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The Sacrifice - Part Two
A crime scene, especially involving a homicide, draws a considerable crowd. But place that same spectacle in front of a police station and you've got nothing short of a circus, even on a Sunday morning. Starsky and Hutch were forced to park in the station's garage rather than their customary spot on the street in order to avoid the crowds and television crews. They then fought their way through the mass of humanity to get to the sheeted remains of Romer Avelechez. As they broke through to the barricades holding off the crowds, Hutch grabbed the shoulder of a patrolman.
"Get these vultures out of here, huh?"
"We're trying, Sergeant."
"Well, try harder!"
Starsky put a restraining grip on Hutch's shoulder, giving it a squeeze. "Ease up. They lost somebody today, too."
The grim expression on Hutch's face abated minutely as he turned back to apologize to the uniformed officer, but he was gone. Returning his attention to the task at hand, Hutch moved along side his partner to the body of the slain patrolman. A county medical examiner named Stravinski was finishing up his initial investigation and authorizing the body to be removed to the awaiting ambulance.
"Whatcha got, Strav?" Starsky called over, as he knelt to lift up the corner flap of the body bag off Avelechez's face. The attendants paused in transferring the body onto a stretcher while the detective viewed the patrolman.
"Starsky. Hutchinson," the older man greeted, as he removed his glasses and rubbed his tired eyes. "Small caliber bullet, probably a twenty-five or a thirty-eight, point of entry at the base of the skull, half inch above the collar line, execution style. Close range, got some gun powder residue back there. Hands were bound with coat or some other large gauge wire. Other than a few contusions, no other sign of trauma. Initial estimate that he's been dead six to eight, so that puts the time of death approximately 11:00 or 12:00 last night, but don't quote me on that. I'll know more after I get him on the table. But they didn't do it here, this was just the drop off point. Obviously trying to make a point, not just eliminate a cop."
Hutch jotted the information down on the small pad of paper he retrieved from his jacket pocket. Deep lines of tension and anger formed around his eyes and mouth. He quickly glanced up from his writing to the other officers and detectives milling around the scene. "Any witnesses?"
"None." The answer came from Dobey, as he descended the station stairs with a few other officers in tow.
"You've got to be kidding!" Starsky sprang up and joined his partner. "Somebody offs a cop then dumps the body at the foot of the station and nobody sees nothing?"
"What kind of fools and idiots work here?" Hutch barked at no one in particular.
"I see two kinds right in front of me!" Dobey bellowed back. "Now haul your self-righteous backsides on up to my office to get briefed!"
Hutch's blue eyes turned to ice, as he stared back at his commanding officer. After a few tense moments, the blond moved forward in curt movements. Starsky followed in his wake, but not before placing a consoling hand on his captain's arm. The large man nodded curtly in response, but never took his eyes off the sheeted form as the gurney was lifted into the waiting ambulance. Some days it just doesn't pay to be one of the good guys.
Dobey stomped into his office, slamming the door behind him. Starsky and Hutch sat silently in their chairs, the latter staring angrily out the single window. Without a word the captain flung himself into his protesting chair and drew the Capernicus/Randolph case file out of the center drawer. The manila dossier was slapped onto his desk as he examined the two detectives in turn. When Starsky finally looked up and met his gaze, Dobey growled, "This was no random killing of a cop."
Hutch turned abruptly away from the window, words grinding out of clenched teeth. "We know that, Captain. Stravinski said the shot was an execution style placement."
Starsky placed a calming hand on his friend's arm, but his words were no less harsh. "And dumping his body here unseen leaves a very loud message."
"But what you two don't know is yesterday somebody tried to take out Avelechez earlier in the day." Dobey had their attention now. "Around 3:15 Marty and Romer responded to a two-eleven at a convenience store. Somebody took a shot at them..."
"What's so unusual about..."
"Starsky, if you'd shut up long enough to let me explain, you'd know that what's so unusual is the shot that blew Avelechez's hat right off his head came from a sniper holed up in the building across the alley from the convenience store. The shot wasn't from the perps in the two-eleven."
Starsky's eyes narrowed. "A lookout?"
"Not likely." The captain blotted sweat from his forehead with a handkerchief. "The two-eleven was a couple of inexperienced teenagers with an unloaded handgun. Probably paid off in order to get Avelechez and Perrigo out in the open."
Hutch reached over to gather up the case folder from Dobey's desk. "This is the Randolph/ Capernicus file."
Starsky glanced up sharply from where he had begun reading over his partner's arm. "You think Avelechez's death is connected."
"What else can I think? Aside from the three witnesses...make that two...the majority of the evidence is circumstantial, certainly nothing that will get them for murder one. Eliminate the witnesses..."
"...and there's little or no case," Starsky finished grimly.
"Captain, don't you think that's a bit of a reach?" Hutch passed his partner the case file. "There could be any number of reasons why somebody would want to kill a cop."
"Are you hearing what you're saying, Hutchinson? You tell me why somebody would want to kill Avelechez. You heard the ME say it was an execution, not a random shooting. Use your brains." Dobey pulled the duty roster out of his desk drawer and began scribbling furiously. "As of right now you two are off the Dobson case and this one. I'm putting Perrigo and you two on inactive status and I want Hutchinson to lay low for a bit."
"Oh, come on!" Somewhere in the back of Hutch's consciousness he realized that he didn't hear his partner's indignant voice harmonizing with his. Still, he pressed angrily on. "You can't do that!"
Dobey paused in his writing to cock an eyebrow at the errant detective. Watch me.
"Now don't `but, Captain' me, Hutchinson. If I'm right, they're going after you again and Perrigo as well."
"Fine. I understand you think they might be trying to eliminate the witnesses. I accept the possibility. But we're not doing anybody any good by holing up until Capernicus is caught. Captain, we've spent almost nine months putting together the Dobson case--nine months. Our contacts are not going to trust anybody else, and if Dobson gets wind of anyone new moving in, he'll haul his operation out of here so fast..."
"Do you have enough for a conviction?"
"Yes, but there're loose ends..."
"Someone else can tighten them for you..."
"...and you know we're the Feds' best bet on finding Capernicus."
"All right, all right. I get your point. But I still don't like it." Dobey turned to the silent partner. "Starsky?"
Hutch turned his focus on his partner with an accusing stare. Are you going to support me in this or not?
Starsky locked eyes with Hutch, studying him. Finally he relented, nodding minutely. But the final look he gave his partner promised that if things got dicey he was changing both of their minds--and fast--whether Hutch liked it or not.
"Cap'n, Hutch's right. I don't like it either because that big, blond head's an easy target. But in a few more days, we'll be able to hand you Dobson with a bow on his greasy little head. In the meantime, I'll take care of the Blintz."
Dobey exhaled and ran his hand over his face. A shrewd glance from one set of blue eyes to the other affirmed the two detectives' determination to see the case through until Capernicus was apprehended. A pencil was jabbed in Hutch's direction. "All right. But I'm putting a car outside your apartment on twenty-four hour detail."
"Fine." Hutch stood up and slapped his partner on the shoulder as he headed for the door. Starsky stood up to follow.
"Starsky!" Dobey called, halting the detective. "Be careful."
The grin Starsky gave his captain was meant to reassure him, but fell short of erasing the tension in both of their eyes.
Federal Agent Taylor gave Phillip Randolph a few minutes to mull over the final offer of immunity. The interrogation of the remaining three assailants busted at The Pits yielded nothing of any value, other than they were paid off by a contact made on the street and had allegedly only heard of Phillip Randolph and Richard Capernicus. It now boiled down to getting Randolph to talk.
A tick developed under the extortionist's right eye, as he swung a nervous gaze from the agent to the armed guard standing by the hospital room window. Providing all the names, dates and figures demanded of him, in addition to ratting on his partner, would spell certain death without protection before, during and after the trial. Afterwards, he would be guaranteed placement in the Federal Witness Protection Program, giving him a completely new identity and immunity from prosecution. All Randolph would have to do was sing like he'd never sung before at the upcoming preliminary, giving enough information to allow the case to go to trial once Capernicus was apprehended.
Randolph knew that his choices were limited. If he went to federal prison, he would likely be dead within months. He had made too many enemies throughout his years in business and would be an easy target for revenge. If he squealed on his partner and their associates, his life wouldn't be worth squat if he remained on his own without federal protection. The only real chance of survival he had was in taking the agent's offer, and if nothing more, Phillip Randolph was a survivor.
"Okay. Where do you want me to start?"
Starsky and Hutch were used to causing a bit of a stir when they walked into certain establishments, especially when things were heating up on the streets. But in the last nine years of their partnership, it rarely happened when they entered The Pits. The moment they walked across the room, the voices that made up the noisy din softened perceptibly, and more than a few sets of eyes followed them as they made their way to the bar.
Leaning against the counter, Starsky turned to his partner. "That was weird."
Hutch raised his eyebrows in agreement. "Could be something's brewing."
The brunette stared at Hutch with mock amazement. "You think? You ever thought about becoming a detective?"
"Maybe your fly's unzipped again."
"Shut up and buy me a beer." Before Starsky could call over to Diane, Huggy approached them, two mugs in hand.
"What it is, gentlemen?"
"Hiya, Hug," Starsky greeted as he accepted the beers. "I think the temperature in the room dropped a few degrees when we walked in. What's the word?"
"Word? Man, there ain't no words, if you catch my meaning." Huggy took a swipe at the countertop with his towel. "Things ain't been this quiet since...since I don't know when."
"When we walked in things got a bit quiet." Starsky glanced around the room as it returned to its previous level of noise. "What gives?"
"What gives is the patrons of this fine establishment know you two made a major dent in the some of the local action."
Hutch took a long drink of his beer. "And?"
"And the people of this fair city are too worried about their own hides to be talking about anybody else's." Huggy folded his thin arms across his chest. "Ain't good for information, but it is good for business. Jittery people imbibe in the spirits to calm their frazzled nerves."
"Well, in that case..." Starsky guzzled the last of his drink and slammed the mug down on the bar top. "Bring me another one." He gave his partner's disapproving look a shrug. "It's for medicinal purposes. You wouldn't want me to get jittery, would you?"
The next morning the detectives gave their final court appearance, providing the prosecuting attorney enough evidence to convict Mitchell Dobson on three felony counts of embezzlement and a reduced sentence for voluntary manslaughter. It wasn't quite the sentence they had been hoping for, but it was enough to put the greasy little man away for what would undoubtedly be the remainder of his greasy little life. The satisfaction they felt at the payoff of ten months of work paled in comparison to their growing frustration over the Randolph/Capernicus case, the loss of Avelechez, and the threat against the remaining witnesses.
Hutch noticed how the strain was beginning to affect his usually affable partner. Starsky was getting anxious and easily provoked. The two detectives left the courtroom after shaking hands with Linda Barkley, the prosecuting attorney, both unsuccessful in their attempts to coax her out for a victory lunch. The trim lawyer thanked them both politely, offering a rain check when her case load lightened.
"You're losing your touch, old man." Hutch chuckled as they made their way out of the courthouse into the midday sun.
"Me? I don't see her falling all over you either, pal."
"Yeah, well..." Hutch's voice trailed off as he watched a dull gray Chevy slow considerably in front of the courthouse, then pull into a parking spot at the end of the block.
"What? Whatcha see?" Starsky turned to follow his partner's gaze at the nondescript vehicle.
"It's probably nothing, but I think that's the same Chevy I saw this morning sitting across from my apartment before you picked me up."
Starsky's eyes narrowed dangerously. "Hunt or fish?"
"Let's go fishin', partner."
The two crossed the street and got into the Torino. Starsky gunned the engine, then laid rubber as he pulled out onto the street. Hutch took in the plate numbers as they passed the Chevy and tried to get a good look at the driver, but they turned their head away as the Torino passed by. Starsky headed toward the business district and, as they reached the first cross street, executed his typical tire squealing slide and hit the gas. Both men watched out of the rear view mirrors.
"Here fishy, fishy, fishy..." Hutch intoned. Within seconds the gray Chevy raced around the corner, obviously trying to keep the Torino in sight. Starsky turned to the left, cutting through a parking lot and shooting out onto a one-way street, headed in the wrong direction.
"Sheesh! I hate it when you do this!" Hutch groaned as he clutched the dashboard, fighting the desire not to close his eyes against the oncoming traffic.
"Nag, nag, nag." Starsky swung the red sedan onto a side street, knowing it dead-ended into a service bay and loading dock for a small clutch of businesses. He glanced up to make sure the tail was still following. "Get ready with the net."
The Torino swiveled into the shipping area and slid to a halt behind a large dumpster, well out of sight of anyone entering the cul de sac. Starsky and Hutch poured out of the car and positioned themselves against the wall of the building nearest the alley entrance. The Chevy careened down the passageway, turning sharply and slamming on the brakes when the driver realized that he'd been trapped in a dead end.
As soon as the car shuddered to a stop the detectives rushed it, their guns thrust before them. The driver panicked at the sight of the two advancing on him from different angles and threw the car into reverse, churning up dust and debris. Starsky dove out of the vehicle's path, rolling behind the dumpster just before the Chevy drove over where he had been standing seconds before. Hutch fired a warning shot into the air, shouting, "Police!" as he raced toward the front of the car.
The young Asian man at the wheel ignored the warning and gave the steering wheel a hard crank, spinning the sedan into the dumpster. Hutch heard his partner cry out even as the car was thrown into forward and peeled directly to where the blond stood, blocking the only escape route through the alley. The large receptacle was sent spinning against Starsky, rolling over his right leg up to his thigh, pinning him beneath it.
"Starsky?" Hutch bellowed as he aimed and fired into the car, shattering the windshield. The Chevy's driver flinched as the glass webbed, but maintained his deadly path toward Hutch. The blond fired again at the oncoming vehicle as he realized the driver's intent was to crush him against the brick wall behind him. Hutch didn't wait to see that his shot went wide, but rather jumped on top of a nearby trash can. He then flung himself up to the fire escape, catching the ladder with his left hand while maintaining his grip on the Python. Hutch's legs swung free from the trash can just as the Chevy plowed into the wall below him.
The ancient metal of the fire ladder snapped under the duress of Hutch's weight, sending him sprawling on the hood of the Chevy. Even though he was stunned, Hutch managed to find a purchase on the hood's casing as the driver put the car in reverse and peeled away from the wall. The detective tried in vain to draw a bead on the driver while they careened out of the alley, but the Asian jerked the wheel from side to side, trying to shake Hutch off the car, or at least ruin his aim.
Starsky was finally able to extract himself from beneath the dumpster, shredding the leg of his jeans and gouging the flesh on his thigh as he freed himself from the rough metal. Ignoring the pain shooting down his leg, he hurtled down the alley after the sedan and his partner. Just before the Chevy reached the street, Starsky planted himself and took steady aim. The single shot exploded the rear driver's side tire, but never slowed the car down as it barreled out toward the afternoon traffic. Starsky continued his race down the alley, fearing what would happen to his partner once the sedan made it onto the busier streets.
The Chevy left the alley and executed a sliding turn onto the street, sideswiping a Lincoln Continental traveling westbound. Hutch was flung off the Chevy and across the hood of the Lincoln, the momentum rolling him off the second vehicle and onto the pavement. The Chevy disentangled itself from the wreck and tore down the street, leaving behind pieces of rubber from the destroyed tire. As Starsky cleared the alley with his faltering gait, he glimpsed the Chevy careening around the corner, the rim of the wheel digging into the pavement.
"Hutch, Hutch, Hutch..." Starsky intoned pushed his way through the growing crowd to get to his dazed partner. Hutch was just now pushing himself up off the blacktop to a sitting position. "Somebody call an ambulance!"
Hutch shook his head to clear it. "I don't need an ambulance." He looked at the blood soaking through his partner's pant leg. "But maybe you do?"
Starsky shook his head. "I don't need an ambulance. You okay?"
"I just said I was, didn't I?" Hutch tried to stand, but was unsteady and went back down onto his backside. Starsky tried to stand as well, making it as far as a crouch, then tried to help Hutch up.
"No, you said you didn't need an ambulance. You didn't say that you were okay." In trying to pull the blond to his feet, Starsky started to go back down as his rapidly swelling leg gave way.
"I'm okay, are you okay?" Hutch grabbed his partner by the hand to keep him from falling, but it only resulted in both of them sprawling back down onto the pavement.
By the time the first squad car arrived, the two detectives were seated on the curb, their heads in their hands, recovering from the last few moments' events. One patrolmen approached the damaged sedan, looking for someone to explain what had just happened, other than the obvious damage done to the Lincoln. The second patrolman met the Lincoln driver, then looked over to the two ragged men on the curb. "They okay?"
Neither detective looked up. "We're okay!"
The two detectives returned to Hutch's apartment to clean up from their scrape in the alley and change for Avelechez's funeral. Originally, the plan had been to catch a bite to eat after their court appearance, then go directly to the church service. The altercation cut short their time and appetites. Both men's injuries were superficial, though painful, neither saying a word about them in light of what they would have to face that afternoon. As they left the scene, though, Starsky had hesitated before turning over the ignition and looked at his partner. "Strike two," was all he said, then started the sedan and drove them to Hutch's place in silence.
After his own shower Hutch loaned his partner a pair of his slacks, a clean shirt and suit coat, even though they were a bit long for Starsky.
Hutch checked in with R&I for information on the Chevy's plates while Starsky took his turn in the shower. The patrolman had called in the identification and description at the scene, only to be told that the car had been reported stolen the day before. Nothing new had surfaced since then, other than that the sedan had been abandoned a half mile away from where Starsky had shot out its tire. The lab had dusted the interior for prints, but unfortunately, that had only revealed the perpetrator didn't have a prior record in the state of California. The information was already being sent out of state for similar checks.
Hutch hung up the receiver as Starsky emerged from the bathroom, dressed in the borrowed clothes. Hutch couldn't even muster up enough energy to make a crack about the poor fit. Feeling older by ten years, he hauled himself out of the chair and slipped into his jacket. Starsky slapped him on the shoulder as they headed out the door and into the sunlight.
It was time to bury the dead.
To give your life in the line of duty is usually viewed as something noble by societal standards. But to other cops, it's often just the waste of a good man and a pain that never fades. The romanticizing public often forgets within a day or two.
Slowly, the multitude of police officers began to make their way from the graveside service toward their waiting cars. Some still lingered under the canopy, offering condolences to Avelechez's grieving widow and two small children. The morning sunlight warmed the cemetery grounds in direct contradiction to the cold grief there.
Not for the first time Hutch threw a concerned glance at his partner. Funerals were always difficult for Starsky, but a cop's funeral unfailingly brought back a barrage of unwelcome memories. Starsky's sunglasses didn't block out tight lines around the brunette's eyes, nor could they mask the scrapes along Hutch's own temple and cheekbone. Hutch cocked his head in his partner's direction, gaining his attention. One elegant eyebrow raised from behind the glasses--you gonna be okay?
Starsky's expression didn't change, but a small, resolved nod was issued.
Hutch grasped his partner's shoulder. "Let's go find Perrigo. He's not taking this too well."
"You have to ask?"
The two made their way across the lawn toward the line of waiting cars. They found Perrigo standing under a large maple, blowing his nose.
"You doing okay, Marty?" Hutch asked, watching the tall officer wipe quickly at his eyes.
"Yeah, sure, Hutch. I'll be fine. It's kinda hard, you know?"
"Yeah." Hutch glanced over at Starsky. Though I hope to God I never really know what it's like to lose a partner. "Can we give you a lift back home or to the rec hall?"
"Nah, thanks though. I drove myself. Needed some time to think."
A young man from the funeral home approached the small group. "Officer Perrigo, I'm sorry to interrupt, but we need to move your car out of the way. Some of the family needs to go ahead to the rectory hall. If you'd like, I'd be more than happy to move it for you."
"Uh, yeah. That'd be great." Perrigo dug into his jacket pocket for his keys. "You can just leave the keys in it, I'll be heading out after I say goodbye to a few folks."
Perrigo waited until after the attendant was out of earshot before turning his attention back to Starsky and Hutch.
"I heard you're staying on the case even though Captain Dobey wanted to pull you off for protection."
"That's right. We've come too far on this one to..." Hutch's words were drown out by an explosion in the cemetery's drive. The three men instinctively began running toward the source of chaos developing there. Perrigo's race slowed to an astonished halt when he realized that it was his own car fully enveloped in flames, along with the cars directly before and behind it.
"Bomb squad's released your car, Starsky. The said the only tampering they found looked like someone had hooked up detonator wires to the ignition, but left it unfinished. Must be they panicked or got interrupted." Dobey growled at the two men sitting slumped in front of his desk, their suit coats displaying the effects of the day's fiery climax. "Perrigo's gone into protective custody, I think you should reconsider and do the same, Hutchinson."
The blond ignored his captain's warning. "No leads yet on the bombing?"
"Whoever planted the bomb in Perrigo's ignition was at the cemetery with over fifty cops no more than a hundred yards away. He obviously knew what he was doing. Bomb Squad's working on priors with similar MO's. No one's been able to come up with anything on Capernicus' whereabouts either. NYPD's getting back with me later today about his east coast connections. You two got anything new?"
Starsky got up from his chair and made his way to the water cooler, favoring his left leg. "We've checked out all the names R&I came up with. It looks like all of Capernicus' and Randolph's usual assortment of goons are either in jail or dead." The paper cup was quickly drained and discarded. "They don't have the best track record of hiring very bright help."
"Except whoever planted the bomb, but maybe he's new blood," Hutch added as he stood. "That puts us back at square one."
"So, what are you two yo-yos still doing here?" Dobey growled, retrieving the case folder from Hutch.
"I was just thinking that myself." Hutch turned toward his partner. "Where to next? Huggy's?"
Starsky nodded and headed to the door, stepping aside to let his partner pass. "Sounds like a plan."
The evening trade was just beginning as Starsky and Hutch entered the dimly lit bar. Barely pausing to make eye contact with the proprietor, they continued through the small crowd to the corner booth.
Huggy gave a lift of his head in greeting, as he finished drawing a pitcher of beer and placed it on Diane's awaiting tray. Wiping his hands on his apron, he poked his head into the kitchen.
"Hey, Angie! Cover the front for a minute, will ya?" Huggy didn't wait for the grumbling affirmation, but made his way to the bar's cooler and extracted three long-neck Coors and continued toward the back booth.
"Well, well, well..." Huggy intoned, sliding into the bench opposite his friends. "I hear there was almost a pig roast today, if you'll pardon the expression."
"Gee, Hug, your concern is overwhelming," Hutch remarked dryly, as he popped off the bottle top. "What else have you heard about our little barbecue?"
"Not much. Just that a Mister Capernicus is one bad dude, and looking to get rid of a couple of obstacles in the way of his remaining in business."
Starsky downed half his beer in one take. "Tell us something we don't know. Like who the hired help are these days."
Grimly Huggy shook his head. "I've only heard of a couple of the more major ballplayers. One cat by the name of Eddie Fraiser. Used to be a professional welterweight until he got ousted for playing rough, if you catch my meaning."
Starsky perked up at the name. "Hey, I remember him. Didn't he kill a man in the ring back in `77?"
"One and the same. It seems `Lighting Eddie' Fraiser was on Randolph's payroll then and it was a hired hit. They figured that the boxing league would rule it as accidental, which they did, and that he'd only be suspended. A few months later he's back, but dig this--Eddie started boxing dirty again, and its wham, bam, no thank you ma'am, he's out of fighting permanently. In the ring anyway."
"Terrific. Anybody else?"
Huggy thought for a minute before answering. "There was another dude by the name of Michael Franscoli. Him and his brother, Kevin. But Michael got in the way of a semi-automatic hailstorm about six months ago. Other than that, I got zip."
Hutch finished off his beer and threw a twenty on the table. "Thanks, Hug. If you hear anything else...?"
"Hutch..." Huggy quickly grasped the detective's wrist in a surprisingly strong grip as his friend climbed out of the booth. "Listen, my blond brother. These are some bad cats. A certain Bear would be put out if you were another notch on Eddie's championship belt. Watch your back, man."
Hutch smiled and jerked his head toward his partner. "That's what he's there for."
Huggy released his grip and finished off his own beer. Starsky continued out of the booth as well.
"First word I hear, it's yours."
Starsky patted the thin hand lying clenched on the table and followed his partner out the door and into the night.
Capernicus answered the call on the second ring, even though it woke him from a sound sleep. He listened intently to the person on the other end of the line without comment and simply hung up when they were finished.
By memory, the extortionist dialed the private home number of Walter Morgan, warden of the California Simi Valley Maximum Security Facility. Capernicus ignored the annoyance of being awakened at 1:00 AM by the man on the other end of the line.
"I understand you received a new inmate today. I anticipate you know what I expect of you." The receiver slid smoothly back into its cradle and Capernicus rolled over onto his side, into the rest of a man without a conscience.
Correctional Officer Patrick Higby hummed under his breath as he carried the metal tray toward the maximum security cell. He was pleased with his special assignment, knowing he was somehow playing a part, albeit small, in one of the biggest cases to hit Southern California in years.
In keeping Officer Perrigo safely hidden until the trial, Higby felt he was in a win-win situation: someone higher up might hear of his proficiency in protecting a witness, which could result in a promotion or transfer; and he had someone of interest to talk to. Higby had long since reached his limit of boredom with his usual assignment of solitary confinement prisoners. While Perrigo had only been on the force for a few years, he seemed to have some pretty interesting experiences and an easy way about him that Higby was drawn to.
Having passed through the checkpoints, Higby finally reached Perrigo's cell door. C.O. Ron McFarlan sat in a chair outside the door reading yesterday's newspaper.
"Hey, Ron. What's new?"
The junior officer looked up from the sports section with disgust and began folding the paper. "Dodgers lost again."
"And you're surprised by this? They've stunk all season." Higby tilted his head toward the cell. "Anything I need to know about?"
McFarlan stood and stretched, throwing the newspaper on his chair. "Nah, he musta slept straight through. Haven't heard a peep out of him since about 3:00 AM."
The younger man inserted the key from the ring on his belt and pulled the massive door open for the relief officer. Higby stepped into the cell. "So, Perrigo, how do you think the Dodgers'll do the rest of the..."
The metal tray hit the floor with a clatter. Higby staggered out of the cell, retching from the sight of Perrigo's inert form, blood and brain tissue splattered against the wall just above his body.
"Explain to me how this could have happened!" Captain Dobey thought he would explode. The roar of his voice reverberated throughout the detectives' squad room and well into the hallway. Under normal circumstances a bellow of this degree would have sent men scurrying from their desks, but not this time. This time, rage stemmed from the concern for one of their own. Fearing the worst, Starsky and Hutch scrambled into Dobey's office without knocking, just in time to see the captain slam the receiver down with enough force to knock the phone onto the floor. The three men stared silently at the device as it began emitting a busy signal.
The senior officer slowly turned and stared out the window.
Agent Taylor was accompanied by a second FBI agent as he pushed Randolph's wheelchair into the hospital's service elevator. Four accompanying marshal servicemen walked point, forming a wall of protection around the extortionist. The elevator serviced victims flown in via the medi-chopper and linked the helipad to the burn unit located on the top floor of the hospital. This secluded area provided the ideal circumstances to move Randolph to the new safe house, under the protection of the U.S. Marshal Service.
The medivac unit landed on the helipad only minutes before. The pilot remaining with the chopper while the FBI agent that had accompanied him climbed out and radioed for Taylor to bring Randolph up. Four FBI snipers were already in position at each corner of the hospital roof, alert for any hostile action during the transition. Within moments the small entourage emerged from the elevator and rushed to the helicopter, assisting Randolph inside.
Agent Taylor shook hands with his two agents and wished them luck, as the pilot increased the rotors' speed for lift off. The senior officer called through the two-way radio for final affirmation from the snipers that their quadrants were secure, then granted clearance to the pilot.
The helicopter lifted smoothly off the pad and, after gaining sufficient altitude, hurtled north. Taylor watched the chopper as it disappeared from sight. A small measure of satisfaction rippled through the agent as he prepared to release the four snipers on the roof. Taylor's gratification was short lived when an explosion reverberated through the nearby city blocks. The senior agent spun in the direction of the eruption, only to find a fireball raining over the streets.
Hutch, Starsky, and Dobey sat across from Taylor at his desk. The FBI's offices weren't much different than those in their precinct, but the agent seemed almost swallowed up by his own workspace.
Taylor sighed heavily before lifting his head up from his hands. Tiredly, he ran his hands through his hair, leaving the gray tufts standing up at odd angles.
"I received a preliminary report from Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms a few minutes before I called you, Captain. No one, of course, survived in the `copter. All the bodies on board have been identified and accounted for, in addition to four civilians that where killed on Topeka Boulevard from the wreckage and fallout. There were a dozen or so more injuries from the traffic accidents the explosion caused, the two in critical condition were taken over to University Hospital." The agent looked out his office window. "The other agents, Yarborough and Ramsey, were two of my best friends."
"Has ATF come up with anything yet?" Captain Dobey's voice was almost gentle.
"Nothing definite yet. The initial search is showing that, in layman's terms, the rod operating and controlling the back rotor had been tampered with. It appears that it had been sawed almost three quarters of the way through before the rotation wore at it enough to make it break completely. That back rotor is what maintains the direction of the helicopter, so when it stops working, the body of the `copter begins to move uncontrollably in the same direction as the blades, making it impossible to navigate."
Hutch spoke up. "Wait a minute, don't helicopter pilots have to do a flight check every time they make a landing?"
"Yes. We performed an extensive background check on the pilot, Jon O'Malley, as soon as Randolph agreed to give federal evidence in exchange for protection. O'Malley, of course, checked out fine--decorated in Vietnam, had been flying for County General for almost fifteen years. Hadn't had anything more on his record than a parking ticket back in `75. Well, he had just dropped off a set of accident victims when the call from the Marshal Service came in for us to move Randolph. Since my man Ramsey would be at LAX to meet him in less than five minutes and have to move out immediately, O'Malley went against procedure and had the hangar's mechanic do the pre-flight and refuel while he ran in to use the john."
Starsky's eyes narrowed. "So you think maybe it was the mechanic that tampered with the rotor?"
"That's what it's looking like. With nobody watching over the mechanic and with the amount of noise in the hangar, he could have easily ripped through that rod, even though it was guesswork as to how much of it had to be cut through to make it snap after the pick up with Randolph aboard."
"Who knows? Maybe the extra weight alone would be enough to finish the breakage. So where's the mechanic now?" Dobey sighed, anticipating the answer.
"That, Captain, is the sixty-four thousand dollar question. Mechanic's name is Dan Squires. Twenty-five, lived in California for maybe five months, no known immediate family, kind of a loner, no priors. His supervisor said he simply disappeared right after O'Malley and Agent Ramsey lifted off. An APB's been issued and we've got men staking out his apartment." The agent's face seemed to have aged several years since they had first met him. Eyes full of loss turned toward Dobey. "Captain, I wish you'd get your men to reconsider remaining on this case and lay low for awhile."
Before Dobey could speak, Hutch sat forward in his chair. "Sir, I appreciate your concern, but if a man's not safe surrounded by the FBI and U.S. marshals, it's not gonna matter where I am or what I'm doing."
"Hutch..." Dobey began.
"Captain, we both know that Starsky and I are your best bet. No offense to Agent Taylor, but we know these streets better than anyone out there. If anybody's going to dig up Capernicus, it's going to be us."
The captain's eyes swung away from the agitated blond to his partner, who sat slumped in the chair next to him, eyes boring into the floor. Taking Starsky's silence as consent, though not a happy one, Dobey eventually nodded. "See what you can find out about this Squires, but stay out of ATF's way. If you come up with anything, report to Taylor."
Hutch nodded to his superior and waited for further admonishments. Instead Dobey simply growled, "Get out of here. You two don't need me to tell you how to do your jobs."
Hutch stood to leave, but when his partner didn't immediately follow, he slapped him on the arm and continued out of Taylor's office. Starsky followed more slowly, his face a careful mask of underlying anger.
When they reached the outer offices of the federal building, Hutch finally broke the stony silence. "What's with you?"
Starsky continued out of the building to his car, unlocking the passenger door before continuing around to his own door. The angry man threw his partner a glare and slid into the sedan. Hutch followed suit. "Well?"
"For somebody with four years of college under his belt, you're pretty stupid sometimes!" Starsky ground out.
"Meaning you seem to think you're...you're invincible!" Starsky's eyes burned. "For crying out loud, Hutch! Capernicus just iced his partner. Yeah, Perrigo and Avelechez were obvious targets, but this was the guy he'd been in business with for twenty some-odd years. Randolph was under twenty-four hour watch by both the FBI and the federal marshals. What makes you think you're not gonna buy it out there on the streets all by yourself?"
Understanding finally struck Hutch. His reply was almost quiet. "Because I've got you."
Starsky's mouth opened for a moment, either with a lost retort or in disbelief. He looked away, clenching his jaw and the steering wheel to the point of pain. A desperate fear filled his eyes. "What if it's not enough? What if I'm not enough? Hutch, if you get blown away out there, how am I supposed to live with that?"
Hutch reached over and placed his hand on his partner's tense shoulder. Unspoken words were passed between the two, mixed with anxiety and determination. After a moment, Hutch nodded to his partner. "Let's go."
Murray Phelps rolled down the freighter's gangplank with the last load on his forks. As the small Yale truck bounced along the dock, a flash of color in the water caught his gaze. The dock worker glanced over at the number painted on the piling and finished setting down the crate beside the others he had just unloaded during his shift.
Phelps swung off the forklift and stretched out his lower back muscles, relieved that his day was almost over. Shaking out a cigarette as he walked over to the piling marked A54, Phelps paused long enough at the dock's edge to strike the flint of his lighter. The cigarette fell out of his open mouth while the lighter fell to the planking unnoticed at the sight of the body floating face down in the water.
"Zebra Three, stand by for a patch from Captain Dobey."
"Copy that, Mildred. Zebra Three, standing by." Hutch glanced over at his partner, the tension in Starsky's face still evident. "Wonder what's up."
"Maybe he finally figured out who put the fake cockroach in his lunch bag last month."
Hutch smiled at his partner. The anxiety was still there, but his attempt at a lighter conversation was a start.
The blond depressed the microphone. "Go ahead, Captain."
"Get in here; they've found Squires."
Hours later, the two detectives took the homicide report with them to the station cafeteria. They had spent the remainder of the afternoon at the morgue and the prison cell where Perrigo's body had been discovered earlier, then made a trip to the pier where Squires body had been located. Neither man had much of an appetite, but figured a change in scenery from the squad room might help clear their heads.
After making their modest dinner selections, they headed for the most secluded table near the far wall. It wasn't lost on Hutch that his partner skillfully maneuvered himself into a position of being able to shield the blond from any potential threat.
"So what do you think?" Hutch asked as he opened his container of yogurt. He watched Starsky discretely scan the room.
"About what? Perrigo's murder or about that glop you're about to eat? It looks like the paste we used in the third grade."
"Huh, I thought you never made it past the second grade."
"Cute. Do you think you want to eat that crap or wear it?"
"I think there was somebody pretty high up on Capernicus and Randolph's payroll that was in on this. Even if it was a paid hit made by an inmate, how else would they gain access to a maximum security cell? And how the heck would an inmate get a gun and silencer in there?"
"What about a guard?"
"Possibly. Taylor's questioning those two--what were their names?" Hutch snapped his fingers. "Higby and McFarlan. How else could somebody get to Perrigo with a round-the-clock guard who swears on his mother's eyes that no one came or went anywhere near that cell for the twelve hours he was on duty? Of course, it could be the guard was under the orders of a superior in Capernicus' pocket..."
"...or the warden."
"...or the chief of police..."
"...or whoever. Shoot, it could even be the governor for all we know."
"Great. So where does that put us?" Hutch turned a disturbed gaze at his partner.
"Same place as always when it's `who do we trust' time."
The blond bolstered a bit of a smile. "Me and thee."
"Me `n thee," Starsky echoed back with a grin of his own.
Starsky and Hutch were beginning to feel like they were grasping at straws. But with little to go on, they were desperate enough to follow any lead, no matter how thin. The latest came by way of one of their new informants, a vagrant by the name of Milburn. He had only provided the detectives with something useful a few times before, and Starsky still wasn't sure he was ready to trust the homeless man yet.
Hanging up the phone, the brunette stood up from his desk. There was something in Milburn's voice that left an uneasy feeling in his gut. It was a warning that rarely failed him.
"What'd you get?" Hutch asked, glancing up from the notes he was jotting down in the case file.
"Mebbesumfin," Starsky mumbled, as he continued to chew on Milburn's tip and the end of his pen.
Hutch cocked an eyebrow in his partner's direction. "And for those of us who speak English?"
"Maybe somethin', don't know."
Hutch glanced up at the vague response and replaced the notebook in his jacket pocket. "Well, let's go find out."
Starsky followed Hutch out of the squad room, pausing as his partner stopped for a drink of water at the fountain. Starsky replayed the conversation with Milburn in his head, trying to figure out why the information left a bad taste in his mouth--Meet me at Steadman's Tavern at 5:30. I got something on that cop that got iced in the pen.
Finished, Hutch brushed the dampness from his moustache and studied Starsky's furrowed brow. He had been on edge for the past week, none too discretely suggesting Hutch take Dobey's offer of protection. Their differing views had led to many heated discussions with Hutch digging in his heels to remain "on the outside".
"Where'd you park?" Hutch's question interrupted Starsky's mental indigestion.
"Huh? Oh, out front."
Starsky shouldered past and headed down the hall to the station's front doors. Hutch followed a few steps behind with a roll of his eyes. This case had better break soon or we'll both be basket cases.
The unsettling feeling escalated as Starsky descended the steps. He paused at the bottom, allowing four uniformed officers to pass, then waited for Hutch to join him before continuing toward the Torino and voicing his concern. He was drawing a breath to speak when a glint of light from a passing car caught his eye. Instinct set Starsky in motion, catapulting him against his partner's back. The leap landed Starsky's forearm in the middle of his partner's back, slamming Hutch onto his hands and knees behind the protection of the Torino's front fender.
Starsky staggered as he reached inside his jacket to draw his Baretta. Just as the handgun cleared its holster, a slug from a high-powered rifle sliced through the collar of his windbreaker, laying open the flesh of his right shoulder. Ignoring the burning sensation of the wound, Starsky continued his draw even as the propulsion of the shot knocked him to one knee.
Hutch had drawn his Python and followed his partner's bead on the taillights of the now fleeing sedan. Both men fired several shots, but the light blue Impala was quickly disappearing into traffic. Several officers flooded out of the station upon hearing the shots, taking cover behind parked vehicles. The sedan squealed around the corner and disappeared from view.
Starsky turned to the nearest patrolman. "Light blue Impala, probably a `72 or `73. California plates: Mary, Robert, Lincoln, nine-oh-three."
Hutch pulled drew himself up and replaced his gun in its holster. "Mary, Robert, Lincoln, nine-three-oh."
Starsky shook his head. "Nine-oh-three."
The patrolman's head followed the conversation like the spectator at a tennis match, until Hutch finally shrugged his shoulders. "It's one or the other, take your pick."
The patrolman just stood there for a moment, confused. Two voices rang out in unison. "What are you waiting for?"
The young officer startled like a deer and sprinted to his partner waiting in an idling patrol car. The description and plates were called in as they sped to join other squad cars in pursuit.
As the partners turned back toward the station a delayed flair of pain staggered Starsky and sent him reeling into the Torino. Hutch was immediately at his side, concern pinching his features. It was only when he took his partner by the shoulders to steady him against the hood of the car that Hutch felt the dampness of blood soaking through Starsky's shirt and jacket.
"You're...why didn't you tell me you were hit?" The exasperation in Hutch's voice couldn't mask his concern. As gently as he could, he began peeling the ripped clothing away from the wound.
Starsky hissed as the material pulled at the tender flesh of his right shoulder. "Stop it, it's only a graze." He pushed ineffectively at Hutch's hands.
"Starsky, quit it! You're probably gonna need stitches at least." Hutch traced the bullet's path across the flesh of his partner's shoulder, then placed his clean handkerchief against the injury. Even knowing the wound was superficial couldn't block the icy fear that gripped him--a few more inches...
As Starsky reached up to apply pressure, Hutch turned his gaze away from the wound down to his hands. His partner's blood mingled with his own where his palms had been scraped on the cement. The sight of Starsky's blood there unnerved him. That was so close...too close.
The blond lifted his eyes to meet his partner's. Starsky's expression softened at the fear in Hutch's face. "Let's go inside, Dobey'll want to know what's going on."
Hutch shook his head. "Hospital first. I can call Dobey while they're stitching you up."
"Hutch, I've bled worse cutting myself shaving. Dobey'll have kittens if we don't fill him in."
"Fine. Then I'm taking you to County General." Hutch grasped his partner by the elbow, offering support without having been asked for it. Additional officers were already filtering down the steps. Hutch turned back to Starsky before they were interrupted with questions. "Starsk...I'll do it."
Starsky turned his paling face toward his partner and stopped, his cobalt eyes searching Hutch's for understanding. Hutch glanced away from the probing gaze, back to where Starsky's blood stained his hands.
"I'll do it...I'll go into hiding."