Dobey's expression had been growing morose. It hadn't been too sunny to start off with after being dragged away from more pleasant weekend activities. He glared at Hutch once the blond had had his say. "That's it?" he asked.
"I'm afraid so."
The black man leaned back and heaved a great sigh that blended with his chair's groan. "What do you expect from me? Tell you what, you point to what I can do and I'll do it."
"I don't know, Captain. That's why I'm here. I've been pounding the pavement for a week now. Bauer stinks to high heaven, but nobody's willing to put a lid on him. They're scared of the man; he's a double-edged sword. Maybe if the department takes the first step, someone will feel secure enough to open up. Something has to be done. For the sake of all that's decent, for starters. And the man is a danger to us, to the whole operation."
Impatiently, Dobey tugged at the collar of his golf shirt. "Remember a trifling matter of evidence? Or even probable cause? Did I miss it somewhere or am I right in thinking you have nothing but a junkie's word to go on? Hearsay, at that!"
Hutch tried to contain his own impatience. "Starsky believes it. I believe Starsky."
"And I believe both of you, but what does that get us except a mutual admiration society?"
"Something has to be done," Hutch repeated stubbornly.
Dobey studied his desk top with a scowl, then shook his head irritably. "Bauer's not even my man, so I can't tighten the leash on him for no good reason. You know what's been happening at Narco. Up until a year ago, it was a sewer. One captain and three lieutenants got fired for incompetence. How many went up on charges? The new captain, well, he's been proud as a peacock of his shiny house since he cleaned it. With his record, Bauer's the apple of his eye. He won't want to hear this unless I have something solid to give him." He raised a hand to stop Hutch from arguing. "All right, I know it's important, so never mind solid. I'll settle for anything, a second bank account, extravagant spending, anything."
"You think I haven't tried, Captain? He's as cagey as they come. I suspect a fat bank account exists in Mexico somewhere, but I don't think he's touching it. How do I get to it without at least a subpoena? If I didn't have to stay with my cover, I'd stick to him around the clock and sooner or later we'd get the drop; as it is...."
"All I can say is keep digging. As much as you can. The commissioner's out of town, but I'll talk to him as soon as he gets back. Maybe he can instigate something from the top."
The blond rose. "So until then, we live with it. Is that what you're saying?" Dobey made an open-palmed gesture. Hutch whirled on his heels and headed for the door.
"Hutchinson, for all purposes, you're holding down two full-time jobs. Go a little easy on yourself. Get some rest."
"I'll be fine, Captain," Hutch snapped, half inside the door and half outside.
Starsky was stuffed. The food had been good, but that was his only gain. Small talk had dominated, even when the men Sal referred to as 'supplicants' had placed their woes at the padrone's feet. Marruzzi had only commiserated, period. Not a word had passed that could be considered remotely incriminating.
The old man had mostly talked to Luchese -- and that in Italian -- or his consigliere, Fontane. He'd paid little attention to his grandson, except for periodically telling him to, "Mangiare, mangiare." In obedience, Sal had eaten more than Starsky had ever seen him eat. Caporetto had rated more attention. Belatedly, he gave Hutch thanks for grilling Rizzo so thoroughly and making him memorize everything down to the personal details. He couldn't have made it through this day without Hutch's earlier bull-headedness.
Not a word about the macabre occasion for the gathering had been said, and the detective had almost forgotten it himself. But he now saw numerous presents being piled up on a table. Is it time to get weird, he wondered, gifts for a dead man? Shortly, though, he realized he was mistaken, when at a signal from Poppa Marruzzi, the children happily rushed there, sorted through, tugged at, shouted over, and tore into the packages. That's not bad, he thought. Kinda nice, in fact. Fitting, in a way.
Marruzzi sat, eyeing the boisterous tableau with an indulgent smile, a wistful expression, then he rose, causing everybody to follow suit. "What now?" Starsky wanted to know.
"A walk through the grounds, the visit to the greenhouse," Sal supplied, trying to grab the chair that had tilted too far back when he got up.
Starsky quickly righted it, held Sal by the elbow. "Okay?"
"Yes." He leaned closer to the detective. "My hands, were they shaking too bad?"
"You did fine. Anyway, he knows, right?"
"Of course, he does. He knows everything. But appearances have to be maintained, as he would say." Sal studied the garden path Marruzzi was leading his flock up. Starsky had seen drunks do that, as if they had to chart a course and plan their strategy before they embarked on the venture of getting from one place to another. Sal seemed to find it within his capacity and pulled out of his steadying hold. "Come on."
The greenhouse was a huge, glassed-in extension of the back of the house, rows and rows of familiar and exotic flora, of which Marruzzi seemed extremely proud. He was clearly showing off. Starsky thought it was a shame Hutch couldn't see the place. The blond would be in horti-whatever's paradise. Starsky, on the other hand, felt stifled. It was a feast for the eyes, sure, but it was also hot and humid, and the overwhelming fragrances threatened to bring on a headache.
"Poor Nonno," Sal said softly.
Starsky regarded him incredulously. "Poor? I don't see anything poor about your grandfather."
"Look at him. These are his babies, his pride. Look at me. Where it counted, his seed didn't take root quite right."
"Easy, Sal. We're not here to live up to anybody's expectations, except our own." The young man could certainly use better expectations of his own, but Starsky wasn't sure if it would do any good to say that.
Marruzzi called everybody into the house. Starsky took a few steps, noticed Sal wasn't keeping up, turned to see he had gone sickly pale. "What's wrong?" he asked, approaching, seeing beads of perspiration pop out all over the face.
Sal shook his head as if coming out of a daze. "God, I can use a -- nothing, let's go."
Following the crowd, they wound up in a viewing room. Seats were lined up facing a projection screen. He took one next to Sal, accepting a drink from one of the ever-circulating waiters. Sal refused again, although he looked like he wanted one, could use one.
Light went out, a machine whirled. Old home movies took over the screen. Grainy, scratched, jumpy, they started a silent chronicle. It took Starsky a while to identify the participants in the pastoral family settings.
Marruzzi had been a very handsome young man, his wife plain, stocky, solid. The infant boy had to be Salvatore, a miniature copy of his father, obviously pampered like royalty. In the later frames, Starsky couldn't decide which little girl was which of the daughters he had met.
The quality of the pictures improved, and Salvatore was a young man, energy seeming to radiate from him even in the flat images. Movie clips got interspersed with slides, wedding scenes showed up. Starsky realized Sal had gotten his coloring and delicacy from his mother, a beautiful but somehow timid-looking woman. He followed Sal's appearance on the scene, watched him grow from a charming baby to an awkward boy of about ten.
This much concession to memories, I can take, he was thinking, and wasn't prepared for what followed. One picture was brightly colored, three generations of Marruzzi men smiling at something or another, and the next one was in stark black and white, instantly bringing to mind the countless photos of violence that paraded through his desk, courtesy of the crime lab. No, he realized, it must've been taken by a news photographer, acquired later -- for this? It was hard to recognize the mutilated, blood-covered body as anyone or anything, but he knew it was the last frozen image of Marruzzi's beloved son.
For a drawn-out instant more, the image stayed, then was gone with a click of the machine that sounded jarringly loud, got replaced by a bright rectangle, and that too was gone. The room stayed silent and dark. When the lights came back on, Marruzzi had left.
Shaken, Starsky cast a glance at the grandson who had sat and watched this -- probably had been watching for ten years and would go on watching it every year until the old man died. Sal looked ready to pass out. And no wonder, Starsky thought, pressing his drink into the young man's unsteady fingers. "Take a sip," he encouraged, supporting the glass to Sal's mouth until he was sure there was a firm hold on it. Then he found Genovese in the crowd.
"Can Sal leave now? I don't think he can take much more."
Genovese glanced over the detective's shoulder, not bothering to hide an expression of disgust. "Never gets used to it," he said disparagingly.
What Genovese seemed to consider a shortcoming of manhood was exactly what had stirred sympathy in Starsky. Maybe even empathy. He opened his mouth, but Sal was at his elbow, preempting him. "May I have some... now...please?" Sal looked like a refusal would be the last straw.
Genovese dug into the briefcase he always carried, and Starsky saw relief all over Sal's face. But the man only took out a sheaf of papers, stuffed them into an envelope. "I have a meeting. Be a good boy and take these to my safe." He held them out, as if totally unaware of what Sal wanted. Starsky flinched at the small cruelty. Genovese closed the briefcase with one hand. "You can go now."
"Will I find...any in the safe?"
"Of course not," Genovese snapped. "In my home?"
"Where then? When? When?" Sal insisted, the desperation of craving in his voice raising an echo and cutting into Starsky's heart.
"Maybe tomorrow. Say, about noon. Or afternoon."
"Carlo, I can't! I can't wait. For the love of -- please!"
Genovese grabbed Sal's arm roughly, turning the threatening hysteria into a plaintive whimper. "Stop your whining! Can't you stay clean for one night out of respect for your father? Can't you at least pretend to be a man under your grandfather's roof? You make me sick. Get him out of my sight," he ordered Starsky, letting go of Sal's arm as if it was something odious. "See that he puts the envelope in my safe. Take him home and make sure he stays there until tomorrow."
Without a word, Starsky took the envelope, put it in Sal's pocket, and led the young man away. "Please, please, please," he was sobbing as the detective found a bathroom and pushed him inside.
"Come on, Sal, don't beg. It ain't gonna help, so at least don't beg. Wash your face, get yourself together. I'd like to see you walk out of here, not crawl."
Sal dipped his face into a sinkful of water. Quickly, Starsky grabbed a towel to wipe his face before the water dripped down his suit. "Thank you," the young man remembered to say. In whatever shape, he hardly ever forgot the little courtesies. Someone had raised him right at one point. "Can you get me something?" he asked, hopefully.
"I can't, Sal, you know that. But I'll stay with you if it helps."
The whining tone was back. "You can get some, you can. I need it. Bad. Plea -- " Suddenly, he stopped himself from begging anymore. "You'll stay?" he asked instead.
"Sure. Ready to leave?" He got a nod, and offered, "Need an arm?"
Sal reached, then pulled back. "Walk, huh?"
He's not a total loss, Starsky thought, following. He wondered if anything in there was salvageable, while at the same time he tried to remind himself he was a cop on a case, not a social worker. It didn't quite work.
Sal had driven them earlier. Now he was in no shape to drive and aware of it; he handed the keys to the detective. Before he started the brand-new Jaguar, Starsky took some seconds to luxuriate in the contoured seat. Custom-made, flawless black body, low and sleek, streamlined, rich burgundy interior -- the car was a beauty. He turned it on, heard the smooth, deep rumble, felt its leashed power go through him.
"You like this car, don't you?" Sal asked.
"Like it?" he caressed the steering wheel, put the Jag into drive and heard the sound change into a soft roar. "It's the most beautiful machine I've ever handled." The car was so responsive it took barely fingertip touches to maneuver it. "Beautiful," he repeated.
"I said keep it."
"I heard. You can't be serious."
"I have another car."
Starsky shook his head. "Beside the point. Come on, Sal, don't be ridiculous."
"I want you to have it. All I'm going to do is to wreck it one day. You like it, it's yours."
"Sure I like it, but that don't mean I'll accept it."
"No, really, why not? Usually people can't wait for me to give them things. This time, I want to. You put up with enough from me, so -- "
"Uh-uh," Starsky cut him off. "If you're talkin' about compensations, forget it. Some things ain't for sale." He realized he sounded gruff and softened his tone. "Besides, you've got it, kid, so you don't have to buy it. You don't have to give me things to make me like you."
"Do you?" Sal whispered after a beat.
"I do," the detective admitted, to himself as well as to Sal.
"Why? I mean, I'm just a job Genovese gave you, right?"
"Well, at first, yes. Not anymore. And if you're interested, I don't get a bonus from Genovese, either."
"So...does that mean we're...friends?"
Starsky found a need to consider before he answered. It was easy to feed people lines. Sincerity required consideration. "That's not a simple thing, Sal. It takes time, work." And honesty, he reminded himself. And trust. How much can I honestly give you? "But I'm willin' to start workin' on it if you are."
He turned into the short drive that led to Genovese's villa, got waved in by the guard at the gate, and stopped in front of the house.
"You mean it?" Sal asked as if there hadn't been a pause.
"Nobody -- I mean, I never really -- I mean, I accept." The words sounded shy.
"Great. Come on, let's put the thing in the safe and get you home." The young man was visibly shaking and sweating, although he still seemed to have a pretty firm hold on himself.
"Please, you accept the car, huh? It's a present."
Starsky sighed impatiently. "Will you quit it with the car? I like presents, but in their place. And fitting ones. This ain't it. Something like this, I have to earn all by myself, or it'll be too expensive, you know what I mean?" Sal looked befuddled. Starsky smiled at him. "Never mind, kid. It's just that I'm old enough and experienced enough to know that you take something not rightfully yours, and there'll be no pleasure left. The price tag just won't be worth it."
He got out of the car and went to open the passenger door when Sal didn't readily join him. "Comin'?"
The young man kept staring at him. "You're wrong."
"No, I'm not. You'll understand one day. Come on."
Sal shook his head, still in the car. "No, you are wrong. You don't fit. You...you act...and think differently. You don't belong here, with us."
And you've picked one hell of a time to go perceptive on me, kid. "Of course, I'm different," he gruffly brushed it aside. "I'm a New Yorker; they break the mold each time they make one of us. And don't go thinkin' I'm a saint, 'cause I ain't, and that you'll also understand one day." Which is only the God's honest truth, he thought. I'll keep on using you, and the only thing I can promise you is that I'll try and not break you in the process. "Come in. let's get this over with."
Finding himself in Genovese's study for the first time, Starsky wondered if he could get rid of Sal for a while to look around. In the next breath, Sal gave him the opportunity. He looked from his hands to the combination lock on the safe and said, "I can't. Here, you do it." He handed over the envelope and sank in a chair, reeling off the combination. Starsky memorized it.
Taking a brief look, Starsky placed the envelope inside and closed the safe. He knew how to get back into it. "Let's go. You need rest."
"I need more than that."
"Not today, I'm sorry." By then Sal seemed to need support, so he hauled the man up.
"I can make it," Sal weakly protested, half-hearted.
"It's all right, kid. I know it's gettin' rough. Lean on me."
Sal apologized for the umpteenth time when Starsky brought him back to bed after another bout with vomiting. "Don't worry about it," Starsky said, wiping the pale face with a towel, feeling a sense of déjà-vu. "I know very well it's like."
"You...you know? You too...? You've been...?" Sal's teeth were chattering and he couldn't talk clearly.
Starsky tucked the covers around him, although he knew nothing was going take away the chill until the episode passed on its own. So cold, so cold, Hutch had kept repeating despite all Starsky's attempts to warm him. "Not personally, no," he answered the fragmented question. "But close enough. Maybe even closer."
"Wh -- what?"
"Never mind. Hey, think you can sleep for a while?"
"No...please...stay. Talk...talk to me. It hurts."
"Take it easy." He perched on one side of the bed, felt it vibrate with the young man's uncontrollable shaking. "Tell you what, you try and talk to me, get your mind off it."
"Actually, kid, you're makin' more sense now than when you're floatin'. Come on, if we're gonna be friends, we gotta talk."
"Capo, I -- Oh, can't call you that.. anymore."
"Call me Da -- " What's the harm, huh, genius? You should know better. Let your emotions get involved and it's goddamned easy to screw up. "Tony," he quickly amended.
Sal was in no shape to notice. "Tony, it hurts."
"I know, but wrong subject. Tell me, is the program for this 'birthday party' the same every year?"
Something inside Starsky twisted with pity -- and a sense of kinship. "I was also thirteen when my father was killed," left his mouth. Shit! That didn't jibe with Caporetto's fictional parentage. I'm going to blow this. He tried to cover up. "Say, you're gonna start goin' back to church like your grandfather asked?"
It was hard to distinguish a head shake from the rest of the shaking. "Hy...pocri...sy. I don't know how...he does it. I...I can't."
Starsky decided that there were a lot of things the old man could do that were beyond Sal. Maybe that was what had sent him into the oblivion of drugs. Maybe he'd been also terrified of sharing his father's fate one day. "Well then, your choice seems to be to find a nice girl to marry. That sounded like an order to me."
"All I'm good for...he thinks. I'm no good, so maybe I can, you know, give him another." Suddenly, he convulsed, making gaspy barks. It took Starsky a while to figure out he was laughing. "Not even...if he lives...forever," Sal managed in between the jarring sounds. "That's gone, too. No more. He...doesn't know. Isn't that funny?"
Catching the implication, the detective thought it distinctly unfunny. "Goddammit! You're only twenty-three years old, for heaven's sake. What have you been doin' to yourself?" Nothing in his cover would account for what he was about to say, but he said it anyway, "You've got to get out from under, Sal, kick this habit. You can do it. It'll be hell, but I've seen it done. First, you have to get away from here, cut all connections to the family."
Sal had lapsed into hiccups. "Nobody leaves the family...not alive."
"What about your mother? Where is she?"
"Somewhere...I don't know. Travels all over. Sit at home, be a widow forever...go away, still a widow forever...only choices. She went...not free, though. Never."
"How old were you? Didn't she try to take you?"
"Don't know. Maybe she tried...maybe didn't. Went...anyway."
A father dead, and a boy left behind. A father dead, and a boy sent away. Starsky shook his head impatiently. You're getting in too deep. It's dangerous. Pull back.
Sal's halting speech suddenly turned into a gush of words. "If I go, can't, but if I can, nobody can tell me, no Carlo, he hates me, but puts up only, because he's not family so he puts up with me, he's hooked too, on junk, on too young girls, if grandfather finds out -- so I'm the insurance -- no Carlo and I can have all I want, never hurt like this...."
"No, no, kid. That's not the idea at all," Starsky muttered, mainly to himself. Telling Sal that going after freedom didn't mean changing one prison for another would be no use, obviously.
Starsky watched him curl into a tighter and tighter ball of misery, his hands frantically gathering his own body to himself for comfort. He patted a shoulder, then drew back, knowing it wasn't helping. Holding his partner for days when he'd felt like this had been one thing. Besides, there had been something to strive for then, although, he admitted to himself, it wouldn't have mattered if there hadn't been in Hutch's case. He felt for the boy, but there was a difference.
He was embarrassed enough to toy with the idea. If he made an effort, if he stuck by Sal himself, could he -- no, it was probably a lost cause anyway, and he already had a full-time cause which he might just blow if he got too involved with the boy. Would've blown it already many times if Sal hadn't been out of it -- one crusade at a time was enough, thank you, and he weary himself, and....
Shortly, he heard a car drive up. He went to the door and called out, "Rudi." Sal's manservant who doubled as a bodyguard appeared. "If that's Doctor Vincent, send him in here."
The doctor, when he showed up, was slightly off-balance. Obviously, he'd been indulging at The Familia again, courtesy of the house. "What's the matter?" he asked the detective.
Starsky waved at the huddled figure on the bed. "You're the doctor, you tell me."
Vincent cursorily checked Sal, turned, clearly irritated. "There's nothing wrong with him. Just normal withdrawal symptoms, that's all."
"No kiddin'. Do something about it."
"Mr. Genovese gave strict instructions -- "
Starsky cut in. "Mr. Genovese can get his kicks some other way. He's your patient and he's hurtin'. Give him something to knock him out at least."
"Mr. Genovese -- " the man started again.
In one motion Starsky was nose to nose with him. "Genovese isn't here, I AM!" he shouted. "If you won't help him right now, I'll stuff more than your worthless Hippocratic oath down your throat!"
The doctor wisely believed him and obeyed; he produced a hypodermic of something, probably Methadone or Valium, injected Sal. "Mr. Genovese will hear about this," he threatened, putting the syringe away.
"Is that like the AMA hearin' about you?" Starsky retorted without missing a beat. The man left with alacrity, muttering to himself.
It took about fifteen minutes for Sal to relax. "Can you sleep now?" Starsky asked.
"Have to...don't I?" Weak fingers wrapped around the detective's hand. "I'm so glad...you came to LA. You're a good friend...thank you."
"Sure, sure." He slid Sal's hand under the cover. A few minutes later Sal was asleep and Starsky was free to leave. He felt exhausted, but a churning inside wouldn't allow him to go to his hotel room and collapse. I have to get away, he decided. Get all the way away and regroup.
Whoever sang praises of LA winters had to be a fool. Sure, it stayed warm, but it also got sticky-humid, gray and foggy. At least, Hutch preferred think of the murkiness of the night as fog rather than the choking pollution it actually was. After all the years he still missed the Minnesota winters in a virginal blanket of white, and the crisp, clear air.
The radio crackled to life. He took the steering wheel with his left hand and picked up the mike. "Patching Sergeant Starsky through," said Dispatch.
"On anything promising?" Starsky asked.
"Hell, no. The Sahara Desert couldn't be drier. Off the record, half the criminal population of the city will sing me hosannas if I put Bauer away. On the record, well, nobody wants to be the one to go on it."
Starsky cursed, then continued, "Well, if you can spare the time, wanna stop by my place for a while?"
"Sure. Give me a reason to visit Caporetto at the Marina."
"My place, Hutch. Mine. Remember me? David Michael Starsky? The cop? Your partner?"
Aha, Hutch thought, hit that bend, have you? "I'll be right over." He replaced the mike and turned the car around at the nearest intersection.
He could remember the lecture at the Academy given by a guest speaker, a psychiatrist/psychologist with an impressive set of letters after her name. It had been described on their schedule sheets as: Behaviorism of Alienation -- The Symptoms of Disassociation, which had instantly put Starsky in a fussy mood. The lecture itself hadn't helped any, with words like "group absorption," "psyche conversion," and "syncretism impulses." After the lecture, a dazed looking Starsky had pulled Hutch to one side to ask, "What the hell did she say?"
Hutch had stripped away the verbose terminology, and then Starsky had summed it up in his practical way, "Oh, I see. In undercover work, it ain't only 'When in Rome do as the Romans do,' but 'When in Rome watch out for turnin' into a Roman.'"
The blond had laughed, not at his friend, but at suddenly realizing the waste of time and words to say something which Starsky could sum up so simply, just as relevantly and a lot more understandably.
"Now I know why I started keepin' you around," Starsky had said by way of thanks.
Vice versa, Hutch had thought.
Music drifted out of Starsky's apartment. Hutch walked in to find him sitting Indian-style on the floor with his records, pulling some out into a small stack. The blond watched the selection process briefly, then sat on his heels across from him and joined in.
His partner looked up, making Hutch smile spontaneously at the sight of the familiar indigo gaze. The lenses made his eyes flatly opaque, hard to read, and just plain alien to the blond. "You look beat," Starsky observed.
I look beat? Hutch shrugged and forbore comment. He kept on picking through the records. Starsky looked at the ones he was selecting, then stopped his own work in favor of watching the blond. "It'd be a perfect battin' score," he said when Hutch was through, pointed to an album, "except for that one."
"That, I want to listen to."
Starsky shook his head ruefully. "You get the feelin', Hutch, that we're turnin' into an old married couple?"
"What's wrong with that?"
"Oh, I don't know. When we can predict each other, well, that's nice. Kinda cozy. But when we get to a point where we goddamned well know -- won't it get boring?"
"I'll try and surprise you every once in a while, how's that?"
Starsky chuckled softly, and twisted around to change the record. He caught himself with a visible flinch, pulled back, then had to roll to his knees to reach the stereo. Hutch felt a familiar wrench as if scar tissue were catching at his insides as well. Starsky no longer vaulted over hoods of cars or got impatient with stairs and swung himself over banisters. Neither did the blond engage his partner in wrestling tricks without a thought anymore. But, on the whole, it didn't show, except when Starsky got tired. Since he never complained or even referred to his injuries, Hutch also felt obligated to keep quiet. It was a fact of life anyway.
After changing the record, Starsky stretched out on the floor. Casually, Hutch handed him a pillow. If Starsky raised his arms to prop his head, it would pull at the muscles uncomfortably. They also served who did it unobtrusively. He waited for whatever Starsky wanted to discuss, wondering why they usually found themselves sprawled all over the floor when something heavy was in the air. Maybe it had to do with the absence of barriers such as the arms of chairs.
Starsky pointed to a stack of papers on the coffee table. Hutch flipped through and found them to be detailed, extensive reports. "Dobey will have a heart attack. When did you become so efficient?"
"I've been home for a coupla hours. Had to get my head together, so I got everythin' down on paper -- voila, instant reports."
"Did it work otherwise?"
"Mostly. Oh, you'll have to type 'em, though."
"Knew I'd get stuck with the short end of the stick," Hutch grumbled, mainly because he knew it was expected. "How was the party, by the way?"
The blond bad started taking the pages one at a time, and he was getting interested in them. "Oh?"
"One thing for sure, we find who's been makin' free with marked bills, I'd lay you odds he'd rather talk to us than face Marruzzi. Snowball would have a better chance in hell. The man ain't ever gonna forget what killed his son."
"What, wiping out a chunk of the population wasn't enough for him?"
"No way, Hutch. It was weird today. Marruzzi doesn't strike me as a man who can bury revenge, least of all where this is concerned."
"Useless..." Hutch commented absentmindedly.
"Huh? Oh, not this. Revenge, I mean."
A strange note in Starsky's voice made Hutch look up. He'd been intent on deciphering his partner's impatient scrawl and only peripherally aware of their conversation. He had to back track to why he'd said revenge was pointless. As usual, it made him uneasy, and he looked down again. "Take it from me, it is." What would've happened if he'd gotten his hands on Gunther before he had known his partner would survive, he didn't know. But he knew it'd have been futile. "One life can't bring back another. A thousand lives wouldn't. It's useless, has no purpose -- worse, it's only self-serving. What can it possibly do except drag you down, lessen you?"
There was a long silence, then Starsky spoke, almost inaudibly. "Did you have to put it that way?"
"Huh?" Hutch glanced up again.
"Nothin'," his partner mumbled. "Just follow up on the marked bills, okay? Especially since the Bauer investigation ain't goin' nowhere."
"Yeah, sure." The blond wondered why a few feet of floor space suddenly felt like miles. Then he got immersed in the papers once more. Threads started to tie together. "Starsk, it looks like we can move in with just what you've got here." All of a sudden, the music sounded merrier, he felt lighter. "You don't even have to go back. We can wrap this up."
Starsky was frowning at him. "You sure you're readin' what I wrote?"
"Look at all this," Hutch said, enthusiastically going through the pages. "You've got drug routes, who's dealing where, where the bookie operations are -- a lot of them anyway. I bet some of the people paying protection will testify, and -- "
"I know what I've got," his partner interrupted, sounding oddly cheerless. "I've got more than enough on Genovese, and maybe enough to tie in Colombo and Gambino, put some operations outta business. On Labruzzo and Luchese, I've got zip. Zilch. The idea was to dig the whole thing out by the roots, not prune, remember?"
Hutch couldn't let go easily. "Starsk, please, let's err on the side of prudence for once. New York's getting itchy; I can't remove Bauer; we're both getting overloaded...." He indicated the report. "This isn't shabby at all. Let's not push it, partner, what do you say?" He studied Starsky's expression, sighed. "And I'm talking just to hear myself talk." He tossed the reports back onto the coffee table. It seemed he'd have time to study them at leisure. Leisure? He couldn't help a bitter smile. "Have it your way. I'll type them for you and I'll investigate who's doing the laundry. Anything else?" he finished, unable to help a snide tone.
Starsky contemplated the ceiling for a while. "Sorry, shouldn't've called you -- it's late. Why don't you go home, get some sleep. Guess I should, too." He rolled to his feet, restless, and went to the kitchen.
"You didn't call me just for the reports, Starsk."
"Well, I -- " His voice got muffled inside the refrigerator. Containers rattled, aluminum foil crackled. "Damn it," Hutch heard, followed by sounds of things finding their way into the garbage can. Starsky slammed the fridge shut. "I dunno," he continued. "I just needed a break, I think. Sometimes it's gettin' to be that I don't know where Caporetto stops and I start. I've never been under so long at a time before. Wanted to be just me for a while." Cabinets opened, boxes shook, got dumped out. Starsky's voice was barely audible over the sounds, and there was an apologetic tone to it. "Habit, I guess."
Hutch added up the cryptic comments, listened to the total. To be the Starsky I needed the Hutch, his partner seemed to be saying. Hutch's depression had started to settle in once more, but he found that it could be, if not dissipated, at least disregarded for a while.
Starsky was still muttering to himself and cleaning out the stale items from his cupboards when Hutch circled his waist with one arm, turning and getting him into a dance hold. The music played, a medium-tempo tango. "Hey!" His partner's voice squeaked with surprise. "Will ya cut -- !" He stumbled, helplessly following the lead. "Whatcha think you're doin'?"
"Dancing," Hutch solemnly, and redundantly, informed him.
For a minute, Starsky seemed to consider it prudent to concentrate on synchronizing their feet, probably not trusting the blond's. Then he asked in an infinitely patient tone, "Hutch, why are we dancin'?"
"So there'll be no doubt in your head as to exactly who you are."
"Who else but David Michael Starsky would even consider dancing with his partner at three o'clock in the morning? Certainly not Caporetto."
"I swear, Hutch...." But he was smiling.
Hutch pulled them into the living room for more space and tried a little whirl that came off only because his partner went along, smoothing it out. "Ready for the dip?" the blond asked.
"Not unless you're ready to rush me to the hospital."
Hutch had been kidding anyway, only too aware of Starsky's limitations lately. After a while, his partner appropriated the lead. Being left-handed, he accomplished it simply by taking the hold Hutch had on his waist and transferring the blond's arm to his shoulder. Hutch let him, felt himself maneuvered swiftly.
"Besides, nobody can dip like Ramon," was his only warning. Next instant, he was bent backward and dropped.
He didn't fall far. Starsky had made sure the back of the couch was there to catch him. However, it caught him very awkwardly across his buttocks, and his heels kept slipping on the wood floor as he scrambled for purchase. His partner laughed raucously at his teetering. No sooner had he managed to place his feet somewhat firmly than Starsky jabbed at his stomach, making him lose it all and drop backward onto the couch in an undignified heap, his kicking legs held up in the air by the backrest.
Starsky was already backing away from the wrath he expected. A picture of vengeance, Hutch rolled to his feet with a muffled oath and went after his partner. Even slowed down and tired, Starsky was still as slippery as an eel. It took some effort to catch and hold him, immobile, against the refrigerator.
Hutch mock-snarled. "Feisty, aren't you? We'll settle this like men -- where's the Monopoly board?"
"Oh, no!" Starsky squealed. "Not the Monopoly board, anything but the Monopoly board!"
He sounded so much like the damsel facing a fate worse than death in an old grade-B flick that Hutch cracked up. He leaned his forehead against the refrigerator over his partner's shoulder, laughing helplessly. Starsky took advantage and ducked under his arm to get away.
When Hutch turned around, wiping his eyes, the Monopoly board was already set up on the floor. "You're weird."
"But cute," Starsky pointed out.
"Matter of opinion, and yours is inflated. Hey, are you -- " Hutch stifled the urge to ask if the tussle had hurt him, suddenly realizing he had forbidden them their brotherly rough-housing ever since Gunther. Obviously, it had always served a purpose. Just as obviously, they had both missed it.
Starsky pointed at the board. "Hang onto your pants, Blintz, gonna beat 'em offa you."
With a disdainful snort, Hutch arranged his long legs into a comfortable fold. "The day you're big enough to wear them, Dirtball. Not today."