Disclaimer: I don't own the boys (but theyd look nice in my living room), didn't create them, have no intention of stepping on anyone's toes with this story, am not making any money from it, yada yada yada...Other than S&H, Captain Dobey, and Huggy, everyone else is the product of my own fevered imagination.
This will have graphic violence in it at points, so warn the kiddies. No sex, no romance :) Mature themes, and all that. Mild profanity.
Special thanks to my husband Michael who has generously served as my beta-reader, and manages to not make any smart remarks about the fact that I enjoy this odd hobby. And thanks to Flamingo for doing the re-formatting and giving me lots of encouragement and honest feedback. Thanks to the writers and readers of the S&H FanFic list for reading this in installments and egging me on.
Copyright 1999 by Kimberly Heggen. All rights reserved. Comments can be sent to: email@example.com
"Well, maybe one of her customers took her off to Vegas and married her." snickered Starsky, as he propped one foot up on the rear bumper of the Torino to tie his sneaker laces. He had been walking for the last twenty minutes or so with the right shoelaces untied, until Hutch was sure that his glib and cocky partner was going to trip and perform a spectacular face-plant.
He really is like a cat, though, thought Hutch; he always manages to get it right at the last minute and land on his feet, in many ways. The mental image of his partner as a street-smart tomcat amused Hutch briefly, and he smiled involuntarily.
Starsky grinned back at him, and went around to unlock the driver's side door.
As Hutch slid into the passenger seat, he sighed. "More likely, she got someone mad at her -- a customer, a rival, who knows? Probably received a threat, and lit out for safer pastures." He stared out the window thoughtfully for a moment. By day, the red-light district they were driving through was depressingly gray, its inhabitants asleep or otherwise preparing for their "day." "I'm just surprised that someone actually reported her missing."
"C'mon, Hutch, even the hookers have friends. They're human, after all. Someone doesn't show up in their usual spot at the right time, it gets noticed." Starsky looked over at his partner, and noticed Hutch's brief pained expression. "Sorry, buddy. I know these kind of cases are hard for you. He reached over and squeezed Hutch's arm briefly. "An' I'm sorry about the crack about her marryin' her customer. I wasn't thinking."
Hutch said nothing for a few moments. True, he thought, if Gillian had lived, I might have married her, if we both thought it would work. Won't ever know, now... He forced a smile. "What do you think made Dobey give us this assignment, anyway?"
"Oh, I don't know. Do you think it was that salt in the sugar dispenser?" answered Starsky, referring to an incident earlier that week in the tiny coffee area. "I still can't imagine HOW that happened."
"No, more likely it was the trick foaming soap in his washroom!" responded Hutch, good humor returning. "Starsk, you are such a kid. Where did you get that stuff, from a comic book ad?"
"You think just 'cause you've my partner, Blondie, I gotta tell you all my secrets? How can I play any tricks on you if you know - "
"Zebra-three, come in."
Hutch grabbed the radio mouthpiece. "This is Hutchinson. What's up?"
"Stand by for Captain Dobey." came the answer.
The two detectives exchanged glances. Usually the captain merely relayed brief instructions through Dispatch; his wish to speak with them personally did not bode well.
"Starsk, what'd you do this time?" muttered Hutch; his partner looked puzzled.
Dobey's gruff voice came on the line. "Hutchinson, I want you two to meet me at a murder scene. Put the missing hooker case on hold for now."
"Who was murdered, Captain?" Hutch asked carefully. Must be someone important, he thought, or why would Dobey be going there personally? Not a cop, please... He breathed a silent selfish prayer of relief that Starsky was sitting next to him, driving the Torino with his usual slapdash style.
"Joey Rigante," came the answer, confirming Hutch's suspicion. "His partner found him just a few minutes ago." Dobey gave them the address. "I'll see you there." he said, and signed off.
"Shit!" yelled Starsky, smacking the steering wheel. The victim was one of their fellow detectives, known for his brilliant insights and sometimes flamboyant methods -- which usually got results. "Not Joey! What was he, twenty-two or twenty-three?"
Hutch nodded glumly. "Something like that. He always seemed younger, though. Smart, smart kid."
"Smart, hell. He had style."
In spite of the shocking news of Rigante's death, Hutch found himself faintly smiling to himself. Trust Starsk, he thought, to value style over brains. They made the rest of trip in silence, each man busy with his own memories of their slain colleague.
The Torino pulled up in front of the apartment complex, swerving jauntily into a parking space. As the two detectives got out, Hutch mentally counted up the squad cars already present. Two black-and-whites, plus Dobey, plus them...it would be a zoo inside.
Dobey met them at the apartment's front door. "Forensics is going over the scene now, but go on in."
Privately, Hutch thought that the Captain looked terrible. Tired and defeated, with his shoulders slumping, the man looked ten years older. He who leads, remembered Hutch from a book he'd read long ago, bears everyone's burdens as his own. "What do we know, Cap?" he said aloud.
Dobey sighed. "Swensen found him at around 9:00. He's still here. I wanted to send him home, but I thought one of you should talk to him at least briefly before I let him go."
Starsky nodded, his face serious for once. "I'll go talk to him, Cap'n, while Hutch looks around." He disappeared into the kitchen, where one of the uniformed officers was talking quietly to a thirtyish man with dark blond hair and a reddish moustache.
Hutch watched him go. Good choice, he thought to himself. He knew that Starsky's gentleness would serve him well in interviewing the dead man's partner. And while he didn't relish going into the blood-spattered living room where their friend lay dead, he knew instinctively that that same sensitivity would make viewing the murder scene more difficult for Starsky than for himself. He turned to the Captain.
"Cap, were Swensen and Rigante working on anything special? Something that might have backfired?"
"They were working on something, and yes, it could be related. I'd prefer to go over that with you two later, in my office."
Hutch raised his eyebrows at that, but said nothing. He wandered into the apartment's small living room, where the forensics team was carefully and meticulously doing their job: sampling bloodstains, dusting for prints, and looking for the tiny bits of hard evidence needed to tie a case together.
He knelt down by the white-shrouded mass on the floor, mentally steeling himself before pulling the sheet back. Joseph Rigante's handsome olive-skinned face looked up at him, surprisingly peaceful in death. But beneath his chin gaped two joined clean-edged slashes, opening the skin of his neck from below one ear to just below the other. An immense amount of blood was present, pooling under the dark head and the upper back.
Hutch pulled the sheet down further. The victim -- he forced himself to use that term, rather that the man's name -- had been wearing a short-sleeved dark red t-shirt and faded jeans. His arms lay straight at his sides; inside the elbow of the left arm Hutch could see a purpling bruise. His face, also, showed some faint marks around the mouth, although the victim's darker skin tones made it difficult to be sure. Hutch glanced at the hands again, and was puzzled to note that there were no cuts or injuries apparent on either hand. That's odd, he thought. If a trained policeman's getting his throat cut, he ought to have some defensive stab wounds on his hands. People under attack usually tried to protect their face.
Letting the sheet fall, Hutch slowly straightened up. He noticed the coroner's assistants standing by, waiting for permission to take the body to the morgue. "Go ahead, if Forensics is done." he said to them quietly. Hopefully, Hutch thought, the autopsy would shed some light on this.
He nearly collided with Starsky in the hall, returning from the kitchen. "How's Swensen?" Hutch asked his partner, keeping his voice down.
"Andy's pretty shook up. Poor guy, he hadda be the one to find him."
"Why'd he come over here, anyway? Picking him up for work? No, too late for that."
Starsky shrugged. "He couldn't tell me much. Something to do with a case they were workin'. Andy wasn't feeling too good this morning, though, so he came in late today...only when he got in, Joey hadn't shown up yet either. Andy wanted to pop in on him, tease him about oversleeping."
Both men were silent for a moment. Hutch shuddered inwardly at the mental picture of Andy Swensen letting himself in and finding his partner exsanguinated on the floor. Rigante and Swensen had worked together for about two years, and by all appearances had become good friends. Every cop's nightmare, thought Hutch, looking over at his own partner, whose usually cheerful demeanor was appropriately subdued under these conditions. That could be Starsky lying there on the floor...Rigante even looked a little like him... With an effort, Hutch wrenched himself away from his own morbid train of thought.
He told Starsky what he'd seen in the living room. "They're finding a few prints, but they're probably going to be Swensen's, since they're just on the doorknob and the coffee table by the body. Most everything else was wiped clean." He paused. "Doesn't make sense, though, Starsk. They cut his throat, but it doesn't look like he put up much of a fight."
Starsky grimaced. "Yecchh. What a way to go."
His partner continued as if he hadn't heard. "One cut on each side, meeting in the middle. Through the blood vessels, but not through the windpipe. And he lays there, looking like he's asleep, except for the blood."
"Hutch, that's repulsive. How could you stand to look that close?" Starsky shook his head, obviously disturbed by the case. "That's Joey in there, not some slaughtered animal."
"C'mon, buddy." Hutch gently nudged his more squeamish partner toward the door. "Let's get on back; Dobey wants to talk with us, back in his office. There's...something going on that he doesn't want broadcast all over the precinct. Did you send Swensen back already?"
Starsky nodded absently, with an odd distracted look on his face.
"What?" demanded Hutch, a little more abruptly than he meant to. "You didn't lock the keys in the car, did you?"
His partner stared off into space for a moment, then seemed to focus back on Hutch. "Naw. Something I'm tryin' to remember. Hutch, all of this...reminds me of somethin'. But I can't remember what."
"Another killing, another case we've had?" While others often assumed that Hutch was the "brains" of the partnership, the blond detective knew that Starsky's instincts were often very, very good, and he knew better than to dismiss his partner's unease.
"No...I don't know...damn!" Starsky rubbed his hand over his eyes. "I guess it'll come to me. Let's go."
Starsky pulled the Torino into its customary space in the parking garage and killed the motor. As Hutch reached for the door handle, he felt a hand on his arm, and turned back to look at his partner.
"Hey, hang on a moment." Starsky said quietly. "Thanks for letting me get out of some of the dirty work back there, Hutch." He swallowed audibly. "I'm not sure I coulda handled that, lookin' at poor Joey like that. It's bad enough when it's a stranger, but when it's a friend..." he trailed off, looking down.
Hutch leaned over and slipped his arm around his friend's shoulders, squeezing briefly. "It's okay, buddy, really. Thanks for talking with his partner. I think you're really better at that sort of thing than I am."
His partner leaned against him for a moment, then managed a weak grin. "Sort of Good Cop and Bad Cop?"
"Maybe. Not exactly what I meant, though." Hutch hesitated a moment. "I know why it got to you, pal. Same reason it got to me...Starsk, Rigante always reminded me of you, just a little. I...feel so relieved that it was someone else's partner dead in there, and not you. And I feel guilty as hell even thinking that."
"You can't help thinking that, Hutch. You're human. And so'm I. I'm glad you're alive too. I think Joey would understand," Starsky said, leaning back and searching his friend's face with his eyes. "You can't beat yourself over the head for that, turkey. Only person to blame for this is the bastard who did it."
Hutch took a deep breath. "Right. Well, let's go work on getting the bastard, before Dobey sends someone to look for us."
With Hutch standing behind him, Starsky rapped softly on Dobey's office door and pushed it open. When the two detectives saw that Andrew Swensen was sitting in one of the chairs next to Dobey's desk, they filed in cautiously, without Starsky's usual swagger. Hutch snagged the other empty chair while his partner perched on the arm.
"You wanted to brief us, Captain?" said Hutch carefully.
Dobey nodded, then opened a file on his desk. "I need to talk to you about what these two were investigating." He waved a hand at Swensen. "It may very well have some bearing on who killed Rigante."
"Captain, there was no sign of forced entry at the apartment, and not much indication of a struggle." Hutch mentioned, with a sidelong glance at the dead man's partner. He hated to say what came next. "Are we sure this is murder, and not some sort of bizarre suicide?" He could see Swensen's face flush at the suggestion.
Dobey held up his hand. "I won't be sure, no, not until we get the autopsy back. But what he was working on, and what Jensen has told me, has me convinced this is murder." He picked up the file again. "Rigante and Swensen were originally on a murder case. The drug dealer found in the warehouse last week."
Starsky butted in. "Any similarities in that murder to this one, Cap'n?"
"No. JoJo Fischer was shot in the head, execution style, and dumped in an old mattress warehouse. Shut up, Starsky, and let me finish!" Dobey turned to Swensen, who had not yet spoken. More gently he said, "Andrew, tell these two what you and your partner found out."
Swensen cleared his throat. "There were a lot of rumors out on the street that JoJo's death was a deliberate hit, somehow related to organized crime."
Hutch nodded slowly. "That'd make sense. The one time Starsk and I busted JoJo, he was back out on bail in nothing flat. We thought someone had to be backing him to put up that kind of cash."
"And he came up with a weaselly lawyer who got him off with almost nothin', just cause of some technicality!" Starsky added. "Hutch, that judge had it in for us. D'ya think HE was in on--"
"Starsky, can it!" shouted Dobey. "Either behave, or you can wait outside while the rest of us discuss this. It's been a lousy day for all of us."
Starsky had the grace to look abashed. "Sorry, Cap. I'll be good." He smiled encouragingly at Swensen. "Go ahead, Andy."
"One of the rumors we stumbled across implicated the Saint in the hit on JoJo."
Starsky whistled; Hutch shook his head, and addressed his comment to Dobey. "Captain, I've never been convinced that the Saint actually exists. I mean, we've all heard the stories, but never anything that could be substantiated. He's like the ultimate urban myth."
"On the contrary, Hutchinson, LAPD has been fairly sure for some time now that he is a real person -- or persons. But he seems to be very well hidden." Dobey sighed. "Every time we get someone close to finding out something, the information seems to dry up. It was starting to look like Rigante and Swensen were getting somewhere, though."
Swensen nodded. "Joey had some connections, worked some hunches, and we thought we actually had a contact with someone who would get us closer to the Saint. We had a cover story. Joey was going to go in, posing as a dad who'd lost his son in a custody battle, and wanted him kidnapped. We figured he'd be the more believable one for that."
Hutch smiled, trying to imagine the soft-spoken and well-educated Swensen posing in that role.
"We had a meeting set up yesterday evening, at a diner, but I was supposed to be within earshot to be his backup. The problem was, I came down with a stomach flu yesterday, and knew I wouldn't be any use." He swallowed audibly. "I went home, and I told Joey to call it off, or at least get another backup. I...I never thought he'd go ahead by himself, but that must have been what happened." His voice shook. "I meant to call his place last night, and check on him, but I was so sick, I couldn't think. By the time I got here this morning, and he was late, I just figured he'd caught the same stomach bug I had. I thought I'd just find him throwing up in the john, not dead on the floor."
Hutch mulled it over. The story made sense. Rigante, while brilliant and well-respected on the force, was also known to have been a bit of a hothead, a bit impulsive. Swensen was the senior partner, and his request that Rigante call off the meeting should have counted as an order. But Rigante must have gone ahead on his own initiative, unwilling to risk the contact slipping away. It's better to apologize than ask permission, thought Hutch. Only, you can't apologize if you're dead.
"Andrew, why don't you go on home now." suggested Dobey. "You look like you're still sick, and we've got enough to get started on. Come in tomorrow if you feel up to it. Just be available by phone if we need to ask you more questions."
"I'll be back tomorrow." he said raggedly. "I want to be in on this, Captain. I want to help catch the ones who did this." Starsky clapped him on the back as he left.
Hutch remembered something. "Captain, I thought that the Saint wasn't really known for murders."
"That's true. What little we have, and it's not very much, suggests that the Saint goes in for more benign things. Information, false ID, missing people, that sort of thing. Mail-order brides. Possibly some beatings, no murders. And never drug trafficking. So it's unlikely that JoJo was shot for not pleasing his employer."
"Cap'n, when was JoJo shot exactly?" asked Starsky.
"He was found Tuesday night, had probably been there twenty-four hours before he was found."
"And Joey found out enough to set up a meeting for last night? That's only five days, to get a major lead on someone the department's been tryin' to catch for fifteen years. I mean, Joey was good, but that good?"
Dobey toyed with pen for a moment. Without looking up he said, "Starsky, lock the door."
"Why?" Starsky couldn't resist asking.
"Just do it." answered the Captain evenly. "You two aren't the only ones who pop in here without knocking."
Bemused, Starsky rose and locked the office door, then returned to his perch on the arm of Hutch's chair.
"What's with all of the cloak-and-dagger stuff, Captain?" inquired Hutch. "You don't think Rigante was somehow...involved in more than the investigation, do you." He couldn't think of any other way to phrase it. God help us, thought Hutch, if Joey Rigante was on the take. The slain officer had been known for his idealism and stubbornness.
Dobey shook his head. "Rigante was clean, and so is Swensen. I'd stake my career on it." He looked at the two detectives, now listening respectfully. "But I'm beginning to wonder if that's what killed him."
Starsky blinked. "Come again, Captain?"
"Three days ago, when Rigante and Swensen came to me with their report, telling me they suspected the Saint, I pulled some old files, what little we had on him. This morning, after I came back here, I looked at them again.
"Exactly four times in the last fifteen years, officers have turned in reports stating that they were in reach of making contact with the Saint. Each time, it was an apparent dead end, and the officers reported no further progress. Since we were interested in the Saint more for his connections than his crimes -- as you pointed out, Hutchinson, most of his activities were felt to be low-level -- nobody has ever thought much more about it."
Hutch shifted in his seat. "Captain, that doesn't sound too remarkable, if he's that well hidden. We all run across dead ends."
"There's something else, Hutchinson. In each of those four cases, one officer met with a supposed contact, unobserved, with no backup. In at least three of the cases, the officer's partner was ill or injured and unable to be present."
"Oh, my God." breathed Starsky. "Just like with Joey...Andy was sick!"
"Captain, those other investigating officers...Were they somehow bribed?" asked Hutch slowly.
Dobey sighed. "It's starting to look like that may have been the case. But that's not your worry. If necessary, I'll drag IA into this, but for now I'll do a little quiet personnel snooping. Two of the officers have since retired.
"But I have a good reason for telling you this." He leveled a long, serious look at each detective in turn. "If I'm right, Joseph Rigante was killed because he got too close. And whatever he was offered, to buy his silence, he must have refused."
After the sobering interview with Dobey, Starsky suggested lunch. "It's 12:30, I'm starving, and I can't think when I'm hungry." he reasoned. "And we haveta figure out where to start on this, knock it around."
"Whatever. We may as well, I suppose. We need to go down to the morgue later, though, so don't eat anything too disgusting."
"Hutch, that's not fair." Starsky protested. "You know I do my best thinking with my stomach full of somethin' good and greasy."
"That's 'cause you fall asleep, dummy. You eat too much for lunch, then I find you dozing at your desk with your face on a file." quipped Hutch good-naturedly, glad for the banter. They left the building and headed into the parking garage.
"Yeah, but you can't deny that I've come up with some good ideas that way. You think too much, Hutch. Sometimes you gotta put things on the back burner and let 'em simmer."
"Is that one of your grandmother's sayings?" laughed Hutch, as they pulled out in the Torino in search of food.
"Naw, that's pure David Starsky wisdom for you. If Grandma had said it, it would have been even harder to understand. Even I couldn't figure out half the things she used to say."
Though he wouldn't have admitted it to his partner, Hutch privately thought that Starsky's with-the-works hamburger looked more appealing that the salad and dry turkey sandwich that he himself had ordered. They couldn't really discuss the case openly in a restaurant, even a noisy, crowded one like the corner diner they had chosen, but they were able to go over some information and come up with a game plan.
"All right." said Hutch, crumpling up his napkin onto his plate. Despite his partner's legendary "shovel it in with both hands" eating style, he had finished first. "I'll go talk with the medical examiner, if you want, and see what they've turned up on poor Joey. They were going to do him right away, so we should at least have some results by now. Why don't you call Swensen at home while I'm down there? We need to find out what he knows about getting close to whoever Joey's contact was. I forgot to ask him that this morning. Okay, Starsk?"
Starsky was staring at the last few bites of burger in his hand.
"Hey, Starsk, wake up!"
The darker man snapped his fingers. "Kosher!"
"That's what it reminded me of!"
"That's what what reminded you of?" Hutch was puzzled.
"Joey, of course!"
"Starsk, Joey was Italian, not Jewish."
"No, no...look, do you know what 'kosher' actually means?"
Hutch shook his head. "Not really. Bunch of dietary rules, right? Not that you ever follow any."
"No, I quit eating kosher after I moved out to my aunt and uncle's place. But there's more to it than that."
"Enlighten me, Starsk."
"Kosher does mean all of the diet laws. Crazy stuff, I could never keep it all straight. But I remember...from when I was a kid in New York... I remember the part about meat."
"Because that's all you eat, carnivore boy."
Starsky ignored him. "To be kosher meat, an animal has to be killed in a certain way. There's a rabbi who certifies the butcher, and they kill the animal mercifully by cutting the neck veins and letting it bleed to death."
Hutch stared at him. "So, you think Joey Rigante was killed by a Jewish butcher? C'mon, Starsk."
"Hutch, the point of killing the animal that way is to keep it from havin' much pain. The butcher just opens up the veins and the poor thing just drifts away. No sufferin'."
"That might work for an animal, but, Starsk, I saw Joey's wounds. You can't tell me that didn't hurt."
His partner shook his head slowly. "No, it would still hurt, I guess. I don't know how to put it all together. But that's what I was trying so hard to remember."
"Well, it's a start." agreed Hutch. "C'mon. Finish your painlessly-sacrificed dead cow, and let's get to work."
Starsky carefully laid the remains of his burger on his plate, shuddering slightly. "Y'know, buddy, I think I've had enough. I been eatin' too much lately, anyway."
They split up on returning to Metro, Starsky returning to his desk (to stay awake, Hutch hoped) while his partner made the more unpleasant trip down to the morgue to review any available preliminary autopsy findings.
To his surprise, there was a fair amount of information available already. The pathologist had already completed the external exam and was beginning the internal exam when the blond detective arrived. Seeing Hutch at the doorway, she came out to discuss the findings.
"Most of what I've got for you is pretty obvious." said Dr. McArdle. "Time of death was probably around midnight. Cause of death was exsanguination. He has some petechiae around his mouth--"
"Petechiae. Tiny, pinpoint bruises. Someone may have held a hand over his mouth, to restrain him or attempt to smother him. He's got a good-sized hematoma -- a bruise -- on his right antecubital fossa that looks like an injection site. Other than that, and the neck wounds, which were done with something very sharp, there's not a mark on him."
His right what? wondered Hutch. Oh, the bruise on his arm... "Injection site?"
She nodded. Discarding her gloves, she picked up a sheet of lab results. "We've got some of the toxicology results back already. The urine tox screen was strongly positive for opiates, with a confirmatory qualitative measurement pending."
Sometimes Hutch wondered if Starsky's dislike of the morgue was really squeamishness or merely frustration with all of the medical lingo. "When will you...wait, opiates? Does that mean he was--" Joey? On drugs?
Dr. McArdle held up her hand. "Most likely, that's what was injected in the arm. It certainly doesn't mean he was using. Remember, we didn't see any other needle marks, old or new. And when we get the confirmatory test back, we should be able to tell which opiate derivative was given. We've also got a second substance from him, one that looks like it's going to be diethyl ether." Seeing Hutch's blank look, she explained. "Also just called ether. If inhaled, it acts as a general anesthetic. But we don't really use it for that anymore."
"Can people still get it?"
She nodded. "It's not generally known, but that stuff you spray in the carburetor to get a car started, uh..."
"Starting fluid?" suggested Hutch, secretly gleeful to catch Dr. McArdle out on a subject HE knew better.
"Yes, that's it!" She beamed at him. "Almost pure ether, and you can buy it at any autoparts store."
"How would you put this all together, then? Could he have been knocked out with the ether, then..."
"Bingo." She nodded. "A few whiffs of that, and he wouldn't have put up much of a fight. The opiates, I'm not sure about. Why give somebody a narcotic if they're already unconscious and you're going to kill them?"
Hutch recalled his lunchtime conversation with his partner. Starsk, he thought, you're not going to believe this. "You're right, doesn't make sense. Will you see that I get the rest of the results as soon as you've got them?"
"Certainly, Detective." She flashed another dazzling smile at him. Hutch shuddered mentally. Beth McArdle was attractive, and single, but he doubted he would ever get past her grisly occupation to ever ask her out.
"I'll go back and finish the gross internal exam, then."
Gross is right, thought Hutch, watching as she selected some wicked-looking gleaming instruments and returned to her work. He turned to go, and was surprised to see his partner at his elbow, looking about with forced nonchalance.
"Hey, finding stuff out, Blondie? You were down here so long, I -- "
He was interrupted by a loud "crunch" from the autopsy room. Hutch put his hands on his partner's shoulders and steered him back into the hallway.
"Just keep walking, buddy, and be glad you didn't have ribs for lunch."
Back upstairs, the two men shared their findings. Starsky had contacted Swensen, as planned. "He thinks we should go back a couple steps, start fresh. The guy might be a little suspicious now." He pulled a newspaper clipping out of a folder. "Believe it or not, when they put the word out that they were lookin' for the Saint for a 'favor,' they got a tip to look at these."
"These" were a page of "personal" ads, with one ad circled in red. "Why do they call him 'the Saint,' anyway?" asked Hutch absently as he scanned the page.
"Word from one of Huggy's friends is that he's the one you go to if you need a miracle. An illegal miracle, anyway. He's also supposed to be pretty choosy about what kind of projects he'll take on. You were right about murder not being his usual line."
"And you were right about the kosher thing, Starsk."
"The pathologist thinks that Rigante was gassed with ether, then given a shot of a painkiller before he was killed with the knife cuts. Beth didn't know what to make of it, and I decided not to hit her with your theory. Damn weird. Since when do organized crime bosses order merciful 'hits'?" Hutch looked more closely at the ad. "Hey, this ad has a phone number. Did Andy say that they called this?
"Yeah, and talked to some guy who gave them instructions for further contact. So it's 'Beth,' now, huh?" Starsky leered. "Hutch, when are you gonna ask her out?"
"Sometime when she's not holding a sharp instrument in her hand. Besides, I prefer perfume to formaldehyde. Now, quit trying to run my love life and pay attention, Gordo. This just seems way too easy. Did you call the number yet?"
"No, 'cause I figured we'd have to leave a way to be reached that wasn't going to tip them off to us being cops, and I hadn't come up with a go-between yet."
"Right." Hutch drummed his fingers for a moment, then picked up the phone, calling the post office. After a few minutes of being on hold, he had arranged for a P.O. box for a few weeks.
"That's too slow, Hutch. Let's get a fake phone number instead."
"Who's in a hurry? Besides, this is safer." He picked up the phone again. "You want to call our mysterious number, or shall I?"
"Be my guest, Blondie."
Hutch placed the call, with Starsky listening on an extension. "Yes?" answered a male voice of middle range.
"I need a favor," said Hutch shortly.
Hutch thought quickly. "Missing person. A woman," he said, thinking of the hooker they had been searching for just that morning. He gave the P.O. Box number to the bland voice and hung up. "Ball's in their court now, Starsk."
Starsky leaned back in his wobbly desk chair. "Probably take a day or two now before we hear anything." He stretched. "Let's get out and poke around, Hutch, I'm gettin' cabin fever in here. Maybe someone's heard from that poor hooker by now."
The next afternoon the two detectives met with Dobey. They had spent the morning on other cases, as well as trying to obtain additional background on the Saint. The Captain collared them as they returned from lunch.
"Starsky, Hutchinson. Get in here."
"Seems more like himself today," Hutch muttered to his partner as they filed in.
Dobey, it turned out, wanted to inform them of his findings in the personnel files. "I'm not going to give you names, because you don't need to know them. And I expect you to keep this little discussion to yourselves. But this is starting to look suspicious." He sighed. "Of the four officers in question, two are still on the force. One was promoted -- ahead of the usual schedule, I might add -- within a month of declaring the Saint a dead end. The other was married about two months after doing the same thing. The bride was a local starlet. I remember that incident, because we were all a little surprised about it."
Starsky rose his eyebrows, but for once did not interrupt.
"The other two...well, one retired to seek a local public office, won it, and has since moved on to the business world. The fourth resigned, and as far as I can tell, disappeared." Dobey shut the file. "That's all I can tell you without getting us all in a hell of a lot of trouble. I realize it's not much, but...maybe it's worth something.
"I want the two of you to continue to be extremely careful. When you get ready to go after this guy, keep me posted. And once you're committed, don't either of you let the other man of your sight if you can help it. Remember, this man apparently has a habit of getting one partner out of the way while he works on the other."
Starsky grinned. "Aw, Cap'n, do I hafta take him everywhere? He kinda interferes with my love life."
Hutch rolled his eyes. "Starsk, your harem will survive a few days without you."
Dobey waved them both to silence. "One more thing. I initially assigned you to this case on impulse, because I knew you were both friends with Rigante, and I knew you would be in here begging to be a part of the investigation.
"But I'm keeping you on the case because I have faith in you. If any team on the force can bring the Saint in, it's you two." Starsky blinked at the unaccustomed compliment. "I have detectives with more experience, more knowledge in dealing with organized crime. But experience and knowledge won't help you if you can be bought; if you have a price and your enemy knows it. Ken, Dave...my gut tells me that neither of you have a price. I think you'll bring him in."
Or die trying, thought Hutch; that's the part he isn't saying. He cleared his throat. "Thank you, Captain. That...means a lot. We'll try to live up to it."
Dobey shuffled some papers awkwardly for a moment, looking at his desk. "Rigante's funeral is tomorrow morning, at ten. I'll see you both there."
The funeral, like any police funeral, was an emotional affair, and both were glad when it was over. Mrs. Rigante, Joey's tiny Italian mother, had somehow found out (probably through her dead son's partner, Hutch realized) that Starsky and Hutch were assigned to the case. She had wept and embraced them both, thanking them for their friendship to her son and their efforts to find his killer. Both men were frazzled by the time they were able to escape.
On the way back to the precinct, Hutch was lost in his own thoughts, and startled when Starsky spoke.
"You eat all sorts of weird things. You ever been a vegetarian?"
"Starsk, can't you ever let me have a few minutes of peace and quiet? To think? Especially after we just attended the funeral of a friend and colleague?"
"Hey, buddy, Joey wouldn't have wanted you to brood about it. In fact, he would have wanted a wake. An Italian wake, with red wine and pepperoni." He glanced sidelong at his partner. "Besides, you think too much."
Hutch bit back an impatient answer, knowing it to be petty. And futile, for that matter. Starsky was, and would always be, a resilient, cheerful person, and soul-searching was not his style.
"So have you tried the vegetarian thing?" Starsky persisted.
"A few times. Never for more than a couple months, I suppose. Just for health reasons. But you know I don't eat that much meat anyway. Why the sudden interest?" As soon as the words left his mouth, Hutch realized the answer. "Does this have to do with the whole kosher-butcher thing?"
Starsky looked sheepish. "I know, I shouldn't let it get to me. But, Hutch, every time I try to eat meat now, I keep thinkin' of poor Joey, and then I think about the poor cow...do you think they know they're about to die?"
Hutch mentally sorted through the pronouns. "The animals? I don't know, Starsk. I don't think anyone knows. But if it really bothers you, stay away from meat for awhile. I promise, I won't give you a hard time about it if you do."
"Okay, maybe I will. Hey, we're not that far from the post office. Let's see if we have any answers yet."
"Good idea," answered Hutch. As they pulled into the post office parking lot, something occurred to him. "Starsk, you don't like vegetables."
"So if you become a vegetarian, what are you going to eat?"
Starsky thought a moment. "Well, I guess I can still eat bean burritos. I could live off 'em, practically."
Silence for a moment. Then, from Hutch, "No."
"No, you are not going on a diet of refried beans if I have to ride around in this car with you all day."
Starsky shot him a wounded glance. "Fine, supportive friend YOU are."
At the post office, they were rewarded with a plain, anonymous envelope addressed by a typewriter. Handling it carefully with gloves, Starsky tucked it into a larger envelope and they headed back to study the contents.
Forensics declared the and note free of prints. The note was short and specific, again written with a typewriter. "St. Christopher's Catholic Church, any time today. Second pew from the back on the left. Page 56 of the hymnal on the far left."
Starsky wiggled his eyebrows at his partner. "Hey, Hutch, you wanna go to church?"
Retrieving the next message proved to be surprisingly easy; they were out of the church with the message in their hands less than fifteen minutes later. This message contained instructions for an actual encounter. "Thompson's Gym, Venice Beach. Tomorrow, 8 a.m. Be wearing a black tank top and shorts, and bring suitable payment. Come alone, and use the bench press."
Starsky snorted. "Suitable payment? Whaddaya suppose they mean by that?"
"Money, I guess," responded Hutch. "Damn! I wish they'd at least give us a ball park figure. Maybe we're supposed to know how much our 'favor' is worth. Sort of an auction? It feels more like a scavenger hunt."
"What favor are we gonna be askin' for? You told the original contact we were lookin' for a girl."
Hutch nodded. "I figured we could always pretend to be looking for Rochelle, since she's missing anyway." Rochelle was the name of the call girl they had been looking for when the news of Rigante's murder had broken. "That should give us a good cover."
"We'll have to request some cash to work with."
"I'll take care of it," Hutch said absently, still staring at the note. "I'll need to go buy the right clothes, too. I don't have a black tank top."
"Wait a minute, Blondie!" said Starsky, his voice rising. "Do you think I'm just gonna let you be the one to go in? No way, Hutch. Not that easy. We gotta at least flip a coin, or somethin'."
"Starsk, you can't. You're too recognizable in that kind of setting. You've got a chest and back full of scars. You can't hide those in a tank top. Anybody sees those scars, they're gonna be suspicious, and they just might remember those pictures of you last year." Starsky's near fatal shooting had been captured by the news cameras and blazoned across the front pages.
"You're gonna have to go in unarmed for the same reason!" hissed Starsky. "You won't be able to hide a weapon in workout clothes! You think that's any safer?"
"Starsk, we'll talk about it later." Hutch rose from his desk.
"Later, when? Hutch, you're tryin' to bulldoze me and I don't like it."
"Tonight. We'll discuss it tonight." At the sight of his partner's blank look, Hutch added, somewhat more gently, "You're coming home with me. Remember, Dobey told us to keep an eye on each other."
"Damn straight, I'm keepin' an eye on you," muttered Starsky, almost inaudibly.
Hutch's place was fairly close to the specified gym. As a haven for muscle-builders, Venice Beach was home to a number of such establishments. Starsky fretted about the coincidence.
"Hutch, maybe the Saint already knows who we are, and that's why he picked this place, so close to your apartment."
The blond man shook his head. "It's just a good place to meet someone. No one will be able to hear much over the weights clanking, and you're right about it being a place where it would be hard to hide a weapon." He pointed at the curb. "Pull over here."
They were across the street and a few car-lengths away from the gym. From this point, both men could see the main gym entrance easily, as well as the alley to its immediate left.
"Look like a good position for tomorrow?" asked Hutch carefully. "The backup should have a pretty good view from here." At the last moment, he made himself say "the backup" instead of "you."
"Yeah, this should work," answered Starsky grudgingly. "Let's get going before anyone notices us and wonders why we're back in the morning."
"You know, Starsk, we could bring the LTD. It'll be a lot less conspicuous than your car."
Starsky shook his head. "No way, buddy. If I'm gonna be stuck out here, waiting - - and that's still a pretty big 'if,' babe -- then I want a car that can haul both our sorry asses out of here in a hurry."
At Hutch's apartment, with Starsky slumped on the couch, Hutch dialed for a pizza, trying not to think of the inevitable argument that lay ahead. At least, he thought, I can feed him something he likes for a change...maybe that'll take the sting out of being the backup. For Hutch was determined not to lose this discussion. Whether his partner liked it or not, Hutch was not going to allow Starsky to go in alone to make this contact. He finished ordering the pizza (plain "extra cheese", keeping in mind his partner's new-found meat aversion) and hung up the phone. Starsky stared at him blearily from the couch.
"Bribing me with pizza isn't gonna help, Hutch," he said quietly, evidently reading his partner's thoughts. "Can we talk about this now?"
Hutch sat down, feeling deflated and more than a little transparent. An angry, outraged Starsky was one thing; a quiet, reasonable Starsky was somehow going to be more difficult to deal with.
"All right, Starsk. You tell me. Why should you go in there, alone, unarmed, instead of me?"
"Because of what Dobey said," his partner replied, now dropping his gaze. "Hutch, what if they know what Forrest did to you?"
"Oh God...I hadn't thought of that," whispered Hutch, leaning back on the couch and throwing one arm across his eyes as the memories returned.
Ben Forrest and his men had kidnapped Hutch, five years before, to get information on a young woman's whereabouts. Unable to get the information out of Hutch any other way, they resorted to shooting him up with heroin, getting him hooked and then stringing him out until he broke. He had eventually been able to escape, and Starsky had hid him, stayed with him until he kicked it. Internal Affairs didn't know, and it could mean his career -- both of their careers -- if they ever found out.
Hutch shook his head impatiently as a thought came to him. "Starsk, if the Saint knows about that, then he knows everything about us, and there's no hope at all. We can't let ourselves get that paranoid. Be realistic, babe. Look, if it wasn't for your scars, I'd let you do it. But it's too risky."
"Is that the only reason?" Starsky asked quietly.
"What do you mean?" Uh oh, thought Hutch, here we go...dangerous territory.
"I mean that ever since last year, when I was shot, you've been runnin' my risks for me...or tryin' to. Taking all the more dangerous assignments. Just listen to yourself, sayin' things like you'd 'let me' do it. Hutch, I'm not sure you even realize you're doing it, half the time...but you are. You can't protect me forever."
Hutch rubbed one hand over his face. "All right," he said at last, "guilty as charged, I guess. I'm sorry...but sometimes I can't help it. You were so close to dying...and I guess part of me, deep down inside, promised the rest of me that it wouldn't let that happen again." He managed a hollow laugh. "I guess whatever part of me it was, it didn't bother to consult with you."
He sat up straighter on the couch and turned to face his partner, who was now sitting cross-legged on the other end of the couch. "So how do we settle this? Ask Dobey? I don't think he wants to referee our squabbles."
Starsky shook his head, a faint smile on his lips. "Actually, buddy, I think you're probably right. You're better suited to make the contact, and I'll be your backup and driver."
"You do? You will? Then what are we fighting about?" asked Hutch, taken aback.
"The way you made the decision, babe. All by yourself, without checkin' with me, instead of talking it out together. You were thinking with your heart, buddy, but not with your head."
Hutch managed a real smile. Starsk, he thought, you never cease to surprise me. "Aren't you always telling me I think too much, that I should learn to use my instincts?"
The doorbell rang, announcing the arriving pizza, and Starsky rose to get it, grinning. "Yeah, but your instincts are terrible, buddy, so I guess you'd better stick with your brains."
Late that night, after what seemed like hours of tossing, turning and staring at the clock, Hutch finally gave up and went out to the kitchen. A drink of water, he thought, and maybe a snack, then I'll try again. He downed a glass of water and one of the remaining pizza slices, then headed back to his bedroom. As he walked back through the living room, he caught a glimpse of his partner, peacefully asleep on the couch.
I never really answered your question, Starsk, he thought to himself. I just evaded it. What would I do if the Saint, or anyone else, tries to buy my silence by threatening to reveal the whole heroin episode? Is that my price? My career, my reputation...or would I give that up to put the Saint, whoever he is, behind bars?
It had been there all along, the possibility that someone would find out, and Hutch had played a thousand scenarios through his head. Unfortunately, they all ended the same way, with he and his partner losing their jobs over the deception. If the Saint or his henchmen somehow knew, the knowledge could be a powerful bargaining chip.
Hutch forced himself to think it through, to look at the possibilities. If he was found out, would he tell more lies to cover it up? Let a criminal go free, just to hold onto his job? If he did, he would spend the rest of his life looking over his shoulder, wondering who else knew. Or would he stand firm, resist trying to save himself, and take comfort in the knowledge that he'd done the right thing? If it came to that...if the Saint realized he was a cop, he'd be a dead man anyway.
Hutch felt a weight begin to gradually lift from his mind as he saw the situation with more clarity. I'm my own worst enemy, he thought. I can't spend my life in fear. I will go in, and make this contact, and we will make this bust eventually. He grinned to himself. If IA was petty enough to fire him after refusing to accept his own reputation as a bribe, they would have to deal with Starsky.
He returned to his bed and slept deeply and dreamlessly.
The Torino pulled over around the block from the gym at about 7:50 a.m. Starsky looked over at his partner, who was dressed in the prescribed black tank top and shorts.
"Fifteen minutes, Blintz, then I come in lookin' for you, whether you're finished or not. You got some small bills for the day pass?" The gym charged a small fee for single-time use, presumably for those who wished to try out the facilities.
"Yes, I've got everything. I thought we decided on twenty minutes. It might take me a while to find the contact."
Starsky shook his head. "It's a small place. Ain't gonna take you that long. Look, Hutch, humor me, okay? I just keep getting a bad feeling about this whole thing."
The blond man studied his partner for a moment, remembering the previous night's conversation with a wry smile. Now, he thought, who's the one being over-protective here? "Starsk, if you're that worried, we can call it off. But we may have a hard time setting up another meeting."
"No...you're right. I just don't hafta like it, though. Fifteen minutes, babe."
"All right. Stay awake out here, and be ready to drive fast if anything goes wrong." Hutch climbed out of the car and came around to the driver's side. He ruffled Starsky's hair through the open window. "Hey, thanks for setting me straight last night." He turned and walked away before Starsky could reply.
The darker man cursed briefly to himself, and started the car, preparing to move it to the position they had agreed to yesterday. Babe, he thought to himself, you better be right about this, or I'm gonna kill ya.
Even at this hour of the morning, the air in the gym was heavy, redolent of sweat, dirty socks, and metal. Hutch's nose twitched a little bit at the odors. While he himself was fanatical about staying fit, he preferred to do so by jogging outside in the fresh air, or what passed for fresh air in the city. Like many joggers, he tended to think of weight-lifters as mindless muscle-bound grunts.
He stopped at the front desk and purchased a day pass from the courteous attendant, asking directions to the locker room. As he headed in the indicated direction, he looked about casually. Off to his right, he could see the bench press. Currently, it was being used by a short, powerful man with dark hair. Bingo, thought Hutch, I bet that's him; he's got "thug" written all over him. Of course, so do half the others here...
The locker room was sparse, but clean. Hutch didn't really need anything from here, but he thought it would probably be a good idea to go through the motions. He selected an empty locker and hung his jacket in it, keeping only the small duffel bag containing the cash and the girl's photograph. His badge was stashed in one pocket on his shorts, where it jabbed him uncomfortably every time he took a step. He had considered bringing the gun anyway, tucked in the duffel bag, but eventually decided against it. I wouldn't really be able get to it fast enough, he thought, and the discovery of a gun could make a jumpy contact sound the alarm. He snagged a clean towel from a pile of neatly folded linens, as another attendant opened the door, pushing an empty laundry cart.
"Finding everything you need, sir?" asked the uniform-clad attendant, emptying the locker room's used-towel hamper into his cart.
"Yes, thank you," answered Hutch, closing the locker door. Hmmm, no lock...guess the jacket'll be safe enough.
"Let me get you one of these other towels, sir. The laundry used too much bleach on that batch, and they smell terrible." The attendant opened a cupboard door and reached inside.
"Oh, this is fine. You don't need --"
"Here, try this one. It's much nicer," and suddenly Hutch had a faceful of damp, medicinal-smelling bath towel. Yelling and cursing, he tried to peel it off his face, but the attendant only wound it tighter. Hutch could feel the blood rushing in his ears. Oh God...he thought, as he felt himself passing out...ether, just like Joey.
Starsky glanced at his watch again. Hutch had three more minutes, and his partner's anxiety level was rising with each second. He looked at the gym door again, idly noticing the laundry cart that was being trundled down the alley and out to a waiting white van. The back door of the van opened, and the lanky attendant hoisted the cart inside with the help of a second person inside the van.
All right, Hutch, thought Starsky, your time is up. He opened the door and got out. As his hand contacted the inside door handle of the Torino, he felt it graze lightly against something sharp. "Damn," he muttered to himself, "I thought I told Merle to fix that rough spot." He took a closer look, and was chilled to see some kind of sharp spike, about a quarter of an inch long, projecting from the door handle. The tip was dark with something. Starsky looked at his hand; there was no break in the skin. "All right...call me paranoid, Hutch, but somehow I don't think that's one of Merle's thumbtacks." Starsky shut the car door and headed up the sidewalk. Ahead of him, the white van pulled away.
At the front desk of the gym, Starsky bought a day pass just as his partner had done. He began to systematically search the facility, not particularly caring at this point whether anyone noticed his erratic behavior. No Hutch...not out on the floor, not in the locker room. He returned to the front desk and reluctantly flashed his badge to the startled attendant.
"Sergeant Starsky, LAPD. Did a blond man wearing black just come in here?" he asked, trying to keep his voice down.
"Yes...he asked where the locker room was. I haven't actually seen him come out."
"Well, he's not in there now. Have you seen anyone else leave?"
The attendant shook his head, puzzled. "I don't think so; we just opened at 7:00, and there haven't been too many people in and out yet."
"Anyone else workin' here this morning? If so, I need to talk to them, too." Starsky tried to control his rising sense of dread. Something had gone very, very wrong.
"There's Larry. He's on break, but he's due back. I'll go see if I can find him for you." He went towards the back of the gym and out the service entrance, only to return in a few seconds. "That's odd. He's not here."
"Has he worked here long?" When the man hesitated, Starsky wiggled his badge meaningfully in the attendant's face.
"Only about a week."
Unbidden, the image of the laundry cart and the van flashed into Starsky's brain. "Wait a sec. Is he tall, skinny, ugly? Wearing a shirt like yours?" he nodded towards the attendant's light-blue uniform shirt.
"Yeah! You know him?"
"Oh shit!" was Starsky's only answer, as he ran out the door to the waiting car.
First, vague noises. A voice...no, voices. Two male voices, one slow and deliberate, one quicker. Tight cords about his wrists...nausea, headache...Hutch struggled to wake up completely, feeling as if cotton was stuffed into his head. He managed to open his eyes, and shut them again quickly as bright light lanced into them, creating new spasms of headache. "Ah...so you've decided to join us, have you?" The slow voice this time, smooth and oily. "Has your sleep been...restful?" A pause. "Lawrence, give the poor man a drink of water, if you would. I think he could use it."
Hutch gradually became more cognizant of his surroundings. He realized he was sitting up, hands tied behind him, leaning against what felt like the corner of a room. His legs weren't tied, but he doubted he could have moved them very well anyway. He was surprised to realized that he could still feel the badge in his pocket, poking him in the thigh. He opened his eyes again, gingerly, as he felt something cold touch his lips.
"It's only water." said the man across the room. "I would have no reason to poison a faithful...petitioner."
After a moment's hesitation, Hutch drank some of the water that the other man -- presumably Lawrence -- was holding for him. It was fresh and cold; his stomach roiled queasily as the liquid hit, but made no further objections. He then directed his gaze at his surroundings.
Immediately in front of him knelt his attacker from the locker room, still wearing the gym-attendant uniform. Hutch was disappointed to see that the man was armed, the handgun held casually in the hand that was not holding the cup of water. The room itself was fairly anonymous: a blank, windowless, featureless gray expanse. The only item of furniture was a chair, holding the room's third occupant. A large, fleshy man, with dark hair, wire-rimmed glasses, and a goatee, leaned back in the chair, smiling unpleasantly.
So maybe, thought Hutch, they haven't figured out who I am yet. "Do you treat all of your 'petitioners' this way?" he spat out angrily. "Drug them, and tie them up? I'm just trying to find a lady friend...her name is Rochelle." He pointed with his chin, towards his duffel which he now saw was laying on the floor next to him. "Her picture's in there, along with your 'suitable compensation'."
The Saint motioned to his minion. "Open it up, Lawrence, by all means. Let us see the beautiful face of the woman who has inspired our friend to such...desperate measures." The voice fairly dripped with innuendo, bordering on outright sarcasm. Lawrence fished out the picture and gave it to his employer, who studied it, then turned to Hutch.
"Don't bother with any more lies, Sergeant Hutchinson. You would never have...consorted with poor dear Rochelle. She was a prostitute, and I understand that her, shall we say, employer, had no further use for her. The dear girl is dead, quite a lost cause."
Hutch's head whirled, both from the after-effects of the ether, and the situation. "You bastard! If you knew I was a cop, why did you let me get this close?"
"Why, Sergeant Hutchinson, really, now. I have a non-discrimination policy. It's the very latest thing, the wave of the future." He pursed his lips. "Do you think you're the first of L.A.'s finest to come seeking a favor from the Saint? I've...helped out many of your colleagues with my little arrangements." The Saint leaned forward. "Do you know, I rather like you. I think I shall propose a deal with you. Not the one you came here to make, obviously."
Hutch gritted his teeth. "Why would I want to make a deal with you?" Got to keep him talking, he thought. Starsk knows that something's up by now...he'll come looking for me.
"Why, to live, of course. You don't want me to kill you. You don't want to die, with so many things unfinished in your life. No wife, no children."
"So, either I deal with you, agree not to bust up your pretty little business, or you shoot me?"
The Saint shuddered. "Certainly not. I would never have Lawrence shoot you. No, I have tidier ways to handle those kind of situations." He rose from his chair. "And I have more to offer you than your life. That's probably not enough, for a man like you...idealistic, upright. No, you just might choose to refuse me, sacrifice yourself."
He leveled an almost hypnotic stare at Hutch. "I can give you that which you most desire, prevent that which you most fear."
Here it comes, thought Hutch. He must know about the heroin thing...he swallowed, his throat suddenly dry.
"If you will leave here, quietly, and write up a dreary little report that passes off this whole...episode as a rather large mistake, with no mention of me, and make no future attempts to send me to jail, then I will let you live. That's rather generous in itself, I might add.
"As you must know by now, I enjoy considerable influence throughout this fair city. As the second part of this deal, I will use this influence to forever guarantee the physical safety of your good friend and partner Sergeant David Starsky."
As Starsky drove through the streets, his mouth was quiet but his mind raced. It's been less than ten minutes, he thought...how far can that van have gone? He cursed himself for failing to note the license number in full. He had thought he remembered the first two digits, and had called in that information as well as a description of the van and the situation.
The radio demanded his attention with a crackling buzz. "Zebra-Three, possible sighting of suspect vehicle parked in alley. Officers en route." The dispatcher proceeded to give the address. Starsky jammed the mars light on the top of the Torino and sped to the designated location; as he approached the area, he cut the siren and looked around.
He was in a small, shabby, circa-1950's business district. What appeared to be the same white van was barely visible, its back end protruding from an alley across the street. To the left of the alley was a two-story office building with a "For Lease: 3300 Square Feet" sign out front. The address matched that given by the dispatcher.
Behind him, a black-and-white unit eased into position. Starsky felt a mixture of relief and consternation as he saw Dobey and a uniformed officer exit the car. I'm glad he's here, thought the detective...but, dammit, now he probably won't let me do what I wanna do. Which is what? He snorted to himself. Storm the place single-handed? Real bright idea.
Dobey approached him quickly, motioning him aside for a conference. "Starsky, what the hell is going on?" he asked in a quiet but heated voice. "I thought you two were just meeting with a preliminary contact this morning!"
"Hutch was supposed to," Starsky explained miserably, "but he never came out of the building. One of the guys that works there turned up missing, too, and I remembered seein' this van pull away with a big load of laundry inside. Only I think it wasn't just dirty towels, it was a load of unconscious blond cop." He clenched his jaw, trying to keep himself from babbling. Dobey looked less annoyed, but more worried. "All right. Call dispatch and give them the name and address of the gym. Let's get a couple of officers back there to look around, ask more questions. Then we'll take a look at this building. Carefully."
Hutch stared at the Saint, speechless. He had been so prepared for the man to bring up the dreaded drug episode that it took a moment of two for the words to sink in. He said the first words that came into his head.
"How can you promise that?"
"Oh, it will take some doing," replied the Saint airily. "But it's not unimaginable. A word or two to the right people, a few favors called in, a little well-applied investing...nothing is impossible, you know." He studied the nails of his immaculately manicured right hand. "Mind you, I can't do anything about the man's own foolish habits. He could still die in an automobile accident, or be shot by a jealous boyfriend...or for that matter, keel over dead from his atrocious eating habits."
Curiosity briefly overcame prudence. "How do you know so much about him? About us?"
The Saint's gaze grew piercingly sharp. "It is my business to know, Sergeant Hutchinson. Knowledge is power, and no man may lie to me...no one's secret thoughts are hidden. It is amazing how much one can learn by asking the right questions." He stood up abruptly. "You may have a moment or two to consider my offer. Oh, and don't even bother to consider dealing falsely with me by lying. I assure you, I will most certainly know if you do.
"And if you deal honestly now, but recant your statement in the future in a way that jeopardizes my enterprise in any way, you and your partner will both die...in as messy, painful and protracted a manner as I can arrange." He stepped out of the room, closing the simple door behind him and leaving Hutch alone with the henchman. Lawrence kept the gun steadily trained on him, but said nothing. Hutch closed his eyes and tried to think.
How, in God's name, had this man known what Hutch himself had not realized until this moment? When you come down to it, he thought, what I fear most is not the loss of my career, or my honor; it's the loss of my best friend, my partner, my second self. And to have him safe...to never again worry about a repeat of what Gunther's men did to him...that would indeed be my heart's desire. Together, we could go on, somehow, no matter what else happened. But alone...to go through the rest of it alone, can I do that?
Of course, that wasn't even exactly what the Saint was offering. The choice was even more bitter than that: to die, to sacrifice himself, leaving Starsky to pick up the pieces and hopefully mend his own broken life, or to sacrifice his honor as a police officer and save them both. My honor, my self-respect, he thought...is it worth both our lives, babe? The Saint, though his very presence chilled Hutch's soul...was he truly such a dangerous criminal? Unless they could conclusively pin the murder charge on him, how long would the man even be imprisoned? And if Hutch refused to deal and was killed, how many more officers would end up in this same position? Was it worth it?
The door reopened, and the Saint returned to the room. Was it Hutch's imagination, or did the man appear slightly unsettled?
"I need a decision from you, Sergeant Hutchinson. Death for you...or life for you, and a charmed life for your friend." He turned to his assistant. "Lawrence, go take a look out both the front and rear entrances, if you please." Lawrence nodded and left the room, taking the gun with him.
Now, thought Hutch, now's my only chance. I don't think he's armed. But to his shame, he realized that his body was too weak, his balance atrocious; just shifting his weight experimentally brought on waves of vertigo.
"I wouldn't try anything like that, Sergeant, if I were you. You're still a bit squiffy from the ether. Now, which will it be? You will need to decide, promptly." The man reached into a briefcase, pulling out a loaded syringe and a piece of rubber tubing. "This will present a little more difficulty, with your arms bound, but I'm certain I can still find a vein." He drew on rubber gloves and began to tie the rubber tubing around Hutch's upper arm, as Hutch looked on in fascinated horror.
"C'mon, Cap'n, let me do somethin'! That guy'll kill Hutch, I know he will!" Starsky pleaded with Dobey.
A quick reconnaissance had revealed that the building had back and rear entrances, both locked only with simple locks. There was no obvious evidence of anyone inside, but the shades were drawn on the ground floor and the lights off throughout. The building's flat roof had a single box-like structure, presumably leading to a stairwell or elevator. The only vehicle in the vicinity, other than the police cars, was the van.
"Starsky, if the Saint has your partner in there, it's technically a hostage situation. You can't handle this by yourself, son, or even with backup. We need to call in the SWAT team, and a negotiator. "
"But that'll take too long, Cap'n!" Starsky took a deep breath, tried to appear calm. "Look, Cap, let me try to get inside from the roof. It doesn't look like they're upstairs, and if I'm quiet enough, maybe I can get into the crawl space or somethin', find out what's going on in there. If he's still alive, and doesn't seem in danger, then I'll sneak back out and wait for the experts, since I'm sure you've already called them."
"Starsky, if they catch you, then he'll have two hostages to bargain with. I can't risk that."
This time, Starsky didn't answer, not trusting his voice. Instead, he swallowed, and met Dobey's gaze unflinchingly, pleading with his eyes. Hutch can't say no to me when I look at him like this, he thought...maybe it'll work with Dobey.
Dobey sighed. "I should have my head examined for this. All right, go ahead. But do nothing to endanger your partner, do you understand? Get in there, find out the situation, and then get out. Take Samuels with you at least as far as the roof. He'll back you up. No heroics, Starsky, or you'll be on parking meter duty until you have grandchildren."
Starsky grinned, a fierce, feral smile. "Thanks, Cap'n. You won't regret it. I'll be okay; I lead a charmed life." He motioned to the other officer, and they headed to the building immediately adjacent to the Saint's location. They would cross over the short gap between buildings by jumping, and would therefore gain access to the roof. Dobey watched them go, shaking his head.
Lawrence burst back into the room. "Cop car up the street."
The Saint turned, casting a cool glance in his minion's direction. "Where are the policemen themselves?"
"Didn't see any. Don't know."
"You will guard the front door, Lawrence. You will guard it with your life, and you will remember that I do not tolerate failure. Give me your spare weapon." Hutch's heart sank as he watched Lawrence hand an additional handgun to his employer before he left the room.
"What's in the syringe?" he forced himself to ask, croaking the words from a dry throat.
The Saint probed around in Hutch's arm, feeling for the vein with his fingers. "Morphine. You have dealt honorably; if you choose to die I will not allow you to suffer. I will inject you, then kill you, then Lawrence and I shall depart. There is a hidden access in the basement crawl space where I can access the storm drain, and your friends will never know where we went. Or, you can agree to my deal, I will untie you, and you will walk out and convince your colleagues that you left with me voluntarily and that we've been just having a wonderful chat, and you're sorry but I'm not the man they're looking for." He located the vein. "Ah, here it is. Sergeant, you must decide. Life...or death."
Hutch closed his eyes. Forgive me, Starsk...he thought. Then he spoke a single word.
Starsky got the rooftop door opened easily, then left Samuels there to guard his escape. He went stealthily down the stairs until he arrived at the second floor landing. He started to open the door, then on impulse glanced down to the next landing, between the first and second floor. A small access door was evident, about two feet square.
In a few seconds he was down on his knees in front of the panel, taking it off by the hinges. He peered inside. A dark, dank, musty cobwebby crawl space met his eyes...but it appeared to be continuous throughout the entire floor. Eyeing the spiders, Starsky took a deep breath, then crawled inside, his small flashlight in his teeth. Babe, he thought, you'd better be alive, and you'd better appreciate this, or I'm gonna save some of these spiders for you. The thought cheered him, obscurely. He had crawled about half the length of the building when he began to hear voices, faintly, coming up from below. He changed his direction slightly, trying to home in on them.
"...untie you, and you will walk out and convince your colleagues that you left with me voluntarily and that we've just been having a wonderful chat, and you're sorry but I'm not the man you're looking for."
Starsky leaned down closer, trying to hear. This doesn't sound too bad, he thought. Hutch must still be alive, if this creep's talking to him.
"Ah, here it is. Sergeant, you must decide. Life...or death."
A pause. Then, "Death."
Starsky's brain screamed a silent, incoherent "NO!!" Without thought to the possible consequences, he stomped on the flimsy ceiling material with all his strength, and hurtled his body through the opening.
Hutch closed his eyes, awaiting the slight sting of the hypodermic needle in his arm. Instead he heard an abrupt crashing sound from overhead; he opened his eyes to the impossible sight of Starsky landing directly on top of the Saint with a meaty thump. The syringe flew from the man's hand, spinning end over end, and landing across the room. The Saint's weapon also fell from his hand; Starsky was able to kick it further from him as he grappled with his adversary. The handgun was only a couple of feet from Hutch; he leaned forward and with all his strength managed to fling himself on top of it. His forehead and right cheekbone struck the hard floor painfully, but he had succeeded in covering the gun completely. At least, he thought grimly, that bastard won't be able to use it on us now.
Behind him, Hutch could hear the unmistakable sounds of Starsky cuffing the Saint and shoving him in a corner. He turned his head just as his partner straightened up, dusting bits of acoustical ceiling tile from his arms and legs.
"Starsk, there's another one," he managed to croak. "Out front, by the door..."
Starsky was out the door in a flash, weapon in hand. "Gotcha. Be right back."
Hutch turned slightly to glance at the man who had been his captor. The Saint was disheveled and bruised, and there was a bright red sneaker-print on his sweating forehead. He's lucky Starsky didn't break his neck, thought Hutch, landing on top of him like that. To Hutch's surprise, the man appeared to be neither panicked nor angry, and he met Hutch's gaze calmly. "Sergeant Hutchinson, it's not too late for some kind of arrangement. I would still be open to the idea of providing protection for your partner, and yourself...in return for a certain, shall we say, liberal interpretation of your testimony of what occurred here today." Even in his current state, the Saint retained his unruffled poise.
Hutch stared at him incredulously. "You don't give up very easily, do you? If I wouldn't deal with you to save my life, why do you think I will now?"
The Saint's face was unreadable. "You won't deal now, because you believe that you've won. But do not underestimate my influence. The day will come when you will wish you had answered otherwise, when you will come seeking my help...when you will remember that I could have saved him."
Hutch was saved from answering by Starsky, who returned to the room chuckling obscurely. "Dobey and the others have got the other guy. He was trying to just nonchalantly sneak away down the street, the idiot. Not a very good guard." He knelt by his partner and began untying him. "Good help is just SO hard to find these days. How are you, buddy? Anything hurt?" Hutch felt the cords around his wrists part, and he sighed with the relief of finally being able to move his aching arms. He sat up, trying to rub some life back into them.
"No, I guess I'm okay, just sore. Might be a minute or two before I can walk, though. I'm a little shaky." That, he thought to himself, is an understatement. From death, to life, in about thirty seconds...I've been given a second chance, a reprieve.
Dobey and Samuels came into the room. "All right," said the Captain, "read him his rights, someone, and get him out of here." Samuels hauled the unprotesting captive to his feet and led him out of the room. The Captain knelt by Hutch, in spite of his girth. "Are you hurt, son?"
"He's okay, Cap'n," answered Starsky, slipping an assisting arm around his partner and half lifting him to his feet. Hutch leaned dizzily against him for a moment, then found his balance.
Dobey nodded. "Good. You can make your statement tomorrow, Hutchinson; I think that kidnapping a police officer will be a sufficient charge to get things started on this character. Starsky, take him home and let him rest. And, Starsky?"
"Don't think you're going to escape an appropriate chewing out. It was a stupid stunt."
"You're right, Cap'n." Starsky grinned irrepressibly. "But you shoulda seen me land on him. It was terrific."
Dobey shook his head, hiding a smile. "You're hopeless."
True to their Captain's instructions, Starsky drove his partner back to Hutch's place and fussed over him. Exhausted, still a little sick from the ether, and profoundly disturbed by his encounter with the Saint, Hutch was content to lie on the couch while Starsky fetched blankets and fixed him some lunch. Only when his partner was comfortably ensconced and fed would Starsky consent to hear the whole story, perched at the end of the couch.
Hutch had toyed with the idea of editing the story slightly, not wanting his partner to know the full details of the "offer", but in the end he told Starsky everything, from the encounter in the gym to the moment when Starsky himself came crashing through the ceiling. He omitted the brief, chilling conversation with the Saint that had occurred while Starsky was off pursuing Lawrence. His partner listened quietly, for once, not interrupting. When Hutch finished, neither one said anything for a few minutes, then Starsky spoke.
"Musta been hell, babe. I heard a little bit of it, up in the ceiling...that's why I jumped down. I'm just glad I was in time."
"I thought, when I knew that there were police in the area, that you might be around, might try something...I don't think it was really a conscious thought, but I still had a faint hope you would find me." He looked down, picked nervously at the quilt. "I think that's the only reason I could make the decision. I was hoping that maybe they wouldn't have time to kill me, or would botch it up somehow...the Saint was getting pretty nervous about getting caught there. If I'd had no hope at all...Starsk, I don't know. It was pretty close there, for a while."
"That's what's really buggin' you, isn't it?" asked Starsky quietly. "That you almost gave in?"
Hutch took a deep breath. "Yes. God knows, I never thought I was the kind of cop who could be bribed, or even tempted by a bribe. When Dobey told us about those other cops, the ones that the Saint got to, I felt pretty superior. Now I feel dirty, somehow; tarnished, because I came so close to saying yes."
Starsky reached down and squeezed his partner's toes through the quilt.
"Hutch, it doesn't matter what you thought, it matters what you did. You stood up to him, babe. I'm proud of you, proud to be your partner."
"You can say that, because I'm alive," Hutch said slowly, hating to say it. "What if you'd been too late, if you'd found me dead? Would you have been proud? Or would you have wished I'd done everything to save myself?"
"Stop it!" Starsky jumped up, agitated. "Stop talking like that, Hutch. Quit second-guessin' yourself. If he'd killed you, I never woulda known what happened. And yeah, part of me would have died in there, with you. But...but you still did the right thing." He knelt on the floor by the sofa, and Hutch could tell his partner was fighting back tears. "As for the other part, protectin' me from getting shot again...y'know, you did the right thing there too, tellin' him where he could put it, but it kinda makes me feel good to hear that you were that tempted by it." He managed a watery smile. Hutch leaned down and hugged him briefly. Pulling away again, he shook his head.
"That's the part I didn't want to tell you. After our conversation last night, about me being overprotective...I figured you'd be mad at me for even considering his offer."
Starsky cleared his throat. "Well...I had a few overprotective thoughts myself this morning, watchin' you walk into that gym by yourself, unarmed...so I guess we're even. Look, get a nap; you look like hell. I may call Dobey and see what they're getting out of that creep; some of what you told me might help. Rest, or do I hafta sit on you?"
Hutch went in early the next morning and gave his statement. Afterwards, while Starsky was busy with other affairs, he slipped into Dobey's office.
"Got a minute, Captain?"
Dobey looked up. "Come in, Hutchinson. Your timing is actually good. I just got off the phone with the D.A. For once we've got a good tight case, and he thinks there'll be no trouble putting this guy away for a long time. You did good work on this, son." He sighed briefly. "Starsky called me yesterday, while you were asleep. He told me a little more about what went on, about the choice you had to make. Hutchinson, I don't know of too many officers on the force who could have refused an offer like that."
Hutch swallowed. "Joey Rigante did, Captain."
"Yes...I guess we'll never know what he was offered, unless the Saint chooses to tell us. Speaking of which...we have a name on him, now, and some background. Cecil Bradford seems to be his real name. He's originally from Boston. Not much of a rap sheet, just some extortion and once, breaking and entering. And, before any of that, he was a medical student at Boston University, before he was dismissed for cheating. His transcript from there states that he was 'erratic, brilliant and unusually perceptive, but unable to complete work on his own.' They seem to think he was trading information for test answers."
"At some point, Cap'n, make sure they have a psychiatrist take a look at him. It could be interesting; I would swear he was reading my mind while I was there."
"I'll pass that on," Dobey agreed. "Again, good work. Now," he suddenly became poker-faced, "send your partner in so I can chew him out properly for playing one-man assault team yesterday."
Hutch laughed and stood up. "Don't be too hard on him, Captain. He saved my life, and you wouldn't have much of a case if the Saint had gotten away."
Dobey actually smiled. "No, it may not have exactly been by the book, but he did pull off a miracle, and I intend to tell him that." He grinned evilly.