The Swing of Things




        Thursday started the same as the others, with the two getting up and ready for work, just like all the other shift-working stiffs in the world.

        Isn't this what we wanted, once upon a time, just to be part of the background? Hutch mused as he headed the LTD toward work. Both were quiet this morning, partly out of boredom and partly in frustrated hopefulness. Didn't we say we wanted to take it easy? I guess it's hard to play the extra, when you've felt like the star.

        He knew that Starsky was even more frustrated than he was. Even after the attempted hit by Gunther, Hutch could feel that Starsky's first impulse was to be in the middle of the action, no matter how dangerous it was. It's my 'first impulse' too, Hutch sighed. I guess I just didn't know how strong it was. Time to find a new way to look at the game, if we're going to plan on living through it.

        "You know, Hutch," his partner broke into the middle of his thoughts, his voice heavy. "I'm really starting to feel sorry for the poor guys who work these jobs." He stared out of the window, head in hand. "At least with policework, we've got something new to do each day. But man, this facin' the same job everyday would drive me nuts. Even police paperwork is better than these jobs."

        "Yeah, I miss the rough and tumble too," Hutch replied. "But we've always had the choice, you know. To stay and take the garbage, along with the accomplishments, or leave." He nodded toward the world they drove by. "I guess we always knew the easier life was out there, whenever we wanted it."

        "But we didn't want it." Starsky spoke firmly, sure of himself. "And it will still be there, I guess. But I'm not so sure that a desk job is the end of the world anymore, not if it means we could still be cops." He looked serious. "I don't think I could have given up bein' a cop, Hutch, even if Gunther had put me in a wheelchair. I guess in my mind I'll always be a cop, one way or another."

        The blond smiled to himself. Time for the future? "If we're going in for the long haul, my friend, we'd better start making plans. When we get too old for the streets, we're going to want our choice of desk jobs and not just let them stick us in any empty desk."

        "And I think," the smaller man gave a mock-sigh, "that we both better think about college." He grinned. "And if you're nice, I'll even let you scam my notes."

        Hutch grinned back as he turned into the employee parking lot. "Well, somebody'd better warn Dobey, one of us just might decide to go after his job."

        "Oh, I don't know," Starsky added, his grin returning. "Dobey's an awfully big man, it just may take both of us to do it."


        First break came and went. Lunch shifts came and went. Time was getting short and Hutch felt the itch for action. Last break and shift end came and there was still no nibble at their bait. They had checked in with base and Captain Pasquini had not been surprised that they hadn't been approached. He reaffirmed his orders to stay and sit it out. At 9:00 p.m. the fake shipment would be pick up from Iverson's and by 10:30 p.m. it would be over, one way or another. All they need to do was stay home and baby-sit the phone.

        Day's end had been disappointing. After dinner and dishes, they had gotten more and more restless, unable to sit still. They had both had the same unspoken, indescribable feeling that they were still, somehow, in the game. It was nothing they could pin down, nothing they could talk about. They both tried to pass the evening quietly, trying to stay out of each other's way.

        Like waitin' for the dam to break, or the thunder to strike, Hutch thought, feeling in the tension in the pit of his stomach. His partner was like a ping-pong ball, unable to settle and bouncing from room to room. He feels it too, He thought tiredly. He tried to focus on the TV and fought for the millionth time the urge to snap at his partner and make him sit down. At least he's not rearranging my room.

        It stunned them both when it came. The hard, heavy knock froze them in place. It's Jameson! He glanced at his partner, feeling his stomach react. It was just after 8:15 p.m. Is it going to be too late? The timing was too close. He could see that Starsky felt it too. This is it! Ready?

        At Starsky's small nod, he headed for the door just as the impatient knock sounded again. "Yeah, who is it?" he snapped.

        "It's Jameson. From the store." Came the quiet, urgent response.

        Hutch opened the door, not surprised to see that their visitor had arrived with company.

        "Hey." He stood his ground in the doorway. "We weren't expecting company." He glanced from Jameson to the stranger.

        Jameson glanced nervously at his companion. "This is Mr. Andrews. He wants to talk to you guys."

        Starsky came up behind Hutch. "Why should we talk to Mr. Andrews?"

        Mr. Andrews, a big, burly blond gave them a small, grim smile. "You might say we all work for the same firm. We don't have a lot of time, gentlemen."

        Starsky shrugged and turned away from the door. "So talk." He walked over to switch off the TV.

        Hutch backed off and let the two men into the room. Jameson looked sick and pale. He stayed by the door, quiet, like a whipped dog. The detectives watched as Andrews wondered around the room, eyeing the sparse furniture, cataloging the meager personal affects. Invading their space and confident in his ability to do so. The detectives gave him a minute before deciding the man had had enough of a look-see.

        "I thought you wanted to talk," he snapped, blocking his path. "Or would you like a tour of the house?"

        "Now, now, Mr. Avery," Andrews rumbled dangerously. "Be polite. I'm a representative of Mr. Wayne, who, as you may or may not know, happens to have supplied the little goodies you purchased from Troy. We don't like smart-asses, Avery." Andrews didn't blink, staring Hutch intensely in the eye. Taking a step closer to facing him squarely Andrews put himself into the blond's personal space, trying to force him to back down. But the detecitve stood his ground, denying the bigger man's right to be there.

        Don't mess with me, Hutch thought at the man, not blinking, but returning the steady gaze. I'm not afraid of you, with or without backup on my side.

        "We don't like initiative, not from within our own organization," Andrews said, braking his stare with a slightly amused look. "Mr. Wayne was very concerned that you actually contacted Mr. Jameson at the store." He paused, amusement gone, giving them both a serious glance. "But he was intrigued by your offer of help. Obviously..." He smirked at the dingy apartment. "you both could use some redecorating money. Just how interested are you in breaking into Mr. Wayne's circle?" Andrews asked Starsky, holding his aggressive stance with Hutch but now talking with his partner.

        Cool, very cool. Puts me in my place, Hutch thought, slightly impressed. Stand in my space, but refuse to see me. You've done this before. Hutch glanced over at Starsky. Don't give in too fast, buddy. Only an idiot wants to dive into quicksand.

        "Well, Mr. Andrews," Starsky answered, pausing. "We are more than sick of the security guard garbage." He walked slowly and deliberately a quarter turn around the back of the stranger. Don't mess with either of us, unless you're serious, Starsky's eyes flashed. We're a team. Andrews was forced to back off from his aggressive stance in order to watch both men. "We don't like being at the bottom, which is why we were going to get a little side business going. Are you saying you've got something new to offer? We're interested, but we don't beat up ladies or old men and we don't kill, so forget that stuff."

        Andrews smiled and glanced at his watch. "We could use a couple of extra hands, if you're interested in a hundred, but it's got to be yes or no. Now. And if it's 'no' then you can deal elsewhere. Prove your worth and maybe we'll set you up for some big action."

        Playin' push and shove, Hutch mused. Time to get serious and make the deal.

        "Man, that's no money." Starsky walked up to Andrews, invading his space. "Think more like two hundred. Each."

        Andrews gave him a surprised grin. "Four hundred? But you don't even know what the job is."

        "We figure it's important enough if Wayne is sending you to 'ask'," Hutch answered, taking a step forward to stand shoulder to shoulder with his partner. "And if he's threatening to cut us off, then he's playin' hardball. We don't like to be pushed and we don't like playin' 'Blindman's Bluff'. But we'll play it, for the right money. We are interested in the money."

        "Play money," Andrew's said, after a moments consideration. "No problem, if you two are as good as you seem to think you are. Deal?"

        Starsky looked at his partner. After a moment's silence, Hutch nodded.

        "In advance," the darker detective demanded.

        Andrews' smile grew as he pulled out an obviously stuffed wallet from his inner jacket pocket. Neither of the detectives missed the fact that the man was walking armed. Casually he drew out four one-hundred-dollar bills. He handed the money to Starsky. "I assume you two can deal with the big bills." He said, as if talking to children.

        The man sure comes well prepared, Hutch though. He's high enough up in the ranks to make his own deals for the boss. If this is a set up, we're in deep.

        His partner pocketed the money and nodded. "Okay, we're paid for. What's the job?"

        Andrews walked to the door. "Come with me. Now."

        Both detectives had been afraid of this, but not surprised. Now that they were in on whatever was going down, they were going to be watched closely. No last minute phone calls. No backup. Unarmed. A test of their intentions.

        "Don't we need anything?" Hutch asked cautiously.

        Andrews glanced at his watch again. "You've got uniforms at the store?" He watched for their nod. "Then we've got what we need. Let's go."

        The four men went down to a nondescript sedan. A driver was waiting. Both detectives stayed silent as Jameson was pushed to the front seat and the others took over the back.

        I hope Captain Lang still has a tail on Jameson. This may be their last chance to see us. Hutch glanced around, but didn't recognize anyone he knew.

        "We have a special shipment coming in from Iverson's tonight, gentlemen." Andrews studied their faces as he talked. "A jewelry shipment is leaving the store by special armored car. We are going to take over that shipment, you two will be extra inside men. All we need is for you two to guard the halls leading to the Jewelry vault. We don't want anyone stumbling in on us when we hit. It's not much, but I'm sure you can be useful."

        The words startled both detectives. Hutch gave his partner a surprised look. They're not gonna take the delivery car, they're gonna hit the car before it leaves the store. Great! By the time the undercover cars catch on, it'll be over.

        "What's the matter Coleman, Avery? Can't handle that much action?"

        Starsky put an unconcerned expression on his face. "No big deal, but how're we gonna explain being in uniform while we're off duty? And what about some guns? We can't guard very well if we don't have any firepower."

        Andrews shrugged, unconcerned. "No heat. You'd look out of place if you were packing. Only the transportation guard carry weapons. I'm sure you'll come up with something to explain yourselves. You just get dressed and be in the first basement level, by the double doors into the warehouse in thirty minutes. You keep everyone out of the warehouse area, you walk home. You cover your own ass'. You do well and we'll think about using you again."

        Damn. We gotta get some word out, Hutch thought, frowning. We can't count on Jameson still having a tail. If they get to the car while it's being loaded, they can clean out all the open vaults. Not to mention there's gonna be shots fired. "What about the transportation guards? You're not gonna get by them. They have high powered weapons." Hutch asked.

        Andrews just nodded to himself. "We've got our own men already in place. We've got some of our own guards in the transportation department and in other store positions. They'll take care of the employees inside. We just want you to keep out the employees who might wander in from the sides.

        The transport guards! Hutch silently fumed. Gainer could'a pulled strings to get us where we could'a done some good. Nightshift floor walkers, no damn good to anybody in this! He could tell by the way his partner was sitting that Starsky was thinking the same thing. Gainer didn't want any help and he made sure we were placed out of the action. Damn!

        "Hey," Starsky asked seriously. "How're we supposed to know who our friends are? You know, in case something goes wrong."

        Andrews was silent for a very long moment. "Coleman, if anything goes wrong, you have no friends."

        They pulled up around the alley side of the vacant store. Andrews opened the car door. He stepped out into the dark evening and waited until the two men had exited the car.

        "We'll see you later, gentlemen. You've got a lot riding on this." And with that he re-entered the car and left, taking a pale and silent Jameson with him.

        Both detectives got their bearings in the dark alley and started toward the employee entrance.

        "We gotta problem," Starsky whispered, checking his watch under a nearby street lamp.

        "No foolin'," Hutch replied checking the dark and deserted streets. "We can't count on anyone tagging after Jameson. We've got to alert the troops, get dressed and get into place in twenty minutes. I don't see anyone in place and I don't know where they were gonna pickup the armored car. Any ideas?"

        "Not right off." Starsky grimaced. "Not a damn pay-phone in sight. Nothing open close enough. All the store phones go through the switchboard, right?"

        The night switchboard was run through the security office during the evening hours and the phone access to the outside lines were restricted to 'Emergency Need' only.

        "Yeah, at night they all go through the security board," the blond answered tersely, feeling the second slipping through his fingers. "It's Beaman's shift and he keeps a close eye on the out going calls. So how do we know if we can trust him at the switchboard?"

        "We don't. If he's on Wayne's payroll, he'll be listening to all the calls. He might even disable the system during the heist. He could always claim it was an accident." The other detective replied.

        They were coming up quickly to the back of the building and the employee entrance.

        "We don't have the time, Starsk. We've got to get word out now. And we've got to get in place. Plans?"

        "Nope. We'll play it by ear."

        They entered the store and promptly ran into Saputo, their friend from night-shift. He had drawn door duty, a new position since the murders. "Hey guys!" He greeted them warmly. "What's up? Slummin'?"

        Starsky flashed him a look. Trust him?

        "Nah," Hutch replied to both questions "Quincy's going to pull us from days in the morning. Figured we've had it too easy this week. We've got to go by the office and see what we're scheduled to do this weekend." He smiled. "We did have big plans."

        "Too bad, guys." Saputo grinned. "Can't say as we've missed you around here. Let me know how it goes." And he waved them on through the quiet corridors.

        As soon as they were out of sight, they jogged down to the locker rooms and started dressing as quickly as possible. They were running out of time. "Starsky, we've got fifteen minutes. If we've got to go through the switchboard, we'd better keep Beaman busy. You decoy him, I'll make the call from the breakroom. It's the closest. But you've got to punch me open an outside line."

        Dressed in record time, they headed toward the security office. Hutch stayed back by the time clock, out of view from the security office windows, but close enough he could peek in. He pulled a few time cards, checking the time stamps and whispered a name to Starsky. Starsky headed into the office.

        "Hey Mr. Beaman! Guess who's back!" Starsky announced loudly as he entered the security office.

        Hutch leaned close to the door listening to the conversation. He needed to know when Starsky had a clear field.

        "Coleman? You're not on duty. Why are you here?" Beaman's voice boomed into the hall.

        "Didn't Wally tell you? He needed tonight off for one of his college exams and I told him I'd fill in for him. He didn't need to leave 'til nine, so I said I'd just come by and cover the last half of his shift." Hutch heard Starsky pause. "He said it was all fixed up. He'd got the forms approved 'n everything."

        Hutch glanced through the door window. Beaman was looking through a clipboard. "I not only don't see you here, I don't remember a shift change being approved. I'm sure Ms. Quincy would have left me a note. Besides," Beaman gave Starsky a beleaguered glare. "Wally Kraft isn't even on-shift tonight."

        "No way," Starsky said disbelievingly. "We had this all worked out. I know Wally was gonna be working tonight. I'm sure of it."

        "He's not here, I'd know."

        "Oh." Starsky faked confusion. "Look, Mr. Beaman, could'ya look up Wally's schedule for me? I need to get this straightened out, 'cause I know this test was real important to him. It was gonna affect his grade-point-average or somethin'. Maybe I just got the dates wrong."

        Beaman gave him a frustrated glare. "Okay, wait here and I'll dig it out of his personnel file." The man turned toward the back offices.

        Hutch hadn't needed his partner's signal to know the time to move. He headed for the breakroom phone as soon as Beaman turned around and quickly dialed for the outside line. He thanked providence that the room was empty, while waiting for Starsky to do his thing. Come on Starsky, hit the button! He could hear the buzz of the line. Suddenly he got a dialtone and dialed the station's number. He dialed straight for the switchboard, knowing that Pasquini was even now on the stakeout.

        Hutch sweated for the few minutes it took to patch him through to the Captain. "Pasquini here."

        "Captain! It's Hutchinson, the robbery is coming down at the store, when the car comes in to be loaded. I think Wayne's men are already inside and it's gonna go down fast! We could have hostages."

        "Shit!" Pasquini answered. "Are you there?"

        "Yeah, Starsky and I are here in uniform, but I've got to drop the line."

        "Stay back." Pasquini ordered. "We're on our way. I'll call in the SWAT team. Pasquini out."

        Hutch replaced the receiver, hopeful that their luck had held and Starsky still had Beaman occupied. He moved quietly down the hall and peeked in the security window. Starsky was behind the counter, helping Beaman pick up a loosely scattered pile of paper. Hutch waved as Starsky's head came up.

        "Damn it, Coleman! I was trying to tell you that Kraft was never scheduled to work tonight. You've got your wires crossed somewhere because I don't see any of the paperwork you're talking about. Kraft's in the book. You look him up and call him. From home!"

        "Yes, Sir! Sorry!" Starsky waved his watching partner by the large windows as he finished handing Beaman a sheaf of papers. Hutch moved quickly, pausing on the other side of the windows, just out of sight.

        "See you tomorrow, Sir!" Starsky back out of the security door, watching Beaman. After a second Starsky sprinted passed the windows, obviously having waited until Beaman wasn't looking.

        Hutch grabbed him and they ran swiftly to the main basement elevators. "I got through," he whispered hurriedly, pushing the 'down' buttons for all the elevators. "Pasquini's pulling everyone in. We're supposed to stay back and wait."

        "Wait for what? 'til it's all over? We gotta get in there, Hutch! You know there's gonna be hostages if their heist is blown," he replied in frustration.

        Hutch pounded the nearest elevator door. "Get in there with what?! Starsk, we're unarmed!"

        The darker man gave his partner a hopeful grin and a pat on the arm as a pair of doors slid open. "Me and thee, partner. The right place 'n the right time. We'll find a way."

        One of the elevators 'dinged' and slid opened. The two hurriedly entered and pressed the 'B1' button to take them down to the general storage, loading ramp and lower access elevators.

        Very few customers of Iverson's knew about the extensive basement and vaults built underneath the main store. The Jewelry lab and vaults were in the second basement level, the lowest. The warehouse and special elevator from the lower vaults to the truck access area were located in the upper level of the double basement. The armored car would be pulled up to one of the special truck ramps and when the access doors were unlocked, the car would be backed down the ramp to the first basement level. This is where it would be loaded and where outsiders could bypass the in-store security system and get the closest access to the vaults, only one level below.

        To the two men in the elevator, the one-level trip took a lifetime.

        They steeled themselves to be calm, cool and professional-looking before the doors slid open. The elevators took up one end of a long hallway, warehouse style offices lining both sides of the dim hall. At the other end were double doors that led to the large, underground warehouse storage area and across from them, on the other side of the building was the car ramp and lower elevator. These were the double doors they were supposed to guard, in case someone wandered down to the lower levels.

        The offices' were all dark and the hallway eerily quiet. Both men hurried down to the double doors and pushed them open easily, listening for sounds of voices. They heard nothing. Starsky checked his watch. "This is where we're supposed to stand 'guard'. The car is due in anytime now. How long is the loading supposed to take?"

        Hutch shrugged. "They estimated forty-five minutes or so. But if these guys get in and start dumping the stuff in the back, they could be in and out in less than fifteen or twenty minutes, depending on how greedy they are and how much is in the vaults."

        "I vote greed. It usually wins," Starsky mumbled. "Lets go take a look."

        While the lights in the office hallway section were dim, the darkness beyond the double doors had settled like a heavy blanket over the entire area. While Iverson's upper floors were restocked in the early evening and early morning hours, each floor had it's own small storerooms, which were replenished during the day from the main warehouse level. There was no activity in this level at night. Except for a few dim bulbs along one wall to light the way to the other end, all other lights were turned off at night. The warehouse level took up the entire area of the building like an immense, dark cavern with heavy, massive shelves making a maze of the near invisible interior.

        But toward the far end, the room was dim-lit. That's where the car would be loaded.

        Like a cave down here, Hutch thought. All that's missing are Starsky's bats and mummies. He could feel Starsky tense. Not as much fun as a horror movie, huh buddy?

        Hutch moved forward, into the darkness. He knew they'd have to come in on the dark side, or they wouldn't have a change of getting close. Suddenly he could hear the echo of voices. Hutch suddenly grabbed Starsky in the dark, feeling him freeze position. He reached for the nape of Starsky's neck and pulled him over to whisper in his ear. "The car is here and someone's gonna miss us at our post anytime now. We've got to go farther in and find the next walk-way between the shelving. Come up behind them in the dark. They'll be expecting someone to come in by the lights."

        His partner just nodded, knowing Hutch could feel the movement.

        In seconds, they had started down into the invisible darkness toward the center of the building. He kept his left hand on the second shelf level as he moved, knowing that he would have to find the next walk-way by touch. When the shelves ran out, they'd have found a corner. Once in awhile, he could catch a shape by the dim light reflected off of a bit of shelving from the opposite wall.

        Starsky must be loving this, He thought in amusement, feeling his partner's hand on his back . A chase in the dark was always his favorite part in those stupid horror movies... Suddenly His hand lost contact with the shelving. End of the line. He reached back and found the corner of the massive shelves.

        Making a left, he could see the dim-lit loading area ahead. The shelves, having a much shorter breath than width, passed faster. He counted seventeen rows over before they came upon the clear area at the far end of the building. They had come to the loading dock area, where the shelves ended and the forklifts were parked.

        Hutch peeked around the corner. Under meager lights, the area couldn't have been any clearer. The armored car had used the last docking area, the one closest to the loading elevator. He could see the back of the truck and he watched as the two store guards stood toward the rear. They were talking in quiet voices to the driver and his 'shotgun' companion. The car was still closed and they seemed to be waiting for someone.

        He backed off and let Starsky look for himself. He turned the corner and squatted below eye level to wait. His partner, a dark mass in the inky blackness seemed to zero in on him as soon as he came back around the corner. They huddled close, trying to keep their noise down to a minimum.

        "Recognize any of them?" Hutch whispered.

        "Naw. Not from here," came the answer. "They didn't mix with us in the store much. I think they take their breaks downstairs with the jewelry technicians. They'd know each other though."

        "That's what I was afraid of," Hutch said with a sigh. "Andrews said they had their own men in guard positions and in the store. Probably means some of the jewelry technicians are bad guys too. They all could be bad guys as far as we know. We can't just walk up and act like we belong."

        "We may not have a choice," Starsky replied grimly. "Hutch, we need to get downstairs! When Pasquini's men come runnin' in, we could have a hostage situation if they've got civilians downstairs and they think they're trapped. We need to be there when the firing starts." He thought frantically for a moment. "We've got to take these guys out to get to the elevator. Our uniforms are close enough in color and their hats have the transportation insignia on them. We get their guns and their hats and we could get downstairs and make our way in before anyone realizes who we are."

        Hutch nodded in the darkness. "We've got to get them quickly. Unless they split up, there's still four of them." He got up. "We've got our belt cuffs, I saw some packing tape on one of the forklifts. Hold on." Hutch made his way back to the tape and took a couple of rolls.

        After handing one to Starsky, Hutch started cutting the tape into long strips with his penknife, Starsky doing the same. Both detectives could hear the four men talking amicably. The driver and his partner were listening to a story told by one of the other guards when suddenly they stopped.

        Damn! Elevator coming up! Hutch squeezed Starsky's arm, listening to the slight hum of the machinery. Now we've got to wait. Still too many people to handle.

        They watched from the shadows as the elevator doors opened and a pretty red-haired woman rolled out a cart filled with trays. Quiet words were exchanged and the lady smiled as the two store guards walked over and helped her position the cart. The car driver and his partner used their keys to unlock the armored car doors. The driver walked over to sign the form completing the delivery. The young lady watched as the driver and his partner transferred the eight covered trays to the back of the specially built car. The young lady voiced her thanks and disappeared with the cart back into the elevator.

        What happened next took only seconds. As the elevator closed and the driver and his partner had turned around to close and relock the car doors, the two store guards struck. In one split second both of the transportation guards were unconscious and down on the ground. It was well done and well planned, but the two men hadn't planned on being victims of attack themselves.

        As soon as the store guards moved to strike, the two detectives were out of the shadows. They were too slow to stop the attack, but they took the remaining two men by complete surprise. The fight took less than a minute and ended up with two bad guys on the floor. Each took a man and dragged him back into the darkness, leaving the first victims for a moment.

        Using their handcuffs and the packing tape, they bound up the unconscious men. In a few quick moments they had taken the new hats and had replaced their 'empty' utility belts for the gun and holster types the bad guys had worn. Both men checked out their new weapons and ammo. Starsky took the few extra seconds to rethread the leather holster for a left-handed draw. When finished, they dragged the men even farther into the darkness.

        Checking to make sure the coast was clear, they returned to the armored car and checked out the driver and his partner. Both were still unconscious, but would live. They were lucky they weren't killed outright, Hutch thought. If this place didn't echo like the Grand Canyon, they probably would have been shot. The detectives dragged them into the darkness too and hid their extra weapons behind boxes on the shelves. If things went down wrong and the two men woke up hearing shots, they'd be better off waiting it out in the dark then shooting at police by mistake.

        The detectives straightened themselves out and pressed the elevator buttons for the lower floor. It was time to go down and get in place.

        "Hutch! What about the car?" Starsky asked, just realizing it was being left open. "Pasquini's men should be outside by now. The bad guys could use it to escape, it's bullet proof!"

        "No problem," He replied smiling. He tossed Starsky the key ring he had taken from the driver. "Car keys. Those armored cars are a bitch to hot-wire."

        "No foolin'?" the smaller man asked, looking suspiciously at his partner. "You can tell me about it later. What about the back doors being open?"

        Hutch shrugged. "Too late now." The elevator doors swung open and they entered.

        The 'B2' button was pushed.

        The door was going to open into unknown territory. Neither man had been down in this area and knew little other than what April had told them.

        It took countless seconds to reach the bottom, but the door finally opened on bright lights, white tile and a huge work area. Small office doors and windows lined the right-hand wall. The area to the left was a large and open. The work area was filled with long stainless steel lab-like tables with built-in lower drawers, padded stools and various sizes of clamps. They could tell that various types of metal work was done in this area by the bits and pieces of rough and delicate tools lying about.

        Both men took a second to take in the layout. Obviously a craftsman's area. But empty. Hutch held the elevator doors open, Where are the night technicians? Where are the vaults? Where's...

        It was Starsky who heard the first faint noise. He grabbed the blond's arm and led him out of the elevator, skirting the edge of the office wall. It took only a second for them realize that the white wall of the office side of the room did not really connect to the equally white wall at the 'corner'. Like an optical illusion, there was a niche around the corner that was all but invisible from the other end of the room.

        No kidding! Hutch was surprised. We would've walked right by it and not realized it was there until too late. It was the area containing the jewelry vaults. And there was definitely something going on.

        A sudden crash, like a dozen dishes had been dropped, bounced and echoed around the room. A woman's voice suddenly sounded in a sob and a plea. Mixed voices, other men and people moving around reached the two detectives.

        Starsky tried the door to the last office in the row and found it open. He waved Hutch into the dark room and crept to the corner, taking a glance around. He was back in the office in a minute. Both crouched behind the door.

        "Four vaults. Nearest one open," his partner whispered urgently. "Five technicians in white coats. They're being held against the near wall with their hands up. Five guys in guard uniforms, two covering the hostages and the other three filling bags. I don't think they're gonna worry about the trays anymore."

        "Were there handles on the inside of the vaults?" Hutch asked anxiously.

        "I don't know. Why?" Starsky looked at his partner in confusion.

        "If we can get the vault shut, then that just leaves the two outside the vault!"

        "But those things gotta weigh a ton!" Starsky protested.

        "Hang on, let me check." He made a trip to the corner and was back in a second. "There's no handles on the inside, just emergency call buttons. They're power assist doors, Starsk. Get them moving and they'll shut on their own."

        "Really?" The smaller man grinned. "Let's do it! I have a feelin' it's not going to take them long to empty that thing."

        Both detectives crept to the corner, hatless, guns at the ready and glanced around the corner.

        The white-coated technicians were still standing against the wall, hands up.

        One of the two guards was yelling at the technicians. "I'm telling you right now that I want those other vaults open! Someone here has access to the combinations! Who's in charge?" He screamed in frustration.

        One of the technicians raised his hand slightly higher.

        Hutch tapped his partner's shoulder and nodded to the closest work station. They could angle behind the gunmen by using the large tables as cover. Hutch crept over behind one table and was able to make his way to the other one, unseen. One more table and he would be behind the gunmen.

        "They've changed them all! I swear!" One of the technicians was pleading as Hutch made his way to the last bit of cover. "We can't get the others open. We were only authorized the one vault tonight. Honest!"

        The tall blond was able to catch the eye of the red-headed woman, who had moved slightly behind the open vault door in order to protect herself. She froze when she saw the detective, but didn't otherwise move. With a motion of his hands, Hutch was able to pantomime her pushing the vault doors closed. Her eyes widened, but she barely nodded her head, bringing her hands down slightly.

        "Another minute Frank, we're about done!" The voice came from inside the vault. "If they can't open the others, forget it, get rid of them."

        Before the last sentence finished drifting out of the vault, the detectives moved.

        "HALT! Police!" Hutch boomed, taking a gun stance from behind the last table.

        At that same second, the red-headed woman rushed at the vault door, giving it a tremendous push. Like a spring loaded trap, the door swung with unexpected swiftness, clanging shut, trapping the three startled men inside.

        The other two men, startled into swiveling toward Hutch's voice, froze when a gun disappeared out of one man's hand with a sharp 'crack!'. He stood staring, pale with shock at his bloody hand.

        "DROP IT!" Starsky re-aimed at the second man. "Or I'll take you both out!"

        The second man stood frozen. The detectives were too far apart to even think about taking the chance of hitting them both. Disgusted, he carefully laid his gun down, his every move covered by two gun sights.

        Hutch kept them both covered while Starsky frisked the new prisoners. Neither one relaxed until they had verified with the shaking but relieved technicians that they did indeed have all the bad guys accounted for.

        After handcuffing the two men to a workstation and settling the technicians in an office, the detectives placed themselves near the elevator. They both knew there could still be bad guys who might try to force their way down. There was no telling what the fireworks were like upstairs and calling out on the phone line could cause problems if they ended up talking to the wrong people. Until the detectives knew everything was under control upstairs, they'd keep the elevator covered and wait until they were contacted.

        The ring of the office phone made them both jump. Hutch was closet to the office and picked it up. It was a short conversation.

        "Company's coming, Starsk," he answered his partner's look with a smile. "That was Captain Pasquini. He wanted to know where the hell we were. Seems we were missed upstairs by more than one group. He says we missed all the big stuff. Bad guys, gunfire and everything. He wanted to know if our reports were ready yet."

        Starsky grimaced. "Once a captain, always a captain. They're never happy." He placed his gun on the table and started to unbuckle his heavily loaded belt.

        "Yeah," Hutch agreed with a heartfelt sigh. He placed his gun and belt beside the other man's and they both took 'the position' against the opposite wall. "Damn it, Starsk," he mumbled in disgust. "We always miss the good stuff."

        A second later the elevator exploded with the local SWAT team.