Part 3.2



Suzan Lovett

Part 3.3

The wires securing his wrists behind him weren't terribly bad. It was the one that looped around his elbows, pulling them close at his back, that was almost unbearable. Unable to pull his hands up, he had to sit leaning forward, but the bonds around the elbows were stretching his spine in the other direction. He could only manage a stiff, awkward crouch on the divan in Sal's house. Across from him Sal was brooding. Rudi watched him, hardly blinking.

Valenti, not high enough to decide what should be done, had tried to contact Fontane or Marruzzi, had been unable to locate either. With Rudi as guard, he'd sent Starsky to Sal's house as a safer place to hold the cop until someone could make a decision.

Starsky considered. Would Linda simply assume he was late? Of course, Hutch should be waiting for his call, but at no specific time. He had only himself to count on for now. Rudi still had his revolver out, but Starsky knew it wouldn't be used indiscriminately, not until ordered. However, being bound didn't leave him many options.

"You lied to me," Sal repeated for the fifth or the sixth time, addressing some place in the distance.

"Kid, look," Starsky attempted to speak again.

Rudi cut him off, as usual. "Shut up, pig."

This time Sal didn't let it go by. "You shut up! Let him talk."

"He ain't got nothin' to say. What's he got to say? You got no need to listen to a -- "

"Don't tell me what to do! Everybody tells me what to do. I'm sick of it!" Rudi shrugged at the outburst. Sal wiped his nose on his sleeve, looking like a child close to tears. "So say it. What have you got to say?"

Now that he was allowed to, there really wasn't much Starsky could say. "I didn't intend to hurt you. I tried hard not to."

"What do you call this?"

He'd seen that kind of hurt, heard the similar accusation before. From a woman he had loved once, from the little brother who'd felt betrayed, deserted. He'd felt just as helpless those times, too. "I had a job to do." Lame.

"Sure. It's always a job. Only a job. Nothing personal, Sal, just a job. As Grandfather always says. Sonna Cosa Nostra -- our world, Sal. Why can't you understand? We all have our jobs. I trusted you. But you're no better than anybody else."

"Probably not," Starsky mumbled. "We are what we are."

"Yeah, and I'm Cesare Marruzzi's grandson. That's all it was, right? At least the others didn't pretend friendship!"

What was there to say? Nothing Sal would believe at the moment. "I'm sorry."

"Doesn't help."

"Why're ya wastin' time with him?" Rudi put in righteously. "He ain't gonna bother nobody no more."

"Shut up, just shut up! You, too," Sal directed at the detective, although Starsky hadn't been about to say anything. "I don't want to hear." For a while he sat, twitching, rubbing his hands together in jerky motions. "Get me something," he told Rudi.

The man reached into his pocket and dropped a small bag of white powder onto the coffee table. Impatiently, Sal swept it off with the back of his hand. The plastic container was open, and a cloud of the drug rose. Rudi coughed, waved it away. "Dammit! You know how much that cost?"

"It's my money!"

"Bullshit. It's your grandfather's."

"Yeah, remember that. The only way you'll get any of it is by taking care of me. I want it stronger, a real rush." He was rolling up one sleeve.

Starsky sighed at the sight of the needle tracks. "Sal, don't. It's not worth it."

"What do you know? It's the only thing worth it. Things make sense then." He giggled. "Or maybe they don't, but then you don't care, see?" He yelled at Rudi. "Set it up!"

"Yeah, okay." The man looked around, obviously checking if he could leave the detective alone, then seemed to consider it safe enough. "Keep an eye on him," he told Sal and disappeared into the back of the house.

Sal immediately withdrew into himself, pulled up his legs, dropped his head onto his knees. After a few seconds, it dawned on Starsky that nobody was watching him closely. He'd worry about Sal later. He got to his feet, which elicited no reaction. Where to go was another problem. He couldn't unlock the front door, the latch was too high for his bound hands. Rudi was between him and the back exit. But the door to the garage was unlatched, since they had come in that way. Wasn't the automatic garage door opener about shoulder level?

He backed out quietly. Sal hadn't uncurled by the time he was out the door. He pushed it closed gently by leaning into it sideways. It left him in the dark. He took the steps carefully, trying not to make noise or trip over anything. He rounded the cars, seeing them only as darker lumps, approached the two glow-in-the-dark buttons. He avoided the light switch, leaned into the other one. The struts on the door gave a metallic groan as they started to rise. He gritted his teeth at the sound, waiting until it was high enough to duck under it. He had to stay on his feet or getting up would take time.

The door behind him was thrown open, sending out a fan of light. He heard footsteps clattering down, Rudi cursing. By then, he was running.

He was out on the driveway, but almost immediately he was yanked to a stop by a hand in his hair. He gasped with the pain, then helplessly yielded. Backwards, Rudi dragged him without a pause, cursing all the while. Starsky scrambled to keep up; it hurt too much otherwise. They were in the garage, he was being pulled up the steps, and the door started coming down.

Through eyes he could barely keep open, he saw a sudden movement outside against the lighter darkness of the driveway. Right before the garage closed off for good a form cleared the descending door in a roll, then was lost to sight behind one of the cars. Metal clattered against metal, light glinted off the gun muzzle extended over the hood.

"Hold it right there. Police!" came Linda's voice.

Backlit by the door to the house, Rudi was already pulling his captive to block himself. Starsky felt the cold steel against his temple.

"Don't even think it," Linda yelled, "unless you want your brains to go with it."

"Close that door," Rudi shouted. He had to be addressing Sal, but he wasn't obeyed.

"Drop it," Linda called out.

Starsky had had enough of being jerked around like a dog on a leash. He squirmed experimentally, not enough to set anything off, but it worked. Trying to get a better hold on him, Rudi forgot to keep the gun steady. Starsky kicked against the stair railing with one foot, suddenly throwing himself back with all the force he could gather. They tumbled back together. He felt the man's arm between his back and the edge of a step, heard the gun go skittering out of his hand onto the top landing, saw Linda break cover and rush to them to press the advantage. Then he was forcibly pushed up and hurled down toward the woman. He had no way to brake, had to go with it.

She could've stepped out of the way. Didn't. By instinct or intent, she broke his fall. In the split second before he crashed into her, he saw the weapon drop out of her fingers, couldn't decide if it was accidental or if she wasn't about to chance a cocked gun between their bodies. His momentum knocked her off balance. They stumbled over the lower steps and went down in a heap. Starsky concentrated on rolling off of her as fast as possible, knowing Rudi would be on top of them soon and he shouldn't hinder her. Linda scrambled to disentangle herself as well, but Rudi was already there. She was dragged away, pulled up. Starsky pushed himself to the wall to gain some purchase to stand up, watching the tussle. Her strength wasn't going to be equal to the task.

However, she managed to turn enough to face the man, then proved her street training. She went straight for the eyes without the slightest cringe. Trying to duck, Rudi gave her an opening. Her knee came up immediately into the groin. With a yell of agony, Rudi doubled up. She was ready for that as well. A quick jab upwards with the heel of a palm, and blood started flowing from the man's nose. Enraged, he lunged for her, but he was slowed down considerably. She stepped back, looking around for the gun and trying to keep an eye on him at the same time.

"Stop it!"

The shout stopped everything, made them look up. They had all forgotten Sal. He was at the top of the steps, holding the gun Rudi had dropped, pointed at the group.

Starsky tried to speak calmly. "Put it down, Sal. You're going to hurt somebody." He could clearly remember hearing the safety being clicked off before it had rested on his temple.

"Kill the bitch!" Rudi shouted, doubled over.

To override him, Starsky had to shout, too. "Sal, put it down!"


Evidently, Rudi wasn't about to gamble with a gun in an addict's hand, especially when it pointed in his general direction as well. However, Linda didn't seem to consider the young man much of a threat. She approached the steps. "Don't," Starsky warned quietly.

She didn't listen, took a step up. "Sal, you don't know what you're doing with that. It's all over. Give it to me." Slowly, she took another step.

"Don't tell me what to do!"

"Linda, don't, he's on edge," Starsky warned again, feeling desperately ineffective, unable to move in any way that counted.

"Give it to me," she repeated, resolutely approaching.

"Don't listen to her," Rudi shouted.

Starsky saw that Linda's main objective was her gun lying on the steps. Rudi had to be seeing it, too. Too many things happened at once. Linda reached for her gun. Rudi started to rush toward her. Starsky got ready to push off the wall into the man at least to delay him. Sal screamed something.

The gun discharged. Everything froze. For a second, it felt like the still tableau was going to hold forever, then Linda dissolved it. She seemed to fold into herself, then out. Only when her body had completed the involuntary motion and come to rest, strangely angled on the steps, her chest visible, did Starsky realize she was shot. There had been no sound.

"No!" He found himself next to her, having no idea how he'd gotten there. "Linda? Linda?" The gun fell out of Sal's fingers, clattered down the steps, came to a stop close to Starsky. Two guns in reach. For all purposes, they could've been on the moon. They were scooped up by Rudi. He stepped over the detectives, went up.

"Good boy. Come on," Starsky heard him tell Sal. He was intent on Linda. If only he could put pressure on the wound, stanch the flow. He leaned awkwardly across her, trying not to touch the injury, but his shoulder brushed it. His own lungs were laboring, controlling them was beyond him; he couldn't tell if she was still breathing. He pulled back and laid his head on her chest, heard and felt the heartbeat, not all that weak. The side of his face came away bloody, his hair stuck to his temple and cheek.

"Hold on, sweetheart, just hold on." He didn't know if she could hear.

Rudi was there again, hauling him up and pulling him back into the house, closing the door behind them. unceremoniously, he was thrown onto a couch, couldn't straighten for a while. He wasn't as resilient as he used to be. If Linda had called for a backup it'd have arrived already. It was probably up to him again, but he simply had to catch his breath first.

Rudi disappeared into the kitchen briefly, came back, drying his face with a dish towel. Sal was babbling something incoherent. He seemed more shook up than anybody else. "You done good," Rudi was telling him. "Now we got a problem, though. I can't find Mr. Valenti, so we gotta do it. We gotta get rid o' the body."

"There's no body!" Starsky couldn't help protesting. "Sal, she's still alive."

"Not for long, not with that bleedin'," Rudi said.

"A...alive?" Sal stammered.

There was a repugnance in Starsky toward the young man now, but he also knew there had been no malevolence in the shooting. Sal had been caught in a situation that was totally beyond him. And he was the only way out at the moment. "Yes, alive. Sal, help her, please. You're not a killer. She never hurt you. I know you didn't want to hurt her. Please, get help."

"Shut up," Rudi told the detective.

"She's...alive? We have to do something." Sal struggled to rise from the seat.

Rudi roughly shoved him back. "You ain't got no spine, worm. Don't listen to him. He's the enemy, remember?"

"Sal, forget me, never mind me. Think about her. What did she ever do to you? How're you goin' to live with it if she dies? Sal, please?"

"I said shut up!" This time, Rudi seemed to want to make sure. He yanked the dish towel from around his neck.

"Sal, I'm beggin' you," Starsky had time to say before it was shoved between his teeth and tied behind his head.

Rudi stood over the young man. "Now you listen to me. Mr. Valenti left me in charge. For once they gave me somethin' that's more'n wipin' your ass, and no snivellin' junkie's gonna botch it for me, understand? What you did is shoot a cop. She lives to tell of it 'n you're a goner. They'll put you behind bars, boy, and throw away the key. No juice, no coke, no rush, no high, no nothin', never. Just you, a lotta hurtin' that ain't ever gonna stop, and a bunch o' big boys who'd love to get their hands on a pretty piece like you. So for once you're gonna make like a good trouper, make your grandpa proud o'you. You hear me?" Sal gulped, nodded.

"Here," Rudi shoved a gun into the young man's hand. "Hold it!" he barked when Sal cringed. "Hold it like a man. Like this. Point it that way. Right. Straight at him there. He ain't goin' nowheres anyway, but you make sure. I gotta go now. I'm gonna find a car, somewheres uptown. Bring it back here, take the body and leave it far away. I'm savin' your ass, boy, don't forget it. Just sit there and don't even think. Someone'll be here to do it for you soon. Tell me what you're gonna do."

"Sit, watch him and don't move, don't let him move." Sal sounded like something mechanical.

"That's right. Good boy." Rudi made sure all exits were secured before he left the house. Starsky heard one of the cars drive away. He'd bet the garage door could only be opened from outside by the remote control now.

For long minutes, Sal sat stock-still, gripping the gun as if his life depended on it, aiming it as he'd been told, directly at the bound and gagged man. However, Starsky knew that the young man would soon defeat his own purpose. Muscles tightened so desperately were bound to give, and the gun was going to fall of its own weight. Providing, of course, Sal didn't fire first, unintentionally, because of cramping. Starsky watched closely.


The first sensation Linda felt was a strange pounding in her head. Then she became aware that she couldn't breathe easily. Dazed, it took a few seconds to remember what had happened, and realize she was lying practically upside down on the stairs. She attempted to straighten. Instantly pain centered, flared. She almost blacked out, tried to fight it.

Can't be that bad, she told herself, can't be that bad.

Oh, God, it hurts.

Can't be that bad -- can't -- didn't -- never knew it could be so bad.

It's dark. I hurt. A lot.

Tears sprang into her eyes and a sob left her throat.

That got her mad.

Sure it can hurt that bad, dummy. Guess what? You're stuck with it. So quit bawlin' like a baby and shift your ass.

She was losing blood and her position on the steps wasn't helping any. She groped for the railing, took a second to brace for the pain she knew would come, heaved herself up half-way. By the time the pain had hit hard enough to stop her, she had both hands around the railing. She held on tight until she could breathe again. Elevate the wound higher than the heart, she thought past the dizziness, but couldn't pull up any more, dragged her legs down instead. Right. That's right.

One hand she left tightly wrapped around the railing. Something to hold on to. With the other, she probed gingerly around the wound. Her shirt was spongy from blood, soaked. All her life she'd sidestepped getting hurt. In every sense. Basic rules of the street: don't get involved; don't get caught. She'd been hurt bad physically only once before, but that time she had come around at the hospital, cleaned, bandaged, the pain controlled.

Gee, nobody to make the boo-boo go away now. Tough luck, sweetie. You chose it that way, remember? What's the matter, chickenin' out? You've seen enough blood.

But this was hers.

So what? It's still red. It was always in the cards, and you picked the hand.

Dumb, dumb, dumb. Should've listened to Dave. Should've called for back-up. Should've let Ken come.

The anger came back.

What, no knight to the rescue and you're helpless? You stupid bitch, got a death wish? Stop the goddamned bleeding, already!

She bunched her vest in her fist and pressed against the wound, gritted her teeth as the pain got worse. Getting up, or even crawling out, seemed to the out of the question, so she'd just have to do what she could and hope for the best. It dawned on her that she could pass out again and ease up on the pressure. Pulling up some more, she shifted until the cloth was trapped between her body and the edge of a step, draped one arm through the railing, wedging herself in place.

She concentrated on breathing evenly. Okay. I'm okay. Linda Graciela -- one day, Daddy, I'm gonna wring your neck for that name -- Baylor's okay.

For how long, she didn't know.


The gun in Sal's hand started shaking. Shortly afterwards, it fell. Sal was trembling violently. "I need...I need...I can't...have to," he muttered, pushed off, stumbled out of the room.

Starsky rolled to his feet immediately. It would take perhaps five minutes for Sal to shoot up. He didn't have time to try the exits. He badly wanted to check Linda, but couldn't indulge. He ran upstairs, careless about noise, suspecting Sal would be too preoccupied. The bedroom was open. He slipped in, pushed the door shut, went to the phone on the nightstand. With his back to it, he knocked the receiver off the cradle. Carefully, he counted by feel and punched the emergency number for Metro. Distantly, he heard the call go through, and the switchboard operator's answer. The dishtowel gag made him unable to speak so he kicked the nearest pedestal holding one of the abstract, crystal statuettes Sal was so fond of. Hopefully, the crash would give them the right idea.

He heard a car drive up and stop. Too soon for Rudi, but somebody was coming. He had to give the operator time to trace the call. Awkwardly, he pulled open the drawer, dropped the phone and the receiver inside, closed it. Might not be noticed.

Someone was definitely in the house, in a hurry, too, judging by the heavy, searching tread. He had no place to go, so could only brazen it out. He faced the door and waited, braced. When the knob turned and it started to open he rushed it, throwing his whole weight into the frame. Just for a second it gave, then got shoved back with more force than he'd have thought possible. It didn't only push him back, but literally threw him into the patio door angled on the adjacent wall. Luckily, his leather-clad shoulder crashed through it first, and when he found himself on the floor, half in and half out of the room, he didn't think he was cut anywhere, at least not badly. But pain was vibrating down his arm and back.

Before he could think to move, he was yanked to his feet. He found himself looking into Luigi's face. It seemed somebody had made a decision, a final one. This isn't quite what I had in mind, Hutch, he thought, feeling strangely light-headed.


"So it was you. Sorry, cop, but once the padrone has you, you'll talk. I can't take the chance."

Starsky reevaluated. Obviously, Luigi was free-lancing. But it really didn't make much of a difference. Dead was dead, ordered from above or not. He couldn't fight the man's strength, and he was so sick of feeling helpless. Maybe he had been overestimating himself. Maybe all this had gone beyond him and he'd been too stupid to realize it.

They were downstairs and halfway to the door when Sal's voice came from somewhere behind them. "Lu...Luigi. Where...where're you taking him?"

Luigi didn't bother answering, relentlessly pulling the detective to the door.

"What're you doing?" Sal shouted, a hysterical note in his voice. "Where's grandfather? Where's Brasi? What's -- stop! No! Who said you could? You can't. Stop it!" Suddenly, he was tugging at the large man. "Stop it, stop it, stop it!"

"Cut it out!" Luigi yelled, trying to push the young man away, but Sal was attached to him with arms and legs like a clinging child, and he couldn't extricate himself while holding onto Starsky. They stumbled back into the room. With an impatient growl, Luigi hurled the detective away, and concentrated on peeling Sal off of him, having more trouble than he should have had. Starsky suspected that the man didn't care to hurt Marruzzi's grandson, and Sal was like a leech.

"I wasn't told," he was babbling, attaching each removed hold anew with more insistence. "Nobody told me. Who said you could? You can't, you can't." Luigi finally managed to pry him off and hold him firmly at arms' length. "Youcan'tyoucan'tyoucan'you -- "

"Shut up! He's nobody's concern any more, you hear me?"

"No! No!"


The totally new voice from the front door stopped everything. Luigi and Sal froze, then turned around. Starsky craned his neck to see, and struggled to his feet.

Cesare Marruzzi stood there, looking as bland as if he'd walked into an orderly conference, flanked by Brasi Fontane and two bodyguards. Nobody spoke or moved while Marruzzi dispassionately studied the tableau, then approached, his level gaze giving each participant equal time. Sal squirmed, opened his mouth, then quickly clamped it shut at a slight, forbidding hand motion by his grandfather.

The old man directed his attention to the detective. "Remove the gag. How can men reason if they can't talk?" His order was immediately obeyed by one of his bodyguards. Starsky moved his jaw muscles to ease the cramping and slowly closed his mouth.

Marruzzi addressed him directly. "Mr. Valenti informs me that you would be a duplicate Anthony Caporetto, if there were one, but since there isn't, it's a moot point. I assume you're a police officer, probably the partner to the one who's been a nuisance. Our mistake. We should've realized he'd have one. Your name?"

Thrown by the sudden change in the tone of the confrontation, Starsky kept his peace. The old man spread his hands in a low-key version of a typically Italian gesture. "What objection could you have to giving me your name?"

Starsky would've shrugged if his shoulder didn't hurt so badly where he'd crashed into the patio door. "Detective Sergeant David Starsky," he supplied, holding the man's eyes.

"My God!" Sal burst out. "You even lied about your name! Call me Tony, you said, we're friends, call me Tony, and even that was a -- "

"Sal," Marruzzi interrupted, never taking his eyes off the detective, "unless you have something worth saying, be quiet. And if you do, which I doubt, say it without whining." His next words were for Starsky. "Thank you. It is so much easier to conduct a civilized conversation with identities established."

Starsky decided that if the man wanted to play charades, he'd oblige. With a tilt of his head, he indicated his bound hands. "If you're interested in civilized conversations, this ain't no way to conduct 'em, either."

He hadn't expected it to yield any sort of results, but Marruzzi nodded solemnly. "You're right. Release Mr. Starsky --not you, Luigi," he told the large man who attempted to comply, and waved at his bodyguard to take care of it. "You tell me what you're doing here. If Valenti had dispatched you, he'd have informed me. Besides, Valenti can't make the kind of decisions that might require your involvement."

"I heard what was going on at the club," Luigi said in his rumbling voice, "and just came to see if I, uh, could help Sal here."

"Do I assume, then, that private business matters are bandied about all over The Familia, or that you were listening too good? Also, you just sounded like you had plans for Mr. Starsky. An individual action? A rash one at that? Why, Luigi? In whose interest?"

Luigi stayed stock-still and silent, staring as if spellbound. Starsky realized that this mountain of a man, a ruthless killer, was terrified of the old one. Marruzzi suddenly smiled and patted Luigi's shoulder. "No matter, paisan'. You will tell me, I'm sure. Are you more comfortable, Mr. Starsky?"

"Relatively speakin'." He rubbed his wrists and arms to restore circulation. The blood was drying on his temple and cheek, irritating him. "I'd like to wash my face."

"Of course. Afterwards, we can continue our conversation in comfort at my house. I fear my grandson is a deplorable host."

Starsky grimaced. "Guess you wouldn't be interested in RSVP's?"


"Didn't think so."

Marruzzi gave brief instructions to his bodyguards to escort the detective, Luigi and Sal to his house, then left with his consigliere. Cagey, Starsky concluded, he'll avoid being seen with me in public.

The bathroom had no exit, and anyway, he wasn't allowed to close the door. The only thing he managed to do was to casually shrug out of his jacket then conveniently forget it, and the man accompanying him didn't seem to attach any importance to it. If it stayed forgotten, and if his call was traced, Hutch would at least know he'd been there. It didn't show against the shiny black surface, but Linda's blood was on it. By this time, he had little hope that Linda would be more than a body found somewhere, if that, and he wanted to leave some trace of her behind.


The first reports from the patrols reached Dobey. Since everybody seemed interested, he relayed them out loud. "No sight of him, or Baylor. Nothing unusual at the club. Nobody important seems to be there. They're patrolling the area."

"Told you they wouldn't hold him at the club," was Hutch's terse comment. "There're already search warrants on the place. No, he's somewhere they feel safe."

Dobey decided to take care of one more piece of business and told an officer to call Captain Mallory in New York. With Starsky's cover gone, there was no more reason for Rizzo to hide.

In the meantime, Hutch was counting off the possibilities. "They don't have many places we haven't cracked already. What does that leave? Would Marruzzi involve himself? Or maybe Sal's..."

McNeil protested. "I can't get warrants on hunches. Besides, it's a big city. Abandoned warehouses, derelict blocks -- take your pick."

"No, they wouldn't dare cart him all over the city."

The DA opted for a conciliatory tone. "Relax, Hutchinson. Actually, they wouldn't dare harm him, either. What good will it do?"

"Heard of grudges?" Hutch snapped. "He sure isn't free, or he'd have called in by now. What're they doing, throwing him a party?"

"Naturally they'll want to find out what he knows."

"And then what? 'Obliging of you, Detective, and Godspeed'? And how the hell do you think they'll ask the questions? Their hands aren't tied by some goddamned -- "

"Enough!" Dobey shouted as Hutch's voice rose. The blond cut off, glaring at the DA. The captain wished McNeil would take himself away; an irritant was the last thing the situation needed.

"Captain Mallory is unavailable," the officer calling New York told Dobey. "Another officer on the case is still there, though. Do you want to talk to a Sergeant Rizzo?"

What the -- ? Dobey instantly regretted silencing Hutch. "I'll take it in my offi -- " he started, but it was too late; the blond had heard. The captain saw him make a grab for his phone and stop, obviously preferring to keep his line free. As he jumped to his feet and came around his desk for another phone, Dobey took the receiver held out to him. "Rizzo, this is Captain Dobey. What do you think you're doing out? We had an understanding." A click told him Hutch had hooked into his line, but the blond stayed silent, jaw set, gripping the receiver.

"Took you long enough," came the arrogantly languid voice through the wires. "Don't you believe in confirming your messages over there?"

"What messages?"

"Jake sent you a teletype yesterday. I've been out for three days. It's old news, so spare me the tirade."

Dobey felt his blood pressure soar. "Messages get lost every day, equipment breaks down, and you relied on teletype?! Mallory couldn't pick up a phone? What do you mean you've been out for three days anyway? And you saw fit to warn us only yesterday?"

"Ease up, will ya, Captain? Jake didn't know I was out, and we're buried under over here."

Dobey wished he was given to swearing. "You've endangered my officer, Rizzo, and I promise you I'm personally going to follow -- "

Rizzo interrupted, sounding short-tempered himself. "With due respect and all that, it's my goddamned case. Three years of my life! You think I was gonna make like a mole while my case broke? Follow up on whatever you please. If you think I'm scared of you -- "

"Try me."

Hutch's utterance was whisper-soft, but it cut through like a scalpel. Dobey knew his most impressive bellow couldn't compete and kept his mouth shut.

"Who's -- ? Ah, that sounds like Blondie. Hey, man, we sent word. Obviously someone screwed up."

"Yes, you did."

"Oh, shove it! The case's split open like a watermelon -- why's your partner still under anyway?"

"My partner is not under. My partner is missing," Hutch stated, clean and clear. Dobey decided he'd never seen a true case of white fury; obviously it was a very quiet thing. "If anything happens to him because you couldn't wait to crawl out of your hole, there isn't going to be one deep enough for you." With a deliberate motion, Hutch cradled the receiver.

There didn't seem to be a point in saying anything else. Rizzo was still talking, but Dobey also hung up.


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