Disclaimer: This is a work of fiction written solely for the enjoyment of fellow fans. No infringement on anyone's copyright is intended. No profit is being made from this story. Dedication: Special thanks to Layla who encouraged me from the start to get this down on paper. Comments can be sent to the author at: firstname.lastname@example.org
"Checkmate!" Suzi was triumphant as she moved her Queen into pole position in front of Starsky's King.
"No way! I demand a re-play," Starsky's eyes twinkled, belying his mock serious expression.
"Aw, quit being a sore loser." Suzi playfully pushed her boyfriend off the couch where they'd been sitting.
Starsky lay on the floor, not moving a muscle, eyes firmly shut.
"I know you're playing dead." Her mouth pouted just slightly as she contemplated the dark curly-haired figure lying immobile at her feet. "Bet I can wake you up in one minute flat. Double or quits?"
Starsky half-opened an eye and grunted agreement. "You're on. Only no ice-cubes."
His eyes snapped shut. To the casual observer he looked out cold.
Suzi smiled wickedly to herself and quickly moved off the couch and sat astride his legs. With a practiced hand she deliberately unbuttoned Starsky's shirt and ran her hands tenderly over his chest. She let her fingers linger on the raised welts of the criss-cross pattern of scars prominent near the breastbone. She sighed, thinking as always how Starsky's body mirrored his character in its appealing mix of strength and vulnerability.
As she deftly moved her fingers lower towards the waistband of his jeans Starsky opened his eyes and threw up his hands in surrender. "Okay, okay, you win," he chuckled, well aware that at this particular moment he too felt like a winner. He pulled her fondly towards him, burrowing his face into the curls of her long hair. "Wanna go play somewhere more, uh, comfortable?"
Suzi smiled and in answer pulled him to his feet and led him off to the bedroom.
"You're looking sprightly today, partner," Hutch commented as he trailed behind Starsky who was taking the steps of the Precinct two at a time. "Did you see Suzi last night by any chance?"
Starsky turned to face his friend, a huge grin spreading across his face. "I cannot deny it, Occifer," he quipped, making Hutch laugh.
"Man," Starsky carried on, holding the door open for his partner. "They should make women like her free on Medicare. Bet 'ya a dime to a dollar the sickness figures would plummet!"
Hutch watched Starsky lead the way to the squadroom, banging through doors and tipping three fingers in mock salute to everyone they passed on route. He allowed himself a satisfied smile thinking how good it was to see the old Starsky swagger back in action.
"Well, you were due a break, buddy," Hutch observed under his breath as he entered the office, sat down and scooted his chair towards the coffee machine in one smooth action. The blond haired detective looked dubiously at the indistinguishable black liquid in the pot before shaking his head and pouring himself a cup anyway.
What his words masked and what both men were only too well aware of was the recent months of painful recuperation Starsky had undergone since the shooting in the police garage over a year ago.
Inwardly Hutch offered up a prayer, "If you're up there God, make this one last, eh?" He hadn't seen his best friend this happy with a woman since . . . well, for years.
Hutch's reverie was rudely interrupted by the not-so-dulcet tones of their superior officer Captain Dobey barking at them from the doorway of the adjoining office. "Hutchinson, Starsky, get yourselves in here!"
Starsky grinned and saluted, winking at Hutch as he practically launched himself through the doorway so fast that he beat Dobey to his chair which he then pulled out for him with a flourish.
After so many years working over them Dobey was used to this sort of play-acting from the dark-haired half of his star detective duo and merely rolled his eyes skywards in response. Starsky called out innocently, "What's keeping ya, partner? The Cap here's a busy man, ya know."
Hutch obediently trotted in, handing Starsky a cup of the sqaudroom special brew and taking a seat on the arm of his chair. Both men looked expectantly at Dobey who in his usual fashion started without preamble.
"Raduccio," Dobey's gruff voice fairly spat the word out. "Does the name mean anything to either of you?"
The two detectives glanced at each other, both dredging their minds to see if that name fit any of the usual suspects and lowlifes they'd encountered in their 10 years of working the streets together. Their eyes met briefly and Starsky answered for both of them.
"Nope, Cap. Should it?"
The captain cleared his throat before answering. He was 57, eligible for retirement as his wife kept reminding him and it was at times like this he wished he'd heeded her words earlier. He hated to think how the bombshell on his desk would go down with his best two detectives on the squad.
"Well, someone who signs himself in that name certainly seems to know a great deal about you two," he commented, pushing a large manila envelope over his desk where they could read it. It was addressed to "Detectives Hutchinson and Starsky" on a typed label.
Curious, Hutch reached to extract the contents and held them so they could both read at the same time. Silence filled the room for a couple of minutes, broken only by Hutch emitting a long low whistle.
"Jeez, Cap," Starsky finally spoke up. "This guy's got us made, chapter and verse."
"How'd anyone get so much detail on our families, too?" Hutch's tone was controlled but the other men in the room knew from experience that he was holding in a lot of anger when he spoke in that deliberately thoughtful way. "I mean, car license plates, home addresses, that's not so difficult to get hold of, but those details of your mom in New York, my folks in Duluth . . ." his voice tailed off leaving the implications of what he'd just said hanging heavy in the air.
"I don't like it any more than you do," Dobey responded gruffly. "The package came by regular mail and it's clean, so our only lead is the name Raduccio which is probably an alias."
His eyes flicked to the teetering pile of paperwork stacked on his desk, which Starsky and Hutch took to mean they were being dismissed so they got up to leave. Just as they reached the door Dobey added, "I've already been on the phone to our boys in New York and Minnesota about arranging some sort of protection program for your families if it comes to that. You boys need to consider how much you want to tell them."
Back at his desk Starsky downed the now cold cup of coffee he was still holding in one gulp. "What d'ya reckon?" He was searching his partner's face for any sign of hope. "Just a hoaxer, right?"
"Sure," Hutch replied without conviction. "Some clown's gone to a lot of trouble, researching names, dates, places, just to shake us up a little."
"S'possible, Hutch." Starsky's indigo blue eyes glowed brightly in his paler than normal face.
Hutch made a decision, simultaneously reaching for the phone with one hand and placing the other reassuringly on his friend's shoulder. "I'm gonna call Karen and put her in the picture. Even if this is just a sick stunt of some kind, she's got a kid, Starsk. She needs to know not to take any risks."
Starsky nodded, biting his lip. Taking his lead from his friend's cool efficiency he too reached for a phone, then faltered.
"Mmm?" Hutch enquired gently, pausing mid-dial.
"I can't do it," Starsky said emphatically. "Ma'll freak and she's got enough on her plate keeping an eye on that wayward brother of mine. What's the point in scaring an elderly lady half-to-death when I've got no real information?" He looked at Hutch pleadingly. "What d'ya say we get out of here and start tryin' to flush out this Raduccio creep?"
"Okay" Hutch agreed sharing his partner's need for action rather than words but resuming his call to his sister nonetheless. Meanwhile Starsky waited more or less patiently, slumped in his chair staring fixedly at the package Dobey had passed them. He seemed to be willing the innocent-looking manila envelope to yield up a clue as to why this sicko was on their tail.
"All units. All units in the vicinity of Huntley. We have a report of a 2/11 at a liquor-store on the corner of 5th and Huntley."
Another minor incident in a frustrating day. Hutch grabbed the radio receiver as Starsky gunned the Torino in a spin to face the direction of the suspected liquor-store hold-up.
"This is Zebra 3. We are responding to the 2/11 in Huntley. ETA..." Hutch glanced over at Starsky who, without taking his eyes off the road, muttered, "Three. S'only a few blocks away."
"ETA three minutes, Control. Over." Hutch hung up and slapped the Mars light on the roof, bracing himself for the ride.
As luck would have it, they arrived at the scene at the same time as a black-and-white, which had also been patrolling nearby. Equally luckily, this particular perp didn't seem interested in any heroics once he'd stared down the barrel of Hutch's gun and weighed up the odds. The gangling youth who looked to Hutch to be all of sixteen allowed himself to be disarmed and handcuffed without undue protest.
"Book him," Hutch said automatically as he handed over the youth to the uniforms to take back to the Precinct. Shaking his head in dismay again at the boy's youth, he headed back to the car to join Starsky who'd finished up with the witness reports and was already waiting.
Both hands resting on the steering wheel, Starsky was staring vacantly into the middle distance and didn't even look up as Hutch joined him in the car.
"Penny for 'em?" Hutch tried unsuccessfully for a light tone.
His partner sighed and shot him a sidelong look, "Hey, let's leave the paperwork on this till later and check into Huggy's. I could sure use a space to think."
"Don't ya mean a place to drink?" Hutch's unfunny pun failed to raise even a flicker from his brooding partner who simply revved the engine and pulled off in the direction of the Pits.
Huggy greeted them cheerily from behind the bar as they came in. "Well, well, well, two of Bay City's finest. To what, gentlemen, do I owe the pleasure of such an early morning visit?"
Hutch glanced at the clock on the wall in confusion. "Early morning, Huggy? It's just gone three o'clock."
"P.M." Starsky confirmed helpfully.
"Ah, that may well be here in the good old US of A," Huggy went on "But, mes amigos, I think you will find that over in Vladivostok, Russia it is still early morning and let's just say that last night I had a little rendezvous with the cutest comrade you could hope to encounter, so I'm still running on Russian time. If you get my drift."
Huggy treated them to an outrageous leer, but was surprised to get no response at all from Starsky who simply flopped dejectedly onto the nearest chair, whilst Hutch smiled weakly at him.
Weighing up the situation, Huggy decided that his two friends must be having a seriously bad day. As they didn't seem in too much of a hurry to leave, he gestured to their favorite table in the corner. "Pull up a chair over there and let the Bear impart some tender loving care!" With that he turned on his heel and shot off to the kitchen returning minutes later with a tray piled high with cokes, beers, and an impressive array of fancy French-looking pastries.
Placing his wares on their table to tempt them, Huggy was a little concerned to see that neither man seemed to have moved a muscle whilst he'd been away.
Pulling up a chair for himself, he simply said, "What gives, fellas?" and waited expectantly.
Although he didn't make a grab straight for them, Starsky's eyes registered the cakes hungrily. As he opened a bottle of coke, Hutch filled their friend in.
"We got an unwelcome parcel in the mail today, Hug. Some sleazeball's been detailing our movements, where we go, who we see, what shoe size we wear, and all sorts of personal stuff about our families. No specific threat but . . ."
"But, it's sure threatening my sanity," Starsky broke in, again eyeing the cakes. This time even his glum mood couldn't prevent him from snagging one to taste. His expression instantly changed and a smile played around his lips. "Hey, Hug, this is good. What happened? Did the old chef die of food poisoning or what?"
"Very witty, I'm sure. Actually no, but he is on holiday and I have enlisted the services of . . ." Here Huggy paused for dramatic effect ". . . Mademoiselle Michelle!" he finished with a flourish. "And trust me, gentlemen, Michelle is just bursting with interesting new ideas for this place. Some of which are even repeatable in public," he added, grinning widely at them.
"Well, this place could certainly use a little class," Starsky jested, slyly snagging two more cakes from the plate and cramming them in his mouth.
If the pastries had brightened up Starsky's mood, then the mention of a French lady working at the Pits seemed to have a similar effect on his partner who enquired a little too casually, "Is that French as in France, Huggy? Er, what time does her shift start?"
Starsky was never going to let that pass without comment. "Hug," he leaned over conspiratorially, "Did I ever tell you about the blond bombshell here and his fixation with all things, uh . . . " He searched for the word, pleased with himself as he remembered, "Oh, yeh, Gallic."
Hutch suddenly became interested in the label on his bottle of coke as a red tinge crept into his cheeks.
"Yeh," Starsky blundered on. "Ya see, it all began the night we went to see an art-house movie. What was it called, Hutch? 'Emmanuelle in Paris' wasn't it? You can't have forgotten, pal. Those foxy French chicks made quite an impression as I recall."
Even Hutch was grinning at the memory now.
"Tell you what," Huggy said evenly, "Michelle's on around eight, so if you like I'll put in a good word for the strong silent Nordic type for you."
Starsky's mood abruptly changed again and he looked Hutch meaningfully in the eyes. "You know, if we don't pick up this freak soon, then ain't no one gonna want to take up with either of us any more."
The two drained their cokes and Starsky made to take one last pastry, but was prevented by his partner slapping his hand for him.
They left, Starsky muttering, "Okay, Mom, you're right I had enough already!" At the door, Hutch called over his shoulder, "Hey, Huggy, keep your ear to the ground for any news on this Raduccio creep, won't 'ya?"
"Sure thing bro'," Huggy smiled reassuringly at them, feeling contented that at least his friends had more of a spring in their step now than when they'd come in. He sighed as he cleared the table, wondering which of the many shady characters Starsky and Hutch had busted in the past might have it in for them this time.
Over at the Fifth Precinct, Lieutenant Caffrey, a man who'd spent his whole career digging around in the stuff of other men's' lives, put the finishing touches to another package. This was dynamite, he thought, proud of his research. That vacation out East a couple of weeks before had certainly been put to good use. Caffrey had been in Internal Affairs for more than 15 years and over the past couple of years had grown more and more irritated by the antics of two off-beat cops. Like everyone else in his department he knew their captain was soft on them because he believed their sometimes unorthodox methods delivered the goods. Caffrey, however, did not agree, preferring to see their antics as an insult to the badges they somehow managed to hang onto. A stickler for doing it by the book, the more intense and vengeful side of Caffrey's character had largely been kept in check by his partner, Krajeck, a man of few words who nonetheless had managed to exercise a little restraint on Caffrey if he thought he was going too far. Now, however, in the dark days since Krajeck's suicide, Caffrey had been getting more and more broody and unhinged. He'd recently managed to convince himself that Starsky and Hutch's continual lack of respect for his office and what he saw as their insubordination had somehow driven his partner to hang himself.
A smile played around his lips as he stuck the typed label neatly onto the envelope:
To Detective Sergeant David Starsky
2000 Ridgeway Ave
The next morning Hutch heard the familiar squeal of tires pulling in to the curb below his apartment as he emerged from the shower-room, still toweling his hair. It's a little early for you, buddy, he thought, tensing as he heard his partner's urgent tread on the stairs. He had a bad feeling about this.
Hutch turned to see Starsky, face full of thunder, charge straight into the room flinging a manila envelope onto the coffee table as he passed.
He was standing right next to Hutch now. "Take a look at what that son of a bitch mailed to me special d.," he snarled by way of greeting.
Concerned, Hutch said nothing but let out a sharp intake of breath when he saw what was inside: photos. Six of them, all showing Starsky mother, probably taken with a long range lens, all on different days judging by Rachel's variety of clothing. She'd been captured going about her daily business, coming out of the hairdressers in one shot, getting into a cab carrying groceries in another. Innocent enough snaps in another context, but the implication here was clear: I'm watching her.
He glanced over at his partner who was pacing the floor, wild-eyed. Then he stopped, sank suddenly onto the couch and rubbed tiredly at his eyes.
"What the hell does this creep want outta me, huh?" Starsky's gaze fixed Hutch, the pain of the threat to his mother clearly etched on his face.
Hutch dropped onto the couch next to his friend and laid a comforting hand on his shoulder. Trying to think like a cop, which wasn't easy in this situation, his mind was racing.
"Did Dobey say the last package came by mail?" he questioned.
"Huh? Yeh." Starsky thought about that. "Same as this one, Bay City postmark, plain manila envelope. Zilch in the way of prints, natch," he added bitterly.
Hutch sighed. Something was niggling at him and he desperately wanted to be able to offer Starsky some crumb of comfort, some clue that would at least give them a lead on this. His mind drew a blank though, so he decided to go to the kitchen to make coffee for them both. He paused with his hand on the kettle. Recalling Starsky's wild-eyed pacing of a few minutes ago, Hutch decided against coffee right now. Instead, he simply picked up his holster, put on his jacket and made for the front door, trusting that Starsky would follow. Which he did, angrily pocketing the hated package on the way.
Before starting the engine Starsky sat for a moment, shoulders slumped, his head practically resting on the steering wheel, a picture of utter dejection. Hutch waited patiently knowing there were no easy platitudes he could offer to make the fear and worry go away.
Finally Starsky pulled himself together enough to turn the key in the ignition. They drove to work more or less in silence.
It was another frustrating shift for the two detectives, turning over no leads on the case weighing heaviest on their minds. Same as the day before, they functioned more or less on autopilot, dealing with the usual run of petty robberies, assaults and drug-pushers whilst following up the not-so-willing snitches who frequented their beat.
By 8 o'clock that night, as the Torino once again pulled up outside Venice Place, both men looked in need of a good night's sleep. They both knew, however, that they would be unlikely to get it.
Starsky cut the engine and gave his friend a meaningful look, "How long Hutch? This business is gonna shoot my nerves to pieces if we just have to wait around for the mystery mailman to deliver more dirt."
Hutch ran both hands through his hair, nodding agreement.
"Ya know, if that sicko means to mess with my mind," Starsky went on, "then he's certainly hit paydirt. I mean, today it was all I could do to go through the motions out there."
"Same here, buddy."
"I mean to say," Starsky was struggling to put his thoughts into words, "fear is a healthy thing in our game. If you and me didn't feel that buzz every now and again we'd never be able to watch each other's backs like we do but . . . " He tailed off miserably.
Hutch finished his thought for him. "But this time the fear's got nowhere to go?" he offered.
"Yeh, that's right. It's like I'm running down some punk in an alley one minute but my mind suddenly jumps to Ma back home. It ain't no good, Hutch." He paused. "If this goes on much longer, one of us is gonna take our eye off the ball and . . . "
"That's it, Starsk! I reckon that's what this is all about."
For the first time all day, Starsky's spirits lifted slightly as he sensed that his partner was on to something. "What's 'it'?" he questioned hopefully.
"Well, it's not a lot to go on but this guy seems to know how it feels to be a cop on the beat, relying on your partner to be sharp enough to look out for you. I think the threats really seem meant to distract us from doing just that."
Starsky raised a quizzical eyebrow at him, "An inside job you mean?"
"Why not?" said Hutch. "After all, the Police Department uses those manila envelopes and the postmark was Bay City."
"Aw, Hutch, those things must be standard issue in offices right across town."
"Sure. But it's the mind games he's pulling that have really convinced me. Anyway," he added quickly seeing Starsky's doubtful expression, "wouldn't a cop find it relatively easy to track down all that information on us?"
"Okay, Hutch, I'll buy it." Starsky took a deep breath. "Trouble is, that means we've only narrowed it down to the hundred or so of our fellow police officers we've managed to seriously piss off at some point in the last 10 years!"
Hutch couldn't help but grin at that. "You said it, partner."
They said goodnight and Starsky drove off, content that Hutch would spend a long night mulling over his theory and maybe come up with something they could use tomorrow.
He, however, had another matter pressing on his mind, which he had to deal with tonight.
Starsky parked up outside the Blue Note Jazz Club a little after 9:30. He'd arranged to meet Suzi here because it wasn't one of his usual haunts. In fact, he only been here once before a few years back when he and Hutch had been trying to impress a couple of music students they'd hooked up with. He smiled as he recalled that night. Jeez, watching his left-footed friend try and groove to freeform jazz was quite something. No wonder the ladies hadn't hung around!
Still smiling at the memory, he went down the steps and entered the dingy bar.
"You look happy for a marked man," a familiar voice came from a table in the corner farthest away from the band.
Starsky walked over to her, his eyes slowly adjusting to the gloom. He sat close by and gave her a warm hug and kiss in greeting.
"Bought you a beer." Suzi proffered the drink which Starsky took gratefully, drinking with relish.
He put the bottle down and looked her in the eyes. "Missed ya," he said simply.
"Same here," she replied taking his hand. "Dave, what's with all this cloak and dagger stuff anyway? Arriving separately, warning me we can't go home together?"
"I'm real sorry about that, babe," Starsky said truthfully, thinking how he'd like nothing better right now that to leave this crappy joint and take Suzi back to his place for the night.
He ran a hand though his hair and decided to come straight out with it.
"The thing is, some slime bucket's been watching mine and Hutch's movements and it's clear he ain't planning to start no fan-club."
Suzi smiled at his turn of phrase. "Okay, so one of the weirdo's you come across in your line of work's got it in for you. Dave, you're a cop. Don't these kind of threats happen all the time?"
"Well, sometimes," he conceded, "But this just feels serious. It's making us both real jumpy."
"I still don't see why you're worried about me?"
A shadow passed over Starsky's face as he pulled her close again and gently stroked her cheek. "Aw, babe," he said softly. "Didn't I tell ya what went down with Terry?"
Suzi returned his gaze steadily. "Sure you did, but that was another time, another place. Dave, you have to believe history's not about to repeat itself."
Starsky sat back in his chair, watching her fondly and wishing he could share her confidence. He took another long gulp of his beer.
"Anyhow," Suzi went on, trying to reassure him, "as a college guidance counsellor, you must know I've had a few dealings with these stalker types. In my experience, the ones who write threatening letters are rarely the ones who act out their fantasies. He hasn't made any direct threats, has he?"
"No," Starsky admitted. "But he's been tailing Ma back home, he's listed peoples' phone numbers and addresses. He's watching my family and . . . "
"And?" persisted Suzi.
"Look, he's already targeting my family, I don't wanna give him any excuses to pick on my, uh, friends too," he finished somewhat lamely.
Suzi's eyes glittered and a slight pout showed on her lips.
Uh-oh, thought Starsky warily, reading the danger signs on her face. "What is it? Whadda' I say?"
"David Starsky, haven't I known you long enough to have progressed from 'friend' yet?" Her tone was scolding, but her dancing eyes gave her away.
Women! Starsky thought, mentally rolling his eyes. Wisely, however, he said nothing in his defense, instead giving her the only reply that would do, pulling her close again and kissing her full on the mouth.
Reluctantly he pulled away, fearing his resolve to go home alone wasn't going to last much longer.
"Okay, okay, I get the message. You're pissed that you haven't been transferred from the Friends to the Family list, but believe me I am truly grateful that this geek hasn't threatened your pretty face too. I don't think I could stand that." He cleared his throat and looked pleadingly into her green eyes. "Suze, just stay away and give Hutch and me a few days to reel this sucker in, okay?"
He hadn't stopped caressing her face all the while and Suzi hadn't let go of his other hand.
She decided to let him off the hook. Grinning, she planted a kiss firmly on his cheek. "Okay, babe, but don't you and that handsome partner of yours take too long about it. You know I've never been too convinced by that whole 'Absence makes the heart grow fonder' line."
Starsky smiled too, and burrowed his face in her long silky hair, feeling the tension of the last couple of days seep away as he tried to capture the sense of her, the smell of her, so he'd have something to take home to his lonely bed that night.
Caffrey's plans were progressing nicely. Now he just needed a way to get the two cops together, unarmed, so he could finish them off. To that end, he'd decided to make use of another police officer at the Precinct, someone he knew Starsky and Hutch trusted and would never suspect.
Around 8:30 the following evening, Starsky and Hutch were winding up their shift with a pile of paperwork, both men itching to clock off so they could spend some time going over the list of possible suspects they'd dredged up.
"No more mystery packages today," Hutch commented as he worked on their final report of the day.
"Yeh, but is that a good or a bad sign, pal?" Starsky's words were all but unintelligible through the mouthful of Chicken Chow Mein take-out he was devouring.
"Must you eat that stuff so near to me?" Hutch grumbled, irritated that his partner had spent the last five minutes stuffing his face whilst peering at the report over Hutch's shoulder and adding 'helpful' comments which meant he had had to keep re-writing the damn thing. Finishing up, Hutch pulled the final sheet of their report on yesterday's liquor-store hold-up out of the typewriter and flung it into the basket with the others. "That should keep Dobey off our backs for about a morning," he commented dryly.
Starsky was about to respond when the phone rang. "Detective Starsky. Oh, hi Minnie!" He listened for a minute, his dark brows furrowing. "Uh huh, okay, we're coming right over." Replacing the receiver, he shot Hutch a furious look. "You had to speak too soon, didn't ya? Minnie's got something for us. Come on."
Puzzled, Hutch tried to keep up as Starsky raced off to Records where Minnie Kaplin worked. Neither man noticed Lieutenant Caffrey who was waiting in the corridor for them to leave. Surreptitiously he went into the now empty squad room. He had something important to do.
Minnie's blue eyes showed her concern as she looked up at the two of them. "Hey guys. I wouldn't have opened it but I came back from out front and it was just lying in my in-tray. I guess I didn't read the label."
Hutch's heart sank as she handed them another manila envelope, this time addressed to 'Detectives Hutchinson and Starsky'. "That's okay, Min," he reassured her, glancing at his partner with concern. "Tell me the worst," he said seeing Starsky peek inside the package.
But this time Starsky's face showed resignation rather than anger as he looked up. "Guess we both know who the creep's referring to with this," he said taking out a small toy teddy. It had dark brown fur and was the kind with extra long arms wrapped around its body, cuddling itself.
"Dammit!" Hutch grimaced. "I guess friends are making it onto the hit list now."
"Er? Does this mean something to you two?" Minnie asked uncertainly, her head turning from one man to another and wondering if she was somehow the victim of a practical joke.
"Sure does," Starsky said sourly. "It's a not so-coded message from some clown whose jokes ain't a bit funny."
Hutch smiled at Minnie whose face clearly showed the bafflement she felt at the scene in her office. "Don't worry about it. There's nothing you can do to help." That said, he turned on his heel, giving her waist a friendly squeeze as he passed.
Starsky followed him, carrying the small bear. At the door he turned and flashed a grin at the bewildered woman. "See ya round, sweetheart!" he said blowing her a kiss as he closed the door behind him with his foot.
Minnie smiled, shaking her head. What was it about those two? Didn't it seem that Trouble with a capital 'T' always came looking for them?
Whilst this little diversion was going on as planned, Caffrey had managed to slip in and out of the squad room unseen. He smiled as he returned to his own desk, satisfied that he'd successfully laid the trap. He'd finish those two off tonight for sure.
Starsky had gone home to take a shower and change before picking up Hutch to drive them both to Huggy's. They knew they had to warn him about the latest threat and in any case wanted some more time together to talk things over.
Not that there's much to say, Starsky thought gloomily as he dressed. He was dismayed at the lack of progress they were making and didn't want to let onto Hutch how frightened he was that the creep was somehow gonna get to Suzi.
Fifteen minutes later, Starsky was on the road, wondering why was he breaking out into a sweat. Just what I need now, he thought bitterly, to come down with something. His head was starting to pound and he knew he'd have to ask Hutch for some painkillers. He hated doing that 'cos since the shooting Hutch always clucked like a mother hen whenever Starsky felt ill. Guess he'll keep me on orange juice all night now. Terrific!
What Starsky had no way of knowing was that Caffrey had managed to slip a poison into the uneaten part of his Chinese take-out lying on the desk earlier in the evening. He'd guessed correctly that Starsky wouldn't be able to resist finishing off the MSG-loaded treat before leaving work.
By the time he pulled up at Venice Place, Starsky's vision was cloudy and his legs trembled as he took the stairs. His breathing was coming fast and hard so that he just about managed to get through the door without passing out.
"Hutch, I don't feel so good," was all he managed as he crashed to the floor in the middle of the living room.
Hutch raced out of the bedroom where he'd been changing his shirt. He knelt down, frantically feeling for his friend's pulse, his back to the front door, which was wide open.
'Click.' He looked round fearfully as he heard the unmistakable sound of the safety catch on a revolver. And found himself staring straight at his assailant who had the gun trained on his partner's prone body.
"Don't move a muscle, Hutchinson," he snarled, "or your pal there may never come round."
"Wh...what did you give him?" stammered Hutch, his heart sinking as he felt a pair of cuffs lock onto one wrist.
"Oh, you don't need to worry yourself about that," Caffrey said in a mock caring voice. "Let's just say Detective Starsky'll wake up in time to get a little surprise in about half an hour." He paused to let the next piece of information sink in. "When I come back to torch this place."
Caffrey had managed to lock the two men together using two sets of handcuffs so that Hutch couldn't now see his partner, which was adding to his concern. Trying to play for time, he asked, "Do we even know you?"
Caffrey would not be drawn. He carried on executing what was obviously a well thought-out plan, producing a leather belt to tie Hutch's legs together before taking Hutch's gun from where it was hanging in its holster and picking up his keys from the table. Before leaving, he also pocketed Starsky's gun, badge, and the keys to the Torino.
"Don't go away!" was his parting shot as the door closed with a bang.
Hutch was trying to check on Starsky, which wasn't easy as they were more or less slumped back to back on the floor. "Hey? Wake up, buddy!" he encouraged. "I really could do with some help here."
Hutch wasn't happy that he couldn't see how his partner was doing. He could hear and feel shallow breathing but without seeing his pupils he had no way of knowing how badly Starsky was reacting to the stuff he'd been slipped.
Dammit! I knew it was an inside job, he thought, realizing that they'd been in the squadroom most of the night. Had someone tampered with his partner's food or drink? Hutch also vaguely recognized the man who'd come here, but couldn't quite place him.
He shook his head. Come on, Hutchinson, he berated himself, this was just wasting time. The creep was coming back. And soon. Realizing he needed to save his energy for more immediate matters, Hutch tried to get to his feet, hampered both by the fact that his legs were tied together and that he was carrying the dead weight of his partner at his back.
Dead weight. The sheer unpleasantness of that thought spurred him into the extra effort needed to inch them both along the floor. Muttering to the comatose Starsky all the time, Hutch painfully made his way to the door of the shower-room. Thankful that his apartment was too small for a hot tub, he managed to maneuver the two of them under the shower head.
It took some minutes of trying but Hutch eventually managed to flick the 'on' switch using his head. He leaned out of the line of fire as much as he could, leaving Starsky to feel the full blast of the thankfully icy water.
Ten, nine, eight, seven . . . Hutch did a mental countdown, hoping against hope for some reaction. Four, three . . .
"Wha' the? Wha'? Will ya quit drowning me, you dummy?" Hutch's efforts were rewarded as Starsky spluttered noisily into consciousness.
As quickly as he could, Hutch hit the switch to 'off' and craned his neck as far round as it would go to survey his handiwork.
"Tell me this is a dream," Starsky grumbled, reacting to the strange situation with disbelief.
Hutch allowed himself a smile. Besides, his friend did look funny sitting there dripping all over the carpet. "Sorry, buddy. Desperate times call for desperate measures."
"My head's killing me," Starsky complained, shaking the water out of his eyes, curious now as to why he and his best friend were handcuffed together in Hutch's shower-room. "Would ya mind filling me in? Only don't talk too loud 'cos I seem to have a small army doing drill practice inside my skull."
Hutch relayed the events of the last half-hour as best he could. When he got to the part about their assailant returning to torch the place Starsky's already pale face turned a shade whiter. "We need a plan, Hutch," Starsky stated the obvious, hoping that Hutch's head was working better than his own at the moment.
The two men tried getting up. It wasn't easy coordinating a kind of crab walk when Starsky was so shaky on his feet and Hutch's legs were still tied together. Having established that the phone line had been cut and the front door was locked, the two men collapsed back onto the floor of the living room again.
"What now?" Starsky asked, his exhaustion apparent in his voice. Hutch could feel his partner's heart racing and hear him gasping for breath. Worrying that he really ought to get him checked out by a doctor a.s.a.p. gave Hutch an idea.
"Look, the creep doesn't know you're awake yet. Maybe we can surprise him somehow."
"It's gotta be worth a shot," agreed Starsky wearily, keeping to himself the thought that if the sicko really did plan to set fire to the place, then he rather wished that Hutch hadn't woken him up to see it.
Caffrey was pleased with how smoothly his plan was going. Now for the final part, he thought, cruising the streets between Suzi's apartment and the University campus where she worked. He'd studied her habits enough to know the route she'd be taking. Sure enough, his luck held and he spotted her. Smiling with satisfaction he pulled the familiar red and white car alongside, glad to see she was alone.
Suzi smiled to herself as she saw Starsky's car pull up. Couldn't keep away from me after all, she thought smugly, not noticing until after the door was open that it wasn't her boyfriend in the driving seat.
"Who are you?" she demanded, looking around for an escape route.
"Get in the car," replied Caffrey in an even voice.
"Uh, no thanks. My mom told me never to get into cars with strangers."
"Look, chick, if you ever want to see that boyfriend of yours alive again, you'll get in." Caffrey gestured to the gun lying in his lap and flipped open Starsky's police badge to show her.
Fearing the worst, Suzi got into the car without protest. She was scared by the sight of the badge, knowing something bad must have happened to Starsky. They drove in silence as Suzi berated herself for dismissing David's worries last night. What was it she'd said? The kind that send letters don't actually carry out threats. You need to retake psyche-classes girl, she thought, disgusted with herself.
Traffic was pretty light at this time of night and Suzi was so preoccupied by her fears that she was surprised when they parked up outside Hutch's apartment. Did this mean Hutch was cornered too?
Obediently, Suzi led the way up the stairs of Venice Place, extremely conscious of the gun barrel pressed into her back. It was eerily silent inside and she paused on the top step as long as she dared, trying to brace herself for what might greet her inside. Caffrey unlocked the door and prodded her to go in.
Suzi gasped when she saw Starsky and Hutch sitting in a tangled heap on the floor in front of her. Starsky lay slumped motionless against Hutch who looked like he'd been crying.
Ignoring Suzi, Hutch's eyes flashed angrily as he spit out the terrible news to Caffrey. "You've killed him, you moron. I thought you said you'd only put him out for a while."
This piece of information momentarily threw Caffrey as so far his plan had been going like clockwork. Did this mean he'd got the girl involved for nothing?
His eyes flicked to the dark-haired man lying on the floor and he made a movement with his foot as if he was going to kick him to see if it really was true that he was dead.
It all happened in an instant. Suzi just caught Hutch mouthing the word 'Now' in Starsky's ear before all hell let loose. The 'dead man' started bellowing like a madman and flailing his legs around to throw Caffrey off-balance. He dropped his gun as he fell and Hutch managed to kick it out of his reach, yelling at Suzi to, "Hit him with something hard!" Grabbing the nearest heavy object in sight, a large lamp on the coffee table, she managed to land Caffrey a resounding blow on the head.
Nobody said anything for a moment as all three of them stared at Caffrey, making sure he really was out.
Finally Hutch broke the silence. "Great work, Suzi!" he said delightedly, attempting to get to his feet.
Unfortunately, Starsky didn't get in synch and Hutch found himself pulled back in an ungainly heap on the floor.
Starsky seemed to be sulking about something as he looked Suzi steadily in the eyes. "You didn't seem too concerned when you heard I was dead," he grumbled.
Suzi contemplated the two men sitting together uncomfortably on the floor. For a moment Hutch thought she was going to get angry, but then she seemed to relent.
"Well, as soon as I saw both of you together I figured Hutch here would have worked out some plan or other." Her green eyes fixed Starsky in her gaze waiting for some reaction.
Hutch tried to break the tension. "Smart girl," he said admiringly.
"Not that smart, Hutch," Starsky's tone was still sour. "She's only gone and smashed that antique lamp I got ya for your birthday."
Suzi stood for a moment, her mouth open in indignation. Her eyes flashed dangerously as she spoke slowly and deliberately, "David, if that darn lamp means so much to you, I tell you what, why don't I go to the Late Night Mall and see if I can get a replacement?"
With that she turned on her heel and marched out, pausing at the doorway long enough to throw him a parting shot. "Oh, and don't you dare move until I get back!" She blew him a kiss and slammed the door smartly behind her.
The silence was unbearable for about 30 seconds until Hutch exploded, "Oh way to go, Starsky. Don't you know better than to pick a fight with a lady when you've got both hands tied behind your back?"
"Hey", Starsky's tone was plaintive, "She's only kidding, Hutch. She loves me. You wait, she'll be back. I know she will. Any minute...won't she?"
Starsky and Suzi were sitting at a table in Huggy's bar, holding hands and enjoying a private joke when the man himself strolled over.
"Hello you young lovebirds," he trilled, pleased to see them looking well and happy.
"Curly, I see you haven't lost your appetite for French cakes," he commented dryly, surveying the empty plate which only a few minutes ago had been piled high.
"Yeh, well Hug. Suzi here prefers a man with meat on his bones and anyhow I've gotta get my share of the goodies before Hutch gets here and stops me."
"Looks like you made it just in time, then Starsky boy, 'cos here comes Blondie himself," Huggy announced Hutch's arrival.
Joining them at their table, Hutch looked around eagerly.
"So, Huggy. It's eight o'clock. When am I gonna get to meet your Mademoiselle Michelle?" he smiled expectantly.
"I reckon right about now," grinned Huggy, winking at Starsky as he waved over the Chef who'd just come through the double doors from the kitchen.
"Hey, Michelle my Man, you have a fan!" called Huggy cheerfully, indicating the stricken Hutch whose mouth had dropped open at the sight of 'Michelle' the Cross-dressing Chef, got up in an outrageously short skirt, and dinky apron which did nothing to conceal his muscular 6 foot frame. Stricken, Hutch was desperately trying to sink into his seat and somehow make himself invisible.
Starsky was more welcoming. "Hey, sit down," he motioned to the Drag Queen in chef's clothing who was approaching their table, his leg-hairs clearly bristling through the stockings which almost reached to his thighs. "My partner here's been dying to meet you!"
"Well, well, Sweetie," drawled Michelle in a terrible cod French accent, cupping one strong, red-taloned hand approvingly under Hutch's chin to admire him better. "This must be the Nordic God who comes so highly recommended. I can see that for once Huggy wasn't exaggerating his charms!"
Suzi and Starsky were choking back their giggles at the sight of Hutch turning a deep red unsuccessfully trying to place as much distance as possible between himself and 'Michelle'.
"Never mind, Blintz," said Starsky in a stage whisper into Hutch's ear. "It ain't all bad. At least he knows how to cook!"