Action was slow on Sundays. Hutch found himself leaving early, grateful for it after the interminable hours he had put in for the three previous nights. He took time to walk down to the beach, not particularly looking forward to getting back to sleep. As soon as he had descended the steps, he noticed he wasn't alone. A figure that had been sitting on the sand a little way down jumped up and ran to him.
He smiled at the Mexican girl, noting she was in jeans and a halter top. "Hello, Consuela. Aren't you working tonight?"
"The mistress back now."
"What are you doing here then?"
"Waiting for you. You mind?"
Despite himself, he was flattered. "Not at all."
"I come every night, but you don't come."
"I was working late," he explained, omitting to specify where.
"You have another appointment?"
"No, not tonight."
"You eat already?"
"Good." Her small hand fitted itself into his, pulling him to where she had been sitting. "I said I fix you food, I fix you food."
"Oh, it's all ready." There was a blanket spread on the sand, under a picnic basket, which she opened, enthusiastic. "But maybe it's cold."
The food wasn't that cold, but it was too spicy for Hutch's taste. He started eating anyway, thinking that Starsky would be the one to appreciate the burritos.
"Yes, very much," he lied. "I also know someone who'll positively fall in love with it. And with you, if you feed him like this." She shrugged, obviously not in the slightest interested in someone else. He continued, "This is very nice, Consuela, and I appreciate it, but please, don't wait around for me every night. I can't show up all the time. Also, I bet you have to get up early in the mornings."
"I don't mind."
"I do. For one thing, I'd hate to think you were waiting for no good reason. For another, the beach gets too dark and empty. It's not safe for you." He reached to hold her by the chin. "Promise you won't make me worry."
"But...how do I see you?"
Why would you want to, he didn't say. Obviously, she did. "If I'm free, I'll leave you a note with the cashier."
Her large eyes asked for assurance, making him feel bad. "Yes, if I can." Some assurance, he thought. "Consuela, if I can't, that's all it means. I just can't." He knew how lame that sounded, and couldn't imagine any woman in his experience letting him get away with it. He would have either been asked to explain himself, or told to go to hell.
Consuela, however, seemed to accept it as a given. "I'll wait," was all she said, making him feel worse, because he knew he'd call on her if he decided she could be useful and forget about her otherwise.
She asked him if he was a native Angelino, and he was explaining that he was just as uprooted as she was, when she decided to lie down, using his leg as a pillow, her abundant hair fanning out over his lap. Hutch couldn't help looking down. From his vantage point, the already brief halter top concealed absolutely nothing, and the denim cloth was covering her carelessly sprawled legs too tightly. The night air started to feel a little too warm to the man.
"Uh, sit up, huh?" He urged her off him with one hand, then felt obligated to invent an excuse for pushing her away. "You're not eating. Here, eat something." He grabbed a burrito, holding it out to her.
Instead of taking it, she covered his hand with one of hers and got her mouth around the food. That didn't do wonders for his blood pressure either. He pried her hand off and transferred the food into her palm, then looked for a napkin to wipe the sauce that had leaked onto his fingers. She took his hand and proceeded to lick it clean.
For a few seconds, he indulged the rising heat in his body, then pulled away brusquely. "Consuela, don't." He found a napkin and cleaned his hand.
"You don't like me?"
"I do!" he snapped, wondered why he was taking it out on the child, softened his voice. "I do, really. I'm afraid of liking you a little too much."
"Consuela, I'm twice your age."
"You are beautiful," she said and totally threw him. "I'm sorry. Maybe a man don't like beautiful, but you are." Her hand reached, stopping a little short of his hair. "Gold. Eyes like sky. Like the angeles I see in church when I'm little."
"Hardly," he choked out, grabbing her by the wrists in a no-nonsense hold. "Not by the longest shot. I'm just a man, a man you don't know at all, wouldn't like too much if you did, one who's far too old for you, and I'm trying very hard to remember that. So cut out the Lolita act."
"Never mind. Look, I like you. For some strange reason, you seem to like me, too, but this isn't a good idea at all, and before -- "
"Ken. Hey, Ken."
Hutch instantly identified Linda's voice calling out to him and turned. She was waving at him from the railing of the club. Forgetting everything else, he jumped up and ran toward her while she hurried down the steps.
"Been lookin' for you. If it wasn't for that hair of yours, I wouldn't've found you either," she said as she approached. "You got company at your place. He called me, tryin' to locate you. Said it wasn't an emergency or anything, but he sounded a little strange to me. I was about to go myself."
While she was talking, Hutch was already bounding up the steps. Only at the top of them he remembered Consuela and glanced back. She was walking away on the beach, a small, dejected figure carrying the basket and dragging the blanket after her. At the moment, he didn't spare her any more thought, except for wishing he had gone straight home instead of wasting time with her.
The apartment was dark. "Starsky?" Hutch called out upon opening the door, squinting into the befoliaged space.
"Why are you sitting in the dark?" He reached for the light switch.
"My eyes -- " his partner cut off and grimaced when Hutch flipped on the overhead light. " -- hurt," he finished, shielding them.
"What's wrong? You look sick."
"I am. To my stomach, mainly. Cut the light, will ya? I've got a headache."
Hutch first turned the light on in the bathroom, then turned it off in the living room, leaving a dim illumination. "How's that?"
"Okay." Starsky sniffled, reached for a kleenex and blew his nose.
"Catching a cold?"
"No," was the terse answer.
"Oh, I see. Couldn't get out of it, huh?"
"There was no way of gettin' out of it, short of swimmin' to shore. They were free-basing it in the cabin. Couldn't breathe without catchin' it and I couldn't stay on the deck. The shape they were in, they could've blown up the boat playin' with the fire. Shit! Where do you keep the aspirin?"
Hutch got him two tablets and handed them over with a glass of water. "Lie down." He took the glass back and sat down on the chair next to the couch "Uh, Starsk, you don't get the sniffles from just breathing in free-based coke," he ventured, tentatively.
"That was later, when Sal 'n me were at his place," Starsky explained freely. "He was doin' lines, as if he hadn't had enough. He was talkin', and I wanted to keep him talkin'. I joined him in a few lines, and he opened up as if he'd found a long-lost brother." Hutch waited for his partner to pass on the information he had gained, but Starsky didn't seem inclined to get on that track. "I don't know what they see in this shit. It's like having a fuckin' cold, 'n I don't know anybody who enjoys that, let alone rush out to get one. What the hell's the attraction, Hutch? Can you explain that to me? I mean, how could anyone with an ounce o' sense -- "
The glass in Hutch's hand, forgotten, somehow slipped out of his fingers. At the sound of it hitting the floor, harmlessly, Starsky caught himself, froze, then jumped up into a sitting position. "Oh, God, I'm sorry. I didn't mean it that way. Hutch, you know that's not what I meant. That was different. I was talking of people who have a choice. I never think of that, Hutch, believe me, I..."
"I do, I do," Hutch interrupted the words rushing out of his partner. It had stung for only a second, then he'd realized that Starsky would have chosen his words more carefully if he had made the connection at all. "Relax, it's all right. So what did Sal open up and say?"
Starsky laced his fingers in his lap, looking like he needed one hand to support the other. "A lot," he mumbled.
"Do I have to guess, or what?"
"You couldn't guess this one -- dear God."
"Okay, okay. Why do I find it hard to say? First of all, Bauer's not a stranger to Sal's crowd. Seems he's a supplier on the side. Small stuff, for pocket change, I guess. I hear he gets better pay from Genovese, for keeping him notified of Vice and Narco operations. He's also on Gambino's payroll. Tips on drugs coming in go to Gambino rather than his own department. If anybody infringes on the organization's turf, well, Bauer pulls them in, all official. Shows himself as a good cop in the process. Nice deal." Starsky looked nauseated.
"Is that what upset you? Aw, partner, don't waste it." Hutch wondered why he wasn't upset, at least mildly surprised, himself. There had been a time when he would have been shocked, now he couldn't even work up a good anger. Disillusions piling up turned one jaded and cynical. "So he's a bad apple, fine. Not the first one we've found. Now that we know...."
Starsky interrupted. "That's not all."
Hutch prompted. "Well? Come on, spit it out."
Starsky finally spoke, sounding like the words were hard to push out and left a bad taste. "He shot his own partner."
Hutch realized there was one area he hadn't become blasť about. "What!"
"Obviously, the man was gettin' too close, and Bauer was up to his neck in that drug disappearance."
"Are you sure? I mean, Sal isn't your basic reliable source."
"I know him enough to judge by now. He was there. I got it all in glorious detail." Starsky sighed wearily, then added, impatient with the subject, "Take my word for it."
Hutch knew that unless Starsky was sure beyond any doubt, he couldn't have brought himself even to voice such a charge against an officer in the first place. "Okay. Bauer's got to go. How do we implicate him? Did Sal give you anything that can be traced?"
"On a year-cold trail? Just witnesses. And we know they won't talk, or can't. I won't do. It's only hearsay coming from me."
"How about Sal himself? It wouldn't take much pressure to break him."
"We can't put official pressure on him, Hutch. How? You subpoena him as a witness, there'll be an army of lawyers to make sure he'll stay deaf and dumb. Think Marruzzi's gonna let his grandson be slapped with an accessory charge by opening his mouth? You pull him in on drug possession or something and try to cut a deal, well, he's not an idiot. He knows all he has to do is clam up and grandaddy will take care of it. Besides, try anything of the sort, and there goes my cover along with the rest of the case."
Starsky's voice was dull, and Hutch realized his partner had already been racking his brains for a way to attach the hook to Bauer, obviously to no avail. Neither did the blond see a solution from that angle. "All right. We'll have to work from the other end. Dirt's bound to stick somewhere on him."
"A cop was killed, Hutch. You think they didn't investigate every which way then? Bauer's still free, so what does that say?"
"Well, if we can't get him for that, we'll get him for something else."
Starsky jumped up, seeming unable to contain himself. "The sonuvabitch killed his partner! I want him for that!"
Hutch gently pushed him back into the couch again, realizing that the drug in his system was making the man alternate between depression and fury. "Don't we all? But we may have to settle for what we can get." His main concern at the moment was the threat to their covers. He had to remove Bauer, one way or another. "Think you'll be all right if I showed up only at nights? Well, actually, I don't have to do the investigating myself, but...."
"No, you do it. This is one thing I want done right. I'll be fine." He rubbed his forehead, then shivered. "Damn, why do I feel so lousy?"
Remembering, Hutch felt a sympathetic reaction stir in himself. "You're coming down, babe," he answered softly. "You didn't take in much, so it shouldn't be bad the first time. I think you can just sleep it off. Can you stay?"
"Yeah, guess so."
"Go take those lenses out and I'll open out the couch."
Hutch was tiptoeing around his partner curled up in a ball, thinking him already asleep, when Starsky murmured: "I don't understand.... How can anyone -- ? His partner, can you explain to me how...Hutch...I can't understand...." Then he seemed to drift off finally.
Why do we have to keep going on like this, the blond wondered, caught in circumstances beyond our understanding? Why? Can you explain that to me?
"Mr. Genovese, were you looking for me?" Starsky asked, sticking his head into the club owner's plush office.
"Yes, Capo. Come in."
Starsky closed the door behind him, gritting his teeth. Sal had started it by truncating his assumed name, and others had picked it up. Now, it seemed, so had Genovese. No doubt they all thought it complimentary since "capo" meant 'captain' to them, an enviable rank that Caporetto didn't yet qualify for. However, to a Jew it meant Kapo -- the worst kind of traitor -- and was anything but complimentary.
Genovese rifled through some envelopes on his desk, pulling one out and handing it to the detective. Starsky opened it, wondering why Valenti, who was also in the room working on something with Genovese, looked daggers at him. He glanced at the gilt-edged invitation. "From...Mr. Marruzzi? For me?" he sputtered, genuinely astonished.
"Congratulations," Valenti grumbled, nothing but asperity in his voice.
"It's an annual event," Genovese explained. "Salvatore's birthday."
"Sal's got a birthday comin' up?"
"Salvatore, not Sal. Nobody has ever called Salvatore by a nickname."
Starsky caught on, but it didn't make any sense. "You mean...Sal's father? But isn't -- I mean, isn't he dead?"
"One thing has nothing to do with the other," Genovese said sternly. "Remember that." He studied Starsky's confusion and seemed to conclude that more explanations were in order. "Sit down. We'll pick this up later, Jack," he dismissed Valenti. The man huffily strode out of the room, and Genovese continued, "This party is for close family members, closest business associates, and very few friends."
"Then why am I -- " Starsky started, but Genovese cut him off.
"Sal seems to be attached to you. Obviously, Mr. Marruzzi wishes no meet his grandson's...'friend.' You work for me, and I don't intend to be disappointed by your behavior, so I'll fill you in. Salvatore Marruzzi was truly his father's son -- a pezzonovante, understand?"
Starsky had heard the word used before. It seemed to mean A Real Man, and was the highest compliment that could possibly be paid in these circles. He nodded as respectfully as the occasion evidently called for.
"Have you heard of the Infamante War, oh, ten years ago?"
The detective knew that it had exploded all over LA when he was just out of the Academy. The body count had been staggering, worse even than the time when 'designer' drugs had hit the junkie population of the city. Through his recent interest, he had learned that Marruzzi's son had been among the massacred that had had to be scraped off the streets. It had raged so mercilessly that the press had labeled it The Infamante War. Whys and wherefores were still mostly unknown to the police. "Some," he hedged. "It was before my time, 'n we tend to keep to ourselves in New York."
"The Tramonti Family instigated it," Genovese said. Starsky remembered reading in the files that a small, struggling outfit headed by the Tramonti clan had put itself on the endangered list by encroaching on Marruzzi's bookie runners and drug dealers, basically harassing and stealing from them. Genovese continued: "We used to do them favors at one time, if they needed change. There was a mix-up with the cash flow and the wrong change was given, quite inadvertently, but the Tramontis thought we wanted to push them out of business."
Starsky translated that to mean that the Marruzzi organization had laundered illegally-gained money for the Tramontis and someone had screwed up badly enough to replace dirty money with more of the same. The small family wouldn't have been thrilled when they had tried spending the money they had paid dearly for and thought clean.
"Mr. Maruzzi is an understanding and scrupulous man. He would have gladly reimbursed them and more for the inconvenience, but they didn't ask; they started taking. Things escalated, well, got out of hand. Still, he was generous. As a show of goodwill, he sent his son to negotiate, to stop the senseless killing. Salvatore never came back from that meeting."
Genovese didn't continue the narrative, but he didn't have to. Starsky could follow the scenario very well from then on. Swiftly and mercilessly, the Tramonti family was extinguished. He also understood why marked money wasn't tolerated anymore in the organization.
"Salvatore isn't forgotten, won't ever be forgotten. In this family, we keep The Faith."
The detective heard the capitalizations clearly, and concluded than in this family "faith" was what Marruzzi decreed it should be. If the old man wanted his son's birthday acknowledged even after his death -- well, people still celebrated Christmas after two thousand years, didn't they? Surely Marruzzi could commandeer a measly ten. Who'd dare argue with him?
"Being invited is an honor," Genovese pointed out.
Starsky tried to look suitably honored. "Anything I should, uh, do? Specifically?"
"Yes, stay very close to Sal. He mustn't embarrass himself or anybody else at the party. I'll see that his house gets a thorough cleaning today. See that he doesn't dirty it up."
Starsky translated some more. The young man would be deprived of drugs until after the party. "Mr. Genovese, you cut Sal off like that, and he'll just be a gibbering wreck for the big occasion."
"No, no. We'll keep him at maintenance level. He'll get enough. Just enough, no more. His doctor will be staying with him for a while. So will you, to make sure Sal doesn't try to push the man around or sneak away."
Oh, great, Starsky thought, house arrest and I'm the warden. That ought to be interesting. "Yes, sir," he said. "I'll do my best."
Cesare Marruzzi's house -- mansion, Starsky corrected -- was very different from the residences of his grandson or Genovese. Sal kept a beach house, opposite the Marina from the club, made up of expanses of strangely-angled white, rough-textured plaster walls, chrome and glass, unpredictably split-leveled here and there and everywhere, furnished sparingly in stark black relieved only by abstract paintings and pillows in primary colors. Genovese's house was a sprawling villa that looked uprooted from some South Mediterranean cliff-top, pillars, arches, wrought-iron decorations and long marbled walkways inside and outside, feeling, to Starsky, more like a classy monastery than anything else.
Marruzzi's dwelling was the first he had seen that fit his image of a mobster's lair. The same road that ran along the front of the Marina led up a hill where the imposing house sat. All the VIPs of the organization lived close to the padrone. This house crouched in the middle of high walls and well-tended grounds, three stories of ivy-drowned dark-red brick, wood shutters, and massive, intricately carved doors. Starsky didn't know what it looked like inside; the party was set on the lawn, on and around lace-covered tables under temporary canopies, catered by waiters more numerous than the guests, with more food and drink than an army could consume in one afternoon.
More people were in attendance than Starsky had figured from Genovese's description of the affair. He realized Italian families tended to be big, and one close friend meant at least half a dozen extensions. With some surprise, he noted the young children dashing about, heedless of damage to the finery they had been stuffed into. Wishing he could be as careless with his own monkey-suit, he wondered why he was surprised. Most men in the organization were married, and that naturally involved wives, children, and grandchildren. It was just that he'd never considered them anything but adversaries to pit himself against, almost like the flat cartoon figures that popped out on targets at the firing range. It was profoundly disturbing to see, instead, actual human beings with loves and loyalties.
Children got rowdy in one corner. Someone chided while others ignored them. Somebody laughed at a joke. Another called out a greeting. A child fell, got consoled. Two friends hugged. A man put an arm around a woman. A young girl kissed an old man who patted her hair affectionately. Two young people ducked behind a large potted fern.
Stop that! Scolding himself that here was the opportunity to meet and become familiar to his targets, Starsky isolated the key figures. He shouldn't have much interest in the rest of the crowd. However, a small representative claimed his attention by running into his legs and wrapping his pudgy self around them to keep from falling. The detective leaned over and helped steady him.
Four chubby, and somewhat grimy, fingers were held up into his face. "I'm fouw yeaws old," he was informed most solemnly by the miniature person who didn't seem to have a handle on the letter 'r.' "I was thwee," the fingers attempted to give form to that number as well, but weren't yet coordinated enough, "now I'm fouw."
"That's terrific," he answered with matching sobriety, but couldn't help giving a gentle whack to the small, rounded bottom as he sent the boy off onto the more important concerns of four year olds.
"That's Mario Luchese," Sal said from beside him. "Uncle Vito's great-grandson."
"Cute kid," Starsky commented, watching the boy get swept up by a harried-looking woman and carried into his great-grandfather's circle.
"Want a drink?" Sal asked, indicating yet another waiter who had materialized next to them.
Starsky accepted one, if only to avoid more waiters for a while. So far, he'd stayed away from the liquor, since Sal wouldn't accept any for himself. Again, the young man refused. He was obviously determined to be on his best behavior, which was, to put it mildly, astonishing compared to his usual lifestyle. Following his aimlessly wandering charge through the grounds, Starsky studied Sal. Except for the first day or so, and a few expected but mercifully brief outbursts since then, he had gritted his teeth and gone through the partial dry-out, as if he also didn't want to disappoint his grandfather. Today, he was acting almost normal.
A shame and waste he wouldn't stay clean. He was a pleasant and companionable young man, and beautiful enough to stand out even in this city of the beautiful. His hair, combed neatly for a change, was a mane of burnished copper, swept back high from a widow's peak and streaked silver by the sun. The eyes, cat-like with their tilted tips and lighter-than-hazel color framed by startlingly dark lashes, still held a slightly unfocused look. But now they showed enough intelligence in their depths to compel one to see the classical lines of the face. He was on the thin side and a little too delicately built for a man, but in the white tuxedo he looked more than presentable.
"I feel strange bein' here and hardly knowin' anybody," Starsky said.
"Come on, I'll introduce you around," Sal offered readily. "We'll start with Uncle Vito."
They headed for Vito Luchese, sitting in a peacock chair, well-propped by pillows, now holding little Mario on his lap, plainly much to the disgust of the child who was squirming to be off after better things. The man was quite old and had something about him that commanded respect; Starsky found himself almost bowing to shake hands. Within the bald, skeletal-thin form, the detective knew, lived a high-level manipulator, the man who looked after the organization's interests in political and judicial circles, but within minutes he found himself conversing with an amiable grandfather. When he realized, uncomfortably, that he was enjoying himself, he decided it was time to move on.
"Uncle Vito is Grandfather's best friend," Sal filled him in. "They grew up together, fought in something or another in the Old Country. They couldn't be closer if they were twin brothers. His health is failing, and Grandfather is terrified of losing him. Wants him to retire and take it easy, but Uncle Vito won't even consider it until Grandfather retires himself. That would've happened a long time ago if Father had lived. As it is, I'm the only heir -- imagine that."
Sal introduced him to Joseph Labruzzo, whom most big corporations of the city feared because he held too many labor union strings, including those of the movie industry. He was an utterly average man. His wife, Marruzzi's younger daughter, was as ordinary looking as her husband. The older Marruzzi daughter, on the other hand, was striking. Taller than most of the men around, large-boned and angular in a masculine way, in her late forties, she was by no means pretty and had never been, but beauty seemed irrelevant in her presence. She was a lot older than her husband, Stefano Gambino, a handsome man barely forty years of age, and seeing them interact, Starsky got the feeling that their nuptial bliss mainly consisted of spectacular fireworks resulting from the clash of two indomitable personalities.
"We call her Aunt Valkyrie," Sal confided, on their way from one group to another. "Too bad she couldn't manage being born a boy, or she'd be running the show now. Grandfather had a fit when she married Gambino, which is probably why she married him in the first place. He did it because it was the quickest way to the top. Family is family, even though I think Grandfather has everything he touches in this house sterilized. I was very young, but I still remember how Father and Grandfather used to fight over whether or not they should open up to narcotics. Grandfather considered it too dirty a business. Father argued that nothing was going to keep it from being the major commodity and it was do or die for the family. He won and brought Gambino in."
The young man studied his hands, which were none too steady, thrust them back into his pockets out of sight, laughed and continued ironically. "Grandfather probably figures I'm his fitting punishment from God for giving in -- and maybe I am, although I find it hard to imagine myself as the instrument of anybody's wrath. Somebody's sense of the absurd, maybe. Still, I can just see all three of us, our Unholy Trinity, in hell one of these days, Grandfather pointing me out to Father and saying, 'Take a good look at your son -- are you proud of yourself now?'"
Starsky had been aware of Sal's capacity for self-deprecating humor. In fact, it had been the only thing that had kept the young man's constant company from being a drudge. Now that he was seeing Sal as sober as he was ever likely to be, he could hear the pain underlying the caustic comments. Don't start going soft, he chided himself, feeling a vague sympathy stir inside. It's just a job. No more. You're not here to save lost souls.
Meeting the last caporegime, it was, thankfully, easy to keep in mind that he was only a cop at work. Frank Colombo, who ran bookie and protection rackets, was as unsavory a character as his occupation implied. With no connection to the family, he had clawed his way up from the gutter and still stank of it, and no amount of refinement bought by hard cash could be tailored to fit him. Coarse, he looked like a scavenger nipping at the edges of civilization. But Luchese was as respectable as an aged college professor, and the others filled the spectrum in between. And what about the young man at Starsky's side -- villain, villain, who's got the villain? The edges are blurring, Hutch, can you help?
The introductions seemed to be over, but there were still some men to one side, looking ill-at-ease and out of place in clothes that spoke of lower or maybe middle class at best. Starsky saw nothing familiar about them.
"Oh, those are just supplicants." Sal dismissed them. "They want something or another from Grandfather, and they're in luck, because he never refuses a favor asked on his son's birthday."
"What if it's something he can't..." Starsky thought better and reworded, "...doesn't want to do?"
Sal chuckled, making Starsky glance at him worriedly. There was a certain mindless, brittle sound to Sal's laughter at the best of times. The hastily applied veneer was showing cracks, and Starsky hoped the festivities weren't going to last too long. "Well, there's a limit to Grandfather's generosity. Brasi, that's his consigliere, first screens the applicants and admits only those Grandfather feels inclined to accept."
"In other words, they already know the favors will be granted."
"Sure, but they still have to supply the proper groveling. You wouldn't deprive an old man of his little pleasures, would you? God's supposed to know every thought in your head, but he still expects you to get on your knees to ask him to intercede, right?" Sal checked his watch. "And he'll be coming down Olympus any minute. We should get in line."
Starsky noted that there was a general drift toward the stairs which led down from the front door. Luchese was already installed at the foot of them, still in his large chair. The rest seemed to be jockeying for prearranged positions. That was when Starsky saw that Luigi was among the guests, wondered again what this man was who didn't even have a measly traffic ticket to his name.
Having no idea where he fit in the order of things, Starsky let Sal guide him to an appropriate spot. He wound up at Sal's side, who stood second only to Luchese and his clan. Obviously, appearances had to be maintained and Sal, however unworthy a son he appeared to be, was occupying the spot that would have been his father's. However, the young man didn't look very comfortable there. He wiped the perspiration off his upper lip, took some deep breaths. "You all right?" Starsky asked him quietly.
"I'll hang in there. Just stay with me, okay?"
"Sure, kid, I'm right here," Starsky assured with a pat on the thin arm, vaguely irritated that the sincerity in his voice was no pretense. Why not, he thought. He could've been my brother. After all, the one I've actually got doesn't exactly make the chest swell with pride, either, so why the hell not? As long as I don't let it interfere with the job, what's the harm?
A few minutes later, the massive doors opened, and closely followed by Brasi Fontane, his consigliere, Cesare Marruzzi descended the steps. The padrone would never see his seventieth birthday again. He wasn't tall, only about 5'8" or so, but gave the impression of being taller, and was almost impossibly solid for his age. The skin tones were totally different, but Starsky could see the family resemblance between Sal and the grandfather. The same high forehead, the rich mane of hair, silver in the old man's case, the classically chiseled features -- except Marruzzi looked carved out of dark granite, and Sal out of fragile alabaster.
Marruzzi stopped in front of Luchese, kept him from rising with a soft touch on the man's shoulder, then leaned to hug him. Cheeks were kissed in the old-country tradition, but affectionately, and Starsky was struck by how tangible the caring was between the two old men. Us one day, Hutch?
Sal also got hugged and kissed, but the contact seemed uneasy. Marruzzi stepped back to study his grandson who fidgeted restlessly. "I hear you haven't gone back to church." Fidgeting became a definite squirm. "Go back. A man needs the Church," Marruzzi said firmly, then added in a pointed way, "Or else, he needs to have a good woman to intercede for him. You must decide soon."
The old man's attention shifted to Starsky. He didn't seem to need an introduction. "Mr. Caporetto," he acknowledged, extending his hand. "I've been remiss. Belatedly, I welcome you. How do you like our city?"
The detective found his hand in a firm grip, himself pinned by the man's dark eyes. "The city -- " he started, paused, somehow intimidated by the intent gaze, then collected himself. "Sorry, the City will always mean New York to me. This one'll take some more getting used to."
"I trust you'll find yourself able to do so. Mr. Genovese tells me you're a promising employee. I gather he would like to keep you. How are you settling in?"
"I'm getting there. Had to learn the business all over, and it's not easy to settle in a hotel room, but I'm quite -- "
"A hotel room?"
"Yes, at the Marina."
"All this time you have been living out of a hotel room? What kind of welcome have we given you? Our cousins in New York must have expected better of us."
"Oh, it's not so -- "
"Nonsense. A man shouldn't live like a gypsy." Marruzzi picked Genovese out of the crowd. "Carlo, this is disappointing. See to it Mr. Caporetto finds a place fit for a man, not an itinerant harvest picker."
"It's not easy, sir. I'd like to have him close to the club and accommodations in the area aren't -- "
Marruzzi overrode him. "I'm sure it won't tax your considerable resources."
Sal spoke up for the first time. "He can...uh, stay with me," he ventured tentatively, then seemed to find the notion appealing. "Yes, I don't know why I didn't think of it before, Capo, but you're with me a lot anyway, so -- "
"Capo?" Marruzzi cut in, making Starsky wonder if anybody got to finish sentence before the man. "Is that what you call your friend?"
Sal was flustered again. "Uh, yes...I just...."
"I suppose that's what my grandson considers an expedient abbreviation of your name, Mr. Caporetto. What do you consider it?"
"Excuse me, what?"
"Capo is a title you don't have a claim to."
Starsky wondered if he should sound modest or ambitious, but Sal interfered before he could decide. "It doesn't mean anything, Nonno. He didn't ask to be called that. I just did, that's all. I didn't think."
The old man's look spoke volumes about actions without thought. "Choose another form of address, piccino," he ordered, and turned to the detective. "No reflection, Mr. Caporetto, but titles have to be earned."
Starsky nodded with appropriate servility. Well, that got rid of the lousy nickname, he decided, and one day you'll find out my real title is 'Sergeant.'
Marruzzi continued down the line, welcoming visitors. Greetings over, he came back to help Luchese to his feet, and they proceeded to the table. It was the signal for the seating to commence. Starsky once more found himself close to the center of things, by virtue of Sal's presence. He noted the utensils that seemed to stretch a mile on the sides of his plate, some totally baffling. He grimaced. A knife cut, one fork or spoon got the food where it had to go, thank you. Hands didn't do a mean job, either. So why these big productions?
He would never understand the mind-set, but he knew it was intrinsic to Marruzzi's lifestyle. The man wasn't a poor immigrant who'd fought tooth and nail for his pot of gold on this side of the ocean. He came from a rich and powerful -- albeit just as lawless -- family back in the Old Country, sent to the New World to get away from feuds, where he'd built an empire, first on the East Coast, then in LA.
A plate of antipasto was placed in front of the detective. Eeny-meeny-miny-mo, he went in his head, eyeing the array. In this one instance, it was too bad that Rizzo hadn't been tall and blond.