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The Sacrifice - Part Three
Starsky steered the Torino into the car wash's lot and pulled into line behind a nondescript black Cadillac. Drumming his fingers on the steering wheel betrayed his nervousness. "You set?"
Hutch didn't even look up from his newspaper. "Mm hmm." His non-committal response relayed his anger toward the circumstances forcing him into hiding.
Starsky's agitated fingers moved on to tapping out a tempo on the hard surface, bringing the Torino up closer to the car wash as the line progressed.
"You remember the signal?" Starsky's hands moved in a combination of long and short taps. "Got it?"
"Mm hmm." Hutch turned the page.
"Don't forget to call at 3:00 PM sharp. Start with the first pay phone number on the list. If I'm not there for whatever reason, wait `til the next day, call the second number at 3:00 P.M. If I'm not there the second day, go back and call the first number on the third day, then if..."
Hutch's hand shot out from behind the newspaper, gripping his partner's dancing one. "Starsk, I got it. Stop worrying, you're driving me nuts. I've got it all right here." Hutch released his partner's hand and tapped himself on the temple. "I'll be okay. Okay?"
Starsky searched his partner's eyes for any sign of doubt or fear. What he saw must have reassured him because after a few heartbeats his features lost some of their tightness, though he couldn't manage a smile. "Okay."
Starsky pulled the Torino into the car wash's entry slats. He quickly rolled down the window and extended three singles. "Deluxe wash."
"You got it. Have a nice day, sir."
Starsky rolled up the window as he shifted the car into neutral. The automatic conveyer belt gripped the Torino's tires and pulled the car into the wash tunnel. After the soap was sprayed over the body of the sedan and the brushes scrubbed past, Hutch quickly reached into the car's back seat and retrieved an overnight bag. As he made to open the passenger door, Starsky's grip on his arm stopped him.
The blond turned and met Starsky's concern. With a gentle nod, Hutch reached back and patted the hand that held his wrist.
Starsky squeezed the wrist one more time and released his partner. After a torrent of rinse water, the dryers began a wind tunnel to blow the excess moisture from the car. Hutch flung himself out of the dripping Torino and sprinted against the wind toward the black Cadillac on the line ahead of them. Another blond man got out of the Cadillac's passenger side and ran toward the Torino. Without a word between them, J.D. Turquet shrugged out of his jacket and handed it off to Hutch who exchanged it for his own. Turquet slapped his black cowboy hat on the detective to cover Hutch's lighter colored hair, then reached up to peel off the false moustache Hutch had been wearing since shaving off his own that morning.
"Sorry `bout that." Turquet haphazardly slapped the moustache under his nose and traded sunglasses with Hutch. "Good luck, amigo."
"You, too." Hutch continued to the Caddy and slipped into the passenger seat.
"Just in time, too," Huggy groused. "Here come the dudes with the towels." As soon as the words were out of his mouth, two workers emerged from outside the car wash and approached the Cadillac, wiping away the remaining drops of water. Hutch slid low in the seat and tipped the cowboy hat further over his face, concealing his features. The sedan left the car wash, but before slipping north on to Palmcrest Boulevard, Huggy tapped the brakes twice, signaling the Torino behind him.
As the red car emerged from the car wash, Turquet had Hutch's newspaper raised up to eye level, covering his features from any casual look inside.
Starsky paused at the end of the drive, staring after the receding Cadillac. With a sigh, he finally tore his gaze away from the taillights and pulled into traffic, heading south, away from his partner.
After his third stop and as many changes of clothes and vehicles, Hutch was beginning to feel more than a little ridiculous. The second change came after the car wash by stopping at The Pits. There, disguised as Turquet, Hutch went through the kitchen and up to Huggy's apartment. The person who emerged was a seventy-year-old derelict, ala the costume Hutch had constructed a few years back to fool his partner during a deadly game of hide-and-seek. The derelict made his way a mile north to a flop house where his room had been rented for a week. The man who left there was a thirty-something hippie that looked like he should have been playing bass for "The Grateful Dead". The rather large, rather hairy man poured himself into a psychedelically painted VW bug and headed out of the city toward Bakersfield. As much as Hutch hated the lengths to which Starsky had made him go to assure his safety, he had to admit he felt more secure than he had in weeks.
A few days, Hutchinson, it's just for a few days. A few days of perfect boredom, sitting on pins and needles until the case breaks, or until I can convince Starsky that I'm better off out there with him.
Three hours later Hutch found himself at a nondescript "Super 8" motel with the reservation his partner had made under the name of "Ollie Begoode". Hutch all but winced as he gave the reservation clerk his name, paying cash for his room in advance. Starsk, I'm gonna kick your butt royally when this is all over.
Slinging his canvas army bag over his shoulder, Hutch made his way down the inner hall to his unit. Out of habit, he thoroughly searched the room, checking the shower, closets and windows before settling himself down on the vinyl floral print armchair. Snapping on the TV for some background noise to break up the lonely silence, Hutch dug out a beer from the groceries he had purchased at the Seven-Eleven a few miles up the road. He finally propped up his feet against the TV cart, his gun resting on his lap, beginning his weary vigil.
The deadbolt slid home with a familiar click that marked the end of another exhausting day. Huggy was looking forward to nothing more than a long, hot shower to ease the dull ache that had developed in his lower back. He was totally unprepared for the voice that seemed to come out of nowhere and the baseball bat that rested on his left shoulder.
"I'm going to give you one chance to give me the answer I need. Is that clear?"
Huggy remained utterly frozen except for the curt nodding of his head.
"Where is Detective Hutchinson?"
The black man tried to swallow past the lump in his throat. "Who?"
As the bat came in contact with his ribs, it was obvious this was not the answer his assailant was looking for.
"What do you mean, he's gone?" Capernicus roared, spittle flying from his mouth as he turned on Eddie. "How can he just disappear if you were tailing them like you were supposed to?"
The former welterweight fidgeted before Capernicus' scrutiny. Eddie fumbled with his packet of cigarettes, lighting up quickly and throwing the crumbled cellophane on the office floor. The small room was set apart from the rest of the abandoned print shop which now served as Capernicus' base until the extortionist could "wrap up" his loose ends and relocate. The print shop was one of a dozen similarly neglected warehouses in the city's shipping district. A dozen or so men still on Capernicus' payroll came and went as extortion monies were brought in.
"Look, Mr. Capernicus, we were behind him and Starsky at the station. They went to a taco stand, through the car wash, to the bank, then back to the station. A coupla hours later they went to The Pits, and after that, Starsky left alone. We hung out `til the place closed, figuring Hutchinson was holing up there. We broke in, but the only person left was that black guy named Huggy. We tore the place apart, but Hutchinson just wasn't there. We tried persuading Huggy, but he wouldn't tell us where Hutchinson was, even after we knocked him around for a while. The next thing we knew we heard sirens, so we split. He didn't know where Hutchinson was or he woulda told us."
"You sound pretty sure of that, Eddie."
Eddie smiled self-confidently. "Oh, I'm sure my special brand of persuasion would have encouraged him to tell us if he knew."
"Well, then, get out there and find somebody else to persuade and find that cop!"
Starsky prowled the admitting desk's hallway, knowing every door, light fixture and drinking fountain by heart. How many hours have we spent in these hallways? As much time as we spend in this stupid hospital, you'd think they'd name a wing after us...
A gentle voice from behind broke his reverie. "Detective Starsky? You can see Mr. Brown now."
Starsky nodded at the older woman and followed her down the hallway to Huggy's room. He would only be held overnight for observation, but the detective felt more than simple obligation to visit his friend. He wasn't sure what caused him to pause in the doorway--the ghastly sight of Huggy's injuries or the guilt from what caused them.
"Hey, yourself. Did you get the number of the bus that hit ya? I could put in a call to DMV."
"Very amusing, Starsky. And here I thought they hired you as a cop for your questionable looks and not your comedic forte."
Starsky's smile didn't quite dissipate the strain around his eyes. "Hug...I'm..."
"Forget it, Starsk. I knew this could happen going in. It's not the first time I've been injured in the line of your duty."
While the words were offered lightly and meant to ease Starsky's mind, they stung the detective all the more with the sincere acceptance of their dangerous bond.
"What'd they want?" Starsky already knew the answer.
"What do you think? They wanted a road map and directions to your blond shadow."
"We're gonna make it up to ya, Hug."
"Just make sure the White Knight's around long enough to fulfill that promise, dig?"
Starsky nodded once, then patted his friend gently on the leg before heading for the door. "What's the diagnosis anyway?"
Huggy tried a casual shrug, but the movement brought a wave of discomfort across his elfin features. "Dislocated this, cracked that...nothin' that'll permanently hamper my smooth moves with those who groove. Get out of here, will ya? This'll be the first day's sleep I'll get in a long time without some drunken dudes poundin' on my door to open up the bar for breakfast."
Starsky nodded again. "Yell if ya need anything."
"Later, Starsk." Huggy watched his friend make his way out of the hospital room. There was a dejection to Starsky's shoulders and an air of tension that crackled from him like static electricity. A coupla days, Starsk. Hang in there for just a few more days...and watch your back, Kemosabe.
Two sets of eyes watched as Starsky got off the hospital elevator and turned down the hallway. Hernandez and Marciano casually stood up from the plastic waiting room chairs and made their way toward the detective. The two hoods almost ran into one another when they turned the corner and found Starsky talking with two uniformed officers near the admitting desk.
Hernandez and Marciano quickly changed their paths and continued out of the hospital, heading for their nondescript Pontiac sedan, parked several car lengths behind the Torino.
Marciano swore as he slid into the passenger seat. "Mr. Capernicus didn't say it'd be this tough to snag the cop."
Hernandez gave his partner a curious look. "Well, what'dya expect--we just walk up to him and say `Hey, pig, hop in the car. Mr. Capernicus wants to know where your partner's at'? Man, are you stupid."
"And you can kiss my..."
"Shut up, here he comes."
The two thugs slid lower in their seats, watching as Starsky trotted across the sidewalk to his car and left the hospital. The Pontiac pulled out seconds behind the red sedan. A few miles down the road, Marciano began to squirm. "What are you waiting for? Let's get him."
"I'm waiting `til we get outta all this traffic. Ya think people won't call the cops if they see us knock him off the road? Use your..." Hernandez swore as the darkened interior of the car was filled with alternating red and blue lights.
Marciano craned his neck around to look at the patrol car behind them, as his partner pulled the Pontiac to the side of the road. Ahead, he could make out the rapidly disappearing lights of the Torino. "What are you doing? Are you nuts?" Marciano pulled a handgun out of his coat pocket.
"Shut up, and put that away. We don't know that they're on to us. If we run now..." Hernandez quickly turned to face the officer approaching the driver's side window, as Marciano stuffed the pistol back into his coat pocket. A false smile graced the driver's features. "Good evening officer, is there a problem?"
The patrolman's flashlight blinded the two briefly as the beam swept through the interior. "Yes, sir. Were you aware that you have a taillight out? Your tags are expired as well. Driver's license and registration, please."
It was 2:59 PM when the phone rang from the booth on Ocean Drive. Starsky snatched up the receiver with a grin. "You're early."
"What do you mean, I'm early? It's three o'clock."
Starsky glanced at his watch a second time. "No, it's 2:59. Actually, now it's three o'clock, but when the phone rang, it was still 2:59."
"You're a warped individual, you know that, Starsky?"
"So I've been told. Well, what'd you do today?"
"Oh, let's see. I took a drive along the ocean after a lovely lunch at Chez Roberts, then I took in the Metropolitan Opera's production of `La Nozzia de Figaro'. Afterwards I had a nap and woke up just in time to call you at three o'clock."
"You need professional help, pal."
"There hasn't been a word created yet that describes how bored I am."
"And it's only the first day."
"Twenty-three hours, forty-eight minutes and...seventeen seconds."
"And you think I'm mental?"
"Just find Capernicus so I can come home."
The expression on Starsky's face became wistful. "Talk to you tomorrow, Blintz."
It was the tremor in little Rosie's voice that caused Edith to drop the whisk she had been using. "Mommy?"
Edith spun away from the eggs she had been beating and, wiping her hands on her apron, rushed to the living room where a rerun of "Gilligan's Island" still blared from the TV set.
A stocky man held a gun to Rosie's head, the other hand holding her close with a handful of the little girl's t-shirt. A ski mask obscured his features, but Edith could see enough exposed skin to know he was white.
As soon as her mother entered the room Rosie extended her arms to Edith and began to cry. With her eyes never leaving the cold gray ones of the intruder, Edith began to make comforting noises to her child.
"Shush now, baby. It's all right. We'll just see what this man wants and it'll be all right." Her face hardened as she contemplated the reason for the intrusion. "Well? What do you want?"
An oily smile curved up the corners of the man's mouth. "You've got a pretty little girl here, Mrs. Dobey."
An icy fist gripped Edith's heart, but her face remained impassive.
"It'd be a shame if something happened to such a nice little thing." The assailant cocked back the trigger of the gun, still pressed tightly against Rosie's head. The fear in Rosie's eyes finally broke Edith's resolve and she hesitantly reached out for her daughter.
"Look, you don't need to hurt her. Just tell me what you want. Money? Is that it? Do you need money?"
A steely grip encircled Edith's outstretched hand as Rosie was flung away. "I need information, lady. Just tell me where Officer Hutchinson is hiding and maybe I won't have to hurt you or your little girl."
"Hutch?" Edith looked bewildered. "I...I don't know where he is. Nobody knows where he's hiding."
The gunman pulled Edith tightly against him, her arm twisted up behind her back, eliciting a sharp cry of pain. "Do you think I'm stupid? Everybody says Hutchinson and Starsky are tight with your husband. If you don't want anything to happen to your kid you'll tell me where he's hiding out!"
"Please! I swear, I don't know!"
The intruder slapped his pistol across the side of Edith's face, knocking her to the ground. Rosie tried to run to her fallen mother, but the thug pushed her roughly against the stairs. Dazed, Edith had no recourse when the masked man grabbed the neckline of her dress and tore it roughly away, exposing her chest.
"In a minute you're gonna beg me to..." The gunman had begun to lower himself to the semi-conscious woman when the sound of the back door slamming froze him.
"Mom?" Cal yelled as he entered the house.
"Cal! Daddy!" Rosie screamed, knowing her father had picked up Cal from basketball practice on his way home. The gunman swung toward the kitchen, leveling his gun at the teen.
Rosie's cry was enough to stir Edith back into a more conscious state. Finding her assailant momentarily distracted, the prone woman was able to strike out with a well-aimed kick between the gunman's straddling legs. As the intruder doubled over, Cal rushed him, the semi-automatic discharging into the wall as it was flung across the wooden floor. Edith rolled onto her hands and knees and scrambled after the weapon.
The back door slammed shut a second time as Captain Dobey made his way into the house, arms laden with grocery bags. At the sound of the shot he dropped his burden and charged into the living room, gun drawn. The tableau that greeted him caused his heart to stop. A masked assailant had just regained his feet, Cal lying stunned below him. Edith sat on the floor, her dress torn, an unfamiliar pistol in her hands pointed at the intruder. Rosie sat in horrified silence on the stairs.
Dobey drew a steady bead on the masked head. The assailant outstretched his hands in a gesture of surrender, but his eyes darted quickly about the room, gauging his options.
"Don't even think about it." The captain's eyes never left the gunman's face. "Cal, move away from him. Call the station and tell them what's happened. Tell them to send an ambulance for your mother. Then call your Aunt Irene to come over here and stay with you kids."
"Harold, I'm fine," Edith remarked, trying unsuccessfully to stand. Her unstable movements distracted her husband for a split second.
The brief glance of concern was enough for the intruder to make his break. Spinning, he made a dash for the front door through the short hallway. Within a heartbeat Dobey had him in his sights. "Stop, or I'll shoot!"
The fleeing man never missed a beat and threw himself out the large, rectangular window that made up the bulk of the front door. The sound of shattering glass seemed to fill the room as Captain Dobey rushed forward, firing. Then the only sound in the small house was the muffled sobs of Rosie crying into her mother's shoulder.
There was no expression on Harold Dobey's face as he stood on the inside of the destroyed door, staring stonily at the motionless form of the intruder. A gentle rain began falling on the body, washing some of the blood away that had begun to pool underneath him. Only an autopsy would determine if it were the jagged piece of glass that struck his jugular vein that killed him or the .38 bullet lodged in his spine.
Captain Dobey met Starsky at the front door of his sister-in-law's house. The detective was grateful to see the two black-and-white units parked out in front, as well as an unmarked car, but his remorse for the need of such protection gnawed at him.
"Cap'n, I just heard what happened..." A gesture from his superior stopped Starsky in mid-sentence. Dobey jerked his head toward the interior of the house and stepped out onto the porch. Through the picture window, Starsky could see Rosie and Cal curled up on either side of their mother watching TV with Edith's sister.
"Is everybody all right?"
Anger flared briefly on the large man's face. "As all right as they can be considering what they've just been through."
"Cap'n...I don't know what to say."
"Then don't say anything. Just find these bastards and put them away."
Starsky stared into the eyes of one of the people he respected most in the world, wishing he could take away some of the rage and fear for his family. He then looked away and nodded once, turning to make his way down the porch stairs.
The detective turned back to his superior with tormented eyes.
"We're doing the right thing, son. Just keep him safe."
The anguish didn't leave the cobalt eyes as Starsky nodded again and dashed through the rain to the Torino.
The next morning found Starsky at the station where he had spent the night going over forensic evidence. The bulk of the day was passed there, his efforts yielding little, except for the elimination of potential leads. A Mrs. Bernadette Ellis, Randolph and Capernicus' secretary from the fictitious Teilman and Associates, was located and brought in for questioning. It was obvious to Starsky, Dobey and Taylor the sixty-five year old grandmother knew nothing of the extortionists' actual business dealings, and honestly believed that she'd been working for a struggling trading firm. She was soon released with the department's thanks and a brief tour of the station at her request.
At 2:15 Starsky sprinted out of the station to his car, briefly scanning the area before he got in. The majority of vehicles he recognized, but took note of the few unfamiliar ones. The detective adjusted his rear view mirror to take in more of the second lane to his right as he pulled out into traffic and was rewarded with the reflection of a nondescript tan Pontiac merging as well.
Starsky turned abruptly at the next intersection and accelerated. Another glance into the mirror revealed the Pontiac running a red light in order to keep up. Starsky cranked the wheel for a hard left turn, guiding the Torino out of the heavy midday traffic toward a less traveled street where it would be easier to detain the Pontiac. Keeping the tan car in sight, Starsky whipped into an all-day parking lot. At the first interior intersection, he quickly circled around a row of cars and waited for the Pontiac to join him there.
Hernandez and Marciano scraped bottom as the Pontiac bounced into the parking lot, quickly scanning for the Torino amongst the parked cars.
"Where'd he go?" Hernandez asked, straining his neck to look behind him for the bright red sedan.
"Man, if we lost him again, Capernicus is gonna have our..."
"Shut up! Worry about him later, just look for the cop." Hernandez swore under his breath as cruised slowly through the lot. "He ain't here. How do you think he managed to..." The last of the hood's sentence was cut off as Starsky stuck his Baretta against the side of his head through the open window. The hunted had just become the hunter.
Either fear or reflex caused Hernandez to hit the accelerator, propelling the Pontiac forward. Starsky bellowed, "Stop, or I'll shoot!" then fired through the rear window as the car continued its flight. Even as the glass shattered, he could tell the driver was struck in the right shoulder, exactly where he had aimed. The sedan lurched to the right, sideswiping an import, before staggering back on its path. Starsky hurtled after the Pontiac as it jerked toward the lot exit, then dropped into a crouch, drawing a bead on the driver's side tire.
The instant his finger began tightening on the trigger, an elderly couple walked into the lot, directly into the erratic path of the fleeing Pontiac. Starsky cursed under his breath as he pulled his shot, knowing that if he fired, he could very easily send the disabled car directly into the couple. Even so, Hernandez swung the car erratically, hoping to throw off the detective's aim and steered the car toward the pedestrians. The old man was struck in the hip, knocking him and his wife to the blacktop, as the sedan roared out of the lot into midday traffic.
Starsky rushed to the fallen couple, the woman already struggling to her knees. Her husband lay on the tarmac, moaning as he clutched his side. A trickle of blood streaked down the side of his head where he had struck it on the ground.
"Easy, folks, easy. I'm a cop." Starsky knelt and helped the woman to sit next to her husband. He quickly pressed his handkerchief to the old man's head, then placed her hands against it. "Hold this in place while I call for an ambulance. It'll be okay."
Starsky glanced briefly over his shoulder for any signs of the fleeing Pontiac as he ran to the Torino. He wasn't surprised the car was no longer in sight.
Starsky sprinted from his car to the telephone booth on Ranchero Drive. He was seven minutes late from the appointed time, and there was no way to tell if Hutch would continue to try and reach him.
"Yeah?" Starsky breathed into the receiver.
"It's nice to hear from you, too, Blintz."
"Tell me you're late because you were busy busting Capernicus."
The silence on the other end of the line as Starsky searched for something to say was disappointing. Hutch sighed and again accepted the circumstances, though he couldn't shake the unsettled feeling that had developed earlier that day. "So, has anybody missed me?"
"Sure...at least the couple of people who even noticed you were gone."
"You're all heart, Starsk."
"Anything good on TV?"
"Do you have any idea what kind of mind-numbing crap they play during the day while we're out there pounding the pavement? I was so bored with these insipid game shows I ended up watching a rerun of some old show called `Here Come the Grooms' or something."
"I remember that one. Ma used to love that show." Starsky chuckled. "You ever wonder what happens to actors on those old shows?"
"Yeah, they become insurance salesmen and garbage collectors." Hutch sighed heavily. "Starsk, if you don't get me out of here soon, I'm going to lose my mind."
"Partner, you lost it a long time ago."
"Talk to you tomorrow."
Another day ended with Starsky finally getting some sleep, this time at Hutch's apartment. He had convinced himself of the need to go over to Venice Place and check on his partner's plants, even though he knew Hutch had watered them before he left on his forced exile. Starsky waved at the unmarked patrol car halfway down the block monitoring the apartment, then let himself in with his spare key. The one tucked along the top of the doorframe had been removed when Hutch left. After wandering around the studio and misting the vines overtaking the living room, Starsky sat down on the couch to sort through Hutch's mail. He was asleep within minutes.
By 7:00 AM, the morning sun warming his face roused Starsky off the couch, his back stiff, but feeling oddly refreshed and unintentionally comforted. A quick shower woke him further, and donning a denim shirt from Hutch's closet, Starsky set out to find something more palatable than the questionable contents of his partner's refrigerator.
A trip to The Pits offered nothing more than breakfast and the affirmation that Diane had picked up Huggy from the hospital as promised. The proprietor was still asleep, but Diane would have him call Starsky at the station later that morning. Starsky touched base with a few of his more reliable snitches, but nothing new had turned up on Capernicus' whereabouts. The remainder of the day was spent in the squad room, and after a brief update from Agent Taylor and Dobey, Starsky settled down at his desk to review some information on Capernicus and Randolph's east coast connections the NYPD had dug up. The ringing of Hutch's direct line drew his attention.
Starsky leaned across his desk and snatched up the receiver on the second ring. "Starsky."
"David? It's Muriel Hutchinson..."
The hesitancy in Hutch's mother's voice made him immediately uneasy.
"Muriel? What is it? What's happened?"
"It's Richard, he's been in an accident."
A cold knot formed in the pit of the detective's stomach. "What kind of accident?"
Muriel's voice became more intense. "David, what's going on out there?"
Starsky cleared his throat, knowing Hutch had only given his parents a vague description of the last week's events, and that he was going "under" for awhile. He knew his partner had warned his parents that it was remotely possible that someone may try and contact them to find out where he was, a warning that Richard Hutchinson had scoffed at with the attitude of his son blowing things out of proportion.
"Muriel, I...I don't know what to tell you, other than that Hutch had to go away for awhile until an important case goes to trial. Is Mr. Hutchinson all right? What happened?"
Muriel sighed. "Yes, he'll be fine, just a bit shook up, though he won't admit it. This morning a couple of men forced Rich's car off the road, then tried to get some information from him about Ken's whereabouts."
"Was he hurt?"
"He was knocked around a bit when his car was run into the ditch. The men that did it were beginning to get a bit rough with him until a passing motorist pulled over and offered his help with what he thought was an accident."
"And they just wanted to know where Hutch was?"
"Apparently. But, David, someone broke in to Katherine and Steve's house earlier this week." Hutch's sister and brother-in-law lived a few miles from the Hutchinson homestead.
"Oh, man. Are they okay?"
"Yes, they were quite frightened, as you can imagine. They had just come home from the store and there was someone going through their house."
"So, what happened?"
"Well, whoever it was didn't have a chance to get much, because Tina got to him first."
"Tina was a friend's Rottweiler Katherine and Steve were dogsitting."
Starsky began a throaty chuckle until he realized the full impact of what Mrs. Hutchinson had just said. "Wait a minute, you said was?"
"The burglar shot and killed her, David. Then he must have figured one of the neighbors would hear the shooting because he just took off. Never stole anything from the house, either. We...well, at first we just assumed it was a random burglary..."
"...until Mr. Hutchinson got run off the road. I'm sorry to say that you're right; whoever it was is pretty determined to find your son."
"David, is he in trouble? Has he been hurt?"
"He's not hurt?"
"Where is he?"
"Mrs. Hutchinson, I..."
"I'm sorry, the less you know..."
"Never mind, if whatever you're working on means he's not there with you, it must be important." The blonde woman's voice dropped perceptibly. "Or dangerous. Take care of him, David."
"You know I will. Are you two going to be okay? We could make arrangements here..."
"No, no. The local sheriff is a friend of ours. He's made sure that we're being taken care of. You just be careful."
Starsky gently set down the receiver and shook his head. How far would Capernicus go? A sudden chill ran down the his spine. He snatched the receiver back up and dialed. Within a few rings it was answered.
"Hudley Motors, Nick Starsky speakin'."
The detective grinned into the phone. "The Nick Starsky?"
"Yeah, who...? Davey?"
"How's it goin', kid?"
"It's goin'. I guess there are worse ways of makin' a buck."
The relief of his brother finally having an honest job was enough to make the worried man smile. "Besides sellin' lemons? Not many."
"You're a very funny man, did anyone ever tell you that? Maybe that partner of yours needs to keep you on a tighter leash."
At the mention of Hutch, Starsky's smile faded. "Right. Hey listen, Nick, I won't keep you long, but I need you to do something for me."
"Don't tell me you're finally getting rid of that red zebra you call a car?"
"Nick, I need you to stay with Ma for awhile."
"What do you mean? You mean like..."
"I mean move back home. It'll just be for a few weeks, maybe not even that long."
"What are you talking about? I can't...me and Theresa were goin' away for the weekend and..."
"There'll be other weekends." The urgency in his brother's voice caught Nick up short. "Nick, I need you to do this."
"Davey, what is it? Are you in some sorta trouble?"
"Nick, I...just do me this one favor, all right?"
"Thanks, Nick. I'll let you know when things settle down. Take care."
Starsky quickly replaced the receiver and ran his hands over his face. He still wasn't reassured.
"So, tell me what's going on in the outside world."
Even with the roar of Beverly Hills traffic surrounding him, Starsky could hear the boredom in his partner's voice. He could easily picture him, sitting in one of the uncomfortable motel room chairs, idly flipping a deck of cards into the waste can, the TV on but muted, a warm and stale beer nearby. The thought of such perfect and safe boredom made Starsky smile. "Oh, not much. Captain Dobey's decided to try out for the Rams, Huggy's been named Businessman of the Year by the Optimist Club, and I have a date tonight with Kate Jackson."
"Same old, same old, huh?"
"Yep. How `bout you? Seen any good movies lately?"
"I'm so sick of watching TV in this fleabag, I'm losing my mind...and don't say that I've already lost it. That line's getting old."
"Hang in there, I heard there's a John Wayne double feature on Channel five tonight."
"Just a few more days, Blintz."
"You getting anywhere?"
"Got a few leads to follow up on." Starsky quickly decided to withhold the information about his partner's family, knowing that it could possibly draw Hutch out.
The urgent feeling that had been tickling at the back of Hutch's subconscious for the better part of two days nudged him again. "Hey, Starsk?"
There was a hesitant pause, as Hutch tried to put into words what he was sensing. Starsky smiled into the receiver. "You, too."
Two men followed Eddie through the back delivery door of the dingy print shop. While both had the same muscular build of street fighters, it was easy to discern that the youngest of the three men was different, his eyes a bit close together and sunken too deep into his skull. His face bore a perpetual air of innocence. Eddie turned to him and barked out an order. "Kevin, you stay here by the door. Don't let nobody in, got it?"
"You g-g-got it, Eddie." Kevin stomped purposefully toward the door and, crossing his arms across his broad chest, positioning himself like a sentry.
The other snorted disgustedly. "Man, what do you keep that moron around for?" He was unprepared for the shove that propelled him against a skid of dusty paper stock. Eddie's finger jabbed at his face.
"You shut up, Johnson. Kevin does exactly what he's told to and he ain't got no smart mouth. I better be able to say the same thing about you, got it?"
"Be cool, man. Be cool. I didn't mean nothin' by it." Johnson slowly lifted himself up off the large sheets of paper and dusted himself off.
"Good thing. Now c'mon, Mr. Capernicus is waiting. And you don't keep Mr. Capernicus waiting."
What? The hairs on the back of Starsky's neck rose as he pushed open his apartment door and looked around the room. For all intents and purposes, it looked as if an earthquake had struck. His bookcase had been turned over, destroying Mexican pottery, his few Chinese sculptures, and the Spanish Galleon he had finished just last month. All the contents of his kitchen cupboards had been tossed to the floor. Even the cushions of his couch had been torn to shreds and discarded around the room. The detective drew his Baretta from its holster and moved into the living room, listening intently. With an unconscious grace Starsky worked his way to the kitchen, then the bedroom and bath, sweeping the rooms with his pistol in the event the intruders were still present.
The ringing of the telephone spun him around in a tight coil, handgun thrust before him. When the source of the noise registered in his tense mind, Starsky holstered his weapon with a grimace and snatched up the receiver from his bedside stand. "Starsky."
A predator's smile lit his face as he listened. "Thanks, Hug, this could be it."
Eddie and Johnson entered the glassed-in office outside the pressroom. Capernicus was seated at a rusting metal desk, going over the day's take. He didn't even glance up when the two entered the room.
"Did you get the day's receipts taken care of, Eddie?"
"Uh, yes, Mr. Capernicus. We delivered them to Mr. Holmes just like you told us to."
"We?" Capernicus looked up and gave the new man a chilling glance.
"Yes, sir. This here's Wally Johnson."
The young black man nervously wiped his hand on his pant leg and extended it to his new employer. Capernicus glanced disdainfully at the hand and ignored it, returning to his bookwork.
"Very well. Eddie, I have another job for you, though I must say I'm very disappointed in the lack of success in locating Detective Hutchinson. You do know how displeased I was with Hernandez and Marciano's failed attempts."
Johnson felt a cold fist clench in his stomach as Eddie swallowed and replied, "Yes, sir."
"There's a certain irony in the fact that we could execute a cop within a maximum security cell under armed guard, yet we couldn't take out a detective roaming freely on the streets with only his partner." Capernicus' arctic gray eyes turned to Eddie and Johnson in turn. "It's an irony I don't find amusing."
"What...what's the next job, Mr. Capernicus?"
"If anyone's going to know where Hutchinson is, it's his partner, David Starsky. I've had Hernandez and Marciano seek him out, but they've been unsuccessful in bringing him in." Capernicus' eyes bore into each man in turn. "That will be the last time they will disappoint me. I've set up a meeting with the detective for this afternoon. Eddie, I want you to go to Hutchinson's partner and persuade him to tell you what I want to know. You won't disappoint me, will you, Eddie?"
"No, sir, Mr. Capernicus!"
"Good, I thought not. That will be all, Eddie."
Eddie and Johnson quickly left the office and retrieved Kevin from his post at the door. The three men rode in silence as they left the business district and drove along the wharf toward the city. Johnson fought the churning in his stomach and asked the question that had been burning through his mind for the last several minutes. "Hey, Eddie. What did happen to them two cats that didn't blow away the cop like they was supposed to?"
Eddie turned slightly frightened eyes on the new man. "You don't want to know."
Huggy's tip on Capernicus' whereabouts had come out of the blue. But since the barman had indicated it was from a reliable source, Starsky was more hopeful than he had been in weeks. The alley he pulled into was next to a building that had long since been condemned. Many of the windows and doorways were boarded up, which made it an ideal location for hopheads and vagrants. There was no sign of life within the surrounding blocks, as if the entire neighborhood, which was made up mostly of similarly abandoned apartments, had fled or been wiped out by some mysterious plague.
Still, the inactivity didn't lessen Starsky's tightly controlled caution. As he climbed out of the Torino, he checked the clip in his Baretta, snapped off the safety and secured the weapon in the waistband of his jeans. Starsky readjusted his windbreaker over the pistol, concealing it from casual observation.
Leaving the Torino in the alley, Starsky made his way down to a side entry. The door had long since been ripped off its hinges and discarded, revealing a stairwell to the second floor. The detective placed a hand on the broken railing as the first two steps groaned under his weight. Starsky frowned at the thought of his foot breaking through the dilapidated wood, but continued up. Just before reaching the landing Starsky paused. Ahead lay a darkened hallway with four doors. Detecting movement from the first room on his right, he drew his Baretta. With cat-like grace he cleared the last two steps and crouched before the open door, sweeping the room with the pistol thrust in front of him. In the dimming light he could make out the blond hair and features of an unarmed man about twenty, his arms raised in a gesture of surrender. His nervous smile did nothing to reassure Starsky, and when the young man's eyes widened in surprise and darted over the detective's shoulder, Starsky spun on his heel to protect his back.
While his reflexes were lightening quick, they were still not fast enough to protect him from the two-by-four that slammed him just above his right eye, knocking him down the stairwell.
By ten o'clock that morning, Dobey was beginning to worry. Not that Starsky was the most conscientious of his men by any means, but since the whole Randolph/Capernicus fiasco began, and certainly since Hutch went into hiding, Starsky had consistently let him know his whereabouts in the event something broke in the case. A call to the detective's apartment yielded no response, nor had Starsky responded on any frequency to the radio dispatcher's attempts to locate him. Huggy hadn't heard from him since the previous evening.
The captain put away his fears while he met briefly with Taylor, reviewing the forensic evidence from the helicopter crash. By eleven, the returning fear was almost tangible. Dobey picked up the phone and punched the first line. "This is Captain Dobey. I want you to put out an APB on a missing officer."
On the twentieth ring Hutch gave up. The sinking feeling he had in the pit of his stomach turned into a tidal wave with the click of the receiver. Something was definitely, horribly and inexplicably wrong.
Hutch rested his elbows against his knees. A quick glance at the bedside clock confirmed it was 3:15. Don't read more into it than necessary. It could be that he had a hot lead or that the case finally broke. Just because he's not there doesn't necessarily mean trouble.
The nervous energy propelled the detective out of his chair toward the room's single window. Standing to one side of the closed drapes, Hutch lifted the curtain marginally, taking in the hazy afternoon sun. The nagging feeling that had plagued him grew in its intensity until he didn't think he could stand another minute in the room. Hutch crossed purposefully to the nightstand and snatched up his gun, and shrugged into his jacket. Three strides brought him to the hotel room door.
Hutch stood for a moment, his hand on the doorknob. Throwing his head back in frustration, he leaned heavily against the door to collect himself. After a moment he took off his jacket and threw it on the bed, snatched up his worn copy of "All the President's Men" and returned to the vinyl chair.
One more day, dirtball. That's all you get. Twenty-four hours, Starsk, then I'm coming in.
Starsky was still unconscious when Kevin flipped his inert body off his shoulder and lay him on the print shop's cement floor. The detective's left leg laid out at an unnatural angle, and his forehead bore testimony to the blow of the two-by-four. Kevin checked Starsky's bonds almost gently, ensuring that the handcuffs were snug, but not damaging. He then rifled through the Starsky's pockets, relieving him of his wallet, I.D., jackknife, and car and handcuff keys, which he passed on to Eddie.
At Eddie's nod, Kevin crossed through the room to an area behind some ink drums. He had claimed the area as his own space and arranged his meager belongings there. Kevin retrieved a well-worn chair and the comic book he had been reading earlier, and returned to where Starsky lay, prepared to watch over the detective and ensure he didn't try and escape.
Capernicus exited the office to watch Kevin with wary interest as Eddie went through Starsky's things. If recent events had not mandated he go into hiding, Capernicus would have quickly hired more competent help. "Tell me again why you keep him around."
Eddie looked up quickly at his employer, hoping to convince him of Kevin's value. "Aw, Mr. Capernicus, Kevin won't be no trouble. He's a good kid, even if he is a retard. His brother, Michael Franscoli, him and me go way back. I promised Mike that if anything ever happened to him, I'd keep an eye out on Kevin. Besides, he's as strong as a moose, and he'll do whatever I tell him to."
Capernicus studied Kevin, unsure if it was his mental retardation that unnerved him, or the unflinching stare that was often focused on him with guileless eyes. "Fine, just keep him quiet and out of my way."
"Whatever you say, Mr. Capernicus."
"And if he makes any slip-ups, it's you I'm holding responsible, Eddie. Is this...Kevin reliable?"
"Oh, yes, sir. That cop ain't goin' nowhere."
"Fine. Have Kevin keep an eye on him. When Starsky comes around, we'll see what we can find out. In the meantime, you and I need to wrap up some business within the city."
"You got it." Eddie followed Capernicus to the office.
"Eddie, no screw-ups this time. I want Hutchinson dead. Very dead."
"Anything useful in Starsky's wallet?"
"Nah." Eddie continued dismantling the case of Starsky's badge and wallet, searching for hidden compartments that might give a clue as to where Hutch was hiding. Photos were pulled from their casing and tossed onto the desk, along with the detective's police I.D. and badge. "Nothin' unusual--photos, a couple of bucks, an organ donor I.D. card...ain't that too bad."
Eddie threw his boss a malicious grin. "When I get through with him, there won't be enough of him left to donate."
When Starsky regained consciousness, he realized he was not alone. Duct tape was extended across his eyes, virtually blinding him. Devoid of his sight, Starsky's senses of smell and hearing became more acute. A damp staleness greeted his nose, as well as considerable dust. Faint breathing from nearby was barely detectable. His cheek scraped along the cement floor, as he forced his protesting body to roll from his stomach onto his side. A hiss of breath escaped between clamped teeth when his broken leg twisted during the roll.
Whoever was breathing nearby shifted in his seat. Starsky raised his head toward the sound, sending waves of pain through his head. "Do you realize kidnapping a cop is a federal offense?" The sound of his own voice sounded surprisingly loud. Starsky listened intently for a response. When one wasn't forthcoming, he tried again. "What's the matter? You got enough chutzpah to snatch me, but not enough to talk?"
The chair creaked again as it was relieved of its burden, and shuffling footsteps approached him, stopping a few feet from his head. A heartbeat passed before his captor hesitantly spoke.
"My na-name is K-K-Kevin. Wh-who are you?"
Starsky was in no mood for pleasantries. His vulnerability made him nothing short of livid. "What's my name? You morons kidnap me and you don't know who I am?" Starsky heard Kevin stand up from where he had evidently been crouching nearby.
"I'm n-n-not a mo-mo-moron; Ed-Eddie was r-right! Y-y-you're just-t-t like all the o-o-other c-c-cops!"
Dust from Kevin's retreat made Starsky sneeze, setting off little fireworks in his already throbbing head. From the sounds within the room he could tell Kevin wasn't too far away, probably still watching over him, but not so close as to initiate another conversation. If this Kevin person really didn't know who he was, then he just might have a chance of making him an ally. If he hadn't already blown it.
Kevin waited until Mr. Capernicus, Eddie and the other men who had been called in earlier to leave the office before he snuck in and began rummaging through the desk drawers. He was rapidly growing bored with the inactivity and hoped to find a pencil or marker to draw a cartoon character with. Kevin had come up with an idea for his own comic strip while he was watching over the cop and wanted to get started before he forgot. The discarded skids of paper where like manna, and too great a temptation to let sit by idly.
Buried under a warped pad of paper in the center drawer were the cop's picture I.D., badge, wallet and a rumpled plastic sleeve of photographs. Kevin looked nervously around the room, as if he were afraid of getting caught looking at something he knew he shouldn't. Curiosity eventually overrode his fear, and he opened up the badge, his fingers tracing the shape of the shield. The accompanying picture was of the man they'd brought to the print shop. Kevin sounded out the name and title: Detective Sergeant First Class David Michael Starsky. Michael? That was Mikey's `full' name. In the picture Starsky's grin showed assurance and determination, his eyes alight with a fierceness Kevin couldn't name.
Kevin returned the badge to the drawer and picked up the sleeve of photos Eddie had removed from the wallet. The first picture was of a pretty young woman in her mid-twenties, smiling at the camera. His wife? The opposite side of the sleeve revealed the same woman, the detective and several children and teenagers gathered around them. Most of the kids had on t-shirts or gym clothes and one was holding a basketball. Kevin could tell by their faces the kids were like him, and maybe the picture had been taken at a special school, similar to the one he had attended.
The next photo was black-and-white, minute rips and creases attributing to its signs of aging. The picture was of a curly-headed boy, a well-worn baseball glove clutched in front of him. Crouched next to him could only have been his father, their features a mirror image of one another. The father was smiling a broad, lopsided grin as he held a baseball in one hand, and his patrolman's cap in the other. The light from the camera glinted off the badge over his chest.
The last picture was of Starsky and another man, standing on the roof of a flashy red car. But it wasn't the fierce grins on the two men's faces that caught Kevin's eye, but rather the face of the blond whose hand rested on Starsky's shoulder. Mikey? Kevin wished that the picture had been larger so he could make out the features of the blond better. He knew it wasn't his brother, but the resemblance was enough to make his stomach hurt and tears form with the ever-present ache. With the brother he idolized gone, all he had left was Eddie, and life would never be the same again.
Starsky could discern two sets of footsteps approaching him. The detective carefully schooled his face not to show how uncomfortable he was when his assailants stopped scant inches from him. They had left him on the floor next to a large piece of machinery, his hands cuffed tightly behind his back to a metal pole. Before he realized what was happening, a hand grasped an end of the duct tape from across his eyes and ripped it away in one sudden movement. The adhesive tore at the tender flesh around his swollen right eye, and Starsky had to blink at the sudden light. Rough hands grabbed him by the arms and hauled him to his feet. Blinding pain ran up Starsky's left leg when he unintentionally put his weight on the broken limb, so he settled for leaning against the metal guardrail he was handcuffed to.
"Well, Detective Starsky, by now I'm sure you've figured out who I am and what it is I want."
Starsky glared at the graying man, then quickly took in his surroundings. He had no assurance they wouldn't soon replace the tape, and wanted to figure out his best escape route while he was able to see. The room he found himself in housed a small sheet-fed printing press and other pieces of equipment Starsky could only surmise were for a similar process. The equipment looked to be in various levels of disrepair and obviously hadn't been used in years. Skids containing large sheets of paper sat around the perimeter of the small warehouse, covered with plastic sheets and layers of dust. Similarly, dented ink barrels stood like sentinels throughout the room. A small, glassed-in office sat off to one side. Grimy windows were positioned along one wall, over fourteen feet from the floor--too far to be considered as an escape route without a way to get up to them first
Eddie took note of the detective's inattention and snapped a kick against Starsky's broken leg. Starsky threw his head back against the pain shooting through him, his breath escaping through clenched teeth. His gaze turned murderously toward the ex-fighter.
"Mr. Capernicus is talking to you, pig." Eddie's grin was anything but pleasant.
"Listen, Fraiser," Starsky was quickly interrupted by Capernicus.
"Save your threats, Detective. You're really not in any position to be making them. You obviously know who we are and what we're capable of, so let's cut to the chase."
Starsky glanced around the room a second time, locating the doors and shipping bays, but no telephone. His gaze lingered on the two men before him, then came to rest on the third standing behind Capernicus and Eddie with straw blond hair and a perpetually innocent expression. He identified him as Kevin, and was correct in having assessed him to be categorized as one of the "special needs" students Terry dedicated her life to teaching.
The detective flicked his gaze back to the others, but said nothing.
"Where's Detective Hutchinson?"
Starsky's gaze never wavered. "I don't know."
Eddie's foot lashed out a second time. "You're lying!"
The agony burning up his leg left Starsky gasping. When he was able to raise his head again, Starsky met Eddie's glare, his own promising retaliation.
"Detective, I didn't get where I am today by not getting what I wanted. You will tell me what I want to know."
"Where you are today, Capernicus, is holed up like a rat in an empty warehouse, hiding from the police, with nothing to show for it. Was it worth it?"
The extortionist's backhand snapped Starsky's head to the side. Blood trickled from where Capernicus' ring cut his lip.
"I am not a patient man, Detective. Where is your partner?"
Starsky returned the man's stare without saying a word. Capernicus didn't take his eyes away as he softly spoke to the man next to him. "Eddie, I think he needs to be persuaded to cooperate."
The first punch the boxer landed snapped Starsky's head back with a crack. The next series of blows were delivered to his midriff, already tender from his tumble down the apartment stairwell. Starsky found he could no longer remain standing balanced on one leg against the guardrail, and slumped to the ground. Eddie hauled the detective to the guardrail again, holding him upright.
"Where is Detective Hutchinson?"
Starsky shook his head to clear his vision, but remained silent. The next blow sent him back to the floor.
The phone ringing sent Hutch shooting out of the chair he'd been dozing in like a rocket. The receiver was snatched up before the second ring ended. "Yes?"
Starsky would only contact him at the hotel if Capernicus were arrested or something went horribly wrong. Hope and tension warred across Hutch's face as the voice at the other end of the line finally spoke.
Hutch's shoulders gradually sagged as he gave a curt reply. "No, you've got the wrong number."
The detective walked tensely across the room and sat down at the edge of the bed. Worried blue eyes bore into the telephone, willing his partner to call.