"How are you doing, Kenny?" Miller asked. It was more than a casual greeting.
"Fine," Hutch answered. "Why?"
"Heard you were staying off the streets. Trouble at work?"
They were no longer keeping secret that he was under observation. Hutch decided to be extra careful. "No trouble. Regulations say I can't ride without a partner. Finally got rid of the nigger and I just have to sit around until they can pair me off," he explained blithely, managing not to choke on the words. It was no different, he kept telling himself, from adopting the attitudes and language of a pimp or a pusher to fit in, things he'd done many times undercover. But it felt much worse. Every time the word left his lips, he thought of Dobey and his many kindnesses, the motherly affection of his wife, their lovely children, Huggy's solid friendship through the years, and had to fight the urge to wash out his mouth. God, he pleaded, let it be worth it.
He changed the subject, "I have news. We can expect contact before the week is out. Shouldn't take long after that. A day or two at most." He sat down and addressed Osgood, wondering why the man looked like he'd eaten something vile. "These deals go down very fast. You should get the cash together."
"Jonathan told me who the suppliers are. I don't like it. I won't deal with Chinks." The last word contained a shudder.
Hutch stared at Osgood. The man actually seemed to feel a physical revulsion. Ethnocentricity was a strange madness. He decided it was time to introduce everybody to reality. It was also time to start asserting himself. They had to accept his authority in this situation, get conditioned to having him call the shots. "Listen, man," he snarled, "we're not in the market for a bit o' social coke to go `round at a party, and I don't mean the fizzy kind. You can't get this juice under the counter at one of your plush Hollywood boutiques. Anybody who's gonna deliver us enough horse to choke half the sewers of this city ain't gonna be Jolly Old Nick, take my word for it. You'll damn well learn the rules of the fucking game or I'm not putting my balls in a sling with you."
Miller and Osgood looked taken aback. The attitude and the language of the so-far-civilized man had suddenly undergone a startling change. They stared at him as if he had reverted to a barbarian in front of their eyes. "Young man," Osgood started.
Hutch smiled, his expression instantly softening. "You didn't like that, Thorn, did you? That's just a tiny sampling of what I've been dealing with for years. Now maybe you'll understand why I want out."
Miller took a relieved breath. "Don't do that anymore, Kenny."
You haven't seen anything yet, Hutch thought, relishing their discomfort. "It wasn't gratuitous, Jonathan. If you thought that was bad, you should see me in the streets. Do you think I enjoy it? The point is, the only way to survive out there is to blend with the local coloring, play by their rules. I know the rules, because I had to learn them. The only reason I'm still alive is that I learned them well. I may not be too proud of it, but I'm an expert. If you're not happy with the way I run this operation, you're free to pull out, or find yourself another go-between. Believe me, the company isn't going to get any better."
"We're in this together, Kenny," Miller granted, "Right, Thorn?"
"Before you answer," Hutch cut in, "one thing. However I may have said it, I meant the part about not putting my life and limb on the line. If you're going to get squeamish or think you can run the operation better than I can, let me know now."
"Well, as long as you're the one dealing with the suppliers," Osgood reluctantly conceded.
"That might be a problem. I'll carry it until the end, but no dealer worth his salt will conduct the final phase of this big a deal with a go-between. You and Jonathan will have to show up with the money, as a sign of good faith."
"Surely that's not necessary!"
Hutch threw up his hands and started to rise, looking ready to put a stop to the proceedings right there.
"All right, all right," Osgood mumbled. "Obviously, you are the expert." It wasn't a compliment.
"Hey, where're you goin'?" Starsky protested as Meredith was getting out of the bed. "We're not done."
She laughed and ruffled his curls. "I'll be right back. I'm thirsty." In the kitchen, she turned the ice crusher on and called out. "Care for some slush?"
"It's imitation slush," she apologized when she came back, handing him a glass. "You need an ice shaver for the real item." She settled on the bed, tucking her legs under her, and looked Starsky over, a sight she enjoyed. He looked so natural naked, as unconcerned as an animal, as innocent as a child. Well, innocent at the moment. For the first time, she noticed a spot of puckered skin on the lower right leg, mostly hidden by hair. She touched it, feeling the shape, then with suspicion, felt the back of the leg. There was another scar there, marking the path of a bullet.
"A few years back." Self-consciously, he rubbed his left shoulder. She'd been well aware of that scar since their first night together. "I came back from `Nam without a souvenir. Been collectin' `em ever since. In `Nam, we used to call it `Friendly Fire' if you caught an American bullet. Don't suppose it'd apply now." He paused. "I wouldn't have come outta either of these alive without " He didn't finish and the sentence stayed suspended in the air.
She wanted to break the mood. His talk of Vietnam had disturbed her, as the subject always did, and he looked ready to go into depression himself. "They don't mar your beauty one bit."
"Can't mar what ain't there."
Definitely depression, she thought at the departure from his usual cocky attitude about his looks. "You, my dear, should leave appreciation to those qualified." She fished out a chunk of ice and dropped it on his chest.
"What the !" he gasped, but her mouth was on the spot before he could jump up. Indignation died down as he caught on. Next one she let melt a little before licking it up, then dropped a sliver on a nipple.
"Hummm-nnnhh," she verbalized her appreciation, her mouth too busy to form words.
Helplessly, he was jerking as each piece of ice landed on a deliberate path, squirming when her lips made up for it, getting sticky in the process, but he wasn't objecting. Meredith rescued his glass before it tipped, put it away, and went back to the leisurely task. She put two piles on the hollows next to the hipbones and made a game of catching the tiny rivulets before they ran into the thatch of dark hair. She missed a few times on purpose, and he shivered most satisfactorily. It was interesting how cold could generate heat. Obviously, the conflicting sensations weren't detrimental to the final objective, she noted.
Her detour to the thighs earned a frustrated growl from him. She placed a few chunks strategically on the legs, making sure they'd melt down the inner thighs. He was forced to keep his legs tight against each other until she could catch the small river between them on her tongue, so he couldn't even squirm comfortably. She chuckled and he cursed softly, with no animosity. She lifted her head, winked, and filled her mouth with the remaining ice.
"Oh, God, no!"
"Uh-huh," she nodded, eyes teasing.
Resigned, he clutched a pillow to his face. It helped stifle his sounds when her mouth descended. His heat was the final victor, though. Discarding the pillow, he pulled her up with mock-force.
"Boy, are you gonna be sorry," he promised, trapping her under him, and they were wrestling in abandon, both laughing.
The phone rang. Starsky cursed, meaning it this time, and Meredith burst into giggles. The shrill ring finally forced Starsky to lunge for it. "It better be an emergency!"
"Starsky, m'man." Meredith was close enough to identify the voice drifting through.
"Huggy, your timing's the pits!" Starsky growled. Huggy chuckled. Starsky realized his heavy breathing was contributing to the mirth and tried to control it.
"You'll get no sympathy from me, considerin' that it's probably my future wife you're takin' liberties with."
"Hug, if this is a social call, got other sociable things I'd rather do."
"Well, this is about the questions you've been askin' lately."
Meredith felt Starsky sober instantly. "Go on."
"No answers. Just what's been on the grapevine. It looks like the crowdin' tactics used on that hype were to force him to make connections elsewhere, so's to identify `em. It led to the Chinese quarter of the docks."
"That doesn't make sense. Too far out of our precinct, and I know we have no joint operation goin' on there."
"What's that mean?"
"Starsky, I don't know how to say this, but it seems the gent in question isn't after a bust, just connections."
"They sell, man! What do you think?"
"You mean, to buy?"
"That's what'll be happenin', as I hear."
Meredith felt the body still in her arms go stiff and cold, something direct contact with ice hadn't been able to accomplish. "That's impossible!" Starsky said. "You know him better than that."
"Yeah, well, we all thought we knew him better `n a lot o' things, didn't we? You figure it out. If this is above water, what was wrong with me? Where do you both come for info? Why so far out in left field? Cobb didn't get busted, and now the pressure's off o' him. What's all that say to you?" Starsky didn't answer. "You want the rest? There's talk of big buys and big money."
"There, you see? Where can he get that kind of money and what would he do with big loads?"
"Ever heard of front-men?"
Starsky took a deep breath which reached Meredith as a shudder. "Who's the backup?"
"Some folks I'd rather not meet in a dark alley, considerin' my color, if you know what I mean. Looks like Washington was right."
"Huggy, I can't believe that. Or any of it."
"Suit yourself, man. I'm just the town crier. But you might be interested in knowin' what he's in the market for."
Starsky abruptly rolled away from Meredith. She could no longer hear Huggy's voice. Whatever he was saying was upsetting Starsky. "Do I need reminding!? Who do you think ? Once an addict, nothin'! It's been years.... Damnit, I know that, too. I live with junkies every day. No, I What kinda damn fool question is that? You think I'm gonna say the hell with it? Okay, okay. Hey, look, I'm sorry, okay? It's just a bit too much to Yeah, I know. If you hear anything else.... Right. Thanks, Hug. No, I mean it. Thanks."
He replaced the phone and leaned back, oblivious to Meredith's presence. "Please, God, not again," he said, for nobody's ears. Meredith left him alone. He seemed to need it. She could be a policewoman... later. He finally turned to her. "Sorry."
She took his hand. "Can I help?"
"I don't think so. I don't know anything for certain yet." He squeezed her hand. "Where were we?"
She started to tell him that he was free to pay attention to more immediate concerns, but he stopped the words on her lips. Once again, she felt him imprisoning worries to give them their due later, and trying to keep them from spoiling their time now. He was gentle and considerate as he recaptured the mood and made love to her but the laughter had died.
Hutch hung up the phone. There it was. He'd obey the summons and set
up the final meeting. He had to notify Miller and Osgood. Shortly after
that, their Hitler's Youth clones would start to crowd him. He might be
calling the shots, but they
weren't going to trust him too much.
He had seen enough of Miller's retinue of young goons not to be terribly impressed with their brain power. He didn't doubt he could shake them, but spooking Miller and Osgood at this stage of the game was the last thing he cared to do. He had to find a plausible reason to disappear for an hour or so after the meeting with the dealer's representative. He thought briefly and picked up the phone. Being considered a man contaminated by low-life had its advantages.
Her drawl came through after the third ring. Hutch was again reminded of a young girl trying hard to be seductive but not quite managing to hide her natural innocence. "Hello, Sweet Alice. How's my girl?"
He didn't have to identify himself. She squealed in delight, then launched into admonishments. He never looked her up anymore. She'd seen him a few times, and he'd looked as bad-tempered as a sharecropper cheated out of his wages at the county-line dive. Had he lost his way to his barber and wasn't anybody taking proper care of him lately?
Hutch let her chatter on, inexplicably grateful at having a truly caring voice in his ears again. She soon asked what she could do for him. Sweet Alice wouldn't delude herself by thinking Hutch would call her for the pleasure of hearing her voice. He carefully outlined what he had in mind.
"You have to make it convincing, Alice. Think you can?" She had listened to him silently, and stayed that way. "You'll be in no danger, sweetheart, I promise."
"I know. It's just "
Hutch heard the unspoken. Alice might dispense pleasure hourly, but she was no street corner hooker. In fact, she was terrified of that life. Walking the streets at such an hour, in that part of the town, unprotected until he showed up wasn't a nice prospect for her.
"Hutch, is this really very important?"
She'd never been able to hide the soft spot she carried for him. He knew exactly what to say and hated himself for it. Everybody used Alice. It seemed he was no exception. "My life may depend on it, sweetheart."
The reply didn't miss a beat. "I'll be there."
Now Hutch had to quickly find Washington's snitch he'd been keeping track of and arrange for another phone call. Then there was one last thing still left to do. He had to go to his safe deposit box, bring the documents up to date, find an official of the bank to request that, unless he showed up to claim the contents of his box in 24 hours, they should be turned over to one Sergeant David Starsky at Metro Police Department. Afterwards, he could go to Miller.
The lights were on in Meredith's apartment and music drifted out. They had separated after lunch to halve the time it took to run down some leads. Obviously, Starsky had ended his day early. She let herself in.
"There you are. I was gettin' worried." Starsky came out of the kitchen, mouth full of something, a dab of whatever on his nose. He was barefoot and barechested, but a frilly apron was tied over his jeans and one of her dashingly colored African bandannas adorned his head, struggling to contain the curls. The curls were winning.
"Don't tell me," Meredith chuckled. "The last chapter you read in The Joy of Sex was `How to Meet Your Breadwinner at the Door.'"
"Huh?" He followed her gaze and looked down at himself. "I was cookin'. It's hot in the kitchen. But I won't complain if it's workin'," he added out of the side of his mouth, eyebrows going into their up and down dance.
"May I eat first? What's for " She cut off.
They chorused: "Spaghetti." Starsky smiled.
"Naturally," concluded Meredith. The smile threatened to turn to a pout and she hurried to assure, "You know I love spaghetti." Good thing, too, since it was one of the few edibles Starsky managed to produce. Over and over again. At least when he cooked spaghetti, he succeeded in restraining himself from throwing everything but the kitchen sink in it. She kissed the tip of his nose: clam sauce, out of deference to her tastes. "Especially when I don't have to slave over the stove."
"Talkin' of which, sit down. I'll be right with you."
She shrugged out of her jacket and holster, kicked off her shoes, sank
on the couch and put her feet on the coffee table.
She had been depressed and angry all the way home, but there was something irresistible about Starsky which never failed to lift her spirits. However, that is not it, she thought as he decided to accompany the song on the radio. He could do a lot of things well, but he had been absent when musical ability was passed around. Judging by the way he belted out songs, he was absolutely ignorant of that fact unfortunately.
A glass was pressed into her hand as Starsky plopped down beside her. She had time to take two sips of the wine. Starsky seemed to have his own ideas about what constituted an appetizer.
"I'm gonna start usin' your first name," he said, nuzzling her neck.
"I like Meredith just fine."
"Well," lips trailed around her face. "There're times I'd like something, you know, more intimate." He paused on the corner of her mouth and tried out, "Joan."
Meredith groaned. "At least make it Jo."
"Joan is my mother. I've always been Jo."
"That's all well `n good, but I ain't callin' out `Joe' during more tender moments."
She caught on. "Not Joe. Jo. Jay-oh-period."
"It still sounds like Jay-oh-ee," he grumbled.
Meredith started laughing. "Dave, you have the strangest prejudices."
"Where was I," he asked, lips going back to their occupation, "Meredith?"
"There now. Isn't that much better?"
"What say I cut it down to Edith?"
"I'll kill you!" She grabbed a pillow off the couch and swung it.
"No? Meri, then?" He warded off repeated assaults of the pillow. "Edi? Redi? Oh, I like that! No? Red? Won't do?" He finally wrested away the pillow, his body ending up squarely on top of hers.
"Dinner," she reminded sternly.
"Oh, yeah." He looked crestfallen. "Sure?" She nodded. He pushed off of her, repeating, "Dinner, dinner."
She followed him into the kitchen, discreetly turning off the radio on her way before he got the urge to exercise his vocal cords again. He looked up and down her, then sighed and turned to the pots. "So tell me about your afternoon. It might take my mind off, uh, things."
She gave him a rundown. The recital was taking away the light mood he had put her into, the squalor of back alleys casting their pall over the cheerful kitchen. "We might have to stakeout the Baltimore Motel on Division," she concluded.
"I might get something there without a stakeout. I know one of the old-time residents."
"Don't bother," she said, the depression now back full force. "I already talked to Marcellus Cobb. That's why I was late. He knows nothing. He's not in any shape to know what's going on around him."
"You did what!? You dug out a spaced-out hype in that rat hole all by yourself, without a backup? Damnit, woman "
The anger came out. "Don't you patronize me! I can make my own judgments. Cobb's been broken past the point of being dangerous to a kitten. He's so damned scared someone's going to lean on him and cut off his juice again, he babbles without prompting. He was terrified because he didn't know anything to give me, to keep me off his back, as he thought. Imagine a grown man, a war veteran, shaking in terror in front of me because he caught the flash of a badge."
"Well," Starsky mumbled, defeated, "still, the procedure says "
"Look who's talking of procedure! Since you're so well versed in procedures, tell me, was the person who harassed Cobb into a blithering idiot following procedure?"
The lid crashed noisily against the pot as Starsky slammed it down. "What is this? Charity Hour? Cobb's been a hopeless hype for years. A gutless, spineless cretin who can't see past his next fix. Why are we bleedin' here?"
"He wasn't always!" she shouted back, the pitiful image of the wasted black man in the remnants of a jacket which had once been the uniform of an officer still in front of her eyes. "He could've been helped in time. But he became a source, left to sink or swim out in the sewer. And the people who use him don't even have the decency to know what's use and what's abuse."
"What the hell are you accusin' "
She overrode him. "Why does someone become a snitch? To eke out whatever marginal survival he can. We sacrifice them constantly for The Greater Good, in the name of our Law and Order."
"Damnit! Don't act like you don't know how it works out there. I get enough of this drivel from bleedin' hearts who have no idea what it means to put your life on the line daily, with your hands shackled by their laws. We do the best we can. Someone has to. Yes, we lean on people, because unless they're scared of us, they'll soon know how scared we are of them. Sure, we use them for `The Greater Good,' because, damnit, that's the only way to keep this city from gettin' blown to hell. And if some go by the wayside, if someone gets lost in the shuffle, well, sorry `bout that. But I can't start cryin' over men's inhumanity to men in each `n every case, or one day I'll shove my gun into my mouth and blow my brains out."
"Don't give me platitudes," Meredith snapped. "Just tell me what Law and Order, what Greater Good Marcellus was sacrificed to by your precious ex-partner?"
An immediate silence engulfed the kitchen, punctuated by the plop-plop of the boiling-over sauce nobody paid attention to. Starsky had suddenly gone very pale and rigid.
"Tell me a story I can believe," she pushed. "Because if you can't, there are other stories out there which are starting to sound too damn likely. You've clammed up on me, and I just might be holding information that should be taken to Dobey. The fact that I heard it while in bed with you doesn't make it sacrosanct. Washington believes Marcellus was abused because he happens to be black. Huggy's afraid he was serving Hutchinson's own addiction. If you have a nicer story, you'd better tell me now."
"Washington's a fool and Huggy's got a big mouth," hissed out from between Starsky's clenched teeth. "And you you can do as you damn well please." He turned and left, stopping only to pick up his scattered belongings, and tear off the apron and the bandanna. The door slammed resoundingly after him.
"Goddamn you, Hutchinson!" Meredith shouted at the deserted apartment.
That outburst aimed her anger at the right target and toned down her reaction to Starsky. She pulled the overflowing pot from the stove, turned off all the knobs, reclaimed her drink and went to sit on the couch.
Detective Hutchinson was the crux of this mess. Huggy was a friend, caught between a rock and a hard place, almost as confused as Starsky, and Washington was not a fool. He was a good, conscientious cop, with some overactive sensitivities, maybe, but they were nothing she didn't also have. In fact, Washington was the partner she would have liked to have, if it wasn't for the totally exasperating, stubborn, irreverent, curly-headed whirlwind she...
...cared very much for.
Meredith sighed. It hurt to know Starsky would rather walk away than let her into the part of him reserved for his ex-partner. Still, she found it hard to condemn friendship and loyalty of eight years' standing, however misguided they might ultimately prove to be. That against-all-odds staunchness was one of the things she loved in the man fate had inconsiderately thrown into her path.
She couldn't go to Dobey. Of course she couldn't. Try as she might to exclude Starsky's involvement, Dobey would see right through it. If Hutchinson had slipped onto the wrong side of the law, she'd be making Starsky an accomplice, at least by his silence. As long as she couldn't bring herself to jeopardize the man she loved, how could she blame him for protecting someone he loved.
Starsky didn't even realize he was half-naked until the night air slapped against his skin. He threw the t-shirt into the car and pulled on the jacket, zipping it up to his chin, shivering at the contact with the chilly leather. Not bothering with socks, he put on the sneakers, leaving them untied, in an irrational hurry to be on the move. Only when he was some blocks down did he realize that he had no place to go to in such a hurry. Lacking any other sanctuary, he headed home.
Huggy had forgiven worse sins as usual, the thought of Lionel wrenched painfully at his insides so surely he could forgive Huggy for revealing Hutch's history with heroin to Meredith. The black man was infatuated with the lady. There wasn't much Meredith couldn't get out of him. Besides, the way things were shaping up, Huggy had probably felt a very real need to confide in someone. Confiding in Starsky hadn't been too useful. He discarded that anger.
And no more anger was left. Washington's accusations were too silly to waste time on. Once past the heat of the moment, he knew he wasn't really angry at Meredith. Slamming the door behind him had been no solution, just like walking away in anger one evening hadn't solved anything. Problems just changed; they didn't go away. He cared for her. He trusted her. Why couldn't he open up to her?
He knew he'd trust her with anything involving himself, including his life. But he simply couldn't bring himself to put Hutch into hands which didn't have too many reasons to be gentle.
Sometime during the night, Starsky got tired of pacing and the silence, and grabbed the phone,
"`llo?" The voice was fuzzy.
"Meredith?" He wondered if she was going to hang up, but the line stayed open. "Did I wake you?"
"It's all right."
"I said it's all right."
"Meredith, I'm sorry. About earlier, I mean."
There was a brief pause. "I am, too." Another pause followed. "Dave?"
"We have to talk about it sooner or later, you know."
"Are you coming back?"
"Uh...not tonight. I'm beat."
"Is it, really?"
"For tonight. Goodnight, Dave."
He felt much better when he hung up. Actually, he had wanted to go back. But at the moment, he knew the main thing to come out of his mouth would be: please, if you love me, don't do anything to harm Hutch. He couldn't blackmail her through her emotions. She had to make her own decisions. He could only hope they would be decisions he could live with.
He went to bed.
Hutch coasted his car to the sidewalk, trying to find Alice in the crowd typical for midnight on Sepulveda. He noted one car slipping into a space some distance behind him. Another passed and found a spot on the corner of the next block. Yet another rounded the corner, turned sharply and came to a stop facing the opposite direction. Now they had a car instantly ready to follow him whatever direction he took. They weren't taking any chances.
He got out of the car and headed for the 24-hour hotdog stand on the corner, giving the impression of a man in a hurry. Wondering what was keeping Alice, he looked up while his order was being readied, and intercepted the inviting glance of a young man dressed in a cut-off halter top and a pair of jeans that had to be an agony to wear. Jesus, just what I need, he thought, quickly looking away. On the other hand, if he had missed Alice, and the boy was bold enough to put forth an insistent invitation, it just might serve as a substitute. He would have to figure out how to get rid of him later, and Osgood would probably swallow all his perfect teeth, but as long as
A soft warmth brushed against his back. He turned and did a double take. No wonder he hadn't been able to spot her. She was in a gaudy gold dress and a flaming red wig. He drew a relieved breath while she whispered a throaty invitation.
He pretended to refuse, got his food, took a few steps, stopped to look back at her, and she did a good imitation of displaying her wares. He shook his head mournfully, the picture of a man in a hurry who still hated to miss out on the offering. When he rounded the car to get in, she was there, trapping him against the car. Her hand slipped between them. For all purposes, she looked like a hooker supplying extra temptation to a reluctant customer, but she wasn't touching him. Sweet Alice wasn't a presumptuous soul.
Credibly, he played a man losing reason to glands, pitched the hotdog into a trash can, and followed her up the narrow steps of the motel. Once in the room he had instructed her to reserve in advance, he lightly kissed her on the forehead.
"Sweetheart, you're wonderful." She beamed. "Lock the door and stay put until I get back."
He went out and slipped through the door that led from right next to their room to the staircase. They might be watching all exits, but they would not be expecting him to go up. At least not yet. He would have to be more careful coming back. He reached the roof, went across the adjoining ones until he could go no further without imitating Superman, took a fire escape down and found his way to the back alley for the rendezvous, hoping Washington would show up. Of course, the detective wasn't going to be pleased at finding Hutch when he was expecting his snitch who had promised a juicy tip. Well, as long as he showed up. If not, the only thing left to do was to get a note to Dobey through Alice and hope for the best.
It felt interminably long before he heard somebody approaching. He melted further into the shadows until he could identify the person.
"Washington, over here."
The man whirled, trying to distinguish the form in the dark. "You!" The next thing he did was to swing, hard, and connect.
Hutch straightened, rubbed his jaw and spoke mildly. "That's out of the way. Can we talk now?"
"I've nothing to say to you!"
"Listen then. I need your help."
"I don't have much time. What can you lose?"
"My self-respect, for starters." It was more sullen than hostile. "And I don't know what else, considering the company you keep." The man was scanning the area with wary eyes.
"We're alone," Hutch assured him. "We can go anywhere you wish, but make it quick. Take out your gun and cover me if you want. Just listen."
"I'm not afraid of you, honkie. Talk."
Hutch quickly outlined the situation. Washington wasn't convinced.
"Why don't you go to Metro if this is on the up and up?"
"I don't have time, and there are other reasons. The red tape will take too long for one thing, and I don't have much credibility lately."
"Amen," Washington interjected.
"Look, I need your help. I'm out in the cold and I have no one to back me up. I waited as long as I dare. Even Dobey doesn't know anything. It's your job to tell him."
"Oh, yass sir boss," Washington drawled sarcastically. "What'd po' li'l ole me do to deserve this honor?"
"Cut it out, Washington! I don't have time to dance."
"Neither do I, man! You give me a song and dance and I'm supposed to fall for it? Why the hell did you wait so long if something this heavy is coming down?"
"Because I was being watched, even in the department. Osgood has an inside man. McInroe. Watch out for him."
"Mc Inspector McInroe!?" Hutch nodded. "That's ridiculous. He's been great. He's always asked " Washington cut off abruptly, suddenly looking none too sure of himself.
"What?" Washington didn't answer. "He's always asked about me, right? Wanted to know how things were between us. Do you believe me now? At least a little?"
Washington avoided a direct answer. "Tell me one thing, straight out. Why me? I'm not the only cop you know."
"If you want the truth, I figured I owed this to you."
The black man mumbled something about Greeks bearing gifts. "This buddy act after what we've been through is hard to swallow, Hutchinson. I don't like it and I don't like you. How do I know you're not setting me up?"
"Cover yourself any way you want. Call out the National Guard for all I care."
Waves of distrust still emanated from the young man. "Got an answer for everything, don't you? Well, I'm not finished with the questions."
Hutch held back his impatience. "Let me guess. What if I was in it up to my neck and there was a falling-out among thieves, and now I want my pound of flesh, duping you to get it, right? You've got a good brain, Washington, use it. Don't you see it's your game now? You can play it any way you want. Okay, you have good reason to hate my guts, so I'll give you something else. I left a trail a mile wide and no official cover. You're the only one. I kept some records, but you can pass those off as my insurance policy against my partners-in-crime. Simonetti in IA would be more than happy to help you out. I also have a heroin addiction behind me. It's not in my record, but enough people know if you want to check. Huggy and Dobey know. Starsky does, too, but he won't tell you. If you play it right, I'll come out looking like another cop gone bad. You want me, this is your chance. I don't care. Just don't let the bastards get away."
"And why is that worth so much to you?" Hutch shrugged. There was no way to explain it right then. Washington studied him out of narrowed eyes. "What if I said yes and didn't show up?"
Hutch considered it seriously. "I've played out my hand. I can't go on. If no backup shows, well, I'll still have my gun. Guess I'll take out as many as I can until they take me out. I won't let that much horse hit the streets because of me without doing something to stop it. But consider this. With or without me, they're going to make a buy. What's a dumb cop gone berserk compared to big profits? If they're not stopped, the poison's going to flow. Whose veins do you think it's going to flow into?"
Washington frowned, assessing Hutch and thinking. He nodded. Reluctant, wary, but he nodded. Hutch slipped him a piece of paper. "The addresses for the warrants. If we can hit these dens before the bust becomes public, we can dig up a lot of skeletons."
"We, you, I don't give a damn, as long as it gets done. As I said, what you do with me is your choice."
"Get out of here," Washington growled.
Hutch took special care finding his way back to the room. Softly, he identified himself and the lock tripped. He squeezed in and saw that Alice had been worried. He checked his watch. "Jesus! Well, one look at you and no man can wonder what took me so long. Thank you, Alice," he added sincerely.
"You have to go now?" Her disappointment was clear.
He took her hand. "Look, when this is over, how about letting me take you out to a nice place for dinner and dance?" He couldn't dance worth a hoot, but Sweet Alice wouldn't care. She wouldn't expect more from the date, either. Still, she looked like a kid promised special consideration by Santa.
"I'd like that fine, Hutch honey."
Hutch totally ignored her on the way out, as befitted a man who'd taken his pleasure, and prayed she would get home safely. Two cars bracketed him when he pulled out for Miller's home, the third soon followed.
Miller greeted him, parked him with a drink, and disappeared, to get a report, no doubt. "Sure took you long enough," he grumbled when he returned.
"I stopped..." Hutch pretended to stammer, "to get, uh... something to eat. "
It served well enough, although Miller had a pinched look of distaste he couldn't hide. Once the plans for the next morning were discussed and he offered Hutch the guest bedroom for the night an offer Hutch knew better than to refuse he also pointedly mentioned a shower. You son-of-a-bitch, Hutch thought, I'd be more worried about being contaminated by your bed. He obediently took the shower, though, and went to bed. One way or another, it was ending. It took some time and effort to relax the bow-string muscles, but finally he slept.