If Starsky never again saw a ledger it would be too soon. He had had more than his fill of accounting during his stint in the back cubicles of The Familia. But he had come back from his collecting rounds with a lot of cash, it was lunch break, and he couldn't readily find someone to dump the work on. Deciding he might as well get it over with so he could meet his partner later, he pulled out the large book.
Actually, he thought as he flipped through the pages, he hadn't done such a bad job of bookkeeping, something he'd never dreamed himself capable of. Maybe he could even try and make his own checkbook balance. Hutch would appreciate it since it was the blond who stepped in, fussing endlessly, whenever fiscal disaster threatened. Too bad he couldn't hold on to the money Genovese had been paying him. The wrong side of the law definitely paid better.
And how, he thought, looking at last month's payroll. The club had come dangerously close to a deficit, what with those IOUs canceled for the sake of reputation and an incredible bonus that had been paid to --
What the hell -- ?
At first it struck him as funny, the incongruity of Luigi receiving a huge amount of money just as he was getting ready to sell everybody down the river. Why, surfaced immediately after. He noticed there were two entries that had added up to the sum eventually paid. And then he saw the date.
The door opened behind him and he jumped, keeping himself from slamming the book shut. He'd look guilty by acting guilty. Anyway, it was only Sal.
"I thought I saw you come in," the young man said. He looked mellow, but Starsky saw the door jamb was necessary, not just useful, to his casually leaning pose. "Come and have lunch with me."
Not that he'd eat, the detective knew, but nowadays Sal couldn't wait for him to come back from the jobs. He'd even asked to go along, only to be refused by Genovese. Now Rudi, his manservant, was charged with keeping an eye on him and Sal didn't like it one bit. "I got some work here," Starsky said, his mind racing on another track.
"Come on, Tony. I've been waiting around all morning. Nobody has the time of day here."
"Kid, I said -- " Starsky cut off when he saw Sal's face fall at his impatient tone. The clinging dependence was, strangely, annoying and appealing at the same time. Nicky had been pesky, too. And the big brother hadn't been able to resist indulging him, either. Many years ago. "All right, I'll do this later." He closed the ledger, the suspicion like acid in his brain. He had to find out soon. Very soon. How, was another matter. "Let's go eat," he told a visibly brightening Sal after he deposited the book and the cash into the safe.
The lunch crowd mainly consisted of the employees eating at the club's expense and various people in the organization dropping by. Halfway into the meal, Luigi walked in, took a solitary table and ordered something. After a while, Sal leaned close to Starsky to whisper, "What is it with you and him?"
"Luigi. You watch him like...I don't know, but you do. Why?"
Starsky realized his eyes had been fixed on the man too long. "Nothin'," he mumbled, pretending to pay attention to his food. Sal had a disconcerting habit of noticing too much, even when half-zapped.
"Whatever it is, don't. Okay?"
"Drop it, Sal. I said it's nothing."
The young man didn't look convinced. "Please, Tony, just stay out of his way."
Starsky raised his head to study his companion. "Okay, I'll bite. What is it about Luigi I should stay away from?"
"No, that's not...I meant...just that...."
Sal had a tendency to make perfect sense one second and drift away into the Twilight Zone the next. Starsky patted his hand. "Come on, kid, stay with me. Tell me about Luigi. Hey, Sal, you with me?"
A frown of concentration appeared. "Shouldn't."
"Aw, come on, Sal. You know I'm still new here. I gotta know the ropes if I'm not to trip over somethin' I shouldn't."
"If I tell you...will you stay away?"
"Hey, I got nothin' to do with the man. He's always around and I'm just curious. But one day I might need to know, right? You wouldn't want me to make a mistake, would you?" He knew he was playing on Sal's attachment to him but didn't care.
"Not with him, no."
"So tell me."
"He's a -- he's afraid of nothing," Sal started. "Except grandfather, of course, and..." a small giggle interrupted, "...water."
Starsky despaired, wondering how he was to sift through an addict's chatter that might or might not be meaningless. "What?"
"Phobic, you know. Water. Ocean."
"Oh. Okay, I promise not to invite him to go skinny dippin'. What else?"
"He's...a specialist. Nonno believes in specialists. A job for every man and a man for every job. That's order. There has to be order. Grandfather likes order. His neat little pigeonholes. Need a job done, you reach in and pluck one out and dust him off and the job's done and we have order and -- "
"Whoa, whoa, stay on the track, kid."
Sal giggled again. "That's where they say Nonno found Luigi."
Starsky was thrown once more. "Come again."
"Tracks. Races. Except he wasn't Luigi then. Can't stay away from horses but never wins, they say. Anyway, Grandfather said he was trash -- lower than a pagliaio thief."
Starsky didn't know how the phrase had come about, but had heard the insult often enough. It seemed to describe a low-life who'd stoop to stealing even from the poorest. Lower than that, in these circles, would mean someone who turned traitor to his own. It made him suspect that Marruzzi knew Luigi's past. "So why did the padrone take in a piece of trash?"
"Somebody's got to take out the garbage. See? Order."
"No, I don't see, not really. What use was Luigi?"
"Take a nothing, make him something, and he'll be anything for you. grandfather needed a lupara."
Lupara was a nasty weapon, a Sicilian shotgun. With the suspicion already nagging at him, it didn't take much to make the leap. "You mean Luigi is his hit-man?" Who got paid a big bonus on the day Bauer and Consuela died -- oh, shit!
"Good, too. Never a mistake. Grandfather can pick them, can't he?"
Not as well as we can, Starsky thought. Damn. No wonder he wanted blind immunity. When hell freezes over! "Sal, I gotta go. Just remembered, I have to be somewhere. See you later." It took a bit of effort to shake himself free of the young man, but he managed it. He had very little time to set things right. In a few hours they were due to meet Dobey and a very eager DA.
"You're early," Hutch said when his partner came into the apartment. Starsky leaned against the door briefly. He should never again run up four flights of steps. "You okay?" the blond asked.
"Yeah. And I'm not early. We were almost too late." He took himself to the couch, found it littered with papers, and took the chair. "All this," he waved at the clutter. "You didn't give anybody specifics yet, did you?"
"No. You know we're seeing Dobey and McNeil in a little while."
"We may not show up."
By then Hutch was looking worried. "What's wrong? What happened?"
"Sit down, will ya?" Starsky said, unmindful that he was occupying the only free seat. Hutch sat at his feet, shifting some papers on the floor. "I hate to bring it all back, partner, but I just found out something about Luigi. For six years, he's been Marruzzi's major hit-man."
Hutch stared up at him. "You sure?"
"Damn! I knew we were moving too fast. It was rash to give him full immunity. Everybody was in such a goddamned hurry. I was, too, I guess. I was wondering why there's nothing in all this information that can be traced to any gangland slayings. Should've -- "
"Hutch," Starsky interrupted softly. "The day Bauer and Consuela were killed, Luigi was paid a lot of money by Genovese. Bonus, as it shows in the books. Two of them, in fact." He watched the realization dawn in the light-blue eyes. Hutch didn't speak. Didn't have to. After a few minutes, he uncoiled from the floor and went to a window to look out. "Hutch?"
"I gave him immunity. I sat there, looked into his face and without a reservation gave him freedom -- oh, God, where does it end?"
Starsky approached his partner. "Right here, babe, right now."
"I know it! I ended any possibility of -- "
"No, no." Starsky turned the blond around by the arms. "Listen, Hutch, he chose to talk only to you, right? Nobody else knows what we got from him. You know and I know, period. The deal was immunity in exchange for solid info. We just went through it and it was zilch. We ain't obligated no more. We can take him down."
Hutch pulled out of his hold. "There's only one thing wrong with that."
"He did give us solid info or we'd still be nowhere."
Starsky glared at him. "Don't tell me you've missed the point."
"Don't push it, Starsk! I'm trying very hard to miss it."
"Hey, you ain't gonna tell me the creep deserves a break, are you?"
"No, but that's not -- "
"Aw, come on, Hutch! Don't go all noble on me now. For a piece of trash?"
"Who gives a shit about him? You think I'm going to ask you to get on the stand one day, take an oath, and lie?"
"You don't have to ask. All you gotta do is go along." His partner was stubbornly shaking his head. "For heaven's sake, why not?"
"Starsky, you're not thinking. All this information, all this evidence, and we're just going to flush it down with the rest of the case? Refuse Luigi immunity and we can't use anything he gave us."
"Bullshit. I could've found all this on my own and who's to prove otherwise?"
"Come to your senses, Starsky, I'm losing count of the rules we're breaking here."
"Don't go into shock, partner, but I don't give a good goddamn."
"I do! And you're doing nothing of the sort, you hear me?"
"Hutch -- "
"No! And that's final. I played fast and loose once, and look what happened. I don't want that kind of burden again. Once is more than enough."
That effectively silenced Starsky. But I promised you her murderer.
Hutch perched on the windowsill, staring out blankly. "It won't be worth it, Starsk, in the end, it won't. I've learned that much. Let it go."
"Hutch, doesn't it hurt to let him get away with it?" A small protest and a very stupid question.
"What do you think? But I'd rather live with that."
He put his arm around the stiff curve of his partner's shoulder. "You don't have to. Not too long anyway. He doesn't have indefinite immunity. He's bound to cross the line again, sometime, somewhere. When he does, we'll get him. I promise." There he was again, promising.
The blond head nodded desultorily. "Yeah, sure." He shrugged in a way that told Starsky he didn't want any form of contact at the moment. "Uh, could you put my notes together? We have a meeting."
Starsky obeyed. Hutch wasn't going to care a great deal for his next plan, either, but he had never believed in promising simply because it sounded good. Maybe his partner didn't need to know too much about it. What he had to know was going to be enough to get him upset in the first place.
Even though this seemed to be a satisfactory wrap-up of the Marruzzi business, this case was stretching itself into too many late nights. Dobey decided he'd be happy to see the end of it. The afternoon had become evening, the evening two o'clock in the morning. In the meantime, chiefs of various squads and precincts had been called in, given their assignments along with the necessary warrants, and were waiting for the next day. The witnesses named by the informant were already getting rounded up. The same activity, Dobey knew, was going on in New York.
For once, McNeil wasn't complaining about the hours. Flanked by his assistants, he was in his element and riding high on anticipation. The two detectives, on the other hand, didn't act like they were closing a successful case, and after hearing about Luigi, Dobey couldn't blame them. Hutchinson was functioning on pure nervous energy. Conversely, Starsky was almost too quiet, too contained -- something that always made the captain expect the other shoe to drop.
Once everything seemed to be wrapped up, it wasn't long in coming. "Starsky and I will take the club," Hutch was saying when he was interrupted by his partner.
"You'll take the club. Make sure Caporetto doesn't get any breaks."
"Caporetto is history," the blond said.
"Not yet. I think I'll keep him just a little longer."
Hutch closed his eyes wearily for a second before turning to his partner. "Why?"
Starsky didn't answer him directly. He addressed the superiors in the room. "We can get more use outta him. All this is fine as far as it goes, but we haven't touched Marruzzi."
"We never set out to!" Hutch had made it, tightly-wound but efficiently, so far. Now he sounded ready to lose his equanimity. "That was understood from the start. Why are you changing the rules now?"
"I'm not changing the rules," Starsky explained patiently. "That's not what I meant. There's Marruzzi, untouchable. He's still got his consigliere and all his wealth. Okay, maybe he'll retire gracefully, but I wouldn't make book on that. The man was filthy rich when he came across the pond, but he didn't choose to go into toy manufacturin', did he?"
Dobey decided to contribute something. "What can he do? He'll be crippled."
"Not that badly," Starsky objected right away. "Yeah, we'll get his captains, close down a lot of the operations, but with money you can relocate, open up new routes. His customers will still be out there. Sure, the higher-ups in the organization will fall from sheer weight, and the small fry from anything, starting with parole violations. But there'll be a lot of people in the middle ranks that'll slip right outta the net." He turned to McNeil. "Right?"
The DA conceded the point, but Dobey noticed Starsky hardly waited for it. "Right. Demand out there, some work force left, capital -- who says he can't organize again?"
"So what do you suggest?" McNeil asked. He had an added gleam in his eyes.
"They're gonna be shook up. Mistakes will be made. Let me stick around and maybe we can scoop up one more load."
The black man shook his head. "Starsky, I don't think it's wise to -- "
"No, no," McNeil interrupted. "Sergeant Starsky is making perfect sense. Why not get the most out of a good cover?"
"By all means, let's get our money's worth." Hutch rubbed his forehead as if he had a headache. "We're still in then."
"We?" Starsky asked. "Caporetto, yes. But you? As what? The club ain't gonna open to business again, Hutch, not anytime soon, let alone for gambling. You don't have a cover. Besides, any day now you'll have to start givin' depositions. You're the one who dealt with the informant and heaven forbid we expose him."
The blond man had a wounded look. He spoke softly, and the words didn't make sense to Dobey. "Because I chose to deal with him? Is that why? You only said don't charge any more. I didn't realize you were going to extract payment, too."
"Oh, shit, that's not -- " Starsky rose. "All right, time out. Excuse us."
Hutch would've been angry, the captain knew, if he had the energy to spare. As it was, he only sounded quarrelsome. "Didn't take you long to change your mind between little and big glories, did it?"
Starsky urged him to his feet. "Laundry in private, huh, partner? Come on."
As they left the briefing room Dobey was taking no bets on who'd be the winner when they walked back in, but if pushed, he'd lay it on Starsky. In the early days, it had been Starsky who tended to bend to the blond's force. Since they had become indispensable to each other, they seemed to have realized the need for a better balance. The pendulum swung evenly now. Starsky had opted to take the case, and Hutch had been controlling the moves since then. It should be just about his turn to back down. Once past the point of easily saying 'Go to hell,' when that kind of resolution became unthinkable in a relationship, mutual compromises remained.
"What is it with those two?" McNeil chose to ask. "Did you ever give some thought to separating them?"
Dobey could only smile at that, somewhat sadly. One day the two men might grow out of being cops, but they would always be partners. Some things became more than the sum of parts, but the DA probably couldn't appreciate that. Politicians rarely understood partnerships beyond those dictated by contingencies.
"Things might get done a lot faster," McNeil added when no answer came, got an unconcerned shrug in return.
When the two detectives walked in, it was clear to Dobey he had guessed correctly. "I'll stay under and we can reevaluate in a week or so. Oh, Linda can stay, too. She's got a good enough cover to hang around me," Starsky said and the captain realized that Hutch had still managed to enforce a few conditions in the meantime.
"Captain," the blond spoke up, "could you call New York right away and make sure Rizzo stays under wraps?"
Captain Mallory was going to have one pissed-off detective on his hands, Dobey knew. He made the call. By the time he was through, the DA had left with his entourage, and Starsky was also waving goodbye. After the door closed, he was alone with Hutchinson. "Go home and get some sleep. You're going to need it."
"Yeah." Hutch started to rise, then dropped back. "Oh, Starsky drove."
"Come on, I'll give you a ride."
"No, Captain, it's almost an hour out of your way. I can take a -- better yet, may I just crash on your couch in the office?"
"Sure, but that's not -- "
"It'll do. Save time, too." He kept sitting, and Dobey couldn't just leave him. After a while, Hutch gave a small, derisive laugh. "Used to think I could move the world. Now I don't even know if I can move myself across the hall." Then he seemed to regret the words and gathered himself together to rise. "I will, anyway. You don't have to think about putting me out to pasture yet, Captain."
"Hutchinson," Dobey called out softly, stopping him from leaving the room. He didn't turn to face the blond man; his gruff facade was too ingrained. "You know how we all start on this job, all fire and zest? That's when we think heroes are the daring-doers, the ones that jump into the fray, go charging in, and no doubts, no hesitations, no fear. You know what most of that is? Too many storybooks, too active glands, and overdoses of adrenaline. When you get to be my age, you realize that what really takes courage and strength is the determination to put one step in front of the other and keep going until you're done. Nobody's going to put you out to pasture for maturing, son. You're more valuable now." A silence followed, and he shifted uncomfortably.
"Thanks, Captain," Hutch whispered, then he was gone.
The operation was designed for speed. It happened very fast, and quietly enough to be anti-climactic. Nobody offered hassles or objections. The standard orders seemed to be to go quietly and never doubt that the boss would take care of it soon. However, that was before people realized the scope of the arrests. By the time Starsky was getting printed and booked as Caporetto -- he'd lost count of the times he'd gone through the routine under different names -- panic was setting in all around him.
It didn't last long. Shortly there were lawyers everywhere to establish order, and nobody was ignored. A lawyer from an impressive firm took charge of Starsky as well. He was told to say absolutely nothing and not to worry about the rest. His bail would be paid, legal representation was assured, and if he had to serve time, it'd be easy. Anybody he left outside would be provided for, and when he came out, a job would be waiting. He listened to it all, amused but chagrined. Marruzzi certainly knew how to buy silence and loyalty, and it was going to be hard to get anybody to talk.
Starsky, by design, was one of the first to be arraigned and set free on 'insufficient evidence.' He returned to The Familia, closed to the public now, but crowded with the remnants of the organization. Already, there were signs of regrouping. Marruzzi's consigliere, Fontane, showed up to establish personally interim order. Starsky decided that if governments had half the efficiency of the organization there'd be fewer hassles in the world. Dictatorships had something going for them -- if you didn't mind jumping when your strings were pulled. Jack Valenti inherited what remained of Genovese's group, his job basically to hold things together for the time being.
The detective poked around, watched, listened, tucked away any information, but that was just in passing, a way to justify to McNeil his staying under cover. For his real purpose, he became Luigi's shadow, anticipating the man's first wrong move. There would be one, he was sure. Marruzzi's organization had been too powerful and there were always jackals around waiting to take nips out of a wounded mammoth. If they threatened, Marruzzi might find reason to use Luigi.
Then Starsky would be right there.
The Familia was still functioning, but only as a kitchen and a bar for the remaining organization members. People converged on it in the evenings. It was a good time to have a few beers and eavesdrop. Tonight, Starsky was on his second one, waiting for Linda to join him for dinner, when he was told Jack Valenti wanted to see him in the back.
As soon as he opened the door to Genovese's old office, before a word was said, he felt something was wrong. Sal was slumped in a chair, but there was nothing new in that. His bodyguard, Rudi, was with him, and that was also normal. Valenti was sitting at the desk, facing a stranger, a middle aged, overweight man Starsky didn't recognize. For some reason, he wanted to back out, but Rudi was suddenly between him and the door.
"There you are," Valenti said, not amiably but he'd never been a friendly soul. "I don't think you know our courier from New York. Galante, meet Anthony Caporetto."
Galante scowled. "I don't know who this is, but he's not Caporetto. There never was one anyway."
"Are you sure?"
"Of course I'm sure. The cop passing off as Caporetto arrested my boss yesterday, in front of my eyes."
Valenti rose. Starsky saw he'd been holding a gun in his lap. Obviously Rudi had one out, too; metal pressed into his back. There was silence. Sal's shaky voice broke it.
"You lied to me."
Hutch wanted to finish typing at least the sentence before he reached for the ringing phone, but it occurred to him it might be Starsky checking in, as he was supposed to, twice daily. Leaving the report hanging, he picked up the receiver, rubbing his eyes with his left hand. The evening shift was already in, but most day shift people, including Dobey conferring with the DA, were still there, buried under paperwork. It made the room crowded, noisy, smoky, and the people short-tempered.
"Hutchinson," he said into the phone, couldn't hear the voice from the other side clearly. "Quiet!" he called out to the rest of the squadroom. The noise level dropped slightly. "Yeah?"
"Ken...." It was a whisper.
"Who -- Linda?"
"Yes. Listen, I can't speak up. Can you hear me?"
"Barely. Hold on." He covered the mouthpiece and yelled, "SHUT UP!" All noise instantly ceased. "Captain, it's Linda." Dobey picked up another phone to get on the same line. Hutch asked back into the receiver, "What's wrong?"
"I just overheard. Dave's cover's blown. I don't know how."
Hutch went cold all over. "Where is he?"
"I don't know. He's not at the club. I'll find out."
"Wait. Nobody's thinkin' about me. They haven't made the connection yet. I can look for him."
"I'll be with you in -- "
"Dammit, will ya cut the cavalry routine! They know who you are. You show your nose and watch 'em clam up. They'll dig him in so deep we might never find him. Stay put and don't crowd me. Gotta go. I'll call you soon's I know anythin' for sure." The line went dead.
"I'm coming," he repeated needlessly, half into the phone and half into the air, dropping the receiver. It hit the corner of the desk, rebounded, and ended up dangling on its cord. Paying it no attention, he grabbed his gun and jacket, and was struggling to strap on the holster while heading out of the squadroom. Suddenly, McNeil and Dobey were barring him from the door.
"Where're you going?" Dobey asked. Hutch considered it a monumentally stupid question, and attempted to push past without answering. His arm was gripped by the captain. "Hutchinson, where are you going?"
He realized he didn't exactly know, hesitated. "To...to the club."
"He's not there."
"I'll find him."
"Baylor's looking already. Wait until you know."
That wasn't acceptable. He shook his head.
"You won't get anywhere," the captain continued. "Baylor's right, your cover's long gone; nobody will talk to you. Hers is still secure. Let her do her job."
Hutch was set to argue, but McNeil also saw fit to grab him by the arm. "Besides," the DA put in, "you're not thinking. So far we've arrested and charged people. No evidence has been made public. Everybody there knows you've been under, and now they've got Starsky. Somebody might think the evidence consists of the testimony you two can give and jump at the chance of taking out both of you. There's danger to you, too."
Hutch didn't bother pointing out the one thing wrong with that argument: that he didn't care. He just shrugged off the DA's hold. However, he found out Dobey was made of tougher stuff.
"You don't know how Starsky's playing it," the captain put in quickly, with a look at McNeil that clearly told the man to keep his mouth shut. "Maybe what's keeping him safe is that you're out here; isn't that how he usually plays it? What if you're his insurance? Don't precipitate anything. Wait until we have definite information."
That made Hutch stop and think. Reluctantly, against every impulse clamoring inside, he turned back, saw his phone off the hook, and rushed to hang it up so it could ring again. Hopefully, soon. Come on, Linda. You're good, baby, so come on. Hurry up.
McNeil spoke up behind him. "And without a warrant, you're going no -- "
Hutch whirled around. "Fuck the warrants!"
"Hutchinson!" Dobey warned.
Hutch swallowed once and continued, "Just don't be in my way when I go out that door," he stated clearly, for everyone's edification.
"I'll dispatch units to the area," Dobey said in his best defusing-the-situation tone. "Maybe we'll get lucky and spot him." He turned to the DA. "Why don't you get a judge lined up so we can get a warrant quickly when we need it?"