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The Sacrifice - Part Four
The sound of shuffling feet identified the person entering the room as Kevin. Blindfolded a second time, Starsky listened intently to the activity around him. Several people came and went from the warehouse, obviously attending to Capernicus' business. As time went on, he had determined that Capernicus had a more solid heel and Eddie's steps were quicker, more energized.
"Kevin?" Starsky asked hopefully. The split and bleeding lip made his speech a bit slurred. "I was wondering when you were coming back. I wanted to say that I'm sorry." Starsky tried to lift his head toward where the footsteps had stopped. The silence lasted so long he began to wonder if he'd mistaken the young man's entry.
"Why?" The voice that answered sounded like a little child's, rather than the twenty-year-old man that responded.
"Maybe I hurt your feelings earlier. I don't really think you're a moron. I would never call you that."
The crate squeaked in protest as Kevin sat down. "Y-y-you're just say-saying that."
Starsky shook his head rapidly, ignoring the pain that made it feel as if his brain had detached and was sloshing around in his skull. "No! I mean it. You just seem different from the other two."
Kevin's voice dropped to a whisper. "I am di-di-different."
"Yeah, but it's a good different. You haven't punched me, have you, Kevin?"
"No. Th-th-that's not my job."
"What is your job?"
"Eddie t-t-told me to wa-watch you and make sure you d-d-don't try and esc-c-cape."
"Now, how could I do that? I'm trussed up like some kinda Thanksgiving turkey." Starsky pretended to test his bonds. "As a matter of fact, they've got me cuffed up so tight, it's kinda hurting. You wouldn't mind loosening these up, would you?"
"Eddie w-w-would get really m-mad if I I I did that. He said I c-c-couldn't t-t-touch them."
Starsky sighed, accepting the resolve in Kevin's voice. At least for the moment. "I understand. Do you think it'd be all right if you gave me a drink of water or somethin'? I'm really thirsty."
"Well, I su-suppose th-that'd be okay." Starsky listened to the retreating footsteps and what sounded like a plastic cooler opening up. The coke Kevin offered after sitting him up was flat and warm, but it was wet.
It was a start.
The day passed with an incredible slowness, made unbearable by the worry plaguing him well before the first missed phone call. The twenty-four hours that followed were as unnerving as those spent trapped beneath his car in the canyon years ago.
Hutch held his breath as he dialed the first number, the one used on the very first day of his exile. Blue eyes darted nervously as he listened to the unanswered ringing. Twelve...thirteen... fourteen... Hutch punched the cradle to disconnect, then dialed the next number, also from memory. The furrow between his brow deepened as the phone rang endlessly. The receiver was all but knocked off the nightstand with the ferocity of Hutch's disconnecting the line and dialing the third number. The litany continued on with the fourth attempt, which yielded the same results.
Tense muscles went lax with futility, as Hutch dropped the receiver in the cradle and laced his fingers together, supporting his chin with elbows resting on his knees. Sky blue eyes darkened with concern as he sat staring at the phone, again willing it to ring.
Starsk, where are you?
Starsky had already begun to lose track of time, but figured that almost an entire day had passed since he was taken from the abandoned apartment building. They had removed the duct tape blindfold and though he could see windows, they showed very little in the passage of the time through the filth and decay. The next blow to his face brought him to a more alert state rather than deeper into the unconsciousness he had been blissfully sinking into. The distinct metallic taste of blood rolled across his tongue.
"Where's your partner?"
"What time is it?" Starsky lifted his head back up and attempted to crack one swollen eye at Eddie. They had cuffed him to Kevin's wooden chair since his broken leg obviously wouldn't support him to stand under the blows. Capernicus sat on a skid of paper nearby, glaring. Still, he glanced down at his watch at Starsky's question.
"What does that matter?" Eddie snarled.
"What time it is will make a difference as to where he is."
"Four o'clock," Capernicus growled from his perch.
"AM or PM?"
"Ah. `Cause if it were four AM, then he woulda been in his kitchen mixing up one of his god-awful breakfast drinks. Do you have any idea how disgusting desiccated liver tastes?"
Eddie delivered another rapid-fire blow that cracked across Starsky's face, breaking his nose. Blood immediately began to flood down his face. "He ain't at his apartment! Tell us something we don't know!"
Capernicus leapt to his feet and pushed past Eddie, grabbing Starsky by his shirt.
"Listen, funnyman, you can make this harder on yourself or you can make it easier. Either way, you will tell us where your partner is."
"You know, I interrogate people for a living. You two really need to work on your techniques." Starsky paused to cough and spit out some of the blood that had pooled in his mouth. Somehow he managed a cocky smile, even with his face beginning to throb. "Look, why don't you uncuff me and one of you sit in the chair, then I'll show you how it's done?"
The snap of Capernicus' backhand reverberated throughout the small warehouse. Starsky felt the world growing fuzzy again.
"Where is Hutchinson?"
"I don't know."
"You're trying my patience!"
"Really? Try mine."
Eddie's large hands snaked out and delivered a second blow to the detective's already broken nose. Starsky couldn't help but cry out against the wave of pain.
"Still find this amusing, Detective?"
Starsky couldn't find the energy for another witty retort, but did manage a bloody sneer at the extortionist. Glancing down at the mess on his hand, Capernicus retrieved a handkerchief from his suit pocket and began to clean off the gore.
"Fine. If you want to take your secret to the grave with you, we can arrange it." Capernicus threw the cloth on top of one of the paper skids. "We're both determined men, Detective Starsky. Stubborn, even. We know what we have to do and we do it, no matter what."
"I'm nothing like you, Capernicus." Starsky's voice was full of disgust. "You sacrificed your partner."
Capernicus crossed his arms in front of his thin chest and smirked at his captive. "And isn't that what you're allowing your partner to do to you?"
Starsky opened his mouth with another retort, but swallowed it back instead. Goading Capernicus wasn't going to get him anywhere. He tried lying instead. "If I knew where he was, I'd tell you. Nobody's worth this."
"I'd agree with that, but I've seen you two together. I've had you two observed from the minute we left that parking garage. I know all about you and your partner." Capernicus sneered as he watched Starsky shake his head against the pain in his broken nose. "Quite a reputation you two have developed. You think I don't know how you've risked your life for him before? I was there at the station when my sniper tried to take him out and you pushed him out of the way." Capernicus placed his grip onto Starsky's collarbone, adding pressure to the healing wound caused by the gunman's bullet. "No, I think you're holding out, Detective. The question is, for how long? Where's Hutchinson?"
"Go to hell, Capernicus," Starsky ground out.
"Oh, I will. But I'm taking you with me if you don't tell me what I want to know."
It wasn't until Hutch glanced away from the telephone to his watch that he realized he had been staring at the receiver for over two hours. His partner could have missed yesterday's call for any number of reasons, many of them logical, but many of them too painful to contemplate. But missing today as well, a second day without a call...
That could only mean one thing.
Hutch sprung up from the sagging hotel bed. Within three strides, he was pulling his canvas army bag out of the small closet and stuffing his few possessions inside.
"Does it hurt much?"
The question startled Starsky, but he tried not to show it. His body felt like it was on fire. To make matters worse, they had rebound his aching arms behind his back, pulling on the torn muscles in his chest, back and shoulders. A new piece of duct tape ran from temple to temple, obliterating his vision. His broken leg was thrust out in front of him, no longer aching, but frighteningly numb.
"Only when I whistle."
Kevin laughed, the bright, cheerful sound grossly out of place in the dingy room. "You're funny. Y-y-you give fu-funny answers to Mr. Ca-Ca-Capernicus and Eddie."
"Yeah, I'm a laugh a minute. You ought to hear me after a couple of beers sometime." Starsky grunted as he tried to reposition his arms. "Why'd they take me down?"
"I d-d-don't know. Mr. C-Caperni-c-cus t-told Eddie to." Kevin moved in front of Starsky, then crouched down to where the detective was handcuffed again to the guardrail at the base of a printing press. A gentle hand reached out to touch the welt that ran along the length of Starsky's right jaw. At Kevin's touch, he automatically flinched away. "D-d-don't worry, I won't hurt you."
Starsky turned his head toward where he estimated Kevin's voice was coming from. He tried to keep the sarcasm out of his voice. "Yeah, sure."
Kevin shook his head, though Starsky couldn't see around the duct tape. "Nope." The hand reached out to touch the wound again, but Kevin stopped inches before he actually made contact and let his hand fall away. His voice dropped to a whisper. "I d-d-don't like it when they hurt people."
"Well, I'm not too thrilled with it either."
Kevin studied the bruises that showed through Starsky's torn shirt. Amongst the angry red flesh stood several pale scars across his chest and abdomen. "You've b-b-been hurt before."
Starsky felt the gentle touch on his stomach travel to his chest. "This isn't the first time somebody's wanted me dead."
"Why d-d-don't you j-j-just tell them what they w-w-want to know? Then Mr. C-C-Capernicus would let you g-g-go."
Starsky tried again to shift into a comfortable position on the cold concrete floor as he thought for a moment. The more he came in contact with Kevin, the more he realized his stutter added to people's initial perception of his inability. "Challenged" Terry would have called him. Kevin was far more capable than many of the students that had been in her classes.
"Kevin, haven't you ever had somebody, a friend or maybe someone in your family you'd do anything for?" Starsky waited for a moment for his question to sink in. He knew he was taking a huge gamble confiding anything in him, but the risk might pay off if he could sway Kevin's sympathies. "My partner is my very best friend. If I tell your boss where he is, they'll hurt him worse than they've hurt me. I can't let that happen."
"Is he the man in th-th-the picture?"
"The one from your wa-wallet."
"Yes, that's Hutch."
"He has b-b-blond hair like me a-a-and Mikey." Kevin's voice dropped back down to a whisper. Starsky had to strain his ears to make out the next words. "Mikey's dead."
Starsky's brows furrowed. "Who's Mikey?"
"Mikey was m-m-my brother. M-M-Mikey's gone now. They k-k-killed him."
"Who killed him? Eddie and Capernicus?"
"No, some b-b-bad men. Mikey g-g-g-got into a f-fight with them and they sh-sh-shot him dead. N-now I'm all al-alone, `cept for E-Eddie." Kevin wiped at his nose. "Mikey t-t-told Ed-Edie to t-t-take c-c-care of me."
"So that's why you're working for them," Starsky said, more to himself. "Your brother, Mikey, wouldn't you have done anything for him?"
"Don't you see, that's why I need to help Hutch, he's closer to me than my own brother. If I could just..."
"Kevin!" Eddie slammed the door from the office behind him as he entered the print area. Kevin scrambled to his feet. "Let's go, we got some things to do."
Starsky heard Kevin scurry after Eddie, and he was again left alone in the chilly room. Think about it, Kevin! Remember Mikey, and think of me and Hutch.... Hutch! I don't know what's going on in that blond head of yours, but you just stay put! Stay...safe.
Starsky began pulling at his restraints and testing the metal bar behind him for any sign of weakness. He knew in the back of his mind it was futile, but it was better than simply sitting on the cold concrete floor, waiting for the next onslaught to begin.
The Captain found he couldn't concentrate, no matter how hard he tried. He hadn't realized how long his mind had been wandering until he glanced down at his wristwatch and saw that a half hour had passed--a half hour of staring out his office window, tapping the eraser of his pencil against the desk top.
The buzzing of his phone twisted him back to his desk as he snatched up the receiver and punched the blinking light of the first line. "Dobey."
Mildred's voice sounded anxious. "Stand by for a patch with Zebra Seven." A series of clicks sounded in the large man's ear until Mildred returned. "Go ahead, Zebra Seven."
"Whatdya got, Stevens?"
"We found his car."
"No sign of Starsky, but there aren't any signs of foul play in or around the car itself. Andy's checking out some of the nearby buildings for..." The sound of Stevens' partner shouting a reply in the background was transmitted through the microphone. "Hang on just a sec, Captain."
Tension coursed through Dobey as he waited for the report to proceed. Within a minute Stevens continued his broadcast. "Cap'n, Andy's found a side entrance to one of the buildings here. It looks like there's a few streaks of what could be blood on the stairwell walls and steps, but not any great quantity. There are a few wooden steps with new breaks in them as well. We'd better get the lab out here."
The pencil that Dobey had been clutching in his hand snapped in two under the pressure of the captain's fury.
Capernicus had Eddie and Kevin set Starsky back in the wooden chair, binding his feet and arms to its legs. His back and shoulders ached and burned constantly, and Starsky had felt a couple of his ribs crack earlier. Pain he could handle. Pain was familiar. But the constant darkness...the darkness brought up memories best left buried and was beginning to unnerve him.
Time was lost in the darkness, hours seemingly stretching into days. Initially, Starsky broke up the tension that seemed to drain him by taunting his captors, even when he realized they were no longer within earshot. As he found himself growing hoarse, Starsky began humming to himself in an attempt to dispel the looming silence. Adrenaline finally gave out, and he slumped into a restless doze. After a few hours, his sixth sense brought him back to consciousness, snapping his head up like a hunted deer's. Listening intently, footsteps were discernibly approaching him.
"So, Detective," Capernicus began after a slap across Starsky's temple. "Are you ready to cooperate?"
Starsky managed a smirk after recovering from the blow. "What do you think?"
Eddie landed a sharp right across the detective's jaw, all but flipping the chair over backward. Starsky shook his head against the pain, clearing his head.
"Where's your partner?" The familiar and unwelcome feel of cold metal against Starsky's temple startled him, but the trigger cocking back made his blood turn cold. "I've had just about all I'm going to take from you, Starsky," Capernicus ground out. "Tell me where your partner is!"
"Never!" Starsky spat back. The involuntarily jerking of his head away from the .38 wasn't enough to clear his temple from the gun's muzzle when the extortionist pulled the trigger.
The VW van rolled to a backfiring stop a block away from The Pits. Hutch glanced into the rearview mirror a final time, checking the security of the wavy, graying beard stuck to his face. A quick twitch of his upper lip reassured him it would stay in place as he climbed out of the vehicle and lumbered down the street toward the bar.
To the casual observer, he was just another rough character in an equally rough neighborhood, heading for the local hangout. In reality, Hutch was checking out every vehicle lining the street near the bar for occupants, seeking out anyone that might be looking for him.
None of the cars parked along Holland Avenue were occupied, so Hutch continued his trek into the noisy bar. He made his way toward the restrooms, surreptitiously scanning the crowd, trying to identify anyone Capernicus may have sent to watch out for his return.
As he made his way to the men's room, Hutch had to force himself not to stare at Huggy. Fading bruises and stiff movements gave evidence to his recent injuries. A flush came to Hutch's cheeks as the anger within him flared. Who else has been hurt while I was safe in that crummy motel?
As Hutch stood at the sink, washing his hands, he double-checked his disguise, willing himself to assume a nonchalant countenance though a rage ran through him. He lumbered back into the crowd, scanning the room a second time. Hutch was convinced it was safe enough to approach Huggy when he identified two men entering the bar from the street, their attitudes belligerent as they scanned the room as well.
Hutch shouldered his way through the friendly mob and back out into the street, neither thug giving him more than a casual glance. He had to force himself to maintain character until he reached the VW. Hutch swore to himself as he turned over the ignition and sat for a moment, his mind racing furiously. I could tail them, but there's no guarantee that they report directly to Capernicus, IF he's even got Starsky. More than likely they report to some middle man. But if I'm wrong...
Hutch chewed his lower lip for a moment before making his decision. Slowly the van pulled out into the nearly empty street, taking note of the license plate of the only additional car that had parked since his brief stop at The Pits. As soon as he dared, he'd get R&I to run the plates, hopefully identifying the two thugs that had cased the bar. In the meantime, he'd check out his partner's apartment and his own, and anywhere else he could think of to look for Starsky.
Starsky couldn't stop his trembling from the hammer's crack reverberating in his ears. A shudder passed through him as he realized Capernicus' intent was a deadly game of one-man Russian Roulette. Without being able to see, Starsky's hearing had become more acute. It didn't take long to identify the sounds of at least one more bullet being added to the pistol's chamber, then the familiar snap as it was brought home. The cold steel muzzle was again placed against his temple, the barrel then spun, sounding agonizingly loud in the silence of the room.
"Surprised you're still alive, Sergeant Starsky? You should be." Capernicus' voice hissed in his ear. "This next time you might not be so lucky." The next words were ground out with a military precision. "Where is Hutchinson hiding?"
Starsky tried to force his mind to concentrate on anything but the deafening silence that seemed to pulsate through the warehouse: his car needed a front-end alignment; their upcoming vacation; the date he had set up for the weekend...
The cocking of the .38's hammer interrupted his jumbled thoughts. "Where's your partner?"
"I don't know!"
"You're lying!" The squeezing of the trigger forced the hammer forward again, and a second time the empty "click" of the chamber filled Starsky's head. A thin sheen of sweat began to bead on his upper lip, as yet another bullet was added and the barrel spun a third time. The odds were definitely not in his favor.
"How long do you think your luck can hold out? Don't you realize that you could be dead in less than three heart beats?" The hammer cocked back again, cold and menacing. "Where is your partner?"
Capernicus waited a full minute for his captive to answer, the muzzle remaining firmly pressed against Starsky's temple. The silence of the room was shattered when the gun finally fired.
An old drunk staggered down Ridgeway, weaving haphazardly along the sidewalk. Occasionally, bits of a song were discernable in an inebriated warble, other times segments of a seemingly two-sided argument were audible. Hutch pulled a pint of cheap whisky from the deep pocket of the trench coat and paused long enough to make a show of removing the cap, placing the bottle to his lips and returning the liquor to his pocket.
By the time he was within a half block of his partner's apartment, Hutch could make out the lit tip of a cigarette within a parked car. Two men sat slumped in the sedan with a direct view to Starsky's apartment. Hutch took some small comfort in the hope the two men were perhaps waiting for his partner's return, not his.
Hutch continued his unsteady trek down the sidewalk, passing directly next to the dark sedan. As he got to the end of the block, he turned to cross the street, twisting his head with another pull on the bottle, enabling himself to read the rear plate of the car. Committing the series of numbers and letters to memory, Hutch continued down the block, looping back to the dilapidated van and climbing in with a frustrated oath.
Starsky couldn't help but cry out as the gunpowder burned across his forehead. It took him several moments to get his breathing under control, with the realization that Capernicus had pulled the gun away from his temple at the last second. Still, his relief didn't alleviate the searing pain along his hairline.
Starsky understood in an instant Capernicus would do everything in his power to extract Hutch's whereabouts from him, but wouldn't kill him outright until he got what he wanted. All he had to do now was hold out until someone found him or he managed to escape.
In light of the brutality he'd already faced, the realization was little comfort.
Captain Dobey rose from his bed and padded across the floor to the window facing his backyard. Moonlight spilled through the leaves of the tree, dappling the lawn. Sleep eluded him, not for the first time since he had sent Edith and children away. The weight of his concern for his family and his two friends aged him considerably, chipping away at his hope and determination.
He had no way of contacting Hutch, and couldn't decide whom he was more angry with, Starsky, his partner, or himself. Starsky had been belligerent, not even telling his captain that Hutch was going under until after the fact, then refusing to tell even him or Huggy where he had gone, even under the threat of suspension and disciplinary action. Dobey suspected Starsky knew it was all smoke anyway, an act for the irate marshal service and FBI agents. Dobey knew Hutch would eventually come out of hiding when his partner didn't contact him, and suspected Hutch already sensed something had gone wrong. The captain had long since lost his awe of the uncanny connection between the two men--like two halves of the same whole. But if one were gone...how on earth am I going to explain to you that your partner disappeared without a trace?
"Da-David? Are you awake?"
Starsky sucked in a steadying breath, as he heard Kevin hesitantly approach him.
"Hey, Kevin." Starsky forced himself to form words around the dull ache in his swollen face. "Seen any good movies lately?"
"M-m-movies?" Kevin's brow furrowed. "I d-d-don't underst-stand...are y-y-you making fun of me?"
"No, Kevin. I was just trying to be funny. I know you've been stuck here, too."
"Oh. Okay." The young man sat on the floor next to Starsky. His gentle voice quieted even more. "I-I-I don't like it wh-when people make fun of me be-because I'm d-d-different."
"I'd never do that, Kev. My...my fiancée was a teacher at a school for kids that were special. Some of them are good friends of mine."
"You pl-played b-b-basketball with them."
"How...? Oh, the pictures, right. Yeah, we played a lot of basketball with them, me and Hutch."
"Hutch is the man th-they're looking for."
"That's right, Kevin. They want to hurt Hutch. Then he can't go play basketball over at the school anymore." Starsky waited for his words to sink in. "Kevin, if you could just..."
"I used t-t-to go to sc-school." Starsky could hear paper rustling. "They l-let me d-d-draw there."
Even in the midst of his own turmoil, Starsky's heart softened. He drew a breath and asked patiently, "Yeah? What d'ya like to draw?"
"I d-drew a superh-h-hero. His n-n-name is Won-der M-m-man."
Starsky even managed a bit of a smile. "Really? What kind of super powers does he have?"
Kevin's eyes lit up. "W-w-would you l-like t-t-to see him?"
"Well, sure, but the tape...?" Starsky asked hopefully. Kevin quickly reached up for the blindfold, but the sound of approaching footsteps sent him scrambling to his feet. Eddie's voice echoed through the room.
"Kevin, where ya at?"
"I'm-m-m here, Ed-die!" Kevin hesitated only for a moment before stuffing the paper into his jeans' pocket and hurrying over to the loading bay doors to follow Eddie outside. The roar of an engine and the sounds of a car pulling away filtered into the warehouse.
Starsky pulled at his restraints almost subconsciously as he let his mind wander to the days when Terry was alive--when "me and thee" became "me and thee and she" for awhile. The memories of times with Hutch and the love of his life filled the lonely room and he was comforted.
The futility Hutch felt began to consume him. Standing in front of the mirror at the gas station restroom, the blond stared at his reflection. The disguises finally stowed away in the canvas bag, the face looking back at him was smooth shaven and drawn. Sky blue eyes gazed unflinchingly at the worry that marred his features. Something's missing...something's not right.
His hand reached up to touch the reflection in the mirror, fingertips resting on the grimy surface. The blue eyes flickered past the image of his own face to the empty space over his right shoulder. An ache sharp as glass pierced him with the thought of his missing partner. That's why the reflection's wrong...
Minnie Kaplan juggled the two bags of groceries into one arm as she continued to dig through her purse for her keys. The mail she had stuck in her mouth didn't help with her burden or growing irritation. Shaking out the apartment key on her ring and managing to get her door open, she was totally unprepared for the hands that snaked around her waist and clamped over her mouth. The mail she had placed between her teeth hampered the assailant from completely covering it, allowing for her to emit a scream. The fumbling hand wrapped itself around her throat, cutting off her air supply. Minnie continued to struggle, as the man dragged her into her apartment. In the darkness, the assailant tripped over her coat tree, and the two were flung to the floor. Minnie's chances of escape or retaliation were greatly diminished when Eddie twisted as they fell, landing on top of her, and knocking the thick-rimmed glasses off her head. Minnie felt her ribs give way on impact. As luck would have it, Eddie struck his head on the coat tree during their descent, and rolled off her after they hit the floor.
Knowing she had to use what might be her only opportunity to escape, Minnie scrambled to get out of Eddie's reach, rather than try judo in close quarters. She propelled herself toward the bedroom, hoping if she could make it, she could lock the door and retrieve the pistol she kept in her nightstand. Before she could get more than a few steps, an iron-like grip latched onto her ankle and sent her back to the floor.
Praying that her neighbors were home, Minnie began screaming for help, each breath drawn torturously against her broken ribs. A hand was quickly clamped over her mouth as Eddie straddled her, adding pressure to her throbbing side.
"Shut up or I'll kill you right now!" his voice hissed. "All I want is information, understand? Just tell me where they've got Hutchinson and you'll get out of this alive!"
Minnie's eyes widened, then narrowed in fury. She had no clue as to where Starsky had stashed Hutch. Even if she did know, there was no way she was going to give him away. Minnie tried to shake her head under the suffocating pressure of her assailant's hand. Eddie felt his fury mounting. "Look, I'm running out of patience. Where is he?"
Minnie managed to mumble indiscernibly into his palm. Eddie released some of the pressure without taking his hand completely away. "Say that again."
Her eyes took on a furious glint. "Go to hell, turkey!"
Eddie lashed Minnie across the side of her head with a vicious backhand. The fist swung back a second time, bringing up blood from her nose. "Tell me where Hutchinson is!"
Minnie shook her head against the pain that surged across her head. Infuriated, Eddie laid a blow full in Minnie's face, rocking her head against the floor. Flares of light flooded through her head, then darkness overtook her.
Captain Dobey snatched up the phone on the second ring, throwing himself into his chair as he crammed the receiver up to his ear.
"Dobey!" he barked into the mouthpiece and snatched up a pencil. He both hoped and dreaded it would be Capernicus, making a demand for Starsky's life, or anything that would give them a clue as to where the detective was being held.
"Cap'n, it's me." The voice was instantly recognizable.
"Are you on a secure line?"
"I don't know. I don't care. Where is he?"
"I'm coming in."
The next sound the captain heard was the buzzing of a disconnected line.
The throng of onlookers made it difficult for Dobey to make his way into Minnie's small apartment. When Minnie had not shown up for duty that morning or answered her phone, the R&I officer she was supposed to relieve from the graveyard shift had sent a unit over to check on her. The medics had just finished strapping her onto the stretcher and were raising the gurney to transport her to the awaiting ambulance.
Dobey swallowed the lump that rose to his throat as he stared down at the swollen and bloodied face. Minnie managed to open her eyes fractionally when she realized her superior officer had arrived.
"...didn't tell him nothin', Captain..."
"Minnie, what did he want?"
"...didn't tell him, Captain..."
The EMT at the head of the stretcher spoke up. "She's been saying that since we got here."
Dobey returned his attention to the semi-conscious officer. "Didn't tell him what, Minnie? What did he want to know?"
"Hutch. He wanted Hutch. But I didn't tell him nothin'. Didn't beg neither, Cap'n. I never begged..."
Dobey gave the small shoulder a gentle pat as he again swallowed the lump forming in his throat. Gruffly, he waved the attendants on. "What are you waiting for? Go on, get her out of here."
Dobey forced his gaze away from the two men pushing the gurney out the door, and instead cast an experienced eye around the room. The lab team was already at work gathering evidence in the small apartment. Dobey's survey stopped when he spied Minnie's glasses on the floor, the right lens shattered under the evening's struggle. The captain reached down and picked them up, tucking the glasses in his breast pocket.
Anyone observing Dobey would have noticed the tightening around his face and the growing fury in his eyes. There was going to be hell to pay.
When Starsky woke, he felt a wave of emotion flooding him for a split second, railing him with feelings of futility and desperation. The rage he'd felt for the last several days had fled, a product of his vulnerability and inability to defend himself. Now all that was left was a dull ache and numbness, knowing any hope of escape or rescue was quickly diminishing.
Get it together, Starsky. Just keep holdin' out. Even if you never make it out of here, you're keeping Hutch safe, and that's all that matters.
"So, now what?" Eddie asked, sitting heavily down in the chair across from Capernicus' desk, massaging the knuckles of his right hand. "This guy's one tough nut. Most woulda been squealin' like a girl by now."
Capernicus looked at him in undisguised contempt. "It's only a matter of time before the police track us down. I don't have to explain to you the necessity of finding Hutchinson before then."
"No, sir, Mr. Capernicus. You want I should get a little more `creative' with the cop?"
"We may have to, though admittedly, I don't have the stomach for this type of situation." The extortionist ran his hands through his graying hair. "Fine. Do whatever you have to do."
Eddie nodded with a grin, then crossed over and opened the office door. "Kevin! Get in here, I need you."
Kevin came out from behind his ink drum wall and moved slowly to the office, dreading whatever task Eddie would have for him. He purposely avoided looking at Starsky lying on the floor.
"Yeah, Ed-Eddie?" Kevin asked, as he entered the glass enclosure.
"I want you to stay in the office for a while. Mr. Capernicus and I are gonna talk to the cop some more and I want you to holler if the phone rings. Don't answer it, just let us know if it rings. Got it?"
"I go-go-got it, Eddie."
Eddie followed Capernicus out of the office, then turned and locked the office door, securing Kevin inside.
"You think that's necessary, Eddie?" Capernicus growled. "Isn't your trained ape manageable?"
The last thing Eddie wanted to do was reveal his concerns about the attachment Kevin seemed to have developed to the detective. "He'll be no trouble. I just don't want him gettin' in the way, that's all."
"Whatever. Now, what did you have in mind?"
The smile Eddie gave his boss was not pleasant. "Just a little something I learned in Vietnam."
Starsky remained lying on his side, his desperate thirst preoccupying him. He hadn't seen Kevin in quite a while, not since he had managed to sneak him another sip of warm soda. How long ago was that? It seemed like years.
Footsteps approaching set Starsky on edge, even though he tried to remain motionless, as if he were still unconscious.
"Pull him up," Capernicus directed.
Starsky felt Eddie's rough hands pull him to his feet where he stood unsteadily, leaning against him. The duct tape was stripped from his face in a stinging jerk. "I don't suppose you'd like to save us all a lot of time and effort, and cooperate now?"
Words were becoming difficult to form, but attitude came readily. "You...can take your... cooperation and..."
Eddie hauled Starsky toward a large, stainless steel sink against the wall. During the print shop's more profitable days, it had served as a hand-washing station for its employees on route to the time clock to punch out for the day.
Starsky eyed the sink dubiously. Possibly as long as a year ago water had filled the tub and had been unable to drain. In the months that followed the water had rusted, an oil-like film floating upon the surface. What lay under the skim was questionable. What are they...?
Staring at the brown mess, Starsky missed Capernicus' nod to Eddie. Before he had a chance to draw a significant breath, Starsky's head was forced below the surface, his battered forehead resting against the cracked and rusted sink. Eddie leaned his weight against Starsky, who was bucking to draw himself out. It was all the ex-boxer could do to keep his prisoner submerged.
"Okay." At Capernicus' assent, Eddie tugged back at Starsky's curls, pulling him out of the stagnant water. Starsky's mouth gaped open, trying desperately to fill his tortured lungs and cough out water at the same time.
"Again." Starsky had barely been able to draw enough breath to shove away the black spots crowding out his vision when his head was thrust into the oily water. Again, Eddie threw his weight on Starsky's back, crushing him against the steel edge, adding to the agony of his cracked ribs and bruised abdomen. With surprising speed, Capernicus lashed out with his foot, nailing Starsky behind his right knee so his full weight would rest against the tub. When Starsky's movements began to weaken the two men drew him back out of the water, Eddie having to support him as he fought to get breath. Capernicus stood close enough to feel the moisture from Starsky's tortured exhalations.
"Tell me! Where's Hutchinson? Tell me!"
An extremely weak "no" was all the sodden man could manage. Instantly, Starsky's head was thrust into the brown water, the pressure on the back of his head making it impossible for him to fight back effectively.
Enraged at the futility of their tactics, Eddie drew back his fist and nailed Starsky in the kidneys. The blow would have sent any healthy man to his knees. The overwhelming pain forced the air out of Starsky, which was quickly replaced by the sink's filthy water. Eddie knew immediately he had made a mistake when he felt the body beneath him stiffen, then go limp.
Eddie quickly pulled the inert body from the sink and let him onto the floor. Capernicus shoved him away from the limp form. "What did you do, you moron? How am I supposed to find Hutchinson with him dead?"
While Eddie and Mr. Capernicus went out into the print shop, Kevin returned to the center desk drawer and pulled out Starsky's sleeve of pictures. He carefully looked through them, lingering on the picture of the detective with the other "different" children, then at the one of him and his friend, Hutch. Shouting from the small warehouse tore his attention away, bringing him over to the door's window. What Kevin saw there caused the sleeve of photos to drop unnoticed from his numb fingers.
Kevin went ballistic when he heard Capernicus yell at Eddie that Starsky was dead. Frantically, he tried to open the door, yanking on the handle until it threatened to fall off in his hands. He then began pounding on the window to get Capernicus' and Eddie's attention, but the two men ignored him as they continued arguing. Kevin rushed to the file cabinets where a decrepit desk lamp sat and flung the light out the door's window. He then reached through to grasp the key left hanging in the lock, ignoring the searing pain as the jagged glass tore open the flesh of his arm.
Kevin flung himself out the door and rushed to the limp body. He quickly stretched Starsky out flat on his back, and with one hand under his neck lifted, opening the airway. He then lowered his ear to the detective's mouth, reciting to himself look, listen and feel. With the absence of breath, his other hand rested on Starsky's forehead and his thumb and forefinger reached out to pinch the nostrils. Kevin quickly filled the detective's lungs with two breaths of air, turning his own head after each to make sure that the chest was rising and falling with exhalation.
Eddie and Capernicus were both taken aback by Kevin's sure and confident movements. The precise rhythm he set up convinced them he knew what he was doing. Capernicus shook his head. "Where'd the moron learn to do that?"
Eddie shrugged his shoulders without taking his eyes off the drama before him. He had long since forgotten the story Michael Franscoli had once told him of how Kevin had successfully completed a first aid course at his special school in order to help with the younger children. Kevin had even applied the Heimlich maneuver on a choking second grader, saving his life.
"C'mon, cop. Breathe..." There was no concern from Eddie for the detective's life, nor remorse for his actions. His only regret stemmed from knowing he'd be next laid out on the floor if he blew their last chance to find Hutchinson.
Two tense minutes went by before a shudder and cough alerted Kevin that his efforts were effective. A more severe cough brought up the first of the dirty water from Starsky's lungs and stomach. Kevin quickly grasped him by his shredded shirt and jeans' pocket, and rolled him onto his side. Starsky continued coughing and gagging, vomiting up the majority of the stagnant fluid he had swallowed.
Wild joy flew through Kevin as the young man crawled over to where Starsky lay gasping, and gathered him up against him. The blood from Kevin's arm mingled with the stains on Starsky's shirt as he rocked the nearly unconscious man, talking to him softly and patting his matted curls.
A hand snaked out and grabbed Eddie by the collar, dragging him nose-to-nose with his boss. Capernicus' voice was deadly. "You stupid sonuva...you almost cost me everything!"
"I'm...I'm sorry boss...I got carried away! It won't happen again, I swear!"
"You're right, it won't. I'll kill you myself before it does!"
Capernicus stormed into the small office area, slamming the door behind him. The remaining pieces of glass hanging in the window frame fell to the floor. He stalked through the room, seeking to burn off some of the consuming rage. The sound of the door reopening startled him, and he whirled around to see Kevin standing quietly before him.
"Well? What do you want?"
"Mr. Ca-Ca-Caperni-c-cus, I...I..."
"You what? For crying out loud, you moron, what is it?"
"I th-th-think you should l-l-l-et Da-Da-David g-g-g-go." The severity of the young man's stutter increased under Capernicus' mocking scrutiny. "He d-d-d-don't know n-n-nothin'."
"You're the one who doesn't know squat, you lousy excuse for a human being." Capernicus had found an outlet for his anger. He stalked up to Kevin, who outweighed him easily by seventy-five pounds, and began pushing him roughly. "What do you think we've been doing here for the last four days, huh? Your friend out there has information I need, and when he leaves here, it'll be in a pine box!"
Each sentence was punctuated with a shove, slamming the younger man into office equipment. Kevin cowered against the tirade, somehow infuriating Capernicus more. He finally lost control and began striking Kevin harder and faster until the young man sunk to the floor to protect himself from the blows.
He'd been dreaming again, dreaming of the time Hutch's car had been forced off the road and he'd been trapped under it for several days. Only this time it wasn't Hutch who was pinned in the wreckage, unable to move, in his delirium he was the one who couldn't get out from underneath the wreckage and was dying--dying and losing hope.
But then somehow, miraculously, Hutch was there, laying a cool cloth on his fevered brow, murmuring soothing words.
"'utch? Hutch...help me..."
The gentle hand wiping at his face paused for a moment before continuing. Kevin's voice was a wisp. "No, n-n-not Hutch. It's m-m-me, K-Kevin."
Starsky forced his eyes to open. The bruises on Kevin's face were shadows in the darkened room.
"Kevin, you'd...better go. They'll...be mad...if...they find you...with me."
Kevin's hands paused briefly in their gentle ministrations. "I know."
The small show of kindness brought tears to Starsky's battered eyes. "Why...why are ya...doing this?"
"I c-c-couldn't help Mich-chael."
"Oh." Starsky's mind raced. He was in no shape to run, but with Kevin's help...Starsky knew it was his last chance to escape, or at least get word to Dobey. "Kevin, I'm sorry...you couldn't...help...your brother. But you...you helped me, didn't you?"
"Yes." The answer was filled with pain, both emotional and physical.
"Kevin, please...you're my...only chance. If you...could just...unlock the cuffs..."
"No." The response was a whisper, but definitive.
"Kevin, please... They're going...to kill me...kill Hutch--my brother. Do you...understand, Kevin? They're...going to... kill us."
"Yes." Tears were evident in the young man's voice as he stopped sponging Starsky's face.
"Kevin, listen...to me! You could...call my...captain...ninth precinct...there's a card...in my wallet...with the...phone number...he wouldn't..."
"Kevin! What are you doing in here?" Eddie's hissing voice reverberated throughout the room. "You idiot! Don't you know how mad Capernicus would be if he found you in here? Get out of here, now!"
From Starsky's vantage point all he could make out was Kevin's running feet and Eddie slamming the storeroom door.
The hand that covered Dobey's mouth was firm, but without a fierceness to inflict pain. Instinct still caused his hand to grope toward his dresser to retrieve the service revolver hidden there.
"Captain, it's me." The large, callused hand was withdrawn.
"Hutchinson, that's a good way to get yourself shot," Dobey hissed. "How did you get in here?"
Even in the dark, Dobey could make out Hutch jerking his head toward the now open bedroom window. Without a word the captain climbed out of bed, and picking up his robe, switched on the nightstand's lamp.
Hutch blinked owlishly as he looked around the room. "Where's Edith?"
"Away." Dobey threw him a harsh look, then studied him more closely. Even the dim light couldn't disguise the deep circles under Hutch's eyes. Several days' worth of stubble bristled from his normally smooth face and lines of tension marred his eyes and furrowed between fair brows.
"What's going on?"
"We're not sure yet."
"Well, what are we sure of?"
"Don't start. Capernicus and a few of his thugs have been busy. You could say they've been paying visits all over town. Huggy, Minnie, even here. I got word they harassed your parents and busted into your sister's house, too."
Hutch swore under his breath. "Are they...are they all right?"
"They will be."
An unsteady hand reached up to rub tiredly at his already bloodshot eyes. "Cap'n, where's Starsky?"
"I don't know. They haven't contacted us yet. I want to think that they snatched him in order to find out where you were."
"You want to think? What does that mean? Do you think he's still...?"
"We don't know. They've left everyone else they've `visited' alive. There's no reason to think they've changed their MO with Starsky."
"The FBI hasn't come up with anything? What about the evidence from Perrigo and Avelechez's murders--anything?"
"Not much. Nothing concrete."
Hutch stared hard at his captain, then finally nodded tiredly. Unsteadily he turned and made his way back toward the window. Dobey quickly grabbed him by the arm.
"Where do you think you're going?"
"If they're looking for me and they've got Starsky, then I'm going to let them know I'm available for negotiations."
Hutch sighed, the anguish on his face evident even in the dim light. "It's Starsky."
"I'm talking to you, cop!" Capernicus stalked up to the semi-conscious detective and grabbed him by his hair, jerking his head up from where it rested against his chest. "This can end right this second if you'll just tell me where your partner is!"
Although Starsky's head was ringing, Capernicus' voice managed to register. He tried to open his swollen eyes, but was only partially successful. He did manage a bloody sneer.
"Come on, pig! Hutchinson--where is he? No one can possibly be worth this kind of pain! You can end this with a word." When he received no immediate response, Capernicus pushed the swollen face away from him, disgusted by the futility of their actions.
With a supreme effort, Starsky lifted his head up off his chest. There were no words that could possibly make the felon understand. More eloquently than any speech was the glob of bloody spit that nailed Capernicus directly on his right cheek.
The pain caused by the effort of spitting drew Starsky over the brink of consciousness, moments before the next blow landed, knocking him from the chair and onto the floor.
Kevin watched as Capernicus struck Starsky's face, knocking him to a crumpled heap at his feet. Finally, he covered his eyes and looked away, until a series of oaths marked Capernicus storming across the room to the office. Kevin waited several minutes before daring to peek from behind the makeshift wall of ink drums. Capernicus sat in the office with his back to the window, animatedly talking on the telephone to someone.
Kevin managed a crouching run to where the detective lay, his breath quickening with unsettled emotions. Cautiously, he prodded Starsky's shoulder, trying to wake him. A few more attempts proved unsuccessful. Tears filled Kevin's eyes at his own futility, and he wished for the tenth time that day for his brother. Mikey would know what to do. Mikey would make it better. Kevin's hand traveled up to Starsky's battered face and trembled as it made contact with fresh blood. Unnerved, he backed away and crouched behind the ink barrels. Kevin buried his face against the cradle of his arms and wept silently.
Hutch threw twenty dollars on the tabletop and climbed out of the booth. Mickey's hand crept out to retrieve the money, but a vice-like grip froze him inches from the bill. The alcoholic looked up into the ice-blue eyes and was instantly chilled by the fury and disgust there. Hutch spat out each word with precision.
"I'm only going to say this once, Mickey, so I'd advise you to listen very carefully. I've never forgotten how you sold me out to Monk and his goons. Obviously, I'm very serious about finding my partner, or I wouldn't be here sharing the same air with you. You're going to start telling everyone you see that I'm back in town, and that I'm angry." Hutch's voice almost dropped to a whisper, but never lost its deadly intensity. "Do you understand me, Mickey? I am very, very angry."
Mickey shook his head rapidly, his cap all but bouncing off his head. Hutch dropped his grip from the snitch's now numb hand and stalked out of the bar to the streets.
"Are you just stupid, or what?" Eddie goaded, giving Starsky a shove with his foot. He was no longer bound, too weak to stand or even try to defend himself. "You're going to die, pig. You know that, don't ya? We'll just leave ya here for the rats to feed on, whether you're dead or not." Eddie crouched down in front of Starsky and grabbed a handful of the matted curls, jerking his head up at a painful angle. "You hear me, cop? How'd ya like to lay here and watch the rats feedin' on your face and there's nothin' you can do about it?"
The swelling only permitted Starsky to crack his eyes open a fraction. His tongue was thick from dehydration, making speech nearly unintelligible.
"...fool...you're...a fool, Eddie."
He gave Starsky's head another jerk, eliciting a small grunt of pain. "You're the one lying on the floor, man!"
"When this is...all over...Capernicus'll kill...kill you, too."
"You're full of it, pig! He needs me!"
"He...he killed...his partner, Eddie. You'll...just...be dead weight..."
Eddie lashed out with his boot, catching Starsky's exposed stomach. Starsky felt his already broken ribs dig into something deeper, the pain causing him to retch.
Eddie left Starsky lying in the middle of the warehouse floor. Fresh blood began to bubble up from his panting mouth, but he was too weak to wipe the froth away.
Kevin stood at the far end of the room, dancing from foot to foot in indecision, wanting nothing more than to go to his friend, yet knowing too well the repercussions of his actions. Finally, he slunk off to the opposite end of the warehouse to find food and maybe a Coke he could share with Starsky. Then he would wait for Eddie and Capernicus to leave again.
Eddie lit a cigarette, tossing the extinguished match in Starsky's direction. "So now what, Mr. Capernicus? I'm not sure how much more he can take. Maybe if we give him a day or two to shore up, I can try something else."
"Except that we don't have a day or two. We need Hutchinson now. Some of the other men have heard that the police have increased their manpower in looking for us. It's only a matter of time before they get lucky." Capernicus looked down at Starsky's mangled body thoughtfully. "Of course, there is one thing we haven't tried."
"Yeah? Well, sir, if you don't mind my saying, I really don't think the cop can take much more. I'm surprised he's lasted as long as he has. Tough little S.O.B."
"The one thing we haven't done is use him for bait."
"What do you mean? Hutchinson's probably figured out a long time ago that we're the ones who snatched his partner."
"Of course, but he hasn't found us yet, has he? And that's presuming that Hutchinson's come out of hiding. The last thing we need is to be caught in here by the police with Starsky."
"So, do we dump him?"
"Not yet. What if..." Capernicus crossed over and perched on the edge of the worn desk. "What if we contacted Hutchinson and offered him his partner?"
"What do you mean? Just give Starsky to him?"
"Use your brains, Eddie. What's Hutchinson's Achilles' heel? I'm betting that it's his partner. If Starsky's refused to give up Hutchinson no matter what we've done to him, what do you think Hutchinson would do for his partner?"
"A trade. Hutchinson's life for Starsky's." Capernicus turned steely gray eyes on his assistant. "We contact Hutchinson and give him a series of instructions that will lead him here--alone. No Backup or we kill his partner. We'll tell him that he's to come solo, and we'll let Starsky go. Once he's here, however, we take care of them both."
"Think he'll buy it?"
"In a heartbeat." Capernicus turned cold, hard eyes to where Starsky lay on the floor trying desperately to move. The detective had heard every word of their conversation, but neither of the hoods were concerned. "You just keep Starsky alive until Hutchinson gets here. If what you've told me about these two is true, they're no slouches. Hutchinson will want to talk to his partner to ensure he's still alive or he won't deal. We'll give him what he wants, but once Hutchinson meets up with us, they're both dead and we're home free."
"I don't know, Mr. Capernicus. Nobody's seen Hutchinson in almost a week. These guys are good. On the street they say they're the best. A little nuts, but nobody to mess with. And if you do one of them, you might as well kiss your mother goodbye, because the other one will track you down like a dog."
"Good. There'll be no problem motivating Hutchinson in to come here and retrieve his partner."
Eddie glanced over at the struggling man bleeding on the floor. Provided he lives that long.
Hutch cruised the streets throughout the remainder of the night in the Torino, making himself as visible as possible. His only concession to his superior was to don a flak vest from the station when he retrieved his partner's car.
In times past, Hutch would drive the red sedan in Starsky's absence, somehow gaining comfort and reassurance from the familiar car. But this time...this time it was devoid of his partner's presence. It was a disquieting feeling.
Hutch scanned Holland Avenue for the car he had seen there days before, even though R&I yielded nothing about the plates he provided for it or the one in front of Starsky's apartment. The blond found a parking spot in front of The Pits and cautiously stepped away from the vehicle, scanning the street.
Determining that there were no apparent threats, Hutch made his way into the bar, again scanning the crowd for familiar and unfamiliar faces. A thin, black hand latched onto his forearm and spun him around.
"What are you doing out on the streets? Where's Starsky?" Huggy hissed, drawing Hutch into the kitchen. The look on the blond's face answered all the bar owner's questions in a heartbeat. "Aw, man! If you're out there alone, that means..."
"I've got to find him, Hug."
"You figure Capernicus snatched him?"
"You mean there's been nothing on the street about all of this?"
"Nada. Like I told you before, folks's scared and ain't talkin'."
Hutch jabbed a finger into Huggy's shoulder. "Then I need for you to do some talking. Let people know that you've seen me."
Huggy nodded grimly. "So they can see you. I dig it, but I don't like it."
"What choice do we have?" Hutch squeezed his friend's shoulder before he made his way back into the night.
When the call came in on the captain's direct line, it wasn't too much of a surprise. He more than half expected Capernicus to have found out about Hutch's suicidal mission. Dobey snatched up the receiver on the third ring. "Dobey."
"Captain, I believe we have someone who would be of great interest to you and Detective Hutchinson. That is, provided that you can get in touch with him. Your lovely wife didn't seem to be able to provide us with that information."
"Who is this?"
"I think you know who it is. We had hoped that Detective Starsky could be persuaded to tell us where his partner is, but he's a very stubborn man, Captain. No matter how much persuasion we employed, he wouldn't give us what we wanted. You find Hutchinson and tell him that. Tell him we persuaded his partner within an inch of his life. Then tell him we want to talk about a trade. You've got three hours, Captain."
"Wait a minute, how do we know he's still alive?"
"I guess you'll just have to take my word for it."
"No deal, we want proof!"
"You'll get your proof. Just get in touch with Hutchinson. You've got three hours, Captain."
"Three hours? How the..." Dobey realized he was shouting into a dead receiver. Hutch sprinted into his superior's office just as the large man was hanging up the phone.
"I heard you yelling. What have you got?"
"That was Capernicus."
"I figured as much!" Hutch bit out. "Where have they got Starsky?"
"They said three hours...they said they'd call back in three hours."
"Why didn't you keep them on the line? How can we trace..."
"Hutchinson, back off! What the blazes do you think I was trying to do? They'll call back in three hours. They want to speak to you about a trade."
"Then he's still alive."
"Maybe." Angry brown eyes met blazing blue. "Let's just hold on to that. In the meantime, let's follow up with a couple of ex-employees of Randolph's that are currently doing ten-to-twenty. County should have them downstairs in Interrogation by now."
Dobey made his way out of his office ahead of the blond. Hutch stood silently for a moment, staring at the phone as if he were willing it to ring again. His reverie was broken by a large hand gripping his shoulder.
"I've switched my lines to the operator. If they call back early, the switchboard will put it right through. Let's go, son."
Hutch nodded once and followed him out the door.