The Swing of Things
The store's closing went normally for a Friday evening and midnight shift arrived subdued, but on time. Both detectives made good time to the locker room and Starsky had just enough time to whisper to Hutch, 'Follow my lead.' before they were crowded by the evening shift. It seemed no one wanted to walk out by themselves and the entire shift managed to leave for the parking lot as a group.
It was another dark, cool night. The departing shift waved good-bye and talked loudly, obviously trying not to glance beyond the dark or think about the body from the night before. Starsky elbowed Hutch and nodded toward Wally. Hutch's glance took in the young man, hands on hips, his big bulk radiating disbelief.
Starsky nodded a 'come on' to his partner and walked over to where Wally was standing.
"Got a problem, Wally?" Starsky asked cheerfully.
"Yeah," Wally replied, running a large hand over his head. "I got one spare and two flats. What the hell happened?" Wally bent over to examine the tires, running his hands over the sides, looking for a hole or leak.
"Could be anything, Wally," Starsky said, bending down beside Wally to take a look at a tire. "Maybe you just have a leaky valve. Don't see any obvious holes anywhere, but it's kinda dark to be sure. I think you just need some air. Need a lift?"
"Thanks, guys," Wally paused a moment, then smiled at the two men apologetically, "but I live way out of on the other side of town, I know it's gotta be way out of your way." He glanced around the quickly emptying lot and shrugged helplessly.
"No problem, Wally. We're in no hurry." Hutch chimed in, with a knowing look at Starsky. I'd bet a month's salary that my partner knows exactly what's wrong with Wally's tires, Hutch though, suppressing an amused smile.
Wally followed them to Hutch's car and Starsky took a back seat, tossing over just enough of Hutch's current junk collection to be able to sit with his feet on the floorboard.
"Be glad you're in the front Wally," Starsky murmured in disgust, surveying the clutter. "I think there's spiders and rats back here."
"Where to, Wally?" Hutch asked loudly, ignoring his partner's remarks.
Wally gave an amused glance at Starsky and gave Hutch quick and concise directions.
"Hey, Wally," Starsky said quietly after a few quiet moments. "I guess you must be really bummed about Kirk's death." In the rearview, Hutch saw his partner lean forward, propping his head and arms on the front seat. "I'd heard you knew the guy pretty well."
Wally shrugged, moving sideways in the passenger seat, turning to face the other two men. Wally's face, lit with the strobe-light effect of the passing street lights, took on a sad expression. "I knew him just enough to be respectful, since he was one of the big-shots. He sure was a strange old guy though. He seemed to be kinda a loner and usually didn't give any of the employees the time of day, except for..." Wally trailed off, a hint of embarrassment in his voice.
Starsky grinned at the large youth. "Except pretty Miss Sims."
Wally smiled bashfully. "Yeah, well.... Mr. Kirk seemed to be real nice to her for awhile. I guess they must have had an argument or somethin', 'cause I know she wasn't going down to the Jewelry lab anymore. I could tell she was real upset about that."
"You talk to him very much?" Hutch asked, eyes on the unfamiliar traffic. "He must have been a hard person to get to know."
"I'd never talk to the man, 'til a couple of weeks ago, but I knew who he was," Wally answered. "Then when I was returning from break one evening, he suddenly came up to me and started making conversation. Acted like he was interested in me personally or something and wanted to talk on the way to his car. He did all the talking, goin' a mile a minute. I got the feeling he was scared of somethin' and just wanted someone to walk him outside." Wally shrugged. "If he'd just wanted a bodyguard, it would've been no skin off my nose. Happy to do it. I just got the feeling he didn't want to admit being scared. No shame in a guy his age bein' scared of a dark lot." Wally paused and a sad look played across his features. "Looks like he sure had something to be scared of, doesn't it."
"Did you walk him out after that first time?" Starsky asked quietly. "Sounds like he was pretty worried."
"Yeah, anytime I had early break and a couple of times I had meals." Wally responded. "I'd see him hanging round the back door like he was waitin' for me and I'd go to say 'hi'. I'd walk him to his car and see him off."
"Ever see anyone hanging around outside when he left?" Hutch asked.
"Nah, the cops asked me that already and I can't say that I did." Wally flashed them an embarrassed smile. "At least, no strangers. Some of the top brass stay late once in awhile and I've seen them all come and go at one point or another. Anyway, I didn't see Kirk at all last night, so I'm wasn't much help to the police." Wally sighed. "Can't say as I'm sorry to have missed the action, but kinda feel like I let the old guy down, as if I should'a seen him or somethin' last night."
Conversation lagged for a few minutes and they all watched as the business districts slowly turned residential, each man quite with their own thoughts.
The robberies started three months ago, Hutch calculated, running the timeline through his mind. April saw Kirk acting strange after the second shipment, two months ago. Gainer joined the case not long after that, about six weeks. We've been here about a month and Kirk suddenly felt the need for a body guard two weeks ago and yesterday he was killed. A nice steady progression. Now if we could just figure out where the hell all this is going!
"Why would any of the big-shots stay late?" Hutch asked, fishing for more information. "I thought with jobs like theirs, they'd head on home pretty early." Hutch flashed Wally a grin, as if just trying to make conversation. "I know I'd beat it outta there as early as possible if I were on salary."
Wally grinned. "Well, I figure that some of them aren't stayin' for work."
Hutch caught Starsky's glance in the rearview mirror. Something new?
"Oh yeah?" Starsky grinned. "You mean there's somethin' goin' on we haven't heard about yet? Must be something really good if it hasn't made the rounds yet."
"Well, a guys sees things, here and there," Wally replied with a shrug. "I once saw Ms. Quincy and Mr. Jameson sittin' in the same car once. Kinda looked red-faced and jumpy, like they didn't expect anyone to see them. I thought they'd been necking or something."
"No foolin'?" Starsky asked, his eyes wide. "I'm surprised any guy would wanna cuddle up to her. I'd bet a week's pay she bites."
"Well, you never know." Wally chuckled. "I didn't actually see anything, but I remember it real well, 'cause I was walking Mr. Kirk out to his car and he was lookin' around like he was checking the place out. He froze and looked shocked and when I looked I saw those two sittin' in Mr. Jameson's car, over in the dark part of the lot. Mr. Jameson never parks anywhere but his reserved space, except that once. I figured the two of them must of been wantin' a little privacy." Wally smiled again. "I guess Mr. Kirk musta got a good look at 'em doing somethin' interestin'."
"Do you think those two are hot'n'heavy for real?" Hutch glanced at Wally. "I can't imagine the 'Ice Queen' being sweet on anyone."
Wally shifted again on the lumpy seat. "I know I've seen Mr. Jameson out in the lot once or twice since I started walkin' Mr. Kirk out, but he was by himself. I don't know if Ms. Quincy is sweet on him or not, but he sure would be a rung up on her career ladder. Must be a big secret if the story hasn't made the store rounds yet."
"Here we are." Hutch suddenly announced, pulling up in front of a very nice two-story house. Too bad he couldn't have been another ten minutes away, Hutch thought. This was getting interesting.
"Thanks guys," Wally said greatfully as he climbed out of the car. "It really would have been a hassle for my Dad to have come to get me this time of night. He's too old for night drivin' anymore, so I sure appreciate the ride."
"Anytime, Wally, anytime." Hutch smiled in reply.
Starsky started climbing out of the back seat. "Need any help with your tires tomorrow?" he asked the young guard. "We could pick you up tomorrow and help you get the tires checked out."
"No, thanks," Wally replied with a shrug. "My dad and I can run down and check them out before work tomorrow. I don't have any classes, so there's no hurry."
"You sure?" Hutch asked, hoping the kid wasn't just being nice.
"Nah, I've got it covered," Wally smiled at the two and patted the passenger door as Starsky closed it. "See you guys later." He waved and disappeared into the darkness toward home.
"You know, Starsky, he'd have been a lot less appreciative if he'd known who it was who drained his tires," Hutch remarked after getting the LTD turned around. "If he had seen you out there, messing with his car after a parking lot murder, Wally would have turned you into pulp, partner."
"It got us our interview didn't it?" Starsky replied, a smug look on his face. "No one saw me and all he needs is a little air. Besides, I've got a partner who would have jumped in to save my ass, with all those fancy wrestling moves he keeps harping on."
"Which would have been a little hard this time around, since I wouldn't have known your ass was in trouble," Hutch replied evenly. He knew Starsky wouldn't have taken any more chances than he had to, but it didn't hurt to remind him to be careful. "So, how come we haven't heard more scuttle-butt about this Quincy-Jameson thing," Hutch wondered. "I can't imagine anyone getting on the good side of the Ice Queen and it not being hailed as a miracle," Hutch muttered sarcastically, almost to himself. "And I don't see what she thinks she can get out of Jameson."
Starsky smiled at his partner. "Now, now Hutch. Don't be mean. Just because she has an allergy to tall, introspective blondes with seedy mustaches, that doesn't mean she's not human. Just that she has discriminating tastes."
"It was not 'seedy', Starsky," Hutch replied more sharply than he had intended. "And just because you'd look like Groucho Marx with one doesn't mean that everyone else does."
"Hey, I'm a detective, I'm trained to notice those sorts of things." Starsky flashed him a crooked grin. "You know, physical quirks and odd personality traits. Just 'cause the rest of us are too nice to say anything..." Starsky trailed off, turning serious for a moment. "So, who do you think Kirk was more afraid of, Quincy or Jameson?"
"If it was one of those two, it's gotta be Jameson." Hutch responded instantly. "He's the secretary to Kirk's boss. Jameson could make trouble for Kirk, dig into the employee files and even make changes if he wanted to. Quincy, on the other hand, doesn't have anything to do with the jewelry transportation, just in-store security. I wouldn't see her as being danger to Kirk, although she could have been a thorn in his side, if she could get April kicked out of the secure areas."
"If Kirk was sellin' out his employers, he might have been afraid that in-store security was hot on his trail." Starsky pointed out. "Of course, it could have been the two of them as a team that Kirk was scared of."
The two men sat in companionable silence, each working the new facts into their own perspective the case.
"I don't think he was selling out." Hutch began, a few minutes later. "If he was the source of the security leaks, why would he be so jumpy? There wouldn't be any evidence lying around to implicate him if he was just passing along the information. Kirk was scared, I'm convinced of that. And Wally would have made a good body guard. Few people would want to start anything with him around. What happened two weeks ago that got Kirk frightened all of a sudden?"
"Well," Starsky began. "We know that April saw something, or Kirk thought she saw something she shouldn't have. Then she gets kicked out of the labs. She goes to Gainer for help, he gets undercover, them we get pulled in. After that, who knows? We sure don't." Starsky finished with a frustrated sigh. "Who the hell knows what Gainer has on this case."
Hutch pulled the LTD up into a spot near their apartment. He turned the engine off and fought to catch a stray though.
Starsky sat still, watching his partner, waiting for him to make a move. After a moment, when Hutch showed no sign of stirring, Starsky settled back in his corner of the car, apparently willing to wait.
"You know, Starsk," Hutch said, "It just doesn't make sense. If we take it for granted that April did see something in that shipment and what she saw was in the shipment that got stolen, then what was there for April to see?"
"Expensive jewelry was bought, delivery accepted, then they were sorted and shipped," Starsky replied, going over the process. "April sees something 'strange' with one of the pieces. They were later stolen. The store's insurance wants an investigation and the police want the thieves and the security guard's killer. There is a lot there we know for a fact, but we're taking April's word for what she saw and why she came into Robbery in the first place. She could be in on this Hutch, or she just could have been wrong about..."
"Wrong..." Hutch snapped his fingers, "...it was wrong, like that first piece she saw. April didn't have the inventory with her, so she couldn't spot a piece that was too good, she would just assume that they were all as ordered. And the same with a sub-standard piece. She would just assume that it was just one of the lower grades of merchandise that the store stocks. But if it was a fake it could have been like a spotlight to her, if she's really is that good."
"Fake?" Starsky looked startled. "But fakes wouldn't get past the lab technicians, let alone..."
"...Kirk." Hutch finished for him. "Kirk was in charge of the lab and in checking the incoming merchandise. He assigned the technicians who handled the incoming stuff and was even known to do a lot of the work himself. He was nervous and he knew how good April was. He was the one who kicked her out of the lab, after all those months of giving her access. He saw her spot the fakes and when he panicked it distracted her. She didn't have enough time to realize what the problem was. Kirk tried to cover for her, keep her from getting too close to the next shipments. If the pieces really were fake it would explain why..."
"...we haven't seen the hot stuff get fenced anywhere." Starsky finished. "'Cause they aren't any good to start with." Starsky took a big breath, shaking his head. "It doesn't quite jell Hutch. Why would anyone go to all that trouble to steal worthless stuff? You know as well as I do that the merchandise could all be on its way overseas. And one big buyer could handle the lot 'n sit on it forever if they needed to. We might not see any of the stuff show up for years."
"But then, what would April have seen?" Hutch asked, frustrated.
"We're taking it on faith that Kirk really did think April was that good and that there was something for her to notice," Starsky replied reluctantly. "All we know for sure was that Kirk was actin' strange enough that some of the other employees noticed it too, 'n he was killed. We can't afford to count anyone out at this point, Hutch," Starsky said quietly.
I know, Starsk, I hear you, Hutch thought at the silent reminder in Starsky's voice. April could be involved in this, deeper than we know. But I believe her, buddy. I really do.
The both went quiet again. Hutch felt tired, but couldn't give it up quite yet. "If Kirk was involved, it could be for one of three reasons." Hutch added thoughtfully. "Kirk could have been blackmailed to mess with the jewelry, paid to do it, or he just flat out ran into something he wasn't supposed to find." He sighed. "It still sounds to me like he was trying to get April away from the action. Keeping her out of it. You just don't dump your protégé like that, for no reason." Hutch didn't realize that he had been drumming his fingers and staring at the near deserted street until Starsky cleared his throat noisily, making Hutch jump.
"Hutch," Starsky began solemnly, leaning over and patting his partner's knee affectionately. "There's only one thing about this case that I'm absolutely, positively certain of right now."
"Oh Yeah? What's that?" Hutch asked curiously.
As if on cue, Starsky's stomach rumbled loudly and he gave Hutch a serious look. "It's time to eat." And having gained the last word in the conversation, Starsky opened the car door, got out and waited for his partner to follow him home.
At 10:00 a.m. Saturday morning the detectives were back in Captain Pasquini's office with Gainer. Homicide had little positive to share so far. The last time Douglas Kirk had been seen on Thursday night was at 6:30 p.m. when the last of the lab technicians had left for the day. He had not been seen in the break room and no one had noticed him leaving. Forensics reported that Kirk had been killed with a sharp blow to the forehead with a rock found pitched to the outer side of the fence. The first blow would have rendered the man unconscious, the second had been fatal. The other blow were literally 'over kill'.
So far, there was nothing in Kirk's history to indicate that he spent more than he earned. He lived simply, sending a modest amount to his ex-wife as alimony payments, his children being to old to require child support and had a simple savings plan that he seemed to keep religiously. Every penny of the man's money seemed to be accounted for. Nothing in his apartment showed any signs of anything amiss. Which didn't rule out blackmail, or that he might have been expecting his payoff at a later date.
And none of it points us in any direction at all, Hutch mused, glancing over the various reports. Unless you consider that the killer must have liked crushing in a guy's face. And how many guys like that have Starsky and I run into our whole career? An easy hundred or so, at least.
The Metro detectives had reported their conversation with Wally Kraft and their suspicions that he had been fearful of Jameson and Quincy. Gainer had seemed to take the news in stride, acting as if he was not in the least interested.
"Did you know about this?" Starsky asked Gainer quietly. His eyes boring into the back of the man's head. "Are they an item? Could they be working together? Have you found anything you think Hutch and I might need to know?"
Hutch watched closely as Starsky got up and walked past him to stand beside Gainer. Hutch could almost see Starsky's frustration radiating off of him and he knew his friend was tired of being ignored.
Don't blow your cool, Starsk, Hutch thought to him. I'll bet you a month's pay he won't look you in the eye. He's too remote to play that kind of game with us. You're not going to get anything and it'll just make Pasquini mad. Hutch consciously relaxed in his chair, knowing Starsky would read the signal.
"I had thought that something strange was going on with Quincy and Jameson." Gainer responded vaguely, not looking at the dark-haired Metro detective. "But I'm still looking into the rumor. And so far, that's all it is, a store rumor. Gossip." Gainer said with distaste, clearing showing just what he thought of their source of information.
"Do you have anything hard on either one?" Captain Pasquini asked harshly. "Anything that Starsky and Hutchinson could look into?" He didn't look pleased with his detectives obvious attitude.
"No, not yet." Gainer answered reluctantly. He pointedly ignored Starsky, who had not backed off from his confrontational position. "I've been keeping an eye on Jameson and his files, but he's pretty closed mouthed about the whole system. I guess he's afraid I'm after his job and doesn't want to let me in on the finer details. He's not much of a team player."
Hutch flashed a 'Gee, who else do we know like that?' look at his partner, trying to lighten the mood.
Gosh, I don't know. Who? Starsky's eyes flashed back, eyes wide with mock seriousness.
"Come on, Gainer, what makes you think Jameson is in on anything?" Hutch asked patiently, as if talking to a child. "What are you looking for in his files? You must have some reason to have singled him out in this case. Or are we all just wasting our time?"
"It's just a feeling." Gainer turned blank-faced, choosing to acknowledge Hutch's presence rather than talk to the window again. "I don't have anything substantial or concrete to report, as of yet. I need a better look at the company files and Jameson's access to them," he finished, turning back to the window, effectively shutting Hutch out again. Starsky hadn't even rated a glance.
"Starsky, sit down," Captain Pasquini ordered tiredly. He waited until Starsky had walked back to sit beside his partner, his eyes never leaving the Robbery Detective.
"I've talked to Royston Collins and he has agreed to make arrangements for at least one of you to be transferred to dayshift," Captain Pasquini continued. "Mr. Collins is not sure he can get you both transferred without causing some major speculation within the store, but he'll try. I don't know which one it will be. Do you have any preference?"
Both detectives looked at each other and shrugged. "It doesn't matter to us, Captain," Starsky answered.
"Then I'll leave it up to their system," Captain Pasquini decided. "You will probably find out about it on your next shift, unless they contact you earlier. While Gainer is working on the office details, I want you two to keep a close eye on Quincy and Jameson. See if they are an item, where they go and all that. If you see anything that warrants further investigation, I will see if we can assign permanent tails on them. But I'm very close to shutting down this operation, gentlemen." Captain Pasquini gave them all a serious look. "We have not made any progress in this case so far and we can not continue this indefinitely. Unless we make some headway, very soon, then I will turn all reports over to Homicide and let them decide how to proceed. We need a break in this case, people, but do not," Captain Pasquini stated emphatically, jabbing his pencil at Starsky and Hutch in emphasis, "I repeat, do not put yourself in any dangerous situations or hesitate to call for back up."
"Sure Cap'n," Starsky replied with a smile, "we are very careful people."
"Better be," Captain Pasquini said gruffly, his lips twitching into a small smile, "I wouldn't want to explain to Captain Dobey how I lost him two men. That man is mean when riled." And with that he dismissed the three.
"Well, that was fun," Hutch commented while unlocking the LTD. "Nothing like being reminded how useless you've been for a month. Where to now, Tonto?" Hutch asked Starsky as he unlocked the passenger door.
"I keep tellin' ya, you're Tonto," Starsky replied. "And this car ain't Silver. It wouldn't even make a good broken-down wagon let alone a decent horse. What say we find out what Jameson and Quincy do on their weekends?"
"Which one first?"
"Neither one is working today," Starsky replied thoughtfully. "Let's go find Jameson first, he's higher up on the rung."
Hutch pulled out into the busy Saturday traffic while Starsky pinpointed the address on the city map. It was an expensive condo complex with an ocean view and large, manicured lawns. Jameson's address was on the lower level in a corner building. His assigned car space was empty.
"Wait or move on?" Starsky asked, drumming his finger impatiently on the door handle.
Hutch frowned uncertainly. Jameson could be out anywhere and waiting all day could be a tremendous waste of time. "Lets drive by Quincy's place and get the layout. I'd hate to blow the whole day sitting here." Even with the expensive ocean view.
They drove back into the center of town and found that Quincy's address. It was located in a large, but less expensive apartment complex. Her apartment was on a high floor and her parking place was also empty.
"Not cheap," Starsky remarked, looking over the area. "But you'll notice she's not quite up there with Jameson. Do we know what Jameson's salary is? His condo's more than a few steps above this and I wouldn't think a secretary would make that much more than handling in-store security."
"No idea," Hutch replied, with a sigh. "Let's put that as question one hundred and one for our grilling of Gainer during the next meeting."
"Hey, let's grab some lunch and head on back to the store," Starsky said with sudden interest, eyeing the local taco chain sitting on the corner. "Maybe one of them is putting in some overtime."
No way, Hutch thought, pretending he hadn't seen his partner's look of longing. There's got to be something better than tacos around. Especially if I'm going to be stuck in this car all day. He was rewarded with a dark look and some mumbling about 'who'd be the passenger when the Torino was back in action'.
It was not to be, however, as Hutch ended up staring at a greasy taco wrapper filled with a warm lump that was his dinner. They had found Jameson's car in the store lot. Hutch had just had enough time to park out of view when Jameson's entered his car and left the lot. Unfortunately, at one stop Jameson had been gone long enough for Starsky to dart out and grab a bag of Mexican food at a forlorn little taco shack. Hutch had wavered between giving up the greasy mess and passing it over to his partner, who was eyeing it hungrily, or eating it just to spite him. But he had waited too long and Starsky had grabbed the taco and eaten it anyway, to save him from 'dumping the thing in your lap.'
The detectives spent the evening hours following Jameson from one expensive store to another. He returned from some empty-handed, but from the majority he left with merchandise, carefully stored in the trunk of his car. On his return to his condo, Hutch was lucky to find a spot in the shade of the opposite garage. The two watched Jameson unpack the car. The man never even glanced their way.
"Jameson sure knows how to spend a paycheck," Hutch remarked, relaxing back into the seat. "You notice that while he works at one medium-to-high priced store, he himself shops at several very expensive specialty shops. Only the best in clothes, shoes and jewelry."
"And he drives a car that is the top-of-the-line for that model." Starsky remarked, obviously thinking the same thing his partner was. "The man likes to live high. Hutch, I don't think a man in his position earns enough legit to sustain such an 'altitude'. The man's getting money from somewhere."
"Maybe he's got rich parents," Hutch wondered aloud. "Or maybe a wealthy relative died. Do you think Gainer has noticed?"
Starsky frowned at his partner. "I'll bet you my lousy pay he did. Probably why he's sure Jameson's got something to do with the robberies. Nice of him to tip us off on who to watch for."
"Yeah, he's such a sweetheart," Hutch said sarcastically. "Bet he gets voted Cop-of-The-Year in his department."
The partners settled down into the shadows. The evening came on slowly and Hutch found himself wishing he had eaten that taco. He made do with his sack of raisin, sunflower and unsalted peanut mix he kept stuffed in the glove compartment. It was one of the few snacks he could keep around safely, as Starsky wouldn't touch it no matter how starved he was.
Twilight came and darkness fell. Several quiet hours had passed when a tall shadow appeared suddenly near the front of Jameson's building. It was male shaped, dressed in torn jeans, sneakers and a stained sweat jacket with hood pulled up over his head. He'd been just visible in the glow of the building's security lights as he had left the archway. The man made no move toward the cars parked in the area, but paced back and forth on the dark sidewalk
"Vagrant, maintenance or gardener?" Hutch wondered out loud. "He's sure not dressed for this area at this time of day."
"Hey, Hutch!" Starsky whispered excitedly, nodding toward the pacing man. "That's him!"
"Aaron Jameson?" Hutch leaned forward over the steering wheel, trying to get a better look at the pacing man. "How can you tell?"
"It's his build, his walk," Starsky replied ecstatically, leaning into the windshield. "He doesn't walk like someone in tennis shoes. He's taking small steps and he's too stiff when he moves, formal, like royalty or somethin'. I've been watchin' him all afternoon, Hutch. I know it's him!"
"Well," Hutch grinned, starting the LTD, "looks like we're slummin' tonight, Starsky. No fancy clothes or car. Think we're dressed for the occasion?"
Starsky glanced at their attire and grinned back. "If it's down and dirty, we'll fit in fine."
It was only a few minutes later that a Yellow Cab pulled up and their man got in.
It was a long ride and must have cost Jameson quite a bit, Hutch thought, as their destination took them to the busy red-light district. It was a crowded Saturday night, the streets were packed with cars and jay-walkers and the sidewalks were jammed with people and vibrating with noise. The bright neon lights made this part of the city almost as bright as day. The cab drove down the main strip for awhile, seemingly in no hurry. Hutch was taken by surprise when the taxi double parked in front of one of the adult bookstores and Jameson slipped out and into the store.
Hutch was stuck three cars behind at a stop light. The second the cab door opened Starsky moved. The detective got out in traffic, leaving Hutch at the light. Starsky walked down the sidewalk, hands in pockets, towards the store that Jameson had entered.
After a endless trip around the block, Hutch was able to snag a spot by a hydrant about three car lengths beyond the store. Better make this quick, Starsk, he thought. All I need is a black-and-white to spot me here and write me up.
Hutch debated on leaving the engine running, but decided against it. He might need to take off on foot. He angled himself sideways in the front seat, keeping an eye on the busy sidewalk and the front of the adult novelty store. Midnight Sexpress huh? he thought with amusement. Well, that's a bit more creative than most.
After ten minutes and three propositions from the local working girls, Hutch was about to abandon the car and stroll by the shop when his partner came jogging out of the store. It only took Starsky a second to scan the street and spot the LTD. Hutch started the car as soon as he saw his partner. Starsky's ready to roll, he knew with a glance.
"Down the alley! Hurry!" Starsky threw at him before the detective was even halfway into the car.
Hutch gunned the motor and forced his way into traffic by sheer determination. By long experience he knew that no one would argue with a scraped and dented two-tone car for possession of the street. And that's more than a certain Tomato's paint-job can boast, he thought with a touch of smugness. Hutch pulled into the alley Starsky indicated, barely clearing trash-lined walls. He turned off the headlights and slowed the car down to a quiet crawl.
"It's Jameson all right. He got a glimpse of me but didn't know me." Starsky leaned forward anxiously in the dark car, a bit breathless. "He hung around the toy department for awhile, but was trying to get the clerk's attention. The clerk acted like he knew him, but wasn't happy to see him."
Hutch had come to the end of the alley and could see a parking lot open up behind the buildings. He stopped before the car reached the edge, keeping in the shadows and used his emergency break so the breal lights wouldn't show.
"When the payin' customers left 'n all that was left was us browsers, the clerk went with him to the back rooms," Starsky whispered hurriedly. "I ducked into the back 'n listen at the door and they started arguin'. Jameson sounded scared and the clerk sounded pissed. Jameson apparently wanted an escort somewhere, had to see someone. The clerk finally told him to go out the back and wait for his ride. Then I split, almost had me." Starsky's eyes glowed with the close call.
"Better look and see if he's still there," Hutch replied softly. "We can't afford to lose him now."
Starsky was up and out of the car like a shadow, Hutch having long ago taken the bulb out of the dome light. Starsky moved so quietly and so swiftly that Hutch had trouble making out his partner's outline. Starsky edged to the corner of the building, squatted and peeked around the edge below eye level. A minute passed, then he turned and carefully picked his way to the passenger door.
"He's there," Starsky whispered breathlessly, leaning bodily into the window. "There's no light, but you can see him movin' around. He's pacin', waitin' for his ride. Man, we could be parked in the way here," he added worriedly.
"No, I don't think so, Starsk," Hutch answered. "I've been around the block. I think this lot's connected to a larger one around the side of that building, with better street access. I think they'll come in that way." Hutch shrugged helplessly. "I've got to park somewhere, Starsky."
"'Kay, I'll keep an eye out." And with that Starsky made his way back to the edge of the building.
They kept their silent positions for about ten minutes before Hutch saw his partner tense. Straining his ears over his own car's idle and the background noise, Hutch could make out the sound of a car approaching.
Starsky held up a hand, warning him. Then suddenly the curly-haired detective was diving into the car. "Cream colored, Dodge."
Hutch pulled the car into the small lot and around the building corner. He could just make out the tail-end of the Dodge heading up the street. Hutch again forced his way into the busy traffic a few car lengths down from their target and proceeded to follow the car.
"Did he say what he wanted this meet for?" Hutch asked, tearing his focus from the Dodge. Starsky was watching just as close. "Any idea what's going on?"
"No, nothing specific." Starsky answered. "Just that he had to see 'Him' again. Jameson really wanted to talk. The clerk didn't think it was a good idea, but Jameson insisted. Gee, Hutch," Starsky flashed a quick grin at his partner, "think we've got a live one here?"
"Could be, buddy, could be." Hutch answered. He grinned, feeling alive with the thrill of the chase. We're finally getting somewhere. Can't lose him now!
They followed the cream colored Dodge out of the red-light district and toward the outskirts of town. It was a newer area, a higher-class bar, club and theater district. Hutch knew of it as a place for the youthful rich, where you could find the same cheap thrills and women that the red-light district boasted, but here they were dressed in fancier clothes, were more costly and of a better grade. The neon lights were a bit less gaudy, the streets crowded with expensive cars, but these sidewalks were mostly empty. The majority of the action took place within the various night clubs and discos in the area and few stooped to walking any distance.
The Dodge slowed noticeably in front of The Rocket, but bypassed the waiting doorman and parking lot attendants. The driver pulled around the back and Hutch was forced to pull around the corner so that he wouldn't be seen. The blond found a spot where they could see the rear entrance. Starsky had not taken his eyes off the Dodge.
"They pulled up to the back door and two big guys dragged Jameson in," Starsky said, filling him in. Hutch could see that the Dodge was still by the employee entrance.
"So, why the ratty get-up?" Hutch asked his partner, settling back into the drivers seat. "Why couldn't he just dress up and walk into the front door? He's apparently got enough money to afford the membership."
"I guess you don't drop in on Mr. Big unless specifically invited and escorted." Starsky answered. "Whoever he is, he must be a cautious man. Could be that Jameson has been ordered not to show his face around here, so he had to get special permission. Any idea on who Mr. Big might be?"
Hutch drummed his fingers on the car door, concentrating. "I'm not sure, Starsk. I think maybe I've heard something about The Rocket in passing, maybe on one of our other cases." He sighed in frustration. "Besides the fact that we probably couldn't afford the membership, I can't think of anything else about the place."
"Gee, Hutch, here we are, all these miles from our usual beat and you don't have all the crime lords' names and address' memorized yet?" Starsky smiled to himself. "You are getting old."
Hutch flashed him a teasing look. "Hey, last I looked you were still the eldest of this duo, pal. Better watch who you're calling old around here, or on your next birthday I'll be sure to buy enough candles to make my point. You wouldn't want to burn Huggy's place down, would you?"
Starsky stayed silent for a few minutes, eyes on the Dodge. He sighed, frowning to himself. "Sometimes it feels like I'm old, Hutch. A few years ago I'd be out there connin' my way past the doorman and lookin' to rattle the bear's cage, just to see what the bear could do about it. Now I'm just content to sit in a parked car and watch to see what the bear does when someone else rattles the cage." Starsky looked at Hutch and Hutch could see the doubt in his eyes. "Is that gettin' old?"
"Starsk," Hutch answered quietly, "we've damn near lived in that stinking bear cage since the day we left the academy. We've both got the scars to prove it. I'd say it's not getting old, it's just remembering that we're the zoo keepers and we know damn well what the bear's going to do. So, we sit back, stay away from it's paws and only go in when we have control and backup. Besides," Hutch gave his partner a meaningful look, "we're a little out of our league here, this isn't even our zoo."
Starsky opened his mouth to reply when the back door of The Rocket opened. The two burly men lead a shaky looking Jameson into the Dodge and the driver pulled away.
"Looks like Mr. Jameson may not have gotten what he wanted." Hutch commented, pulling the car in line behind the Dodge. "What ever he was after, looks like the answer was 'no'."
"Well, tomorrow we'll corner Gainer and find out what he knows about The Rocket and Jameson's spending habits." Starsky replied with irritation. "Maybe it's time the good detective learned to share the fun."
Hutch followed the Dodge back to the red-light district, where Jameson was taken to the back parking lot of the adult store and roughly dumped. Jameson then caught a cab. The detectives followed the cab back to Jameson's condo and they watched as the apartment lights, left on for the evening, blinked out.
"Well, I'd say we've got enough to interest Pasquini," Starsky said after a few, quiet minutes. "Think we ought to stay?"
"No," Hutch said with a yawn. "I think this zoo's closed for the night. Let's go home."