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He'd adjust. Sam tried to convince himself, but his eyes stayed glued on the divider, and he shuddered. He didn't want to admit how much he meant to Al, because then he would have to face what he was doing to his best friend, and he couldn't do that. Not now, at any rate. Not when he needed him so much. Not when he couldn't do a damn thing about it.
Sam heard the imaging chamber door open and close, and he twisted quickly around, looking for his partner--and spilled his tea in his lap.
"Damnit," Sam said forcefully, climbing out of the chair to go look for a towel. "Look at what you made me do!"
"It's good to see you too, pal," Al said sardonically, watching as Sam mopped up the tea.
"What're you doing here so late, anyway?" Sam asked, trying to pull himself together. He spoke in low tones, although he didn't expect Hutch to wake up.
"Well, I thought you'd be interested in what we found out." Al walked toward Sam, puffing on his cigar.
"About what?" Sam asked, still feeling out of it.
Al rolled his eyes. "About the body," he reminded Sam.
"Yeah? What?" Sam looked at Al intently.
"We got ourselves a match. Looks like your hunch was correct."
Sam blew out a breath. "It was Starsky then?"
"Yeah," Al nodded. "Meaning that he didn't get blown up in that explosion, but he died sometime afterward."
Sam began to pace, deeply disturbed. "Why would he want to fake his own death?" He asked Al. Unspoken he wondered How could he have put Hutch through that?
"Whoa," Al said. "Slow down there Sherlock. What makes you think that Starsky was responsible?"
"Well, who else, Al?" Sam asked his friend reasonably. "Why would anyone else want to make it look like Starsky died? On the other hand, all sorts of people have tried to fake their own deaths to get out of whatever trouble they're in. Maybe he got into something he couldn't get out of any other way."
"And killed two people when the explosion went off," Al reminded him. "Does that sound like Starsky to you?"
"I don't know Starsky," Sam replied swiftly. "And maybe something went wrong."
"Then who killed Starsky?"
"I don't know." Sam stopped pacing, and pointed at Al. "You said it yourself--at the asylum. Maybe Hutch killed him. Maybe he called Hutch and told him to meet him at the asylum and they got into an argument and Hutch killed him and then killed himself."
"He was beaten, too," Al pointed out. "You saying that Hutch beat him up, first?"
"I don't know!" Sam exclaimed, resuming his pacing. "I don't have all the answers. There must have been other people involved to pull this off anyway." He met Al's skeptical look. "Do you have any better explanations?"
Al shrugged. "I don't have any explanations. I just think you're leaping to conclusions before you know enough about it. Maybe somebody wanted revenge on them and came up with this little scenario."
"Why would anyone fake a death and then kill them both?" Sam shook his head. "Just to torment Hutch? I don't buy it."
"Well I don't buy that Starsky would do that to his partner," Al said quietly.
Sam met Al's eyes, and paused. "Well, this is kind of unusual," he said finally. "Aren't you usually the cynical one? Aren't you the one telling me that life is filled with betrayals?"
"Yeah, I am," Al agreed. "But this time I don't think that's what happened."
Al hesitated, turning a little away from Sam. "I...look, just call it faith."
"Faith?" Sam repeated.
"Yeah. Hey, you're the guy that keeps saying what a good guy Hutch is," Al pointed out, almost belligerently.
"Yes, but you're the one who doubts him!" Sam exclaimed, not understanding.
Al sighed. "It's not the friendship that I'm doubting," he said. "I never questioned that." Al's eyes met Sam's and held. "It's a hunch, okay?"
Sam gazed at his partner, his head tilted, a smile slowly growing in his eyes. "Well," he acknowledged softly, "I'd trust your instincts any day, too. So I'll look into other possibilities."
An answering smile lit Al's eyes. "Thanks, Sam." He nodded toward the bedroom area. "How's he doing?"
Sam shrugged. "He's sleeping it off. He's going to be a bear to be around tomorrow."
The smile turned into a gleam. "It'll seem like old times," Al promised.
Sam groaned and threw one of the couch pillows at (and through) the hologram. "In that case," he said, "you'd better get out of here so I can get whatever sleep I can get."
"All right. Good night Sam," Al said, poking at the handlink to open the imaging chamber door.
"Night Al." Sam watched his friend disappear, his smile slowly fading and turning a little grim. Al was his best friend in the whole world, and he owed him so much that could never be repaid. He felt humbled by all Al had given him, and ashamed to have given so little in return. The prospect of leaping without Al's support scared Sam to his soul--but Al's welfare was more important than anything else. Even if Al didn't agree. He didn't know how he would do it, but Sam vowed he would find a way out for Al--find a way to protect Al from himself. Al was his responsibility; that was the privilege of friendship.
Still thoughtful, but more at peace after coming to that resolve, Sam
cleaned up the remains of the tea, then found some blankets to throw over
the couch. He settled down, afraid that he wouldn't be able to sleep, but
he was out almost before his head hit the pillows.
Part III: Day Three
Sam woke suddenly, startled by some noise. He peered blearily at his watch and thought it said 5:00. Then he heard Hutch cry out, and he dived off the couch and stumbled to the bed, banging his ankle on the coffee table in his haste. On the bed Hutch was thrashing about, mumbling words, obviously caught up in a dream.
"No!" Hutch cried clearly, and he started up, flailing.
"Hutch," Sam grabbed him by the shoulders and shook him a little. "Hutch, wake up!"
Hutch's eyes snapped open, and he looked dazedly at Sam, then raised a shaking hand to his head. "What?" he whispered.
"It's okay," Sam soothed. "You were just having a nightmare, I think."
Hutch stared at him, comprehension gradually replacing the confusion. He fell back on the pillow, his eyes closing. "No," he said, almost too softly for Sam to hear. "I'm still living it." After a moment he opened his eyes, and regarded Sam. "Is there a reason why you're here?"
Sam explained, "You needed a little help getting home last night."
"Oh," Hutch said. "I see. Sorry about that."
"How are you feeling?" Sam asked, shrugging off the apology.
"Like my head's in a vise; but otherwise okay," Hutch answered. "Is there any coffee around?"
"Yeah, out in the kitchen. Shall I bring you some?"
"No, I'll come out. Just...give me a few minutes to get vertical."
Some time later, the two men sat at Hutch's kitchen table, sharing a cup of coffee. The sun was up and shining through the kitchen window. Hutch, after a quick squint, sat with his back to the window.
"Remind me not to do that again," Hutch said, holding his head.
"What? Look at the sun?"
"No. Drown my sorrows at Huggy's." Hutch gave Sam the ghost of a rueful smile. He seemed more relaxed this morning in Sam's company.
Sam smiled, sipped his coffee, and wondered if this was his chance to ask Hutch about Starsky. He wanted Hutch's perspective, but he was wary of losing the little trust he had gained in the past two days. Finally Sam put fate to the test and said quietly: "Tell me about your partner."
Hutch grew still, and Sam held his breath. Like a diamond cutter he had made his first cut --and he waited to see if it would open up riches or crumble to dust. "Why do you want to know?" Hutch asked in a low voice.
Sam chose his words carefully. "Because you're hurting," he said. "There are a lot of people who are concerned about you. And sometimes it really does help to talk. Even to a stranger--perhaps most easily to a stranger."
Hutch regarded Sam for a moment, then looked away, and Sam braced himself for a retreat to arctic coldness, but then Hutch spoke again, his eyes still averted. "He was the best friend I ever had," he said, and swallowed. "Those words seem so inadequate to describe it. He was my partner and...I loved him." He fell silent.
"Not all partners are so close," Sam ventured.
"No," Hutch agreed. "We were. It got so we didn't even need to talk to know what the other was thinking." He stared into the distance, a look of sorrow and longing in his eyes. "'Me and thee,'" he murmured to himself, as if quoting.
Sam hesitated, then asked softly: "How'd you meet?"
Hutch's eyes refocused and he drew in a breath. "We met at the Academy, but we didn't really know each other until Captain Dobey put us on a case." The glimmer of a smile tugged at his mouth. "I think he thought we'd either kill each other or wind up a team. And considering the difficulties he'd been having with us individually, I don't think he cared much which way it went."
"And you ended up a team."
"Mmhmm," Hutch nodded, "After awhile."
Sam looked at him questioningly, "Not right away?"
"No," Hutch said, and the smile blossomed to a grin at some private thought. "I think you could safely say we didn't get along right away."
"What happened?" Sam asked, curious. "What changed it?"
Hutch was gazing into the past, his smile turning reminiscent. "Our differences ended up being a bonus. We complemented each other." He transferred his gaze to his cup. "And we felt the same on the important stuff." He fell silent again, contemplating his coffee. Sam held still; sometimes waiting was the best encouragement.
Hutch shook his head, almost in amazement. "He was so different from me. He'd eat the most God-awful food, thinking it gourmet cuisine. He prided himself on that souped up Torino. Drove me crazy with his enthusiasms and his bizarre sense of humor. He was by turns wise and silly, cynical and naive. Sometimes he could be a real jerk; others...a better friend than I ever believed possible." Hutch closed his eyes for a moment. "Yet for all his wise-cracking and that tough exterior, he never could separate his heart from the job. He was a very good cop." Sam, watching Hutch, saw despair creep across his face as he continued. "And he saw right through me to the core." Hutch's eyes lifted to meet Sam's, their expression a curious mix of grief, wistfulness and pride. "He was himself," he said simply, "And I was myself with him."
It was Sam's turn to look away, hiding his reaction, thinking there was no better way to describe a friend. When he could trust his voice, he asked softly, "And now?"
"Now," Hutch said, taking a deep breath, "he's gone and I feel...unbalanced--like losing a leg and having to learn how to walk all over again." He shook his head. "No, it's worse than that. I've lost my center. No matter how crazy things became around here--kids raped, innocent people dying for stupid reasons, leaks in the Department, bad cops...I could always count on him. For my life; for my sanity. He was the one thing I was absolutely sure of."
The hair on the back of Sam's neck rose as he heard the conviction in Hutch's voice. What if Starsky had betrayed him?
"You must have known," Sam said, after a pause, and seeking perhaps an answer himself, "You must have known that one or both of you could die..."
"Yes," Hutch agreed,"we knew; we never talked about it. The risks were part of the friendship--maybe they were part of the reason it grew so deep." He hesitated, then admitted with difficulty, "There were times when I thought maybe we'd be better off not caring so much. More than once he almost died--and God that scared me. And I know it scared him, too, when I was in danger. I would have spared him that, if I could."
Hutch was staring into the distance again, his face settling into desolate planes. "Then it happened, and I wasn't there when he needed me...."
"It wasn't your fault," Sam said weakly, knowing it wouldn't help.
Hutch shook his head. "It's not so much a question of fault," he explained. "It's simply the fact that I wasn't there. That, and the helplessness--I never felt so helpless. All those times before, when he was in danger, there was always something I could do. Even if it seemed like nothing at the time. What I can't forget now is what I felt when I saw that building blow up...and when I couldn't find him, after." Hutch was staring at a vision only he could see, and Sam prayed he'd never see it himself--or Al.
Sam, diverted from his purpose, spoke urgently from the heart, "How do you survive that? Risking your own life is one thing, but how do you survive allowing your best friend to risk his life--or his sanity--repeatedly. Maybe even for you?"
"We're cops," Hutch shrugged. "I couldn't very well keep him out of danger."
Sam brushed that aside impatiently. "I know that; it's too easy an answer. He was in double-jeopardy wasn't he? Risking his own life, and risking yours--and what your death would do to him. Look at what his death has done to you. You just said you'd have spared him that. Where does your duty lie then, in friendship?
Hutch gazed at him for a long time, and Sam saw strength and conviction gathering from everything he had experienced. "You do what's right for your friend," Hutch said quietly, with steadfast faith. "Even if I could have kept him out of danger, I never would have. Being a cop and throwing himself into those situations was too much a part of who he was. How could I be his friend and not allow him to make his own choices? Including the ones that kept him by my side, despite everything and against all reason." A small smile quirked one corner of his mouth, and his eyes warmed. "You were right yesterday, you know--about partners and risks. And maybe that's the best way to describe how we felt about each other. I allowed him to risk his life, and he allowed me to risk mine--and we both tried our damndest to keep each other alive." There was joy now, growing at the back of the serious blue eyes. "It's a wonderful privilege to have a partner like that--and a terrible responsibility."
Caught in that gaze, Sam was silent, struggling with his own conflicting
feelings of responsibility for the well-being of his friend and partner.
Sam left soon after to get an early start on work, hoping to get a look at Starsky's and Hutch's files before Hutch arrived. The events of yesterday and that morning had served to breach the barrier that Hutch had put around himself--but Sam had a pretty good idea what Hutch would think of his going through the files. With some adroit maneuvering in R&I, Sam was able to collect the files and then found an empty interrogation room to read them in. Al appeared some time later to check on his progress.
"Find anything?" Al inquired. Today he was in a blue metallic-looking suit with a purple shirt and black bow-tie, with white squares on it. Sam took the time to study his partner, relieved to see that the unusual nervousness of the last two days had disappeared. Al seemed to have come to terms with the situation--or he was hiding it better.
"Yeah," Sam replied to Al, "that all sorts of people might want to kill either or both of them. I don't know how they survived this long."
"Well, they are cops," Al said, coming around to peer over Sam's shoulder.
"Yes, and that's the other point," Sam said. "Regardless of how these people felt they were smart enough to know there'd be hell to pay if they killed a cop."
"So the guy set them up to make it look like a tragedy rather than an execution," Al explained.
"Or we're back to Starsky," Sam said depressingly.
"Well keep looking," Al ordered, "'cause I don't want to believe that."
Sam turned his attention back to the files. After a few moments he said "Al, this is kind of interesting...." He read some more. "Al," he said with growing excitement, "how many days was it after Starsky 'died' that Hutch committed suicide?"
"Uhh," Al poked at the handlink until it squeaked out an answer. "Twenty-five. Why?"
Sam raised his eyes, a look of understanding spreading over his face. "We might have it," he said with suppressed triumph.
Suddenly the door opened, and Hutch walked into the interrogation room, his face shut tight and his eyes hostile.
"Oh-oh," Al said, "I think you're in trouble, Sam." He began manipulating the handlink. "And I think I'll go for a little walk..."
Under his breath Sam hissed, "Al!" He turned to Hutch and said, rather feebly, "Morning, Hutch."
"Just what the hell is this all about?" Hutch inquired in a deceptively pleasant voice, that didn't fool Sam. He closed the door and walked forward, fingering the files on the table before Sam. "Starsky's and my files," he nodded. "Peterson said you were into them. What's going on?"
"I just wanted to check something," Sam began gingerly, standing up to talk to Hutch.
"And you couldn't ask me?" Hutch asked, with raised eyebrows. "You working for I.A?"
"No," Sam shook his head. "Look I know this looks like I'm prying..."
"Damn right," Hutch agreed. "And all those questions about Starsky this morning..."
"I was just trying to help," Sam insisted.
"I think you'd better tell him your theories Sam," Al said, surveying Hutch's tense frame. "Not the one about Starsky, though," he added strongly.
"I think you can stop 'helping'," Hutch said heatedly.
"Look, " Sam said, rattled. "I know this doesn't look right, but I am trying to help. I think you and Starsky were set up at that asylum and," he hesitated, then plunged ahead, "I don't think Starsky was killed."
"What?" Hutch asked incredulously. "You think what ?"
"I've been looking at the report at the asylum," Sam continued, ignoring Hutch's response. "The guy they identified, Evan Thorpe? The medical examiner said there was a contusion on his head as if something had struck him from behind. But the wound wasn't consistent with the other injuries from the explosion. He concluded that he couldn't tell how it had gotten there. I think Evan Thorpe was knocked out before the explosion, which means that either Starsky hit him or someone else was in that building."
"Maybe Starsky did hit him, and then tried to get to the bomb..." Hutch broke off, not wanting to continue.
"Maybe," Sam conceded. "But maybe someone else was in that building. Look at the other things. Did you know that the lock on the door of the room you were trapped in was the only well-oiled and working lock in the place?"
Hutch was silent, but Al commented in an aside, "Not that you actually checked every other lock in the place, Sam."
"I saw Thorpe drag Starsky into that building," Hutch said in a level voice. I saw the explosion. They found him."
"They found a body they couldn't identify," Sam interrupted.
"If Starsky didn't die, then where is he ?" Hutch was working hard to keep his voice controlled.
"I have a guess," Sam began cautiously.
"Don't tell him that one, Sam," Al warned.
"I-I thought at first that maybe Starsky was involved in it--had faked his own death..."
"Aww, Sam," Al shook his head.
Hutch stared at him, a myriad of emotions passing over his face. To Sam's great surprise, the one that finally surfaced was laughter. Hutch shook his head, "Where the hell did you ever get that idea?" he said finally, when he was able to speak. The laughter had worked as a release and he was now more relaxed.
"I...uh,"Sam hesitated, at a loss for words. He glanced at Al who threw up his hands, then looked back at Hutch. "A...part of me told me it was impossible, but..."
"But it seemed a reasonable hypothesis," Hutch concluded. "I'd have thought the same thing if I were you," he nodded. "Of course I'd have first had to think of this wild idea."
"I think I know who's responsible," Sam blurted out.
Hutch closed his eyes, the laughter beginning to be replaced by fatigue. "Who?"
"Cameron," Sam said, "I think it was Cameron."
"Who's Cameron?" Al asked with interest.
Hutch opened his eyes. "In revenge for his brother?" he said dubiously. "That was more than a year ago."
"He wanted to get it just right," Sam argued. "So he set it up perfectly. He made you think that Starsky had died, kind of like how his younger brother 'died' when you shot him and he was paralyzed."
"He chose to shoot it out, in the drug bust," Hutch said.
"What drug bust?" Al asked. "What's going on, Sam?"
"I know," Sam agreed. "I know how it happened. But listen, it was exactly 25 days after the shooting that he died in the hospital. I think that Cameron planned to put you through two deaths, just like he felt he had gone through. I think he's got Starsky and he's going to call you to come get him tomorrow and then he's going to kill you both."
Hutch stared at Sam for a long moment. "That's crazy," he said. "That can't possibly be right," but his voice wavered with the slightest bit of uncertainty. His eyes were looking at Sam with a haunted expression.
"I know," Sam began, and his voice cracked. "I know it sounds crazy. Maybe it is, even. But it seems certain that whatever happened you two were set up. Why don't we try to find out who did that, at least?"
Hutch visibly pulled himself together. "Yeah," he said, his voice rough. "Sure, we can do that. And I know where to start."
"With the tip that sent us there," Hutch said with conviction. "Let's go see Huggy." He turned, and headed out of the room.
Under cover of gathering the files, Sam whispered to Al, "Find
out all you can about a Vernon Cameron."
At that time in the morning there were only a few people in The Rafters, enjoying breakfast. Huggy himself was there, however, and he greeted Sam and Hutch with pleasure.
"Huggy," Hutch said, wasting no time, "who told you where Starsky and I could find Evan Thorpe?"
"Umm, Hutch," Huggy looked uncomfortable, "you know I don't name names."
"It's important, Huggy. Mike's been looking at the case and it looks like we were set up."
"Not by the dude who told me," Huggy said with conviction.
"Then maybe he was set up by someone else," Hutch said. He watched as Huggy hesitated. "Huggy," he said with an ache in his voice, "they killed Starsky."
Huggy looked up and met Hutch's gaze. "Not a 'he'," he sighed. "She. Her name's Rosa Martinez. You can find her at the Strawberry Lounge."
"Thanks, Huggy," Hutch said, squeezing his arm. He and Sam
headed back for the car.
The Strawberry Lounge was closed at that time of the morning, but the barkeep was there, stocking for the night, and with the aid of some presidents he was persuaded to reveal Rosa Martinez' home address. Rosa Martinez lived in a run-down apartment building close to the lounge. She was not at all pleased to be wakened by the police.
"What do you want, cops?" She asked belligerently, as Hutch showed her his badge. She kept the chain on to keep them from coming in. She was a petite Chicana, with sparkling dark eyes and black hair that curled wildly around her face.
"We need to talk to you, Rosa," Hutch said. "It's important."
"So is my sleep," she said. "I gotta dance tonight."
"You'll be dancing in jail tonight, if you don't cooperate." Hutch warned.
"On what charge?" she said angrily. "I know my rights--you don't have nothin' on me."
"Now, look, Rosa..." Hutch began, but Sam pushed him aside to talk to the woman himself.
"Miss Martinez," he said in a friendly voice. "Please. All we want to do is ask you a few questions. It's very important. And I assure you, it's nothing that involves you in any trouble."
Rosa hesitated, but something in Sam's eyes told her he was telling the truth. She sighed and detached the chain, allowing them into her apartment.
"Thank you," Sam said, smiling pleasantly.
Rosa narrowed her eyes at Hutch. "Hey, I know you," she said. "You're, uhh, Hutchinson, right? At Metro."
"Yeah," Hutch said, surprised.
She nodded. "You busted a girlfriend of mine once, for prostitution." She looked him over. "She said you did right by her though, and you took care of that pimp that was hittin' her. So maybe I owe you a favor. What do you want?"
"A little over three weeks ago, my partner and I received a tip that Evan Thorpe was hiding out at an asylum outside of town. Was that you?"
She looked wary, "Why?"
"It was a set up." Hutch told her.
"I didn't set up no cops!" she protested.
"Rosa," Sam interrupted. "We know you didn't do it, but who told you about it?"
She was staring, lost in thought. "My God," she said to herself. "That must be what happened."
"What?" Hutch asked, urgently.
She looked at him, with round eyes. "My friend, who told me about this. Well, he wasn't really a friend, just a guy I let hang around me now and then. Anyway, he told me about Thorpe and said that he was out of control. He wanted me to tell the cops about him." She nodded to herself. "And he knew I'd go to Huggy for that--everyone knows he won't rat on you, but that he has the ear of the police. Though he did tell you about me," she said, momentarily diverted by this thought.
"Who told you about Thorpe?" Sam pressed.
"Harry Marker," she said. "But it won't do you no good. He was killed."
"When?" Hutch asked.
"Three weeks ago," she replied with a knowing expression. "It would have been a few days after you went to that asylum."
Hutch and Sam looked at each other.
"There's probably a police report," Sam suggested.
"Let's go," Hutch said.
"Hey," Rosa said, reaching toward Hutch. "I heard what happened. To your partner, I mean. I hope you nail the bastards. For Harry, too."
Hutch nodded, and his eyes softened in thanks. He and Sam hurried out of the apartment and back to the station.
The report on Harry Marker was terse and to the point. He had been shot once in the head, motive unknown. He hadn't been robbed, but given his known gambling predilection, the best guess was that he had run out of time on his debts.
"There's not much here," Sam said, discouraged.
"There is one thing," Hutch said pensively, looking at the report.
"They have the bullet."
"So?" Sam asked, feeling lost.
"So, I think I'll have ballistics run a comparison on this bullet with the ones found at the asylum."
"Ah," Sam said. "Good idea."
Hutch called in a few favors to get ballistics to run the comparison right away. Even so, there were several hours to wait before they could expect to hear anything. Hutch reviewed Cameron's file, while Sam put in some work on other pending cases. Or tried to; he mostly wondered what was taking Al so long. Neither man talked about the asylum case, or Starsky. Hutch seemed to have withdrawn from Sam again, putting him at a distance; Sam wasn't surprised. When the phone rang, at about the time ballistics had predicted, both men jumped.
Hutch glanced at Sam and reached for the phone. "Hutchinson here," he said. He listened, his face impassive, then said, "Thanks Sarah, I owe you one." He listened for a moment more. "Okay, I owe you two," he acknowledged. He hung up the phone and looked at Sam. "It's a match," he said quietly. "Whoever shot at me in the asylum, also killed Harry Marker two days later. Or at least the same gun was involved."
"Cameron," Sam said with conviction.
"There's nothing to tie him to this," Hutch said. "And no one else is going to believe your idea. It's too insane."
Sam didn't pursue it, but he noticed the phrase no one else. "All right, then. What can we get Cameron on?"
"We know he's shipping drugs around the city; we just can't find out how he does it. The closest we ever came was when his brother was getting involved. The kid pulled risks that Cameron never would."
"Like shooting it out when it was hopeless," Sam said.
"Yeah," Hutch said grimly. "Cameron's lawyer managed to get him off that time by arguing it was the kid who'd set the distribution up. All we found was marijuana. Cameron had probably given him that end of the business to ease him into it. No one's ever been able to catch Cameron with anything. His trucking operation would be the logical place, but it's clean as far as we can tell."
"Tell him it's the school buses," Al suddenly interrupted, startling Sam enough that he fell off the chair he had tipped back.
"You okay, Mike?" Hutch asked, peering over the desk to where Sam sprawled on the floor.
"Yeah, fine," Sam said, getting up and glaring at Al. "I've just had an idea, though."
"Didn't it say in the file on Cameron that he runs a private school bus company?"
"So, in uhh...where I worked before," Sam began.
"Chicago," Al prompted helpfully.
"Chicago," Sam confirmed. "There was a guy who ran drugs using school buses. He figured no one would ever guess."
"School buses?" Hutch asked incredulously. "But..."
"Think about it," Sam urged. "Who'd suspect? But I'll bet the buses go all over the city. And then there's field trips. And who notices what buses do after they've delivered the kids? "That's the ticket," Al confirmed. "In 1985 Cameron gets convicted of running drugs in school buses all over the county."
"I suppose it's possible," Hutch said dubiously.
"What do you say we go take a look?" Sam suggested.
Locating one of Cameron's buses proved easy enough; he had close to a monopoly on the private school busing. Sam and Hutch discreetly trailed the bus as it made its rounds after school in the afternoon. They saw the bus, after letting the last child off, pull into a quiet park drive and halt. Sam and Hutch positioned themselves on an overlooking hillside, watching through binoculars as several men helped the bus driver unload bags from the storage compartment underneath the bus, dividing the bags amongst themselves.
"I guess you were right," Hutch said to Sam, as he peered through the binoculars.
"Well of course he was right," Al said impatiently. "I told him, didn't I?"
Hutch continued, "But it's still going to be tough to nail Cameron on this. We'll have to catch him in the act of receiving the drugs, or the money, to pin it on him."
"Couldn't we get someone to testify against him?" Sam asked.
"Yeah, sure. But that kind of testimony doesn't necessarily get a conviction. And he's got powerful friends."
"What are you saying?"
Hutch glanced at Sam, then returned to the binoculars. "I'm saying we have to play this slow, watch the setup for awhile, and make him play into our hands."
"We don't have time for that," Sam objected. "If I'm right about Starsky..."
Hutch's hands tightened on the binoculars. "That's right," he said in a steady voice. "We don't have the time. But without the drugs there's no way we can justify busting in on Cameron. And I'm not going to go over there and present myself to him, asking for Starsky, if that's the game he's playing. We need help, but Captain Dobey will not authorize a search and seizure at the bus company unless he can get Cameron, too."
"Maybe you could explain..." Sam suggested tentatively.
Hutch laughed, mirthlessly. "Look, I'm not sure I even believe you. You can forget about Dobey."
Sam was silent for a moment. "We're sure about the set up," he argued. "We can tell him about that, and then maybe he'd authorize picking up Cameron--except we can't tie it to Cameron without explaining why we think he'd do it, which he wouldn't believe," he objected to himself.
"Oh, good, Sam," Al congratulated him, hooting.
"Hey!" Hutch said, tensing as he saw something through the binoculars. "Look who just showed up!"
"Who? What?" Sam asked, looking toward the group below them, but unable to see clearly without the binoculars.
"Theodore Graham," Hutch said with satisfaction. "Well, well, well."
"Theodore Graham?" Sam questioned.
"Cameron's business manager," Al supplied, also peering down the hill.
"Come on," Hutch said, slithering back from the crest of the hill. I think he's taking a sample back to his boss. Let's go pull him over for a traffic violation."
They headed back for Sam's car and set off in pursuit of Graham. A few blocks away they pulled him over in a secluded area, and got out of the car. Al was still tagging along, very interested in all of these proceedings.
"Why, hello there Teddy," Hutch said cheerfully, walking up to the man on the driver's side.
"Detective Hutchinson," Graham identified him. Sam, peering at the man from behind Hutch, recognized him as the nervous man who had been with Cameron that day in the courthouse. "What do you want?" Graham asked Hutch, twitching.
"You were speeding," Hutch said. "Step out of the car, please."
"This is harassment," Graham said, with more conviction in his voice. "I'll file a protest."
"File away," Hutch said, "but step out of the car, please."
"See, Sam?" Al said. "I told you cops make up that bit about speeding. No way I was going 85 on that road the other day." Sam ignored him.
Grumbling, Graham got out of the car, Hutch walked him forward a bit to stand in front of the car. "I'll need your license and the car registration," he said.
"Is this what you've been reduced to Hutchinson?" sneered Graham. "Are you a traffic cop now?"
"Your license and car registration," Hutch prompted.
Graham reached for his wallet and gave Hutch the license. "The registration is in the car," he said.
"I'll get it," Sam volunteered, and reached into the car.
"No, I'll get it," Graham said urgently, moving back toward Sam.
Hutch grabbed him, and said "Let him get it, I'm not through with this yet."
Reluctantly, Graham stayed put. "It's in the glove compartment," he called to Sam.
"Right, okay," Sam acknowledged, and in his haste he tipped the briefcase that had been on the front seat, out of the car and into the street. Unfortunately the clasp was undone, and the case opened up to reveal it's contents to the world.
"Good job, Sam" Al complimented.
"Why, what's this?" Hutch asked, staring at the bag of white powder, and the rolls of bills. "Mike," he said, "come out here."
Sam got out of the car and picked up the case. He examined the bag carefully and said, "It looks like cocaine to me."
Graham, in desperation, jerked away from Hutch and started running.
"I'll shoot you if you don't get back here," Hutch casually called after him, pulling out his gun.
Graham slowed, then stopped and looked back. Hutch waved him to return, and he slowly did. Hutch had Graham assume the position and then discovered the business manager had a gun tucked away in his coat pocket.
"Tsk-tsk," Hutch said. "Drugs, money and a gun. You're in serious trouble, my friend." He handed the gun to Sam, finished frisking Graham, then turned him around saying, "Now we're going to have a little talk."
"What have we got to talk about?" Graham asked nervously.
"About drugs, and money and where you were on the night of August 6th."
Graham paled noticeably. "August 6th?" he asked questioningly. "That was a long time ago--I can't remember that far."
"You'd better," Hutch said in a hard voice. "Unless you want to be charged with accessory to murder."
"I don't know what you're talking about," Graham protested, eyes darting from Hutch to Sam and back.
Sam was examining the gun, along with Al. "Hutch," he said in an quiet voice. "This is a .38. Think it could be the same gun?"
Graham's eyes widened. "The same gun as what?"
"The same gun," Hutch said, leaning closer to Graham, "that was used on August 6th to pin me in a room while my partner was killed. The same gun that was used to murder Harry Marker two days later."
"I-I don't know what you're talking about," Graham said. "Lots of people own .38's. And I've never even heard of this Marker fellow."
"We'll check that out," Hutch promised. "And if you did know him, you're only digging yourself in deeper by lying about it."
Graham stared at him, then ran a tongue along dry lips. "Marker?" He said. "Did you say Harry Marker?" Hutch nodded. "Well, maybe I did know him--but not well. And I didn't have anything to do with his murder."
"Got him," Al said with satisfaction.
Hutch grabbed Graham, one hand at his throat. "Look," he said in a menacing voice. "We know what went down. We know that Cameron had you tell Marker to tip us off to Evan Thorpe in that asylum. We know it was a set up to kill Starsky out of revenge for Cameron's brother. We know that Marker was killed two days later, with the same gun that was used at the asylum. Even if it's not your gun you're going to have to account for those two nights. Right now you're looking at charges of drug possession, and murder or accessory to murder for Marker and for my partner. You're taking a fall Teddy--the only questions are how far and how long and whether you'll be alone or not. And you know how the courts deal with cop killers."
During this recitation Graham had started shaking. "No," he groaned, shaking his head. "It's not me; I wasn't involved." Finally, at this last statement, he blurted out, "But he's not dead!"
Hutch's eyes blazed blue fire, and his hand tightened on Cameron's throat, choking him. "Where is he?" he ground out.
"I-I," Graham stuttered, reaching to the hand at his throat. "Cameron's got him!" he cried.
"Hutch," Sam ran forward, "Let him go, let him go." He eased Hutch's hand off Graham.
The business manager, badly frightened, breathed a few deep breaths, then stammered. "He's been holding him. I told him it was stupid; going after cops. But he was so determined to get revenge--he wasn't thinking about anything else." He looked from Sam to Hutch, pleadingly. "I wasn't involved--really. I-I knew about it, and I did contact Harry, but I didn't do anything else!"
Hutch turned away, struggling for control.
Graham looked to Sam. "They-they might have used my gun," he said in a terrified whisper. "Cameron said it was to make sure I wouldn't interfere. But I wasn't there, I didn't do it. You have to believe me!"
"I believe you," Sam replied, glancing at Hutch. "But I don't think it's going to do you much good."
"Would you turn evidence against Cameron?" Hutch asked in a hard voice, turning back.
"Would you testify against you boss?"
"He'd kill me," Graham protested. But he looked at the implacable faces of Hutch and Sam, and shivered. "If I did, what would it benefit me?"
Hutch looked at him with disfavor and in clipped accents said, "We'll put the word in with the D.A. That we believe your story."
Slowly, Graham nodded. "I'll do it," he said.
Hutch glanced at Sam. "We'll take him back to headquarters to get his confession." He turned his head toward Graham, his expression fierce. "Where's my partner?"
In a quavering voice Graham answered, "Vernon has him at his estate."
"Where at the estate?"
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