The phone splintered his already restless sleep. Starsky groped for the receiver. "Hmmmm?"
"Starsky, is that you?"
"Hmmm? Yeah.... Yeah, Hug."
"Do us both a favor, man. Get up, stretch, get a glass of water. You need to be awake to hear this."
That was enough to wake Starsky up without further measures. "I am. What is it?"
"The big buy down at the waterfront?"
"It's goin' down tomorrow, sometime before noon. Somewhere around the warehouse district, south docks. That's all I know. And before you ask, yes, he's buyin'. And, man, a lot. The backers will be there also, as I hear." Starsky was silent, furiously thinking. "Uh, the info cost quite a bit. Shouldn't've committed you without checkin', but I thought you'd like to "
"Forget it, Hug. I'll cover it. That's the least of my worries. Damn! Anything else you can give me?"
"Okay. Thanks. Later, Hug."
"Whoa! Hold it. Just outta curiosity, you gonna let Metro in on this?"
"Uh, Hug, that's "
"None of my business? Make an exception once, for old times' sake. Are you?"
"Well...no. Not right away, that is. Hey, look, it's "
"Hey, look, nothin'! This is big, Starsky. This ain't no time to make like Lone Ranger, unless you wanna hi-ho it into the next world. Don't be an idiot, friend. Like it or not, he ain't worth it no more." Silence met him from the other side. "Starsky, at the very least, this means your badge, if not an accomplice charge. He's in it up to his baby-blues, and you can't pull him out clean just by wishin'." Starsky kept the silence around him like a stubborn cloak. "Oh, man. There ain't nothing I can say to change your mind, is there?" Dead air. Huggy cursed softly, then offered, "Hey, uh...you want maybe I should go with you?"
"No! No way. I mean it. If I see you anywhere around, I swear I'll handcuff you to a lamp post!" His voice softened. "I appreciate it, Hug, but this is mine, okay? I'll handle it. Thanks, and don't worry, and let it go at that."
Huggy sighed. "Good luck." He was muttering angrily to himself as he hung up.
Twilight Zone, Starsky thought, this can't be happening. Hutch, why? Are you on that junk again? Strung-out? Hurtin' enough to do anything? Don't you have someone to turn to?
No, maybe he doesn't, he thought as he checked the time. Four o'clock. He rolled out of the bed while he considered his options, already aware that there was only one. He couldn't let anybody know. Internal Affairs would love it. This would give Simonetti and Dryden the jollies they'd been praying for. The way Hutch's credit stood lately, probably the whole damned precinct would cheer them on, and Dobey wouldn't lift a pudgy finger this time around. It was between himself and Hutch, who else was left to bother?
Click to see larger image
Hutch's car wasn't in front of Venice Place, which meant nothing, considering the clunkers he kept finding spent most of their lives getting repaired. Walking up the narrow steps again felt strange. It was even stranger to feel like an intruder while doing so. You're going to talk to me, Starsky decided with determination, whether you like it or not. Eight years give me some rights.
There was no answer to the knocking. He reached up and found the key over the door, which meant Hutch was out. Just in case, he opened the door to check. Light spilled from one bulb, and there was no need to take more than two steps into the apartment to see that it was empty. The only door inside was the one to the bathroom and that was open as usual. Starsky shut the front door, thinking that even it, the main entrance to Hutch's sanctuary, was wide open for all practical purposes, as he replaced the key in its accessible place.
For somebody who doesn't believe in doors around you, buddy, you sure have a lot of `em inside. Guess I always knew that just never dreamed you'd slam `em on me one day. Now to find a friend, he had to go through police procedure. He had done that before, but never doubting that Hutch wanted to be found by him in those cases.
How the hell did we get so screwed up?
Hutch seemed to be tight with one character in the crowd he was running with lately. Starsky had seen him being brought in or picked up by a flashy sports car that smelled of money. Without knowing why, he had noted the license plate. It was a start. He picked up the radio.
The address given by the Motor Vehicles was in the Woodland Hills neighborhood. When he got to Miller's residence, the battered LTD was out front, looking pitifully out of place. He knew talking to Hutch would be out of the question. The answers would have to come in a roundabout way. Starsky considered the unsubtle presence of his red Torino with the racing stripe, and called the police garage to ask for an inconspicuous, unmarked car to be delivered to him. He turned his own car over to the young cop who had brought the requested vehicle to be taken back to Metro, then chose a tree-lined side street to settle down and wait for what the morning would show.
Hutch was put into a car with three young men, who he'd seen before at the rifle range. He quickly confirmed that they were all armed.
"I hope you don't think we'll all be invited in," he commented through the car window to Miller. "They agreed to three men. I had to fight to get them to accept us coming in armed. One look at this bunch and it'll be a bloodbath."
Miller squirmed uncomfortably. His courage seemed to consist of the crowd around him. "They won't try to go in."
Hutch jumped out of the car, slammed the door and grabbed Miller's arm to pull him away some distance. "Listen, Jonathan, this is the plan. First, I scout out the neighborhood to make sure everything looks okay. Then I go in, see the stuff, test it, and then I call you and Thorn. You come in with the money, we exchange briefcases and get the hell out of there. That's the set-up. You're asking for trouble if you don't follow it to the letter. Now, these boys, I'm sure they're wonderful troops, but in this situation, they're babes-in-the-woods, not to mention excess baggage. Either I call the shots, or I'm out right now."
"Don't get upset, Kenny. What do you want?"
"You tell them, right now, that they take their orders from me, and be sure they understand it. They'll come with me to scout the area if that makes you feel better, but afterwards they'll stay where I put them."
Miller went to talk to the young men. Pecking order established, Hutch got into the car, and he and the three muscles pulled away.
It was a leisurely drive. Nerves had made Miller and Osgood insist that Hutch leave too early. Out of habit, the detective was keeping an eye on the flow of traffic around them. Something touched his awareness, was instantly gone, then came back, to vanish again. Hutch paid attention; it was never wise to disregard his instincts. He stared at the rearview mirror, wondering why he had this vague expectation of seeing a red blur behind them. There wasn't a red car around to be seen. For some reason, a brown Chevy, some distance away, was drawing his attention.
"Change lanes," he told the driver.
"Do it," he said tightly and the man obeyed. "Again."
"Now I'm in the left turn lane," the driver complained.
"So turn." He added halfway into the turn, "Change to the right lane quickly and just before the next intersection, ease into left again, but don't turn." A few more maneuvers and he knew. The brown car was totally inconspicuous; its trailing pattern was anything but. At least to him it was he'd know Starsky's driving anywhere.
He felt uneasy. Of course, there was no reason for Starsky not to be a part of the stakeout. He just hadn't prepared himself for the possibility, that was all. Everything was all right. It meant Washington wasn't trusting him. Else, why the tail when he knew the place and the time for the buy? But that was all right, too.
So why was this cold feeling traveling up and down his spine? He followed up on the warning. Starsky would tail them to the warehouse and then.... Then what? If his ex-partner stayed true to form, he'd place himself as close to the action as possible, in the most visible part of the stakeout.
And Starsky didn't know that Miller, who'd recognize him on sight, would be there.
He cursed himself for not anticipating this development and warning Washington. One glance, and Osgood and Miller would run. After all that planning, all that work, with the end in sight. He felt like hitting his head against the dashboard. There was nothing he could do now. He would simply have to follow through and hope for the best. It was also possible that Miller would not see Starsky at all until it was too late. Maybe it would all work out fine, and he would have worried over nothing.
Another thought jolted him and he couldn't leave the resolution of that possibility to a vague `maybe.' He remembered Miller at the shooting range, his uncanny accuracy and speed with a gun, and shivered. As nervous as he was, what would happen if Miller spotted a policeman where there shouldn't be one? Having no immediate proof of duplicity, he would hesitate before turning on Hutch, but he might be willing to take out a Jewish cop and ask questions later.
The stakes had suddenly soared too high to trust to fate. He had to keep Starsky away, and he had to do it now, before Miller had the smallest chance of stumbling over him.
"Pull over to the curb," he instructed the driver. "Easy." The car came to a stop. He addressed one of the men in the back. "You, go buy yourself a pack of cigarettes."
"I don't " the model-of-clean-living started.
"I don't give a shit what you don't. Now!" He hoped he could keep them in line by being overbearing. He turned to the driver. "Change places with me."
"Goddamnit, is this how Miller trains you whelps? Move your ass!" The young man sullenly obeyed. After the cigarette-buyer returned, Hutch slowly moved away from the curb, keeping a close watch on the brown car.
"Pay attention. We have a tail." There was an orchestrated move to turn around. "Eyes ahead!" Hutch snapped. Herd. Half a century in existence, and they're still a herd. "It's a cop I recognize."
There were noises of dismay. "If you're going to panic, we can go home now and the children can go to bed after you explain to Miller how you didn't have the guts to stick with a mission. Use your heads. If the cops knew anything for certain, why should they need to tail us? Someone's been careless, and they're checking it out. Nothing to sweat over, but we have to shake him. And we have to do it before we meet Miller and compromise him." That would get their cooperation. A bit too much cooperation, he realized, when hands dipped into jackets. "Don't be idiots! You hurt a cop and the whole force will be all over us. This will be done my way and I'll personally take apart anyone who tries to improvise. In fact, give me your guns. Come on, or I'll walk out right now and you can deal with the rest yourselves."
The man sitting next to him took out his gun and hesitated, confused. Something was going wrong and he wasn't used to taking the initiative. He was obviously wondering if he should obey or turn the weapon on Hutch.
The blond man smiled at him, a lazy smile which held nothing pretty. "Make up your mind." The young man looked from the predatory smile to the icicle-sharp slits the eyes had become, and meekly held out the gun. "Wise choice. Think what would've happened if I had walked in on the deal under the gun and said I didn't want to play because I had spotted a cop on our tail."
All the guns were passed to him. It wasn't easy while driving, but one by one, he dropped the clips onto his lap and handed them back. Now no one could get zealous. "Don't worry, they'll be just as effective as long as the cop doesn't know they're empty. All we need to do is to strand him. Pay attention."
Starsky fell back a little when the car he was trailing left the city
streets and entered the southbound traffic on the Harbor Freeway leading
to San Pedro Bay. Huggy was reliable as usual. Unexpectedly, the car took
an exit and headed east on Artesia. They were out of LA and into Long Beach.
Starsky followed them onto the Riverside Freeway, and shortly Orange County
was also left behind. It dawned on him that he might not be able to get
help fast if he needed it, but he kept going. He cursed when the car got
out of the freeway traffic, and eventually turned onto a dirt road. Starsky
fell back and cut down his
speed drastically to cut down on the telltale dust cloud he was leaving.
He rounded a boulder, hit the brakes, quickly backed up and parked the car. The road in front of him dipped, led to an abandoned factory, then went off in two directions. No vehicles showed on the wide clearing. The car had to have stopped at the factory. This definitely was not the waterfront district, but maybe plans had changed overnight. There was no way of driving without advertising himself. He had to go on foot.
He was among the towering piles of metal and cement blocks in ten minutes, feeling better about having cover. How to find Hutch in this maze was the next problem. Then he saw the fresh tire tracks on the ground. He pulled out his gun and followed them. Looking out from behind a corner, he located the car. Hutch was standing next to it. Another man in front of him blocked Starsky's view. Keeping behind cover, he tried to approach.
"Don't move," somebody said, and the steel against his spine reinforced the command.
"Put your hands up," another voice joined in.
The gun was taken out of his grip. He attempted to look back, but was stopped by strong hands and another dig of the metal. A cloth slipped over his eyes, got tied behind his head. He felt someone removing his handcuffs and keys. His hands were pulled back and fastened. It was all done quickly, economically, in virtual silence. He realized they had been aware of him and waiting. As soon as he had felt the blindfold, he had relaxed somewhat. Sight only mattered if the person was going to be around long enough to make use of what he saw. Blindfold was insurance to both sides. However, he was disgusted. A lot o' good I can do Hutch like this.
Without waste of time or words, he was dragged, not too roughly, helped up some steps and into something. Metal clattered under his feet, and it felt like a grille was behind his shoulders. Then motion started, accompanied by loud metallic screeches and groans. Freight elevator, he decided. Hope it still works okay. The stomach-lurching jerkiness of the ride told him it was being done manually, on an emergency pulley. Those things usually needed two operators on the massive gears. There had been four people in the car. Two were with him. No one else had been around, no other cars. Hutch?
He felt like laughing at the sense of betrayal. You suspect he's involved in a heroin deal and you're outraged because he won't balk at turnin' a wheel? Still. What the hell kind of hold do they have on you, Hutch. Oh, God, I think I know, and I don't want to.
The ascent seemed to go on forever. He kept himself steady by bracing his legs apart and finding a rail behind him to grab. Any more, he thought, and I'm gonna throw up. The elevator came to an uneven stop. Apparently, it wasn't level with the floor; he had to be hauled out of it. Then, as simply as that, he was left, the elevator now protesting at its journey down. Knowing he was very high up, he felt around while still sitting, afraid of sudden drops. He seemed to be perfectly secure and alone.
All right. First things first.
The handcuffs presented little problem. He stretched out flat, relaxing his whole body for a few seconds. Then he contracted, pulling up his knees as far as possible, pushing his calves into the backs of his thighs and curled into a tight ball, shoulders meeting knees, at the same time forcing his close-together hands past his buttocks and feet. Pain shot up from his wrists cutting against the metal restraints, but his hands were now in front of him. He yanked off the blindfold and stood up, remembering how incensed Hutch always got because his lower body was too long to duplicate the trick with the handcuffs.
He was at the top of an openwork storage silo. He shuddered a little and closed his eyes briefly to tell the feeling of vertigo to go away, he didn't have the time. He dug into the little pocket at his waist, barely managing to slip the spare key out of its customary place through the tightness of the jeans. Unlocking the cuffs took some maneuvering, but he finally managed it. It dawned on him that Hutch should've been able to predict everything he had just done. He hadn't told anybody, so maybe he wasn't as much of a puppet as he appeared.
He realized the awful noises of the elevator had ceased. He rushed to a railing in time to see the car drive away in a cloud of dust. Nobody here. Nobody else came. The meeting place hasn't changed. This was just a detour to get rid o' me. Damn!
He dashed about, looking for a way to get down. Both freight elevators were on the ground. He couldn't pull one up by himself, let alone going down in it. He had to climb, using the struts lining the sheer walls. It would take time. They looked solid, wide enough, and comfortably close together, but it was so far down. And he had never liked heights.
Click to see larger image
Hutch put the testing paraphernalia down and reached for the phone someone who had to be a wrestler was holding. He got it away from the man, dialed the number of the public phone Miller and Osgood were waiting by. "Come on in," he said shortly when it was answered.
He had nothing to do but sit and wait, accompanied by a half-circle of silent companions, so still that they could've been carved out of marble. He memorized each face, knowing he'd have to identify them in court one day. Stationed at various parts of the cavern of the warehouse were guards, as silent as their masters. Too many, and too much firepower. If Osgood and Miller panic, we may not walk out of here.
Keeping himself from any nervous moves, he studied his surroundings. There was a large sliding door behind him, opening out to the street, and one in front, half open to the wharf, through which he could see a fair-sized cabin cruiser, probably with a reinforced engine. He didn't worry about it. Coast Guard would be alerted as was usual in any stakeout bordering on water. The boat was their problem.
He had checked the stakeout while still with Miller's underlings, under the guise of making sure the area was secure for their precious patrons. Everything seemed to be ready. He gave his attention to his immediate surroundings, finding comfort in the noises of the `repair crews' working along the street in front of the warehouse.
The windows looking out on the street were long and narrow, situated high, almost flush with the ceiling. There were guards at those windows, on planks running the length of the front wall on each side of the door, set on wood supports. There was a forklift parked in a corner, with a heavy platform in the front to carry crates. Might come in handy.
Another thing that was definitely promising was the circular staircase rising 20 feet to disappear into the ceiling, leading to the second floor of the warehouse. He had noted from the outside that the upstairs had no steps leading out to the street. It was only a long-term storage area, serviced by cranes. It would be a long fall onto cement for anybody trapped up there.
A barely perceptible motion passed through the assembled crowd and Hutch knew Miller and Osgood had arrived. He rose. Once they walked in, it would be a matter of minutes. The large doors in the front parted a little to admit the two men, both carrying briefcases.
They were on the edge and showing it. Hutch felt it ripple the surface of the taut atmosphere around him. He stayed relaxed, hoping his own attitude would settle the unease. Miller and Osgood approached, some of the guards around the door following on their heels. When they were near the makeshift table, Hutch smoothly maneuvered between the two men, knowing that shortly it was going to be vital to have both within arms' reach.
Nothing and no one moved, then Miller and Osgood cast nervous glances at the detective. Hutch was amused. Suddenly they were like sheep, begging for the shepherd's lead. Out of your depth and not so superior now, are you?
He motioned at them to put the briefcases on the table. They obeyed with alacrity, dropping them on the table with discordant noises. Hutch calmly stepped forward to turn them around, in line with and on both sides of the briefcases filled with plastic bags already there, lifted the lids, then stepped back. The money was checked while the detective wished Miller and Osgood would stop fidgeting. In contrast, he felt icy calm himself, as if the blood were cooling in his veins, slowing down to contribute to his stillness. All his senses had become sharply focused in readiness, but quiescent for the moment, waiting for the pump of adrenaline for the extra edge to start functioning. It was a familiar sensation, very welcomed: the hunter on his ground, his prey in reach, the danger of the hunt only adding to the enjoyment. He felt in control and in charge. So I didn't lose it after all.
The sellers closed the lids on the cases holding the money in acceptance. With precise motions, Hutch closed the cases holding the heroin, signaling their own acceptance. He motioned at Miller and Osgood to pick them up before dropping his hands to his side. Amateurs, he thought as they both reached with their right hands. The dealers had long since arrived at the same conclusion. Watchful eyes had dismissed the two men and focused on the detective. They know I'm in control, Hutch thought. Hope it'll hold. Should be any second now.
Hands also reached for the money, but before anybody could make contact, a bullhorn blared outside. "This is the police. You're surrounded. Come out with your hands in the air."
There was a frozen fraction of a second, then it splintered into motion. What Hutch did was to instantly reach out and firmly grasp Miller and Osgood's wrists before their hands could complete the frantic grabs for their weapons.
"Don't move," he hissed, knowing that with the odds so heavily against them, their only hope was to prove they were also the victims of the situation. He kept his eyes on the short, balding man directly in front of him, the only person who hadn't bothered to pull a gun. He was clearly the leader.
"Don't move," Hutch repeated at Osgood and Miller, stressing the order with a sudden tightening of his hold on their wrists before he released then. Paying no attention to the sound of gunfire erupting behind him, he slowly pulled open his jacket, lifted his gun out of its holster with fingertips, and held it out, eyes still locked with the small, slivered ones measuring him from across the table. He waited for the verdict.
Obviously, his act was good enough. A nod dispatched the guards covering the three men to other parts of the warehouse. The cases holding the money were swept off the wood surface, and the group by the table turned as one, hurrying to the back exit. The heroin was left on the table, telling Hutch they were free of the suspicion of duplicity, but on their own.
He got his hand securely around his gun. "Get them," he said, indicating the briefcases. For the moment, they were isolated in the middle of the action, but Hutch didn't want to give the two men time to collect their wits. Besides, one of those road-repair vehicles was bound to come crashing through the front door, and the police didn't need the guns at their back as they came in. He had work to do.
"Do you know how close you came to getting us killed," he snarled to keep them off balance. "You don't ever go for a gun in this kind of situation until you have permission!"
"What...what hap How do we ? " Miller was babbling.
Hutch shoved them toward the steps. "Up. Find the connecting door to the next warehouse." Which doesn't exist, he didn't say. "I'll cover you."
He waited impatiently until they disappeared, then ran for the forklift. He quickly threw it into gear, turned it, and hoping the narrow rails across the top would protect his head, sent it plowing through the wood supports holding up the planking the gunmen stood on. Screams and sounds of splintering, tumbling wood replaced the gun fire, except for some shots now aimed at the detective. He slid low to squeeze himself under the dash, keeping pressure on the gas pedal, one hand up to hold the steering wheel locked in position. He knew he had run the length of the front when the forklift came to a crashing stop against the side wall. Stunned for a moment, he stayed still, then shook his head to clear it, and fought to climb out of the metal and wood prison the vehicle had become from the falling debris. He felt something warm dripping on him, looked up, and saw a bloody body grotesquely stretched over the rails of the cab.
Gunfire had started again. The mound he was behind seemed to be the target. Still shaken and too off-balance to start returning fire, he just stayed low, collecting himself. An earsplitting noise of buckling, tearing metal interrupted everything. The front door was down under the assault of a tracked road vehicle, and officers started pouring in.
Taking advantage of the chaos, Hutch climbed out of the debris, rolled behind some crates and ran for the steps. He was up them and into the second level within seconds. He rushed around some more crates, finally locating Miller and Osgood, who looked like rats lost in a maze.
"Kenny, there's no way " Miller implored frantically.
"All right, hold it right there!" The authority in his voice and the Magnum pointed straight at them froze both men. Osgood panicked into reaching for his gun. "Don't tempt me," Hutch warned.
"Kenny...?" Miller said, bewildered.
"Officer, to you. You're both under arrest."
Miller stared for an instant, then thought he understood. He started shouting hysterically. "You turncoat! Selling your friends to save your "
Hutch heard running behind him before he could disillusion Miller further. "Police," snapped a voice. "Drop it!"
They were mostly waterfront district cops; they wouldn't recognize him. Hutch slowly lowered the Magnum to the floor and kicked it back. Someone roughly grabbed and pushed him against a wall. "Spread `em." He obeyed, keeping an eye on Miller and Osgood who were also being frisked.
"Let the blond go," a voice called out. Hutch identified Washington. "He's our undercover man."
"Underco !" Miller sputtered.
Hutch hadn't given a thought to how Washington would ultimately play it. He hadn't thought he'd care either way; now he realized he did very much. "Thanks, Washington," he said sincerely as he straightened.
"That one is mine, Hutchinson." Washington pointed at Osgood. "You want the other one?"
"Do I! Jonathan Miller, you are under arrest for trafficking in illegal substances." Before the day was out the charge sheet would be a mile long, Hutch hoped. "You have the right to remain silent...."
Washington turned Osgood around none too gently.
"Get your hands off me, nigger!"
"You have a foul mouth, man. Do me a favor and exercise it in the slammer. I'd love to see how quickly you'll get your tongue cut out. Now pay attention."
During the reading of Miranda, Dobey charged in, huffing and puffing. He took in the situation. "You all right, Hutchinson?"
"I'm fine, Captain." He realized the blood stains on his clothes and hair were causing concern. "That's not mine."
Now that Dobey was assured he had a healthy man on his hands, he let loose. "Detective Sergeant Hutchinson, I'll see you in my office, where I'm going to personally pin your ears back. And when you're done with the stint in Traffic I'm going to give you, I'll be retired and too old to care about your hare-brained thick-headed, infantile stunts." A chubby finger wiggled expressively in front of Hutch's nose. "Of all the unprofessional, undisciplined, unorthodox, unbalanced, underhanded "
"Captain," Washington interceded, "with all due respect, sir, by the time you're done, we'll be retired and too old to care. Can we take these creeps in now?"
Dobey waved them on. "Yeah, yeah. Go on. And good job, Washington." A grudging grumble followed which sounded a bit like: "You, too, Hutchinson."
"Didn't quite catch that, Captain," Hutch said, all wide-eyed innocence.
"Get outta here!" Dobey bellowed.
Hutch felt ridiculously happy and content. By the time he was out in the daylight, though, something was prickling his euphoria. "Washington, didn't Starsky report in yet?"
"Starsky? Why should he?"
"Wasn't he in on this?"
"Not that I know of, and I'd know."
What had Starsky been doing then? He'd have to find out later. First he had some Nazi cells to visit, some more evidence to collect.