as you know that neither one of us can afford to throw stones."
"I hear you."
Starsky went on to the next subject. "I've been thinkin'. Lately, when I thought you were just moody, or tired, or contrary, you've really been scared, haven't you?"
"Terrified," Hutch admitted.
"Hey, it's not so bad. It's over now."
Hutch leaned back onto his elbows, an attempt at looking relaxed. "Well, you know what they say about trial by fire. The worst part is dreading it. Once you've been through it, it won't faze you anymore. After last night, I just might be over it."
"Do you really believe that?"
"I'm not sure," his partner first said, his confident pose wavering, then crumbling, and he added in a tone of confession, "No, Starsky, I don't. I've been trying to decide -- I don't know what's best for us, for you, for me...but I know that we can't -- I mean, I can't, so we should...God, there's no easy way to say this, but -- "
Whatever it was, suddenly, instinctively, Starsky knew he didn't want to hear it. He rushed to interrupt his partner, get his own piece said. "You don't have to. This is it. We're off the streets as of now."
"Don't humor me," Hutch snapped irritably, sitting up.
"I'm serious." He raised his hand to stop Hutch from arguing. "No, just shut up and listen for a change. You know that bein' a cop is the only thing I ever wanted. Okay, I've been that. I've been a good one, and I also know how much of that I owe to you. Yesterday, I had to face something. I'm older now, slower. But you know something? That didn't bother me as much as I thought it would. It had to end sometime. There's no sense in waitin' around until I can't measure up anymore, get myself killed, get you killed."
Starsky sat up, leaned close to his partner. "Either fate'll decide sooner or later -- or we can, now. We won't exactly be goin' out with a whimper, will we? We're off the streets; that's from me. If you want to quit altogether, I'm with you, no regrets, and that's the God's honest truth."
"Starsky, you worked so hard after Gunther to make it back."
"Yeah, but I proved I can do it. Now, I can leave outta my own choice."
"Not yours," Hutch pointed out.
"All right. Ours. I don't see a difference." The distinction had blurred through the years. He didn't think either one of them could untangle it any more.
"Very. What do you say?" The blond wouldn't speak. Instead, he turned away. "Not in the rules, babe. Look at me and talk to my face."
Hutch obeyed. "You know, in all my life I don't remember one single person doing anything simply because I wanted it done -- until you."
"Aw, Hutch, don't go blowin' it all out of proportion. I mean, all this time you wanted out, but you stayed because of me. What's so different about this?"
"I'm not that selfless, Starsk. Obviously I wanted to stay with you more than I wanted to leave without you, or I could've just left, right?"
Starsky jumped in. It wasn't often that Hutch dug himself into a hole during a discussion and he wasn't going to let the opportunity pass. "By the same token, I could've just said 'Go.' Obviously, I wanna go with you more than I wanna stay without you, and there's still no differ -- " He paused and listened to what they'd just said. "Hutch, I think we're havin' the silliest conversation we've ever had."
The blond chuckled. "You topped this many times all by your lonesome. If you mean mutually silly, well, maybe, I don't know. But I think we've just had a textbook example of talking in circles and getting nowhere new."
At least, nowhere we haven't been at for the better part of a decade, Starsky decided. "So you wanna quit the force?"
The blond took a while to answer, and when he did, he sounded like it was a revelation to himself as well. "No, no I don't. We've got a lot of years invested. We have knowledge, experience, things that make a difference. I don't want to waste all that. I don't know if I could even if I tried. We can at least pass all that on. There've got to be ways we can be useful off the streets. Any ideas?"
Starsky nodded. I knew it, he crowed privately. When it comes right down to it, you're not a quitter. You can't stop caring. All you wanted to do was to shed the really heavy load. Happy to oblige, partner. "Lots, but we've got time to discuss 'em. Let's wrap up this case first. Then we'll just take some time off, go somewhere, and plan."
"Take time off? I've got a suspension coming up, remember?"
"Fine, I'll take leave." Starsky sank back down into the bed. "So, where would you like to go?"
Generously, Hutch left it up to him. "Your choice."
Briefly, tempting visions of lively clubs, exotic settings, comfy rooms and room service beckoned. Then he looked up at the blond head bent over him, watching over him, remembered how the quiet wilds revitalized his partner, smoothed the tensions out of his face and body, how healthy he'd start to look in just a few days. The whys and the hows of that change were a total mystery to Starsky, but that didn't change the fact he wanted to see the transformation, hear him laugh freely, without a care, more than he cringed from being footsore and all the creepy, crawly things he knew would haunt him. "Take me campin'."
Hutch's expression was predictable. "You mean it?"
"Yeah, just be gentle with me, huh?"
His partner laughed, and already, just at the notion, a measure of that unfettered, clear ring was in the sound. "How many times can you be a virgin? Don't tell me. In the woods, forever. Okay, I'll take good care of you. I won't push."
Starsky started to say something which ended up in a huge yawn.
"Still tired?" the blond asked.
Starsky stretched, feeling as lazy as a cat basking in the sun. "It's gonna take me days to catch up on the sleep I lost on this case."
"So take a nap. We got time."
"Good idea. Set the alarm and join me, huh? You lost more sleep than I did."
"Yeah, okay." Hutch set the alarm, then started to rise.
"If you're goin' to the couch, I'm gonna wrestle you into this bed, and think what would happen to our reputations then."
"I don't want to -- "
"You won't disturb me," Starsky jumped in. "Got news for you, partner. I don't know how you sleep otherwise, but you hardly even move when I'm around."
Hutch looked intrigued. "Really?" He chuckled when Starsky held up the scout's-honor sign. "Hmmm. Guess it figures."
Starsky didn't ask. With him safely in bed, Hutch probably had one less thing to worry about. The blond unceremoniously pushed him to clear a space for himself, then settled in. "Don't let the -- " Starsky started, got interrupted.
"You watch your own teeth and the rest of the bedbugs will behave just fine, thank you."
"Oh, yeah?" Starsky made a mock-ferocious lunge toward his partner, but when he completed the move, he had left a soft kiss on the blond's temple. He grinned into the surprised eyes. "Tit for tat," he explained. "I owed you that one."
"I t-thought you were asleep. Didn't t-think you'd notice." Hutch clamped his mouth shut, looking peeved.
Starsky recognized his partner's reaction to his own stammering. Mercilessly, he added to it. "You're blushin', too." Hutch glared at him. Starsky was about to continue the teasing, but got caught by a yawn again. "Damn, I'm sleepy."
"So sleep already, and give me a break."
"Okay. Promise to do it in my own bed tonight. You might think yours is gettin' too populated."
Hutch tugged away a portion of the cover. "In case you haven't noticed, candidates aren't lined up at the door."
Starsky closed his eyes. "Oh, by default, huh?"
After some companionable minutes, Starsky shifted to a more comfortable position, found his forehead against his partner's shoulder. Drowsily, he leaned into it, only marginally awake.
"Maybe landslide," he thought he heard Hutch whisper. Then he was asleep.