"We two touch,
Circumference against circumference...
But never quite coincide."
Washington came out of the Captain's office, radiating discontent, and swept out of the squad room, without bothering to notify his partner of his destination. Obviously, yet another talk with Dobey had not mollified him. Hutch pretended to be absorbed in the reports, but he was apprehensive, waiting for the summons in the Captain's far-reaching voice. He knew his performance left a lot to be desired lately, and coupled with the incessant complaints of a partner....
With some surprise, Hutch realized he was afraid of being fired, something he had been blasé about not too long ago, if not downright desirous of. But not now. Not when he had gotten past I'm-a-good-boy-so-may-I-play stage with Osgood and Miller, and had been adopted into the fold. So far he had pieced together a tapestry, as yet to be sewn securely. He had recruitment and propaganda literature in his hands, had distilled some facts by judicious queries and snooping. It all added up to intimations of blackmail, bribes, funds channeled toward the elections of city and state officials considered suitable, pressure and terror tactics used on those considered unsuitable. He had vital statistics on Miller, many of the club members, and Osgood.
Osgood had puzzled Hutch at first. Friend of the Mayor, half the city council and many important businessmen, he seemed out of sync in a fascist cell, but was clearly in a leadership position. The man didn't believe in low profiles; a brief dig had unearthed his `credentials' and suddenly Washington's attitude after seeing Hutch with Osgood had started to make sense. Osgood was a Kleagle in the Ku Klux Klan, carrying a lot of weight because he happened to carry a lot of wealth. Coalition of conspirators, alignment of fraternities, same ideologies under different banners a venom by any other name, and its name was American Fascism.
But Hutch had no solid evidence yet. At the moment, all he could accomplish by going public would be to generate a protest or two from the Civil Liberties Union, give some city and state officials a few sleepless nights, and briefly delight the liberal press. It wasn't enough for him. He needed his badge. Right now he'd fight or beg to keep it.
He'd kept a folder of notes and records. Distrustful, he kept it in a safe deposit box where only he could get to it. He intended to give it to Dobey. Soon. Well, sometime. The Captain was reliable, but because of his position, could only handle short-term secrets. Osgood and Miller had high-level contacts, and Hutch had seen too many `sure' cases go down the drain lately because of an unexpected leak. Besides this was his case, his cause, and he was too obsessed to share any of it until he could break it wide open.
The summons wasn't coming. Hutch fidgeted, waiting for the other shoe to drop. What had Washington said to Dobey this time? No doubt something about Osgood. Finally, Hutch realized that Dobey was not going to call him. In a way, he was relieved. In another, he was puzzled. Why shouldn't the Captain question his unlikely fellowship with a Klan leader? Did he hesitate to intrude on the private life of one of his subordinates?
Or was he, on some personal level, shying away from having his illusions tarnished about the man he once considered almost a son?
Osgood, you bastard, that's another one I owe you.
He went in search of Washington. They still seemed to be partners. There was work to do, and however Washington felt personally, he was a conscientious worker.
Meredith had sensed trouble brewing ever since Washington had walked into the cafeteria and opened his mouth about Hutchinson. The black man was getting more and more voluble while storm clouds were thickening around Starsky. She attempted again to distract David and hopefully get him out of there.
"If we hurry up, we can catch " She cut off, realizing she was talking to air. Starsky was up and at the other table. She sighed and followed her partner who was standing over the young detective.
"What'd you say?"
Caught unawares, Washington looked up. "Uh, what?"
"About your partner, what'd you say?"
The black man stared at Starsky for a beat, then answered with all the defiance of a man assured of his contention. "A lot of things. If you want it in a word, I said he's a bigot. Want to make an issue of it?"
"Listen, kid, Detective Hutchinson's lotsa things, but he's nobody's bigot. In fact, ever since you two teamed up, the only bigoted mouth I keep hearin' is yours. You better watch what comes out of it."
A number of things happened at once. Washington stood up, Starsky tensed, Meredith edged closer and the door swung open and Hutchinson walked in. He froze at the tableau; the others froze at his entrance.
The silence crackled with tension until Meredith tugged on Starsky's sleeve, "Come on, Dave."
He whirled around, grabbed his jacket, and almost ran past Hutchinson. Meredith hurried to keep up, wondering what the blond man had made of the scene. By the time she caught up with her partner, he was already in his car. She thought better of belaboring the subject. She wasn't quite impartial, and in Starsky's present mood, did not want to start an argument. He didn't seem inclined to talk about it either, except for one muttered comment:
"And Hutch's supposed to trust him at his back?"
Washington was doing a good imitation of a mute. For days, not a word had left his mouth unless absolutely unavoidable. He went along, working the cases, plainly biding his time until he would be allowed to sever the partnership.
Hutch eased the car into the narrow street, slid low into the seat and motioned at his partner to do the same. The black man shrugged and obliged, without asking what they were supposed to be doing. Hutch gave his attention to a group of derelicts converging around some dumpsters in the alley. Time for patience.
He was still not quite over the shock of the previous night, although he knew he should've been prepared. What had he thought Osgood and Miller would want from him, and want it badly enough to go through the trouble of recruiting him? Recruits, converts, propagandists, bodyguards, they had. Considering how expertly the members were trained, they also had plenty of trainers, probably better than himself. What they did not have was somebody at home in the darkest side of the streets inhabited by dope and peddlers, among the laws governing there. It seemed that another thing they did not have was enough capital to devote to expanding their causes. When it came right down to it, dope was a commodity, better than most commodities in its profit margin. It even had a side benefit; the majority of its victims were those already written off as sub-human by those aspiring to the rule of the so-called Master Race.
The proposal had been made to Hutch in the most reasonable and polite terms of a high-level business transaction. They could call him `advisor' or `intermediary' all they wanted to. What it boiled down to was that he was the chosen scoop to be dipped into the sewer so the wielders would not have to dirty their lily-white hands more than necessary. It was perfectly all right with him. He had done worse for less cause. This promised a better profit margin than he had hoped for, although not quite in the way Miller and Osgood expected.
The only problem was establishing contacts. He wouldn't use his familiarity with his own hunting grounds. He was too well-known as an officer of the law, and too many had been burned in the past by his undercover activities to sell a cop-gone-bad act. Nor did he care to use Huggy's contacts. He didn't feel like explaining his actions, and if he screwed up at one point, he did not want a friend caught in the fall-out. He had to find connections elsewhere, but not through the police channels, or he was bound to attract attention prematurely. For what you didn't know, you went to an expert. Miller and Osgood had come to him, now he had to find his own.
A short, dark man entered the alley. Certain as death and taxes. Where there was a demand, the supply was sure to show up. When the man was close to the car, Hutch abruptly pushed the door open, knocking it into him. The group around the dumpsters scattered in all directions at the commotion.
"Hi there, Gonzales. Doing the rounds, I see." Hutch picked up the man, holding him against the car.
"Hey, mans I ain't done nothing'!"
"Save it. This is one of your luckier days. I'm not out to roust you. In fact, I'd like a favor."
Hutch pointed in the direction of the dumpsters. "One of your customers, Marcellus Cobb. As far as he's concerned, you've just closed up shop. That goes for you and anybody else he deals with. Be a good boy and pass the word around. Letting Cobb score is going to be downright dangerous from now on."
"I don't "
"Shut up and listen! Eyes are on Cobb. I hear him getting any, and I mean any at all, I'm going to figure you didn't do your job too good and come looking for you, got that? From here on, these streets are dry for him. See to it." He indicated the now-empty alley. "No bread for you here today, Gonzales, beat it. And think hard. You want me on your back or Cobb's?"
He released the man and headed for a nearby hotel. He had to see one of Gonzales' disappointed customers. Washington followed.
The hotel room looked empty, but Hutch knew better. Unceremoniously, he pushed the bed up on its side. "There you are again, Marcellus. No imagination whatsoever. Anything ever change with you?"
Actually, the man had changed drastically. He still clung to the old army jacket, and still carried the lieutenant's bars on his shoulders, now tarnished to green, but he'd lost a lot of weight. The once-handsome coffee-brown face was little more than a skull. The man needed to score badly, too.
"Whaddya want from me, man, `n who's `at?" A shaky finger pointed at Washington.
Hutch wondered if Cobb was still able to do what was expected of him. He'd been counting on the fact that the man was not a usual hype, with mush in place of brains. "Don't worry about things that don't concern you." He kneeled next to Cobb. "I came to notify you that you're my personal crusade from now on. Who's your contact lately?"
"Yeah. Who's the latest benefactor with a badge?"
Cobb spat. "No one. No one at all. You saw to that!"
"What're you talking about?"
"Whaddya think? Think any cop's interested in inheritin' Slate's snitch who snitched on Slate? And who talked me into that?"
Hutch wasn't surprised. Slate had been guilty but it was hard to blame him. Cobb had been instrumental in sending him up and had plainly become poison to other officers from then on. He wished he had thought of it sooner and adopted Cobb himself. Now he understood why the man had gone downhill. Cobb wasn't a common criminal. He had volunteered to become an informant so he could support his habit without resorting to petty crimes. After Slate, he had been left out in the cold. However, that concern had to wait.
"What's the matter, Marcellus? Nobody loves you? Cheer up. I decided to take an interest. But I'm particular. I like my associates clean. So you're going to do me a favor and give up this stinking habit."
Cobb tried to back off. "Come on, man "
Hutch grabbed him. "I mean it, Marcellus. No more juice. None."
"Aw, get real!"
"This is very real. I put the word out in the streets, now I'm telling you. You're going to dry out and that's all there's to it."
"Man, whaddya want from me?" Cobb was getting frantic as he started to believe.
"You're not paying attention. I already told you. You're turning clean whether you want it or not."
"You're dreamin' "
"We'll see who's dreaming, and your dreams aren't going to be pretty. Remember, I know every door you might knock on. They'll be closed. No more scores for you on my streets, got it?"
"What're ya tryin' to do to me? Whaddya want!"
Hutch pushed him away. "I'll be back, Marcellus. You may not see me, but I'll be there. So be a good boy."
Sounds of desperation followed them through the hallway. "Whaddya want? What!"
By the time they were out of the hotel, Washington had had enough of being a silent bystander. "What was that about?" he demanded.
"It's called throwing your weight around periodically so folks will think twice about getting out of line."
"Bullshit." Although it was said mildly, Hutch was taken aback at the first ever profanity he had heard from Washington's mouth. "I may be new to this, Hutchinson, but I spent four years in uniform. I know the difference between ruling with an iron hand and harassment."
The unspoken threat in his eyes made Hutch decide to confine his activities to off-duty time whenever possible. He still had to warn some dealers off of Cobb and widen the drought area around the man. From then on, it shouldn't take long, if Cobb was still as resourceful as he had once been.
Starsky felt like a traitor. He used Huggy as an informant without a second thought, but this was different. Wanting the answers did not make asking the questions any easier in this case.
"Hutch doesn't come by lately?" he asked, trying to sound casual. Huggy shot him a strange look. "I just, uh, never see him in here."
"Long's Mr. America hangs `round with one Thornton Osgood, this waterin' hole's the last one you'll see him in and good riddance, too."
"You got somethin' against this who? Osgood?"
"Man, I don't even put white sheets on my bed. I ain't likely to be fond of those who wear `em."
"Wear `em? Come on, Huggy, what're you sayin'?"
"I'm sayin' Triple-K's alive and well in LA, and Osgood dude is the wellest, if we're talkin' of well-to-do."
"Hug, uh, do me a favor?"
"Well, don't get me wrong, I'm just...curious, you know. It's, uh, only, well..."
Huggy watched his discomfort and jumped to the conclusion. "Hutch?"
"Got ya." Somebody called out, and the black man went to see to the customer.
Starsky remembered Meredith was waiting in the car and left the bar. As they were driving away, he asked on an impulse: "What do you know about a Thornton Osgood?" There was that strange look again.
"More than I care to, and not enough unfortunately. Why?"
"No reason. His name came up in a conversation. Is he Klan?"
"He's the Klan around here."
"I see," he said, although he didn't.
Miller's car was at the club parking lot, but Hutch couldn't spot him. He decided to wait and asked the bartender for a beer.
Cobb had come through. There was no end to the ingenuity of a trapped creature. The more doors Cobb had found closed, the farther he had wandered, finally making connections at the Chinese quarter of the waterfront district. The man had some familiarity with Far East drug traffic from his past in Vietnam. Hutch had been counting on it. The detective was practically anonymous in that part of the city. He had devoted every minute to following Cobb's lead, from street-corner peddlers, to bigger dealers, to middlemen, to the source. He was ready for the next step, as soon as Miller gave the go-ahead. But so far he had strictly avoided even the slightest illegal act.
Osgood was there, but he was busy. He was holding court, something he liked to do on the Lord's Day. The club was for the proper indoctrination of minds as well as bodies. Hutch leaned against the bar, listening, curious about what was keeping the rapt attention of the listeners.
"There's grave danger here, grave danger," Osgood was saying. Fond of his own words, he liked to repeat himself. He also liked clichés. "The Vietnam War unleashed a plague on our great nation. It took street-corner filth, back-alley trash, gave them weapons, trained them in combat, made them think they could be counted among the ranks of men. They disgraced our honor, our flag, over there, then brought the diseases they picked up from slant-eyed prostitutes, their addictions, to contaminate our soil, expecting to be treated as war veterans. The liberal faction hands them entitlements on a platter and what supports that? The tax dollars of hard working people like you and me."
Basic Lecture One: Prerequisite, the detective concluded. Must be new recruits present.
"But that's not the real danger, not the real danger," Osgood raised his voice. Here comes Introduction to Paranoia, Hutch anticipated. "Some of these trained assassins, who have no loyalty, except to a race of primates, are still in our military, some in our police forces. They are infiltrators, with access to training and weapons, and make no mistake, they'll massacre us once they're organized. The government is blind. A great challenge awaits the..."
"Glad to see you finally, Kenny." Miller was at Hutch's elbow. "You should report in more often."
"What do you want? The job done or reports?"
"You're here now," Miller pointed out. Hutch assured him contacts were identified and ready to be established, "Good. Get us some samples."
"Samples. You know, to test. To check out the product."
What do you think these people are, Hutch wanted to say, cologne manufacturers? "Why?"
"Sound business practice." Miller indicated Osgood with his head. "He insists. After all, most of it is his money. Says he won't buy a pig in a poke."
Folksy bastard, Hutch thought. "Jonathan, that makes no sense. Dope dealers don't go passing out free samples to drum up business. Also, they don't hand over their product `on spec with option to buy.' They don't care for drawn out deals, either. Once and for all, you deal, exchange, and that's that."
"Not for the kind of money we're talking about. What if we are short-changed?"
And no Better Business Bureau. Oh, dear. "Then you're stuck. Look, believe it or not, they're also businessmen. If they give you inferior stuff, they know you won't be back with your money. Don't worry about it."
"Thorn won't go for it, I tell you. He won't trust dope dealers, and I don't blame him."
Hutch sighed. Spare me the amateurs. "Say I asked to buy a sample first. They'll just hand me some quality cut. Won't guarantee anything."
"Not if they don't know a big sale hangs in balance. Buy some off the streets, out of what they normally distribute."
Oh, no, Hutch thought, no way. I'm not touching a single milligram of the junk in exchange for cash and leave a dealer out there to identify me. When dope and money change hands, you and Osgood will be the ones doing it.
Miller kept objecting. "Honest-to-God, Kenny, we can't risk dealing with some thieving criminal "
"Okay, okay," Hutch didn't want to argue anymore. Let them believe a little longer that they were still pulling the strings. He hated to do it, but he could liberate a bit of Cobb's next score. The man was a new customer and would be getting high grade stuff for a while. "You're the boss. You want it, you got it. As soon as I can."
Miller looked pleased as he excused himself to go to the firing range. Osgood was now carrying on about how the young were the last bulwark, the nation's last hope. Hutch decided to leave before he could hear the man declare their cause holy and, inevitably, enlist God into the ranks.
Washington did not like to eat at cheap stands and no place on Division was to his liking. Hutch had announced that whoever was driving would choose the lunch spot, and the other could take a taxi, if he wished, to the restaurant of his choice. Today it was Hutch's turn, and Division street was his choice. He had an objective, who resided in the hotel across the street.
"Wait for me," he said shortly when Washington started eating, and left. He crossed the street, went into an alley and over a wall to the back entrance of the hotel.
Cobb's door was locked, but the termite-eaten door was small obstruction. The detective slipped in and quickly looked around. The occupant was on the bed, out cold. Hutch tried to close the door, but the last kick had been too much; it was loose, swinging inwards. He shrugged and searched the room. It yielded a secret hiding place containing two bags of white powder, one open and half empty. He extracted the sealed one and threw some money down before replacing the floorboard. At least the poor bastard wouldn't have to worry about how to pay for the next fix.
A moan came as the bundle on the bed thrashed fitfully. Hutch cast him a glance. He looked terrible. The detective went to check on him closely, putting the bag of heroin on the covers in the process. Cobb was burning with fever, shivering at the same time, and his stupor wasn't the tranquil one of a high. The pupils said he was dosed, but more was wrong with him. Hutch pulled back the threadbare covers, and winced. Cobb was wearing only a pair of shorts, and needle tracks ran the length of his arms and legs. The right leg was swollen around a purplish, pus-oozing spot. Hutch cursed. Infection, probably from a contaminated syringe. The man needed antibiotics, and fast. Hutch went to the hall phone to call the neighborhood clinic. They'd take care of it without getting Cobb into trouble.
Going back into the room, he covered the black man again, at the same time picking up the plastic bag from the folds of the blanket. A skeletal hand suddenly grasped his wrist. He turned to see Cobb's wild eyes on him. The other hand lunged, bunching his shirt in its claw. Cobb fought blindly, babbling curses. Hutch attempted to free himself without causing pain, but there was an unexpected strength in the man, born out of the desperation of a junkie watching his next fix walk away from him. Pulling back only resulted in dragging along the frantic body attached like a leech to the detective.
Dropping the bag, Hutch pushed the arm in Cobb's grip behind the man with an abrupt move, and took advantage of the awkward angle to break the hold. Grabbing the bony wrist firmly in his large hand, he twisted the arm back further and used it to pull the body away from himself. The other hand seemed to be locked on his shirt in a spasm. It wouldn't give. He pried one finger loose to bend it back which finally forced Cobb to let go. For an instant he started to launch himself at the detective again. Hutch quickly shoved back with enough force to send Cobb sprawling on the bed.
"Shit!" the blond spat out as he picked up the plastic bag and tucked it into his pocket. An inhuman wail came from the bed. Fight had drained out of Cobb as quickly as it had come. Sensing he had lost, he was crying.
"God damn you, shut up!" Hutch shouted, furious with the man and his self-destruction, with himself, with the whole stinking mess. He also wondered if he had sounded like that himself once. He whirled to get away.
And came face to face with his young partner. Washington was standing in the doorway. Hutch wondered how much he had seen, then decided that he would have interfered if he had been there for any length of time. "Thought I told you to wait!" he snapped.
Washington kept staring at him, black eyes sending out sparks of pure hatred. Hutch brushed past him. A few minutes after he got into his car, the young man joined him, enveloped in an icy silence he seemed determined never to break. As they were pulling away, an ambulance that had seen better days came to a stop in front of the dilapidated hotel.
That afternoon on patrol, Hutch knew he had to come to a decision about telling Dobey of his private case. Until a few hours ago, he had not done anything he could be held accountable for. But he had now broken into a locked room without even a warrant, and to all appearances, stolen a bag of heroin and roughed up a junkie. If Washington arrested him right now, he had that damned bag in his possession. This lone-warrior act had become idiotic. Internal Affairs would come down on him hard and fast. At that point, full disclosure might clear him, but all his hopes for staying undercover would be blown. He was actually endangering the case he had worked at so hard.
It wasn't as if he and Starsky hadn't done equally suspicious things before, to Dobey's plain irritation. But skating the edge of law was a lot harder on your own, he was discovering. He had better tell Dobey this afternoon.
The Captain was not in when they got back. Starsky was; his blue eyes met Hutch's briefly, almost involuntarily, before he turned away and laughed extra-heartily at something his female partner said.
Frowning, Hutch jerked open the door to Dobey's office, intending to
leave a note to ask for a meeting very soon. He was
as surprised to see the man in the grey suit reading a file on Dobey's desk as the man was to see Hutch. He recognized him as Inspector McInroe, one of the Commissioner's right hand men. McInroe smiled weakly, and snapped the folder shut, but not before Hutch had caught a good glimpse of it. It was his own current-cases file. "Something I can help you with, Sergeant?" McInroe asked.
Sure. Tell me whether you're Osgood's spy or just a general snoop, Hutch thought. "Ah, no," he said aloud, pasting a smile on his face as he backed out the door. It disappeared as soon as the door was shut. They're everywhere! Do I dare tell Dobey anything now? There can't be a shred of anything written down, or it'll all get back to Osgood somehow. Without some official paperwork, how can Dobey cover his ass?
Damnit, who do I confide in? Who do I trust?
Without conscious thought, his eyes went to his ex-partner. Starsky's back was still to him. Two dark curly heads bent close, almost touching, he and Meredith were talking in low tones about something that evidently appealed to both. Hutch hesitated. Too much had come between them, too long a silence, but when all was said and done, when he didn't know which way to reach, his instincts still sent him in one sure direction.
Feeling terribly awkward, he started forward and opened his mouth.
"Sounds terrific," Starsky said before anything had a chance to come out of Hutch's mouth. "Let's blow this joint and we can " He pushed his chair back to stand up, and unintentionally knocked it into Hutch who was now directly behind him. He looked around, then, averting his eyes, mumbled something that the blond assumed to be an apology. He pulled Meredith out of her chair, circled her waist with an arm and swept her out of the squad room, talking a little too loudly about a great restaurant he had heard of.
Hutch waited a few minutes so he would not be caught in the same elevator with them, then strode out of the room, feeling very much alone.
So be it.
Hutch took off his jacket to hang it up and hesitated. He dug into the pocket until his fingers touched the slick surface of the plastic bag. He decided it was as good a place for it as any and told himself to stop being paranoid. Nobody was going to break down his door and search his closet. Still, he felt jumpy and wanted to get it out of his home into Miller's as soon as possible. He went to the phone.
A secretary informed him that Mr. Miller was in San Francisco on business and would not be back until the next day. Hutch briefly thought of Osgood, but the man wouldn't keep a bag of heroin in his place even if it was wrapped in pure gold. He simply had to hold onto the thing for the night.
Some time later, the blond man found himself pacing restlessly and decided to go for a walk which would afford more freedom of movement. Maybe he'd eat out, too. And then maybe go to a movie or something.
Halfway through the door, he paused, admitting that he wasn't leaving to be going anywhere. He was running away. From a tiny bag. He wasn't really afraid what its discovery at his house would mean. It was a more private fear.
For an instant, he tried to deny it, then sighed as he stepped back into the room and locked the door securely. He pulled down the shades. Some amount of heroin was likely to pass through his hands in the coming days. The trace of fear and intimidation stirring inside might affect how he functioned. Might as well confront it now.
He turned on the lamp over the table, took out the bag, put it down and sat facing it, his back straight and stiff against the chair, arms crossed tightly over his chest. Vaguely aware of the defensiveness of his posture, he stared at the shiny surface and the substance inside it; so pure in color, the light glinting off the fine grains.
Professionally, he had been taught what it was. Later, at one time, he had gone back to read everything he could get his hands on about it, desperate to know his enemy after the fact. An alkaloid extracted from opium poppy, grayish brown in its natural state, treated with dilute sulfuric acid and bleaching agents into the feathery white crystals of morphine, then chemically altered again to form diacetylmorphine: heroin. Made from but more potent than morphine, more addictive, more deadly. White powder that with the application of heat would turn into golden liquid which easily flowed into a syringe and then into a body.
Since the time it had contaminated his body and had been cast out, he'd come across the substance countless times. It had never scared him. What was wrong now?
He realized earlier he had always had restrictions, of other people involved in the investigations, of regulations that dictated how the drug was handled. And, of course, Starsky, whose presence was an automatic barrier between himself and the heroin.
This dose had no strings attached and he was alone with it behind closed doors.
After all the years, he could still remember the euphoria of its invasion. A subtle flow at first that gave a sense of weightlessness and carefree well-being. Refreshing. An easy, fluid, harmonious feel, a floaty sensation. Then those feelings coalesced into an incomparable high of exaggerated personal value, invincibility, intense happiness, almost sensual pleasure.
Then, slowly, a lethargy had crept into the gratification. Coming down. Nothing that had felt that impossibly good was easy to let go. The craving started. Shortly, he had become aware of his abused body once more, doubly sensitized to pain in contrast to the numb period the drug had induced, the craving turning into an unbearable torture.
It had been hell, but hell was nothing to go through if he could just regain the paradise the white crystals promised. There was no price too high to pay.
Once anyone experienced heroin, was he ever free?
Hutch shuddered, his hands moving to grasp his shoulders tightly, noticing he was clammy all over. Four years, he told himself. I've been clean for four years, and I never looked back. Surely it has no hold on me anymore.
So why am I sitting here sweating?
Yes, I remember the high, but I also remember the agony it took to get rid of it. The skin tightening as if to crush everything inside it, the nausea, the convulsions, muscles screaming in uncontrollable spasms, the fever, every fiber on fire but shivering, the body fluids getting ejected violently in every possible way. God, do I remember! I know the cost too well, and I don't want it. Ever.
He couldn't tear his eyes from the bag.
Wonder if one eventually gets addicted to the pain as well as the pleasure? Do the lows also gain a perverse attraction because they accentuate the highs that much more? After all, taking an aspirin for no reason doesn't make an impression, but when one has a splitting headache
WHAT AM I THINKING OF!?
I have to get rid of it, he decided frantically. NOW!
He stayed frozen.
That's no solution.
Besides, he was afraid to touch it.
He managed to close his eyes against the sight, trying to concentrate on how it had hurt him once, to impress upon his brain how dangerous its seductive lure was. Not only him, either. It had hurt Jeannie and destroyed the relationship forming between them.
And.... At the time he had been too overwhelmed by his own pain to be aware of anything else, but later he had known.
For two weeks, Starsky had insisted on commandeering his couch. Before Hutch could acknowledge that a recovering addict required close supervision for some weeks, what felt like excessive mothering had been an irritant on his already frayed nerves. He had alternated between fits of temper and depression, neither making the slightest impression on his determined gate-crasher. Hutch had known it was mainly the aftermath of addiction, but he had still felt like strangling his stubborn partner who seemed to sail so cheerfully through his unpredictable mood swings.
Then one afternoon, while he was supposed to be napping, he had caught a sight of his friend coming out of the shower, toweling himself. The yellowing, roundish bruises on his arms, shoulders and thighs had puzzled Hutch momentarily, until he remembered at whom he had clutched with the frantic strength of his craving. He also remembered latching onto the same body with a need to hurt, because at times he could only see Starsky as the barrier between agony and relief. He had known then why his partner, normally uninhibited around him, kept ducking into the bathroom to undress and dress.
That incident had reminded him of other things imprinted on his brain during those two days, submerged under the haze of withdrawal. The litany of encouragement in his ears It's all right Hutch hold on. You can do it. Easy, babe, easy. Hold on just a little longer. It's gonna get better I promise. You gonna be all right - repeated endlessly in a choked voice which tried so very hard to be soothing. The arms that were constantly enfolding him with strength when he could barely hang on, and restraining him firmly but gently when he fought against them. The hands never wavering while they attended to all the stomachturning details, but shaking when they wiped his face or brushed at his hair during quiet moments. Starsky's face holding a curious mixture of determination and sympathy, the resolute set of his jaw contrasting strangely with the sad eyes that hadn't seemed quite dry for two days. The awareness that, when he cried, the echo wasn't a trick of his jumbled senses.
Those images were fragmented and blurred, but there was one that never lost its clarity. Sometime during the night that brought the hellish 48 hours to a close, Hutch had asked to be let go. His insides were finally going numb, but any contact with his skin was starting to feel like sandpaper against raw nerves. "Sure, babe," Starsky had said, instantly leaving the bed to him. When Hutch had opened his eyes to the light of the morning, wrung out but free of the delirium, his first sight had been of his friend collapsed uncomfortably in an exhausted, disheveled heap on the big chair close to the bed still between him and the door, though with one shoe on and one off, haphazardly covered with a blanket. In more subtle ways, the virulent drug had marked him as well.
Startling himself, Hutch realized that somewhere along the path his thoughts had taken, he had totally relaxed his posture and picked up the bag of heroin, which he was now casually juggling between his hands. He frowned at it, wondering what had been so threatening about the paltry thing a moment ago. He tossed it into the air, caught it, tossed it once more, savoring the ease with which he was playing, then threw it carelessly back onto the table.
"You lose," he told the insignificant bag.
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Dobey sighed discreetly as Washington, once again, aired his grievances. Never a dull moment.
Come to think of it, there hadn't been many of those since, years ago, one of his more spirited uniformed cops part of the inheritance of his promotion to Captain whom Dobey didn't yet know quite what to make of, had bounded into his office, holding aloft the new transfer list like a flag, more animated than usual. He had pointed to a Scandinavian-sounding name and had announced that they'd been through the Academy together, that it would be in the best interest of the Department, the Police Force, and the whole city if they could be partnered now, and to hell with the regulation prohibiting two relatively inexperienced cops from teaming up.
Oh, brother, Dobey had thought, probably another rowdy ragamuffin who'll look and act like he's ripped off the uniform can't wait. The tall, clean-cut, soft-spoken man had been a surprise. While he had wondered what could possibly attract the two to each other, Dobey had flatly refused the request which the blond officer had also politely, in his case echoed. Regulations had sound reasoning behind them well, most of them, anyway.
However, he had soon realized that regulations and his captainly authority didn't mean diddly to the two cops. They were exchanging information, sticking their noses into each other's cases, maneuvering into each other's patrol areas and pooling their resources anyway. They were also going out together on their off-time and racking up an impressive arrest record, radiating a smug told-you-so every time they put another report on Dobey's desk. He had decided not to argue with success and life hadn't been the same since.
Of course, he could've done without the latest wrinkles. Starsky had stopped being a pain in the ass after Meredith, but now Hutchinson had jumped the fence, and Washington let no opportunity go by without pointing it out, so determined he was to get out of the partnership.
The Captain knew he was being unfair to the young detective by tuning him out during the lengthy complaints, but he had known Hutchinson too well for too long to take bigotry charges with any seriousness. Hutchinson was perfectly capable of being an overbearing, contrary, mean son-of-a-bitch, but Dobey had no doubt that he was totally color-blind. Washington made no bones about the fact that he disapproved of Hutchinson, and the blond man, probably having had it too often in his life, was never able to swallow that easily. If only each could give a little. Granted, Hutchinson was no prize lately, but
Suddenly, something the young detective said separated from the droning and hit Dobey. What?
"Cobb was crying, for heaven's sake," Washington continued. "But the Sergeant didn't give a damn. I'm no bleeding heart, Captain, you know that. But if there's a crime, let's arrest Cobb. Then maybe we can get him into detox. I'd even say it's fine if we were using the man for some investigation. But this is just gratuitous cruelty. Being an addict is not a capital crime. He's hurting and he needs his fix. Just to take it like that, for no reason "
Dobey interrupted. "When did this happen?"
Two days ago. "What exactly did you see him take?"
"A bag of heroin. At least, I assume it was heroin, judging by Cobb's addiction. I didn't see too close."
"You didn't see too close and here you are, making accusations. Did it occur to you to simply ask your partner?"
"I can't talk to that man!"
"Try! You go passing judgments about a man and you won't give him a chance to explain himself. You wouldn't make a report on the lowest trash you pick off the streets this way, but you condemn a fellow police officer. Your own partner, no less. Hear this, Washington, how an officer interacts with his team counts just as much as his work record."
"So what are you going to do about a so-called officer who's blown both? I, at least, have a good performance record!"
Dobey's hackles rose at the hostility in Washington's voice. He liked backbone in his officers, but there was a difference between that and getting one's back up. "You'll have to live a lot longer to match Hutchinson's record."
"History!" Washington snapped. "With permission, sir,
we're getting nowhere. I. Hereby. Request. Another. Partner. I'd
ask for a Review Board investigation of Hutchinson, if I thought it'd do
any good, but you're determined to coddle him. May I
suggest that if you dismiss my charges, there's the Commissioner's Social Actions Office, not to mention the NAACP?"
That brought Dobey out of his chair. Who the hell did the pup think he was? What discrimination had he faced growing up in a well-to-do family in San Diego, seeing the slums only on the TV until he had become a cop? He had never walked the streets in a uniform being spat on not only by the whites, but his own people, too, or been torn between loyalties to duty and his race when cities had erupted into racial violence, or fought against the unfair laws he had sworn to uphold. "Boy, I've been on this force since before you could pronounce Civil Rights Movement. You can take whatever action you want, but remember that you can do so today because we fought for the right yesterday. It's yours. Use it if you wish. But the next time you threaten me, make sure you've paid half the dues I have. As for coddling, I support my officers, all of them, something one day you might also appreciate. Submit your request to me in writing. Now, go and do the job you're paid for."
After the door closed behind the detective, Dobey took a moment to calm down. The young tended to have tunnel vision. Washington would also grow up one day. The Captain went back to considering the tiny seed of suspicion Washington had inadvertently dropped. He was a policeman, and when a lead was planted in his brain, he couldn't help following it. He called Property.
A few minutes later, he was scowling at the phone. No, Detective Hutchinson had not turned in any amount of heroin the last two days.
Let's not jump the gun, Dobey decided. A lot of officers chose to flush away small amounts of illegal substances. They felt obligated to confiscate the drugs, but unless there was a case to be built on them, they'd just as soon do without the red tape required to turn the stuff over to Property. He had done it himself often enough.
Still, the unease wouldn't go away. He was unable to make sense of Hutchinson's handling of Cobb, too many things the detective did or failed to do were out of whack lately, and the Captain couldn't close his mind to a fact of Hutchinson's past, however much he wanted to.
He didn't want to jump to conclusions. "Ask the man," he had told Washington. Sound advice, but harder to take than to give, at least for Dobey. Knowing of previous addiction, how could he ask Hutchinson such a question without it sounding like an accusation? If he was way off base, he just might end up looking at Hutchinson's badge in his hand. Maybe it was time to park the blond behind a desk where he would be under closer supervision, and leave it at that for the time being.
He cursed softly. He didn't know at what point the two black sheep of his squad room had stopped being irritations and become family, but he knew he didn't want to lose either one, together or separate, however unfilial they were being at any point.
Hutch didn't mind the grounding, although he suspected that his uncharacteristic lack of objections had bothered Dobey. It was certainly better than being fired, and it got Washington off his back. Besides, being stuck in Records actually came in handy. Miller and Osgood wanted to organize their distribution network in advance. It was too good an opportunity to miss. Launching into graphic descriptions of what happened to those who ignorantly trampled on other dealers' territories had quickly convinced them to leave the organizing to their resident expert. Hutch went through the records, to find the undercover Narco operatives on the streets and steered Miller's handpicked forerunners into their net. Each contact would mean a reliable testimony in court, another nail hammered into the coffin.
During his off-duty hours, the detective found his own contacts, putting onto the grapevine the news that anybody interested in prospective customers willing to pay handsomely should get in touch with him. He kept himself available, spending long nights in the streets and bars of the harbor district. Finally, someone approached him, asking for a phone number and telling him to expect contact soon.