It was late in the evening, and Starsky was stretched on the couch, propped by some pillows, reading, when Hutch returned from a visit to the card-shark known as The Professor. He went into the kitchen and started fixing something.
"Professor sends his best," he stated casually. Starsky said nothing. Nor had he opened his mouth since leaving the precinct. Hutch babbled on. "The man is incredible. He has more intelligence than a faculty of real professors. More articulate than any of them, too, I'd bet. Remember the masseuse? He's still living with her. He's really getting old. Cards and dice still do anything he wants, though. If I can learn a quarter of what he's got to teach -- hey, you listening to me?"
Starsky didn't answer. Hutch came out of the kitchen, holding a steaming mug. "Starsk? Hey, are we speaking?"
"I'm tryin' to read," Starsky answered shortly, eyes on the file. He was trying to keep from saying something he might regret later, and wished Hutch would just let him be.
"Sorry. I thought you might be interested. Here, have some tea." He held out the mug.
Starsky deliberately ignored it. "I'm working."
"Same here. After all, Professor's skills are going to be my cover."
"Fine. Work on that, and I'll work on mine."
Hutch lost the light tone and snapped. "Excuse me, I thought we were working together."
"Could've fooled me!" Starsky couldn't help snapping back. "Just leave me alone, will ya?"
"Gladly, partner, except you went and dumped us into one hell of a case."
Starsky slammed the file shut. "I didn't dump us into anything! If you can't handle it, you can get the hell -- "
Hutch interrupted in a tight voice, rounding the couch to stand over his partner. "Don't say it. I don't deserve that. I'm doing the job the best way I know how."
Feeling dominated by Hutch's tall frame hovering over him, Starsky bounded off the couch to put distance between them. "If your idea of doin' a job is leadin' me around by the nose, shove it! I don't need it. For your information, pal, those bullets went through my chest, not my balls!"
"I GODDAMNED WELL KNOW THAT!" Hutch shouted with a violence that penetrated Starsky's anger and startled him. "What's that supposed to be? A guarantee?" the blond asked, confusing Starsky further.
Hutch paced off, swung back to his partner, fury on his face. "They'd never gone through your chest before that day, either. It didn't stop them, did it? So I can't handle it, so I go a little crazy sometimes -- I goddamned well know that, too! What do you want from me? Sanity? Rationality? Living the way we live? Should I laugh now, or later?" He made a jerky motion, causing the scalding-hot tea to splash on his hand. He gave a small gasp of pain. His expression was almost comical when he looked at the mug as if it were an alien object and he had no idea how it had gotten to be in his hand. Then he simply opened his fingers, letting the mug fall, paying it no more attention.
"Now, I think," he said in a strange, flat voice, and made a sound that could be called a laugh only by a stretch of the imagination. "If I can't stop, you can have me committed and solve all our problems." He didn't continue laughing, after all, but stuck the side of his scalded hand into his mouth, a child-like gesture of consolation, and went to the bedroom.
Shaken, Starsky let him go. They had never talked about the shooting except in the most general terms, and he had never realized how much it had affected his partner -- until now. After a moment, he went to the kitchen, got out some ice, wrapped it in a dish towel, and followed his partner. Hutch was sitting on the bed, left hand tightly curled over the other one.
Starsky sat next to him, gently pried his hands loose and looked at the damage. Over the thumb and the index finger the skin was mottled red, but it didn't look bad. He pressed the ice on it anyway, and looked up at his partner who was following the procedure with a detached expression.
"Hutch, I didn't know. I'm sorry."
"It's all right." Hutch pulled his hand away, held it out. "See, it's okay."
"You know that's not what I'm talking about." The blank expression in his partner's eyes was scaring Starsky. He got up to pull at Hutch and rested the man's back against the headboard, then lifted the legs onto the bed. Hutch just let himself be manipulated.
Starsky climbed on the bed himself, in front of the blond, tucking his legs under him. "Come on, partner, talk about it." Hutch didn't seem inclined to start. "Hey, look, I'm all right, I'm right here. How bad can it be?" Hutch actually smiled, and the contrast between the mouth and the eyes got to Starsky. "Okay, so it can be pretty bad. But it's over and done with. You have to let go, babe. You know I've been where you are. I lived those nightmares, too. I know how you feel, but -- "
Hutch finally spoke. "No, you don't."
"You don't know. You can't."
"How can you say that!"
"It's true. You've been hurt before, but I didn't know it, either. Not until Gunther."
Starsky leaned closer. "Okay, maybe I don't know. Tell me."
Hutch shook his head slowly. "Can't. It's..." He gestured with his hands, the motion of a man at a loss for words, then just spread them and shrugged. "Can't."
Understand me anyway, the eyes asked. Starsky nodded, trying very hard to do so. "All right. But Hutch, just because I almost died once, did die once, you can't hold me back from livin', or what's the use, why did I pull through?"
"Starsk, I -- " He stopped.
"Go on," Starsky prompted.
"I don't want to hold you back," the blond continued, eyes shying away. "I just want to hold on. I know I lose the balance sometimes, but that's all I want to do, honest. If I don't have that right, let me know now."
Starsky couldn't answer directly. "Can't we find a happy medium, Hutch? I won't react so badly to what you want to do, and don't come on so strong against what I want to do. Can we make that work?" Hutch looked back at him but didn't speak. "Come on, babe, after all these years, we can certainly meet halfway." He held out his hand, and after a second, Hutch extended his the same distance. Starsky squeezed the hand briefly before releasing it. "Back to work, partner?"
Starsky went to get the file, but when he settled on the bed again, he noticed that Hutch looked out of it. "You don't really want to, do you?"
His partner took a deep breath, ran his hands wearily through his hair, rubbed his face. "Not tonight."
"Okay. I can use the rest myself."
"Take the bed, please," Hutch said, his hands dropping into his lap. "God, I'm tired," he added, almost too low to hear.
Starsky decided not to argue with the sleeping arrangements for the moment. As Hutch went into the shower, he undressed and obediently got into the bed. He waited for his partner to come out of the bathroom.
"Hutch," he softly called out to the blond rummaging through the drawers. "Guests take the couch."
"You're not a guest," Hutch pointed out, pulling a pair of pajamas out of the drawer, then stuffing the top portion back into it.
"No, I'm not. So get in here, will ya?"
Starsky patted one side of the mattress. "Come on. It's big enough."
Hutch spared a glance at the bed. "Right," he said simply. Without further ado, he pulled the towel from around his waist, put on the pajama bottoms, turned out the lights, and climbed under the covers. "Goodnight." He turned his back and curled to a side.
"'Night," Starsky mumbled. He closed his eyes and tried to relax, but couldn't, somehow. Long minutes later, he was aware that neither could sleep. Something unsaid, unanswered, lay heavily between them. "Hutch?" There was no answering movement or sound, but Starsky knew his partner was waiting for him to speak. He reached to hold a shoulder, feeling the tension in the blond's body. "You've got the right. Of course, you do. Always."
Hutch didn't say anything, but Starsky felt him relax noticeably. He removed his hand, got into a comfortable position, suddenly in the right mood for sleep. Shortly, he felt Hutch stir and turn toward him. He opened his eyes. Diffuse rays of the moon through the blinds highlighted the fair hair, made a soft smile visible in the darkness.
Fingers tugged gently at the thick curl over Starsky's forehead. "One day I'm going to have a long talk with your mother." Hutch pulled his hand away, letting it fall next to Starsky's laying open-palmed on the pillow.
"Naming you David."
"I know my Bible, Starsk."
Drowsily, Starsky smiled to himself. "David won."
"He had a slingshot."
"I've got you."
"Don't you forget it."
"You kiddin'? Wouldn't leave home without it."
Sometime later, almost asleep, Starsky realized, without the first idea about who had initiated the move, that Hutch's hand was cupped over his palm and their fingers were loosely laced. Aren't we a pair, he mused distantly, two grown men, tough street cops, holding hands to fall asleep? For the sake of their image, he was glad nobody could see them like this. However, the contact felt very comfortable to him. Peaceful. Nice. Safe.
Dobey walked into the briefing room and found his two men already there. Hutch was tangled in miles of computer printouts, while Starsky was pacing around, a light bounce to his steps, with a book in one hand, gesturing wildly with the other, mouthing things incomprehensible. A quick look at the printouts showed Dobey that Hutch had made somebody do overtime and compile every bit of information on the Marruzzi family available on the West Coast.
"Listen to this," Starsky said, drawing his partner's attention. He spat out some gibberish, accompanied by hand gestures that reminded Dobey of badly exaggerated Italian movies.
Hutch made a face. "Ten points for enthusiasm above and beyond. Now lose the Jewish accent."
"Whadda you know? The only thing I'd get from you would be a Spanish accent, and we both know what happened the last time you tried that -- to me."
"Can I help it if the best you can ever manage is a unique and quaint Starskish?"
"Shove it, buddy. Remember four years ago? If I could make you pass your Midwestern WASP ass for Scanlon from the Bronx, I can certainly make myself pass for a son of Hell's Kitchen."
Hutch went back to the printouts. "Dig out the red jammies and try a pitchfork. In the meantime, remember, better no Italian than bad Italian."
Starsky strolled next to the blond. "I'm not givin' up that easy. This is the language of romance, partner. Amoré is made of this. Take Caruso, Mario Lanza. They looked like stuffed sausages, but dames turned to jelly when they sang."
"They had more than language going for them, Starsk. They had something called voice," Hutch said absentmindedly, trying to track down something on the endless papers which were fast making him look like a technological-age mummy.
Starsky ignored the sarcasm. "If I can get some of this down pat, I bet I can be the next great Italian tenor."
Apparently goaded past his limits, Hutch snatched the book out of Starsky's hand, slammed it down on the table, and jabbed at the printouts. "If you don't sit your ass down and help me wade through this shit, you'll be the next great soprano, Italian or otherwise!"
Undaunted, Starsky grinned at his partner. "You're bellissimo when you're angry, bambino." Hutch extended a threatening finger at his partner. Starsky made a motion of surrender. "Okay, okay, what're we lookin' for?"
Dobey studied the contrasting heads, now bent seriously over the papers. Obviously, things were back to normal. Normal for them, anyway. The captain could safely consider them assigned to the case. Checking his watch, he saw there was time before the New Yorkers were to arrive, so he went to order a big breakfast. His appetite had taken a turn for the better.
After five days, Dobey was heartily sick of the briefing room. The specialists who had transformed Starsky into Caporetto had left, so at least it was resembling a workplace again. Only the police photographer and his paraphernalia remained. Dobey watched Starsky inspect himself in a mirror and scowl. He wasn't yet used to his new image and neither was the captain. His detective now looked too...tidy. Somehow the man needed the rumpled look and his unruly mop to be himself. But then, that wasn't the idea at all.
Starsky tugged at the silk shirt, patted the sides of his hair unnecessarily, looking like he'd prefer to rearrange his skin altogether. "Could've been worse," Rizzo commented, watching his counterpart's discomfort.
"I could've replaced you, Shirley Temple."
Not rising to the bait, Starsky restricted himself to throwing the man a dirty look. The effect was rather spoiled, though, as he kept blinking against the unaccustomed lenses.
"Ready, Sergeant?" the photographer asked.
"Hold your horses, will ya!" Starsky snapped, grabbing a Kleenex to dab at his eyes. "Soon's I can stay dry."
Rizzo had been mostly silent during the proceedings, an angry quietness that seemed to cover defeat, now that Starsky's appearance proved that the New Yorker could be replaced. His one attempt to irritate Starsky thwarted, he grabbed his jacket. "Meet you at the airport," he snapped to his captain and stomped out of the room.
Dobey approached Mallory. "Will he be all right?"
"Sure," Mallory said, adding with less confidence, "I hope so. He'll be at the airport, and he'll complete the job. Tony may have some shortcomings; doing a haphazard job isn't one of them." He studied Starsky, who had managed to compose himself enough to pose for the photos to accompany the documents that would identify him as Caporetto. "Don't worry about your man. However Tony might personally feel, he'd never jeopardize another officer or a case. Tony's cover will be as secure as -- I mean, Detective Starsky's cover...."
Dobey threw him a curious glance. Mallory looked just as puzzled at himself. "Habit, I guess," he said, with a lift of his shoulders. "Tony and me, we go back a long way. Not duplicates, I can see," he continued, indicating Starsky, "but there's something about him like this, I don't know, something familiar. He reminds me of Tony years ago, when we -- " He hesitated. shrugging again. "Before he changed...hardened."
Dobey didn't push. He was already aware that Mallory's concern over Rizzo's well-being went much deeper than a superior's toward someone who happened to be working for him.
The photo session over, Starsky couldn't seem to wait to get out of the silk shirt and into his own disreputable one. "My God," Mallory whispered, almost inaudibly, making Dobey look up at his detective and see the scarred body. "Hutchinson had mentioned it, but -- what happened?"
"An assassination attempt, right here at the police garage. He's lucky to be alive."
"And he's back on duty? I know he must've qualified, but he actually wanted to?"
Dobey felt obligated to explain. "Being a cop is not what Starsky does. It's what he is."
"No wonder he reminds me of Tony."
Starsky was dressed and fussing with his hair again when the door swung open and Hutchinson walked in. Dobey saw the dark man turn toward his partner, visibly brace himself, and assume a ready-for-any-indignity look.
Whatever he was expecting, Hutchinson disappointed him. "All done, huh?" He inspected his partner closely. "Looks okay." He turned to the photographer. "The photos ready?"
"In a minute."
"Get a move on, will you?" He gave his attention back to Starsky. "How'd you do with imitating the signature?"
"Our expert says it's passable." Hutchinson was ready to ask something else, but Starsky held up a hand. "Forget it. No way in hell can I write anythin' anybody can read with my right. I'm just gonna have to stay left-handed."
"What if you pretended an injury -- ?" the blond started to suggest.
"Quit makin' a big production outta everything. Got enough to keep on my mind. Nobody's gonna notice, let alone announce it coast to coast. Caporetto's just another workin' stiff in the ranks, that's all."
The photographer handed Hutch some photos while leaving the room. "Not bad. Oh, yes, Linda starts working at The Familia's reception desk next Friday."
Starsky objected. "Hey, we won't get there for another week an least."
"There was an opening, she took it. By the way, Captain, the commissioner's waiting for you."
By all means, let's have our priorities straight, Dobey thought, irritated at the delayed information. "If you can wait, I'll drive you to the airport," he told Mallory, and hurried to meet his boss.
Hutch had gathered all he needed and was heading out of the room. "Hutch," Starsky called out.
His partner paused. "What?"
Starsky indicated himself. "Gimme a break, huh? This is like waitin' for the other shoe to drop. Laugh and get it over with, will ya?"
Hutch looked him over. "Oh, yeah. Sure, soon's I have a minute." He grinned wickedly at his partner and left.
Starsky sighed, sitting down and resting his feet, crossed at the ankles, on the table.
"Is he always like that?" Captain Mallory asked, nodding towards the door.
"That's not bad. You should see him during a full moon," Starsky grumbled, then thought better of his attitude. "Don't get me wrong. He drives me up the wall sometimes, but I wouldn't have it any other way. It's the only way to live. Literally. That's why I can't understand guys like Rizzo. In this job, without a partner, where are you? How can he have no use for one?"
Mallory started packing his briefcase. "Tony once had a partner for six years. It was good, too."
Starsky was genuinely interested. "What happened?"
The captain smiled strangely. "I got married, then really blew it and wanted off the streets," he said, surprising the detective. "I was older. Promotions came through. I took them."
"Oh." Starsky took a moment to digest that, then couldn't help asking: "And now he works under you? Isn't that -- I mean, I couldn't do that. It'd be too uncomfortable."
"Uncomfortable? Yes, at times. In the beginning, I thought he'd transfer. I was wrong. Every once in a while, he threatens, but never carries through." His hands were forgotten in mid-air, holding some papers. Starsky got the impression he was mainly talking to himself. "Sometimes I think he's waiting to see who's going to break first. Other times I feel he likes it just where he is, and always tries a little harder to prove a street cop is more useful than a paper pusher." He finally dropped the documents into the case and put the lid down. "Or maybe some habits are just impossible to break. Who knows?" Suddenly looking impatient with the subject, he closed it, picked up his briefcase, and approached to extend his hand. "I'd better go find Dobey. I still have to pack. Good luck. Give my best to your partner. We'll be in touch."
Starsky got to his feet quickly to shake hands and see the man to the door. Afterwards, he hesitated, knowing he should go and see if Hutch wanted any help, but he closed the door instead and sat back down, needing some time to think.
Changes tended to spring out at him when he was complacently sure of his lot. His childhood had been shattered unexpectedly when his father, the man he'd thought indestructible, had been gunned down in the streets. He hadn't only lost a father, but his whole family, the only life he'd known, when his mother, unable to cope with a confused, wild teenager and a younger son, had sent him to live with relatives in LA. He had settled down finally, managed to finish high school. Just as he was beginning to own his life, he had been pulled out of it to be deposited in the middle of the Vietnam War.
He had carved a corner for himself since then, obviously not the safest existence he could lead, but it satisfied him just as it was. He wasn't as much concerned with safety as he was with stability. But taking something for granted didn't necessarily make it stable. Was the ground due to shift from under him again?
The door opened suddenly. "What're you still doing here? McNeil wants us." Hutch backed in, tumbling Starsky's thoughts of past and future into a harried present. "Gotta eat on the run. Got some takeout Italian food. Fitting, right?" He handed over a styrofoam plate, kept one for himself.
Starsky opened his, found meatballs in tomato sauce. He stabbed at one with the plastic fork and it skittered off the plate, hit the floor, bounced, leaving a red trail. He poked at one of the remaining balls on the plate. "Rubber meatballs? You got no class, Hutch."
The blond snickered. "Did you look in the mirror lately?"
On his way out the door, Starsky appropriated his partner's food. He tried to eat quickly, before Hutch started a tug-of-war, then realized that now he was stuck with a rubber fork. He turned to glare at the blond.
Hutch was laughing. "You do look ridiculous, you know."
It was over two weeks later and past midnight when Starsky got around to asking the questions he had been shelving in favor of this and that. Early in the morning, they had to catch a flight to Chicago to meet Rizzo. Nothing was left to be done except for Caporetto to arrive at LAX. Although it was late and they were already in bed, Starsky decided he could take some time to talk to his partner. It was going to be a while before the opportunity came again.
"Hutch?" he whispered to make sure his partner wasn't asleep.
"You wanna get married?"
The blond chuckled, a rich, throaty sound. "Gee, Starsky, I thought you'd never ask."
Starsky playfully punched an available shoulder. "What, a lousy housekeeper like you who wouldn't feed me worth a damn? Think I'm crazy? Seriously, Hutch, you wanna get married again?"
"Again being the operative word," Hutch said, serious now.
"Something like that."
"Come on, Hutch, that's not good enough. You're not a quitter, or you couldn't go on doin' this job day after day."
"There's a very big difference."
"In this job, I sometimes succeed." He turned toward Starsky in the darkness. "I can't say the same thing for any relationship with the ladies. And you know it wasn't for want of trying."
"So you're just gonna give up?"
"Seems destined, doesn't it?"
"Maybe, I don't know. I wouldn't mind being pleasantly surprised one day, but if it's all the same to you, I'd rather not plan on it."
Obviously, Starsky wasn't going to get a firmer answer than that. He'd just have to leave it as an uncertainty in the hands of the future.
"Do you?" Hutch asked.
"Do I what?"
"Plan on it?"
"No, not exactly. But I don't automatically consider it impossible, either. Who knows?"
Hutch laughed softly. "Sometimes I envy your resilience. Or are you just too stubborn? But you're right, I guess. Who knows?"
"I know one thing, though."
"It wouldn't change anything. For us, I mean."
"Of course, it would."
"I won't let it!" Starsky protested immediately, then wondered why he'd felt it necessary to be so forceful about it.
"Hey," Hutch said soothingly, "I just said there'd be a change. I didn't say it'll be for the worse."
"Oh." Starsky couldn't consider qualities of change at the moment. Just thinking of dealing with change was bad enough.
"Something wrong, Starsk?"
"Just idle chatter, huh?"
"Have it your way." Hutch rolled away again.
Some time later, Starsky found himself posing another question. "You think you wanna get promoted?"
"All right, that does it!" Hutch straightened to flick on the bedside lamp and started to turn around. "What the hell's bothering -- " He cut off as his eyes fell on his partner. "Damn."
"Nothing. It still catches me by surprise. Your hair." The blond started laughing. "This is going to sound too bizarre, but you know what I just felt? Like a stranger was in the bed, and I was being unfaithful or something." He shook his head at himself. "Does that make sense?"
"Weird sense, but what else is new?"
"I don't know, pal. You tell me. What else is new?" he tugged at a pillow to prop himself against the headboard. "What's with all the questions suddenly?"
"I just wondered, that's all. How long you wanna stay a sergeant?"
"How long do you want to stay one?"
"I ain't got a choice, Hutch. I don't have a college diploma. This is as far as I can go."
"What, they shut down all the colleges lately?"
Starsky grimaced. "Oh, sure, and just how long you think it'll take me to get a degree workin' full-time and goin' to school part-time? On the kinda schedules we keep?"
"The point is, it can be done, if you want to. Do you want to?"
Starsky thought for a while, aware that Hutch was watching him too intently. "I don't know. I like bein' on the streets."
Suddenly, the blond looked weary. "That settles that, doesn't it?" He slid low into the pillows and closed his eyes.
"You didn't answer my question," Starsky insisted.
"No. But you did."
"You mean you'll stay where I want to stay, as long as I want?" He didn't get an answer. "Hutch, that's not fair to you. I mean, what if -- "
"Oh, no," Hutch interrupted, sounding ill-tempered. "You don't get to choose across the board. Staying is my choice, make no mistake."
Starsky stayed silent for a minute. "Hutch, uh, it's not fair to me, either."
"Goes with the territory, partner. Live with it."
There was nothing to say to that. Starsky told himself he should feel reassured of where they stood, so why was he feeling anything but? "Rizzo and Mallory were partners for a long time," he said conversationally.
"It was to me. Mallory said it was a good pairing."
"So what hap -- don't tell me. Did Mallory get promoted or married?"
They were quiet until Starsky said: "Let's get some sleep. Turn out the light, huh?" The room became dark again. Hutch settled in but didn't turn away.
"Let Rizzo and Mallory worry about their own problems." His voice was again gentle. "I'm not going anywhere. You know that, don't you?"
If there was to be a change, Starsky realized, it would have to come from him. Hutch had practically said so. It was too tempting to relax, knowing his partner wouldn't rock the boat. How selfish was that? Later, he decided, and suspended those thoughts. First, there was the case, and the morning was fast approaching.
TWA Flight 167 from New York was only a few minutes late in landing at Chicago's O'Hare Airport. It was taxiing into its berth when Starsky tapped his partner on the arm to signal he was leaving and took off. Hutch watched the plane dock and the passengers start to disembark, looking for the detective from New York. There was really little reason for the blond man's presence, but he wished to be there to see Rizzo board another plane back to New York where Mallory would meet him and keep him under wraps for however long it took.
Rizzo was walking toward him. Hutch made sure he was seen before he turned and preceded the man, leading him into a bar. He entered the bathroom, saw that the coast was clear except for Starsky, then left. Rizzo went in while the blond stood outside assuring that they weren't disturbed during the last minute exchanges. It didn't take long. The New Yorker came out, found a table, and proceeded to order a drink.
Aware that it was the last time they could speak freely for who knew how long, Hutch went back into the bathroom to see Starsky. "Don't forget to develop a cold and keep it for a while," he said. Just in case any concerned person in New York called to check how Caporetto was settling in.
Starsky gave him a long-suffering look. Hutch shrugged apologetically. "I'll be about three hours behind you," he said, unnecessarily straightening Starsky's jacket, brushing off nonexistent specks, "but there's no telling when I'll actually get to see you."
"Don't worry. I'll find you if I need you."
"Right," Hutch mumbled.
"I gotta go."
"I know." While the blond wished his partner wouldn't look so much like an eager kid on his way to Disneyland, Starsky patted him on the back, picked up the flight bag Rizzo had passed to him, and started to leave. "Hey," Hutch called out. "Take care of yourself."
Starsky smiled at him, giving a thumbs-up signal. "See you, partner."
Hutch followed him out, watched him disappear into the crowd, then went to join Rizzo, prepared to endure the man until the flight to New York was called. His own back to LA would leave an hour after that. Then would come the time for patience.
One of the first things Starsky noticed when he got off the plane was that none other than Captain Dobey was there to confirm the first contact. The detective smiled to himself. In the striped shirt, flowered tie, checkered suit that struggled to stay wrapped around bulges, topped by a speckled sporty hat, the big, black man looked too conspicuous to be actually conspicuous.
His attention was drawn by a man whose thin face and sharp features contrasted with a stocky frame. Followed by a nondescript young man, he approached the detective without hesitation, letting Starsky know his disguise was good enough, and held out his hand.
"Welcome to LA, Mr. Caporetto. I'm Jack Valenti."
The words sounded grudging. For just an instant, Starsky touched the bony hand with short fingers -- the man seemed made up of spare parts that didn't fit each other -- before it was drawn back. "Your claim ticket."
Valenti didn't seem inclined to chatter or waste time. Starsky followed suit and dug out his ticket. The young man who hadn't rated an introduction took it, and left quickly. "This way," Starsky was told by Valenti.
Outside the terminal, a silver limousine was waiting. Starsky pretended to look unimpressed. "Your luggage will follow," Valenti said, opening the door, but getting in first.
As if he was used to classy treatment, Starsky casually sprawled in the indecently soft seat. The vehicle took off smoothly. "Cups, ice, drinks, snacks, TV," Valenti pointed at the different amenities, but made no move to be of service.
"Transportation," Starsky said shortly, not availing himself of anything else.
"The limo belongs to the club, used for daily service," he was informed, seemingly for no reason. He understood that Valenti didn't want him to attach too much importance to the fact that he was furnished with a classy car. He also understood that Valenti, for some reason he didn't yet know, was hostile to him.
No, to Caporetto.
It was time to find the balance. David Michael Starsky couldn't take anything too personally from now on. Through his body and senses, another being had to live and function, act and react. Behind the darkly shaded windows of the limo, he started studying the city he knew so intimately as if he were seeing it for the first time, and not particularly caring for it, either.
For some reason, Starsky realized, he had been expecting The Familia to be dark, smoky, with small booths, tightly packed with solid, brown furniture, heavy velvet drapes and chandeliers. It had to be all those late-night movies of the Prohibition Era. Hutch, having already had an interview there a few days ago, had described the workings and the discreetly tucked away gambling rooms, but not the decor.
In daylight, everything about the place was light and airy. And Starsky realized why Pop Art deserved the name. It tended to pop out at one. Glass, pastels, and panels dominated the large place, contrasted by shockingly loud colors and abstract shapes distributed around; artistically, he supposed. At the moment, bright afternoon sun was streaming through the immense patio doors opening on to a deck, and pooling in sharp angles on the floor and furnishings through random picture windows cut into the ceiling. No artificial light source was visible. They were probably hidden behind the panels. At night, the place would look like a confusing maze. It was a typical, very expensive LA club, now in a flurry of preparation for the evening.
Valenti leading, they passed through it quickly, into a corridor, then an office. The scattering of variedly colored and angled panels made it hard to distinguish what was decoration and what were doors or closets. Carlo Genovese was also very far from the image Starsky carried of a fat, cigar-chomping mobster and club owner. He was in his mid-forties, rakishly handsome, slender and dapper in an outfit that would be in place on a yacht. But when they came close enough to shake hands, Starsky's trained eye detected that some indulgence had started taking its toll. Still, he cautioned himself against taking the man lightly. From his record, he guessed that Genovese wasn't controlled by whatever he partook of.
The greeting over, Genovese introduced the other two men in the room. "Luigi," was directed at a man for whom a second name didn't seem to be necessary, built so much like a cube that Starsky wondered how he'd get up from the large seat he was occupying without a crowbar. However, the man rose with the agility of an athlete. Starsky's hand was encased in a crushing grip for an instant, accompanied by a grunt of acknowledgement.
"Salvatore Marruzzi," Genovese said, with no more than a dismissive wave toward the young man sprawled on a couch, looking asleep. "Say hello, Sal, if you can."
Starsky's attention was instantly drawn at the mention of the name. So this was Marruzzi's grandchild, the only son of an only son, long dead. The young man fought to open his eyes, squinted, mumbled something about "the infernal hour" instead of a greeting, then turned to Starsky. "Come back tonight, when I'm alive," he managed to put together. Trying to chuckle, but only coming up with a cackle, he added, "You see, I'm the family Dracula."
"Enough, Sal!" Genovese said sharply. Unperturbed, the young man waved weakly, as if in farewell, and lapsed into stupor again.
Starsky took note of the unnatural dilation of Sal's eyes, the ravages in the face that could've otherwise been almost too beautiful, the tremor in the lax hands, and concluded that here was somebody not only controlled by vices, but damn near lost to them. He decided to attach himself to the young man, if possible. Where there was vice, there was weakness.
Genovese dismissed Valenti, ordered drinks and some food for later, then launched into small talk of the accommodations for Caporetto, and what some of his future duties might be. Starsky was alert not to say or do something wrong. But in one corner of his mind, he was busily calculating.
The extent of the information on the grandson was that Marruzzi had one, period. From the looks of things, that seemed incredible. The man himself, and Genovese's attitude toward him, clearly said he was a major embarrassment. But he had been hidden successfully. Salvatore's clothes and jewelry proved he was pampered, and his look was not that of a hungry junkie. Starsky wondered to what extent Marruzzi was keeping the family name clean, and to what extent he cared for the young man personally. If there was a real attachment there, the grandson just might be the chink in the untouchable old man's armor, a way to get to him.
His brain was racing too far ahead, he knew, and wished he could discuss it with Hutch. Then he immediately discarded the idea. After all the warnings from Rizzo, if Hutch even guessed at how high Starsky was thinking of reaching, he'd bodily pack his partner right out of the case.
The thought was enough to sober him, though. This was no time to get carried away. He decided not to let enthusiasm outstrip good sense, filed away the notion for the time being, and prepared to let Caporetto settle in while the cop took it a step at a time.