Before you begin reading The Thousandth Man:
New fans of Starsky and Hutch who didn't get to see the show in first run may need to know that during the first run of the show, the last episodes were shown in the order of: Snitch, the double episode Targets Without a Badge, Starsky versus Hutch, Sweet Revenge. The following story exists because of that ridiculous scheduling faux-pas.
Edited by Paula Smith
which breaks men into children
Anger which breaks good into doubts
And doubt into similar arcs
And then the arc into unexpected tombs,
has one steel against two daggers.
Anger which breaks the tree into leaves
Anger which breaks the soul into bodies
And the body into dissimilar organs
And the organ into octave thoughts,
has one central fire against two craters."
It had been a perfect performance, that impromptu act for Kira's benefit. Only the two men knew what it actually was: sheer bravado.
So, lady, Hutch thought, not quite that liberal after all, are you? Another thought occurred: What the hell were we going to do had she taken us up on it?
Well, they had bet on longer odds before. And it had been just like before; with a unity of purpose, moving as one, they had closed ranks, managing to wrest a tiny victory from the ridiculous situation. It had looked so smoothly orchestrated that it had fooled Kira, maybe even Huggy.
One more time: me and thee against the world.
Now that the world is shown the united front, Hutch wondered, what happens to me and thee?
Starsky gave him an indication soon enough. Arms still around each other, they emerged from The Pits into the street, but Starsky's arm dropped away from the taller man's shoulders, abruptly dislodging Hutch's in the process. There was a pause, during which Hutch thought he was expected to say something. It held for a beat. Two. Three. Then it passed.
"Thank you, Hutchinson," Starsky said levelly.
His full name coming from his partner's lips sounded like something in a foreign language. "Thank you," he responded and marveled at how nonchalant he sounded.
"Now you can go to hell," Starsky continued, still levelly, and started for his car.
"Will you be there?" Hutch wondered why he had called that out. Lately he seemed to be doing too many things without knowing why. He knew this was no game, and no attempt to turn it into a joke would make it so. Starsky was dead serious this time.
The question hung in the humid air while Starsky climbed into the Torino. "You ought to know; you punched the ticket." He slammed the door and the car roared away.
So much for me and thee, Hutch concluded.
Ending an eight-year commitment deserved some sort of a wake. However, staying awake seemed to be all the reaction he could dredge up. Hutch wondered if it was possible he didn't care. Maybe he was just numb. Or tired. Or something.
Furthermore, he couldn't stay awake any longer either. He let the dark close in, thinking that apathy was a strange funeral pyre for something which had burned so brightly while it had lived.
It was even stranger in the morning. He woke up, feeling...? Not exactly good, but...? Free? No. Unburdened, was more like it.
Suddenly, he had options again. If he wanted to, he could march right up to Dobey's desk, slam his badge down and walk away. And he would, too, if he was given another half-assed assignment, if he was again ordered to compromise himself by putting someone's head on the chopping block, if he was once more told to drop a case in the middle contrary to all he knew to be right.
In fact, he could do it right away. He didn't owe anyone any justifications. He no longer had to feel responsible for someone else's life and career. It was just that right now he did not happen to have something else he'd rather do. Besides, resigning left a door open, as he had found out. Maybe he'd get lucky and be fired. What difference did it make?
There was nothing or no one to hold him.
"IT'S A CELEBRATION - CELEBRATE - CELEBRATE," the radio suddenly blared, some DJ's idea of getting the day off to a bang-up start. Starsky knocked miscellaneous items off the nightstand in his haste to stifle the offending noise. It sounded like a particularly incongruous note for the wake-up feature of the radio to hit upon, but at the moment he was too groggy to figure out why. He only knew he didn't want to hear it.
He burrowed deep into the pillows, hoping to indulge a little longer until Hutch showed up to drag him out of the bed. It took a little while for his fuzzy brain to process that thought and remind him that this was not a business-as-usual morning.
"Shit," he mumbled as he sat up, rubbing his face, awake now but feeling lousy. He didn't know at what ungodly hour he had found his way to the bed. He didn't care. All he knew about the night was that the phone or the doorbell had failed to ring. Unfinished business.
He told himself he'd had too little sleep to get to his feet right away, he was still too tired, that there was plenty of time to go to work, his eyes weren't quite focused yet, but finally he had to admit that he was just delaying. Somehow, leaving the bed meant acknowledging the start of the new day. And the end of the old one. Or is it only unfinished to me? Come on!
The silence was as unbroken as the space of silence he had left right after walking out of The Pits. It didn't even have to be an outright apology, but there had to be something that came close, before the grace period ran out, before the distance became unreachable. He had been serious when he had walked away, but somehow he had also been sure Hutch cared enough to try and change his mind. And it wouldn't have taken too much.
Damn it, just a coupla words. Is it too much to ask for?
Something. Anything. But it better be now.
Nothing reached into the early morning cocoon of his apartment.
To hell with it!
He jumped up, got dressed and left. Dobey wasn't going to like his request for a new partner. Tough.
When Hutch stepped into Dobey's office that morning, he found out that Starsky had already brought the Captain up to date, at least to the extent that the Starsky and Hutchinson team was history. Dobey was angry. He kept pulling on his hair, and shuffling and reshuffling papers as he railed at Hutch, at the air, at both the ex-partners. He had to be aware that his tirade was serving no purpose, but he was on a roll.
Slumped in his chair, like a stringless puppet carelessly abandoned, Hutch thought: Stuff it! Instead of lecturing me about being a responsible cop, how about explaining why we were told to drop the Clayborne case and put on the dancehall psycho instead? Tell me again how there was no place left to go. No corruption that goes as high as the DA's office and prompts Clayborne's assassin to kill herself on the day of the arrest stops there. For all I know, our dear Mayor who so eagerly handed our shields back, spouting praises up to high heaven, could be neck-deep in it. If we could've had the chance to follow our case, then maybe I'd have felt taking back this piece of tin was worth it. As it is, save it. All you have is a body to flesh out the duty roster until I change my mind.
"And let me tell you, I don't much care for " Dobey continued.
"You can always transfer me, Captain." Or fire me.
"Right, Hutchinson. Two of my detectives are having temper tantrums, please take one off my hands. Would look great on paperwork! Forget it. If I transferred my officers every time they got miffed at each other, I'd spend my life playing musical chairs. You'll get a new partner. In the meantime, you'll do a little desk duty."
Hutch straightened. "Desk duty? Hell, I can handle the streets alone for a while, you know that."
"Yeah, yeah." Dobey waved it away. "That other idiot said the same thing. You both should know better. Anyway, I wasn't putting it up to a vote. You'll do as I say and like it."
Hutch shrugged and sank low into the chair again. What difference did it make? What difference did anything make anymore? He looked up to see Dobey regarding him with a smug expression, as if imposing this bit of old-fashioned punishment did wonders for his blood pressure.
"Now get out of here and clear up your old paperwork," Dobey said. Hutch sighed wearily, got up and left.
Within a month, Captain Dobey was regretting his decision not to transfer either man. But his aversion to being thought incompetent at handling his officers was still greater than his aversion to headaches and gastritis.
Detective Sergeant David Starsky now had the dubious distinction of being assigned his third partner inside of thirty days. The first partnership had ended almost as soon as it was formed over an escalating disagreement about, as Starsky put it, bribes, and a free cup of coffee and donuts, from the other man's point of view. His next partner was an older man, in line for promotion, who insisted on being alive to accept that promotion. In two weeks, he had decided that being partners with a hothead was seriously hampering his chances of survival. It still remained to be seen how the third partnership would fare.
There was no shortage of replacements, of course. Through the years, Starsky had gained enough of a reputation as a top cop that newly promoted detectives were eager to be assigned to him. However, Starsky didn't have the temperament to be a good teacher at the moment if he ever did and Dobey did not want a young officer injured or dead because he or she had tried too hard to live up to the reputation of the senior member of the team.
Hutchinson was a different story altogether. He, at least, stayed with his assigned partner, but Dobey suspected that he'd have done so even if a tailor's dummy was propped up next to him. He was only taking the path of least resistance. His partner, Patrick O'Donnell, was an experienced officer in his forties. In O'Donnell's opinion, Hutchinson was poised on the brink of a burnout. It happened to policemen often, but it hurt Dobey to think it could be happening to one of his favorite sons. O'Donnell claimed that, although Hutchinson acted like he saw no point in what they were doing, he still functioned adequately, and was utterly dependable in dangerous situations. The older man considered him an acceptable partner; how Hutchinson felt about it, nobody was privy to.
At first, Hutch wondered why he was being shunned by his co-workers. Then he realized he was being treated as always. He had never noticed how he and Starsky had shut others out of their exclusive world. The few people they had been relatively close to now seemed to consider the end of the partnership as some sort of offense. Even Minnie wasn't talking to either unless necessary, and then her tone was that of a coldly disapproving mother.
In many ways, it was like the aftermath of his marriage. The tearing of interwoven lives left tangles in the unlikeliest places. One day it dawned on him to wonder what he was still doing with snacks carrying Mexican names in his cabinets, and umpteen bottles of root beer in the refrigerator. He cleared them out, only to find himself unthinkingly reaching for the same items while shopping. His closet and drawers too often yielded something of Starsky's. Once he pulled on a t-shirt which had been in residence for so long that only after he had arrived at work he remembered whose it really was. Strangely embarrassed, he kept his jacket on all day long, carefully zipped up to the chin. Little things kept catching him unawares, like automatically pouring two cups of coffee, or taking change out of his pocket and casting about for the piggy bank, which was now at the other end of the squad room. Old habits died hard.
His first day back on the streets, he had the mike all the way to his mouth before realizing that the Zebra-3 designation no longer included him. Fumbling, he replaced it, grateful that his new partner had not noticed, or was pretending not to.
Dobey had paired him with an older detective, a new transfer to Metro, and a lot of awkwardness existed between them. But there was one saving grace. O'Donnell seemed to believe in minding his own business and keeping his mouth shut, which suited Hutch very well. He'd go through the motions; other than that, he just wanted to be left alone.
Dobey heard a commotion in the squad room, took a moment to identify the voices, and sighed as he went to the door. Here we go again.
"If we'd taken my car like I wanted to " Starsky's new partner Marcelli was arguing.
"I'll ride a bug the day we start catchin' turtles," Starsky loudly interrupted. "Just don't ever, you hear me, ever, touch my car again, except to get in and out of it."
"I said I was sorry. What was I supposed to do? There was no other way I could've caught up and the keys were in the ignition."
"I was in a hurry, damnit! Do I have to worry about what you're gonna do to my car every time I have to run out after a felon?"
"If you'd taken the trouble of telling me what you were going to do, I wouldn't have been left so far behind." Marcelli was getting angry, too. "Then I wouldn't have needed your goddamned car!"
Dobey had tried to cut in, but hadn't been heard. "Quiet!" he shouted. "Into my office. Now!"
Both officers headed that way, but Starsky wasn't through. "If you weren't so attached to that 20 pound flak jacket like a baby to a security blanket, you wouldn't be so slow on your feet."
Marcelli whirled on him. "I like to stay alive! Do you mind?"
"So do I! Which means I expect my backup at my back, not 200 yards behind me when I'm lookin' down the wrong end of a gun."
"I got there, didn't I? Anyway, I'm not your backup, damnit, I'm your partner!"
"You couldn't prove it by me, and after today's performance, don't count on it."
"I'll be the judge of that!" Dobey bellowed. "You want to get into my office now, or do you want to be slapped with insubordination right here?" Bristling, sullen, the two officers filed into the room. "Don't you all have work to do?" Dobey admonished the interested occupants of the squad-room. He noticed Hutchinson was by the coffee machine, seemingly oblivious to the altercation, but trying to pour a cup of coffee out of an already empty pot. "Children," Dobey muttered. At whom, it wasn't clear.
As soon as he had shut the door, Marcelli started complaining, while Starsky looked disgusted. "Shut up!" Dobey said as he squeezed himself into his chair. "Now, do either one of you have a real complaint to make? Not just this picayune stuff."
Both were silent for a minute, looking at each other, and at Dobey, warily. Marcelli spoke up. "He's trying he acts like he's trying to get me killed out there!"
"Starsky?" Dobey asked.
Starsky shrugged. "Not my fault if he can't do his job."
"I do my job as best as you let me "
"You can't even drive a "
"Starsky!" Dobey's shout shut them up again. "Obviously you two don't get along."
"Coulda told you that," Starsky muttered.
Dobey ignored him. "When partners can't get along, they're a liability to everyone." He studied the sullen faces. "All right, I'll find you both new partners. Till then, you'll work together. Peacefully." He punctuated the last word by pointing a pencil at them. "Marcelli, you can go."
The short man left the room quickly, as if afraid Dobey would take back the offer. Starsky lounged insolently in his chair. Dobey knew he was being difficult just to be difficult. For someone who expressed disdain for any car less than his own, he'd driven around for years in a string of disasters which could only be called Hutchinson's Shame the Umpteenth. And the blond detective had always been granted liberties with Starsky's precious red and white baby. This last argument with Marcelli was just as contrived as any Starsky insisted on inventing lately. No, there was nothing wrong with the partners Starsky used up as loose change, except none were Hutchinson.
"That's number three," he said mildly.
"I don't need a partner," Starsky grumbled.
"Well, that's good, `cause you sure can't hold onto one. And if you don't wise up real soon, you're going to be on desk patrol. Permanently. Do you read me?"
"I don't need "
up!" Fury blazed in Starsky's eyes, but this time he controlled
himself. "I'll give you one more chance, Sergeant.
One. Don't blow it. Now, dismissed."
A week later, Starsky was having another disagreement with the candy machine when the Captain motioned at him from the door that connected his office to the corridor. Lately, conversation between them wasn't pleasant and more often than not, turned into shouting matches. As Dobey was expecting, the detective attempted to dodge.
"If it can hold, Cap'n, we're already late hittin' the streets, and I still gotta find Marcelli."
"Save the hard-working routine, Starsky. Obviously, you haven't even looked at the duty roster this morning."
"Uh, exactly what I was about to "
"Get in here!" Dobey yelled. The detective sighed and obeyed. "Marcelli's been assigned a new partner." Starsky brightened and lost the smile at the Captain's next words. "And so have you."
"Aw, Cap'n, you know I can hack it alone. Whose hand am I supposed to hold now?"
"You know the regulations as well as I do. Besides, if this partner lets you hold her hand, consider yourself lucky."
By then Starsky had seen the black woman waiting in the office. "Meredith!" he burst out with genuine pleasure. "My new partner?" he asked Dobey, who nodded. "Good to see you again, partner!" He started to pull her into a warm hug.
But Detective Sergeant 2nd Class Joan Meredith didn't react with the same enthusiasm. Starsky pulled back to look at her with a frown. "Hello, Dave," she said with a lovely smile. "Been a while."
Her smile seemed to pacify Starsky. "Too long a while," he agreed. "Cap'n, gotta hand it to you." He hustled his new partner out the door, already giving her a rundown on their present workload.
Dobey congratulated himself. Meredith had rated the title of `partner' right off the bat. So far Starsky had called his string of partners everything he could think of, from `associate' to `hey, you,' carefully skirting the most fitting form of address. Yes, this team might survive I hope, he amended, remembering Meredith's restraint.
Starsky seemed to sail through the day with the aplomb Meredith remembered so well. He either threw himself wholeheartedly into the job at hand, or chattered away irreverently, and he still refueled his system with unheard of combinations of edibles at an alarming frequency. The inexplicable charm which had earlier made Meredith accept his metamorphosis from a hostile stranger to a lover in a few days was reasserting itself.
She wasn't going to get involved again. She wasn't! Not after the way it had ended the first time. Once Hutchinson had checked himself out of the hospital, he had refused to go back. Starsky had instantly appointed himself nurse, valet and errand boy extraordinaire. A bullet wound and an arm encased in a sling notwithstanding, Hutchinson had pushed to reclaim his partnership. Although it would mean babysitting more than anything else, Starsky had backed him up all the way, both of them managing to prevail against Dobey. Meredith had found herself cast out.
Strangely enough, she had never been able to resent Starsky. He had been so guileless about it. He simply did things for his long-time partner, not against anyone else. He could have cheerfully continued the personal relationship whenever he could have found some spare time. But Meredith had chosen to take the parole officer opening at the Department of Corrections, letting time and distance complete the separation. Her career had been heading for a dead end there, so she had accepted the offering from Metro eagerly, although it meant pairing with Starsky once more. At least this time the blond detective would not be getting in the way.
Meredith didn't know exactly what had happened to the famed partnership. She didn't care to pay attention to gossip, and Dobey hadn't been a fount of information. It was clear, however, that the detectives weren't even on speaking terms. Nonetheless, Starsky didn't seem unduly disturbed or changed. Maybe this time she could get to know the man as an individual, not one half of a parcel, the other half of which had never particularly appealed to her.
Still, she would have liked to know what could possibly have happened to make Starsky act like Hutchinson did not exist.
three days later, Meredith realized that that was a false assumption. They were
on a stakeout, unable to respond, as
they followed, secondhand, the involvement of the O'Donnell and Hutchinson team in a raid that turned into a shooting match. The backup units responded quickly and the "all clear" came within ten minutes. Not that long a period except when one forgot to breathe, Meredith realized, studying Starsky. The first call had brought him over from the back where he had been sleeping. She suspected that the only reason they hadn't taken off and blown the stakeout immediately was that she happened to be at the wheel. He sat staring at the radio, as if willing it to come back to life. Meredith had the feeling that one more minute and he would have bodily removed her from the driver's seat. When it was over, he went back, his expression forbidding any comment.
Obviously, Hutchinson still existed for her partner, except now he preferred that fact to be a secret. Meredith decided that it was prudent to keep some distance between herself and Starsky. She wouldn't bargain for another letdown.
"A pet rock?" Meredith asked in disbelief.
"Right on," Huggy answered. "Made twenty bucks from that deal."
"Twen ! A pet rock?"
"Well, gave him a discount. He's a friend, after all. And I knew the little rock would have a good home."
Meredith laughed. "Come on, Huggy, nobody's that naive." Over a cup of morning coffee at The Pits, Huggy had been introducing her to a side of Starsky she didn't yet know and wouldn't have dreamed of suspecting: the side that was mystified by mysteries and tended to be gullible at times. But twenty dollars for a rock? Obviously, the brother was exaggerating. "You know you shouldn't jive the police."
"Po-leece, I don't care `bout. Wouldn't jive a foxy lady, especially when she happens to be the future Mrs. Bear." Meredith kept laughing. Huggy pretended to be insulted. "She don't believe me!" He raised his head. "There. I'll prove it to you."
Starsky had just walked in, late as usual. "Need a new alarm clock," he complained, turning a chair and straddling it.
"Need originality," Meredith corrected.
Huggy had other concerns. "Tell me, m'man, how's your pet rock? Didn't throw it away or anythin', did you?"
Starsky didn't seem to find anything unusual about the subject of a rock as early morning conversation. But the notion of having cast it out apparently disturbed him. "Throw it away!? After he saved my life? What do you think I am?"
I know you're pulling my leg and I'm not buying it, Meredith thought to herself as Huggy asked: "He?"
"Well, I'm not real sure. Ain't easy to tell in a rock, you know. But I named him Morris and he didn't object or anything."
"How's Morris doin' lately?" Huggy clung to the subject.
"Fine. He likes to sit on the windowsill in the kitchen, next to the fern. Gets nice `n warm in the sun. Since that one time when I almost lost him, I don't carry him around much. He's a house rock." Meredith changed her mind, going from skepticism through surprise to amusement, at his sincere tone. "Think he might be lonely, Hug? Maybe I should get him a lady."
"If I find a deservin' match I'll let you know. This one's on me, Bro."
"Terrific. Every mother's son needs a good lady." The last was said to Meredith, pointedly.
Huggy left them to get the tray his waitress had started preparing as soon as Starsky had shown up.
"You have a pet rock?"
"Sure. Adopted him from Huggy."
"I see. And it uh, he...er, saved your life?"
"Luckily, I had him with me. There was just one bullet in the gun, you see. It coulda been a bad scene without Morris distractin' " He caught Meredith's look and shrugged. "You hadda be there."
Obviously, she thought.
"I'll introduce you if you want. He's kinda cute." He rubbed his stomach and called out, "Hey, Hug!"
"Don't shout, man, I ain't deaf," Huggy objected from right behind him and put a plate down, which Starsky fell on immediately.
Meredith kept studying her partner busily appeasing his stomach. For some reason, something as ridiculous as the notion of being attached to a pet rock was endearing. He seemed to have stubbornly held onto an innocent streak.
"Whassamatter?" The words coming out competed with the food going in.
Meredith realized she had been regarding him with affection. She didn't know what to say and settled for shaking her head, smiling.
"Anythin' that makes you look at me like that, I won't argue with. Just wish I knew what it was for future reference. My clothes? Cologne?"
"I wouldn't set store by those clothes and you don't wear cologne."
"Sure I do, at times. I can dress real sharp, too. If I had a reason. But the lady won't go out with me."
Meredith felt her resolve weaken. Where was the harm? "Maybe the lady's been too hasty."
A lopsided grin decorated his face as he pushed the plate away. "Let's go to work."
"You didn't finish."
"Man doesn't live by bread alone. Let's put in our hours and get to the better things in life. Just remembered that I never took you dancin'."
The day was relatively peaceful and Meredith also found herself looking forward to the evening, but there was only one thing predictable on the streets: unpredictability. They had rounded a corner and were cruising past the high school when Starsky suddenly slammed on the brakes, turning the wheel sharply at the same time, which made the car skid sideways until he brought it under control and hit the gas again. The abrupt move and what came out of his mouth momentarily startled Meredith. He used mild profanity occasionally, but she had never heard him burst into truly gutter language. She looked around to see what he had spotted.
Partially hidden by the shrubbery, on the other side of the school fence, were a white man and a black teenager. At the sound of screeching tires, they took off in opposite directions. Meredith hadn't seen a transaction take place, but innocent people usually didn't take flight. Starsky sent the car after the boy, passed him, and pulled to a rolling stop at a gate.
"Get him!" he shouted at Meredith. She was barely out the door when the car turned again and roared after the man.
It wasn't hard to find the boy. He had stopped running and thought himself hidden, but all Meredith had to do was to stop and listen for the labored breathing he was trying to stifle. "Come down from there," she said to the top of a tall dumpster, her gun out.
The boy panicked into trying to scramble up the wire fence. "Bet I can shoot faster," she threatened, knowing she would do nothing of the sort. He was a minor, didn't display a weapon, and she hadn't actually seen a crime being committed. But this school was as classy as it got in this neighborhood; the boy was young and wore decent clothes. Chances were, he wasn't used to dealing with the police or violence. "You know how bad a bullet in the leg can hurt, boy?"
Reluctantly, he came down, looking scared. Meredith read him his rights, but couldn't search him since she hadn't seen anything change hands. Still, she could probably talk him into doing it himself. If she worded it carefully, without making it an order, it might hold up in a court. "How about letting me see what you have on you?" The way he cooperated told her he was clean, but she made sure anyway. "All right, where did you throw it?"
He shrugged, now more sullen than scared. Keeping him close, she looked around, knowing it was a lost battle. Whatever she found, she could no longer connect to the boy. She turned his face to check his pupils and pulled up his sleeves. He looked clean, at least at the moment, and obviously wasn't into mainlining. Not heavy stuff then, probably uppers and downers.
"Let's go see what my partner has to say."
She found him in an alley, some blocks down. He had cornered the pusher before the man could drive away. The Torino stood angled against the front of a car that Starsky was searching. Tearing through was a more accurate description. Meredith wondered why the man was following her partner so closely, like a well-trained puppy, looking pained but very obedient, until she saw the hold Starsky had on him and stopped wondering. She also winced.
"Anything?" Starsky asked.
"Clean." He spat out an obscenity and slammed his fist on the roof of the car. His reaction made her suspicious. "Did you see anything for certain?"
"I don't have to see a dog bite to know it's rabid!" he snapped.
So neither had witnessed a crime, and since Meredith hadn't found anything on the boy either, the search of the car was illegal. It wouldn't hold for two seconds in a court. Add to that the way Starsky was handling the man...
"Let's go, Dave."
"Forget it! It's here somewhere and I'm gonna find it."
"What good is "
Starsky wasn't listening. He grabbed the man by the neck and slammed him against the car, his right hand never leaving its initial hold. "Didn't I tell you what I was gonna do if I caught you peddlin' your shit at the high school again? What'd I say?" he shouted into the man's face. The pusher was struggling to breathe.
"Dave, stop it!"
"I told this sonuvabitch!" He loosened his hold on the neck a little. "Tell me, bastard, what'd I say I was gonna do?"
"Ha...have my " the rest of the sentence got choked off and turned into a gasp as Starsky's right hand tightened.
"You wanna keep `em? Tell me where it is, now!"
"Ba back seat, under...under "
"Get it out!" He released the man, grabbing him by the back of the neck as he doubled over, and roughly shoved him into the back seat. "All of it!"
Meredith realized nothing short of a bullet would deter Starsky at the moment. Dobey had warned her from the first that her partner was likely to explode at some point. Obviously, this was it. At least he seemed to have hit the peak and was now on the down curve; she'd have to ride it out. She glanced at the boy. It wasn't only her hold that was keeping him from bolting. He was frozen, watching the madman Starsky had become. Maybe she could salvage something from the situation. She pulled him away.
"Before he gets to you, I'm going to let you go on one condition. I'll give you a name and an address. It's an officer at the Juvenile Hall. Go see her and ask for `a tour.' She'll know what you mean. If I find out you haven't been there by the end of the week, I'm sending him after you."
The threat went home. Meek as a lamb, he waited until she wrote out the note, then took off like a shot. Hopefully, an up-close lesson in what drugs did to a human body would make him swear off from such adventures in the future.
Sighing, Meredith made a note to check on him periodically for a while. Why did every young, slight, lost-looking boy remind her of J.J. and promise to become a personal crusade? She had left Juvie when the load had become too heavy to bear, but they found her everywhere.
Starsky had made the pusher carry a sizeable pile of plastic bags, filled with powder and colored pills, into the trunk of the Torino. He slammed the lid down, shook the man by the neck one more time and thrust him away.
"You better learn to listen to me, creep, or the next time the only thing your treasures are gonna be good for is makin' omelets, and I'll make you eat `em, too. Get outta my sight."
When they got into the car, Meredith took a deep breath and counted up to one hundred. Slowly. "Do you know the position you've put me into if he decides to bring charges?"
"If he does, you just do what you know is right. I can take care of myself."
"How much did you accomplish? It was illegal search and seizure. You can't even turn that junk in."
"I can flush it down a toilet so it won't ever poison a kid!" he came back, still angry. "If you think I did somethin' wrong, feel free to report it."
Meredith took another deep breath and counted again. "You know I won't report it. Believe me, I understand. But that doesn't mean I like your tactics."
The rest of the afternoon passed in silence. After logging out, they pulled up to the back entrance of The Pits where Meredith had left her car. Starsky brought out a tablecloth, filled it with the plastic bags and got rid of them for good. Meredith waited until he was through. When he joined her, he was his usual self, but she had seen two opposite selves in one day. She didn't yet know how to balance and incorporate them into her perceptions of the man.
"Okay, I blew it as a `good' cop. Just how badly did I blow it with you?" he asked, a wistful smile on his face.
"Not as bad as all that," she answered sincerely, "but I have some more thinking to do."
"Guess that means no dancin' tonight."
She shook her head, somehow feeling sad herself.
Meredith and Starsky had split the files which might give them some leads in the latest rash of arms stores robberies. The hardware had started surfacing in homicides. The pile of folders was impressive and Meredith had tuned out the squad room in her concentration. At length, sounds of rattling metal made her look up. Detective Hutchinson was rifling through the drawers as if he had a personal grudge against them.
For a while, her attention stayed on the man. Even before she had first been teamed with Starsky and met Hutchinson in the process, she had heard about him. Some of her female colleagues had carried on about this tall, gorgeous Viking at Metro, with the cornflower blue eyes and sunshine in his hair. She wondered if those women had been blind, or was she? At the moment, that same man had a black cap jammed over his head. Whatever perfection of features there may have been, it was now hidden behind a scowl and a scruffy mustache. He had dark circles under bloodshot eyes, and his hair hung in limp strands over the collar of a shapeless black jacket. He looked like a disreputable refugee from the Merchant Marines. Only the Salvation Army could find him worthy of attention now.
Dismissing the woolgathering, she started to go back to the files, and caught Starsky also looking up. Or an ex-partner, she amended her last thought.
Starsky hastily averted his eyes, burying his face so far into the file he was holding that Meredith wondered if he intended to flip the pages with his nose. Apparently, Hutchinson had turned around. She heard him calling Robbery to ask, tersely, if they had removed a certain file without bothering to sign the register. She was trying to concentrate on her reading when she noticed Starsky gently sliding a file toward her. Oh.
She picked it up. "Detective Hutchinson, is this what you're looking for?"
There was a second's hesitation before he stomped over to yank it out of her hand. Without a word, he carried it to his desk, leafed through, jotted down a few things, and brought it back. "Next time, sign the material out so the rest of us won't have to spin our wheels," he snapped as he thrust it into her hand, and stormed out.
Meredith thought better of voicing the retort that almost left her lips and settled for slamming the dossier down.
"Don't mind him," Starsky said quietly, seemingly absorbed in his work. "Dobey's had `em on all-night stakeouts for a week. He always gets grouchy when he's tired."
Meredith stared at the bent curly head. That had sounded like an indulgent parent excusing his ill-mannered child.
Hutch decided that it was the basic stupidity of the petty criminal, rather than the expertise of the police, that still gave the human race a break. Really, haggling over the price of a handgun through the closed door of an apartment? A neighbor had called it in. By chance, he and his partner had been around the corner.
He kept the seller immobilized with one arm twisted up behind his back while he picked up the phone and called for a black-and-white to take the collars off their hands. O'Donnell was letting the buyer get dressed, listening to his avalanche of woes of how an honest citizen needed to protect himself in these lawless times.
Hutch replaced the phone and reached for the handcuffs. O'Donnell's man had just realized the detective wasn't a sympathetic listener and he was getting arrested. Hutch added the amateur criminal to his list of the mentally deficient.
There was a flurry of motion behind him, and a sudden silence. Hutch spun around, instinctively going into a half-crouch. The owner of the house obviously had more weapons tucked away. O'Donnell was facing a gun. Hutch straightened slowly, approaching the two men. The seller he had been too slow to cuff immediately ran for the door. Later for him, Hutch decided and ignored him.
"Don't be an idiot" he said loudly to divert attention from his partner. "Where do you think you can run?"
The gun wavered between the two officers. "You're not arresting me," the man yelled hysterically, "you're not!"
"Okay, okay, take it easy," O'Donnell soothed.
"I won't let you hurt me!"
"Nobody's going to hurt you," Hutch said reasonably, edging away slowly so the gun wouldn't be able to cover both officers. "You're the one with the gun."
"Don't move!" the man shouted. "STOP MOVING!"
"All right," Hutch said mildly, obeying, hands spread open at his sides. Following the path of the gun peripherally, he tried to catch his partner's eye.
"Put that away and we'll talk," O'Donnell drew the attention back to himself, but as the gun swerved in that direction, Hutch heard the safety being released.
Now, he intercepted O'Donnell's glance and signaled. "Be sensible," he quickly put in to keep the gun from fixing too long on one target. "Don't compound a minor charge." The weapon shifted to him and he readied himself for the move.
Nothing happened. He was so used to his body signals being instantly read and followed by his partner that he almost made the mistake of moving himself while facing the gun point blank. Quickly restraining the impulse, he threw a look at O'Donnell. He seemed to understand that Hutch was trying to get a message across, but couldn't comprehend what.
Damnit, hear me, Hutch's mind called out, you're supposed to hear me. Not a hint of realization in his partner's eyes, nothing. He resigned himself to talking. Hopefully, the highly agitated man could be kept from any drastic moves until the appearance of the uniforms served as a distraction.
"What have you got here? Buying or owning guns without a license. No big deal. Just a lecture and a fine. You really don't want to add resisting arrest and holding officers at gun point to that, do you? Why don't you give yourself a break and leave it at simple misdemeanor?" He was talking to gain time. Obviously, the man had too many screws loose to listen to sense. "Tell you what. Put that thing away right now, and we might forget we ever "
Out of the corner of his eye, he noticed O'Donnell slowly going for his gun. So did the man. As if in slow motion, Hutch saw the muzzle leave him and start toward his partner, the finger tightening on the trigger.
Suspects usually responded to one or the other of the interrogating officers. Starsky had been the one to get through to this one. Meredith quietly went to the phone on the wall of the interrogation room to call down a stenographer, and stayed out of the way.
The stenographer came in, stray bits of conversation from the hall drifting in alongside her.
"What's the charge?" someone called out.
"It was illegal purchase of firearms," someone else answered, "but the damned fool shot one of the arresting officers."
"Oh? Who got shot?"
The door swung shut on the last words. "Detective Hutchinson."
Meredith glanced at Starsky. He had heard; color had instantly drained from his face. He stayed frozen for a moment, then turned to her, white-knuckled grips anchoring him to the chair. Meredith wondered what was keeping him a prisoner when he so obviously wanted to dash out: the possibility of spooking the suspect and losing the confession, or his obstinate pride that insisted he shouldn't care?
"I'll find out," she mouthed and slipped out the door.
The person who had shouted out the information was gone. The officer booking the man who looked like somebody's kindly uncle didn't have any details. Meredith rushed upstairs, located someone who knew, then called the hospital for good measure. She started down the steps and found Starsky already bounding up. Pride hadn't lasted too long. He braced himself visibly when he saw her.
"He's all right," she assured him. "It was just a flesh wound in the shoulder. I called the hospital. He's already been released."
Starsky let out the breath he had been holding. "Which one?"
"Which one what?"
"Shoulder. Which shoulder?"
"I don't know. Why?"
"His left side is already a mess, that's why!" he said, almost angrily. "Don't you remember where he was shot when we first teamed up?"
"Oh." If you care so much, she wanted to ask, what's this charade? "I'm sorry. I didn't think to ask. I'll call back."
He grabbed her arm as she turned. "No...no, it's okay." He looked embarrassed. "Doesn't matter."
It's no crime to care, she thought, but are you just lying to me or to yourself as well? "I can use a cup of coffee," she said, checking her watch. "How about if I fixed us some at my place?"
A cup of coffee turned into three consecutive cups and then to dinner, which flowed into a night on the couch, in front of some senseless old TV fare. Starsky seemed inordinately absorbed in the movie in which men talked out of the corners of their mouths while women fluttered eyelashes and gestured dramatically. Meredith was reminded of a child from her past, who had also sought refuge in a box of manufactured distraction to shut out the present.
"What really happened between you and Hutchinson?" she asked softly.
Starsky jumped. "Told ya don't wanna talk about it. Not important anyway."
"Sure. You don't care if he lives or dies. So why were you so scared back there?"
"Hell.... A cop shot. Anyone would've "
"Save it, Dave. You're not a very good liar."
That seemed to throw him. He stared at the ghostly picture on the tube while Meredith wondered what long-ago image he was seeing instead. "Except when I'm undercover. Yeah, I've been told before." He took a deep, ragged breath. "Damn it, when you've spent, what, fourteen to eighteen hours of your day, damn near every day, with someone for eight years, it ain't so simple to shrug him off. I haven't been that close to anyone for that long. Ever. Not even my own mother or brother. I mean, he was my partner, for cryin' out loud. What do you expect I should do? Pretend I don't know him from Adam?"
"Hey, that's my side of the argument. Why are you getting defensive with me?" He looked like a child caught with his hand in the cookie jar. "Dave?" she coaxed.
"Well, it's just that.... Oh, damn! If I only knew why. It wouldn't be so bad, I think, if I could just figure out why."
"Why what? The breakup?"
He nodded. "I know what caused it, but I don't know why."
"What did cause it? I heard rumors, but they don't make any sense."
"What'd you hear?"
"That you came to blows over a woman, a Vice officer you were working with. Didn't believe a word of it. Sounded so juvenile. Of all the reasons."
"That we came to How the hell does anybody know that? There was just Hutch `n me...oh. Kira. Damn, we sure can pick `em."
"You mean it's true!?" She had expected better. "You guys also in the habit of beating your breasts now and then?"
"Oh, shit! I know how it sounds, but it wasn't like that. I don't know when Kira stopped bein' the issue if she ever was. But I know she had nothin' to do with the fight. She kept sayin' we couldn't fight over her as if she had no say-so about it, but she didn't, not really, not anymore. It was just between Hutch `n me; Kira didn't count by then."
He paused briefly, then sighed. "Wasn't much of a fight, actually. I hit Hutch more than a couple o' times, I think. He never hit back. Tried to hold me, but he never hit back. It's funny, you know. When I think back on it, I can't figure out if he was tryin' to hold me off, hold me back, or just...hold me. Maybe I shouldn't have lost my temper. I feel like I blew up and missed something important there. But it hurt. Work out the problem, he'd said. He came all on his own, you see. So I just laid it on the line. Straight, you know, just like I always did. I believed him, damnit! I mean, why not? Never had any reason not to, never, so why not, right?"
She wasn't following him very well, but he seemed to need her what? Support? Assurance?
"But he never ran out into the street he never did! Right sis, right?"
"Right, J.J." As if performance-past-perfect could somehow change the painful reality. "He never did, darling. Never."
"Right," she soothed Starsky.
"The same morning, of all things! Must've gone there immediately. How could ? He could've come out dressed, you know? I'd never have known. I mean, he coulda been to the bathroom or somethin' how would I know? It was like he wanted to make sure I saw, knew on purpose! God, it hurt."
The ramblings didn't make much sense to her, except for two things: it obviously still hurt, and he was talking only about Hutchinson; Kira had been lost somewhere. The disappointment in Meredith eased. She hadn't liked the image of Starsky coming to blows with his best friend over a woman, like a primitive male defending what he considered his possession. The anger and hurt of betrayal coming from the least-expected person, that she could understand only too well.
The past briefly flashed by again.
"Why did he leave, Mama?" Wanting an answer to a question that didn't really matter, but too afraid of hearing the answer to ask the one that did: "Is he ever coming back?"
She reached to wrap her arms around him and pulled the dark head to her chest. Too often that comfort had been the only one she had received, the only one she had been able to give in her turn. He surrendered, slipping his arms around her waist, holding tight. He didn't say another word; she didn't push. When the arms loosened, she gave enough for him to turn around, but didn't release him altogether. He swung his legs onto the couch to rest against her. They watched what remained of the movie in silence, her fingers absently tugging on his thick curls. She hit the remote control button to turn the set off as the final credits were running.
Starsky attempted to get up. "I should be gettin' "
"Stay," she interrupted.
twisted around to look at her doubtfully. She leaned to kiss him lightly.
"I thought you didn't..." he said, puzzled.
"You want to analyze the intricacies of a female mind all night long, or could I interest you in something else?"
"Never could analyze the female mind," he said into her lips.
He still slept like an affectionate octopus, Meredith noted, trying to find a comfortable position under warmly entwining limbs. They had been like this only once before, and that had been the usual `first time.' Satisfying, but riddled with the awkwardness of unfamiliar bodies that belonged to two people who didn't really know each other. Whatever she had expected of this time, the past hours hadn't been it. Men who hurt inside too often used sex either with an anger or a desperate need. Starsky had just been a very natural, very free sexual creature. And considerate. Their time had belonged to them, unspoiled by outside factors.
She moved until she could see the barely visible profile. She had definite notions of what constituted an `ideal man.' In so many ways, he didn't even come close. Still....
"David Michael Starsky, what are you doing to me?" she whispered into the curls that tickled her nose when she cuddled close again.
"You're sure you're ready for this?" O'Donnell asked as he reached to open the car door.
"Positive," Hutch answered, getting to the handle first. He had taken the sling off and the movement hurt. But one more day alone in his apartment, and he was sure, they would have taken him out of there in a straitjacket.
O'Donnell got in and started the car. "You might change your mind when you see the case."
Hutch waited for the rundown, fighting the urge to rub the ache out of his arm; he was in no mood to attract sympathy.
"Two murders and a botched suicide attempt. The boy was a runaway from a small Alabama town. Working the streets and the porn trade. All of sixteen years old. The father's been searching for months. Finally found him. In a motel room. With a trick. Shot both. Then himself. According to the hospital, the old man should live. I doubt it. He says sinners have no place on God's Green Earth. One of those. He's got enough will to die, whatever the doctors say."
"Sounds pretty final. Where's our case?"
"He got some information while looking for the boy. I pried some out of him. Sounds promising. We might track down some kiddie porn peddlers."
Hutch nodded, wishing he had taken the painkillers that morning as prescribed, instead of believing he could grit his teeth and bear it. He didn't want to take them in front of his partner; it had to wait until he could duck aside somewhere.
"Didn't get the chance to thank you," O'Donnell said some time later. "Thank you."
"There's nothing " Hutch started.
"Sure there is. You could've left. You stayed. You didn't have to get in the way. You did. Thank you."
I had so much less to lose, Hutch didn't say. Neither did he say that keeping faith with a partner was the only thing he still managed to believe in. He shrugged.
After a while, O'Donnell spoke again. "Back there. What were you trying to say?"
"Before the shooting started. You were trying to tell me something."
"Oh. Something I used to do with Uh, it's a ploy. After I signal, I talk to draw attention. When my partner's ready, he makes a move as if to jump the felon. The movement attracts the gun. But what he really ends up doing is to drop out of the line of fire. That leaves me free to move in. If you're synchronized, it works like a charm."
"Sorry. I didn't know."
"Not your fault. I was taking too much for granted." My mistake, he thought, for being so standoffish that we never had the chance to get our acts together. Maybe I should suggest that we
O'Donnell spoke before he could open his mouth. "Having a steady partner for too long does that to you."
Later, Hutch decided. He didn't feel like talking anymore and his shoulder was throbbing abominably.
It was a waste of time, that's what it was. The real thing was out in the streets which were probably going to hell in a handbasket while their guardians tinkered with toys.
Starsky realized he was pounding on the steering wheel with his fist and forced himself to stop, wishing Meredith would hurry up. It was past lunch time, and he was already in a rotten mood, without his stomach also issuing protests. He had kicked up a fuss, uselessly, when Dobey had informed them that it was now their turn to be evaluated by the latest rage at the Academy: the computer simulators. And he had flunked.
Random and realistic, they were supposed to be. Bullshit! He'd dare any collection of circuits to be as random as what he faced in the back alleys day in and day out, and `realistic' was a joke. What was so realistic about compressing a crime scene and its participants into images on a screen? The scores didn't, couldn't, mean a damn thing when one sat in a sterile room and imagined himself in a scenario. More than performance ratings counted out there, when the adrenaline flowed, body and mind worked in tandem with all instincts engaged, where a mistake carried its own penalty. They could take their scores, and if they needed suggestions as to what to do with them
Meredith slipped into the passenger seat. "Waiting long?" He mumbled something incoherent and started the car. "How did you do?" she asked. A growl answered. "Sorry, I don't know Neanderthal Primitive. Try a language I can deal with."
"I blew more scenarios and got maimed or killed more times than I can count," he grumbled.
"If it helps, I didn't do great either."
Starsky negotiated a turn way too fast. "It's crap, you know that? I'm a good cop, and I've got the record to prove it. A green cadet fresh from swallowin' textbook garbage might leave me eatin' his dust on the fancy machines, but on the streets, he's dead meat, and I know it!"
"If you know it, why are you so mad?"
"I'm not mad!"
"In that case, where's the fire?"
Starsky realized he was fairly streaking over the pavement and brought the car down to a manageable speed. "I'm not mad," he repeated, stubbornly.
"Disturbed?" Meredith suggested indulgently.
"Yeah, well...a little. I mean, I kept gettin' killed, for cryin' out loud. It may not be real, but it ain't fun to sit there and watch the computer come up with all kinds o' ways you can buy it. I wanted to smash its shiny face and show it that machines ain't eternal either!"
"Come now. You don't get nightmares after watching horror movies, do you?"
"As a matter of fact, I do!" he snapped. "But I still watch `em. I'm not scared. I just don't like bein' constantly reminded of the danger."
"Hey, it's all right to be scared. Didn't you once tell me that people who aren't scared scare you?"
That was true. Fear had long been his companion, grudgingly respected, but not pampered. They had met in the streets of New York, become uneasy familiars through the years. He knew it carried a final name, by which it would introduce itself one day. And on that day
Her hand on his thigh brought him out of his reverie. "Huh?"
"Want to talk about it?"
"I was just thinkin'."
"It's silly, really." She didn't push; neither did she remove her hand. He looked down at it. "Well, I was just thinkin'...if I died, who'd Do you know what Kaddish is?" She nodded. "I was just wonderin' who'd say it, that's all. I was thirteen when I said it for my father and my son ought to say it for me, if I last that long. If I don't...."
"Don't you have a brother?" Meredith asked softly.
"Nicky?" He gave a short laugh. "Nicky is...well, Nicky. Oh, I suppose he'll say it once, and then he'll be too busy with his `chicks-n-schemes' to remember. It's supposed to be said once a month for eleven months. I've got as much chance of bein' faithfully remembered by Nicky as I've got of gettin' elected President tomorrow." He blew the horn at a car too slow off the mark when the light changed. "I wonder if--"
"Uh, nothin'." He wasn't about to admit it, but he was wondering if Hutch still remembered the prayer, or if he'd even care to say it anymore.
After the Vic Bellamy incident, Starsky had asked his partner to learn it, just in case. Hutch had fussed and called him morbid, paranoid, and a few other things Starsky couldn't pronounce, then he had griped about the absurdity of a lapsed-Episcopalian country boy from Duluth trying to get his tongue around something as convoluted as ancient Aramaic. But he had carefully memorized it anyway. The reason for his reluctance had become clear later, when in an uncharacteristic burst of superstitiousness, Hutch had gruffly admonished: "Just because I know what to say now, don't dare go and die on me, got that?"
He became aware that Meredith had said something. "What?"
"I said, then you're just going to have to stay alive until you produce a son."
He knew she was trying to dispel his gloom. "I intend to. Hey, wanna give me a hand?"
"Watch your metaphors. You don't really want to ask for my hand, do you?"
He grinned at her enigmatically. "Ooops."
Starsky was still fussing when they got to the cafeteria line at Metro. "You know what's happenin', don't you?" he said, pulling his tray along. "One o' these days, it's gonna be machines `n operators instead of honest-to-God cops, surveillance equipment instead o' patrollin' a beat. And you `n I are gonna be..." He searched for the right ward.
He glared at her with a sour expression. "Outdated. Don't put fancy words in my mouth. I used to get enough of that from Just don't do it. Okay?"
"Okay," she agreed mildly, wondering what protective coloring demanded he should constantly downplay his intelligence.
He continued his tirade as if uninterrupted. "And that's the day I'll quit this man's force." He bumped lightly into someone ahead of him, turned to apologize, and seemed to falter.
"Hello, David." The woman had a light, assured voice.
" `llo." It was a mumble, and the way he shifted uncomfortably made Meredith lean over to inspect the woman. Tall, blonde, slender: an all-American beauty. Something in the way she was regarding Starsky bothered Meredith.
"How have you been?" the woman asked.
"Just great. I took all my leave time to study for the board exams. It paid off. I got a line number for promotion."
"That's nice." Starsky's voice was devoid of enthusiasm.
"What happened? I hear you and "
"Ah, there!" Starsky cut in, too loudly, reaching to grab a plate. Meredith would have bet anything that he didn't know what was on it. "This is all I want. Excuse me."
He stepped around the woman and proceeded to the end of the line. Meredith, after picking a plate of roast beef, followed. She caught up with him just as he was sitting down and realizing his plate contained lettuce, cottage cheese and peach halves. He wrinkled his nose in distaste.
"Trade?" she offered sweetly and exchanged plates without waiting for an answer.
He frowned at her offering. "You don't eat red meat."
"And you don't eat the stuff you picked up. We're even."
For a minute, his look said he wasn't sure whether or not he liked being transparent to her, then he decided to smile. "Thanks."
They ate in silence and lingered over coffee.
"Kira, I presume," Meredith concluded. He nodded reluctantly into his cup. "She's very beautiful." He nodded again. "Were you in love with her?" He didn't look inclined to answer. She tried a tactic. "Are you in love with her?"
The reaction was instantaneous. "Good God, no! How can you possibly " He cut off at seeing her smug expression. "Your interrogation techniques are terrific, Officer." He sighed. "Gonef."
She didn't know the word, but figured he was using it to mean "smartass."
"I'm not tryin' to put you off," he continued. "Just that if I told you, no, I wasn't in love with her, I'd be lyin'. And if I said, yes, I was in love with her, it'll be more than the truth. It was just startin' out and it was nice. I didn't know where it was goin'. I just wanted a chance to find out." He traced haphazard patterns on the table with his coffee cup. "I wouldn't mind it so much if he loved her. Hell, if he loved her, I mean, really loved her, I'd have.... Anyway, I know he didn't."
Meredith noted that once again the conversation had started with Kira and had unerringly gone back to Hutchinson. Poor Kira. Somebody should have told her that it wasn't wise to tug on Superman's cape or spit into the wind.
"When he falls for real, he gets this sappy look, goes all sweet and soft, like a marshmallow. It'd be funny if you didn't know he took it so seriously. He sometimes finds a soul in need or hurtin' and thinks he's in love, but he's just motherin' then. Goes into his White Knight act: strong, protective."
Meredith wondered if Dave knew how much affection he was revealing.
"Wasn't like that at all," he continued. "It was like when he gets into pure lust. Someone must've dumped a lot of morality and sin garbage on him when he was young. He wants it bad, but doesn't like it very much. So he gets pushy, rude, defensive-like. I figured, if that's all he wanted, I had a better reason." Suddenly impatient with the subject, he looked around at the wall clock, making Meredith wonder again why he wore an expensive watch when he never used it. "Time to earn our keep. Come on."
The car pulled to a stop in front of Venice Place. The blond man remained seated silently in the passenger seat, unable to face his dark and lonely rooms this night. He cast a sideways glance at his partner who was patiently waiting for him to get out of the car. O'Donnell looked tired and much older than his 47 years. Hutch suspected that he wasn't in better shape himself; it had been that kind of a day.
He knew it would surprise O'Donnell, who wasn't used to any kind of invitation into one minute of his taciturn partner's day apart from what duty dictated, to be asked, but at the moment Hutch couldn't help the hesitant words. "Would you come up for a while?" He clamped down on the `please' that almost left his mouth. "Have a drink?"
It didn't startle O'Donnell as much as Hutch had thought. The older man just looked sad. "Uh, thanks. But not tonight. We have to be at the Courthouse early."
Hutch blushed, already regretting the impulsive invitation. "0h, that's right. Sorry, I...I forgot," he stammered, immediately starting to get out of the car.
"Hutchinson," O'Donnell called out. Reluctantly, Hutch leaned back into the car. "I'm sorry. It's just that right now I have to go home. See my kids. I've got to...."
He didn't finish, but Hutch understood, grateful that his partner had taken the trouble of trying to explain. "I know. It's all right. I'll see you tomorrow."
The one thing he had to be thankful for this day was that he didn't have any children himself. A father would naturally need to rush home. O'Donnell was a better partner than he had any right to ask for, a patient and considerate man, but he had his own needs and concerns. It was unreasonable to expect him to pamper a generally sullen associate who happened to be desperate for some company for a change. Hutch couldn't blame him, especially when he'd made a shambles of the kind of partnership that included all such comforts in the past.
There wasn't much of anything to do except take a shower and go to bed. Hutch left the shower when the prolonged scrubbing turned his skin an angry shade. There wasn't enough water to wash the day away. He threw himself on the bed, the endless reels still whirling behind his eyelids.
A week's worth of exhaustive investigation had led them to a makeshift porno studio, but something had gone wrong. There had been a leak either at the department or the DA's office; the only thing yielded at the raid had been miles and miles of celluloid, countless little rectangles frozen in time, depicting how too-young bodies could be used and abused. The detectives had sat through them to see if any of the participants could be identified. All they had managed to do was to isolate some facial shots and descriptions of children to be passed onto Juvie and Vice. The grownups involved had been too smart to commit their faces to film, even if the camera had been interested.
Children. Who should've been safely home, where a bed was a place to sleep, drugs were for upset tummies and colds, where meals were something a mother gave you, not what you paid for with your body.
Guess how your son spent his day, Mother, Hutch thought, remembering the woman who had been an angelic vision to his young eyes, before he had grown up to see how shallow her breathtaking beauty was, and how false all those lovely bedtime stories had been. God was good, God was fair, God loved all children and kept them safe as Kenneth Richard Hutchinson was safe in his pretty world of tales and toys, hopes and expectations of his family. A perfect golden boy in his perfect world.
Mother, look at the crown prince you've proudly presented to Father. Do you even know that the world he now lives in exists? Look at what I've seen, Mother. What stories do you have to tell now? I'm sorry for disappointing you, but are you at least a tiny bit sorry for lying to me?
Exhaustion took over. Slipping under, Hutch hoped that the next day would be a better one. He would have sold his soul for one solitary good day.
The next day was worse; so bad that he could only think of it as if it were written on a surveillance blotter, penned by impersonal hands.
9:00 AM, court appearance for Sgts. Hutchinson and O'Donnell; arraignment of Tyson, Charles K.: extortion, loan sharking, racketeering.
9:09 AM, charges dismissed on a technicality by Judge Katherine Connelly. "Floating" the defendant's arrest sheet, deliberately delaying Tyson's interview with his lawyer, and gathering evidence by "Spit it out or else," were found to be poor police practice.
9:20 AM, Sgt. O'Donnell left the Courthouse.
9:26 AM, Sgt. Hutchinson called to Judge Connelly's chamber for a reprimand on his outburst in the courtroom. He was given a lecture on correct arrest, booking, and charging procedures.
10:10 AM, Sgt. Hutchinson was called to the phone to receive another lecture from his superior officer, Captain Dobey, who had just found out the results of the Tyson case.
10:30 AM, Sgt. Hutchinson summoned to stand ready to give testimony in the manslaughter case: People vs Hauptmann. Original murder charge reduced to manslaughter under plea-bargaining.
1l:35 AM, Sgt. Hutchinson called to the stand. Parts of his testimony which established a previous rape charge filed by the victim against the defendant were thrown out on the grounds that a previously dismissed case had no bearing on the present one. He was threatened by contempt when he insisted that the rape charge had been dismissed because the victim had been intimidated into withdrawing her testimony, and now that she was dead at the hands of the defendant, the manslaughter charge was a joke.
11:50 AM, Sgt. Hutchinson was dismissed and noon recess was called.
2:20 PM, in the Courthouse hall, Assistant DA Mallory told Sgt. Hutchinson that if the DA's office was going to file on the gangland slaying case on circumstantial evidence, that evidence had to be a lot more substantial. Sgt. Hutchinson promised a follow-up.
3:47 PM, verdict brought in on the People vs Hauptmann case: three years, with parole eligibility in one.
4:20 PM, Sgt. Hutchinson reported to Metro, and found out that Sgt. O'Donnell had taken leave as a prelude to submitting his resignation. He also found out that the suspect he intended to interrogate about the gangland slaying had been released on bail and couldn't be located. He was summoned to Capt. Dobey's office to be assigned a new partner, Det. 3rd Grade Terence A. Washington. However, Det. Washington voiced reservations about the assignment, and Sgt. Hutchinson had to wait until an agreement was reached.
4:52 PM, Sgt. Hutchinson officially introduced to his new partner. He then logged out at 5:15 PM and went to see his former partner at the hospital where 0'Donnell was visiting his wife. O'Donnell stated his reason for resigning as simply that he'd been fed up; the dismissed case had been the last straw.
6:25 PM, Sgt. Hutchinson left the hospital to go home.
7:32 PM, he had a visitor.
She was wearing a white dress that spoke of modesty in its cut, but accentuated every curve in clinging folds. "Kira."
"May I come in?"
Almost without volition, he stepped back, and she brushed past him, trailing in wisps of a scent which stirred in him memories of dark pleasures. Leisurely, she wandered around, engraving her presence on his territory. She commented on his plants and other things. None of it made an impression, except her seduction-wrapped-in-innocence femininity. The dress had a sheen which traveled intimately along her hips and limbs, like the caressing of invisible hands.
My God, Hutch realized, I want her again. Still.
He knew it was wrong. She had already been given a final answer. He had no right, now, to single-handedly make a mockery of that mutual stand. But that time seemed so far away, only an echo of something long lost, and she was here, close, available, desirable. He remembered, startling himself, that he hadn't had a bed partner since the last morning with Kira. It hadn't been for lack of desire, but any time he had thought of it, he had decided that he simply didn't have the energy to play the games which led to the bed. And hookers had never been his style.
Kira was waiting for an answer. The way the light frolicked on her honey-colored curls as she tossed her head had captured his eye; he hadn't caught her words. "Excuse me. What?"
"I said, aren't you going to offer me a drink?" Was that an all-knowing smile on her face?
"Uh, sure. What would you like?"
"Anything," she answered, her smile widening.
Hutch went to the kitchen and reached up to open the cupboard for a glass. He didn't notice she was right on his heels until she insinuated herself between the cabinet and him, her body molding easily against his as if it existed in some warm, semi-fluid state. He looked down at her; she leaned back against the countertop to be able to look up at him. The movement pushed her lower body into his and he suddenly found it hard to breathe.
"Kira, what do you want?" All I have to do is take a step back, he assured himself, still rooted to the spot.
"Nothing you don't also want," she said with a small motion of her hips, "obviously."
He hated his mindless, indiscreet male body. "That's all? Is this all you want, Kira?" He pushed himself against her, unsubtly, hoping to make her pull away; he seemed incapable of doing it himself. It didn't work. Her eyes half closed, face melting into an expression he'd seen before, an expression he had been glad, then, he could create.
"Why not?" she breathed, a harsh note in her whisper, contrasting with the soft sensuality of her features. "Against your principles to be wanted for your body? You should've thought of that when you two were snarling over me as if I were a pound of meat, when you and your partner so generously offered to make it no more than a lousy three-way."
He attempted to pull away, but her hands gripped his hips as she rotated her own, and the impulse was stilled. His hands also went to her hips.
"Two can play at that game, is that it? I warn you, Kira, you bring it down to this level and you'll find out that men have very few scruples."
"No kidding?" It was a haughty challenge, body and voice taunting.
He had known there would be no room for gentleness, but she had also seemed hell-bent to give form to a destructive anger, so he hadn't cared. While it was happening, there was a savage exhilaration to unleashing selfish impulses without a thought, and she was more than capable of matching him. It blazed, totally out of control, burned itself out too quickly, and Hutch realized he had been unprepared for the sense of absolute emptiness that he should have known would follow.
He rolled off of her, feeling drained and just wanting to forget the whole thing. He heard her get up, move around, and go to the bathroom. He couldn't bother to open his eyes. Noting by touch that his shirt wasn't even unbuttoned, he tugged it down, and zipped up his jeans, doing his best to avoid touching the sticky wetness. His only thoughts were that he had never done something like this, not even in the eager, fumbling days of adolescence, and that they had both carefully shunned kissing each other. A little nauseous, he straightened up enough to lean against the kitchen cabinet.
He heard Kira come out of the bathroom, hoping she'd quietly leave. But she came close and stayed there. He felt her eyes on him. A hand touched his shoulder, then moved to his temple to brush back his hair. The touch was unexpectedly gentle. He opened his eyes, and, with surprise, saw that her face matched her hands. Desperately needing a bit of tenderness, his every instinct wanted to respond, at least to pretend that there had been some semblance of feeling behind it all, other than a need to inflict punishment.
A memory intruded: sprawled on the dance floor, while the world was still tilted at a crazy angle, the echoes of the explosion dying around his ears, panting with the exertion of subduing the murderer and there was Kira, touching the man gently, almost caressing him, soothing him in a soft, caring voice.
The compassion a victor could afford to spare for a defeated foe?
Suddenly, her touch made him shiver. "You like wasting your sympathies, don't you? Makes you feel superior?"
Her face hardened instantly and the hand fell away. Maybe she had been sincere; he didn't know. It didn't matter. He seemed destined to butcher every kindness offered to him. This was such a small transgression compared to other sins he had committed in that area.
"What now, Kira? Did you try your brand of revenge on Starsky already, or is he next on the agenda? Or were we supposed to invite him in on this bit of fun and games?"
Her eyes, now chips of ice, bore into him. Mockingly, she said, "Starsky? What's a Starsky?"
"Damn, you're cold!" He turned his face away. "He loved you, for God's sake."
She jumped to her feet, her fury a palpable thing. "Well, congratulations, you goddamned hypocrite, `cause you've coined the phrase! He loved you, too. Far more than he ever thought of loving me. And if you knew he loved me, what were you doing in my bed? How come you wanted to know how I felt about him? Wasn't the fact he loved enough for you? You're a joke, you know that? `I don't make love to a woman unless I like her,'" she mimicked him, and motioned at the floor where they had coupled like two mindless beasts in heat. "Any other noble-sounding lies, you bastard? Who the hell are you to judge me? If you think I somehow wronged Starsky, consider this: I probably did him the favor of his life by showing him what a fraud you are!"
Only seconds later, the door slammed after her. The echoes remained.
It had been one of those countless witticisms, heedlessly tossed out and promptly forgotten. The last thing he wanted to do was to remember it. But she had brought it back. With clarity, he remembered her dark house where he had no business being, wanting what he had no right to want, Kira reminding him of things he didn't wish to be reminded of at that moment.
"Starsky said you were supposed to be guarding Susan tonight."
"Who's Susan? What's a Starsky?"
Now that the thoughtless remark was resurrected, parodied on Kira's bitter tongue, his mind wouldn't spare him the answers.
Just a man, another cop, a partner, an accidental adoption at first on whose part, he still didn't know. Then so close a bonding that for eight years others had seen one being which cast two shadows, so confused by the fact that it had two names that they could never keep straight which identity belonged to whom.
Someone to work and play with, share with, laugh and cry with, talk and listen to, stand up for, depend on, hold on to, trust and never doubt.
The one who stayed when others left. The one who put the pieces back together again.
The man who couldn't understand that hanging the most virtuous titles on people didn't necessarily make them saints like brother...partner...best friend....
This was more like it. In this bar nobody would refuse to serve him drinks like the bartenders in two previous bars. Here, as long as he had the money to pay, nobody would give a damn.
Hutch looked around, unable to decide what portion of the obstructing haze was smoke, and what portion was the alcoholic fog inside his brain. It dawned on him that he was in the kind of place where one could get lost forever and never be heard from again. He chuckled. He had a free day coming to him, and if he never returned, it was nobody's business.
Another thought surfaced like a sluggish swimmer through molasses: Kira. Sitting in front of officials. We understand you're the last person to see Detective Hutchinson before he disappeared. Tell us the circumstances of your meeting.
Let her try and put that `meeting' into proper words.
He laughed out loud. It didn't rate even a blink from anyone. Nice place, he decided.
Maybe not. Who the hell was that young man watching him intently from the other side of the bar? Hutch squinted through the haze and the man turned away. Something about him bothered the detective. With the condition of his brain, it took a while to work through it. Fresh-scrubbed look, suit; short, tidy hair: out of place in this dive. Hutch decided that if the man had any sense, he'd stop ogling strangers and worry about getting his own ass out of there.
He also looked familiar. A lot like a Fed. Where did I see him, the detective wondered, then dismissed the thought. He didn't care. The drink in front of him deserved more attention.
A while later, he realized that the stool next to him was occupied when something was whispered close to his ear. He spared the woman a brief glance, and motioned at the bartender to give her a drink. He thought it best to warn her in advance. "Don't expect anything else."
She wasn't inclined to listen. In a few minutes, unsubtle fingers were crawling up his thigh. He pulled his leg away. "You're wasting your time, honey. Won't work right now if my life depended on it."
Her hand returned, more insistent this time, as she assured him of her abilities. He slapped it away. "Forget it. I'm not drunk enough for that." He turned to look at her closely. "Don't think I'll ever be, either."
"Hey, blondie." His stool was roughly turned around. "That ain't no way to talk to a lady."
Hutch found himself looking up at a man as wide as he was tall, and the detective suspected that if he stood up he wouldn't be the taller of the two. Instead of being intimidated, he found himself actually enjoying the turn of events. "Sure ain't. But where's the lady?"
"Watch it, big-mouth. All my girls are ladies."
Feeling totally reckless, Hutch stood up and goaded him some more. "Oh, I see. What's the matter? Can't find what keeps your girls happy through that tub-o-lard so you have to let the johns take care of `em?"
The invited blow came. Although Hutch had been fully expecting it, he didn't make a single move to defend himself, didn't even try to avoid it. As the counter took his weight, breaking his fall, he noticed the nosy man at the end of the bar getting up, as if to interfere.
What's your problem, boy? This is no place for good Samaritans. Keep out of it.
He was turned around. He tried to grin defiantly at the large man holding him against the bar, winced at the pain the movement caused, and dabbed at his lip. His fingers came away bloody. The sight cheered him unaccountably. On one level, it hurt like hell; on another, it felt so damn good good enough to want more. But the colossus wasn't obliging; he was waiting for Hutch's reaction. Just his luck to run into a relatively mild-mannered pimp. Some more prodding was in order.
The blond almost swung, but a glimmer of sanity penetrated and he stopped himself. He knew he was in no shape to walk away from a fight, and he was wearing his gun. He couldn't let a lethal weapon be taken from him and added to the arsenal of the streets. Instead, he raised his hands, palms open.
"All right, all right. You made your point. I'm sorry." He pulled out his wallet and got some money. "Here, will this make up for it?" His shirt was released and the money disappeared out of his hands. For good measure, he handed some bills to the woman and decided to get out of there while he still could.
By the time he was outside, the alcohol in his system had brewed to full potency. Suddenly, the street tilted and the buildings whirled around. He sank on one of the steps in front of the bar. Somehow it wasn't solid. It seemed to buck under him. He closed his eyes against the crazy, spinning shapes of the world, waiting for the dizziness to pass. A dog barked, somewhere a baby cried, somewhere else people were arguing, music blared from inside the bar, traffic noises off in the distance: a cacophony of sounds. Going in and out of the bar, people stepped around him, finding nothing worthy of attention in the huddled man.
He tried to think. Knowing he wouldn't be in condition to drive, he had opted for taxis. Now he was blocks away from the main drag, wherever that was. He wondered what he was doing there. A cop shouldn't be sitting in a street he wasn't even sure how to get out of, shouldn't have provoked a two-bit pimp in a sleazy bar.
What did I want? A fight?
Yes, Father, it is for my good. I know. Am I good now?
Please, I want to be good.
A bout of nausea put a stop to thoughts. When it passed, all he wanted to do was to go home.
He staggered to his feet and chose a direction at random. Soon, an unbroken darkness registered. He looked around. A junkyard was on one side, dark factories on another, judging by the shadows jutting up against the slightly lighter darkness of the sky. The streetlights had been used for target practice. He thought he should go back, but it was too much bother to make his feet change direction.
All roads lead to...wherever.
He passed an alley. Vaguely, he sensed bodies populating its recesses, and a warning went off in his brain. Backed down from a fight. Wrong place. Bound to attract the hyenas.
Before he could heed the warning, hands were all over him, dragging him into the alley. Street-trained hands, street-ruthless. He tried to fend them off, found them too numerous. Pain punctuated parts of his body, something felt white-hot in his brain, then the abrasiveness of the ground was under his cheek, harsh hands roaming through his clothes.
There was a roar of motor, and an unexpected light pierced the darkness, making him squeeze his eyes shut in defense. He sensed the thickening of the crowd around him, heard noises over the pounding already inside his skull. Somehow, he seemed to be at the eye of the storm, left alone while something raged around him.
Then hands were on his body again, solicitous this time. He was pulled up, thought he was going to pass out, fought it. He was supported, moved, and deposited on a surface much preferable to the ground. Car seat, he realized.
"Kenny," he heard. "Kenny, are you all right?"
"We should take him to the hospital," someone said.
That penetrated. A fine showing for a cop. "No," he said, rallying. "No hospitals.... Just "
"Let's leave him alone for a minute," someone decided. "I think it looks worse than it is."
Conversation went on around him. "What do you want done with them?"
"Oh, just leave them. Someone will sweep up."
"This must be his wallet. Here's the driver's license. Hutchinson, right?"
"There's the badge. I suppose the gun belongs to him, too."
"Let me see. Yes, he's wearing a holster."
"Kenny, I'm taking you to a hospital. Something could be broken," a voice said decisively as the Magnum comfortingly slipped into its place and things were deposited into his pockets.
He groped for the arm and whoever it belonged to. "No. I'm okay. No."
"Tell you what. Let's find a place to clean you up a bit, then we'll see."
His legs were pushed into the car. The door closed and the vehicle moved. The motion was torture. He kept his eyes tightly closed, his head resting on the back of the seat. Shortly, they came to a stop and the door was opened again.
"Let's not move him," the driver said to someone. "Go get some wet towels or something. Oh, see if you can find black coffee."
Hutch cracked open his eyes. Curiosity was getting the best of him. They were on a well-lit street, in front of a bus terminal. He was in a sporty car, a sleek European number. Exactly what, he couldn't decide at the moment. Expensive, though. He glanced at the man next to him. Who?
There were five or six other casually dressed men crowding around the car, looking ready to be helpful. Surely not all of them had fit into the vehicle. He looked back and saw a van parked there.
Some cavalry. But who? Why? How? He recognized one of the men outside: the interested stranger at the bar. What the...? Someone started wiping his face with wet paper towels while someone else dusted off his clothes, straightening them. He put up with it, trying not to flinch away. A hot cup of coffee was offered. He took a sip, choked at the heat and bitterness, then forced himself to buckle down and drink it, finally managing to hold it for himself.
Feeling somewhat better, he looked questioningly at the man in the driver's seat; he seemed to be in charge.
"You don't remember me, do you?" A friendly smile accompanied the question.
"I'm sorry...I'm not " He looked closer. A man around his own age, solidly-built, in a sports suit, looking classy, with thinning brown hair and a goatee. "I feel I...should, but..." Very pale eyes, so washed out that they could be any color and nobody would know the difference. "Wait a J...John No, Jonathan." He rifled through the disarray in his brain. Duluth. High school. His circle of the more privileged kids. "Jonathan M...Miller, right? Miller."
The smile widened. "That's right. Good to see you again. Been a long time."
"What're you ?" He felt too dizzy to keep his head up any longer. He leaned back again. Someone removed the Styrofoam cup from his hand. "How did...?"
Miller understood. "Coincidence. A while ago, there was a TV coverage of, uh, I think it was a reinstatement ceremony. I pointed you out to some friends. One of them recognized you tonight and called me when he thought you could be in trouble. I brought a few people with me and " Hutch pressed his palms against his throbbing head. "Anyway, never mind all that now. We should get you checked out."
"No," Hutch objected again. "I'm okay. Could you...just take me home?"
"If you're sure."
"I am. Believe me. I've been hurt...enough times...to know."
"Okay." Miller thanked the group of men outside, then started the car. "Just stay there and relax. We'll catch up on old times later."
They drove to Venice Place in silence. Hutch managed to make it up the steps on his own, needing a hand but loathe to admit it. He wondered how he was going to locate the keyhole, but he ended up knocking the key to the floor when he groped for it over the door, and Miller picked it up to unlock the apartment.
"Will you be all right?"
"Sure. I just need...to sleep it off...that's all." Nothing wrong with my ability to lie through my teeth, he decided.
"I'll come by tomorrow. I mean, later today. Is that all right?"
"Fine." He wished Miller would go away before he fell flat on his face.
"Maybe we'll go out to lunch."
Hutch nodded, although the words had instantly made him doubt he'd ever eat again. He made an effort to spare a bit of the breath he was using to hold his stomach down. "Thanks.... For everything."
"Any time. See you later."
Miller was gone by the time it dawned on Hutch's hazy brain to wonder how the man had known his address; he couldn't remember giving it to him, and his driver's license still carried the address of the cottage on the beach. He was in no shape to hold onto a thought, though. He considered himself lucky for finding the couch before he passed out.
It was almost dawn when his stomach finally decided to carry on with the rebellion, and woke him up. Stumbling to the bathroom, he tried to lean over the commode, but a sharp, stabbing pain flared in his side. His shoulder injury had started hurting again as well. Unable to lean, he dropped to his knees, finding them also bruised. Then the separate aches and pains convulsed into one bundle of misery.
Getting the poisons out of his system left him very weak. He sat back and reached into the tub to turn the water on. He washed his face, gingerly, and rinsed out his mouth. He drank some water out of his palm, knowing he shouldn't, but feeling so parched. As soon as it hit his stomach, the liquid made him even more lightheaded. He wondered how he was going to get up. Getting drunk alone was a miserable experience. Being alone with the consequences of getting drunk was even worse. He hadn't done either by himself for so long that he had forgotten how it could feel. There was supposed to be an arm available, usually as unsteady as his own, but there.
You take the prize, Hutchinson. You discard something as if it were yesterday's newspaper, and the first time you regret it is when it's not fun to heave up your guts alone. How generous of you.
He remembered that not so long ago he had thought that this isolation he had wished on himself had conferred some sort of freedom. Before attempting the feat of getting up, he rested his forehead against the cool tiles, while in one corner of his mind a line from an old song taunted him:
"Freedom's just another word for nothing-left-to-lose."
By the time Jonathan Miller showed up, Hutch had fashioned as much of a human of himself as he could. He did his best to be congenial, while trying not to show how embarrassed he was. It had been one hell of a way to renew an acquaintance. He couldn't remember their last meeting, but this had to be a drastic comedown.
Miller didn't help matters any by reminding him of that meeting. "The last time I saw you, you were in, uh, law school, weren't you? Right here, I think. You'd brought your new bride home and we met at your father's club. I think it was Christmas, or Thanksgiving." He looked around and it was easy to hear what he had left unsaid: what happened to you?
Just couldn't live up to the Great Expectations, Hutch thought. "I quit law school. Couldn't stand Corporate Law, so I changed to Criminal. Never got around to completing it."
Corporate Law had been the senior Hutchinson's choice. It had taken his offspring a semester to realize he hated what was basically the legal machinations to make the rich richer, almost three years to summon enough courage to get out of it. By that time, Van had had her heart set on being supported by a lawyer; after all, that was what she had thought she was marrying. Hutch had decided switching to Criminal Law would be fair to both until he had learned that justice and law went hand in hand only in theory in that field as well. In reality, guilt or innocence mattered not a whit, but which side one happened to be arguing and legal one-upmanship.
"I wasn't cut out to be a lawyer," he finished.
"Nonsense. I remember all those team debates. You used to wipe the floors with everybody."
"That was when I was young enough to be sure everything came in black and white. Once you start seeing the grays, you end up arguing with yourself." That was also, he remembered, before I found out real pressure makes me stutter.
"What made you decide to become a policeman?" Miller asked with curiosity. "Uh, my mother told me you had. She keeps me posted on the hometown gossip. But it's the last thing I'd have envisioned for you."
Immaturity, Hutch wanted to answer. It had been so clear, so straightforward once. He had been genuinely interested in law, but disillusioned with the applications. A cop didn't deal in pulling laws out of shape to suit his purposes; he just served them. The Blue Knights. Protectors. The true champions of Law and Order. Or so he'd thought.
"It seemed like a good idea," he answered, then added, "at the time."
Van had been furious, especially when the Hutchinson family let its displeasure be known, and support, in form of cash, had stopped making a monthly appearance. To placate her, Hutch had almost begged for an assignment at Beverly Hills, since that was something that had seemed to appeal to his wife. It had spelled a hiatus in the friendship he had formed with one David Starsky, another notion that had cheered Van considerably; she had never considered the man socially acceptable. Starsky had been a little upset, especially since John, the third partner of "The Corsican Brothers" team, had also left to join the Army, but he had been quiet about it when Hutch had announced that his assignment had come through. After over a year of lost poodles and dented Cadillac fenders, placating Van had lost all its charm, and he had asked for a transfer to the inner city. The fact that he had actually started to enjoy his job had been the last straw for Van.
"What happened to your lovely bride?" Miller asked as if he had been eavesdropping on Hutch's thoughts. "Her, I remember very well. Hard to forget a lady that beautiful."
Beautiful Van. Beautiful, ambitious Van. Beautiful, ambitious, dead Van. "She's dead," Hutch answered shortly. Let Miller make what he would of it.
"I'm sorry. I didn't know."
"It's okay. It's been awhile."
Something in his expression must have been forbidding; Miller changed the subject to himself, talking about his successful real estate business and how he had moved to LA some years ago. Yes, he had known Hutch was there, had caught glimpses of him on the TV coverage of this and that case, but somehow had never gotten around to looking him up. Duluth and high school days had been so far away, but he was happy about the coincidence that had brought them together again. Some time later, he got up.
"Well, well, look at the time past noon. Why don't I take you to my club for lunch?"
"Jonathan, I really don't feel like eating. And I'm in no shape to be seen at any club," Hutch said, indicating his face.
The truth of that statement couldn't be argued. "Okay. But I insist on taking you as soon as you feel up to it. It's a rod and gun club. We call ourselves enthusiasts, but we're also serious about it. My friends would love to pit themselves against a trained policeman. I would, too. I do pretty good at the range."
The talk turned to guns, then got nostalgic as high school competitions were rehashed. Hutch decided that it was nice to have the company of a friend with similar interests again.
The pleasant mood vanished after Miller left that evening. Another work day loomed, in which he had to start a new partnership. He wasn't looking forward to it. He'd bet that neither was Washington.
It wasn't an auspicious morning by any means. He felt rotten upon waking up, and had to down some pain killers before he could start to function. It hurt enough to wash his face, so he decided against shaving. Nothing was going to make him look presentable anyway. He dressed in anything that came readily to his hands, and after a short debate, put the sunglasses back on the dresser. They wouldn't begin to cover the damage.
As luck would have it, the first person Hutch ran into while entering the building was Meredith, and behind her, predictably, Starsky, who started to walk casually past, then stopped dead when he got a good look at his ex-partner. Hutch brusquely brushed past him, in no mood to have the long silence broken by questions about the sight he presented. He noted that Starsky was still looking after him with a frown when the elevator doors slid shut behind the blond man.
Already irritated by one encounter, he stepped off the elevator and came face to face with Dobey and Washington. The Captain was giving the young man his usual spiel reserved for officers hitting the streets for the first time as full-fledged detectives.
Aren't we going to make a lovely pair, Hutch thought, looking Washington over. The way the black man had dressed, he seemed to have confused working the streets with a job interview at some corporate headquarters.
They stood staring at each other as Hutch reflected on the little ironies of life. The looks they were giving one another were probably pretty close to the looks exchanged between Starsky and himself upon their first meeting except Hutch had been on the other side of the fence then. The resemblance of this scene to an earlier one changed as Washington's expression quickly turned to disgust and he threw a glance at the Captain which clearly said: Do I really have to ride with that?
"What the hell happened to you?" Dobey demanded.
"I walked into a door."
"Hutchinson," the Captain said warningly.
Hutch had little patience. "If it was any of the department's business, you'd have had a report about it sir!"
"The way my detectives present themselves to the public is the department's business," Dobey snapped.
"Not much I can do about it now. Should I take leave until I'm fit for civilization?"
Dobey glared at him. "Get on with it. And tomorrow, shave!"
At the garage, Hutch headed for his car, but Washington stubbornly stopped by his own, his expression saying he wasn't going to give another inch that day. Hutch shrugged and jumped into the brown and tan Buick.
As they eased out of the parking lot, Hutch caught his new partner's sideways glance. "Don't worry," he snapped. "It isn't catching."
"I'm not so sure about that."
Hutch hadn't expected an answer. He had only been trying to embarrass the young man. He realized Washington wasn't going to be a patsy. "What?"
"Lackadaisical attitudes contaminate performance, and partners affect each other."
Oh, boy, Hutch thought, someone who adopted Academy lectures as gospel and an intellectual at that. That was a mouthful.
He briefly wondered if, at first, he had irritated Starsky the way Washington was irritating him. It was disturbing to see in the gung-ho, proper young detective himself in some past. The White Knight title is all yours, kid. Go take on the dragon. Your shiny armor will rust one day, too. And the next time you look back, you'll be wondering when you fell off your charger.
What was supposed to be a sarcastic thought left him strangely saddened for the young man whose illusions would also one day be shattered. He crushed the feeling of kinship with hostility, "I have to ride with you, Washington. I don't have to listen to your half-assed theories. Spare me."
He turned away from the quiet anger of the young detective and prepared to endure the day.
Hutch had speculated that, considering how his new partnership had started out, it had no place to go but up. He had been wrong. They were constantly at cross purposes, and they couldn't talk without snapping. Then one or the other tuned out, accomplishing nothing. He dreaded opening his eyes to another workday.
At least there was Miller. Hutch found himself starved for company, for simple human interaction away from the pressures of work. Miller was a sympathetic ear, an undemanding presence, and about the only friendly face in his life these days.
Leaning against the railing separating the sun porch from the firing range, Hutch decided that he also enjoyed the club Miller had introduced him to. It was all-male, very traditional, even a bit straitlaced in tone. Right now, he was taking a break, watching others at the sport. This was the way he liked it; guns and rifles should be tools of skill and good-natured competition. The smells and sounds of a firing range were as intimately a part of him as a mother's heartbeat to a baby. When they were dissociated from the hurt they could cause, they became enjoyable.
Figuring one day he might pit his skills against theirs, he studied the competitors. Miller had been right in claiming they were serious enthusiasts. Nobody at the range could be called an amateur. Strange. There had to be beginners somewhere. Maybe this club only accepted those already at a certain skill level.
The more he watched, the more he noticed. The precision with which the weapons were handled, the body language of the shooters none of the slack attitudes of weekend sportsmen here. It was almost like watching a drill team. Maybe they were participants of local or national championship teams. In any case, professionalism was a joy to behold, even during a pleasant pastime.
Slowly, other impressions drifted in. Most of the members were young. Hutch focused on some, seeing steady hands, economy of motion and a certain no, not a crouch, but a contraction every time the target came up. A gathering-together of muscles that could have ended in a crouch. Nobody who didn't expect the target to shoot back should be trained to defensive reflexes. Not all amateurs. Some military backgrounds.
He felt somebody's eyes on him and turned. A tall man, in his mid-fifties, very well dressed and looking affluent, was studying him from head to foot. Hutch felt a strange urge to check his appearance, as if the man's approval was important. He wondered why he was suddenly reminded of his father, then noticed the slightly protruding eyes under the silvered eyebrows that seemed to say they weren't used to being disappointed. Hutch shrugged off the urge to straighten out his clothes. He had started disregarding presentability at work, partly because he didn't care, partly because it aggravated the hell out of Washington, but he had taken pains not to embarrass Miller at his club. He was in respectable clothes and even his hair was combed carefully. Although maybe he needed a haircut.
The man seemed to approve of what he saw. He approached with a smile. "You must be Jonathan's friend, the police detective. I'm Thornton Osgood. I own this club. Officially, that is. In reality, it belongs to all of us."
Hutch extended his hand. "Kenneth Hutchinson. Nice place you got here."
"I hear you've been giving my boys competition."
"I tried a few times, but I don't think I'm much of a " Osgood's eyes went to the range. Cutting off, Hutch followed his gaze. Miller was shooting. They watched for a while, then Hutch whistled. "Wow. I didn't know he was that good."
"Jonathan is the club champion," Osgood put in, "Come on, young man, I'll buy you a drink."
Hutch followed him into the bar. They exchanged a few pleasantries, then a group came in off practice and they were surrounded. He noted that Osgood acted much like a proud father toward the members.
Miller dropped into the seat next to Hutch. "I see you've met Thorn. He's a good friend. I've been meaning to introduce you." He leaned close. "He'll ask you to call him Thornton, but make it Thorn. He likes to consider himself a thorn in the side of today's complacent society."
Hutch wondered what that meant. "He doesn't seem to mind that I'm not a member."
"Of course not. You're my guest. And if you want to become a member, I'm sure you'll be welcome."
Hutch looked around. "I doubt if I can afford it."
"Maybe not as long as you're on the police force. Why don't you get out, Kenny? I've been watching you. You're not happy, so why stay?"
It was a question Hutch had been asking himself a lot. "I don't know," he answered sincerely. "Maybe because I don't know what else I can do."
"Are you kidding? This is your high school buddy here. I know your potential. What I don't understand is why you keep wasting it. If you ever seriously consider getting out, I have some suggestions."
"I just might take you up on it maybe sooner than you think."
"I mean it, Kenny. Think about it and let me know when you're ready. For now, how about a bite to eat, then I'd like to take you on at the range."
"I don't know if I should accept that. I just saw you out there. How did you get so good?"
"Practice, pal, practice." Miller started talking about when he had gotten interested in firearms, and in the end it was Osgood who invited both to eat. Others joined them. The conversation ranged from club news to national news. Hutch decided that this was the most decent, intelligent, patriotic-sounding group he had been in since he didn't know when. They were all well-dressed, clean-cut, informed, polite, and the young men were respectful, deferential. For a minute it bothered him. There was a vague sense of camp discipline about it all, a feeling of being in school, with Osgood as the principal, and Miller as...vice-principal?
Hutch shook off the impression. This is the way it should be, he decided. I've been on the wrong side of the streets, among dregs of humanity for so long that I've forgotten that order and civilization still exist.
"Clean slate, right?" the woman asked for maybe the twentieth time. She was scrunched in the back seat of the car, afraid to be seen with the two detectives. It was also her reaction to every small enclosure.
"You got it," Hutch assured again, but not too gently. "Just make sure you hold up your end of the bargain."
So far, all efforts to infiltrate a mob-backed prostitution and drug ring had failed. Then Metro had rounded up a group of women from their stable, on charges that would stick. One of them had agreed to cooperate. She was going back in, now on informant amnesty.
"Can...can I get out now...please?"
They were still far from the area where it could be risky for her to be with the detectives, but Hutch took a look at her face wet with perspiration, and motioned at Washington to stop the car. "Check in every day, even if there's nothing to report. You don't want us coming to look for you."
She nodded nervously and disappeared into the crowd. "She's on edge," Washington observed.
"They live there. She'll manage."
"Hope so. If something happens to her " Because of me, said the unspoken thought.
For a change, Washington wasn't his haughty self. In fact, he seemed to need something from the more experienced partner. It was the first time the young detective had recruited a snitch and sent her out into the streets unprotected. He was learning the burden of responsibility.
Please don't look to me for assurance, Hutch thought. I can't make it easier for you. If I told you she'll be all right, it'll be a lie. I know better. I used to fool myself, but I can't even do that anymore not since Lionel. The only thing I can say is that you'll get used to it, but you don't want to hear that.
"She's young...looks so helpless," Washington insisted.
Damnit, don't lean on me. I can't take the weight. I can't. "Don't be naive. There are no blushing innocents in her line of work. She'll manage." It was the best he could do.
They pulled into the traffic, Washington still worrying the bone. "You pointed her out to me. How did you know she'd cooperate when the other women wouldn't so much as open their mouths?"
"I ran into her before," Hutch briefly answered. Leave it alone.
Shit! "So I knew she'd do anything to keep from going to jail, even into an overnight cell."
"She's got acute claustrophobia, that's how come!" Happy now?
Washington's head snapped around. "You mean she's sick? And I just took advantage of " He cut off, obviously trying to remind himself of the priorities of his job. He drove silently, frowning. After a while, he spoke up, bitterness in his voice. "Isn't this where you're supposed to tell me about the Big Picture? Isn't that the senior's job?"
Oh, Jesus, what do you want from me, kid? I've been there; it doesn't get any better. "I'm not going to tell you of any damn picture," Hutch wearily answered, thinking of all the times he had struggled for the pawns while this and that official with clout slapped him down, pointing at their all-important Big Pictures. And the one time he had wanted to look at the Big Picture, in the case which had started with two Vegas showgirls on a desert road and had snowballed to impossible proportions, they had blocked him at every turn. "There's no such thing as big or small pictures. Only those they'll see fit to show you. You'll understand that when you're not so wet behind the ears."
"I'd rather be wet behind the ears than turn into an uncaring has " Washington broke off, contempt in his dark face. His voice was cold and detached when he spoke again. "Where do you want to be dropped off?"
Hutch checked his watch. He was already late to meet Miller. He gave the address of the real estate office to Washington.
When they pulled up in front of the building, Hutch saw that the place was already closed. Miller was waiting in front of it, talking to someone. As he got out of the car, both men turned toward the detective, Miller's companion coming out of the shadows. Damn, Hutch thought. Miller had seen him before in work environment, and worse. But so far, Osgood was used to seeing him look like a civilized being.
"Sorry I'm late. Hello, Thorn," he said, going up the steps, then answered the look on the older man's face with a deprecating wave at himself. "It's a dirty job, but somebody's got to do it."
Osgood smiled indulgently. "I came to talk with Jonathan, but I hear you young people have plans. Dates? Dancing?"
"Not that I know of " Hutch started, then saw Miller's nod. "Oh, for heaven's sake, Jonathan, I'm a bit too old for blind dates."
"No big deal, just two secretaries from the steno pool. Come on, Kenny, remember the old times? Besides, I'd hate to disappoint Brenda and Julie."
Hutch felt too weary for anything other than food and sleep, but didn't want to hurt a well-intentioned friend. "All right. Just let me go home to wash up and change, or you'll really be disappointing Brenda and Julie."
"Fine. I'll drive " Both men suddenly looked past Hutch, and Osgood frowned. "Friend of yours?" Miller asked.
The detective turned. For some reason, Washington hadn't left. He was out of the car, watching the group. Hutch wondered what business he had left unfinished. "Friend? Hell, no, just my latest partner," he explained, letting his irritation at the notion show.
"He's your partner?" Osgood asked.
There was a peculiar note to the question which puzzled Hutch. He decided that the well-groomed, immaculate black man was contrasting sharply with his own appearance at the moment. "The department says so. Our work makes strange bedfellows."
The stony expression on Osgood's face relaxed. Hutch wondered why he felt like a kid who had just given an acceptable answer to a demanding father. "Excuse me a minute. I'll see what he wants now."
He went down the steps. Washington was still looking up, past him, with a frown. "Something wrong?"
"You tell me."
Hutch followed his gaze. Only Miller and Osgood stood there. "They're my friends. You got a problem?"
Washington shook his head angrily. "No. You do, and I just realized what it is."
He jumped back into the car. Hutch stared after the vehicle. What the hell...?
Another fizzled-out bust. Dobey had accepted the report without a word, but Washington had been upset. Not bothering to hide his intent, he had stayed to talk to the Captain privately. Hutch wondered what Dobey would make of the news that his `reliable' cop had frozen, and because of that a criminal was still at large. It had happened to him only once before during all his years on the force, and that had never gone farther than between him and his partner.
This time, before the shooting started, Hutch had seen the speedboat at the private dock and known that the drug dealer would get away if he reached it first. Someone had to get to the other end of the pier, climb up and take him from the back. As the senior partner, he should've been the one to go. But Hutch knew he'd be vulnerable during the last part of the climb, in plain sight with both his hands busy. To take that chance, he had to trust his partner to make an open, frontal attack. Hutch had simply been unable to believe Washington would make a tempting target of himself for a partner he couldn't care less about. He knew it cut both ways. The young detective had been rooted to his spot also, more than likely for the same reason. Catch-22.
Bullet-riddled confrontations were no place for distrust between partners. All at once, Hutch had found himself unable to even return fire. He had stayed huddled behind cover, praying, for the first time in his professional life, that the backup units would show up, take charge, relieve him of the responsibility. The term `wash-out' was coming too close for comfort. Resigning may no longer be something he only owed to himself.
Now Hutch was wondering what he was doing at Miller's party. He was certainly not in a festive mood and the noise was getting to him. It had to be a case of having nothing better to do. Wondering where Miller had disappeared to, he eyed his cocktail and decided to make it the last one. In his state of mind, it wouldn't take much to get him drunk, and he didn't want to do that again.
A vivacious form reclaimed his attention. Someone had introduced them earlier and the woman insisted on finding her way to his side, teasingly close, eyes inviting. But every time he made a move, she turned coy. Lady, he thought, if you want to take me somewhere and screw my brains out, I'm more than willing, but I'm in no mood for games. "Excuse me," he said out loud, and ducked through the nearest doorway.
For a moment, he hoped she'd follow, then shrugged off the thought. He was in the study and the peaceful room was a relief. He walked around, running his fingers lightly over the shelves of books. There were collection of real estate, economics and stock market related material. The second stack of shelves contained various other books.
Hutch wondered what Miller's college degree was. He had never thought to ask. He seemed to be interested in history, philosophy and...anthropology? He scanned some of the titles: Doctrine of Totalitarianism, Shutzstaffel A New Birth, A Critical Look at the Versailles Treaty, Philosophy of the New Order, Modern Revolution, My Struggle, Race and Nationality, Practical Applications of Cultural Anthropology, Theory of Segregation....
He pulled one out at random. Nietschze. One of his later books about his philosophical ideal of `superman.' A much maligned writer whose words had been fodder for Nazi propagandists after careful editing. Maybe Miller's interest was World War II. Of course. Wasn't Shutzstaffel the name of Hitler's elite guard, known as SS for short? For that matter.... He pulled out My Struggle. Right, the translation of Mein Kampf, and New Order had been another name for the Third Reich.
Miller obviously had an interest in subjects that had lost all relevancy. Come to think of it, he seemed to remember some of those anthropological studies on the shelves had been later thoroughly refuted by true scientists. Their only value now were as tasteless curiosities.
He turned away from the books. There was nothing of interest here. It was time to go home. Manners dictated he should find Miller and thank him for the party. He remembered seeing the man going through the garden. Maybe he was at the small lodge behind the gazebo.
Approaching the wooden construction, he saw that the lights were on and quite a number of people were there, around a table. The atmosphere didn't seem to be an extension of the party. He thought that perhaps a business matter had interrupted. If it were a business meeting, he didn't want to barge in. He stopped at the door to listen briefly. Yes, it definitely sounded like a business meeting, complete with calls to order. The civilities would have to wait.
He was about to leave when he heard his name being mentioned. Surprised, he hesitated. What had he to do with Miller's real estate business?
His mind was so geared to his own assumptions about the nature of the meeting that for a while the conversation didn't make sense to him, although he seemed to be the subject of it. For some reason he couldn't fathom, someone was questioning his reliability. Miller made a few comments, then the other voice spoke up again. It wasn't only his reliability in question, but Miller's estimation of his reliability. Don't tell me he wants to appoint me the Vice President of his company or something, Hutch thought with offbeat humor. But he didn't feel like laughing.
He felt plugged into the wrong frequency, unable to make sense of the chatter. The people were expressing themselves in almost military terms. What's going on here? What was it Miller was pronouncing him ready to recruit for? Why was Osgood now talking about their cause being too important and the mission too risky to reveal without further assurances?
"I agree," another voice joined in. "However primed you might think he is now, there's his past to consider. Let's not forget, he was partners with that," an unmistakable note of contempt crept into the voice, "Jew-boy for a long time."
Miller countered that one didn't have the freedom to choose his co-workers in a police force, but Hutch barely heard.
Everything suddenly made sense. This wasn't a real estate meeting, and that club didn't house a rifle enthusiasts group. With all their clean-cut images, their patriotic rhetoric and champion-of-the-right-way attitude, they were the reincarnation of the beast that had terrorized the earth. Neo-Nazis.
Once the initial fury died down, Hutch's reaction was the need to get away, put distance between himself and the rotten corpse that wouldn't stay buried. He crossed the yard and headed for his car, got in and sped away.
He didn't care where he drove. He noticed he kept taking his hands off the steering wheel to rub at them as if they were soiled beyond cleansing. He turned down a deserted road and found himself at the beach.
He got out of the car. There was an overwhelming need inside to do something, to have done something. There was nothing he could've done. He had no evidence of wrongdoing. For a minute, he thought of the arsenal at the club, but he'd bet his life all the armament would be legally documented and registered. This evil had never been a stupid one.
Jonathan Miller. Just another high school buddy: a familiar face at double dates, sporting events, study groups, beer parties. Just an all-American boy. Better than most, in fact. What one's parents would approve of, one of the `good' boys.
Why didn't people stay young, illusions intact, life simple?
An accurate enough term, actually. Except people made words obscene. Millions of human beings had been butchered because of words like those. Starsky's grandparents and parents had been among the lucky ones; they had left Poland before the holocaust had swept over them. It could have been otherwise, and the special man he had been privileged to call `friend' for years could never have existed, or could've vanished in the gas chambers or lye pits as an infant. A horrible vision came to his mind. He remembered all those mind-numbing photos, the legacy of the concentration camps. Born into an earlier generation, any of those starved, tortured, decomposing bodies could've belonged to his friend. He shuddered.
He felt ashamed that he hadn't done anything except run away. But what was there to do? He couldn't have even made the person who had uttered the words with such hate regret saying them. He was a cop.
At that thought things started to fall in place, startling him at first. You are a cop, damnit! So think like one. Calm down. Think it through.
Miller had obviously known he'd been in LA, and what he'd been doing for a long time. Driving him home that first night, he hadn't needed an address. He had known all the right things to say and do, as if he had a detailed knowledge of Hutch's life. Details that exceeded what `hometown gossip' could have supplied. Also, what was that truly incredible coincidence of one of Miller's friends running into Hutch at a bar the man normally wouldn't be caught dead in? At just the right time? Just happening to recognize Hutch from a glimpse on a TV screen? Had Hutch been under observation? Why? And why had they decided to make contact at this particular point of his life?
They need me for something, he realized, and they think I'm weary and disillusioned enough to fall for it. What?
It didn't matter what, only that they wanted it. They had sought him out when he was fed up with the force and tried to persuade him better things awaited elsewhere. They obviously wanted his knowledge and training for something that couldn't be had legally. Wasn't there talk of there being clandestine training centers for these latter-day Hitlers? Maybe something like that, maybe something else, something he could uncover, expose....
He'd find a plausible reason for his abrupt departure from the party, go back, and play their revolting games until they gave him enough rope to hang them. He was still a cop, and he wasn't helpless.
To have purpose again. It was exhilarating.
I'll get them, Starsky, he promised. I'll get them for you, if it's the last thing I do.
Circumference against circumference...
But never quite coincide."
Washington came out of the Captain's office, radiating discontent, and swept out of the squad room, without bothering to notify his partner of his destination. Obviously, yet another talk with Dobey had not mollified him. Hutch pretended to be absorbed in the reports, but he was apprehensive, waiting for the summons in the Captain's far-reaching voice. He knew his performance left a lot to be desired lately, and coupled with the incessant complaints of a partner....
With some surprise, Hutch realized he was afraid of being fired, something he had been blasé about not too long ago, if not downright desirous of. But not now. Not when he had gotten past I'm-a-good-boy-so-may-I-play stage with Osgood and Miller, and had been adopted into the fold. So far he had pieced together a tapestry, as yet to be sewn securely. He had recruitment and propaganda literature in his hands, had distilled some facts by judicious queries and snooping. It all added up to intimations of blackmail, bribes, funds channeled toward the elections of city and state officials considered suitable, pressure and terror tactics used on those considered unsuitable. He had vital statistics on Miller, many of the club members, and Osgood.
Osgood had puzzled Hutch at first. Friend of the Mayor, half the city council and many important businessmen, he seemed out of sync in a fascist cell, but was clearly in a leadership position. The man didn't believe in low profiles; a brief dig had unearthed his `credentials' and suddenly Washington's attitude after seeing Hutch with Osgood had started to make sense. Osgood was a Kleagle in the Ku Klux Klan, carrying a lot of weight because he happened to carry a lot of wealth. Coalition of conspirators, alignment of fraternities, same ideologies under different banners a venom by any other name, and its name was American Fascism.
But Hutch had no solid evidence yet. At the moment, all he could accomplish by going public would be to generate a protest or two from the Civil Liberties Union, give some city and state officials a few sleepless nights, and briefly delight the liberal press. It wasn't enough for him. He needed his badge. Right now he'd fight or beg to keep it.
He'd kept a folder of notes and records. Distrustful, he kept it in a safe deposit box where only he could get to it. He intended to give it to Dobey. Soon. Well, sometime. The Captain was reliable, but because of his position, could only handle short-term secrets. Osgood and Miller had high-level contacts, and Hutch had seen too many `sure' cases go down the drain lately because of an unexpected leak. Besides this was his case, his cause, and he was too obsessed to share any of it until he could break it wide open.
The summons wasn't coming. Hutch fidgeted, waiting for the other shoe to drop. What had Washington said to Dobey this time? No doubt something about Osgood. Finally, Hutch realized that Dobey was not going to call him. In a way, he was relieved. In another, he was puzzled. Why shouldn't the Captain question his unlikely fellowship with a Klan leader? Did he hesitate to intrude on the private life of one of his subordinates?
Or was he, on some personal level, shying away from having his illusions tarnished about the man he once considered almost a son?
Osgood, you bastard, that's another one I owe you.
He went in search of Washington. They still seemed to be partners. There was work to do, and however Washington felt personally, he was a conscientious worker.
Meredith had sensed trouble brewing ever since Washington had walked into the cafeteria and opened his mouth about Hutchinson. The black man was getting more and more voluble while storm clouds were thickening around Starsky. She attempted again to distract David and hopefully get him out of there.
"If we hurry up, we can catch " She cut off, realizing she was talking to air. Starsky was up and at the other table. She sighed and followed her partner who was standing over the young detective.
"What'd you say?"
Caught unawares, Washington looked up. "Uh, what?"
"About your partner, what'd you say?"
The black man stared at Starsky for a beat, then answered with all the defiance of a man assured of his contention. "A lot of things. If you want it in a word, I said he's a bigot. Want to make an issue of it?"
"Listen, kid, Detective Hutchinson's lotsa things, but he's nobody's bigot. In fact, ever since you two teamed up, the only bigoted mouth I keep hearin' is yours. You better watch what comes out of it."
A number of things happened at once. Washington stood up, Starsky tensed, Meredith edged closer and the door swung open and Hutchinson walked in. He froze at the tableau; the others froze at his entrance.
The silence crackled with tension until Meredith tugged on Starsky's sleeve, "Come on, Dave."
He whirled around, grabbed his jacket, and almost ran past Hutchinson. Meredith hurried to keep up, wondering what the blond man had made of the scene. By the time she caught up with her partner, he was already in his car. She thought better of belaboring the subject. She wasn't quite impartial, and in Starsky's present mood, did not want to start an argument. He didn't seem inclined to talk about it either, except for one muttered comment:
"And Hutch's supposed to trust him at his back?"
Washington was doing a good imitation of a mute. For days, not a word had left his mouth unless absolutely unavoidable. He went along, working the cases, plainly biding his time until he would be allowed to sever the partnership.
Hutch eased the car into the narrow street, slid low into the seat and motioned at his partner to do the same. The black man shrugged and obliged, without asking what they were supposed to be doing. Hutch gave his attention to a group of derelicts converging around some dumpsters in the alley. Time for patience.
He was still not quite over the shock of the previous night, although he knew he should've been prepared. What had he thought Osgood and Miller would want from him, and want it badly enough to go through the trouble of recruiting him? Recruits, converts, propagandists, bodyguards, they had. Considering how expertly the members were trained, they also had plenty of trainers, probably better than himself. What they did not have was somebody at home in the darkest side of the streets inhabited by dope and peddlers, among the laws governing there. It seemed that another thing they did not have was enough capital to devote to expanding their causes. When it came right down to it, dope was a commodity, better than most commodities in its profit margin. It even had a side benefit; the majority of its victims were those already written off as sub-human by those aspiring to the rule of the so-called Master Race.
The proposal had been made to Hutch in the most reasonable and polite terms of a high-level business transaction. They could call him `advisor' or `intermediary' all they wanted to. What it boiled down to was that he was the chosen scoop to be dipped into the sewer so the wielders would not have to dirty their lily-white hands more than necessary. It was perfectly all right with him. He had done worse for less cause. This promised a better profit margin than he had hoped for, although not quite in the way Miller and Osgood expected.
The only problem was establishing contacts. He wouldn't use his familiarity with his own hunting grounds. He was too well-known as an officer of the law, and too many had been burned in the past by his undercover activities to sell a cop-gone-bad act. Nor did he care to use Huggy's contacts. He didn't feel like explaining his actions, and if he screwed up at one point, he did not want a friend caught in the fall-out. He had to find connections elsewhere, but not through the police channels, or he was bound to attract attention prematurely. For what you didn't know, you went to an expert. Miller and Osgood had come to him, now he had to find his own.
A short, dark man entered the alley. Certain as death and taxes. Where there was a demand, the supply was sure to show up. When the man was close to the car, Hutch abruptly pushed the door open, knocking it into him. The group around the dumpsters scattered in all directions at the commotion.
"Hi there, Gonzales. Doing the rounds, I see." Hutch picked up the man, holding him against the car.
"Hey, mans I ain't done nothing'!"
"Save it. This is one of your luckier days. I'm not out to roust you. In fact, I'd like a favor."
Hutch pointed in the direction of the dumpsters. "One of your customers, Marcellus Cobb. As far as he's concerned, you've just closed up shop. That goes for you and anybody else he deals with. Be a good boy and pass the word around. Letting Cobb score is going to be downright dangerous from now on."
"I don't "
"Shut up and listen! Eyes are on Cobb. I hear him getting any, and I mean any at all, I'm going to figure you didn't do your job too good and come looking for you, got that? From here on, these streets are dry for him. See to it." He indicated the now-empty alley. "No bread for you here today, Gonzales, beat it. And think hard. You want me on your back or Cobb's?"
He released the man and headed for a nearby hotel. He had to see one of Gonzales' disappointed customers. Washington followed.
The hotel room looked empty, but Hutch knew better. Unceremoniously, he pushed the bed up on its side. "There you are again, Marcellus. No imagination whatsoever. Anything ever change with you?"
Actually, the man had changed drastically. He still clung to the old army jacket, and still carried the lieutenant's bars on his shoulders, now tarnished to green, but he'd lost a lot of weight. The once-handsome coffee-brown face was little more than a skull. The man needed to score badly, too.
"Whaddya want from me, man, `n who's `at?" A shaky finger pointed at Washington.
Hutch wondered if Cobb was still able to do what was expected of him. He'd been counting on the fact that the man was not a usual hype, with mush in place of brains. "Don't worry about things that don't concern you." He kneeled next to Cobb. "I came to notify you that you're my personal crusade from now on. Who's your contact lately?"
"Yeah. Who's the latest benefactor with a badge?"
Cobb spat. "No one. No one at all. You saw to that!"
"What're you talking about?"
"Whaddya think? Think any cop's interested in inheritin' Slate's snitch who snitched on Slate? And who talked me into that?"
Hutch wasn't surprised. Slate had been guilty but it was hard to blame him. Cobb had been instrumental in sending him up and had plainly become poison to other officers from then on. He wished he had thought of it sooner and adopted Cobb himself. Now he understood why the man had gone downhill. Cobb wasn't a common criminal. He had volunteered to become an informant so he could support his habit without resorting to petty crimes. After Slate, he had been left out in the cold. However, that concern had to wait.
"What's the matter, Marcellus? Nobody loves you? Cheer up. I decided to take an interest. But I'm particular. I like my associates clean. So you're going to do me a favor and give up this stinking habit."
Cobb tried to back off. "Come on, man "
Hutch grabbed him. "I mean it, Marcellus. No more juice. None."
"Aw, get real!"
"This is very real. I put the word out in the streets, now I'm telling you. You're going to dry out and that's all there's to it."
"Man, whaddya want from me?" Cobb was getting frantic as he started to believe.
"You're not paying attention. I already told you. You're turning clean whether you want it or not."
"You're dreamin' "
"We'll see who's dreaming, and your dreams aren't going to be pretty. Remember, I know every door you might knock on. They'll be closed. No more scores for you on my streets, got it?"
"What're ya tryin' to do to me? Whaddya want!"
Hutch pushed him away. "I'll be back, Marcellus. You may not see me, but I'll be there. So be a good boy."
Sounds of desperation followed them through the hallway. "Whaddya want? What!"
By the time they were out of the hotel, Washington had had enough of being a silent bystander. "What was that about?" he demanded.
"It's called throwing your weight around periodically so folks will think twice about getting out of line."
"Bullshit." Although it was said mildly, Hutch was taken aback at the first ever profanity he had heard from Washington's mouth. "I may be new to this, Hutchinson, but I spent four years in uniform. I know the difference between ruling with an iron hand and harassment."
The unspoken threat in his eyes made Hutch decide to confine his activities to off-duty time whenever possible. He still had to warn some dealers off of Cobb and widen the drought area around the man. From then on, it shouldn't take long, if Cobb was still as resourceful as he had once been.
Starsky felt like a traitor. He used Huggy as an informant without a second thought, but this was different. Wanting the answers did not make asking the questions any easier in this case.
"Hutch doesn't come by lately?" he asked, trying to sound casual. Huggy shot him a strange look. "I just, uh, never see him in here."
"Long's Mr. America hangs `round with one Thornton Osgood, this waterin' hole's the last one you'll see him in and good riddance, too."
"You got somethin' against this who? Osgood?"
"Man, I don't even put white sheets on my bed. I ain't likely to be fond of those who wear `em."
"Wear `em? Come on, Huggy, what're you sayin'?"
"I'm sayin' Triple-K's alive and well in LA, and Osgood dude is the wellest, if we're talkin' of well-to-do."
"Hug, uh, do me a favor?"
"Well, don't get me wrong, I'm just...curious, you know. It's, uh, only, well..."
Huggy watched his discomfort and jumped to the conclusion. "Hutch?"
"Got ya." Somebody called out, and the black man went to see to the customer.
Starsky remembered Meredith was waiting in the car and left the bar. As they were driving away, he asked on an impulse: "What do you know about a Thornton Osgood?" There was that strange look again.
"More than I care to, and not enough unfortunately. Why?"
"No reason. His name came up in a conversation. Is he Klan?"
"He's the Klan around here."
"I see," he said, although he didn't.
Miller's car was at the club parking lot, but Hutch couldn't spot him. He decided to wait and asked the bartender for a beer.
Cobb had come through. There was no end to the ingenuity of a trapped creature. The more doors Cobb had found closed, the farther he had wandered, finally making connections at the Chinese quarter of the waterfront district. The man had some familiarity with Far East drug traffic from his past in Vietnam. Hutch had been counting on it. The detective was practically anonymous in that part of the city. He had devoted every minute to following Cobb's lead, from street-corner peddlers, to bigger dealers, to middlemen, to the source. He was ready for the next step, as soon as Miller gave the go-ahead. But so far he had strictly avoided even the slightest illegal act.
Osgood was there, but he was busy. He was holding court, something he liked to do on the Lord's Day. The club was for the proper indoctrination of minds as well as bodies. Hutch leaned against the bar, listening, curious about what was keeping the rapt attention of the listeners.
"There's grave danger here, grave danger," Osgood was saying. Fond of his own words, he liked to repeat himself. He also liked clichés. "The Vietnam War unleashed a plague on our great nation. It took street-corner filth, back-alley trash, gave them weapons, trained them in combat, made them think they could be counted among the ranks of men. They disgraced our honor, our flag, over there, then brought the diseases they picked up from slant-eyed prostitutes, their addictions, to contaminate our soil, expecting to be treated as war veterans. The liberal faction hands them entitlements on a platter and what supports that? The tax dollars of hard working people like you and me."
Basic Lecture One: Prerequisite, the detective concluded. Must be new recruits present.
"But that's not the real danger, not the real danger," Osgood raised his voice. Here comes Introduction to Paranoia, Hutch anticipated. "Some of these trained assassins, who have no loyalty, except to a race of primates, are still in our military, some in our police forces. They are infiltrators, with access to training and weapons, and make no mistake, they'll massacre us once they're organized. The government is blind. A great challenge awaits the..."
"Glad to see you finally, Kenny." Miller was at Hutch's elbow. "You should report in more often."
"What do you want? The job done or reports?"
"You're here now," Miller pointed out. Hutch assured him contacts were identified and ready to be established, "Good. Get us some samples."
"Samples. You know, to test. To check out the product."
What do you think these people are, Hutch wanted to say, cologne manufacturers? "Why?"
"Sound business practice." Miller indicated Osgood with his head. "He insists. After all, most of it is his money. Says he won't buy a pig in a poke."
Folksy bastard, Hutch thought. "Jonathan, that makes no sense. Dope dealers don't go passing out free samples to drum up business. Also, they don't hand over their product `on spec with option to buy.' They don't care for drawn out deals, either. Once and for all, you deal, exchange, and that's that."
"Not for the kind of money we're talking about. What if we are short-changed?"
And no Better Business Bureau. Oh, dear. "Then you're stuck. Look, believe it or not, they're also businessmen. If they give you inferior stuff, they know you won't be back with your money. Don't worry about it."
"Thorn won't go for it, I tell you. He won't trust dope dealers, and I don't blame him."
Hutch sighed. Spare me the amateurs. "Say I asked to buy a sample first. They'll just hand me some quality cut. Won't guarantee anything."
"Not if they don't know a big sale hangs in balance. Buy some off the streets, out of what they normally distribute."
Oh, no, Hutch thought, no way. I'm not touching a single milligram of the junk in exchange for cash and leave a dealer out there to identify me. When dope and money change hands, you and Osgood will be the ones doing it.
Miller kept objecting. "Honest-to-God, Kenny, we can't risk dealing with some thieving criminal "
"Okay, okay," Hutch didn't want to argue anymore. Let them believe a little longer that they were still pulling the strings. He hated to do it, but he could liberate a bit of Cobb's next score. The man was a new customer and would be getting high grade stuff for a while. "You're the boss. You want it, you got it. As soon as I can."
Miller looked pleased as he excused himself to go to the firing range. Osgood was now carrying on about how the young were the last bulwark, the nation's last hope. Hutch decided to leave before he could hear the man declare their cause holy and, inevitably, enlist God into the ranks.
Washington did not like to eat at cheap stands and no place on Division was to his liking. Hutch had announced that whoever was driving would choose the lunch spot, and the other could take a taxi, if he wished, to the restaurant of his choice. Today it was Hutch's turn, and Division street was his choice. He had an objective, who resided in the hotel across the street.
"Wait for me," he said shortly when Washington started eating, and left. He crossed the street, went into an alley and over a wall to the back entrance of the hotel.
Cobb's door was locked, but the termite-eaten door was small obstruction. The detective slipped in and quickly looked around. The occupant was on the bed, out cold. Hutch tried to close the door, but the last kick had been too much; it was loose, swinging inwards. He shrugged and searched the room. It yielded a secret hiding place containing two bags of white powder, one open and half empty. He extracted the sealed one and threw some money down before replacing the floorboard. At least the poor bastard wouldn't have to worry about how to pay for the next fix.
A moan came as the bundle on the bed thrashed fitfully. Hutch cast him a glance. He looked terrible. The detective went to check on him closely, putting the bag of heroin on the covers in the process. Cobb was burning with fever, shivering at the same time, and his stupor wasn't the tranquil one of a high. The pupils said he was dosed, but more was wrong with him. Hutch pulled back the threadbare covers, and winced. Cobb was wearing only a pair of shorts, and needle tracks ran the length of his arms and legs. The right leg was swollen around a purplish, pus-oozing spot. Hutch cursed. Infection, probably from a contaminated syringe. The man needed antibiotics, and fast. Hutch went to the hall phone to call the neighborhood clinic. They'd take care of it without getting Cobb into trouble.
Going back into the room, he covered the black man again, at the same time picking up the plastic bag from the folds of the blanket. A skeletal hand suddenly grasped his wrist. He turned to see Cobb's wild eyes on him. The other hand lunged, bunching his shirt in its claw. Cobb fought blindly, babbling curses. Hutch attempted to free himself without causing pain, but there was an unexpected strength in the man, born out of the desperation of a junkie watching his next fix walk away from him. Pulling back only resulted in dragging along the frantic body attached like a leech to the detective.
Dropping the bag, Hutch pushed the arm in Cobb's grip behind the man with an abrupt move, and took advantage of the awkward angle to break the hold. Grabbing the bony wrist firmly in his large hand, he twisted the arm back further and used it to pull the body away from himself. The other hand seemed to be locked on his shirt in a spasm. It wouldn't give. He pried one finger loose to bend it back which finally forced Cobb to let go. For an instant he started to launch himself at the detective again. Hutch quickly shoved back with enough force to send Cobb sprawling on the bed.
"Shit!" the blond spat out as he picked up the plastic bag and tucked it into his pocket. An inhuman wail came from the bed. Fight had drained out of Cobb as quickly as it had come. Sensing he had lost, he was crying.
"God damn you, shut up!" Hutch shouted, furious with the man and his self-destruction, with himself, with the whole stinking mess. He also wondered if he had sounded like that himself once. He whirled to get away.
And came face to face with his young partner. Washington was standing in the doorway. Hutch wondered how much he had seen, then decided that he would have interfered if he had been there for any length of time. "Thought I told you to wait!" he snapped.
Washington kept staring at him, black eyes sending out sparks of pure hatred. Hutch brushed past him. A few minutes after he got into his car, the young man joined him, enveloped in an icy silence he seemed determined never to break. As they were pulling away, an ambulance that had seen better days came to a stop in front of the dilapidated hotel.
That afternoon on patrol, Hutch knew he had to come to a decision about telling Dobey of his private case. Until a few hours ago, he had not done anything he could be held accountable for. But he had now broken into a locked room without even a warrant, and to all appearances, stolen a bag of heroin and roughed up a junkie. If Washington arrested him right now, he had that damned bag in his possession. This lone-warrior act had become idiotic. Internal Affairs would come down on him hard and fast. At that point, full disclosure might clear him, but all his hopes for staying undercover would be blown. He was actually endangering the case he had worked at so hard.
It wasn't as if he and Starsky hadn't done equally suspicious things before, to Dobey's plain irritation. But skating the edge of law was a lot harder on your own, he was discovering. He had better tell Dobey this afternoon.
The Captain was not in when they got back. Starsky was; his blue eyes met Hutch's briefly, almost involuntarily, before he turned away and laughed extra-heartily at something his female partner said.
Hutch jerked open the door to Dobey's office, intending to leave a note to ask
for a meeting very soon. He was
as surprised to see the man in the grey suit reading a file on Dobey's desk as the man was to see Hutch. He recognized him as Inspector McInroe, one of the Commissioner's right hand men. McInroe smiled weakly, and snapped the folder shut, but not before Hutch had caught a good glimpse of it. It was his own current-cases file. "Something I can help you with, Sergeant?" McInroe asked.
Sure. Tell me whether you're Osgood's spy or just a general snoop, Hutch thought. "Ah, no," he said aloud, pasting a smile on his face as he backed out the door. It disappeared as soon as the door was shut. They're everywhere! Do I dare tell Dobey anything now? There can't be a shred of anything written down, or it'll all get back to Osgood somehow. Without some official paperwork, how can Dobey cover his ass?
Damnit, who do I confide in? Who do I trust?
Without conscious thought, his eyes went to his ex-partner. Starsky's back was still to him. Two dark curly heads bent close, almost touching, he and Meredith were talking in low tones about something that evidently appealed to both. Hutch hesitated. Too much had come between them, too long a silence, but when all was said and done, when he didn't know which way to reach, his instincts still sent him in one sure direction.
Feeling terribly awkward, he started forward and opened his mouth.
"Sounds terrific," Starsky said before anything had a chance to come out of Hutch's mouth. "Let's blow this joint and we can " He pushed his chair back to stand up, and unintentionally knocked it into Hutch who was now directly behind him. He looked around, then, averting his eyes, mumbled something that the blond assumed to be an apology. He pulled Meredith out of her chair, circled her waist with an arm and swept her out of the squad room, talking a little too loudly about a great restaurant he had heard of.
Hutch waited a few minutes so he would not be caught in the same elevator with them, then strode out of the room, feeling very much alone.
So be it.
Hutch took off his jacket to hang it up and hesitated. He dug into the pocket until his fingers touched the slick surface of the plastic bag. He decided it was as good a place for it as any and told himself to stop being paranoid. Nobody was going to break down his door and search his closet. Still, he felt jumpy and wanted to get it out of his home into Miller's as soon as possible. He went to the phone.
A secretary informed him that Mr. Miller was in San Francisco on business and would not be back until the next day. Hutch briefly thought of Osgood, but the man wouldn't keep a bag of heroin in his place even if it was wrapped in pure gold. He simply had to hold onto the thing for the night.
Some time later, the blond man found himself pacing restlessly and decided to go for a walk which would afford more freedom of movement. Maybe he'd eat out, too. And then maybe go to a movie or something.
Halfway through the door, he paused, admitting that he wasn't leaving to be going anywhere. He was running away. From a tiny bag. He wasn't really afraid what its discovery at his house would mean. It was a more private fear.
For an instant, he tried to deny it, then sighed as he stepped back into the room and locked the door securely. He pulled down the shades. Some amount of heroin was likely to pass through his hands in the coming days. The trace of fear and intimidation stirring inside might affect how he functioned. Might as well confront it now.
He turned on the lamp over the table, took out the bag, put it down and sat facing it, his back straight and stiff against the chair, arms crossed tightly over his chest. Vaguely aware of the defensiveness of his posture, he stared at the shiny surface and the substance inside it; so pure in color, the light glinting off the fine grains.
Professionally, he had been taught what it was. Later, at one time, he had gone back to read everything he could get his hands on about it, desperate to know his enemy after the fact. An alkaloid extracted from opium poppy, grayish brown in its natural state, treated with dilute sulfuric acid and bleaching agents into the feathery white crystals of morphine, then chemically altered again to form diacetylmorphine: heroin. Made from but more potent than morphine, more addictive, more deadly. White powder that with the application of heat would turn into golden liquid which easily flowed into a syringe and then into a body.
Since the time it had contaminated his body and had been cast out, he'd come across the substance countless times. It had never scared him. What was wrong now?
He realized earlier he had always had restrictions, of other people involved in the investigations, of regulations that dictated how the drug was handled. And, of course, Starsky, whose presence was an automatic barrier between himself and the heroin.
This dose had no strings attached and he was alone with it behind closed doors.
After all the years, he could still remember the euphoria of its invasion. A subtle flow at first that gave a sense of weightlessness and carefree well-being. Refreshing. An easy, fluid, harmonious feel, a floaty sensation. Then those feelings coalesced into an incomparable high of exaggerated personal value, invincibility, intense happiness, almost sensual pleasure.
Then, slowly, a lethargy had crept into the gratification. Coming down. Nothing that had felt that impossibly good was easy to let go. The craving started. Shortly, he had become aware of his abused body once more, doubly sensitized to pain in contrast to the numb period the drug had induced, the craving turning into an unbearable torture.
It had been hell, but hell was nothing to go through if he could just regain the paradise the white crystals promised. There was no price too high to pay.
Once anyone experienced heroin, was he ever free?
Hutch shuddered, his hands moving to grasp his shoulders tightly, noticing he was clammy all over. Four years, he told himself. I've been clean for four years, and I never looked back. Surely it has no hold on me anymore.
So why am I sitting here sweating?
Yes, I remember the high, but I also remember the agony it took to get rid of it. The skin tightening as if to crush everything inside it, the nausea, the convulsions, muscles screaming in uncontrollable spasms, the fever, every fiber on fire but shivering, the body fluids getting ejected violently in every possible way. God, do I remember! I know the cost too well, and I don't want it. Ever.
He couldn't tear his eyes from the bag.
Wonder if one eventually gets addicted to the pain as well as the pleasure? Do the lows also gain a perverse attraction because they accentuate the highs that much more? After all, taking an aspirin for no reason doesn't make an impression, but when one has a splitting headache
WHAT AM I THINKING OF!?
I have to get rid of it, he decided frantically. NOW!
He stayed frozen.
That's no solution.
Besides, he was afraid to touch it.
He managed to close his eyes against the sight, trying to concentrate on how it had hurt him once, to impress upon his brain how dangerous its seductive lure was. Not only him, either. It had hurt Jeannie and destroyed the relationship forming between them.
And.... At the time he had been too overwhelmed by his own pain to be aware of anything else, but later he had known.
For two weeks, Starsky had insisted on commandeering his couch. Before Hutch could acknowledge that a recovering addict required close supervision for some weeks, what felt like excessive mothering had been an irritant on his already frayed nerves. He had alternated between fits of temper and depression, neither making the slightest impression on his determined gate-crasher. Hutch had known it was mainly the aftermath of addiction, but he had still felt like strangling his stubborn partner who seemed to sail so cheerfully through his unpredictable mood swings.
Then one afternoon, while he was supposed to be napping, he had caught a sight of his friend coming out of the shower, toweling himself. The yellowing, roundish bruises on his arms, shoulders and thighs had puzzled Hutch momentarily, until he remembered at whom he had clutched with the frantic strength of his craving. He also remembered latching onto the same body with a need to hurt, because at times he could only see Starsky as the barrier between agony and relief. He had known then why his partner, normally uninhibited around him, kept ducking into the bathroom to undress and dress.
That incident had reminded him of other things imprinted on his brain during those two days, submerged under the haze of withdrawal. The litany of encouragement in his ears It's all right Hutch hold on. You can do it. Easy, babe, easy. Hold on just a little longer. It's gonna get better I promise. You gonna be all right - repeated endlessly in a choked voice which tried so very hard to be soothing. The arms that were constantly enfolding him with strength when he could barely hang on, and restraining him firmly but gently when he fought against them. The hands never wavering while they attended to all the stomachturning details, but shaking when they wiped his face or brushed at his hair during quiet moments. Starsky's face holding a curious mixture of determination and sympathy, the resolute set of his jaw contrasting strangely with the sad eyes that hadn't seemed quite dry for two days. The awareness that, when he cried, the echo wasn't a trick of his jumbled senses.
Those images were fragmented and blurred, but there was one that never lost its clarity. Sometime during the night that brought the hellish 48 hours to a close, Hutch had asked to be let go. His insides were finally going numb, but any contact with his skin was starting to feel like sandpaper against raw nerves. "Sure, babe," Starsky had said, instantly leaving the bed to him. When Hutch had opened his eyes to the light of the morning, wrung out but free of the delirium, his first sight had been of his friend collapsed uncomfortably in an exhausted, disheveled heap on the big chair close to the bed still between him and the door, though with one shoe on and one off, haphazardly covered with a blanket. In more subtle ways, the virulent drug had marked him as well.
Startling himself, Hutch realized that somewhere along the path his thoughts had taken, he had totally relaxed his posture and picked up the bag of heroin, which he was now casually juggling between his hands. He frowned at it, wondering what had been so threatening about the paltry thing a moment ago. He tossed it into the air, caught it, tossed it once more, savoring the ease with which he was playing, then threw it carelessly back onto the table.
"You lose," he told the insignificant bag.
Dobey sighed discreetly as Washington, once again, aired his grievances. Never a dull moment.
Come to think of it, there hadn't been many of those since, years ago, one of his more spirited uniformed cops part of the inheritance of his promotion to Captain whom Dobey didn't yet know quite what to make of, had bounded into his office, holding aloft the new transfer list like a flag, more animated than usual. He had pointed to a Scandinavian-sounding name and had announced that they'd been through the Academy together, that it would be in the best interest of the Department, the Police Force, and the whole city if they could be partnered now, and to hell with the regulation prohibiting two relatively inexperienced cops from teaming up.
Oh, brother, Dobey had thought, probably another rowdy ragamuffin who'll look and act like he's ripped off the uniform can't wait. The tall, clean-cut, soft-spoken man had been a surprise. While he had wondered what could possibly attract the two to each other, Dobey had flatly refused the request which the blond officer had also politely, in his case echoed. Regulations had sound reasoning behind them well, most of them, anyway.
However, he had soon realized that regulations and his captainly authority didn't mean diddly to the two cops. They were exchanging information, sticking their noses into each other's cases, maneuvering into each other's patrol areas and pooling their resources anyway. They were also going out together on their off-time and racking up an impressive arrest record, radiating a smug told-you-so every time they put another report on Dobey's desk. He had decided not to argue with success and life hadn't been the same since.
Of course, he could've done without the latest wrinkles. Starsky had stopped being a pain in the ass after Meredith, but now Hutchinson had jumped the fence, and Washington let no opportunity go by without pointing it out, so determined he was to get out of the partnership.
The Captain knew he was being unfair to the young detective by tuning him out during the lengthy complaints, but he had known Hutchinson too well for too long to take bigotry charges with any seriousness. Hutchinson was perfectly capable of being an overbearing, contrary, mean son-of-a-bitch, but Dobey had no doubt that he was totally color-blind. Washington made no bones about the fact that he disapproved of Hutchinson, and the blond man, probably having had it too often in his life, was never able to swallow that easily. If only each could give a little. Granted, Hutchinson was no prize lately, but
Suddenly, something the young detective said separated from the droning and hit Dobey. What?
"Cobb was crying, for heaven's sake," Washington continued. "But the Sergeant didn't give a damn. I'm no bleeding heart, Captain, you know that. But if there's a crime, let's arrest Cobb. Then maybe we can get him into detox. I'd even say it's fine if we were using the man for some investigation. But this is just gratuitous cruelty. Being an addict is not a capital crime. He's hurting and he needs his fix. Just to take it like that, for no reason "
Dobey interrupted. "When did this happen?"
Two days ago. "What exactly did you see him take?"
"A bag of heroin. At least, I assume it was heroin, judging by Cobb's addiction. I didn't see too close."
"You didn't see too close and here you are, making accusations. Did it occur to you to simply ask your partner?"
"I can't talk to that man!"
"Try! You go passing judgments about a man and you won't give him a chance to explain himself. You wouldn't make a report on the lowest trash you pick off the streets this way, but you condemn a fellow police officer. Your own partner, no less. Hear this, Washington, how an officer interacts with his team counts just as much as his work record."
"So what are you going to do about a so-called officer who's blown both? I, at least, have a good performance record!"
Dobey's hackles rose at the hostility in Washington's voice. He liked backbone in his officers, but there was a difference between that and getting one's back up. "You'll have to live a lot longer to match Hutchinson's record."
Washington snapped. "With permission, sir, we're getting nowhere. I.
Hereby. Request. Another. Partner. I'd ask for a Review Board investigation
of Hutchinson, if I thought it'd do any good, but you're determined to coddle
him. May I
suggest that if you dismiss my charges, there's the Commissioner's Social Actions Office, not to mention the NAACP?"
That brought Dobey out of his chair. Who the hell did the pup think he was? What discrimination had he faced growing up in a well-to-do family in San Diego, seeing the slums only on the TV until he had become a cop? He had never walked the streets in a uniform being spat on not only by the whites, but his own people, too, or been torn between loyalties to duty and his race when cities had erupted into racial violence, or fought against the unfair laws he had sworn to uphold. "Boy, I've been on this force since before you could pronounce Civil Rights Movement. You can take whatever action you want, but remember that you can do so today because we fought for the right yesterday. It's yours. Use it if you wish. But the next time you threaten me, make sure you've paid half the dues I have. As for coddling, I support my officers, all of them, something one day you might also appreciate. Submit your request to me in writing. Now, go and do the job you're paid for."
After the door closed behind the detective, Dobey took a moment to calm down. The young tended to have tunnel vision. Washington would also grow up one day. The Captain went back to considering the tiny seed of suspicion Washington had inadvertently dropped. He was a policeman, and when a lead was planted in his brain, he couldn't help following it. He called Property.
A few minutes later, he was scowling at the phone. No, Detective Hutchinson had not turned in any amount of heroin the last two days.
Let's not jump the gun, Dobey decided. A lot of officers chose to flush away small amounts of illegal substances. They felt obligated to confiscate the drugs, but unless there was a case to be built on them, they'd just as soon do without the red tape required to turn the stuff over to Property. He had done it himself often enough.
Still, the unease wouldn't go away. He was unable to make sense of Hutchinson's handling of Cobb, too many things the detective did or failed to do were out of whack lately, and the Captain couldn't close his mind to a fact of Hutchinson's past, however much he wanted to.
He didn't want to jump to conclusions. "Ask the man," he had told Washington. Sound advice, but harder to take than to give, at least for Dobey. Knowing of previous addiction, how could he ask Hutchinson such a question without it sounding like an accusation? If he was way off base, he just might end up looking at Hutchinson's badge in his hand. Maybe it was time to park the blond behind a desk where he would be under closer supervision, and leave it at that for the time being.
He cursed softly. He didn't know at what point the two black sheep of his squad room had stopped being irritations and become family, but he knew he didn't want to lose either one, together or separate, however unfilial they were being at any point.
Hutch didn't mind the grounding, although he suspected that his uncharacteristic lack of objections had bothered Dobey. It was certainly better than being fired, and it got Washington off his back. Besides, being stuck in Records actually came in handy. Miller and Osgood wanted to organize their distribution network in advance. It was too good an opportunity to miss. Launching into graphic descriptions of what happened to those who ignorantly trampled on other dealers' territories had quickly convinced them to leave the organizing to their resident expert. Hutch went through the records, to find the undercover Narco operatives on the streets and steered Miller's handpicked forerunners into their net. Each contact would mean a reliable testimony in court, another nail hammered into the coffin.
During his off-duty hours, the detective found his own contacts, putting onto the grapevine the news that anybody interested in prospective customers willing to pay handsomely should get in touch with him. He kept himself available, spending long nights in the streets and bars of the harbor district. Finally, someone approached him, asking for a phone number and telling him to expect contact soon.
"How are you doing, Kenny?" Miller asked. It was more than a casual greeting.
"Fine," Hutch answered. "Why?"
"Heard you were staying off the streets. Trouble at work?"
They were no longer keeping secret that he was under observation. Hutch decided to be extra careful. "No trouble. Regulations say I can't ride without a partner. Finally got rid of the nigger and I just have to sit around until they can pair me off," he explained blithely, managing not to choke on the words. It was no different, he kept telling himself, from adopting the attitudes and language of a pimp or a pusher to fit in, things he'd done many times undercover. But it felt much worse. Every time the word left his lips, he thought of Dobey and his many kindnesses, the motherly affection of his wife, their lovely children, Huggy's solid friendship through the years, and had to fight the urge to wash out his mouth. God, he pleaded, let it be worth it.
He changed the subject, "I have news. We can expect contact before the week is out. Shouldn't take long after that. A day or two at most." He sat down and addressed Osgood, wondering why the man looked like he'd eaten something vile. "These deals go down very fast. You should get the cash together."
"Jonathan told me who the suppliers are. I don't like it. I won't deal with Chinks." The last word contained a shudder.
Hutch stared at Osgood. The man actually seemed to feel a physical revulsion. Ethnocentricity was a strange madness. He decided it was time to introduce everybody to reality. It was also time to start asserting himself. They had to accept his authority in this situation, get conditioned to having him call the shots. "Listen, man," he snarled, "we're not in the market for a bit o' social coke to go `round at a party, and I don't mean the fizzy kind. You can't get this juice under the counter at one of your plush Hollywood boutiques. Anybody who's gonna deliver us enough horse to choke half the sewers of this city ain't gonna be Jolly Old Nick, take my word for it. You'll damn well learn the rules of the fucking game or I'm not putting my balls in a sling with you."
Miller and Osgood looked taken aback. The attitude and the language of the so-far-civilized man had suddenly undergone a startling change. They stared at him as if he had reverted to a barbarian in front of their eyes. "Young man," Osgood started.
Hutch smiled, his expression instantly softening. "You didn't like that, Thorn, did you? That's just a tiny sampling of what I've been dealing with for years. Now maybe you'll understand why I want out."
Miller took a relieved breath. "Don't do that anymore, Kenny."
You haven't seen anything yet, Hutch thought, relishing their discomfort. "It wasn't gratuitous, Jonathan. If you thought that was bad, you should see me in the streets. Do you think I enjoy it? The point is, the only way to survive out there is to blend with the local coloring, play by their rules. I know the rules, because I had to learn them. The only reason I'm still alive is that I learned them well. I may not be too proud of it, but I'm an expert. If you're not happy with the way I run this operation, you're free to pull out, or find yourself another go-between. Believe me, the company isn't going to get any better."
"We're in this together, Kenny," Miller granted, "Right, Thorn?"
"Before you answer," Hutch cut in, "one thing. However I may have said it, I meant the part about not putting my life and limb on the line. If you're going to get squeamish or think you can run the operation better than I can, let me know now."
"Well, as long as you're the one dealing with the suppliers," Osgood reluctantly conceded.
"That might be a problem. I'll carry it until the end, but no dealer worth his salt will conduct the final phase of this big a deal with a go-between. You and Jonathan will have to show up with the money, as a sign of good faith."
"Surely that's not necessary!"
Hutch threw up his hands and started to rise, looking ready to put a stop to the proceedings right there.
"All right, all right," Osgood mumbled. "Obviously, you are the expert." It wasn't a compliment.
"Hey, where're you goin'?" Starsky protested as Meredith was getting out of the bed. "We're not done."
She laughed and ruffled his curls. "I'll be right back. I'm thirsty." In the kitchen, she turned the ice crusher on and called out. "Care for some slush?"
"It's imitation slush," she apologized when she came back, handing him a glass. "You need an ice shaver for the real item." She settled on the bed, tucking her legs under her, and looked Starsky over, a sight she enjoyed. He looked so natural naked, as unconcerned as an animal, as innocent as a child. Well, innocent at the moment. For the first time, she noticed a spot of puckered skin on the lower right leg, mostly hidden by hair. She touched it, feeling the shape, then with suspicion, felt the back of the leg. There was another scar there, marking the path of a bullet.
"A few years back." Self-consciously, he rubbed his left shoulder. She'd been well aware of that scar since their first night together. "I came back from `Nam without a souvenir. Been collectin' `em ever since. In `Nam, we used to call it `Friendly Fire' if you caught an American bullet. Don't suppose it'd apply now." He paused. "I wouldn't have come outta either of these alive without " He didn't finish and the sentence stayed suspended in the air.
She wanted to break the mood. His talk of Vietnam had disturbed her, as the subject always did, and he looked ready to go into depression himself. "They don't mar your beauty one bit."
"Can't mar what ain't there."
Definitely depression, she thought at the departure from his usual cocky attitude about his looks. "You, my dear, should leave appreciation to those qualified." She fished out a chunk of ice and dropped it on his chest.
"What the !" he gasped, but her mouth was on the spot before he could jump up. Indignation died down as he caught on. Next one she let melt a little before licking it up, then dropped a sliver on a nipple.
"Hummm-nnnhh," she verbalized her appreciation, her mouth too busy to form words.
Helplessly, he was jerking as each piece of ice landed on a deliberate path, squirming when her lips made up for it, getting sticky in the process, but he wasn't objecting. Meredith rescued his glass before it tipped, put it away, and went back to the leisurely task. She put two piles on the hollows next to the hipbones and made a game of catching the tiny rivulets before they ran into the thatch of dark hair. She missed a few times on purpose, and he shivered most satisfactorily. It was interesting how cold could generate heat. Obviously, the conflicting sensations weren't detrimental to the final objective, she noted.
Her detour to the thighs earned a frustrated growl from him. She placed a few chunks strategically on the legs, making sure they'd melt down the inner thighs. He was forced to keep his legs tight against each other until she could catch the small river between them on her tongue, so he couldn't even squirm comfortably. She chuckled and he cursed softly, with no animosity. She lifted her head, winked, and filled her mouth with the remaining ice.
"Oh, God, no!"
"Uh-huh," she nodded, eyes teasing.
Resigned, he clutched a pillow to his face. It helped stifle his sounds when her mouth descended. His heat was the final victor, though. Discarding the pillow, he pulled her up with mock-force.
"Boy, are you gonna be sorry," he promised, trapping her under him, and they were wrestling in abandon, both laughing.
The phone rang. Starsky cursed, meaning it this time, and Meredith burst into giggles. The shrill ring finally forced Starsky to lunge for it. "It better be an emergency!"
"Starsky, m'man." Meredith was close enough to identify the voice drifting through.
"Huggy, your timing's the pits!" Starsky growled. Huggy chuckled. Starsky realized his heavy breathing was contributing to the mirth and tried to control it.
"You'll get no sympathy from me, considerin' that it's probably my future wife you're takin' liberties with."
"Hug, if this is a social call, got other sociable things I'd rather do."
"Well, this is about the questions you've been askin' lately."
Meredith felt Starsky sober instantly. "Go on."
"No answers. Just what's been on the grapevine. It looks like the crowdin' tactics used on that hype were to force him to make connections elsewhere, so's to identify `em. It led to the Chinese quarter of the docks."
"That doesn't make sense. Too far out of our precinct, and I know we have no joint operation goin' on there."
"What's that mean?"
"Starsky, I don't know how to say this, but it seems the gent in question isn't after a bust, just connections."
"They sell, man! What do you think?"
"You mean, to buy?"
"That's what'll be happenin', as I hear."
Meredith felt the body still in her arms go stiff and cold, something direct contact with ice hadn't been able to accomplish. "That's impossible!" Starsky said. "You know him better than that."
"Yeah, well, we all thought we knew him better `n a lot o' things, didn't we? You figure it out. If this is above water, what was wrong with me? Where do you both come for info? Why so far out in left field? Cobb didn't get busted, and now the pressure's off o' him. What's all that say to you?" Starsky didn't answer. "You want the rest? There's talk of big buys and big money."
"There, you see? Where can he get that kind of money and what would he do with big loads?"
"Ever heard of front-men?"
Starsky took a deep breath which reached Meredith as a shudder. "Who's the backup?"
"Some folks I'd rather not meet in a dark alley, considerin' my color, if you know what I mean. Looks like Washington was right."
"Huggy, I can't believe that. Or any of it."
"Suit yourself, man. I'm just the town crier. But you might be interested in knowin' what he's in the market for."
Starsky abruptly rolled away from Meredith. She could no longer hear Huggy's voice. Whatever he was saying was upsetting Starsky. "Do I need reminding!? Who do you think ? Once an addict, nothin'! It's been years.... Damnit, I know that, too. I live with junkies every day. No, I What kinda damn fool question is that? You think I'm gonna say the hell with it? Okay, okay. Hey, look, I'm sorry, okay? It's just a bit too much to Yeah, I know. If you hear anything else.... Right. Thanks, Hug. No, I mean it. Thanks."
He replaced the phone and leaned back, oblivious to Meredith's presence. "Please, God, not again," he said, for nobody's ears. Meredith left him alone. He seemed to need it. She could be a policewoman... later. He finally turned to her. "Sorry."
She took his hand. "Can I help?"
"I don't think so. I don't know anything for certain yet." He squeezed her hand. "Where were we?"
She started to tell him that he was free to pay attention to more immediate concerns, but he stopped the words on her lips. Once again, she felt him imprisoning worries to give them their due later, and trying to keep them from spoiling their time now. He was gentle and considerate as he recaptured the mood and made love to her but the laughter had died.
hung up the phone. There it was. He'd obey the summons and set up the final
meeting. He had to notify Miller and Osgood. Shortly after that, their Hitler's
Youth clones would start to crowd him. He might be calling the shots, but they
weren't going to trust him too much.
He had seen enough of Miller's retinue of young goons not to be terribly impressed with their brain power. He didn't doubt he could shake them, but spooking Miller and Osgood at this stage of the game was the last thing he cared to do. He had to find a plausible reason to disappear for an hour or so after the meeting with the dealer's representative. He thought briefly and picked up the phone. Being considered a man contaminated by low-life had its advantages.
Her drawl came through after the third ring. Hutch was again reminded of a young girl trying hard to be seductive but not quite managing to hide her natural innocence. "Hello, Sweet Alice. How's my girl?"
He didn't have to identify himself. She squealed in delight, then launched into admonishments. He never looked her up anymore. She'd seen him a few times, and he'd looked as bad-tempered as a sharecropper cheated out of his wages at the county-line dive. Had he lost his way to his barber and wasn't anybody taking proper care of him lately?
Hutch let her chatter on, inexplicably grateful at having a truly caring voice in his ears again. She soon asked what she could do for him. Sweet Alice wouldn't delude herself by thinking Hutch would call her for the pleasure of hearing her voice. He carefully outlined what he had in mind.
"You have to make it convincing, Alice. Think you can?" She had listened to him silently, and stayed that way. "You'll be in no danger, sweetheart, I promise."
"I know. It's just "
Hutch heard the unspoken. Alice might dispense pleasure hourly, but she was no street corner hooker. In fact, she was terrified of that life. Walking the streets at such an hour, in that part of the town, unprotected until he showed up wasn't a nice prospect for her.
"Hutch, is this really very important?"
She'd never been able to hide the soft spot she carried for him. He knew exactly what to say and hated himself for it. Everybody used Alice. It seemed he was no exception. "My life may depend on it, sweetheart."
The reply didn't miss a beat. "I'll be there."
Now Hutch had to quickly find Washington's snitch he'd been keeping track of and arrange for another phone call. Then there was one last thing still left to do. He had to go to his safe deposit box, bring the documents up to date, find an official of the bank to request that, unless he showed up to claim the contents of his box in 24 hours, they should be turned over to one Sergeant David Starsky at Metro Police Department. Afterwards, he could go to Miller.
The lights were on in Meredith's apartment and music drifted out. They had separated after lunch to halve the time it took to run down some leads. Obviously, Starsky had ended his day early. She let herself in.
"There you are. I was gettin' worried." Starsky came out of the kitchen, mouth full of something, a dab of whatever on his nose. He was barefoot and barechested, but a frilly apron was tied over his jeans and one of her dashingly colored African bandannas adorned his head, struggling to contain the curls. The curls were winning.
"Don't tell me," Meredith chuckled. "The last chapter you read in The Joy of Sex was `How to Meet Your Breadwinner at the Door.'"
"Huh?" He followed her gaze and looked down at himself. "I was cookin'. It's hot in the kitchen. But I won't complain if it's workin'," he added out of the side of his mouth, eyebrows going into their up and down dance.
"May I eat first? What's for " She cut off.
They chorused: "Spaghetti." Starsky smiled.
"Naturally," concluded Meredith. The smile threatened to turn to a pout and she hurried to assure, "You know I love spaghetti." Good thing, too, since it was one of the few edibles Starsky managed to produce. Over and over again. At least when he cooked spaghetti, he succeeded in restraining himself from throwing everything but the kitchen sink in it. She kissed the tip of his nose: clam sauce, out of deference to her tastes. "Especially when I don't have to slave over the stove."
"Talkin' of which, sit down. I'll be right with you."
shrugged out of her jacket and holster, kicked off her shoes, sank on the couch
and put her feet on the coffee table.
She had been depressed and angry all the way home, but there was something irresistible about Starsky which never failed to lift her spirits. However, that is not it, she thought as he decided to accompany the song on the radio. He could do a lot of things well, but he had been absent when musical ability was passed around. Judging by the way he belted out songs, he was absolutely ignorant of that fact unfortunately.
A glass was pressed into her hand as Starsky plopped down beside her. She had time to take two sips of the wine. Starsky seemed to have his own ideas about what constituted an appetizer.
"I'm gonna start usin' your first name," he said, nuzzling her neck.
"I like Meredith just fine."
"Well," lips trailed around her face. "There're times I'd like something, you know, more intimate." He paused on the corner of her mouth and tried out, "Joan."
Meredith groaned. "At least make it Jo."
"Joan is my mother. I've always been Jo."
"That's all well `n good, but I ain't callin' out `Joe' during more tender moments."
She caught on. "Not Joe. Jo. Jay-oh-period."
"It still sounds like Jay-oh-ee," he grumbled.
Meredith started laughing. "Dave, you have the strangest prejudices."
"Where was I," he asked, lips going back to their occupation, "Meredith?"
"There now. Isn't that much better?"
"What say I cut it down to Edith?"
"I'll kill you!" She grabbed a pillow off the couch and swung it.
"No? Meri, then?" He warded off repeated assaults of the pillow. "Edi? Redi? Oh, I like that! No? Red? Won't do?" He finally wrested away the pillow, his body ending up squarely on top of hers.
"Dinner," she reminded sternly.
"Oh, yeah." He looked crestfallen. "Sure?" She nodded. He pushed off of her, repeating, "Dinner, dinner."
She followed him into the kitchen, discreetly turning off the radio on her way before he got the urge to exercise his vocal cords again. He looked up and down her, then sighed and turned to the pots. "So tell me about your afternoon. It might take my mind off, uh, things."
She gave him a rundown. The recital was taking away the light mood he had put her into, the squalor of back alleys casting their pall over the cheerful kitchen. "We might have to stakeout the Baltimore Motel on Division," she concluded.
"I might get something there without a stakeout. I know one of the old-time residents."
"Don't bother," she said, the depression now back full force. "I already talked to Marcellus Cobb. That's why I was late. He knows nothing. He's not in any shape to know what's going on around him."
"You did what!? You dug out a spaced-out hype in that rat hole all by yourself, without a backup? Damnit, woman "
The anger came out. "Don't you patronize me! I can make my own judgments. Cobb's been broken past the point of being dangerous to a kitten. He's so damned scared someone's going to lean on him and cut off his juice again, he babbles without prompting. He was terrified because he didn't know anything to give me, to keep me off his back, as he thought. Imagine a grown man, a war veteran, shaking in terror in front of me because he caught the flash of a badge."
"Well," Starsky mumbled, defeated, "still, the procedure says "
"Look who's talking of procedure! Since you're so well versed in procedures, tell me, was the person who harassed Cobb into a blithering idiot following procedure?"
The lid crashed noisily against the pot as Starsky slammed it down. "What is this? Charity Hour? Cobb's been a hopeless hype for years. A gutless, spineless cretin who can't see past his next fix. Why are we bleedin' here?"
"He wasn't always!" she shouted back, the pitiful image of the wasted black man in the remnants of a jacket which had once been the uniform of an officer still in front of her eyes. "He could've been helped in time. But he became a source, left to sink or swim out in the sewer. And the people who use him don't even have the decency to know what's use and what's abuse."
"What the hell are you accusin' "
She overrode him. "Why does someone become a snitch? To eke out whatever marginal survival he can. We sacrifice them constantly for The Greater Good, in the name of our Law and Order."
"Damnit! Don't act like you don't know how it works out there. I get enough of this drivel from bleedin' hearts who have no idea what it means to put your life on the line daily, with your hands shackled by their laws. We do the best we can. Someone has to. Yes, we lean on people, because unless they're scared of us, they'll soon know how scared we are of them. Sure, we use them for `The Greater Good,' because, damnit, that's the only way to keep this city from gettin' blown to hell. And if some go by the wayside, if someone gets lost in the shuffle, well, sorry `bout that. But I can't start cryin' over men's inhumanity to men in each `n every case, or one day I'll shove my gun into my mouth and blow my brains out."
"Don't give me platitudes," Meredith snapped. "Just tell me what Law and Order, what Greater Good Marcellus was sacrificed to by your precious ex-partner?"
An immediate silence engulfed the kitchen, punctuated by the plop-plop of the boiling-over sauce nobody paid attention to. Starsky had suddenly gone very pale and rigid.
"Tell me a story I can believe," she pushed. "Because if you can't, there are other stories out there which are starting to sound too damn likely. You've clammed up on me, and I just might be holding information that should be taken to Dobey. The fact that I heard it while in bed with you doesn't make it sacrosanct. Washington believes Marcellus was abused because he happens to be black. Huggy's afraid he was serving Hutchinson's own addiction. If you have a nicer story, you'd better tell me now."
"Washington's a fool and Huggy's got a big mouth," hissed out from between Starsky's clenched teeth. "And you you can do as you damn well please." He turned and left, stopping only to pick up his scattered belongings, and tear off the apron and the bandanna. The door slammed resoundingly after him.
"Goddamn you, Hutchinson!" Meredith shouted at the deserted apartment.
That outburst aimed her anger at the right target and toned down her reaction to Starsky. She pulled the overflowing pot from the stove, turned off all the knobs, reclaimed her drink and went to sit on the couch.
Detective Hutchinson was the crux of this mess. Huggy was a friend, caught between a rock and a hard place, almost as confused as Starsky, and Washington was not a fool. He was a good, conscientious cop, with some overactive sensitivities, maybe, but they were nothing she didn't also have. In fact, Washington was the partner she would have liked to have, if it wasn't for the totally exasperating, stubborn, irreverent, curly-headed whirlwind she...
...cared very much for.
Meredith sighed. It hurt to know Starsky would rather walk away than let her into the part of him reserved for his ex-partner. Still, she found it hard to condemn friendship and loyalty of eight years' standing, however misguided they might ultimately prove to be. That against-all-odds staunchness was one of the things she loved in the man fate had inconsiderately thrown into her path.
She couldn't go to Dobey. Of course she couldn't. Try as she might to exclude Starsky's involvement, Dobey would see right through it. If Hutchinson had slipped onto the wrong side of the law, she'd be making Starsky an accomplice, at least by his silence. As long as she couldn't bring herself to jeopardize the man she loved, how could she blame him for protecting someone he loved.
Starsky didn't even realize he was half-naked until the night air slapped against his skin. He threw the t-shirt into the car and pulled on the jacket, zipping it up to his chin, shivering at the contact with the chilly leather. Not bothering with socks, he put on the sneakers, leaving them untied, in an irrational hurry to be on the move. Only when he was some blocks down did he realize that he had no place to go to in such a hurry. Lacking any other sanctuary, he headed home.
Huggy had forgiven worse sins as usual, the thought of Lionel wrenched painfully at his insides so surely he could forgive Huggy for revealing Hutch's history with heroin to Meredith. The black man was infatuated with the lady. There wasn't much Meredith couldn't get out of him. Besides, the way things were shaping up, Huggy had probably felt a very real need to confide in someone. Confiding in Starsky hadn't been too useful. He discarded that anger.
And no more anger was left. Washington's accusations were too silly to waste time on. Once past the heat of the moment, he knew he wasn't really angry at Meredith. Slamming the door behind him had been no solution, just like walking away in anger one evening hadn't solved anything. Problems just changed; they didn't go away. He cared for her. He trusted her. Why couldn't he open up to her?
He knew he'd trust her with anything involving himself, including his life. But he simply couldn't bring himself to put Hutch into hands which didn't have too many reasons to be gentle.
Sometime during the night, Starsky got tired of pacing and the silence, and grabbed the phone,
"`llo?" The voice was fuzzy.
"Meredith?" He wondered if she was going to hang up, but the line stayed open. "Did I wake you?"
"It's all right."
"I said it's all right."
"Meredith, I'm sorry. About earlier, I mean."
There was a brief pause. "I am, too." Another pause followed. "Dave?"
"We have to talk about it sooner or later, you know."
"Are you coming back?"
"Uh...not tonight. I'm beat."
"Is it, really?"
"For tonight. Goodnight, Dave."
He felt much better when he hung up. Actually, he had wanted to go back. But at the moment, he knew the main thing to come out of his mouth would be: please, if you love me, don't do anything to harm Hutch. He couldn't blackmail her through her emotions. She had to make her own decisions. He could only hope they would be decisions he could live with.
He went to bed.
Hutch coasted his car to the sidewalk, trying to find Alice in the crowd typical for midnight on Sepulveda. He noted one car slipping into a space some distance behind him. Another passed and found a spot on the corner of the next block. Yet another rounded the corner, turned sharply and came to a stop facing the opposite direction. Now they had a car instantly ready to follow him whatever direction he took. They weren't taking any chances.
He got out of the car and headed for the 24-hour hotdog stand on the corner, giving the impression of a man in a hurry. Wondering what was keeping Alice, he looked up while his order was being readied, and intercepted the inviting glance of a young man dressed in a cut-off halter top and a pair of jeans that had to be an agony to wear. Jesus, just what I need, he thought, quickly looking away. On the other hand, if he had missed Alice, and the boy was bold enough to put forth an insistent invitation, it just might serve as a substitute. He would have to figure out how to get rid of him later, and Osgood would probably swallow all his perfect teeth, but as long as
A soft warmth brushed against his back. He turned and did a double take. No wonder he hadn't been able to spot her. She was in a gaudy gold dress and a flaming red wig. He drew a relieved breath while she whispered a throaty invitation.
He pretended to refuse, got his food, took a few steps, stopped to look back at her, and she did a good imitation of displaying her wares. He shook his head mournfully, the picture of a man in a hurry who still hated to miss out on the offering. When he rounded the car to get in, she was there, trapping him against the car. Her hand slipped between them. For all purposes, she looked like a hooker supplying extra temptation to a reluctant customer, but she wasn't touching him. Sweet Alice wasn't a presumptuous soul.
Credibly, he played a man losing reason to glands, pitched the hotdog into a trash can, and followed her up the narrow steps of the motel. Once in the room he had instructed her to reserve in advance, he lightly kissed her on the forehead.
"Sweetheart, you're wonderful." She beamed. "Lock the door and stay put until I get back."
He went out and slipped through the door that led from right next to their room to the staircase. They might be watching all exits, but they would not be expecting him to go up. At least not yet. He would have to be more careful coming back. He reached the roof, went across the adjoining ones until he could go no further without imitating Superman, took a fire escape down and found his way to the back alley for the rendezvous, hoping Washington would show up. Of course, the detective wasn't going to be pleased at finding Hutch when he was expecting his snitch who had promised a juicy tip. Well, as long as he showed up. If not, the only thing left to do was to get a note to Dobey through Alice and hope for the best.
It felt interminably long before he heard somebody approaching. He melted further into the shadows until he could identify the person.
"Washington, over here."
The man whirled, trying to distinguish the form in the dark. "You!" The next thing he did was to swing, hard, and connect.
Hutch straightened, rubbed his jaw and spoke mildly. "That's out of the way. Can we talk now?"
"I've nothing to say to you!"
"Listen then. I need your help."
"I don't have much time. What can you lose?"
"My self-respect, for starters." It was more sullen than hostile. "And I don't know what else, considering the company you keep." The man was scanning the area with wary eyes.
"We're alone," Hutch assured him. "We can go anywhere you wish, but make it quick. Take out your gun and cover me if you want. Just listen."
"I'm not afraid of you, honkie. Talk."
Hutch quickly outlined the situation. Washington wasn't convinced.
"Why don't you go to Metro if this is on the up and up?"
"I don't have time, and there are other reasons. The red tape will take too long for one thing, and I don't have much credibility lately."
"Amen," Washington interjected.
"Look, I need your help. I'm out in the cold and I have no one to back me up. I waited as long as I dare. Even Dobey doesn't know anything. It's your job to tell him."
"Oh, yass sir boss," Washington drawled sarcastically. "What'd po' li'l ole me do to deserve this honor?"
"Cut it out, Washington! I don't have time to dance."
"Neither do I, man! You give me a song and dance and I'm supposed to fall for it? Why the hell did you wait so long if something this heavy is coming down?"
"Because I was being watched, even in the department. Osgood has an inside man. McInroe. Watch out for him."
"Mc Inspector McInroe!?" Hutch nodded. "That's ridiculous. He's been great. He's always asked " Washington cut off abruptly, suddenly looking none too sure of himself.
"What?" Washington didn't answer. "He's always asked about me, right? Wanted to know how things were between us. Do you believe me now? At least a little?"
Washington avoided a direct answer. "Tell me one thing, straight out. Why me? I'm not the only cop you know."
"If you want the truth, I figured I owed this to you."
The black man mumbled something about Greeks bearing gifts. "This buddy act after what we've been through is hard to swallow, Hutchinson. I don't like it and I don't like you. How do I know you're not setting me up?"
"Cover yourself any way you want. Call out the National Guard for all I care."
Waves of distrust still emanated from the young man. "Got an answer for everything, don't you? Well, I'm not finished with the questions."
Hutch held back his impatience. "Let me guess. What if I was in it up to my neck and there was a falling-out among thieves, and now I want my pound of flesh, duping you to get it, right? You've got a good brain, Washington, use it. Don't you see it's your game now? You can play it any way you want. Okay, you have good reason to hate my guts, so I'll give you something else. I left a trail a mile wide and no official cover. You're the only one. I kept some records, but you can pass those off as my insurance policy against my partners-in-crime. Simonetti in IA would be more than happy to help you out. I also have a heroin addiction behind me. It's not in my record, but enough people know if you want to check. Huggy and Dobey know. Starsky does, too, but he won't tell you. If you play it right, I'll come out looking like another cop gone bad. You want me, this is your chance. I don't care. Just don't let the bastards get away."
"And why is that worth so much to you?" Hutch shrugged. There was no way to explain it right then. Washington studied him out of narrowed eyes. "What if I said yes and didn't show up?"
Hutch considered it seriously. "I've played out my hand. I can't go on. If no backup shows, well, I'll still have my gun. Guess I'll take out as many as I can until they take me out. I won't let that much horse hit the streets because of me without doing something to stop it. But consider this. With or without me, they're going to make a buy. What's a dumb cop gone berserk compared to big profits? If they're not stopped, the poison's going to flow. Whose veins do you think it's going to flow into?"
Washington frowned, assessing Hutch and thinking. He nodded. Reluctant, wary, but he nodded. Hutch slipped him a piece of paper. "The addresses for the warrants. If we can hit these dens before the bust becomes public, we can dig up a lot of skeletons."
"We, you, I don't give a damn, as long as it gets done. As I said, what you do with me is your choice."
"Get out of here," Washington growled.
Hutch took special care finding his way back to the room. Softly, he identified himself and the lock tripped. He squeezed in and saw that Alice had been worried. He checked his watch. "Jesus! Well, one look at you and no man can wonder what took me so long. Thank you, Alice," he added sincerely.
"You have to go now?" Her disappointment was clear.
He took her hand. "Look, when this is over, how about letting me take you out to a nice place for dinner and dance?" He couldn't dance worth a hoot, but Sweet Alice wouldn't care. She wouldn't expect more from the date, either. Still, she looked like a kid promised special consideration by Santa.
"I'd like that fine, Hutch honey."
Hutch totally ignored her on the way out, as befitted a man who'd taken his pleasure, and prayed she would get home safely. Two cars bracketed him when he pulled out for Miller's home, the third soon followed.
Miller greeted him, parked him with a drink, and disappeared, to get a report, no doubt. "Sure took you long enough," he grumbled when he returned.
"I stopped..." Hutch pretended to stammer, "to get, uh... something to eat. "
It served well enough, although Miller had a pinched look of distaste he couldn't hide. Once the plans for the next morning were discussed and he offered Hutch the guest bedroom for the night an offer Hutch knew better than to refuse he also pointedly mentioned a shower. You son-of-a-bitch, Hutch thought, I'd be more worried about being contaminated by your bed. He obediently took the shower, though, and went to bed. One way or another, it was ending. It took some time and effort to relax the bow-string muscles, but finally he slept.
The phone splintered his already restless sleep. Starsky groped for the receiver. "Hmmmm?"
"Starsky, is that you?"
"Hmmm? Yeah.... Yeah, Hug."
"Do us both a favor, man. Get up, stretch, get a glass of water. You need to be awake to hear this."
That was enough to wake Starsky up without further measures. "I am. What is it?"
"The big buy down at the waterfront?"
"It's goin' down tomorrow, sometime before noon. Somewhere around the warehouse district, south docks. That's all I know. And before you ask, yes, he's buyin'. And, man, a lot. The backers will be there also, as I hear." Starsky was silent, furiously thinking. "Uh, the info cost quite a bit. Shouldn't've committed you without checkin', but I thought you'd like to "
"Forget it, Hug. I'll cover it. That's the least of my worries. Damn! Anything else you can give me?"
"Okay. Thanks. Later, Hug."
"Whoa! Hold it. Just outta curiosity, you gonna let Metro in on this?"
"Uh, Hug, that's "
"None of my business? Make an exception once, for old times' sake. Are you?"
"Well...no. Not right away, that is. Hey, look, it's "
"Hey, look, nothin'! This is big, Starsky. This ain't no time to make like Lone Ranger, unless you wanna hi-ho it into the next world. Don't be an idiot, friend. Like it or not, he ain't worth it no more." Silence met him from the other side. "Starsky, at the very least, this means your badge, if not an accomplice charge. He's in it up to his baby-blues, and you can't pull him out clean just by wishin'." Starsky kept the silence around him like a stubborn cloak. "Oh, man. There ain't nothing I can say to change your mind, is there?" Dead air. Huggy cursed softly, then offered, "Hey, uh...you want maybe I should go with you?"
"No! No way. I mean it. If I see you anywhere around, I swear I'll handcuff you to a lamp post!" His voice softened. "I appreciate it, Hug, but this is mine, okay? I'll handle it. Thanks, and don't worry, and let it go at that."
Huggy sighed. "Good luck." He was muttering angrily to himself as he hung up.
Twilight Zone, Starsky thought, this can't be happening. Hutch, why? Are you on that junk again? Strung-out? Hurtin' enough to do anything? Don't you have someone to turn to?
No, maybe he doesn't, he thought as he checked the time. Four o'clock. He rolled out of the bed while he considered his options, already aware that there was only one. He couldn't let anybody know. Internal Affairs would love it. This would give Simonetti and Dryden the jollies they'd been praying for. The way Hutch's credit stood lately, probably the whole damned precinct would cheer them on, and Dobey wouldn't lift a pudgy finger this time around. It was between himself and Hutch, who else was left to bother?
Hutch's car wasn't in front of Venice Place, which meant nothing, considering the clunkers he kept finding spent most of their lives getting repaired. Walking up the narrow steps again felt strange. It was even stranger to feel like an intruder while doing so. You're going to talk to me, Starsky decided with determination, whether you like it or not. Eight years give me some rights.
There was no answer to the knocking. He reached up and found the key over the door, which meant Hutch was out. Just in case, he opened the door to check. Light spilled from one bulb, and there was no need to take more than two steps into the apartment to see that it was empty. The only door inside was the one to the bathroom and that was open as usual. Starsky shut the front door, thinking that even it, the main entrance to Hutch's sanctuary, was wide open for all practical purposes, as he replaced the key in its accessible place.
For somebody who doesn't believe in doors around you, buddy, you sure have a lot of `em inside. Guess I always knew that just never dreamed you'd slam `em on me one day. Now to find a friend, he had to go through police procedure. He had done that before, but never doubting that Hutch wanted to be found by him in those cases.
How the hell did we get so screwed up?
Hutch seemed to be tight with one character in the crowd he was running with lately. Starsky had seen him being brought in or picked up by a flashy sports car that smelled of money. Without knowing why, he had noted the license plate. It was a start. He picked up the radio.
The address given by the Motor Vehicles was in the Woodland Hills neighborhood. When he got to Miller's residence, the battered LTD was out front, looking pitifully out of place. He knew talking to Hutch would be out of the question. The answers would have to come in a roundabout way. Starsky considered the unsubtle presence of his red Torino with the racing stripe, and called the police garage to ask for an inconspicuous, unmarked car to be delivered to him. He turned his own car over to the young cop who had brought the requested vehicle to be taken back to Metro, then chose a tree-lined side street to settle down and wait for what the morning would show.
Hutch was put into a car with three young men, who he'd seen before at the rifle range. He quickly confirmed that they were all armed.
"I hope you don't think we'll all be invited in," he commented through the car window to Miller. "They agreed to three men. I had to fight to get them to accept us coming in armed. One look at this bunch and it'll be a bloodbath."
Miller squirmed uncomfortably. His courage seemed to consist of the crowd around him. "They won't try to go in."
Hutch jumped out of the car, slammed the door and grabbed Miller's arm to pull him away some distance. "Listen, Jonathan, this is the plan. First, I scout out the neighborhood to make sure everything looks okay. Then I go in, see the stuff, test it, and then I call you and Thorn. You come in with the money, we exchange briefcases and get the hell out of there. That's the set-up. You're asking for trouble if you don't follow it to the letter. Now, these boys, I'm sure they're wonderful troops, but in this situation, they're babes-in-the-woods, not to mention excess baggage. Either I call the shots, or I'm out right now."
"Don't get upset, Kenny. What do you want?"
"You tell them, right now, that they take their orders from me, and be sure they understand it. They'll come with me to scout the area if that makes you feel better, but afterwards they'll stay where I put them."
Miller went to talk to the young men. Pecking order established, Hutch got into the car, and he and the three muscles pulled away.
It was a leisurely drive. Nerves had made Miller and Osgood insist that Hutch leave too early. Out of habit, the detective was keeping an eye on the flow of traffic around them. Something touched his awareness, was instantly gone, then came back, to vanish again. Hutch paid attention; it was never wise to disregard his instincts. He stared at the rearview mirror, wondering why he had this vague expectation of seeing a red blur behind them. There wasn't a red car around to be seen. For some reason, a brown Chevy, some distance away, was drawing his attention.
"Change lanes," he told the driver.
"Do it," he said tightly and the man obeyed. "Again."
"Now I'm in the left turn lane," the driver complained.
"So turn." He added halfway into the turn, "Change to the right lane quickly and just before the next intersection, ease into left again, but don't turn." A few more maneuvers and he knew. The brown car was totally inconspicuous; its trailing pattern was anything but. At least to him it was he'd know Starsky's driving anywhere.
He felt uneasy. Of course, there was no reason for Starsky not to be a part of the stakeout. He just hadn't prepared himself for the possibility, that was all. Everything was all right. It meant Washington wasn't trusting him. Else, why the tail when he knew the place and the time for the buy? But that was all right, too.
So why was this cold feeling traveling up and down his spine? He followed up on the warning. Starsky would tail them to the warehouse and then.... Then what? If his ex-partner stayed true to form, he'd place himself as close to the action as possible, in the most visible part of the stakeout.
And Starsky didn't know that Miller, who'd recognize him on sight, would be there.
He cursed himself for not anticipating this development and warning Washington. One glance, and Osgood and Miller would run. After all that planning, all that work, with the end in sight. He felt like hitting his head against the dashboard. There was nothing he could do now. He would simply have to follow through and hope for the best. It was also possible that Miller would not see Starsky at all until it was too late. Maybe it would all work out fine, and he would have worried over nothing.
Another thought jolted him and he couldn't leave the resolution of that possibility to a vague `maybe.' He remembered Miller at the shooting range, his uncanny accuracy and speed with a gun, and shivered. As nervous as he was, what would happen if Miller spotted a policeman where there shouldn't be one? Having no immediate proof of duplicity, he would hesitate before turning on Hutch, but he might be willing to take out a Jewish cop and ask questions later.
The stakes had suddenly soared too high to trust to fate. He had to keep Starsky away, and he had to do it now, before Miller had the smallest chance of stumbling over him.
"Pull over to the curb," he instructed the driver. "Easy." The car came to a stop. He addressed one of the men in the back. "You, go buy yourself a pack of cigarettes."
"I don't " the model-of-clean-living started.
"I don't give a shit what you don't. Now!" He hoped he could keep them in line by being overbearing. He turned to the driver. "Change places with me."
"Goddamnit, is this how Miller trains you whelps? Move your ass!" The young man sullenly obeyed. After the cigarette-buyer returned, Hutch slowly moved away from the curb, keeping a close watch on the brown car.
"Pay attention. We have a tail." There was an orchestrated move to turn around. "Eyes ahead!" Hutch snapped. Herd. Half a century in existence, and they're still a herd. "It's a cop I recognize."
There were noises of dismay. "If you're going to panic, we can go home now and the children can go to bed after you explain to Miller how you didn't have the guts to stick with a mission. Use your heads. If the cops knew anything for certain, why should they need to tail us? Someone's been careless, and they're checking it out. Nothing to sweat over, but we have to shake him. And we have to do it before we meet Miller and compromise him." That would get their cooperation. A bit too much cooperation, he realized, when hands dipped into jackets. "Don't be idiots! You hurt a cop and the whole force will be all over us. This will be done my way and I'll personally take apart anyone who tries to improvise. In fact, give me your guns. Come on, or I'll walk out right now and you can deal with the rest yourselves."
The man sitting next to him took out his gun and hesitated, confused. Something was going wrong and he wasn't used to taking the initiative. He was obviously wondering if he should obey or turn the weapon on Hutch.
The blond man smiled at him, a lazy smile which held nothing pretty. "Make up your mind." The young man looked from the predatory smile to the icicle-sharp slits the eyes had become, and meekly held out the gun. "Wise choice. Think what would've happened if I had walked in on the deal under the gun and said I didn't want to play because I had spotted a cop on our tail."
All the guns were passed to him. It wasn't easy while driving, but one by one, he dropped the clips onto his lap and handed them back. Now no one could get zealous. "Don't worry, they'll be just as effective as long as the cop doesn't know they're empty. All we need to do is to strand him. Pay attention."
fell back a little when the car he was trailing left the city streets and
entered the southbound traffic on the Harbor Freeway leading to San Pedro Bay.
Huggy was reliable as usual. Unexpectedly, the car took an exit and headed east
on Artesia. They were out of LA and into Long Beach. Starsky followed them onto
the Riverside Freeway, and shortly Orange County was also left behind. It dawned
on him that he might not be able to get help fast if he needed it, but he kept
going. He cursed when the car got out of the freeway traffic, and eventually
turned onto a dirt road. Starsky fell back and cut down his
speed drastically to cut down on the telltale dust cloud he was leaving.
He rounded a boulder, hit the brakes, quickly backed up and parked the car. The road in front of him dipped, led to an abandoned factory, then went off in two directions. No vehicles showed on the wide clearing. The car had to have stopped at the factory. This definitely was not the waterfront district, but maybe plans had changed overnight. There was no way of driving without advertising himself. He had to go on foot.
He was among the towering piles of metal and cement blocks in ten minutes, feeling better about having cover. How to find Hutch in this maze was the next problem. Then he saw the fresh tire tracks on the ground. He pulled out his gun and followed them. Looking out from behind a corner, he located the car. Hutch was standing next to it. Another man in front of him blocked Starsky's view. Keeping behind cover, he tried to approach.
"Don't move," somebody said, and the steel against his spine reinforced the command.
"Put your hands up," another voice joined in.
The gun was taken out of his grip. He attempted to look back, but was stopped by strong hands and another dig of the metal. A cloth slipped over his eyes, got tied behind his head. He felt someone removing his handcuffs and keys. His hands were pulled back and fastened. It was all done quickly, economically, in virtual silence. He realized they had been aware of him and waiting. As soon as he had felt the blindfold, he had relaxed somewhat. Sight only mattered if the person was going to be around long enough to make use of what he saw. Blindfold was insurance to both sides. However, he was disgusted. A lot o' good I can do Hutch like this.
Without waste of time or words, he was dragged, not too roughly, helped up some steps and into something. Metal clattered under his feet, and it felt like a grille was behind his shoulders. Then motion started, accompanied by loud metallic screeches and groans. Freight elevator, he decided. Hope it still works okay. The stomach-lurching jerkiness of the ride told him it was being done manually, on an emergency pulley. Those things usually needed two operators on the massive gears. There had been four people in the car. Two were with him. No one else had been around, no other cars. Hutch?
He felt like laughing at the sense of betrayal. You suspect he's involved in a heroin deal and you're outraged because he won't balk at turnin' a wheel? Still. What the hell kind of hold do they have on you, Hutch. Oh, God, I think I know, and I don't want to.
The ascent seemed to go on forever. He kept himself steady by bracing his legs apart and finding a rail behind him to grab. Any more, he thought, and I'm gonna throw up. The elevator came to an uneven stop. Apparently, it wasn't level with the floor; he had to be hauled out of it. Then, as simply as that, he was left, the elevator now protesting at its journey down. Knowing he was very high up, he felt around while still sitting, afraid of sudden drops. He seemed to be perfectly secure and alone.
All right. First things first.
The handcuffs presented little problem. He stretched out flat, relaxing his whole body for a few seconds. Then he contracted, pulling up his knees as far as possible, pushing his calves into the backs of his thighs and curled into a tight ball, shoulders meeting knees, at the same time forcing his close-together hands past his buttocks and feet. Pain shot up from his wrists cutting against the metal restraints, but his hands were now in front of him. He yanked off the blindfold and stood up, remembering how incensed Hutch always got because his lower body was too long to duplicate the trick with the handcuffs.
He was at the top of an openwork storage silo. He shuddered a little and closed his eyes briefly to tell the feeling of vertigo to go away, he didn't have the time. He dug into the little pocket at his waist, barely managing to slip the spare key out of its customary place through the tightness of the jeans. Unlocking the cuffs took some maneuvering, but he finally managed it. It dawned on him that Hutch should've been able to predict everything he had just done. He hadn't told anybody, so maybe he wasn't as much of a puppet as he appeared.
He realized the awful noises of the elevator had ceased. He rushed to a railing in time to see the car drive away in a cloud of dust. Nobody here. Nobody else came. The meeting place hasn't changed. This was just a detour to get rid o' me. Damn!
He dashed about, looking for a way to get down. Both freight elevators were on the ground. He couldn't pull one up by himself, let alone going down in it. He had to climb, using the struts lining the sheer walls. It would take time. They looked solid, wide enough, and comfortably close together, but it was so far down. And he had never liked heights.
Hutch put the testing paraphernalia down and reached for the phone someone who had to be a wrestler was holding. He got it away from the man, dialed the number of the public phone Miller and Osgood were waiting by. "Come on in," he said shortly when it was answered.
He had nothing to do but sit and wait, accompanied by a half-circle of silent companions, so still that they could've been carved out of marble. He memorized each face, knowing he'd have to identify them in court one day. Stationed at various parts of the cavern of the warehouse were guards, as silent as their masters. Too many, and too much firepower. If Osgood and Miller panic, we may not walk out of here.
Keeping himself from any nervous moves, he studied his surroundings. There was a large sliding door behind him, opening out to the street, and one in front, half open to the wharf, through which he could see a fair-sized cabin cruiser, probably with a reinforced engine. He didn't worry about it. Coast Guard would be alerted as was usual in any stakeout bordering on water. The boat was their problem.
He had checked the stakeout while still with Miller's underlings, under the guise of making sure the area was secure for their precious patrons. Everything seemed to be ready. He gave his attention to his immediate surroundings, finding comfort in the noises of the `repair crews' working along the street in front of the warehouse.
The windows looking out on the street were long and narrow, situated high, almost flush with the ceiling. There were guards at those windows, on planks running the length of the front wall on each side of the door, set on wood supports. There was a forklift parked in a corner, with a heavy platform in the front to carry crates. Might come in handy.
Another thing that was definitely promising was the circular staircase rising 20 feet to disappear into the ceiling, leading to the second floor of the warehouse. He had noted from the outside that the upstairs had no steps leading out to the street. It was only a long-term storage area, serviced by cranes. It would be a long fall onto cement for anybody trapped up there.
A barely perceptible motion passed through the assembled crowd and Hutch knew Miller and Osgood had arrived. He rose. Once they walked in, it would be a matter of minutes. The large doors in the front parted a little to admit the two men, both carrying briefcases.
They were on the edge and showing it. Hutch felt it ripple the surface of the taut atmosphere around him. He stayed relaxed, hoping his own attitude would settle the unease. Miller and Osgood approached, some of the guards around the door following on their heels. When they were near the makeshift table, Hutch smoothly maneuvered between the two men, knowing that shortly it was going to be vital to have both within arms' reach.
Nothing and no one moved, then Miller and Osgood cast nervous glances at the detective. Hutch was amused. Suddenly they were like sheep, begging for the shepherd's lead. Out of your depth and not so superior now, are you?
He motioned at them to put the briefcases on the table. They obeyed with alacrity, dropping them on the table with discordant noises. Hutch calmly stepped forward to turn them around, in line with and on both sides of the briefcases filled with plastic bags already there, lifted the lids, then stepped back. The money was checked while the detective wished Miller and Osgood would stop fidgeting. In contrast, he felt icy calm himself, as if the blood were cooling in his veins, slowing down to contribute to his stillness. All his senses had become sharply focused in readiness, but quiescent for the moment, waiting for the pump of adrenaline for the extra edge to start functioning. It was a familiar sensation, very welcomed: the hunter on his ground, his prey in reach, the danger of the hunt only adding to the enjoyment. He felt in control and in charge. So I didn't lose it after all.
The sellers closed the lids on the cases holding the money in acceptance. With precise motions, Hutch closed the cases holding the heroin, signaling their own acceptance. He motioned at Miller and Osgood to pick them up before dropping his hands to his side. Amateurs, he thought as they both reached with their right hands. The dealers had long since arrived at the same conclusion. Watchful eyes had dismissed the two men and focused on the detective. They know I'm in control, Hutch thought. Hope it'll hold. Should be any second now.
Hands also reached for the money, but before anybody could make contact, a bullhorn blared outside. "This is the police. You're surrounded. Come out with your hands in the air."
There was a frozen fraction of a second, then it splintered into motion. What Hutch did was to instantly reach out and firmly grasp Miller and Osgood's wrists before their hands could complete the frantic grabs for their weapons.
"Don't move," he hissed, knowing that with the odds so heavily against them, their only hope was to prove they were also the victims of the situation. He kept his eyes on the short, balding man directly in front of him, the only person who hadn't bothered to pull a gun. He was clearly the leader.
"Don't move," Hutch repeated at Osgood and Miller, stressing the order with a sudden tightening of his hold on their wrists before he released then. Paying no attention to the sound of gunfire erupting behind him, he slowly pulled open his jacket, lifted his gun out of its holster with fingertips, and held it out, eyes still locked with the small, slivered ones measuring him from across the table. He waited for the verdict.
Obviously, his act was good enough. A nod dispatched the guards covering the three men to other parts of the warehouse. The cases holding the money were swept off the wood surface, and the group by the table turned as one, hurrying to the back exit. The heroin was left on the table, telling Hutch they were free of the suspicion of duplicity, but on their own.
He got his hand securely around his gun. "Get them," he said, indicating the briefcases. For the moment, they were isolated in the middle of the action, but Hutch didn't want to give the two men time to collect their wits. Besides, one of those road-repair vehicles was bound to come crashing through the front door, and the police didn't need the guns at their back as they came in. He had work to do.
"Do you know how close you came to getting us killed," he snarled to keep them off balance. "You don't ever go for a gun in this kind of situation until you have permission!"
"What...what hap How do we ? " Miller was babbling.
Hutch shoved them toward the steps. "Up. Find the connecting door to the next warehouse." Which doesn't exist, he didn't say. "I'll cover you."
He waited impatiently until they disappeared, then ran for the forklift. He quickly threw it into gear, turned it, and hoping the narrow rails across the top would protect his head, sent it plowing through the wood supports holding up the planking the gunmen stood on. Screams and sounds of splintering, tumbling wood replaced the gun fire, except for some shots now aimed at the detective. He slid low to squeeze himself under the dash, keeping pressure on the gas pedal, one hand up to hold the steering wheel locked in position. He knew he had run the length of the front when the forklift came to a crashing stop against the side wall. Stunned for a moment, he stayed still, then shook his head to clear it, and fought to climb out of the metal and wood prison the vehicle had become from the falling debris. He felt something warm dripping on him, looked up, and saw a bloody body grotesquely stretched over the rails of the cab.
Gunfire had started again. The mound he was behind seemed to be the target. Still shaken and too off-balance to start returning fire, he just stayed low, collecting himself. An earsplitting noise of buckling, tearing metal interrupted everything. The front door was down under the assault of a tracked road vehicle, and officers started pouring in.
Taking advantage of the chaos, Hutch climbed out of the debris, rolled behind some crates and ran for the steps. He was up them and into the second level within seconds. He rushed around some more crates, finally locating Miller and Osgood, who looked like rats lost in a maze.
"Kenny, there's no way " Miller implored frantically.
"All right, hold it right there!" The authority in his voice and the Magnum pointed straight at them froze both men. Osgood panicked into reaching for his gun. "Don't tempt me," Hutch warned.
"Kenny...?" Miller said, bewildered.
"Officer, to you. You're both under arrest."
Miller stared for an instant, then thought he understood. He started shouting hysterically. "You turncoat! Selling your friends to save your "
Hutch heard running behind him before he could disillusion Miller further. "Police," snapped a voice. "Drop it!"
They were mostly waterfront district cops; they wouldn't recognize him. Hutch slowly lowered the Magnum to the floor and kicked it back. Someone roughly grabbed and pushed him against a wall. "Spread `em." He obeyed, keeping an eye on Miller and Osgood who were also being frisked.
"Let the blond go," a voice called out. Hutch identified Washington. "He's our undercover man."
"Underco !" Miller sputtered.
Hutch hadn't given a thought to how Washington would ultimately play it. He hadn't thought he'd care either way; now he realized he did very much. "Thanks, Washington," he said sincerely as he straightened.
"That one is mine, Hutchinson." Washington pointed at Osgood. "You want the other one?"
"Do I! Jonathan Miller, you are under arrest for trafficking in illegal substances." Before the day was out the charge sheet would be a mile long, Hutch hoped. "You have the right to remain silent...."
Washington turned Osgood around none too gently.
"Get your hands off me, nigger!"
"You have a foul mouth, man. Do me a favor and exercise it in the slammer. I'd love to see how quickly you'll get your tongue cut out. Now pay attention."
During the reading of Miranda, Dobey charged in, huffing and puffing. He took in the situation. "You all right, Hutchinson?"
"I'm fine, Captain." He realized the blood stains on his clothes and hair were causing concern. "That's not mine."
Now that Dobey was assured he had a healthy man on his hands, he let loose. "Detective Sergeant Hutchinson, I'll see you in my office, where I'm going to personally pin your ears back. And when you're done with the stint in Traffic I'm going to give you, I'll be retired and too old to care about your hare-brained thick-headed, infantile stunts." A chubby finger wiggled expressively in front of Hutch's nose. "Of all the unprofessional, undisciplined, unorthodox, unbalanced, underhanded "
"Captain," Washington interceded, "with all due respect, sir, by the time you're done, we'll be retired and too old to care. Can we take these creeps in now?"
Dobey waved them on. "Yeah, yeah. Go on. And good job, Washington." A grudging grumble followed which sounded a bit like: "You, too, Hutchinson."
"Didn't quite catch that, Captain," Hutch said, all wide-eyed innocence.
"Get outta here!" Dobey bellowed.
Hutch felt ridiculously happy and content. By the time he was out in the daylight, though, something was prickling his euphoria. "Washington, didn't Starsky report in yet?"
"Starsky? Why should he?"
"Wasn't he in on this?"
"Not that I know of, and I'd know."
What had Starsky been doing then? He'd have to find out later. First he had some Nazi cells to visit, some more evidence to collect.
Finding the Chevy and the radio inoperative hadn't angered Starsky too much. It was expected. But the condescending way his keys and gun were left on the front seat had been galling, as if he only rated a casual shove out of the way to warn: stay back. During the long walk down the dirt road, the slow-burn had turned back to worry. He was so late.
Luckily, the main road was a major artery. Starsky barely remembered to thank the driver of the truck that had picked him up, jumped down and ran to the first taxi he spotted. It dawned on him that he didn't know exactly where he was going. "San Pedro and Wilmington. Just keep driving through the south harbor piers."
The Long Beach Harbor on San Pedro Bay was the largest on the Pacific Coast, handling more than 20 million tons of cargo annually. The streets choked with all manner of transportation and transportables reflected its massive workload. The taxi slowed to a crawl. "Get outta here," Starsky snapped impatiently. "Don't you know your south from your north? I want the outer harbor."
The outer harbor was the older one, in service for close to a century. It was showing its age, parts of it now obsolete and left to erosion. Starsky sent the taxi through the streets, in and out of each and every one, not sure what he was looking for.
However, when he saw it, there was no mistaking it, and his heart sank. Black-and-whites were converged around a warehouse, uniformed cops, narco units, and waterfront officials were all over the place.
"Wait for me," he said as he jumped out of the cab, noting by the loads being carried out of the warehouse and absence of handcuffed prisoners that he'd caught the mopping-up end of a bust. Don't let this be it, he thought, while knowing that two big deals in the same area was too unlikely a coincidence. Hutch, where the hell are you?
He didn't recognize the officers. They had to be from the 14th precinct. He approached a group, flipping open his badge and identifying himself.
"Hey," someone said, "another one from Metro."
The grudging tone told Starsky that Metro had stepped on some toes. "What happened here?"
"Oh, not much. Just the biggest heroin bust of the decade and we get the shit-detail while you guys get all the glory."
"Look, I don't know what the hell's goin' on, and I don't care. I just wanna find someone. Anybody here know Detective Sergeant Hutchinson from Metro?"
"We had too many of your hotshots here to keep count," the man snapped.
"He was...uh, on the inside. Tall, long blond hair, real light, wearin' a black jacket?"
"On the inside?" another officer joined in. "Does he carry a .357?"
"Yeah, that's right," Starsky answered, wondering what that meant.
"He must be the one I disarmed. Remember the blond you frisked up there?" the Oriental officer asked another one, pointing at the top level of the warehouse.
"Oh, him. I think he was gone with the first batch of arrests. Check with your own department."
Starsky ran back to the taxi, feeling sick. "Metro Police Department. Step on it," he shouted at the driver. Too late. Too damn late.
The taxi pulled in front of the Metro. Starsky jumped out and dashed up the steps. He almost crashed into some uniformed-cops rushing down, outfitted with helmets, bullet-proof vests and high-powered rifles. Meredith, also outfitted, was in the middle of the crowd.
"Where have you Come on!"
"What's goin' ?"
She shouted without stopping. "Come on, we have a sniper. An officer down already!"
Starsky froze, caught between two imperatives, unable to respond to either.
"Damnit! Are you coming?"
was his partner, going into action. An officer was down. He cursed the loyalties
tugging him in opposite directions but
not kind enough to split him into two.
He snapped out of immobility. "My car," he shouted, ran to the Torino, and vaulted over the hood.
Meredith jumped in, attached the Mars light to the roof and filled him in quickly. "Corner of Jefferson and South Main. Two dead, more injured. He's on top of an eight-story building. Sounds like he's got a goddamned ammunition dump up there. Downed the chopper. The pilot had the sense to aim for a deserted construction site."
She tuned in the radio, and that's when they learned that the marksman in the chopper had bailed out; the pilot hadn't been able to. A few blocks later, the cross-talk on the radio informed them that the top staircase of the building had been found rigged. The bomb squad was coming in.
Starsky cursed as he rounded a TV van on its way to the site like a homing pigeon. The Torino screeched to a stop behind hastily erected barriers. The detectives jumped over the wires some news crews were trailing all over the place. Starsky pushed away a microphone someone thrust in front of his face as soon as he flipped open his badge. More officers than should be spared were kept busy with crowd control. He heard Meredith shouting for someone to get into the office buildings to clear the windows of the spectators she had just spotted. She caught up with him as he skidded to a stop behind a black-and-white.
"Go get your gear," she said.
"Uh, that's okay."
"What do you mean that's okay? Go back and get it." He raised his head, assessing the situation. "You have your gear, don't you? Starsky?"
"Certainly I have it. Just not, uh, in the car."
Hands fumbled at his head and a too-tight helmet slid down over his eyes. "Hey!"
"Shut up! We'll share mine until I find another set. Since you insist on sticking that air-space out, you get the helmet." Before he could argue, she was gone, heading for the Coordinator's van.
"Baleboosteh," he muttered, following her.
Lieutenant Warren of Special Task Force saw them coming and pointed up. "The bomb squad's going in. Cover them."
Under protective fire, the bomb squad slipped into the building. When ground barrage ceased, another answered from the rooftop, causing no harm, except to the vehicles. Starsky and Meredith ran low to Warren.
"Do we have an ID?" Starsky asked.
"Has he concentrated on any place?" Meredith wanted to know. "Any particular office or store?"
"Indiscriminate, as far as we can tell."
If they could have established a grudge directed to a specific location, it might have been possible to track it down to an identity, and hopefully, to some people the sniper was inclined to listen to. Without an ID, the detectives had no place to go. STF could deal with the sniper; the investigators were there to investigate.
"We'll get our people out to ask questions," Meredith said, without the slightest trace of optimism. It was too big an area, and too crowded to find anyone with answers, which may or may not exist there in the first place. But procedures had to be followed.
"Go ahead. I'll see if he's changed his mind about negotiations."
Starsky was looking up at the buildings. "No chance of higher ground, I see."
"Not since we lost the chopper. I won't send another up unless absolutely necessary." Warren pointed at two buildings to the east and north of the sniper's location. "The best we can do is get level with him. Trouble is, the roof he's on is blocked in very well. A lot of cover, even a blasted rooftop herbarium up there."
"He's gotta be familiar with the building. At the very least, he spent a lot of time there, setting up. Is the building emptied?"
"Top floors. They're barricaded at the lower levels. Couldn't get them out without exposing them to fire."
"Come on, Meredith, let's find some phones," Starsky told his partner, then asked Warren: "Got a directory for the offices in there?"
"You set up your center. I'll get one to you in a little while."
A briefing room had been hastily converted into an operations center for the prosecutor's staff. The District Attorney glared at Hutch over the piles of reports and depositions when the officer walked in and added another inch to the paper mound.
"Detective Hutchinson, do you know how little of my family I see as it is?"
Hutch ran a hand through his wet hair. He had finally gotten around to washing the blood out of it in the locker room. "That should be most of the major stuff."
The DA rifled through the additions and handed them to a secretary, to be passed onto his assistants busily dividing up the work. Shortly, he noticed that the blond man was hovering over his shoulder. "Something on your mind?"
"I was wondering, can they claim entrapment?"
"You want to know if they can or if they will?"
"Can they? Sure. Will they? You bet."
Hutch sighed in irritation. Trust a legal mind to equivocate over terminology when the answer was the same in both cases. He decided again that he had been well rid of that law degree. "And?" he insisted.
"Can they get away with it? And don't," he extended a finger into the DA's face, "quibble. Can, will, whatever. You know what I mean."
"You're really worried about this, aren't you?"
How could one possibly put it into words? Its closest analogy was a woman carrying a fetus to term, now awaiting delivery. Hutch couldn't explain it. A person either felt it in his guts, or he didn't.
"All right. Of course they'll claim entrapment. It's the only leg to stand on, and in the normal course of legality, there's some sound foundation for it."
Hutch slumped. "Well, at least they can't involve the department. Only me."
"Cheer up, Sergeant. I said `in the normal course.' Assurances are scarce in our professions, but I can safely give you one now. They won't get far with it. This is one case where the public opinion is going to work for us. All the liberal press is going to be on our side for a change. The Capitol started burning up the phone lines. NAACP and the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai Brith have already jumped on it, and that's just the beginning. There might be a lot of closet sympathizers out there, but believe me, nobody who's anybody will be interested in committing political suicide. So in this case, there's a big difference between can and will. Can they try? Yes. Will they succeed? No. Public opinion is going to bury them. You can relax."
Relieved, Hutch leaned back against the wall. The DA gathered some papers and continued. "Speaking of public opinion, I should start to generate some." He went out to talk to the reporters choking the corridors of the precinct. He was the picture of cool, dignified professionalism, but Hutch could almost see the politician inside rubbing his hands with sadistic glee.
An interoffice door opened and the desk sergeant stuck her head in. "Ah, Hutchinson. Dobey wants you. This way, if you don't want to be mobbed."
"Be there in five," Hutch said as he brushed past the sergeant, heading for the bathroom.
Finding it deserted, he gratefully locked the door, needing a few minutes alone. With the adrenaline pumping all day long, he was still high-strung. There was a jumpiness in him, which, now that the whole thing was all over successfully, was turning into sheer exuberance. He felt an overwhelming urge to move, run, laugh, shout something! It was almost like the times he had come home with a good grade or some honor gained on the athletic field, barely able to restrain the words until there was someone to blurt them out to. His skin felt too confining, and he restlessly paced the small enclosure, something bubbling inside, begging for an outlet, needing
Suddenly, he realized what he wanted to do and came to a stop. He stayed still for a moment, then shook his head and went to splash his face with water.
Progress of sorts, he mused, leaning on the sink. The last time I wanted to share something with him, I was throwing up my guts in the john.
He looked around. Still in the john, though. Oh, hell....
He dried his face and headed out. Dobey was waiting. Besides, he had been all of three years old when it had been impressed upon him, in no uncertain terms, that if he was foolish enough to break something, he should at least be man enough not to cry because he wanted it back.
On the way to the Captain's office, he looked out the glass door into the crowded corridor. The heroin bust was going to send Miller and Osgood up for a long time, but that was paling in comparison to the aftershocks. Documents confiscated at various locations had revealed a web of political intrigue. Many city and state officials had been pulled in it; even the FBI hadn't been spared. It was going to take a long time to untangle. In the meantime, the press was having a field day.
Hutch noticed some familiar figures, waiting at the door to an interrogation room, and went to Washington's desk. "What's IA doing down here?"
The black man was wearing a smug smile. "Sharpening their claws, itching to take a swipe at McInroe."
It was news to Hutch. "You mean we got him?"
"Sure did. These people are incredible. They've never heard of discretion. McInroe was on their payroll list, in clear black and white. It's like they wanted everything perfectly documented for posterity, like they never for a second thought they were doing anything wrong."
that's a break for us." An uneasy pause followed, until Washington said:
"Uh, Hutchinson, look, I'm sorry, okay? I
mean, for "
Hutch interrupted. "I know. So am I. I was going through a bad time and you caught the worst of it. I know there's no excuse for "
It was Washington's turn to interrupt. "What say we call it even and start over?" He held out his hand and the blond man took it.
Dobey was hanging up the phone when Hutch walked in. "That was Captain Lee. 14th precinct isn't pleased with you." The first that waterfront district police had heard of the bust going down right under their noses had been when they'd been hastily recruited to give a hand with the raid. Tempers were frayed over there, as well as their red tape. "You'd better get down there, help them write their reports, and you be nice."
"Yes, sir," Hutch readily agreed.
"Don't waste time, though. So far, I've kept you safe from the news hounds so you can wrap up your case. And they were more interested in catching the big names hiding their faces. But they won't give us room to breathe until they get a piece of you, and you know it."
"Captain, couldn't you ?"
"No, I couldn't! Get it over with so we can get `em out of our hair. I expect you back soon."
Hutch knew he'd lost the argument. He headed for the door and stopped. "One more thing, Captain. Marcellus Cobb. I sent him from downtown to the waterfront, then followed right on his heels. If anybody adds it up I think we should bring him in."
Dobey considered. "Bring him in, sure. Then what do we do with him? Isn't he too far gone?"
"Maybe. Maybe not. What's that clinic upstate? O'Hare's? I hear they have a good success rate with cases others won't touch."
"O'Hare's is not a charity organization. It's an exclusive and expensive clinic."
"If you can pull the strings to get him in, well, I'll see to the rest." Grandfather's trust fund had to be good for something. Hutch's insistence that they would live on a rookie officer's paycheck while the fund collected dust had been another reason that had sent Van packing.
"Don't get your hopes up, but I'll see what I can do," Dobey said. "Tell the patrol to pick him up. And you get back here as soon as you can."
Starsky was chafing at the bit. Bomb squad was taking forever to clear the staircase. They were now checking air vents and heating ducts to the roof, to see if they had also been tampered with. In the Ambassador Travel Agency they had commandeered, the detectives had spent hours talking to people on the phones, who either knew nothing, or sent them on wild-goose chases after things like a donut delivery boy who'd looked suspicious. They were regularly accosted by someone or another who demanded to know when they could get back to work. Starsky had run out to check the company that maintained the building, figuring that a repairman had the best chance of setting up something like this, but had come back empty.
"Some of these might lead somewhere," Meredith complained, "but I don't have the uniforms to send out on every obscure hint."
Starsky realized they had been rather short-handed. "Where the hell's everyone?"
"I'm not sure. I was out tracking a witness on that extortion case all morning. I heard Dobey and Washington were up all night, setting up on a hot tip. Apparently, it broke just before noon. It must've led to other things. When I got in, people were rushing out on warrants covering creation's half acre."
The constant worry in the back of Starsky's mind crested with full force. "Uh, you hear anything about Hutch? See him, or anything?"
The subject was obviously still a sensitive one to Meredith. "No," she answered shortly. She looked out of the window at the overcast sky. "It's going to pour. If it gets dark, we'll be here half the night."
She jumped when Starsky slammed both fists on a desk. "I can't take it anymore!" he burst out. "There's gotta be somethin' " He was out the door before the end of the sentence.
"Starsky!" she shouted after him, and grabbed a cop to push him in front of a phone, thrusting her notes at him. "Take over." She ran after her partner, but Starsky was already pulling away in the Torino.
He headed for the construction site, locating it by the wisps of smoke still escaping from the `copter wreck. There, he found what he was looking for. He brought the car to a turn on its axis, drove back, and pulled to a stop in front of some STF officers.
"Anybody know how to operate a crane?" He motioned at the officer who nodded. "Get in. Rest o' you, clear traffic on Jefferson to Fourth." He didn't hear Meredith shouting after him in his hurry to be gone.
"What did he want?" Meredith demanded to know from the officers.
"He asked us to clear traffic on Jefferson to Fourth."
"Clear it then."
"We have to check with our Lieutenant," someone indignantly pointed out.
"You get to work. I'll clear it with Warren." One partner acting like a damned fool was no reason for the other to stop supporting him to the best of her ability in whatever scatterbrained scheme he had cooked up.
Meredith was still with Lieutenant Warren when a noise made them turn to see the crane approaching on Jefferson, the boom raised as high as it could go. She didn't have to see into the overhead cab to know exactly which idiot it contained.
"What the ?" Warren was saying.
"Your men still on the rooftops?" Meredith asked.
"Yes. What's ?"
"My partner's up there. We have to cover him."
"Your part He's a detective! He's got no business "
your men to keep him covered, damnit! We can argue the red tape later." She
took off at a run for one of the tall
buildings. She'd have Starsky's hide later. First she'd have to keep it safe, if possible. Warren had given the order. Fire was erupting from the two buildings to the east and north of the sniper's roof, hopefully forcing him to keep his head down. She found a spot for herself and her rifle on the rooftop.
It had suddenly hit Starsky as a personal affront. Ordinarily, he was philosophical about being the Dutchboy with his thumb in the dam, trying to hold back the deluge from people who didn't even appreciate his efforts to any degree. But all at once, it was too much to take. A maniac was holding him hostage to his twisted whims while he plodded through useless procedures, with his guts tied into knots. He was going to put a stop to it.
Too infuriated to remember his dislike of heights, Starsky rode the crane bucket, scanning the rooftops in front of him. The kid maneuvering the crane knew what he was doing. He had swung the boom around so the bucket was approaching the building from the southwest, out of the way of the cover fire. The sniper was still able to fire, though. He had to stay low, so it was haphazard and mostly went wide, but some hit the cab, a few even ricocheted inside.
The load block was hooked to cables; the bucket swung wildly, making it almost impossible to aim. Starsky got in one good shot, saw it hit the crouching man squarely, and was ready to stand when he realized the sniper was wearing a flak jacket and the shot had only stunned him briefly. He couldn't sight the much smaller target the head presented from his mobile position. He was eight feet over the roof, with the herbarium between him and his target momentarily. He jumped, landing in a roll. Someone had to be watching closely; the cover fire immediately ceased.
"Officer in the line of fire!"
Dead silence fell around Meredith's abused ears. She scrambled to her feet and ran to the exit. The elevator carrying her down took interminably long while the idiotic chant inside her head went in a loop: You get yourself killed, David Michael Starsky, and I'll kill you.
She indiscriminately plowed through the crowd to come to a sliding stop next to Lieutenant Warren. "You have to get the second chopper up!" Warren seemed inclined to argue. "This is it," she shouted. "Now we can trap him in cross-fire. Come on, that's my partner up there!"
However furious Warren was with the meddling Metro detectives, he still grabbed the mike to issue the order. He also applied an iron grip on Meredith's shoulder before she could rush off. She clamped down on the cry that almost broke out; even through the vest, the kick of the rifle had left her with a mass of bruises there.
"No," Warren stressed after he put the mike away. "You're not going up. One unauthorized idiot is plenty."
All Starsky could do was to protect himself as much as possible and hope for the openings which were few and far between. He had taken the STF officer's rifle, but had no extra ammo for it. He had his own weapon and plenty of clips but the small gun couldn't begin to measure up against the sniper's arsenal. He wished he had listened one of those times when Hutch had tried to talk him into a .357, instead of saying, sure, the first time we go on an elephant hunt.
A bullet shattered the glass right over his head. He felt stray shards stinging on his hands. This position was also becoming untenable. He located a cement block and rolled for it, reaching it scant seconds ahead of the trail of bullets that doggedly followed. The sniper now knew exactly where he was. He couldn't keep the man guessing as he could behind the much larger cover of the herbarium. It was fast winding down.
It came even faster than he'd expected. As soon as the hail of bullets died down, another noise it had been subduing became unmistakable: the whirr of chopper blades cutting through the air. Starsky risked lifting his head to see it rising like a bird of prey from behind the sniper. Caught unaware, the man also jerked his head up, the light skin of his neck suddenly becoming visible against the dark collar and the blackened face.
It was pure reflex that made Starsky immediately lift the rifle and fire. His mind was busy registering surprise. He had thought the man was black, but now realized he'd darkened his face like a combat soldier's. The high-powered bullet found the vulnerable flesh and tore it to bloody bits.
The chopper was coming down for a landing when Starsky knelt by the corpse. Only a major muscle on one side of the neck was still keeping the head attached to the body. Starsky averted his eyes, swallowing hard. One never really became immune to carnage. The man was dressed in jungle fatigues, decorated with military insignias. The blood-splattered combat medals were familiar to the detective from his days in Vietnam. Another victim of a war that insisted on leaving its swampy, sweltering wilderness and haunting the asphalt jungles of a city half a world away.
Mechanically, he searched the pockets and carried what he could find to the chopper, without bothering to check them out. He already knew more than he cared to about the man he'd left lifeless in a pool of blood; he wasn't interested in an identity to carry around with the image. Let someone else mop up. He had places to go to, the living to worry about.
"Take me down," he told the pilot. Rain was falling into the premature night brought on by the heavy-bellied clouds.
Meredith was furious, that much he could see from the set of her jaw and sparking eyes. He also saw Warren bearing down on them and knew he was in trouble. Worse than either, TV crews were edging closer.
He quickly thrust the documents into his partner's hand. "Take over, please. I have to go."
"You !" she spat out and couldn't seem to find the words to properly convey her anger.
"I'm sorry. Really, I am. It just got Please, Meredith. I have to go. Please." He felt he was about to be trapped by the crowd.
Something in his look caused Meredith to parole him. "Go." She turned to intercept Warren.
hour traffic, made worse as usual by the downpour, added to his frustration. The
image of the dead man would fade; it was part and parcel of his existence, long
since accepted. However, right now it was still upon him. He'd once been young,
too young to have turned to dealing out terror and death. Starsky knew the psych
profile only too well. The investigation
would reveal him to be a quiet, introverted, studious young man, and those who knew him would shake their heads in disbelief. Of all people, they'd say, who'd have thought? But Starsky knew that it was precisely those who were alien to horror before they were cast into hell that ended up exploding or finding refuge in the oblivion of drugs.
There had been three choices in Vietnam. The easiest way out had been to intercept a bullet. If one were to survive, he either grew up quickly and learned to cope, or became a time bomb.
Starsky would forever live with the day he had grown up. Not in the middle of a battle, or in the insidious jungles which claimed more lives than enemy bullets, or in one of the innocent-looking villages turned into death traps. It had happened on a relatively peaceful day, right in the middle of a secure camp. Kids were always dashing in and out of compounds, and when he had seen the child running, his first thought had been if he had any candy to offer her. She looked about seven, but with the starvation rampant in the country, could've been as old as twelve.
Next second, he had realized the child had explosives strapped all over her small body, and she was heading straight for the mess tent, overflowing with troops. Knowing that in another minute she'd be dead anyway, taking others along, hadn't helped one bit when he had raised the M-16. For an instant, he had seen his machine gun tear a jagged path into the frail body, almost severing a stick-thin arm, then the explosives had gone in chain reaction, finishing his handiwork with painstaking thoroughness. In that instant, he had grown older than he ever cared to be.
His immediate reaction had been blind, impotent rage. He would have gladly burned the world to get to the monsters who had turned a small child into a self-destructing weapon, and him into an executioner. He had stayed drunk for a week and had awakened in a stockade, covered with scrapes and bruises from whatever free-for-alls he had managed to throw himself into. The rage had been gone, in its place a deep hurt for the innocents, the pawns, the helpless, the misguided. Maybe his choice for the direction of the rest of his life had been made then the protector of the innocents to atone for one terrible choice that had been forced on him.
It wasn't their fault. Not that emaciated girl-child's, not the young man's who had ended up a corpse on a rooftop it wasn't Hutch's fault, either. There were too many users out there, too many vultures. Heroin addiction had been forced on Hutch, and ever since then he had to live with a fault-line in his body, in his mind. If Starsky hadn't been so damned blind, he'd have seen how Hutch had been steadily sinking for the last year under loads nobody should carry alone. Instead of helping, he had allowed one sin to destroy years of loyalty and had left his friend by himself in the jungle, fair game for anyone who wanted to take advantage. Someone may have discovered his vulnerability and decided that a new addiction would make a perfect puppet out of him. That was the only conclusion which made any kind of sense. Although Starsky had been alerted, he had been too slow to do anything about it, holding onto a ridiculous resentment like a selfish child. Now it might be way too late, and he would never forgive himself.
In all likelihood, Hutch had been arrested earlier that day. Up until now, he had been functioning as a police officer, however miserably. That probably meant he'd been getting small fixes frequently. After half a day in a holding cell, he could be alone and hurting. Not much Starsky could do about the hurting, but Hutch wouldn't have to go through it alone. Hopefully, he could run some interference, beg Dobey to let him take over the questioning and spare his friend the handling by those who didn't care.
Afterwards? Well, there was such a thing as bail. And bail-jumpers? Why the hell not? There were other cities. New York, for one. He knew his way around there enough to stay a jump ahead of the law until Hutch kicked the habit again. If he was too far gone this time for cold withdrawal, Nicky, with his shady connections, should be able to find a doctor who'd keep his mouth shut and supply him with the necessary drugs for rehabilitation. And after that, there were other countries. One thing he knew, as long as he drew breath, Hutch was not going to jail, into the mercies of those he had helped put there.
Hold on, babe, he thought, as he said to hell with the regulation that insisted he couldn't use the siren unless he was responding to an emergency and slapped the Mars light onto the roof.
The precinct was overflowing with reporters. Exactly how big was that damn bust? Starsky wondered, pushing through the crowd. He managed to make his way to the reception desk.
"Where's Hutch?" he demanded of the desk sergeant.
"Should be at the 14th precinct," was the answer.
"14th ? What the hell's he doin' at ?" Were the arrests divided between the precincts? He was angry at himself for not having checked while he was there. Now what was he supposed to do? He didn't have any IOUs to collect at the 14th. Maybe the Captain could be persuaded to intercede. He had to get the full story from someone, anyway. "Dobey still here?"
"In his office."
He went to the squadroom, hurrying to the Captain's office, when he was intercepted. "Oh, Starsky."
He glared at Washington, thinking, If he gloats, he'll be pickin' his teeth outta his tonsils.
"Hutchinson was asking for you," the black man continued, smiling.
Starsky felt terrible. When the chips came down, who else was there to ask for. Except he hadn't been around. And if Washington didn't wipe that smirk off his face
What came out of the detective's mouth next was unexpected. "I owe you an apology. You were right and I was wrong. I'm sorry."
That threw Starsky. "Huh?"
"About Hutchinson. But, damn it, how was I supposed to know? Even Dobey didn't know. I think he's still trying to decide if he should kick the man or hug him."
Starsky was getting bewildered. "Hold it hold it a minute. What the hell're you talking about?"
"Where have you been? Don't you know what's been going on here?"
"Looks like, don't it? Tell me."
Washington did. In detail. Enthusiastically. As it sank in, Starsky started to feel weak, as if he were going to pass out. "Hey, are you all right?" said Washington. "Hey, Starsky?"
Dobey's door opened. "Hutchinson's not back yet. Go out there and talk to
those reporters. They're going to
fawn on somebody if it kills us all. Might as well be " The Captain noticed Starsky and assumed a chastising tone. "Ah, so there you are! I just got off the phone with Lieutenant Warren. What do you mean by sticking your nose into Special Task Forces' business?"
He continued scolding, but Starsky wasn't hearing any more. The blood that had drained out of his face rushed back up, scalding him, pounding in his ears. I don't believe this! I dash about like mad, shreddin' my insides all day long, I charge into the rescue and SURPRISE: I'm not needed shit, I'm not even wanted! One guess, idiot, as to whose idea it was to strand you at that fuckin' factory. Keep outta the way, boy. Don't be a pest. The Hero of the Day is collectin' his laurels, and I'm standin' here getting' chewed out. Ain't that funny? Ain't that a scream?
I've had it!
Starsky tore out of the squadroom while Dobey was still talking. The same outrage carried him like a spearhead through the crowds in the halls, down the steps and into his car. Viciously, he put it into gear and roared away.
Idiot, idiot, idiot! I get ready to break every rule in the book sure, why not? Throw away everything, think of makin' an accessory of your own brother, bargain for junkin' your job, even your country, settle for never seein' your mother or girl again and for what? `Cause Hutch needs me.
clumsy feet, still in the mire,
Go crushing blossoms without end;
These hard, well-meaning hands we thrust
Among the heart-strings of a friend.
The ill-timed truth we might have kept -
Who knows how sharp it pierced and stung?
The word we had not sense to say -
Who knows how grandly it'd have rung?
'Tis by our follies that so long
We hold the earth from heaven away."
They were in the middle of the dark parking lot, streetlights casting desolate circles of lights here and there. Under their glare, the streets, wet with the recent rain, extended from the lot, looking like the glistening tentacles of a dangerously quiet creature. City sounds filtered through the fog. The beast was dormant here, but busily masticating its fodder elsewhere. A sluggish breeze brought up the smells from the polluted waterfront.
At that moment, Starsky uncannily fit his surroundings. Light refracted off the droplets which had failed to soak through the wild tangle of his hair, and shone in wet streaks off his leather jacket as it would off a serpent's skin. His stance was a predator's. Hutch stared at the apparition, mesmerized by it. It had sprung into his path, seemingly out of nowhere.
"Almost spoiled your pretty little bust, didn't I? Was it worth it? Tell me, damn you, was it worth it?"
What...? Worth it? Hutch remembered how good it had felt to know once again he had accomplished something that made a big difference, and breathed out the truth. "Yes, it was worth it." Too late, he realized Starsky was talking of another kind of cost. "Starsk, I had to get you out of the way. There was a "
"Outta the way, that's right! Outta sight, outta mind and outta the way. Kick the ghosts outta the way if they don't have enough sense to stay dead, bury the skeletons, collect the skulls cause when you reach the top, it'll all be worth it!" He was slowly circling the taller man.
... " Hutch pleaded, wishing Starsky would attack like he obviously wanted
to, burn up the anger, and then maybe
there'd be a chance for words.
"Why are you still here, Glory Hound? Don't you know you've got a cheerin' section at Metro, all waitin' for the chance to make a hero outta you? You ain't gonna disappoint `em, are you? No, them you won't disappoint. Oh, am I in your way? You wanna get me outta your way again? Or are you too good to do your own dirty work? Come on, get me outta your way. Make a move, damnit! No one here to do it for you like there was this mornin'."
Hutch was too weary to respond to the threat of the storm about to erupt around him. It seemed as good a time as any to ask the question which had been burning through him all day. "What were you doing there?"
Starsky's mouth was already open to continue the baiting; the answer rang out with the same anger. "I thought you were gettin' hooked on that shit again!" He seemed to choke once the words were out, as if he hadn't meant to reveal that. His expression turned to confusion.
On that ? What? Heroin? Oh, God, of course. Something constricted Hutch's throat. "What...what were you going to do?"
"Stop you, what else?" Starsky spat out. "If it wasn't too late."
"And if it was? Too late?"
"Huggy's again, I guess. I don't know! How the hell do I know?"
Don't do it, Hutch's mind screamed at him. You've done this to him too many times. Don't play the `How much do you love me? Show me Tell me' game again. But the words were already past his lips. "Why? After all that's happened, why?" A small creature inside him jumped up and down with unholy glee: Tell me, tell me, tell me....
The features of the dark face twisted with fury again, but now Starsky's rage had found a new target: himself. "Because I'm a fuckin' idiot, that's why! Because I'm so goddamned stupid that I don't know how to junk something when it's gone stinkin' rotten. I can't smell the sewer when I'm hip-deep in it, that's why!"
For an instant, he looked ready to hit Hutch, then he whirled around, looking for something, anything, to vent his rage on. They were in an empty portion of the lot. Nothing handily presented itself. He made a choking sound, and took off down one of the streets, his erupting energy fueling his headlong rush, only a razor's edge away from allowing his momentum to carry him face-first into the wet pavement.
"Starsky, wait! Oh, God, I'm sorry!" Hutch started after him. "I'm so sorry. Please, wait." Then he couldn't spare the breath to shout anymore. The man ahead of him was running as if he was hell-bent on exorcising demons and one way to do it would be to burst his lungs.
The streets became narrower, turned into obstacle courses of broken-down buildings, deserted crates, and piles of refuse. They were empty, save for the ever-present possibility of night creatures haunting their shadowed recesses. Hutch couldn't see past a blur. He had neglected himself for too long. The once proud and powerful body, which Starsky could then only keep up with through sheer tenacity, now couldn't take the exertion. He let himself be guided by his hearing, then the pounding blood in his ears cut off that avenue as well. The protest of his muscles finally defeated his determination. He simply couldn't gasp in enough air to replenish what his body was furiously burning up. At the entrance of an alley, he collapsed. He slid down a wall onto the wet sidewalk, with his arms tight against the inferno in his chest, and stayed curled up in a ball of misery.
He had no idea how long he stayed there. The next thing to reach his awareness was the sound of someone approaching. The cop in him said he was in a dangerous place, but he couldn't bother. Ostriches had the right idea.
"You idiot!" It was hissed out of a throat that was obviously as abused as his own. "You dumb ass! What're you waitin' for here? Someone to slit your throat?"
So, he's back, his brain registered distantly, and that activity exhausted it again. He sensed Starsky slipping to his knees.
"Get up," the voice grated on. "Get the hell outta here." A wet slap sounded on the wall next to his ear. "You sonuvabitch, don't do this to me!" Starsky kept slapping at the wall to rouse him from his stupor, but something had curled up on itself inside him and he didn't have the will to untangle it.
"I'm tired, you hear me?" the voice rose, "I'm tired, you bastard! Sick `n tired of carin' what happens to you. So why don't you get your carcass outta the rest of this garbage dump and outta my sight? Cause I quit got that? I quit! I'm sick of carryin' you around like a hole blasted in my gut, I'm tired of hurtin' and I don't give a damn no more. I don't care. If you're gonna go to hell, do it in your own handbasket, `cause I don't care!"
Hands had roughly grabbed him. Fingers dug painfully in his shoulders, shaking him, and he didn't have enough strength to resist. He stayed like a limp doll, which seemed to infuriate Starsky even more. The hands pulled him further forward, then gave a shove back, releasing him at the same time. His head snapped backwards until he steadied his neck and leaned sideways into the wall. He thought he heard a sharply drawn breath, then there was only silence. Mildly curious, he opened his eyes. Starsky was right in front of him, but he didn't look angry as Hutch had expected.
"Don't," he whispered softly. "Come on, Hutch, please don't."
Hutch would have done anything to obey that plea, but he had one problem. He didn't know what it was he shouldn't do until Starsky reached out to brush awkwardly at his face. He then realized he had been crying; how long he had no idea. Mindful of Starsky's request, he immediately tried to stop. The attempt only succeeded in turning the easily flowing tears into heaving sobs. Miserably, he hid his face again.
"Aw, Hutch," Starsky mumbled, resignation edging his voice. "I didn't mean it. You know I didn't mean it. I mean, I do hate what's happened to us, and I am tired of hurtin', and I wish I didn't care, but I can't turn it on `n off like some machine. I do care and there ain't a damned thing I can do about it, so don't cry, huh?" Predictably, that only increased the flood pouring out of Hutch. "Shit!" Starsky said.
The huddled man panicked at the possibility of exasperating Starsky into leaving for good this time, at his inability to stem the flow. "Please," he managed between sobs. "A minute. Didn't give up...so far. Please. Don't now. A minute...'s all."
"Aw, shut up, dummy," Starsky grumbled. "Ain't goin' nowhere." Tentatively, an arm came around Hutch's shoulder, moved a bit as if checking to make sure it still fit there, then settled with comforting familiarity. "Jeez, Hutch! How did you tap into the ocean? All right, all right, let it all out. Probably good for the soul or somethin'."
It took longer than the minute Hutch had asked for, but he finally quieted. "Got something left to walk on?" Starsky asked. The arm around his shoulder slipped under his arms to help him up and stayed firm until Hutch pulled himself together.
Wordlessly, they trudged up the hill. The rain had started again, but neither was in any shape to be too enthusiastic on their feet. The parking lot didn't look so malevolent to Hutch this time, except if it had been another step away, he was sure, he wouldn't have made it there.
Starsky unlocked the Torino and motioned him into the back seat. "Lie down. You look ready to pass out." Hutch obeyed. At that moment, he would have obeyed Starsky had he been asked to jump into the Bay. Starsky shoved at his legs, trying to get them onto the too-short seat. "You gettin' longer on me, or what?" he fussed. He was eventually able to close the door.
Hutch was soaked to the skin and shivering. Starsky must have been cold, too; the first thing he did was to turn the heater on upon starting the car. The sounds, smells and the feel of the contraption the blond had complained so often about were very comforting now, despite the cramped seat. The heat slowly penetrated, and his eyelids got heavier and heavier....
The car was dark and motionless when Hutch woke up. Every muscle in his body was screaming loudly to be uncramped. He moved slowly, registering the blanket tucked around him one of his own, in fact, probably left in the trunk of the Torino after an outing. The car was parked in the alley behind The Pits. Starsky was dozing in the front seat. Hutch's movement in the back roused him. He stretched and rubbed his face.
"`m hungry," came the typical complaint, and it was almost like the last months had never existed. Then he turned, the wary look in his face reminding Hutch that the last months had been very real indeed.
"How long did I sleep?" His throat was painfully raw.
"`bout an hour `n a half." Starsky kept watching his passenger as Hutch found ways of stretching first one leg, then the other. "The way I see it," he continued, indicating The Pits, "we can go in there, have somethin' to eat, down a beer or two, and I'll take you home. Nothin' heavy. Tomorrow we each go `bout our own business. Or we can get somethin' to eat, pick up some beer, go to your place and get smashed while we hash things out. Your choice."
"Let's get smashed," Hutch chose immediately.
They got out of the car, stretching some more, then rounded the alley to the entrance of The Pits. Hutch noticed a hesitation in Starsky and looked at him questioningly.
"No double-talk, no head trips," Starsky said, eyes very dark and very serious. "Just straight, honest talk, even if it hurts. Or I swear I'll kick your ass this time."
Hutch found a smile from somewhere. "I almost wish you'd do that, anyway, but okay. I'm game."
Starsky's hand shot out to grip the wrist of the hand holding the rail. "And no games, either."
"Hey, I didn't mean -_" Hutch hurried to assure.
"I know you didn't. Just...no games, okay?"
Yeah, buddy, Hutch thought, we really used and abused out games, didn't we? The child in us wanted to play, but we forgot something. Children play to learn; men use what they've learned to corrupt their games and I'm such a competitive bastard. The difference is just a fine line between innocent-age and innocence-lost, and we never noticed stepping over it. No, I never noticed stepping over it. You're still there, aren't you? Humoring me, but not really liking my grown-up games. When did I lose my childhood, and how did you manage to hold onto yours through so much, for so long? "No more games," he solemnly promised. "I swear."
Apparently, he had lost a lot of credibility along the way. The grip on his wrist remained while Starsky searched his face a while longer, then became a pat before the hand was removed.
Huggy's double take was worthy of a great comedian, but for once, it was absolutely sincere. He took in their thoroughly bedraggled appearance. "Well, well, well. When it rains in this city, the wind blows in the strangest apparitions. I presume it was the wind. No self-respectin' cat would be caught dead draggin' in the likes o' you."
Hutch felt giddy. "Damn, Hug, I missed you."
"I was thinkin' o' missin' you, too, but you've been all over the six o'clock news. Didn't have the chance. Hope they weren't takin' your name in vain."
"On the news, who knows? I'll give you the straight story, but not now, okay?"
"We're starvin', Huggy," Starsky interjected, as he found a table.
"And they're gonna have an honest-to-god meal here, too. What'll it be?"
"Oh, a special, I guess," Starsky said offhandedly.
"Restrain your enthusiasm for the bounty o' my humble establishment, m'man. How `bout you?"
"Make it two specials."
"No," Starsky objected. "Throw together a salad for him, and see if you can find something hot to drink, like herbal tea. Mint, cloves, whatever's supposed to be good for the throat."
"Man, I'm runnin' a bar in not-quite-the-sleaziest part of LA, not a genteel cafe for spinsters. Where would I ?"
"Give it a try, huh? There's gotta be a health food store around still open. The man can hardly croak, `n we have a lot to talk about."
There was precious little Huggy couldn't deliver if he wanted to. The tea was on the table soon. Hutch was grateful for it, both for his throat and to keep himself busy. Starsky seemed to consider it a take-a-breather time, and Hutch felt in limbo. The food arrived. While Starsky attacked his with customary gusto, Hutch played with the salad, not hungry in the slightest.
"Eat it. Good for you," Starsky broke the silence. Hutch tried to take an interest, but wasn't too successful. Starsky misinterpreted. "Sorry," he mumbled. "It was none o' my business. Wanna order somethin' else?"
"This is fine. I'm just not hungry. I'll try." He took a mouthful. "Mind telling me why, though?"
"Well..." Starsky squirmed uncomfortably. "Look at you, Hutch. You used to eat well, exercise, take care of yourself. You let it all slide to hell `n gone. I must've corrupted you."
"Starsky Hey, it's not your fault. None of this is."
"So how come you used to be so sharp, and now you look as much a bum as I am?"
"You're not a bum!" Hutch's sore throat didn't quite allow it to be a shout.
"Yeah, well...eat your salad anyway."
"All right. I'll eat it, and you can reform me if you want, but don't call yourself names again. I don't like it."
Suddenly, not being hungry didn't matter so much, and the salad was actually rather good. "It isn't your fault at all," Hutch insisted between forkfuls. "I just started to like that stuff you prefer."
"You can have a bite." Matching action to words, he held out his hamburger, then for good measure, dunked a french fry in the ketchup and stuffed it into Hutch's mouth. "But stick to the healthy stuff otherwise."
"You're really going to reform me?" Hutch asked around an overflowing mouth. Why had he thought he wasn't hungry? This was definitely great.
"We screwed up, Hutch badly. I figure fifty percent of it is my fault, so I'm gonna try."
"How do you figure that fifty percent?"
"Well, partnership, right? Half me, half thee. Down the middle. Even split. Two halves of a whole. That adds up to fifty percent in my book. We do good, half the praise is mine. We blow it, half the blame is also mine. Simple."
Yes, it was simple. It was also so straightforward, so uncluttered, so fair so very... Starsky that Hutch's throat closed up again. Fearing he may not have, after all, exhausted the tears, he tried to break the mood by chuckling. "Never could get Van to even consider accepting that, and in her case, it was true."
"I ain't Van, and it's still true."
Hutch smiled. The tally could wait. The moment was too precious to start arguing. "Whatever you say, Starsk."
Starsky looked at him strangely, put his food down and leaned forward on his elbows. "That's how it's gonna be? Whatever I say? `Cause if that's what you're plannin', let me tell you, I like that no better than the rest of the trash you've been dishin' out lately." He frowned at Hutch's confusion. "I knew a man for eight years. Where's he, Hutch?"
Dead, Hutch thought. If you want him, this is a waste of time.
Starsky read him accurately. "I know there're changes, and there will be, and that's okay. But deep down inside, that doesn't change so much. I'll know it when I see it. I'm warnin' you, we've been through too much together for me not to recognize a counterfeit if you try to sell me one. So cut out this meek-lamb act before I walk outta here. Whatever I say, my ass. That ain't you talkin' and you know it."
Hutch took a deep breath. "All right. I want another bite of that hamburger, and another fry, no ketchup this time. Then I'll eat this salad you wished on me. You ordered the food, you pay for it. I'll pay for the beer. And I'll give you, oh, say, ten percent for now, but that's only because you've let me get away with murder."
"Seems I gotta teach you simple math, but that's better." Satisfied, Starsky sat back after rescuing what he could of his hamburger, and went back to the business of eating. "Hell, have two fries purely outta the goodness of my heart, you understand?" His hand, on its way back from Hutch's mouth, detoured to the salad bowl to pluck out and inspect a few items, only to drop them back into the bowl disgustedly. "How come I got the short end of this deal?" he fussed, licking the salad dressing off his fingers.
At his apartment, the first thing Hutch wanted to do was to take a hot shower. Starsky also expressed his desire to get out of his clothes and clean up. Hutch fished out a robe for him and let him go ahead.
While Hutch was taking his turn, Starsky was left to wander around the house. Nothing had changed, but everything looked... off. There were dirty dishes in the sink, laundry piled on the floor, magazines and cups littered everywhere, the guitar had broken strings, the bed was unmade. Little things that Hutch normally didn't neglect. Starsky filled the sink with water to soak the dishes, started the laundry, throwing in his own muddied clothes as well, and went around tidying up. He inspected the plants. While they all lived, and there were the inevitable additions, they no longer seemed to thrive in wild profusion of leaves and blooms.
"Probably stopped holdin' conversations with `em," he speculated.
Clad in his orange robe, Hutch came out, sat down and looked around, wondering again how Starsky could be so haphazard when it came to his person, but turned almost persnickety inside four walls. "Thanks."
Starsky chose the couch. "So, what happened today?"
The recital was dry, almost in the form of a report, a sure sign that Hutch was trying to keep something personal out of it. Starsky wondered why, and tried to read between the lines. "Must've been one hell of a lonely business." Hutch shrugged. "I could've blown it for you. Sorry."
"Forget it. It's over."
"Right." They were silent for a while. "Hutch, there're some things that ain't over at least, I hope not. You think we "
"Wait," Hutch interrupted. "Before this goes any further, I have to tell you something." He had been debating it, but it had to come out. "I've seen Kira since we walked out on her at Huggy's."
"So have I." Starsky dismissed it lightly.
Hutch knew they were talking of different things. "No, not like that. I haven't just seen her around. I've been... with her."
Something darkened in Starsky's eyes and the jaw muscles tightened as he rose. Hutch wondered if he was leaving, but he got a beer and sat back down, the signs of anger replaced by neutrality. "Anything else I should know?"
"Is that all you're going to react?"
"Whaddaya want I should _- " He broke off and took a sip of beer. "I asked for straight talk, didn't I? Guess it works both ways. All right. Get one thing: I don't give a damn about Kira. But we took a stand with her. It was the last thing we did together. I assumed it was an agreement you wouldn't, couldn't break. If you want the truth, I'm angry."
"So why are you holding it in?"
"Dunno. Just feel I have to. I lost my temper once, and ever since then I felt like... like I missed the forest for the trees. I don't wanna do it again." Hutch was at a loss for words. "You wanna tell me more about Kira, or do we go on?"
"It happened only once. It was " He found something off in the distance to stare at. "Earlier that day, O'Donnell and I had a court appearance. The bastard we'd spent so long to catch walked on a technicality. We'd spent days and nights on stakeouts; O'Donnell's wife was in the hospital, and he hadn't been able to spend any time with her when she needed him. And they let the son-of-a-bitch off inside of ten minutes. He'd had enough. Said he was taking leave right away and resigning afterwards. He left, just like that, and there was nothing I could say. Hell, I didn't have any faith in what we were doing, either. I had another hearing. Would you believe I blew that one, too? When I got back to Metro, O'Donnell was gone. Dobey already had Washington lined up for me."
He gave a short, bitter laugh. "Washington wasn't pleased, to say the least. He's an up-and-coming detective. I heard the argument. He was kicking about being partnered to a wash-out, `a burn-out case' as he put it. Couldn't very well blame him, could I? How do you argue with the truth? Dobey shouted him down and called me in. We all tried to be civilized."
He noticed Starsky was holding out a beer. "Thanks. Anyway, I went to see O'Donnell at the hospital. He's a decent sort. I wanted to say goodbye. It was strange, you know? He was throwing away his pension, his life's work, his wife was so sick, but they were just happy to be together, so content, so I don't know. All I know is they made me feel like they knew something that would always be a mystery to me." He trailed off and paid attention to the beer for a while. "Kira came over that night, out of the blue."
That day had been the lowest point he ever remembered hitting. When Van had walked out, he'd had righteous indignation on his side; when Gillian died, Starsky had been there. None of it had felt like the absolute rock bottom of that day, and he was talking about it because he needed to get it off his chest. But suddenly he realized how it all must sound to Starsky, and looked at him. Predictably, there was no anger left in the man. The eyes looking up at Hutch held only sympathy.
"Enough, Hutch. I understand."
He wished he could leave it there, pass the episode off as taking refuge in a moment of need, and not lose the sympathy. But he was tired of games himself. "You don't understand. Sure, I needed something, but it wasn't what Kira offered. Oh, God, it wasn't even close!" He had to move or burst out of his skin. Noticing his beer can was empty, he got up to throw it away.
"Hey." Starsky indicated his own empty can. Hutch caught it with one hand, and pitched a full can across the room with the other. He got another beer for himself as well, and paced aimlessly around the room.
"It was so pointless. She had a lot of anger and resentment. I suppose it was her way of striking back. She literally threw herself at me. No pretenses, no niceties, no nothing and I... I ... "
"You took it," Starsky finished for him, resigned.
"I don't know what she proved. Except, of course, she knew exactly who didn't have enough integrity to tell her to take her teasing tail and go to hell." He wandered back to the middle of the room. "And I can't even say I'm sorry, or that it can't happen again. It made me feel terrible. Small, you know. But only after it was over. At first, I didn't care. I knew it was wrong just didn't give a damn. If the right buttons are pushed again, I'm not so sure I'd " He looked intently at the man on the couch. "Can you be sure, Starsk? Can you vouch for your glands?"
"Aw, Hutch, how the hell do I know? Can any man?"
"Kira knew. She didn't come to you. I bet she didn't try that `it's perfectly all right to love two people at the same time' reasoning on you, either. She knew damned well who'd swallow what." Starsky took a while to digest that, although he didn't ask Hutch to elaborate.
The blond man found himself at the counter, regarding a neglected-looking plant. Absentmindedly, he plucked out the dead leaves. "Doesn't say much about me, does it?"
"It just says we're different. So what? Not exactly earth-shaking news. Remember us, the original Odd Couple?" He joined Hutch by the counter. "I think you've got something all screwed up. I never had any desire to measure you with my yardstick. I mean, if that's all I wanted for a friend, I can pick up a mirror and hold great conversations with myself, right? Except, there ain't no point in it."
"What's the point, then?"
"You got somethin' to eat around here?"
Hutch blinked at the abrupt shift, then realized Starsky needed a break; long soul-searching wasn't his forte. "Starsk, you just ate."
"You ate most of that for me. I'm hungry."
"There are some crackers and cheese. Chips. Ice cream. Some left over pie, I think."
"Good enough." He went into the kitchen and started rummaging. "Popcorn," he announced. "Great."
There was a sense of absurdity to sitting there, on hold, and watching Starsky fix popcorn, raid the kitchen, transfer some laundry into the dryer, humming all the while. There was also a sense of familiarity to it. Hutch couldn't decide whether to laugh or cry.
"Want some?" Starsky shoved an overflowing tray under his nose.
Hutch eyed the incongruous array. Had he really had all that junk food around? "Good God, no."
Undaunted, Starsky sat down and proceeded to make respectable inroads into the pile. "Did you love her?" came between mouthfuls, as offhandedly as a comment on the weather.
"Who ? Oh. No."
"Didn't think so." A fistful of popcorn disappeared, "What then? Attraction? Competition?"
"Some of both, yes. Not enough to explain it."
Starsky popped the tab off another can. "So what explains it?"
"You're not going to like it."
"Do tell. News flash for you: I ain't likely to be enamored of anything that caused this screw-up. Just give it to me, okay?"
Hutch groped for words. "I don't know how _- "
"Look, I've been over this thing every which way. I can't add it up. What was that saying? When all the possibilities are exhausted, the impossible must be the answer. Well, Hutch, all the possibilities washed out. And the impossible is that you were out to hurt me. But that's really impossible, isn't it?" Head down, he seemed to be paying undue attention to the food. His eyes, apprehensive, came up when no immediate denial was forthcoming. "Isn't it?"
"I told you you weren't going to like it." Hutch felt like he had literally delivered a backhanded slap.
Starsky looked back down, pushed the tray away impatiently, and studied the table top with intense concentration. "I see. Not so impossible, huh? Okay. All right. Fine." He shifted around. "Excuse me. Too much beer," he explained politely and disappeared into the bathroom.
Hutch suspended all thought. The only thing Starsky had asked for had been straight talk. He'd deliver what he owed as long and as honestly as he could. He didn't have the energy to speculate further than that. What would happen would just have to happen.
Starsky was back in the room. "I gotta wait till my stuff is dry. In the meantime, maybe you'd care to tell me why. Then again, you can just let me borrow some clothes."
Hutch understood why the choice was being left up to him again. Starsky was no longer sure of his welcome and was treading softly. He blinked away the burning sensation behind his eyes. "I don't think I've got anything left to fit you."
"Okay," Starsky accepted. He stretched out on the couch, put an arm across his face, waiting without being pushy about it.
leaned back. "One thing I want you to understand, I know now what
was wrong with me, but at the time I swear I
didn't know, Starsk. I was doing things, and I didn't know why, and I hated doing them, and I just kept doing and doing like a roller coaster I couldn't get off of. It didn't start with Kira, you know?" Starsky stayed quiet and still. Obviously, he was leaving it all to Hutch.
"I don't know exactly when it started. One day we were young, full of hope and energy, out to save the world, so damned sure and cocky. We had our crusade, our chosen path, the right path all those lovely lies people told us, I told myself. And the next time I looked back, nothing was the same anymore. There were too many corpses along the way, too many compromises, too much loss, and it was all wrong. I wasn't the same. I was just older, weaker, tired...scared. God, I couldn't even carry my own weight; I didn't want the weight of the world on my shoulders, too. I kept trying to shake it off. It kept piling back on and I knew it was because one thing I couldn't shake off was..." He hesitated, but there was no kind way of saying it, "...you."
The arm came off Starsky's face, the wide eyes fixed themselves on Hutch.
"You wouldn't let go! I kept getting more and more unpleasant. You kept taking it. I closed you out. You insisted on prying me open. When I just wanted to take off, there you were, going with me, then dragging me back, and I was right back in the same mess I couldn't live with any more. It seemed like I couldn't make one solitary decision for myself without you getting somehow tangled up in it. I kept running into you at every turn. I suppose I was feeling smothered. Hell, I was suffocating. Misery doesn't always love company, you know. I had to get away, make you let go. Then Kira came along. Guess she was just the wedge I didn't know I was looking for. Anything would've done. Anyone. Now that I think about it, it could've just as well been Allison. Remember? Except she wouldn't play. Kira was more than willing."
"Hutch you mean...? Are you tellin' me I'm the cause of all this? What did I do!? I don't understand. Don't you know why I ? Hutch?"
Hutch felt terrible. Starsky was looking like a child lost and unable to understand what he had done to deserve it, why it was happening to him. "For heaven's sake, Starsk, it wasn't you! Don't you think I know you were just being you? But that only made things worse. You were killing me with kindness. Can't you understand what a burden that is to someone who doesn't think he deserves the kindness anymore? God, why did you keep accepting me no matter how I changed? I pushed you and you gave. I sniped at you, I put you down, played games with you, and you never kicked me the way I deserved. Why, damnit? What makes me so goddamned special? Like when I faked that amnesia. What possessed you to forgive me just like that?"
Starsky sat up. "You're weird, Hutch, you know that? If you thought it was such a terrible thing, why did you do it in the first place?"
"It seemed like a good idea at the time!" Hutch snapped, hating the way he was losing his temper, but unable to help it. "I woke up alone too, you know. They had me in traction. I couldn't so much as open my mouth, and nobody thought of telling me how badly you were hurt, or even if you were still alive. It wasn't fun, buddy! And when I finally found out, well, you were lucky that time, but I kept thinking that damned car was going to kill you one day. I've been trying for years to get you to ease off; wasn't getting anywhere. I thought if you believed you had hurt me -- anyway, I was trying to teach you a lesson, but I carried it too far. I don't know why "
Honesty, he reminded himself. "Hell, I know why. You were bleeding for me and I was enjoying it too much to stop. Then you started talking about... you know, Terri, Gillian, and I felt awful. It wasn't a game anymore, and it sure wasn't funny. So I confessed and what did you do? You not only didn't kick my teeth in; you started playing along with me! How could you be so... so...? So!" He was shouting.
The reply came in soft contrast. "It was easy."
"Ea easy!?" Hutch sputtered.
"Sure." Starsky was matter-of-fact. "I asked myself, would I want him to be honestly sick, or do I prefer him to be a sonuvabitch but healthy?" He shrugged. "It was easy."
Hutch stared at him in astonishment then slowly closed his mouth and shook his head, defeated. "God, I don't know how to deal with all this. I don't know what how to Oh, forget it!" He dropped his head on the back of the chair and closed his eyes.
you know I'm not good with head trips. I ain't no friggin' shrink. Oh, I can
tell you're screwed up badly here." Starsky tapped his own head. "But
I don't know what you want from me. My dad used to say kids push to see how far
but they really wanna be stopped somewhere. Is that what you want? Or you think you've done something wrong, and wanna be punished for it, absolution-like...? Hell, Hutch, I ain't your father or your priest. I'm not gonna punish you or kick your teeth in although if I can get my hands on whoever dumped all this guilt-shit on you.... Anyway, forget it, you ain't my kid to discipline. I thought a friend should just accept, whatever comes, the good and the bad but not "
"Indifference. That's what I thought happened with Kira. I told you how I felt, and it didn't seem to make a difference to you. So, I was missin' the forest. Indifference is one thing, maybe the only thing, I can't accept from my best friend. How could I possibly know it was exactly what you wanted from yours. I...I'm sorry, Hutch."
Hutch's head snapped up. "You're sorry!? I hurt you and you're sorry!?" He suddenly realized how bright the dark blue eyes were with a liquid sheen. God, he thought, I did it again. It seems the only way I can stop hurting you is to cut my tongue out. He wondered if it would not have been kinder to let Starsky go at that parking lot. "Oh, Starsk...." was the only thing he could manage. Get away from me, he wanted to say, for your own good.
"Well, I think I understand. I crowded you. I always suspected you took your badge back because I wanted mine, and you knew I wouldn't take it without you. But I didn't dream you didn't want me to quit with you in the first place."
Hutch felt miserable. It wasn't Starsky's fault if he was one of the precious few people in whose book loyalty came way before self-interest. "I didn't know it myself, so don't please, don't..." He didn't know how to finish the sentence. "It isn't worth it," he ended lamely.
"It is to me. I'm sorry," Starsky repeated.
"Damnit, stop saying that!"
"I don't know what else What do you want me to say, Hutch?"
"Nothing. I don't want you to say anything. I don't want you to care. I don't want to feel so goddamned guilty because you care. Please."
"Is that what's gonna make you happy? To be responsible to no one, for no one? You want me to leave you alone for good? Will that make everything all right?"
He'd thought so once. Maybe it was still the best thing. Not all right, and certainly not happy.... Easier, yes.
Hutch nodded. Starsky kept looking at him as if something of this importance required more than a nod for him to accept it. The blond took a deep breath. "At least now there are no questions left unanswered between us. Will you please leave?"
Starsky looked at him another instant, then sighed. "All right."
Hutch went out into the patio so Starsky could dress and leave in privacy. He sat on a bench in a corner and closed his eyes.
Starsky stayed on the couch, eyes glued to his clasped hands. He had been too tired in the first place; now he wished he had left the beer alone. He couldn't distinguish what was fatigue, what was alcohol inside him, and how much of it was honest emotion. About the only thing he was sure of was that this was the final turning point.
If he walked out now, as Hutch so obviously wanted him to, that would be it. They couldn't be best friends anymore, but at least they would no longer be at odds. Just two civilized beings, exchanging polite talk when their paths crossed, interested in, even concerned with each other, but from a distance.
And what was wrong with that? It was certainly better than tearing one another apart when their opposing personalities clashed, or because they cared too damned much. Maybe it was true that too much of even a good thing wasn't necessarily good. They might work together on some cases if Hutch stayed on the force and in the department. One day, he'd invite Hutch to his wedding, attend his in turn, then perhaps the special days for the children would come, bar mitzvahs, christenings, birthdays. Sure, they'd have lots of reasons to stay in touch. And both would know, if a real need arose, the other would do his best to be there. The complications would be gone, and they might manage to salvage some of the comforts. There was a lot to be said for simplicity.
So, why was it that the only thing he had the urge to say was Kaddish?
He admitted it wouldn't work that way. Neither could settle for a pate shadow of what had been until time and distance killed it all together. One couldn't tone down a blaze. You either let it burn or put it out.
Hutch wanted him gone, so...
No good-byes would be said, but he wanted at least a look. He squinted to see through the glass partition. The lights weren't turned on in the patio. The glass was too busy reflecting the room back at him to show much of anything except the silhouettes of the overabundant ferns populating the darkness. Then he noticed the edge of a shimmering reflection. Hutch's hair, as usual, insisting on catching whatever light there happened to be. It had always gladdened and scared Starsky. In dark alleys, mazes of buildings, wherever, he could always count on a flash of pale gold to alert him to his partner's whereabouts, dismayed at the same time that if he could see it, so could someone with ill-will. Hutch seemed to have found a cranny to squeeze into. That tiny patch of brightness was the only evidence of his existence.
All right, all right, Starsky decided, if you want so badly to get away from me, you don't have to hide. I'll go.
Some memory was trying to connect with his awareness. It was such an offbeat one that at first he couldn't understand why he kept seeing a piece of paper he'd tucked away in a drawer long ago. He sometimes clipped outrageous cartoons to reside on his refrigerator door under a magnet, to be tossed away when their humor wore out. But that one cartoon had been too different than the ones his image could publicly live with, so he had never put it where other eyes could see it. Neither had he thrown it away.
It was a sequence of eight small drawings of a man, imprisoning himself in more and more protective coverings, and the captions read:
LIVE INSIDE A SHELL
THAT IS INSIDE A WALL
THAT IS INSIDE A FORT
THAT IS INSIDE A TUNNEL
THAT IS UNDER THE SEA
WHERE I AM SAFE
IF YOU REALLY LOVED ME, YOU'D FIND ME"
The exhaustion of the day had set in, the beer also taking its toll. Hutch had dozed off when he felt someone beside him and jumped.
"I thought you had left." Let alone leaving, Starsky hadn't even dressed.
"I was thinkin'."
The usual rejoinder don't strain yourself belonged to a dead past. "What about?" Hutch asked wearily.
Before answering, Starsky moved some pots away to find a spot to sink down on, and leaned back, careful not to upset any of the verdant residents. "As my grandmother used to say when I went out to play: `If you go too far from home, Luftmensh, remember, you have to come back the same distance!"
Hutch sighed. "You know, Starsk, I've never been able to appreciate your grandmother's `immortal' wisdom under the best of circumstances. I'm not up to riddles now."
"Yeah, well. Just answer one thing. Why'd you damn near have a heart attack runnin' after me tonight? I mean, if all you wanted was to be rid o' me?"
"God, Starsk! Why are you so dogged? Aren't you tired of this?"
"Yes, I am. Very. Tell me anyway."
"I don't know. Guess I had something to say. Seemed important at the time. Doesn't matter anymore."
"Matters to me. Say it."
"Jesus! I'm tired! Can't even think straight. You expect me to make sense?"
"Go rest. I'll wait."
It was said so levelly, so reasonably, that Hutch's temper snapped in reaction. "Goddamnit, David Starsky, what does it take to get rid of you?"
Midnight blue eyes regarded him mildly. "Guess we'll both find out, won't we?"
"If anything!" Hutch snapped.
"That, too." An unconcerned shrug accompanied the even voice.
Hutch had a tendency to lose control of his long limbs at times. Frustrated by the immovable object Starsky was calmly presenting, he spun around, only to collide clumsily with a bench housing numerous plants. It tipped, sending the pots crashing to the floor. The blond man stood transfixed on the destruction for a minute, feeling ready to cry, then stepped over it to go back inside, and threw himself on the couch. He squeezed his eyes tight and tuned out.
Some time later, he felt a tug on his sleeve. "Hutch. Hey, Hutch, open your eyes a minute?"
"Huh?" A cardboard box containing various leafy clippings was in front of his face.
"Which o' these let out roots in soil, and which need to go in water?"
Mechanically, he separated them. "Water," he said, pointing at one pile. The box was removed from his sight. Then he saw there was a wild array of clay pots, plastic containers, even a teapot and a saucepan on the coffee table, pressed into service to hold the plants rescued from their original dwellings. Dully, he noted that some were in wrong-sized containers, and there were a few that were too fragile to recover from the shock of uprooting.
He looked toward the kitchen where Starsky was diligently struggling to keep alive the babies severed from the mother plants. Chances were, he didn't know what he was doing, but being Starsky, he'd make a valiant effort anyway; giving up wasn't in his nature. Fixer-upper, Hutch thought, and was reminded of the godawful eyesore Starsky had once bought as `real estate investment.' He had probably bought the firetrap because it had looked too miserable for anyone else to ever bother with it.
Wonder what that says about me, he thought and went back to contemplating the tiny jungle in front of him.
Starsky was back, sitting next to him on the couch. "They're gonna be okay, Hutch. You'll talk to `em, baby `em, play `em some music or somethin', and they'll be okay."
The blond fished out a bowl holding a spindly plant, the leaves already curling on themselves dejectedly. "Not this one."
"Well, you write down its mile-long name and I'll get you another one."
Hutch put the plant down and turned to stare at the man attentively cleaning the soil from under his fingernails. "You think you should be able to fix everything for everyone, don't you?" he asked softly.
"Not everyone," was whispered back from the bowed head.
"For me, then?"
"I can try."
The shoulders rose in a shrug. "I don't like you hurtin'."
Impulsively, Hutch reached to ruffle the wayward curls. "I love you, too."
The eyes became visible from under thick, straight lashes. "But?"
"But what?" Hutch asked, confused.
"That's what you always say: `I love you, but...' But what this time?"
Hutch stayed silent for a minute, memory confirming Starsky's words. "But, nothing," he said, finally. "I love you. That's all."
"But you won't tell me whatever it was you were gonna tell me."
"Damn it, Starsk." It was no longer an outburst, just a sigh. "All right, I'll tell you, for all the good it'll do. Today, the bust went so perfectly. Not many of those lately. It took so long to set it up, what I had to do for it wasn't pleasant I was really at the end of my rope. When I first ran into that creepshow, I was ready to quit everything. It was simply a last hand I had to play out before I took off for good. I never thought beyond that. And when the dust settled today, all of a sudden it was old times again. For the first time in a very long while, I was proud of myself. I made a difference, you see. It was like finally realizing I'd been on the right path all along, while thinking I'd been lost for years. Suddenly I knew why I was what I was, remembered the reasons, and they made sense again. Not the way they did years ago, not through rose-colored glasses; I've changed too much for that. But the basics were there and they were still good basics." Despite the fatigue, he pulled himself straighter. "I stood for something, and damnit, I made it happen. I was in control. I counted today, Starsk."
Starsky snorted. "Hell, Hutch, I've known that all " He stifled himself.
"You've known that all along, is that it? I appreciate it, really I do, but some things I have to learn myself."
"I know. Just wish you'd find an easier way of doin' it, that's all. Hittin' your head against it over `n over must hurt, buddy."
"Sometimes. And sometimes more than others, but it's the way I am."
"Well..." Starsky shrugged, accepting. "And that's what you wanted to tell me."
"Er, I think so. I mean, who else have I got to tell it to? That and I guess I wanted to apologize. You've always been on the right path. I screwed up and took it out on you. I'm sorry."
"Tell me somethin', Hutch. How come you had no trouble sayin' the things that made me feel terrible, and when you have somethin' good to say, I gotta fight to drag it outta you?"
Hutch slumped again. "Well, consider that and maybe you'll understand why it's best if you left."
Starsky took him at his word. He fell silent and seriously, studiously, considered it. When he raised his head, he was wearing a crooked grin. "Close, but no cigar."
"I may not be too smart, College Boy, but my gut feelings don't steer me wrong." He laid a palm on his lower abdomen. "Somethin' here tells me you've made up your mind that I'd be better off without you, or some nonsense, and you're tryin' to prove it. What makes you think I'm gonna buy it?"
Hutch shook his head. "The question is, what makes you different? It should be inevitable. I stop living up to expectations, and people leave me it's automatic."
"Hey, sorry if I'm not living up to your expectations, buddy. And let me tell you, that comparison stinks!" Starsky paused to lower his voice. Getting angry had brought them nowhere. He was sick of the way they kept going around in circles. Hutch's mind may be comfortable doing it, but his preferred to function in simple lines. He was getting a headache. It was time to lay it straight on the line.
"You know I don't like suds, so I'm gonna say this just once. Pay attention. There are no returns here, Hutch. I ain't your father, your church, Van, or the force. You can't tell me to stuff the money, you're refusin' the salvation, takin' off your weddin' band, or throwin' away your badge. What's between us, you can return from here," he tapped Hutch's chest, "but you can't give it back, if you know what I mean. You can choose to ignore it, but as far as I'm concerned, it'll always be there. So stop kickin' against what you can't change and do just one thing."
Hutch wondered how Starsky sometimes managed to mesmerize him. "What?" he whispered. A hand firmly grasped his chin.
"Aim those baby-blues right here," Starsky indicated his own eyes, "and tell me, with no bullshit, exactly what you want the most."
Spellbinder, Hutch thought. "I want you to forgive me."
"You got it. Do you want me to leave?"
"No. Never did."
"See how simple it is? Now, ready to hear what I want?"
"I want you back, partner."
"You got it," Hutch echoed.
"There!" Starsky exclaimed triumphantly, letting go of Hutch's chin and gently slapping him on the cheek. "Not a three-syllable word in the whole bunch, and we got more accomplished in five seconds than Kissinger did in five years. Thank goodness I never went to college, or we'd be old and gray and still splittin' hairs."
Hutch felt drunk already, and decided: what the hell. "I want a beer," he announced, getting up, a little wobbly on his feet.
"Get me one, too."
A beer can sailed through the air. By that time, Hutch's aim was unsteady, Starsky's catch deplorable. Starsky's powers-of-reasoning seemed impaired, too. He popped the tab off the much-jostled can, and ended up wearing half its contents. Sheepishly, he wiped his face on the sleeve of Hutch's robe, then glared at the blond who seemed to find the situation hysterically funny.
"Hey, buddy," Hutch called out from where he was taking full advantage of the wall's steadying influence. "L'chayim."
Starsky echoed the toast, and added with an affectionate grin: "And to chavarim."
Dobey struggled on the bed like a beached whale, trying to rid himself of bedclothes as he grabbed the insistent phone. "Dobey," he barked.
He thought he heard something that resembled, "`lo, Cap," accompanied by background noises. The Captain frowned. Was somebody giggling?
"Stop `at, clown," was mumbled into his ear, obviously not meant for him.
"Who is this? And it better be good!"
"`n a good evenin' to ya too, Cap'n," slurred through the wires.
"Starsky! Is that you? Do you know what time it is? What the "
"Or is it mornin'?" the voice puzzled. "Hey, Blondie, is it mornin'?" A mumble answered his query.
"STARSKY!" Dobey howled, making Edith, who had been sleeping peacefully through his normal decibels, jump. He patted her shoulder. "So help me, I'll " A loud crashing from the other end interrupted him. "What's going on there? Starsky, answer me! What's wrong?"
The sounds settled down to another set of giggles. "Nothin', Cap'n, nothin'. He was holdin' me up... `n the table was holdin' him up `n the table...quit." He dissolved into chuckles as another voice indignantly demanded:
"Get `r ass offa me!"
This time Dobey identified the second voice. "Is that Hutchinson with you?"
"Yeah, yeah, that's right," Starsky slurred, then a bright note crept into his voice. "That's right. Ain't it, Cap'n? I mean, that's just right, ain't it? Don't'cha think that's just right?"
Obviously, both men were drunk. One didn't argue with drunks, fools, and madmen the idiots qualified for all. "Yes, Starsky, that's right. That's just fine," Dobey said with infinite patience.
"Damned straight!" declared the voice, sounding almost sober.
"Starsky, what do you want?"
"Uh...? Hey, Blintz, what'd we want? Hey, Brain, ya `wake?" Some more sounds came through the phone, then Hutch's voice, none too steady itself, issued.
"Ya'll hafta `scuse Starsk, Cap'n, he's pickled." Starsky's mumble contributed something about kettles and pots. "He, lessee... he wanna... requir reque uh, requi-zee-shun... a new partner. I mean, an old partner. Know what I mean, Cap'n?"
Hallelujah, Dobey thought. Suddenly, he didn't mind his interrupted sleep so much. Providing it wasn't only the alcohol talking. And if it was, tomorrow he'd take both by the scruff of the neck and butt their heads together until their brains scrambled and unscrambled again.
"I'll take it under due consideration."
He realized Hutch was capable of understanding only the simplest sentences when a puzzled "Huh?" reached his ear.
"We'll talk about it tomorrow, son." He didn't mind the affectionate word slipping out. Chances were, neither man would remember the conversation. "Now get off this phone and let me get my sleep. You and your partner sound like you can use some yourselves." Nothing came across the wires, but the line stayed open. "Hutchinson, hang up the phone."
The next words weren't intended for him. "He said `partner,'" Hutch's voice announced, sounding like he had just solved a difficult puzzle. "Hey, ya hear me? He said `partner.'"
"Get `r elbow outta my ear," was Starsky's reaction to the momentous news.
"Hang up the blasted phone!" Something clattered. Dobey sighed. Hutch had merely let go of the receiver.
"Gonna sleep on the floor?" Starsky's voice asked distantly.
"Why not? Is it goin' somewhere?"
"Dunno." Dobey could visualize Starsky squinting at the floor, probably two inches off his nose. "`s movin', though..."
"Well...then I'm goin' with it. Ya comin'?"
"`m not on the floor," Starsky objected with dignity.
"I'm on the floor, dummy," Hutch reasoned, "and you're on me."
It took a while for Starsky to work through that complicated equation. "Guess `m goin', too."
"`s good." They both seemed to find that vastly amusing.
Dobey replaced the receiver.
If I'm dead, Hutch fuzzily decided, this is hell if I'm not, I wish I was. There were three layers of misery that seemed to pass for his body. He was cold on the outside, his muscles were stiff and aching from lying on the unyielding floor, and further inside...it was best not to describe what assaulted him there. He gathered enough courage to open his eyes, then persuaded himself that his head wouldn't topple off if he lifted it. When he had dislodged his stomach and replaced it, however haphazardly, where it belonged, he pushed up on his elbows, and found that it was the end of his mobility.
Starsky, ever the one to make the best of a bad situation, was sprawled over his midriff, his head not-too-uncomfortably cushioned on Hutch's abdomen. The blond man sank back with a groan, and immediately swore off sounds. He shook Starsky's shoulder to rouse him. Starsky's reaction was to roll over and try to burrow into Hutch's ribcage. He obviously didn't find that area as agreeable as the stomach, and rolled further, his head landing on the floor with a thud. A curse started and cut off abruptly as Starsky experienced the impact of sound in his brain.
For a long while, they stayed in their respective positions, islands of misery, coming to terms with The Morning After. Hutch contemplated the ceiling, and Starsky, eyes closed, contemplated his inner space. Eventually, they rolled enough so that one pair of bleary blue eyes was regarding another set of equally bleary ones.
"Awwwww," groaned Starsky.
"Hmmmnnnhhh," contributed Hutch.
"Hell," Starsky elaborated.
"Hell," Hutch agreed.
That established, they went back to their contemplation. Soon the cold, hard floor got to be too much. "`m gettin' up," Starsky announced, still prone.
Hutch decided to be the Good Example, but at one step at a time. He sat up. "`s okay, come on," he encouraged after a short bout with nausea. Some tugging by Hutch, and some honest labor by Starsky, and they were both sitting, leaning against each other like tired horses.
"Can't we just sleep it off, on somethin' soft?" Starsky pleaded.
"Gotta go to work," came the reminder.
Starsky groaned. "Won't do nobody no good," he argued. "Let's call in sick `n go to bed."
Hutch started to shake his head, then thought better of it. "Don't know about you, but I disappeared last night, and I was expected back. Dobey must be breathing fire."
"Come to think of it, the way I tore outta there wasn't too cool, either. Dobey will -_ " Simultaneously, the same suspicion hit both. "Dobey. Hutch, did we ?"
"I'm not sure, but I think _- " Together they turned toward the phone to see its receiver dangling on its wire.
"We did," Starsky concluded. "God, what time was it? What'd we say?"
"Dobey'll kill us," Hutch declared.
That was enough of an impetus to get up on. Change of position had unfortunate effects on the stomachs, though. Starsky pointed at the bathroom, and they stumbled there, supporting each other. But after a few minutes of expecting the worst, they managed to collect themselves unscathed. Hutch stuck his head under the faucet, while Starsky dropped the robe unceremoniously and stepped straight into the shower.
"I'll get the coffee started," Hutch offered.
"My clothes are in the dryer. Could you?"
Starsky had located a razor and was shaving when Hutch came in, handed him the clothes he'd been smoothing the wrinkles out of, and took his turn with the shower.
"Next time you get into a snit, you're on your own. Makin' up with you's gonna kill me. Shit! If I don't cut my throat first." He concentrated on the job at hand until he could safely put the razor away. "I must've left a toothbrush here sometime."
"Probably. There's a new one in the medicine chest. Feel free."
"Thanks." For a while sounds of cleansing occupied the bathroom.
"Did I ever tell you that I love your grandmother?"
"Forget it, boychickel, you're goy. A blond one at that, chas vesholem."
Showered and shaved, Hutch dressed, pulled out his white jacket from the closet and went to the kitchen. Starsky was huddled over a cup of coffee, looking troubled. Another steaming cup was waiting on the table.
Hutch sensed that something more than a hangover had started bothering his friend. "What's wrong?"
Starsky stayed silent for a while. "Meredith," he said finally.
"Oh." Somehow they had both forgotten about Starsky's present partner while trying to find their way back to each other through the night. Hutch suspected that Meredith was, once again, more than a partner. He knew he didn't want to spoil anything for Starsky, ever again. "Well, nothing to worry about."
"Hutch, she's gonna "
"No, she's not. I know what we talked about, but it's not necessary, Starsk. We don't have to be partners to be friends. Let's just "
"No," Starsky interrupted firmly. "It won't wash, Hutch. Not with Meredith. She'll know what I'd prefer; she's always known that. I'd much rather be straight with her. She won't stand for anythin' else." He could see that Hutch was set to argue further. "Trust me. I know her better."
"Special lady, huh?"
"Well, for starters, she's the best partner anybody could ask for." He didn't miss how Hutch's gaze shied away and added warmly, "I didn't ask for you. First day at the Academy, I turned around `n you were there. You just...sorta happened."
"Right. Like catching a disease."
Starsky started to laugh which turned into a groan. He cradled his forehead in his palm on the table. "Don't crack jokes this mornin' please. Oh, God, my head..."
When he raised his eyes, he realized Hutch had been serious. "Hey." He reached to cover his friend's hand. "I never said you were perfect. Just good enough for me. So it hasn't been a bed o' roses, probably won't be either, but it's worth it to me, okay?" He squeezed the hand when Hutch didn't respond. "Okay?"
"Okay." Please, God, don't ever let me make him regret it. "Didn't you once say this lady wiped you out in hand-to-hand?"
"I was at a disadvantage. Hundred-ten pounds if she's soakin' wet, so I wasn't takin' her seriously. Bad mistake. Next thing I knew, I was flat on my back."
"That fast, huh? Sure you didn't think you were playing another kind of game, the one in which it wouldn't take much to get you horizontal?"
Starsky grimaced. "If I did, she changed my mind quick what with her gun pokin' into my side."
"Wait a minute," Hutch kidded. "She sounds dangerous. Do I want to be with you when we see her today?"
"Yeah," Starsky decided for him, seriously. "You wanna be with me."
Hutch sobered, too. "You're right, partner. I do."
"First, though," the light tone was back in Starsky's voice, "let's go find Huggy and make him fix us one of his sure-fire cures for hangovers. Then we'll talk to Meredith. Afterwards we'll have to see...."
"We can always go get my car afterwards," Hutch offered. Anything to delay the inevitable with Dobey, who should be fed up with the antics of his two cops. "Still, Dobey's going to get us sooner or later."
"Well, maybe if we duck long enough and catch him when he's real busy.... Come on, let's go. Believe it or not, I'm startin' to get hungry."
Hutch shuddered violently at the idea of food.
Meredith didn't like paperwork, but unlike Starsky, she didn't delude herself into thinking it'd go away if ignored long enough. Since she couldn't locate her partner, the morning had been as good a time as any to catch up. Not that anybody was clamoring for reports, for a change. The whole precinct seemed to be caught up in the avalanche of busts Detective Hutchinson had unexpectedly dropped into Metro's lap the day before. She had found a back office, away from the thick of things, and the work was keeping her from worrying. Starsky hadn't been home all night and all morning.
She was about done and ready to do some serious worrying when the door cracked open and Starsky's curly mop presented itself, framing apologetic eyes and a scape-grace grin.
"Where have you been? I called and _- " The rest of the body filled the partially open doorway. He was wearing the clothes he had on the previous day, now wrinkled. "Never mind. Maybe I don't want to know. Just get to your paperwork."
She wasn't sure she cared to speculate about the combination of his absence all night long, the clothes, and the face that spoke of little sleep, topped with apologetic eyes. "I did most of it for you, but you have to fill in the blanks. For example, what happened after you ditched your partner and went up on that crane like some damned fool with a suicide wish?"
"I'm sorry," he said with that guileless sincerity he was capable of, and motioned at the paperwork. "Thanks."
She bent to sign the papers. After a moment, she realized he was still standing riveted in the doorway. She looked up and caught him casting an anxious glance to his left, to something or someone hidden by the door. Impatiently, she went to the door and pulled it open all the way.
Hutchinson stood there, hands thrust into pockets, shoulders hunched. Another set of blue eyes flashed apology at her before they went back to watching the aimless patterns a boot toe was tracing on the tiles. Starsky had his head tilted to one side, transmitting some kind of plea. Neither had anything to say, seemingly sure that the picture they were presenting was worth a thousand words.
Obviously, her suspicion of how he had spent the night had been way off base. The tiny stirring of betrayal she had started to feel, instead of easing, blazed almost out of control. She could forgive her lover for a one-night stand, even understand it, during a rocky period. But how dare he stand there, with his all-too-readable silence, and present her with the fait-accompli of: it's been fun, but you see, The Real Thing is back now? He was hacking at a commitment more serious than their personal one.
Under her gaze, Starsky shifted from one foot to the other, still silent, anxious eyes gauging her reaction. Suddenly, it dawned on Meredith that he looked more like a supplicant than anything else. It triggered an old memory.
After their father had disappeared to wherever too many black men who had been beaten by the odds found refuge, and their mother had been forced to work at a string of jobs with long hours, Meredith had been responsible for taking care of home, a young brother, and an old grandmother. Home, then, had been Trenton, New Jersey, a town fast surrendering to decay, especially on the wrong side of the tracks. J.J. had been a delicate, quiet child. Meredith now saw him standing in front of her again, all awkward limbs and shy eyes too large for his face, pleading to keep the ugly mongrel he had found somewhere.
She hadn't had the heart to refuse. He had promptly named the wet, muddied, starved creature "Champion," and had been attached to him with all the fierce love and loyalty small, lonely boys were capable of. They had been inseparable from that moment on until the miserable beast had broken J.J.'s heart by getting run over a few years later.
J.J. had gone to Vietnam, barely nineteen. He had come back in a green plastic body bag.
"Did anyone ever tell you," she said, as casually as she could manage, "that you both look sort of unfinished without each other? You're a lot easier on the eyes like this. Detective Hutchinson." She found a smile from somewhere, and extended her hand. He enveloped it with both his oversized ones, held it for a second, then raised it to his lips.
Champion had licked her face when she had leaned to inspect the monstrosity she had just allowed J.J. to keep.
Oh, dear God, she thought, I have to learn to like this hulking, sulking blond. Damn it, Dave, do you have to come in a package deal? She studied the tall man smiling hesitantly at her. Well, some relationships had to be challenging.
She glanced back at Starsky, who was watching both of them as if they were the most beautiful sight in his universe. She'd start with the assumption that since Starsky loved this man, he had to be worth it somehow, and see where that would lead.
Really, one day she had to tell Starsky about J.J.
"Did I mention it earlier, Dave?" she continued after retrieving her hand. "Now that we don't have any loose ends, I'm going to take my two weeks and fly East to visit my mother." In fact, she could do it immediately. She had been due leave for months and had been putting it off. She could drop off the reports, and be out of Metro in ten minutes, on a flight in a couple of hours. We can all use some time to settle down.
Starsky was looking worried again. "Meredith, I _- "
"Did you already tell Dobey?" she interrupted, a hand motion taking in both men. She knew what was worrying Starsky, but something petty, she admitted inside her wanted him to sweat about it for a while.
"I...I think I did. We did."
"He's going to kill us," Hutch mumbled.
"Oh, I think not. Why don't you two go find out." She started gathering up the reports. Starsky's hand, a little hesitant on her waist, turned her around.
She couldn't keep up the act. He was a fully grown man, powerful, predatory at times, and gentle at other times with an inbred sensitivity. He had the passions and foibles of an adult male. But, for some reason, she had always been very aware of the child in him, sometimes an irrepressible mischievous imp, sometimes a lost little boy seeking assurance, wanting, needing
She threw her arms around his neck and gave him one of her genuine smiles. "Will you take care of my fish for me?" He nodded, eyes a little hopeful. "How about spaghetti with clam sauce when I get back? This time we'll see if we can manage to eat it together."
Relief broke out all over his face and he hugged her. "It's a date. I'll have it ready."
Over his shoulder, she looked speculatively at Hutchinson. This time around, he wasn't hovering over them obnoxiously, making pointed remarks. In fact, he had distanced himself, pretending not to be there by gazing out the window.
No time like the present to tackle the inevitable, she decided. "Officer Hutchinson, would you like to join us for spaghetti?"
He looked around, a little surprised. "Ken, please," he said. "I'd like that very much, but not the first day you get back. Later sometime?"
Maybe this wasn't going to be so hard. "Sure...Ken."
"Thank you," came the heartfelt whisper from Starsky's lips buried in her hair. He took a step back. "Lady, you're somethin' else." He turned to Hutch. "Guess we can't put off seein' Dobey too much longer."
"He's going to kill us," Hutch repeated as a foregone conclusion.
She watched them walk away. Damn it, they did look right together. You blow it this time, Hutchinson, she thought, and you'll answer to me.
"Do you think," Starsky asked conversationally, when they were on the staircase, "that the world is ready for a coupla little black Jewish Starskys?"
Hutch tripped over his feet and collected himself. "That serious, huh?"
"Don't go rentin' the tux yet. I'm none too sure myself. I mean, this is a serious business. Gotta think before you jump. And Meredith, well, she's classy. Guess I ain't exactly what she's always dreamed of, but.... Anyway, it was just a rheterical question. For now."
"Rhetorical," Hutch corrected automatically. "Don't worry about the world, partner. Some of the bigoted bastards in it are already behind bars, right? Anymore crop up, it'll be their problem. If you want to add little black Jewish Starskys to the population, go right ahead. I'll sure be ready for them whenever you are."
Starsky didn't much care what the world at large thought. In a roundabout way, he had been after Hutch's reaction, which mattered a lot, but hadn't expected the bonus his partner's answer had let slip out. It made him stop dead in his tracks.
Ever since the previous night, when Hutch had detailed his latest crusade, Starsky had been wondering what he was leaving unsaid so carefully, and why. Suddenly, instinctively, he realized what had made Hutch turn on one of his boyhood friends so viciously and single-mindedly. Miller had made one hell of a dangerous mistake. Instead of trying to convert Hutch, he should've been doing his damnedest to keep his anti-Semitist self from the blond. Probably, he still didn't know what he had violated to earn Hutch's wrath. Watch it, world, you're treading on me and thee. Oh, partner...
which genes are dominant, guess you'll be taking a chance on blue eyes,"
Hutch was chattering away, plainly unaware of Starsky's thoughts or that he was
bounding down the steps alone. "But it's safe to say we're stuck with the
curls. Hope Meredith can instill some taste in them. I'm not putting
tacos in Halloween baskets. Hey, does Meredith have an ear for
music? Maybe I can still teach a Starsky to sing properly. Stranger things have happened. And the first time you buy a candy-red tricycle with a racing stripe, you can forget about...." He and his voice disappeared down the staircase.
Damn, Hutch. I'm sorry. All those things I said in anger. I didn't know. I thought you didn't give a damn. Come to find out I'm sorry, babe. God, what if I'd just kept runnin'?
The blond head reappeared around the railing, eyes looking up at his motionless partner in puzzlement. "Starsk?" Hutch retraced his steps to Starsky's side. "Something wrong?"
Wrong? Hell, no. It's finally right again. "Uh... no, no," Starsky said, deciding to honor Hutch's silence. You wanna keep it inside your own chest for a while, babe, go ahead. Now there's all the time in the world. "So you like the notion of little Starskys, huh?"
"Sure. Who else have I got to wait for to tell stories to? Like how their father ended up with a nickname like Dirtball, or how he once burst into a hostage situation damn near naked. Or what one of LA's finest has in common with a Virgin in the Woods, or how he let himself be suckered into buying a rat for two hundred and fifty dollars, or "
Starsky aimed a kick at him, which he knew Hutch was fully expecting. The blond man grabbed the leg and pulled, abruptly introducing Starsky's posterior to the steps.
"Ouch!" Starsky swung his other leg into the back of Hutch's knees, and ended up the loser again when the blond managed to land on top of him. He didn't care at the moment. Painful backside or not, he got his arms around Hutch to hug him briefly, hard. Hutch didn't know why, of course, but he seemed perfectly willing to return the embrace before they started trying to figure out which appendage belonged to whom.
Starsky realized what a sight they were presenting in the middle of the precinct. "If we don't quit this, IA's gonna get mighty interested," he pointed out.
Hutch verbalized what they could do to IA with two short, choice words, causing Starsky to exclaim: "All of `em!?" Laughing like kids, they sorted out their individual bodies and got to their feet.
A throat was pointedly cleared. Looking up, they saw Minnie leaning over the rails. "Do we know her?" Starsky asked.
"Whether or not she's talking to us."
"You just hold it right there, you hooligans, and let me look at you," she said.
"Oh, it's Minnie," Starsky concluded.
"The old Minnie at that," Hutch added.
"Hello, Minnie," they chorused.
"Hello, yourselves. Wanna tell old Minnie what's going on? It's been a while since these eyes have seen you like this."
"Not much," Starsky answered. "It just took our smart College Boy all this time to figure out he can't hack it out there without my brains."
Hutch objected. "Hey, everybody knows I'm the brains of this team."
"Both of which don't amount to a hill o' beans," Minnie said. "Well, gotta run. Oh, Curly, there're some homemade cookies on my desk if you want to stop by."
"Jeez, I haven't had that offer for months," Starsky said farther down the corridor. "What have you got to do with whether or not I rate Minnie's homemade cookies?"
"Guess I add to your charm."
Starsky had stopped in front of the glass door to the squadroom, now in a state of disarray. "Hey, how about it?"
Hutch leaned back, and saw the recreation equipment that had, for some reason, been carried into the middle of the squadroom. "Now?"
"Come on, Starsk. People are working in there."
"They'll be goin' on lunch break. Come on."
"Starsky, do you know how much paperwork I have from yesterday? Got to see Dobey sometime, and we still have to get my car."
"Aw, Hutch, once you get caught in papers we'll never have the time. As for your car, hopefully it's stolen by now. And are you so eager to see Dobey?" He was feeling like a kid on Christmas morning after finding out Santa has been too good to him. Serious work had no appeal when all he wanted to do was to romp around.
Hutch yielded to the look in his eyes. "All right, but you have to make it worth my while."
"I'll think o' somethin'. Come on."
Starsky looked at the state of upheaval in the room as they got ready. "The whole place is goin' from the sublime to the ridiculous. That's a quote," he explained at Hutch's look, "from a "
"I'm well versed in trivia, Starsk."
"What you know about trivia would qualify as the triviest of trivia."
Hutch wrinkled his nose at the liberties Starsky was taking with the language. "Oh, yeah? Why don't you put your mouth where your mouth is, Hotshot?"
"Are you challengin' me?"
"You got it."
"Oh, boy, this is gonna be good," Starsky announced to the room. "Pick your category."
"Let's see. How can I make this easier on a devoted urbanite from Lower Manhattan?" He pretended to search, then snapped his fingers. "Western."
"Piece o' cake. I cut my teeth on Westerns."
"Country Western, as in songs, dummy." Starsky groaned. "Want to forfeit?"
"Not on your life! Go."
News of the long-unseen sight of The Terrible Two frolicking around the precinct had caught up with the Captain in the cafeteria. He tracked them down, fully intending to ground their feet firmly to earth, but the sight of them together was playing havoc with the stern expression he had plastered on his face. Actually, there was no pressing business, except some mopping up from the day before, and he decided to be generous.
Dobey started to say something, was sidetracked by the competition in full swing, then tried to remember. "Uh...where was I?"
"You were wondering, Captain," Hutch reminded him.
"I was wondering..." Dobey tried to recapture the authoritarian pose. "I was wondering what's going on here?" he asked sternly.
Under the guise of answering him, both men performed an orchestrated disappearing shuffle, as fast as any he had seen. After a while, the Captain realized he had been standing there, grinning like an idiot for minutes. It was time to go and have something which had been too scarce lately: a Good Day at the Office.
A commotion shattered his contentment. It sounded like a hot-rod gang was starting a demolition derby in the police garage. There were sounds of metal scraping, tires screeching, cars backfiring, and then people running and shouting.
He scowled and headed out. He'd put a stop to whatever was going on soon enough. His prodigal sons had found their way home, and he wasn't going to let anything spoil this day.
THE GLOSSARY OF YIDDISH TERMS
Ref.: The Joys of Yiddish, Leo Rosten
Baleboosteh : Bossy Woman
Boychikel : (Diminutive of "Boychik") Affectionate term for "Boy"
Chas Vesholem : (Has Vesholem) God forbid
Chavarim :(Plural of "Chaver") Friend, comrade, pal
Gonef : (Gonif, gonov)
1 - Thief, crook
2 - A clever person
3 - A precocious child
Goy : A Gentile, i.e. anyone who is not a Jew
Kaddish : The mourner's prayer
L'chayim : L'chaim) To life
Luftmensh : Someone with his head in the clouds