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The Sacrifice - Part One




John 15:13 ~ Greater love has no man than this, than to lay down one's life for his friends.


   It was a mistake from the very beginning.

   David Starsky hated working with the Feds and now the whole stupid operation was blown by some overeager operative. He was tired, he was hungry, and he didn't know where his partner was. Some days it just doesn't pay to be one of the good guys.

   The detective slammed the Baretta's clip home and moved off down another deserted courthouse hallway like a shadow. Two uniformed officers trotted in his wake, trying hard to emulate the senior officer's stealth.


   In the northwest parking garage Ken Hutchinson crouched beside two patrolmen, wondering for the umpteenth time where in the world his partner was. After all the initial confusion of District Attorney Peter Watkins being taken hostage, the DA's office called in the local precinct in order to assist the FBI as the situation became more volatile. What should have been a small, low-key part of their full-scale operation had just turned into one rather loud, rather large mess.

   Hutch and his partner had been split up in order to take charge of the less experienced uniformed officers. The last time he had seen Starsky was over the tops of several squad cars. Silent hand signals and gestures affirmed that Starsky and his assigned men would meet him in the opposite corner of the building where they anticipated the extortionists Phillip Randolph and Richard Capernicus would most likely be attempting their escape.

   Months of undercover work by the FBI had just gone down the toilet due to a junior agent's faux pas. Posing as an assistant from another district court, the rookie had been assigned to hand deliver a report to the DA, which in reality was false information to be fed to the extortionists. The "confidential" material was to be the token of good faith by DA Watkins to the two skittish criminals, indicating his desire to "work" with them. Randolph and Capernicus were fairly new to Southern California, having built a successful empire on the east coast. Their plan now was to add the west coast DA to their growing number of public officials "in their pocket". In turn, they would ensure Watkins' rise in political power with, of course, all the entailing benefits of having "their man" and subsequently, the law, look the other way for their "business" activities.

   The Feds' sting operation was going by the book with Watkins' assistance until that afternoon. After delivering the sensitive material as directed, the junior operative had bid the three men good night, acknowledging Randolph and Capernicus by name. Never having met them before, nor being introduced to them by name that afternoon, the tip off set in motion the rookie's death and taking hostage the district attorney.

   The FBI of course, had had their man wired, so the blowing of the setup was broadcast via the tap, as was the death of the junior operative. Samuel Taylor, the federal agent in charge, immediately put negotiations into play by calling the DA's office. Randolph and Capernicus demanded safe passage out of the courthouse to an airfield, where they would agree to release Watkins at a neutral destination. The Feds felt the whole deal was chancy, but with the DA's life at stake, options were limited.

   The police and federal agents immediately cleared the building and surrounding streets. The ninth precinct responded to the FBI's request for assistance, and detectives and uniforms were immediately dispatched to key locations throughout the building, hoping for an opportunity to take out Randolph and Capernicus before they made their break. Holding Watkins as their shield, the two men made their way into the bowels of the Metropolitan courthouse and toward their freedom.

   It was by some fluke Hutch and the two uniforms, Martin Perrigo and Romer Avelechez, were able to beat the retreating extortionists and their hostage to the underground garage. Starsky and Hutch had been in court all afternoon, and had only stopped by the station to brief their captain when the call for assistance came. Now Hutch was crouched behind a white Cadillac waiting for the bad guys to make a break to their waiting car. The sedan shielded the officers from view and was directly in the path the felons would have to take in order to reach either their Mercedes or the DA's Volvo. Perrigo shifted uneasily, his night stick bouncing off the car's fender. The noise reverberated through the parking garage, its cement walls amplifying the sound.

   Hutch turned vehemently toward the man, his glacial blue eyes shooting daggers at the younger officer. Perrigo's already pale face registered his regret as he settled into a more sunken crouch, his gun held ready. Hutch turned his attention back toward the elevator and stairwell doors.

   Starsk, where in the heck are you?


   After springing silently into the eighth empty room, Starsky was getting more than a little frustrated. The endless halls of the turn-of-the-century courthouse echoed ghostly voices and footsteps, leading the officers on a wild goose chase. It was only a small consolation that they were nearing the stairwell leading to the parking garage. Resignedly, he motioned for the two patrolmen, Johnson and Battaglia, to follow him into the stairwell. If they were able to find the two fugitives and their hostage before they made it to the parking structure, they had a better chance of getting the DA out alive. But once the two men made it to their car, any attempt on the police's part to stop them would most likely result in bloodshed. The thought of his partner waiting in the lion's den with only a couple of rookies to back him up made Starsky's heart beat a little faster as he slinked down the stairwell, senses straining for signs and sounds of the retreating felons.


   From his vantage point Hutch had a clear view of both the elevator and stairwell doors. He wasn't too surprised when the latter cautiously opened and DA Watkins was thrust out, his arm twisted behind his back. Watkins made a more than effective shield to anyone hoping to take a shot at the extortionists.

   Hutch turned back to the two patrolmen and mouthed on my signal. Getting nods of confirmation, he held his breath, waiting for the three to pass by the white Cadillac en route to their waiting Mercedes.

   The tension made the hairs on the back of Hutch's arms stand up. Easy, now, he thought to himself. Just bide your time and wait for an opportunity. They just might let their guards down when they think they've got a clear path to their car.

   Capernicus and Randolph continued scanning the parking garage for signs of movement, propelling the DA before them. Overcome with terror, Watkins tripped over his own feet and went sprawling onto the pavement.

   Perfect! Hutch took only a second to signal Perrigo and Avelechez before springing to his feet and covering the felons with the Python. "Freeze, police!"

   Within a split second the two uniformed officers were up as well, drawing beads on the two felons. Slowly Randolph and Capernicus raised their arms, their faces betraying their rapidly calculating minds as they searched for a chance of escape. What should have been the end of a potentially deadly situation dissolved when the district attorney staggered to his feet, placing himself between the police officers and his captors. In less than a heartbeat, Randolph grabbed Watkins around the throat and took aim at the three cops. Likewise, Capernicus fired, beating a hasty retreat toward the Mercedes.

   Hutch ducked behind the Cadillac and moved toward the hood of the car to change his location as a target. The detective drew a breath and sprang up, firing at the fleeing extortionists, making certain that he didn't accidentally hit the DA.

   Some days it just doesn't pay to be one of the good guys.


   At the first sound of gunfire from the parking garage, any need for stealth within the stairwell was thrown out the window. Starsky began hurtling down the steps at breakneck speed, slamming into the walls, and pushing himself off again. Hang in there, partner. Calvary's coming.


   As the shootout continued, Hutch's bullet caught Randolph in the shoulder, propelling the burly man backwards. Watkins was dragged down with him and was thrown heavily into a nearby sedan. The force of the propulsion caused the DA to bang his head against the front fender and slump into a semi-conscious state. Watkins continued his descent to the pavement until Capernicus snatched him back to his feet and clutched the dazed man to his chest as a shield against further attack.

   Capernicus placed the muzzle of his pistol against the DA's head and yelled for his partner to make his way to the car. Randolph moved unsteadily to his feet and staggered to the waiting Mercedes. Capernicus slowly made his way toward the sedan, dragging the slack DA with him. Perrigo and Avelechez followed Hutch's lead in maintaining a draw on the extortionist, but not firing. Capernicus reached his destination, managing to sling Watkins against the rear door, then open the driver's.

   Warily, Hutch watched as the felon prepared to stuff Watkins into the car. The blond detective tensed in anticipation of a final opportunity to end the mess before Capernicus made it out of the garage. He was ready when Capernicus leveled his gun in the officers' direction, random shots forcing them to once again take cover behind the Cadillac. But what Hutch wasn't anticipating was Capernicus turning the gun on the car to the detective's immediate left. Hutch popped up from behind the sedan in time to see Capernicus shoot the neighboring car directly in the gas tank, turning the import into a rocketing ball of flame. The force of the explosion propelled Hutch backwards. The successive bullets slamming into the Caddy directly in front of him, searching for its gas tank, forced the three officers into a crouching scurry away from their former sanctuary.

   They were barely two car lengths away when Capernicus found his target, turning the white vehicle into an inferno. The blast sent Hutch tumbling into the other two men, sprawling them into concrete supports and other vehicles.

   With the police temporarily out of his way, Capernicus shoved his dazed hostage into the front seat, pushing him through to the passenger side, and scrambled in after him. Rubber was left on the cement as the Mercedes squealed up the ramp of the parking garage and into the daylight.


   If the sound of gunfire was enough to send Starsky headlong down the stairwell, then the sound of the first explosion sent him over the edge, literally. Rather than charging down the stairs, often two or three steps at a time, he flung himself over each level's rail to the next set of stairs. More than once his ankle twisted and a sharp pain burned up his leg in protest, but he continued on like a man possessed.

   Snipers and assisting officers were ordered to hold their fire when it was realized that Capernicus continued to hold his gun to the DA's head. The Mercedes was allowed out of the parking garage and onto the emptied boulevard. Squad cars immediately fell into pursuit, but remained at a conservative distance, tailing the felon to the airfield in hopes of a second chance.


   Starsky flung himself out the stairwell door, gun sweeping the area, just as the white Cadillac became a raging ball of fire. The blast from the explosion sent the detective backward into the brick wall, temporarily stunning him. By the time his vision cleared, all he caught was a fleeting glimpse of the Mercedes' taillights. The trailing patrolmen burst out of the stairwell moments behind the detective's slump to the floor. Officer Johnson grasped Starsky by his elbow, hauling him to his feet, while Battaglia crossed over to the still burning vehicles.

   Starsky shrugged out of the younger man's grip. "Where's Hutch?"

   Not expecting an answer, Starsky began a limping trot toward the burning vehicles. "Huuuuuuuuuutch!"

   Perrigo hauled himself up from behind a green LTD. "Over here!"

   Starsky quickly turned toward the voice and ran past the shaken officer. The sight of his unconscious partner lying face down on the cement brought him up short before he grabbed the trailing Johnson and propelled him toward the ramp's opening. "Call an ambulance! Move!"

   By now FBI agents and patrolmen were filtering into the parking structure, the unmistakable sound of fire engines howling in the distance. Oblivious to the activity around him, Starsky knelt next to his partner, leaving the unconscious Avelechez to his own partner's care.

   Worried blue eyes belayed the detective's flippant words as Starsky checked Hutch's breathing and signs of consciousness. "Hey, c'mon, Blondie, this ain't no place for a nap, you know."

   Gentle taps on the blond's cheek brought a groaning response. "Starsk, do that to me again and I'm gonna have to beat the crap out of you."

   Awkwardly, Hutch tried to push himself up into a sitting position, but the blow to his head when he was knocked to the concrete prevented his limbs from fully cooperating. The relief on Starsky's face was evident as he grasped his partner under his arms and helped him lean against the nearby LTD. Starsky continued to hold on to his partner's arms and scanned the blond's eyes for pupil dilation. A small trickle of blood trailed down Hutch's face from a large scrape above his right eye.

   "That's some road burn you've managed to get, Blintz." Starsky released Hutch in order to retrieve a handkerchief from his back pocket, but immediately regained his grip when the blond began to topple over. Starsky managed to get the cloth out while keeping his partner upright. Hutch gasped as gentle pressure was applied to the wound and unsuccessfully tried to push his partner's hands away.

   "I'm fine, I'm fine."

   "Sure you are, and I'm Jimmy Carter. How many fingers am I holdin' up?"

   Hutch cast bleary and unfocused eyes at his partner.

   "None, you idiot. You've got one hand on my jacket and the other one on my head." The clarity of Hutch's words still didn't match the glazed look in his eyes.

   "Okay, smart guy, how many of me do you see?"

   Indignantly Hutch gave his partner a sour expression, but after looking at the dark-haired man for a moment, his already blurred vision wavered and Starsky became triplets.

   "Three..." Hutch mumbled regretfully.

   "Just what I thought. Where's that ambulance?" Shifting his weight to take some of the pressure off his complaining ankle, Starsky craned his neck around to see if the paramedics had yet arrived. A twinge of guilt hit him when he noticed Perrigo sitting worriedly next to the unmoving form of Avelechez. "How's he doin'?"

   Perrigo glanced up, concern in his eyes. "I don't know. He must have hit his head pretty hard."

   "Don't worry, kid. Help will be here any minute." As if summoned by his words, the all too familiar sound of an ambulance siren echoing throughout the garage announced the EMT's arrival. Starsky breathed a sigh of relief--help was here and Hutch would be all right. He shook his head in disgust; the whole day had been one big series of preventable errors. Stupid Feds. The operation had been a mistake from the beginning.


   The next morning found the two detectives in Captain Dobey's office going over their account of the hostage situation a second time with the senior FBI agent, Samuel Taylor. Hutch and Avelechez had been kept in the hospital overnight for observation, but had still managed to issue statements for their reports. Starsky was at the hospital by 8:00 AM to wait with his partner until the doctor signed Hutch's release, then brought him in to the station, where Taylor had insisted on talking with the detectives to ensure nothing had been missed the night before.

   The detectives weren't surprised to learn the tailing units had lost Capernicus and Randolph somewhere along the way and that they had made a fairly clean getaway. It also wasn't surprising to learn that the district attorney's body had been found that morning in a state park fifty-five miles south of the city. While it wasn't officially their case, Dobey knew his men well enough to know that Starsky and Hutch wouldn't let it go, whether they were formally "invited" by the Feds to assist or not. Initially, the FBI had decided they wouldn't require the detectives' assistance in tracking the extortionists, but the more Taylor talked to the two men, the more convinced he became that his superiors were wrong. The two detectives were definitely worth tapping into.

   After a few hours, Starsky and Hutch were dismissed with instructions to continue finalizing their current case before it went to court, and to contact Taylor with any additional information they might come up with pertaining to the DA's murder.

   "And don't forget to stop at IA on your way out, Hutchinson," Dobey growled without looking up from the report he and Taylor were flipping through. "They want to talk to you about the two cars that got toasted."

   "As if I could forget," Hutch mumbled, heading out of Dobey's office to his desk, where he began searching each drawer for aspirin.

   Starsky extracted a bottle from his center drawer and tossed it onto to his partner's desk, then continued with a slight limp over to the communal coffeepot. Hutch sat down heavily on the edge of the desktop, fumbling with the plastic cap until his partner returned and exchanged the aspirin bottle for Hutch's coffee mug. Starsky easily popped open the container and shook out four tablets, which he then extended to the blond. Hutch grimaced as he washed down the medication with rather old and lukewarm coffee.

   "Well, I suppose I better get this over with."

   "What, IA? Nah, they can wait `til tomorrow. You, I'm taking home." Starsky extracted the coffee cup from his partner's hand, not letting on that he noticed the slight tremor there. He then continued around the desk and tugged Hutch's jacket off his chair.

   "But Dobey said..."

   "Dobey said to stop at IA on your way out. We go, we stop, we tell them you'll be by tomorrow to answer their questions, we leave. Simple as falling out of a bowl of jello."

   Hutch glanced up at his partner's face as he accepted his jacket. "Falling out of a...Starsky, that doesn't make sense."

   The smiling man led his partner out the squad room doors. "Made perfect sense to me. Must be your concussion."


   Agent Taylor had become increasingly impressed with Starsky and Hutch's arrest record and how they handled themselves during the hostage crisis. He told Captain Dobey that he wouldn't refuse the two detectives' assistance should he offer it. Dobey took the hint and placed the two at Taylor's disposal with the condition that it didn't interfere with their finalization of the Dobson case, about to go to trial.

   By noon of the second day, Starsky and Hutch were becoming increasingly frustrated. Hours had been spent talking to various hospital and ER personnel throughout the state, trying to determine if anyone fitting Randolph's description had been admitted or treated in the last thirty-six hours for a gunshot wound. So far their efforts were futile. A tip came when they least expected it and needed it the most.

   Starsky was reaching for the phone for the umpteenth time when it rang. "Starsky."

   "If it isn't my favorite fuzzy friend."

   "Hey, Hug, whatcha got?"

   "Maybe nothin', but a source who would prefer to keep his head connected to the rest of his body passed on a bit of information you might be interested in."

   "Huggy, you're the best."

   "Was there ever any doubt?"

   "Be down there in fifteen."

   "Uh, let's make it thirty and at some other fine establishment. In the event that these dudes are as lean and mean as I'm hearin', I just as soon they not find out that it was a certain Bear that sent you hunting, dig?"

   "The usual second choice?"

   "Sure, maybe I'll even stay for the matinee."


   Within twenty-five minutes the detectives were seated in a darkened movie theater, the last portion of a triple-X movie flickering across the screen. The theater was small and nearly empty, with only a few questionable members of society sprinkled throughout the worn and dirty seating.

   Something on the screen caused Hutch to do a double take from his original glance upwards. "That's disgusting!" he hissed at his partner.

   Starsky squinted up at the image on the screen, then cocked his head to one side while he tried to discern what was happening. "I'm not even sure it's legal," he whispered back.

   The two detectives were drawn into the images on the screen before them, looks of disbelief and distaste marring their features.

   "Mer-SAY!" They were so engrossed in the picture that the awed voice behind them caused them to jump. Huggy immediately shushed them, an amused expression on his face. "Ain't never seen nothin' like that before."

   "And let's hope we never do again," Hutch whispered back, then turned in his seat toward Huggy. "What do you have?"

   Huggy swallowed the popcorn he had been chewing and attempted to draw back the bucket as Starsky reached for a second handful. "A blitzed cat who shall remain anonymous was frequenting a certain house of ill repute when their...uh...shall we say extracurricular activities were interrupted by a small army of toughs carrying in somebody who had gotten in the way of a bullet."

   "Randolph?" Starsky asked around a mouthful of popcorn.

   "That's the name this dude heard. Apparently the room he and his lovely were in was the executive suite because that's where they brought Randolph in. My customer was also unceremoniously tossed out of the room without receiving any compensation for his interrupted `date' and was told in no uncertain terms to keep his lips zipped unless he'd like to have them permanently removed from his face." Huggy tossed another handful of popcorn into his mouth. "He ends up at my place, and after a few Scotches you couldn't shut him up."

   Hutch looked at his partner. "Hooray for Scotch."

   Huggy nodded. "Yeah, but when he sobered back up, he realized what he'd said and who he'd said it about. I don't think he'll be returning to collect for services not rendered anytime soon, if you catch my meaning."

   Starsky tried to snatch another handful of popcorn, but Huggy jerked the bucket just out of his reach. "You got an address for us?"

   "Does the Pope wear a funny hat? Do you know where Eddington crosses Thirty-eighth, then becomes a one way? Follow it down to the last block. On the southwest corner there's a deli--Antonio's. The backrooms house more than a few salamis."

   Starsky threw an amused look at his partner. "Yeah, I'll bet we can even find a few rump roasts back there."

   Hutch merely gave him an exasperated glare. Grabbing a handful of his partner's coat, Hutch rose and dragged Starsky out of the theater. Huggy merely chuckled at the two and reclined in his seat, contently finishing his popcorn.


   As they pulled away from the adult theater, the decision was made to pay a visit to Sweet Alice, hoping she would be able to give them an idea of what to expect when they raided Antonio's secondary business. There would be time to kill waiting for the requested warrant to be issued, and the more prepared they were going in, the less likelihood there would be of losing the elusive racketeer.

   It had been awhile since Hutch had heard from the prostitute, so they were unsuccessful in locating her until their third stop at a bar just outside of their jurisdiction. Cigarette smoke and dim lighting dulled the interior of the small lounge. A few patrons sat at the bar or in booths, nursing their drinks and waiting for the after-dinner crowd to bring some life to the place. Sweet Alice sat on the furthest stool, allowing her to examine each new patron as they entered the bar and gauge her prospective clients. A genuine smile lit up her face at the sight of Hutch, followed by his partner, entering the bar.

   Alice quickly exhaled and snubbed out her cigarette. Slightly anxious hands brushed the blonde hair off her shoulders, and her eyes fairly danced when Hutch leaned over to kiss her rouged cheek.

   "Handsome Hutch! What on earth brings you to this part of town? You can't just be looking for me?" An honest blush rose in her cheeks.

   "Hello, Alice. Why else would we be here?" Hutch offered Alice his hand and led her to a booth in the far corner. Starsky trailed behind the two blonds, smiling ruefully at the effect his partner had on some women. But then, Sweet Alice wasn't just some woman. Starsky sat opposite the two.

   "Hello, Alice."

   "Oh, Starsky!" Alice reached out a hand to quickly squeeze Starsky's. "Honey, I'm sorry. I was just so surprised to see you two walk in..."

   "It's okay, Hutch has that effect on a lot of people." Starsky smirked at his partner. "Alice, what do you know about a little extra action going on in the back of Antonio's Deli over on Eddington?"

   Alice looked thoughtful for a moment. "Well, they haven't been in business too long, maybe a half a year or so. A couple of bigshots from out east came in and started `buying out' some of the smaller fries and independents."

   Starsky and Hutch threw a knowing look at each other. Apparently, Capernicus and Randolph's activities included more than just the protection and extortion business. Starsky turned his attention back to Alice. "Have you ever been in the back of the shop?"

   "No, though they did give me the option of either coming to work for them or finding a new barstool to rest my tired dogs on." Alice cast her eyes away from the two men. "They were pretty serious about it."

   Hutch's arm encircled Alice's shoulders as his blue eyes turned icy. "Alice, did they hurt you?"

   Alice gave a short laugh and swallowed back the brief flash of fear. "No, honey. At least...not much. But it was enough to convince me to take my trade somewhere else."

   Starsky reached out a hand to take Alice's. "Which is why you came clear out here."

   "Hey, it's not so bad, sugar. And a little change of scenery does a body good." The concern in the two men's faces was enough to bring tears to her eyes. Alice forced herself to push down her emotions--vulnerability was dangerous in her line of work. "I've never been to Antonio's, but a friend of mine went to work for them. She told me that it's a real swanky place with red velvet bed covers and drapes."

   Some of the hardness left Hutch's face. "Did she tell you how it's laid out? How many rooms? Anything like that?"

   "It seems like she mentioned there was a meat locker with two doors connecting the deli out front to a lounge in the back, and that there were maybe four or five rooms beyond that."

   "Did she mention any other entrances or maybe a back exit?"

   Alice thought for a moment. "She did say that there wasn't a direct back exit, but you had to go into a wine shop next door to get out. I remember because it seemed odd at the time, but I guess that would make the lounge less obvious."

   "Have you ever heard of anyone named Randolph or Capernicus?" Starsky asked. "Or anyone who's been hurt recently and brought in to the back of Antonio's?"

   Alice looked apologetic as she shook her head. Hutch leaned over and kissed her on the cheek. His left hand pressed a folded bill into her smaller one. "Thanks, beautiful."

   Alice glanced down at the twenty folded into her palm. "Aw, Hutch, you know you don't have to..."

   Hutch rose along with his partner. "You take care, Alice."

   "You sure you boys can't stay for a drink?"

   Starsky pulled his car keys out of his pocket. "Not tonight, schweetheart. Suddenly I've got a craving for salami."


   After the warrant was issued Starsky and Hutch touched base with Dobey. Backup was assigned, and it was decided that Agent Taylor would accompany the captain on the raid.

   Hutch pulled the LTD into a parking spot a few doors down from Antonio's. Starsky reached for the microphone. "Okay, Cap'n, we're in position."

   "Copy that, Starsky. All units hold your positions until signaled. Starsky, don't do anything cute. Be careful in there."

   Starsky grinned into the microphone. "Cap'n, I've told ya before: he's cute, I'm..."

   Dobey interrupted with a bark. "Just get your butts moving, Starsky, and quit with the comedy routine!"

   Starsky hung up the microphone and joined Hutch in front of the sedan. Hutch gave his partner a shove in the direction of the deli. "You've got to get new material."


   The old Italian behind the counter couldn't decide if the two men examining the sliced meats were cops or numbers runners. Either way, he didn't need them hanging around, scaring off potential customers for either of his trades. His best bet would be to get rid of them, and fast.

   "What can I do you for?" Wiping his hands on the front of his apron, he approached the counter.

   Starsky turned to Hutch quizzically. "I don't know, what looks good to you?"

   "Starsk, don't you know what kinds of fats and preservatives are in these things? Eating garbage like this will send you to an early grave."

   The butcher's expression became hostile, as he menacingly snatched up a meat cleaver. "Now, lookit, you two..."

   Starsky's hand shot out with lightning speed and grabbed the counter man's wrist. The tight grip numbed the butcher's hand so that he dropped the knife on the counter. Starsky drew him across the meat case until they were nose-to-nose. His badge appeared in his right hand, which he held up to the Italian's face. "No, you lookit...we're just here to talk to your boss about a little liverwurst, capish?"

   Hutch moved quickly behind the counter to stand beside the butcher, shoving the knife into the deli case and slamming the sliding glass door. "So why don't you just take us on back through your magic freezer and we'll announce ourselves? Then you can take your salami and make yourself scarce. Got it?"

   The butcher glanced from one set of piercing blue eyes to the other and nodded grimly. It didn't take him long to deduce that he'd rather deal with the bosses later than with the two maniacal looking cops now.

   After Starsky released him, the Italian led the two through the meat locker. Rows of pre-cut selections lined the walls and a few whole hogs and sides of beef hung from hooks in the middle of the frigid room.

   "Hey, Hutch, check it out. Who am I?" Starsky hunched his shoulders and took a few jabs at a side of beef, causing the meat to swing. He then threw his arms in the air and did a victory dance while imitating the roaring of a crowd.

   The blond simply shook his head at his partner's antics. "Starsky, cut it out."

   The butcher stared at Starsky in disbelief, then turned to Hutch. "What he hit the cow for?"

   Starsky stared at the man in amazement. "That was `Rocky', didn't you see `Rocky'?"

   "Who's this Rocky? Why he beat up on dead cows?"

   "Never mind. Just unlock the door, then get out of here." Starsky shook his head as he pulled the two-way radio out of his back pocket. Depressing the microphone button he affirmed to Dobey that they were heading in.


   The raid itself only lasted a total of eight and a half minutes. On Starsky's signal, fourteen uniformed officers stormed the brothel and brought ten people into custody. Flushing out Randolph was another matter.

   Once all of the prostitutes, clients and assorted workers were corralled, had their rights read to them, and were led out to the awaiting squad car, it was determined that Randolph was not among those arrested. Starsky, Hutch, Dobey and Agent Taylor returned to the lounge area, as uniformed officers continued to comb the rooms for additional evidence.

   "So what are you thinking--that this was just a stopping point before they moved Randolph somewhere safer?" Taylor asked, rifling through the desk.

   Frustration evident on his face, Starsky threw himself down on one of the red velvet settees. "It's possible. In a city this size, he could be anywhere."

   "If he even stayed in the city." Hutch sat down on the arm of the recliner, next to his partner.

   Two more uniformed officers entered the lounge to report. "Nothing, sirs. We've searched the entire building and there's no sign of him."

   "That's just great!" Dobey turned on the two detectives. "Well, what are you doing just sitting around? Get your butts in gear and..."

   "Wait a minute!" Hutch raised a hand for silence. "Did you hear something?"

   The room immediately went dead silent. The only sound was the ticking of an elaborate wall clock. Starsky cocked his head at his partner, his eyebrows raised. What did you hear?

   Hutch quickly shook his head, his ears straining for the noise to repeat itself. After a long second the occupants of the room exhaled their collectively held breaths.

   "What did you think you heard, Hutchinson?" Taylor asked, leaving the desk and crossing to join the other men.

   "I thought I heard the floor squeak."

   Taylor shook his head. "It's an old building. That could have been any one of us shifting his weight."

   Starsky glanced over to his captain with a wicked grin forming on his face. Dobey's finger was pointed in his direction before he could open his mouth. "Don't even, Starsky."

   Hutch shook his head in frustration. "No, the noise came from over here." The blond walked over to the farthest wall, dominated by an elaborate stereo system that had been shut off after the arrests. Starsky's gaze turned away from his irritated captain to follow his partner. His first glance was in appreciation for the expensive sound equipment, but a second look noted that the walnut paneling that made up the walls stopped a half inch above the carpet in a three foot section, rather than continuing down into the lush piles like the rest of the walls.

   "Hutch!" Starsky hissed as he joined his partner. He then pulled Hutch a few feet away from the wall and pointed to the bottom of a three-foot section. As the two crouched down to examine the area, they could make out a faint glow of light coming from the gap. The detectives looked at each other with grins, then stood. A quick examination found an area that had been cut out of the wood to form a hidden door. Hutch turned and gestured for Dobey, Taylor and the two officers to get ready. The unmistakable sound of a trigger being cocked was audible as Starsky lay his ear against the paneling. He quickly flung himself across the hidden doorway shouting "Down!" as he knocked his partner to the floor in a flying tackle. Starsky's sudden movement put Captain Dobey in motion as well, the larger man shouldering Taylor aside and out of the line of fire. A deafening roar exploded into the room as the first volley from a shotgun blasted through what was once a concealed entryway. As pieces of paneling and stereo parts flew through the lounge, the two uniformed officers threw themselves behind a small wet bar.

   A second blast tore an additional portion of the wall away before Starsky and Hutch could disentangle themselves and draw their weapons. Before a third shot could be fired, the partners had rolled to their feet and taken aim at Randolph through the three-foot hole in the wall. The other officers in the room quickly drew their guns and joined the detectives.

   Randolph's sawed-off shotgun wavered from one detective to the other, sweat pouring from his pale face. The exertion of scrambling for safety when the raid began, and the kickback from the two blasts had reopened his shoulder wound. Blood stained through his bandages and shirt as he took on the look of a cornered animal, the barrel swinging from one target to the next.

   "I wouldn't, if I were you." Starsky's voice was soft, but there was no mistaking its deadly edge. "You might take one or two of us out, but you'll never get all of us."

   Randolph's rapid breathing beat an odd counterpoint to the ticking of the wall clock. A few tense seconds passed before he finally let the shotgun slip from his hands and onto the floor.


   Captain Dobey waited outside the hospital room, nursing a cup of cooling coffee. The uniformed guard stationed outside Randolph's room had long since given up trying to make small talk with his senior officer, and sat stoically beside the door.

   When the two detectives finally emerged, Dobey could tell by the grim lines set on their faces neither they nor Taylor had made any headway with the prisoner. "What'd you get, anything?"

   Hutch ran a hand over his face. "Nothing. That leech in a three-piece suit that calls himself a lawyer advised him to keep his mouth shut, and that's exactly what he did."

   The three men began to travel down the hallway. "So, what's next?"

   "I'd say we start with some of the girls that we brought in today. Maybe with a little bargaining we can persuade one of them to spill the beans." Starsky yawned.

   "Provided that there are beans to be spilled," his partner retorted, pushing Starsky into the elevator.


   Capernicus was packing up another box of materials from the "legitimate" business fronting all their other operations when the phone rang. Having dismissed his secretary with the story their stock trading firm had gone bankrupt, the extortionist snatched up the receiver and sat on the edge of his desk. "Teilman and Associates."

   "Mr. Capernicus, it's Eddie."

   "I thought I told you not to call me here, Eddie."

   "They've got Mr. Randolph."

   "Who has Mr. Randolph?"

   "The cops. Somehow they found out where we were and busted in through Antonio's place. They took everybody--Phil, Jake, even all the girls."

   "How is it that you're not with them, Eddie? This had better not be your one phone call from the police station. Tell me that you're not that stupid, Eddie."

   "No, sir! Of course not! I was making a run for Mr. Randolph when the cops came. I got there just as they were hauling him into the squad car."

   Capernicus threw his head back with an oath, then rubbed his free hand across his face.

   "What do you want I should do now, Mr. Capernicus?"

   "I need time to think, Eddie. These additional complications were not allowed for." The pseudo-businessman thought furiously. "With Jake and Phil and the others from the Eddington Street location out of commission, that puts us a bit short-handed. I'm not convinced these current set of circumstances mandate our leaving the west coast just yet. Do you think you can manage to find us some additional manpower? I think you know what kind of help we're looking for."

   "Sure, Mr. Capernicus. For the kind of money you're offering, I can get just about anybody you want."

   "That's good, Eddie. Go to it then. I'll contact you later today with your next assignment."

   "Uh, Mr. Capernicus, what about Mr. Randolph? You want me to try and bust him out? They took him to County General `cause he was bleedin' again. That should make it a heckuva lot easier to get to him than if he was in lockup."

   "No, that won't be necessary, though I'll give the matter some consideration. Most likely the police will offer Mr. Randolph a reduced sentence if he turns over federal evidence, which will be a temptation to my partner. He never had as much loyalty to the operation as I would have hoped. We'll have to see how this plays out with him before we decide our next move."

   "What about the three cops that saw you snatch that Watkins guy? What do you want to do about them?"

   Capernicus rubbed his eyes against the ache that started behind them. "With theirs and Mr. Randolph's testimonies, the prosecution would have substantial evidence. It would be a fairly airtight case, provided they can find me. But without witnesses, it's all circumstantial, and that my lawyers can deal with." The extortionist snorted. "Even if I were convicted, my sentencing would be minimal, which we would appeal until I was dead and buried. But as I said, they'd have to find me first."

   With a sigh, the graying man stood and crossed over to the picture window looking over the city skyline. "How unfortunate for Mr. Randolph. He's just become a liability."

   "So, what are you going to do?"

   "Like any good businessman, I'm going to start eliminating the liabilities."


   Starsky and Hutch spent the better part of the day tracking down a few dead-end leads and touching base with their assortment of contacts. Interrogating the prostitutes and brothel employees from the previous day's bust yielded nothing of any value. Either they didn't know anything, or they were more afraid of what would happen to them if they did talk than of going to jail.

   The partners spent the day completely unaware that Capernicus' men were monitoring their every move. When the Torino came to rest in front of The Pits, a vagrant staggered out of a nearby alley and made his way to the phone booth on the block's south corner. It took three attempts before the trembling hand was able to insert his only dime into the slot. The wino opened his dirty palm to read the number that had been written there for him in marker.

   "They're here." The vagrant had to pause to clear the phlegm from his underused voice. "Them two cops you was askin' about--Harsky and Stutcherson--they just got to The Pits. So, how about the rest of that money you promised me?"


   There were few occasions when Huggy was truly surprised, and this was one of them. His bar had been robbed a few times in the past, but rarely since word on the street placed him in tight with a certain set of detectives. Starsky's car was so recognizable that whenever the Torino was parked in any proximity to the bar, it was like a warning beacon against trouble.

   In Huggy's mind, it stood to reason the five men wearing ski masks and waving baseball bats and pipes around must have been from out of town. There was no way anyone local would try and rob The Pits when they knew Starsky and Hutch were around.

   Once the five men burst into the room the boisterous crowd fell immediately still, the only noise coming from the old Wurlitzer behind the pool tables. The music was cut short when one of the assailants charged across the room and smashed a length of pipe into it, silencing it permanently.

   The gloved hand of the nearest thug snaked out and grabbed Huggy by the front of his turtleneck, sticking a small caliber pistol under his chin. "Open the cash register, now!"

   If nothing else, Huggy was nobody's fool. Raising both his hands in a gesture of surrender, he began to slowly make his way backward toward the register. "I can dig it, just be cool, man."

   A second assailant grabbed Diane by her apron and drew her near. "C'mon, baby, fork over the cash you got in there." The waitress complied with shaky hands, digging into the apron pockets for her tips. Fearful brown eyes swept over the crowd, desperately seeking out her two favorite customers. Even as afraid as she was, Diane knew better than to call out for their help and blow whatever rescue they might be devising.

   All the other patrons watched in stunned silence as the other three hooded men began working the crowd, taking wallets, purses and jewelry. Starsky and Hutch sat tensely, half-afraid someone in the bar would identify them as cops, or that the robbers would discover their guns and badges before they had a chance to retaliate. Even though it appeared only the first hood had a gun, the odds were still definitely against them.

   Starsky glanced over at his partner and murmured under his breath, "How do you want to handle this?"

   Hutch raised an eyebrow without turning his head toward the other man. "Me? What makes you think I've got a plan?"

   Starsky issued a snort. "You're the one always claiming to be the brains of this outfit."

   Hutch was about to give a retort when the thug relieving the cash register of its contents began to get agitated. Huggy was roughly shoved into the back of the bar, knocking over several bottles of liquor. The next shove propelled him into the pool table, directly next to Starsky and Hutch's table. "C'mon, man! Where's the rest of the money? There's gotta be more than this!"

   Huggy glanced over at his friends' taut faces, knowing they were fighting for self-restraint. He threw them a warning look, knowing the odds of the detectives taking on the five men in the crowded bar would undoubtedly leave more than one innocent person dead. Huggy pushed himself up off the pool table with his hands raised in front of him again. "Look, friend, I'd give it to ya if there was anything more to give! I..."

   The assailant backhanded Huggy with the stock of his pistol, sending him crashing back onto the pool table and rolling off of it. The two detectives leapt to their feet, slamming their table into the gunman. The blow sent him crashing to the floor, but not before his pistol went off by reflex, shattering an overhead light. Patrons and employees went scattering from the room or ducking beneath their tables for protection.

   Starsky managed to clear his Baretta from its shoulder harness when the next thug rushed him, sending them both tumbling over a table. The remaining three men all rushed for Hutch, who dove and rolled out of their reach. With a number of bystanders still in the room, neither of the detectives wanted to shoot until they knew with a hundred percent certainty they had a clear line of fire.

   When Starsky hit the ground, the wind was knocked out of him. Matters were further complicated when his assailant landed on top of him and the force of the blow loosed Starsky's gun, sending the Baretta sliding under a nearby booth. Patrons cowering nearby fled to the safety of the kitchen as the detective began to grapple with the larger man, both determined to retrieve the handgun.

   On the other side of the room Hutch was scrambling from behind the pool table, trying to make his way to the better protection of the bar. Fortunately, Huggy was nowhere to be seen, and out of harm's way. Hutch hoped that his friend had the presence of mind to call for backup. The detective drew his gun and stood up from behind the pool table, trying to cover all three of the robbers at once. The assailants scattered within the still crowded room, using terrified patrons as cover. Hutch knew that his Python was virtually useless. As he made a dash toward the counter, a chair seemingly flew out of nowhere and struck him squarely on his back with a spine-numbing blow. Hutch tumbled forward and landed against the bar, his gun dropping from lax fingers. Before he had a chance to recover, two of the masked robbers were on him, each grabbing an arm before he realized what was happening. A third attacker rushed up on Hutch from behind, his arm drawn back with a lead pipe, preparing to cave in the detective's skull.

   At the last possible second, a familiar bellow reverberated across the room: "Huuuuuuuuutch!" Starsky had been successful in besting his opponent, but hadn't managed to retrieve his gun from somewhere beneath the now empty booth. Just as Starsky staggered upright, wiping at the blood from his split lip, he saw the rush attack on his partner.

   Even though Hutch was still stunned by his encounter with the thrown chair, he had the wherewithal to make himself as small a target as possible by going completely limp at Starsky's warning. The unexpected dead weight dragged his two captors together as Hutch slumped to the floor. The third attacker was unable to check his forward motion in time, and mistakenly slammed the pipe across the back of one of the other robber's head. The remaining two men stumbled on top of Hutch, one them accidentally kicking the Python out of reach, the other landing a haphazard kick to the detective's jaw, stunning him further.

   Starsky propelled himself toward the two men dragging his partner to his feet when a motion to his right caught his eye. The original gunman had recovered from their attack with the table, and was aiming the pistol at the blond detective struggling to break free.

   Starsky changed course by springing onto a nearby chair and throwing himself toward the gunman. The assailant changed his aim to the body hurtling toward him. Catlike reflexes contorted Starsky in midair, twisting his body even as he descended on the gunman. The detective's face registered surprise as Huggy seemed to appear out of thin air, brandishing a pool stick, which he effectively used as a bat against the gunman's back. The thug crumpled to the floor, his shot going wild. Starsky's body still collided with the hood's, laying him out flat. As he scrambled up off the inert form, he snatched up the small caliber pistol and gave Huggy a quick thumbs up. The black man returned his focus to the unconscious form sprawled before him, the now cracked pool cue held ready in the event that either of the two men Starsky had taken down should recover.

   Hutch, in the meantime, was holding his own against the last two attackers, the third of which never revived from the blow to his head. He slung one of the men to the floor and delivered a right cross to the other, knocking him unconscious. Hutch turned to where he had last seen his partner when the man he had just thrown to the floor recovered, the detective's Python in his hand. Hutch quickly grabbed him by the wrists, grappling for the pistol. The inertia of their fight caused them both to lose their balance and fall to the floor behind the bar.

   Following the sickening thud of bodies hitting the floor, the unmistakable roar of Hutch's gun silenced the room. In his hurry to assist his partner, Starsky stumbled into a table. For a terrified heartbeat he froze, sprawled across the wooden top, at the sound of the gunshot. The last masked assailant sprung up from behind the bar and ran hell-bent out the room and up the stairs to the freedom of the darkened streets.

   Starsky flung himself up from the table like a man possessed, and rushed to the back side of the bar. Hutch lay sprawled on the floor, absent of any signs of life. An uncontrollable rage consumed Starsky and propelled him up the stairs to the cooling twilight. The desperate energy that drove him quickly brought him within a few feet of the escaping felon.

   Blinded by fury, Starsky planted his feet and took aim, snarling, "Halt, or I'll shoot!" The running man hesitated only enough to change his course, barreling to his right toward a row of parked cars. Starsky allowed for two heartbeats to pass between the last word and the punctuating blast of the pistol bucking in his palm. The running felon faltered as if he were suddenly slipping on ice, then crumpled to the ground, dead before he even hit the pavement.


   Starsky never even paused to watch the body fall to the ground. As soon as he knew he had made his target, he spun away and hurled himself down the stairwell to The Pits. About halfway down, he lost his footing and slid down the remaining steps. Fear and anguish drove him behind the bar to where he had last seen his partner. What he found stopped his heart, which had lodged into his throat moments earlier.

   Huggy knelt next to Hutch, who was sitting up, resting his elbows on his knees. The blond looked up at his partner and coughed. Starsky staggered to his friend and dropped to his knees, then slid the rest of the way onto the floor.

   "I thought..." A shared memory flashed through both detectives' minds: another time and place, but the words, anguish and rage were the same--I thought you were dead.

   Hutch coughed again, his ribs bruised from where the gunman had landed on him. "He missed."

   "What?" Starsky shook his head, confused and overwhelmed with relief. The reassuring, if not delayed, sound of sirens trumpeted the approach of assistance.

   "I said, he missed. When we fell, he was on top, and the gun was pointed past me. He knocked the wind out of me, but must have thought he shot me, because I didn't move--I couldn't move. So, I just played possum. He panicked and ran."

   "You played what?" Starsky hollered at his partner. "I thought..." With a groan Starsky covered his eyes with his bruised hands and rolled onto his back, giving himself a moment to get his adrenaline under control.

   The sound of rushing feet echoed down the stairway. Three uniformed officers burst through the open doorway, guns drawn.

   "Hey, we got a dead guy out there!" a fourth officer called out as he entered the room. He then scanned the silent and unmoving room. "We got a bunch of dead guys in here, too!"


   As it turned out, there were only two among the dead that evening: the man resisting arrest Starsky had shot, and the man whose skull was caved in by his own counterpart. It was well past 2:00 AM as the detectives sat in the darkened bar with Huggy, Captain Dobey and Agent Taylor.

   "What I'm thinking..." Starsky paused to down the rest of his coffee, "is that they weren't here to rob Huggy at all."

   Hutch glanced up sharply at his partner. "How do you mean?"

   Huggy got up gingerly from the table to retrieve the coffee pot from behind the bar. "Sure had me fooled."

   "I think it was a hired hit. Clumsy, yes. Unprofessional, yes. But definitely hired."

   "And you think we were the targets?"

   "No, not we."

   "You mean me? I was the target? Oh, come on, Starsk. Don't you think that's a bit of a reach?"

   Starsky turned to his captain and the FBI agent, hoping to draw them into his line of reasoning. "Think about it: nobody local would have pulled that kind of a stunt if it had just been a robbery, me and Hutch are too well known here. So at best, it woulda had to have been from somebody out of town..."

   "Or desperate," Hutch interjected.

   "Okay, or desperate. But think about how it all came down. How many times could they have simply snatched the cash and split, even after things heated up? But they didn't. They were more intent on removing that blond head of yours from the rest of your body."

   "I seem to recall a few of them dancing with you tonight."

   "Yeah, but only to keep me out of the way." Starsky leaned toward his partner, the intensity of his concern darkening his eyes. "Face it, Blondie, you were the target tonight."

   Hutch looked away from his partner's anxious eyes. "Okay, so even if I was--and I'm not saying I agree with you on this one, Starsk--they blew it. We've got three of them in custody. This could be the break we've needed to find Capernicus."

   Agent Taylor exhaled loudly. "That, gentleman, would solve our problem. In the meantime, Hutchinson, watch your back."

   Hutch nodded his head toward his partner and gave the older man a weary grin. "Well, sir, that's what I've got him around for."

   Starsky snorted. "And don't you forget it, you lucky devil."


   The ringing of the phone propelled Starsky out of his bed, a flying mass of arms and sheets. Normally, an early morning call would only elicit a directionless arm flopping in the general vicinity of the phone and a mumbled, "`lo?", but the tension that had plagued them both for the last few days kept the detective on edge, even in his sleep. After he rubbed his burning eyes, he could make out his partner sitting up expectantly from where he'd been sleeping on Starsky's couch. Both men had claimed they were simply too exhausted to take Hutch all the way back to Venice the night before. Though neither would admit it, they both slept better after the gunplay at The Pits knowing that the other was nearby. The detective cleared his throat before speaking. "Starsky."

   Dobey sighed before he spoke. "You and your partner better get down here. They got Avelechez."

   The two detectives made eye contact from across the room. Starsky didn't need to be told who they were. "How? When?"

   Another sigh preceded the black man's response. "Just get down here."