Chapter 19

Mister, I ain't a boy no I'm a man
And I believe in a promised land
      Promised Land—Bruce Springsteen

      Hutch saw Starsky leaning over the bar to get his attention. "Baylor and Meredith need to talk with us," he said. "Maybe they've got something." It was nearly midnight, two days after Tomas' attack. "Can you take a break?"

      Hutch went over to Kevin, the nearest bartender. "Can you cover for me?"

      "Sure," Kevin said. "Slow as it is, no problem. Take your time."

      "Thanks," Hutch said, and came out from behind the bar.

      Starsky was waiting for him. "They're gonna meet us in Sugar's dressing room."

      They wandered to the back, knocked on the door, then went in. The other two detectives were already there. Baylor was making Meredith grin by holding up one of Sugar's outrageous outfits against herself and sashaying around.

      "I dunno," Baylor was saying, "d'ya think it's me?"

      "Honey," Meredith said, laughing, "that is so much not you it's not worth talking about."

      "Hey, fellas," Baylor said, hanging the dress back up, "thanks for comin'."

      Starsky snorted a laugh. "You kiddin'? Like we'd stand up the only two straight women in the city who'll talk nice to us?"

      They all smiled at that, but there wasn't much humor in it. None of them had had much to laugh about lately. And Hutch knew that of all of them, Starsky seemed the most affected. His smile never touched his eyes anymore. He was tense, wound up all the time, with no outlet for release.

      Earlier that day, they'd participated in Spike's funeral. Starsky had carried the small urn on his lap, right by the steering wheel. But before they'd settled down to the trip to the beach, he had taken the Torino on one of the fastest, most hair-raising rides Hutch could remember, leaving the rest of the funeral procession in his dust. Hutch still couldn't figure out why they hadn't been pulled over. When they'd finally arrived at the beach and met the rest of the mourners, the group cheered when Starsky came to a swerving stop right against the curb. Hutch's knees had been weak when he'd crawled out of the car, but there had been no joy in Starsky throughout the terrifying ride. He had just clung to the urn without expression and said nothing as he put the car through its paces. When Starsky released Spike's ashes to the sea, as Denise read Spike's favorite poem—something startlingly romantic from Edna St. Vincent Millay—the only one who wasn't crying was Starsky.

      "Well, as nice as you are," Hutch said, "I know you didn't call us here for the company."

      Baylor nodded. "Tomas woke up for awhile tonight. We were able to get the translator over there. He was conscious, but pretty fragile. He recognized his 'brother,' Roberto, so that was good." "Roberto" was Trixie's real name. Trixie was spending all her time at the hospital now. Sugar had had to replace her in the chorus. "The doctor says that he might've lost some memories since he woke up that last time. Anyway, we asked him some questions. Like, did he know any of the attackers? He said no."

      Starsky's frown deepened. Hutch knew he was convinced Russo was involved in the attack, but his alibi was tight, and there was no way Tomas wouldn't have recognized him.

      "He did tell us something," Baylor said. "When we asked him if he recognized any of his attackers, he spelled out, 'cop.' When I asked him if he meant uniformed cop, he said yes. So there was at least one uniformed cop—or someone pretending to be a uniformed cop—at the scene. It was painstaking to get the information, but it seems like the uniform was the decoy. Coming up to Tomas like one cop recognizing another. Called him by name, so he was definitely targeted. Then three others jumped him from behind while he was just rappin' with the uniform. But the cop definitely participated in the beating. Tomas says he'd recognize the cop if he saw him, but never saw the others clearly enough in the dark."

      "So the marksmanship pin did come from a uniform," Hutch said.

      Meredith nodded. "We've got some fibers that match standard police issue uniforms, too. The rest of the stuff could've been in the alley, or from such normal, everyday clothes that it's impossible to pull any information out of it. We did get one other blood type besides Tomas', so that might help us pin down one of the guys if we ever get any suspects."

      "Next time he wakes up," Baylor said, "we're gonna show him ID pictures of every cop in the precinct, uniformed or otherwise."

      Starsky looked up. "Start with Metro," he agreed, "but if he can't recognize the Judas, then you'll have to get pictures from every other precinct, too."

      They all turned to him in surprise. "You think other cops are involved, besides the ones at Metro?"

      Starsky shrugged. "Why not? Sure, the guys at Metro are takin' a lot of heat over us. But we put a black mark on every cop in LA, every cop in the country. And some of these guys are crazy when it comes to the whole gay thing. I was a radical liberal compared to some of the stone rednecks we worked with. People who hate hang out together, so they can shore up each other's stupidity."

      Baylor nodded. "That's a point. But that's gonna take time. He's still floating in and out of the ether. And when he comes to, he's only aware for a short time before he gets exhausted and goes back under. It's gonna take a while just to get through the IDs at Metro."

      "Still," Meredith agreed, "it's our best shot."

      "Have you guys gotten any leads on the origins of that tape?" Baylor asked suddenly. "If we could make any connections at all—"

      Hutch shook his head. "Peter Whitelaw hasn't turned up a thing, and even Huggy hasn't produced. Seems like it's a total bust."

      "I don't like this," Meredith said glumly. "The streets are never this quiet. You can't beg, borrow, buy, or steal info now. If the Bear can't turn anything up, you know it's dry. It's almost like . . . everyone's too scared to get involved."

      "Yeah," Baylor agreed, "and that scares me."

      "Something's gonna happen," Starsky said ominously. "We know that. But what, when, why, or how—?"

      "Be careful, you two," Hutch said. "We might be the bigger targets here, but that doesn't mean our friends aren't gonna get hit with shrapnel."

      "D'jou hear?" Baylor asked them. "Higgins broke up with his partner."

      Hutch glanced at Starsky, but he was staring at his shoelaces. "They've been working together almost ten years," Hutch said.

      Baylor nodded. "They were too divided over recent . . . politics. Right now, Higgins is working alone."

      That wasn't good. If anybody wanted to target him, that would make it so much easier. "Tell him to be careful, will you?" Hutch asked them.

      "Any change with the legal situation?" Meredith asked.

      Hutch shook his head. "They're stalling. They keep putting Kelly off. We've got a tentative meeting scheduled in two weeks, but she's warned us they'll probably postpone it that morning. She's thinking they'll just keep postponing it into infinity. So, she's gone ahead and filed suit. Ten million dollars in damages."

      Baylor whistled. "Hey, from now on you guys are pickin' up the tab at lunch!"

      Hutch smiled. "Of course, the first hearing on the suit won't be for three months. Enough time for any favorable publicity from the shootout to fade from the public's memory."

      The information only cast a greater pall on the group. The possibility of neither man ever getting his badge back was too real.

      "Well, that's all the bad news fit to print," Baylor said, moving to the door. "If you turn up anything, let us know. We'll do the same with you. And watch your step, boys. I think things are gonna get worse before they get better."

      Hutch suspected she was right.

      His concerns weren't alleviated when later that evening Tsuka made a point of telling Starsky his chakras were so far out of alignment they were dangerous, particularly to his mental health. The look he gave her was positively bleak, but he said nothing. For some reason, she never said a word to Hutch about his.

      The hours after work brought no relief, either. Hutch listened to Starsky tossing on the couch hour after hour, and it broke his heart. All he wanted to do was go to him, hold him, offer him the same comfort he always had in the past, but that was impossible now. Finally, he couldn't stand it and asked from the bedroom, "Want to talk about it?"

      There was a long pause from the couch, but then Starsky said, "Don't think I can."

      Hutch waited a beat. "I'm ready to listen when you are. I'm still here for you, Starsky."

      "I know, Hutch. I just can't right now. You know?"

      He wasn't sure he did, but he agreed anyway. "Sure. Just remember. We're still partners."

      Starsky sighed. "Yeah. Yeah, I remember. Thanks."

      For what? Hutch wondered, then settled down and tried to sleep, knowing he'd be walking on another dark, empty beach tonight.

      "I talked to Steve Bookman," Peter told K.R. They were sitting in the Athens in K.R.'s booth, having lunch. She was just picking at hers, and Peter found he didn't have much appetite either. "He's the one I always go to for information about the industry. He took the numbers from the tape and did what he could, but it was a dead end. He said it could've been his lab or another lab licensed to develop film for them. They have at least five licensees right now, and they all use the same identification code since they're licensed under the main lab."

      K.R. seemed tired. "I don't know Steve."

      "He doesn't hang out at the Parrot. He frequents the Crystal Ball. He's been a big help to me before and he's a supporter of my campaign. There're a few other people I know who work there, but none of them are as well situated as Steve, so I don't think they could help us, either. Maybe I'm missing something, but I just don't see where this is relevant to anything."

      "I'm probably grasping at straws," K.R. admitted. "I was hoping somebody there might help pinpoint someone important. Somebody had to develop that film, run that equipment, and make the distribution connections."

      Peter stared at her and his gut knotted. "You don't think it was someone gay, do you?"

      "I don't want to," she admitted. "I was hoping one of our people might've heard something, anything . . . ."

      "I'll talk to Steve again," Peter agreed. "See if he can figure out how many people had access to the equipment, had the time . . . . But I'm getting the uncomfortable feeling you know something you don't want to tell me."

      K.R. shook her head. "I trust you, Peter. We've worked together too long for me not to. But I can't shake the feeling that someone is involved in this that shouldn't be. Someone playing both sides. If we could find out who, we might be able to get to the bottom of it. But it's not like I'll be able to get any information out of Gunther's people. And meantime, we're stalled."

      Peter sat back. "And you're worried about them. Starsky. And Hutch."

      She looked at him. "Aren't you? How long can they hold out, under siege emotionally, financially, physically? How many other people will get hurt? That's the part that weighs the heaviest on them. Whoever fingered Tomas knew exactly what they were doing. The effect on them has been devastating."

      Peter nodded. He almost found it funny, in an ironic way, that he and Kelly were nursing wounded hearts over two dishonored cops, and yet still working hard to help them. It was going to take him a while to get over Ken Hutchinson. But he would. He had learned that from John, that he was strong enough to survive anything. But it didn't stop him from hurting.

      K.R. looked at her watch. "I'm going to be late if I stay here another minute. I'll call you if I find out anything new. Keep your ear to the ground."

      He nodded and drank the rest of his coffee as she left the diner.

      When K.R. left the diner she walked to the corner, turned left, and kept going, moving briskly. About five minutes later, a long, white Cadillac pulled up along side her.

      "M'lady, your carriage has arrived," Huggy said from the driver's seat.

      She grinned as he halted the car, exited, and went around to open the passenger door for her. "Good thing you're going my way," she said.

      "Yeah, funny about that," Huggy agreed as he got back behind the wheel and took off. "You find out anything?"

      "Not really. Peter's reasons were sound, and I don't believe he's lying to us. I don't know if his connection to the lab is being square with him, but I think it's just a situation where this time his connection couldn't provide what he needed."

      "So you don't think he's covering up anything?" Huggy asked.

      "I'm partial to Peter, but my bullshit meter didn't go off. If you can't tell when someone's lying to you in this business, you'd better get out." She turned to her unexpected partner in conspiracy. "Did you find out anything?"

      "Yeah," he said, as he turned a corner. "I found out that lab has a bunch of subsidiary labs, and more employees, associates, and contracting agents than you wanna think about. Lucky for us, my cousin is going out with a pretty girl in the personnel office and he was able to get us a list of the employees, including those involved in the other five labs. That's the good news. The bad news is that the computer printout looks like a telephone directory. And we gotta get it back in twenty-four hours."

      "Well, fine print's my specialty," she said wearily, "so that sounds like my evening."

      "I sure don't have time to go through it while managing the bar, but the least I can do is provide an early breakfast," he offered. "If you're interested, that is?"

      She smiled. He was charming, he was sophisticated, he was a gourmet chef, and he was a genuinely kind human being. And while actively conspiring with her, he was courting her like crazy. It was incredibly flattering, but after having had her world shaken by two devastating cops, K.R. was moving more slowly these days. That didn't seem to bother Huggy. He was patient, he said. And that was the one thing about him that affected her the most—he didn't push. Right now, that meant everything.

      "If you can handle the early hour," she said, "I'd be happy to share breakfast with you. And if that printout is as thick as you say, that might be how long it takes me to go through it."

      "You just looking for names you're familiar with?" he asked.

      "No, that won't be thorough enough. I've got lists of gay social activities from Sugar and another list of Peter's volunteers that I can compare it to."

      "Okay," Huggy said, "it's all we've got to go on. Let's hope we find something. And . . . let's pray the name we're looking for isn't Zeus Z. Zuckerman!"

      She laughed, and he laughed with her.

      The next day, Tsuka and Yoshi's dojo was broken into and ransacked while they were at the Parrot drilling the demonstrators. The storefront window was destroyed.

      Hutch walked beside Meredith as they went through the crime scene inch by inch. "Were they carrying a lot of money?" she asked.

      Hutch shook his head. "Most of the clients pay by check. They deposit the day's earnings daily so they won't have cash hanging around."

      "What else is there to steal from a martial arts school?" Meredith wondered.

      "Records," Starsky said, coming up behind her. "They took all the files, the Rolodex, notes about students, all the personal stuff."

      Hutch felt his blood pressure drop. "Did they have copies?" They would have to warn every current and former student. It would be impossible to safeguard all those people.

      Yoshi came to stand beside Starsky. "We keep copies of our records at home. There will be some of the most recent that we have not had a chance to duplicate that will be lost, but most of them have been copied."

      "Martial arts must involve incredible mind control," Meredith said admiringly. "You don't look very disturbed, Mr. Watanabe."

      "We have a good insurance policy," he told Meredith. "This damage is unfortunate, but students of martial arts understand about hardship, and they understand how to react when under attack." He smiled then, coldly, and his expression surprised Hutch. "The looters clearly didn't look at the records when they stole them. So they may only now be learning how worthless they will be to them."

      "Sensei," Hutch said respectfully, "the information in those records could target your students for harm from these same men."

      "I don't think so, Hutch," Yoshi said. "Tsuka and I employed our own abbreviated code in the records that would be hard for anyone besides ourselves to interpret. In addition, the records are all in Japanese. Unless one of the theives is adept at translating the written language, they can't use them. It's unlikely they can get those records translated in the Japanese community. We will contact our students for safety, of course. But our students are the best in the city. Why would anyone attempt to abuse them? It would be foolish. I suspect, Hutch, that these people were after information about you and Starsky. Because you often worked as undercover police, we didn't keep your records here. So if that's what they were looking for specifically, they've failed on three accounts."

      "Well, that's a relief," Hutch agreed.

      "Sensei's right about one thing," Starsky grumbled. "Whoever these guys are, they're definitely three time losers!"

      Later that night at the Green Parrot, Hutch was told that, while on duty, Higgins was nearly struck by a hit-and-run driver. He got clipped and bruised up but nothing was broken. He managed to get a partial license plate, and when they matched it with the type of car, they found it had been stolen from police impoundment.

      Two days after that, the phone rang in Hutch's apartment during breakfast. They had both come to dread phone calls so much that neither of them moved.

      "Your turn," Starsky reminded him expressionlessly.

      Grimacing, Hutch left the table and picked up the phone. "Hello."

      "This is Dobey," the gruff voice answered. "Ready for some bad news?"

      Hutch had to laugh. "You kidding, Cap? We've cornered the market on that. It's all we ever get. Go ahead."

      "I've received an official warning from the Chief," Dobey said. "Apparently, I've been accused of favoritism. It's on my record."

      Hutch frowned. "About us, right?"

      "You got it," Dobey said.

      "I'm sorry, Captain—"

      "Don't be. Why the hell shouldn't I favor my two best detectives, the two men who turn out more work off duty than half the rest of them do on duty? But it just makes things harder, Hutch. The Chief's totally opposed to your return. His feelings about it are public record."

      "And now you're in the hot seat because you're on our side," Hutch said.

      "I'm on the side of what's right!" Dobey snapped. "And that's never gonna change. Not as long as I'm carrying this badge. We'll have to be discreet, though, Hutch. If someone sees me interacting with you two . . . ."

      "Or talking to us on the phone—?" Hutch said.

      "I'm at home making this call. I didn't feel comfortable making it from the station."

      "You know you can always get us information through Baylor or Meredith."

      "Or I can call Huggy Bear," Dobey said. "I just wanted to warn you about contacting me. It's obvious that I'm being watched, I just don't know how closely."

      "We're not going to be able to call you directly," Hutch realized.

      "Hutch, I'm worried about you two. And the precinct's like a divided nation, everyone taking sides. It used to be us—the police—against them—the bad guys. Now, the us against them is all contained within the police department."

      "Stay clear of it, Cap," Hutch said. "We need you to stay above it all. If we lose you, too—" He didn't want to think about that.

      "You boys be careful now," Dobey said. "Make sure you know who your friends are."

      "You, too, Cap," Hutch said.

      Starsky's expression said he already knew what this was about.

      "It's about time you called me," Cantrall said. "You've been hard to get a hold of lately."

      "I thought we were finished," the small voice on the other end of the phone said.

      Cantrall could hear the tremor in that voice. His eyes narrowed in pleasure. This is why he was willing to risk everything for Gunther. He was willing to do it for moments like this, when he was in total control. When his actions made things happen, made people react, made men tremble before him. Once he got Gunther out, it would be the two of them, side by side, rebuilding the dynasty. He wasn't weak like Bates had been. He wouldn't make the same mistakes. He was strong and that was what Gunther needed. They'd be invincible.

      "I . . . I thought you didn't need me anymore." Now the timid voice was whining. Fear did that to a man. Cantrall was sorry he wasn't in that room, to smell that fear, to see it for himself. He could get hard thinking about it.

      "I bought you," Cantrall reminded him, "with cold hard cash. I own you. I will never be finished with you. Years after this is over, when you think I have forgotten all about you, if there is something I need that you can provide, I'll reach out for you and you will answer."

      There was silence on the line, except for the sound of heavy breathing. Another fear reaction.

      "Are you alone?" Cantrall asked. He knew the answer, but wanted to hear it anyway.

      "You know I'm not." The voice cracked. "Was it necessary to do that? To . . . send them?"

      "I left you a message. You didn't answer it. You thought you could slip the leash. So I sent the big dogs after you. That's what happens when you don't answer my message." His voice dropped lower. "They didn't hurt you. They didn't do anything to you that you haven't done a million times before willingly. You just didn't get paid for it this time. But they did frighten you. That's what they got paid to do. You know . . . they would have happily done it for free. Think about that the next time you hesitate to answer my message."

      He could hear a restrained sob on the other end and it made him smile. "Okay. I'll answer. I promise. What—what do you want?"

      "Something complicated," Cantrall said. "Can you do something complicated?"

      There was a pause, then the sound of a short scuffle, then quiet weeping. "Yes. Yes, I can do it. Just please don't—"

      "Don't beg," Cantrall ordered. "It makes me think you can't handle the job."

      "I can! I swear it!" The man sounded nearly hysterical. That was good. It pleased him.

      "Okay," Cantrall said. "I need information. I need schedules. I need to know when they're coming and going. And I need you to tell us these things so we can accomplish our goal. You're still in favor of our goal, aren't you? You haven't lost your focus, have you?"

      "No! No, I haven't lost it."

      "You still want to destroy them, don't you?" Cantrall needed to hear him say it.

      The voice was steady now. "Yes. I want to destroy them. But . . . I'll need more money."

      Cantrall smiled. This was a man after his own heart. Honest in his greed. "Good. You'll have more money. Now, I'll tell you what we're going to do. You. Me. And our friends who are with you. Now that you all are so intimate with each other, you won't mind working with them, will you?"

      Hutch turned in the dark, startled awake, but he wasn't sure by what. He'd been sleeping fitfully, as though anticipating something that he couldn't articulate. It was playing havoc with his rest. He moved in the bed, trying to see Starsky on the couch, only to bump into him solidly. This startled him even more.

      He pulled himself up into a sitting position. Starsky was perched on the edge of his bed, sitting quietly, unmoving. "What's going on?" Hutch asked softly.

      At first Starsky only shook his head. But then after a moment he said, "Listen, Hutch, there's something I need to say to you."

      Hutch didn't think anything good could come from a conversation that started that way.

      "We've been through so much together," Starsky said. He wasn't really looking at Hutch, but looking outward. Hutch didn't move, afraid to disturb the moment. "You know, through all the years, all the cases, all the close calls, we've been up and down, you and me, but we've always been together. We even worked it out after Kira. And after Gunther, we were stronger than ever. There's never been two cops like you and me, Hutch. I don't think there ever will be again. If we can't be cops anymore, well, I think that's LA's loss, not ours. But that's not that important. That's not what I came to say."

      He turned on the bed and looked at Hutch, stared at him as though afraid he was going to disappear. "I . . . uh, I just needed to tell you—I'm sorry about all of this. I'm sorry I don't love you the right way, the way you need. It hurts me that I don't have that in me. 'Cause you've always given me exactly what I needed, and it hurts that I can't do this for you. But even though I can't, I wanted you to understand one thing. I love you more than anyone in my whole life. That's what's inside me, and that hasn't changed. Not one bit. Not from the day before all this shit went down to right this minute. I really love you. It might not be enough, but it's all I've got. I just wanted to be sure you understood that."

      Starsky started to leave, but Hutch put a hand on his shoulder. "I know you love me. But it's nice to hear it. What brought this on?"

      Starsky looked confused. "I just felt like I had to say that. Like I've got a bad premonition. Something's coming down. And I felt like I had to get that said."

      In case one of us doesn't make it, hung in the air like a pall.

      "Good night, Hutch," Starsky said casually. "We really need to get some sleep."

      "'Night, partner," Hutch said, a little dazed. He spent the rest of the night staring at the couch and trying to figure out what had just happened.

Endless juke joints and Valentino drag
Where dancers scraped the tears up off the street . . .
Some hurt bad some really dying
At night sometimes it seemed
You could hear the whole damn city crying
Blame it on the lies that killed us
Blame it on the truth that ran us down
You can blame it all on me
It don't matter to me now
            Backstreets—Bruce Springsteen