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Author's note: This story takes place some time between the third and fourth season (i.e. before Hutch's fuzzy lip and new wardrobe ;-) ).
David Starsky was having a very interesting dream that was rudely interrupted by the telephone ring. He swatted his nightstand twice before his hand connected with the phone receiver. He picked it up. "Yeah?"
"Get up, sleeping beauty, we're on."
The detective opened his eyes and surveyed his surroundings as he recognized his partner's voice. The clock read 3:16 a.m. "Got a call, huh?"
"That's right, Sherlock. Dobey himself called. There's been a murder on the strip, corner Rosalind and 5th. Listen, could you come over and pick me up? My car was acting up this afternoon and I don't think it's in condition to drive tonight."
"Is it ever?" the other man said with a teasing lilt. "See you in twelve minutes."
By the time the red Torino pulled in front of Venice Place, Hutch was already standing on the curb. Dressed casually in jeans and a plaid shirt tucked under his beige leather jacket, the blond man was holding two steaming Styrofoam cups of coffee. As he slid in the passenger seat, he offered one to his partner who accepted it eagerly.
"Whoa! Going for the caveman look, Starsk?" the blond man teased as he noticed the dark shadow already covering his friend's chin.
"It's too early to shave," the other man replied plaintively. Starsky knew that his partner didn't have time to shave either and even under the scrutiny of the car light, he could barely notice the blond stubble gracing Hutch's cheeks. I bet he couldn't grow a decent moustache if his life depended on it, he mused. While silently cursing his gene pool, the darker man changed the subject. "So, the Cap'n himself called, huh? At this hour, it must be a special case," he said as he sipped the black liquid. It tasted sweet.
"I honestly don't know. All he said was: `Hutchinson, you better get hold of your partner and get both your butts down here if don't have any wish of directing traffic any time soon,'" Hutch recalled, using his best Captain Dobey's impersonation on a gruff day.
Starsky smiled as he piloted the Torino along the empty streets of Bay City while his partner placed the gyrating light on the top of the car. Daybreak was at least two hours away yet their day had officially begun. He wondered what surprises lay in store for him and his partner. There always were surprises.
"Victim is an eighteen year-old female, a confirmed exotic dancer who worked at the club El Mesa Grande over there," Dobey pointed to a small entrance withdrawn from the rest of the businesses on the street. "A vagrant found her around two-forty-five. Victim appears to have been beaten to death. No weapon has been found on the scene but the coroner already suggested that at least one baseball bat had been used on her."
Hutch interrupted for the first time. "At least one baseball bat? You mean..."
"I mean the girl is a mess, Hutchinson. There's not an inch of her body that's not bruised or smashed."
"What's the victim's name?" Starsky asked, his back leaning against his car.
The black man swallowed before answering. "Karen Dennison."
Hutch's eyes suddenly lightened with comprehension. He glanced towards his partner who was just as stunned. "As in Mayor Dennison? This is the mayor's daughter?" Dobey nodded. "Has he been notified?"
"Yes, he has. By yours truly. Well, I leave the rest up to you, gentlemen. I expect a preliminary report on my desk by the time I come in this morning, which leaves you," he consulted his watch, "less than four hours. The mayor also expects you to drop by his house later in the morning. I hope I don't have to remind you that this is a very sensitive case," he said as he turned on his heels. Then he added over his shoulder, "The kind of case that can make or break a couple of detectives' careers. Understood?"
"10-4, Cap'n," both detectives replied simultaneously. They were very much aware of the sensitive nature of the case but they were also accustomed to their commanding officer's veiled threats.
The body was still lying in the middle of the pavement, next to the coroner who was awaiting the detective's authorization before taking it away. Hutch nodded to him as they kneeled beside the corpse. The customary peek under the sheet was all that the Captain had promised. The lean body lay in a fetal position, twisted unnaturally by crushed bones. The girl's skull had almost been smashed to a pulp and her face was nothing but a swollen mass of black, red and blue tissues. The extreme violence of the attack was suggested by the presence a pool of blood extending under a lump of curls, the color of which was impossible to distinguish.
Having seen enough, Hutch turned away and sighed, but Starsky lingered a moment longer on the broken body, taking in as much details he could.
"She is still fully clothed," Starsky casually pointed to his partner who was now standing, his back turned on the scene. "Hey, Greenwood, come here, will ya?"
The young officer approached the detectives. He was in his mid-twenties with brown hair and shy hazel eyes. Keith Greenwood and his more experienced partner, Harvey Bolder, often crossed the detectives' path during their patrol on the strip. "What is it, sergeant?"
"Did she have a purse?" Starsky indicated the covered body.
"Well, was anything missing in it?"
"I don't know, I haven't really checked, I--" the young man stopped, hoping Starsky would leave him off the hook.
"Was there money in it, a wallet, credit cards, the usual crap someone would carry in a purse?" Starsky's tone was becoming impatient.
"I think so, wait a second." The officer jogged a few steps to the black and white car and came back quickly, a large evidence bag in his hands. He handed it to Starsky. The detective opened the plastic bag and rummaged carefully in the small macramé purse that was tucked inside.
"Three hundred dollars in small bills, two major credit cards, tons of make-up, nylons, even this," he produced another plastic bag containing approximately an ounce worth of brownish herb. "Nothing seems to be missing," he informed Hutch who did not acknowledge his statement. Starsky joined his partner after handing the purse back to Greenwood who returned it to the squad car.
"You okay, buddy?" the darker man asked as he laid a hand on his friend's shoulder.
"I'm fine," Hutch snapped. Starsky felt the tension under his fingers. He squeezed the tensed tendons before taking his hand away. Though Hutch tried to look cool on the scene of a murder, Starsky knew that crime scenes usually perturbed his partner.
"Okay, we can safely leave rape out of the picture, at least until the coroner confirms it in his report. Also, I think we can leave out theft as motive. Makes no sense," he stated, stroking the side of his nose with the back of his hand.
"What is? That a girl was clubbed to death or that we have no motive for it?" Hutch had turned to face Starsky, his eyes blazing with anger.
"Take it easy, Hutch, we'll get the bastards. What's wrong?"
"Nothing," he snapped. He looked away and inhaled before adding decisively, "I'm going to interrogate the barman over there." And within three long strides, Hutch had left a puzzled partner standing alone on the sidewalk. Starsky gave the go-ahead to remove the body and proceeded to question the other witnesses.
The witnesses' accounts confirmed the story told by the Captain and brought no further evidence. Karen, or Cheryl as she was known on the club scene, had danced from eight to two o'clock like she had been doing for the past eight months. She met no one in particular until she left at two o'clock, her usual punch out time. At two-forty-five, her body was found amid cardboard boxes a couple of feet from the club's door by a vagrant looking for a new home for the night. No one had seen or heard anything suspicious.
No one cares that a young woman, somebody's daughter, has been savagely killed tonight, thought Hutch as both detectives compared notes on their fact-finding mission.
"Well, it's almost six-thirty," Starsky stated, bouncing on his heels. "I say we head back home for a shower and a shave, maybe grab a bite, go back at the precinct, fill out those preliminary reports, make Dobey happy, and we'll play it by ear after that," the shorter man proposed, stretching his limbs.
"M-mm," Hutch answered still lost in thought.
"Your place or mine?" Starsky was already behind the wheel of his red and white car.
Hutch looked quizzically at his partner as he repeated silently his last sentence. His eyes suddenly lit up with comprehension. "Oh. Well, I don't have my stuff with me."
"That's perfectly okay, partner, because I happen to have my shaving kit in my car." He smiled as he started the Torino. "You'd better have something decent to eat."
While Starsky showered, Hutch fixed breakfast for two, arranging buttered whole-wheat toast and fresh croissants with fruit preserve on a service plate. Strong coffee was brewing in the percolator, its bitter aroma spreading through the apartment. To hell with the health shakes this morning, Hutch decided, choosing instead to indulge his appetite.
Hutch was pouring orange juice in two glasses when Starsky's silhouette appeared in the kitchen, a bath towel encircling his waist. Drying his hair with another towel, he inventoried the set table approvingly. "No goat's milk, no wheat germ, no powdered bones. Wow! You mean that you actually buy regular food sometimes?" he teased.
"Sit down, will you?" Hutch received the banter good-naturedly. Like the Bible verse from the Ecclesiastes, which had been rendered popular by the Byrds, there was a time for everything: A time to take care of one's health and a time, like this morning, to share a warm meal with his best friend. Judging by the delighted look illuminating Starsky's freshly shaven face as he wolfed down a piece of pastry, both options held invaluable benefits.
After they had both devoured their meal wholeheartedly, Hutch stepped in the bathroom to shower and shave while Starsky slipped into the pair of blue jeans he had been wearing and a beige linen shirt he found following a scavenging hunt through Hutch's wardrobe.
Emerging from the bathroom wearing only his yellow denims, Hutch headed to his room. He came out tucking a green, long-sleeve ribbed shirt in his trousers, an equally green undershirt visible through the unbuttoned collar. He noticed Starsky's attire but didn`t comment on it. Like brothers growing up in the same room, they were used to `borrowing' each other's clothes. Well, Starsky borrowed more often.
"Ready, partner?" Hutch asked Starsky's reflection in the mirror.
"Constantly," he assured his friend as he fastened the last two buttons of his leather jacket.
Hutch wriggled his arms in the straps of his holster and put on his leather jacket. When they were both ready to go, Hutch ushered his partner out of the apartment, one hand on the door knob, the other slightly pressing the small of Starsky's back. The blond man glanced around the familiar surroundings one last time with the uncanny feeling that he was leaving something important behind.
Although he had just eaten a balanced breakfast, Starsky bit (out of habit, Hutch supposed) into a stale sugar doughnut that had been resting lazily next to the coffee machine. "Okay. What do we have so far?" he asked with his mouth full.
Hutch gave him a disapproving `don't-eat-that-crap' look and consulted a file that had just been deposited on his desk. He shifted quickly through the document. "According to the ME, there was no indication that the girl was raped. And you may be interested to know that the cause of death is a combination of extensive internal injuries and internal hemorrhage. Oh, and the fact that she had her skull cracked open didn't help either." He tossed the folder on top of the towering pile of papers already adorning his desk. "And welcome to the real world, boys and girls," he announced in a mock game show host's voice.
Starsky was pensive a moment, still munching on his pastry. "I got an idea," he finally shot as he pushed his chair back. And before Hutch could answer, his partner had darted out of the squad room.
The blond man randomly picked up a folder and opened it. It contained crime scene photographs. Developed on standard 8x10 glossy paper, they pictured every blown-up detail in bright color. On every print, red blotches seemed to jump right out at him. There was the blood, of course, but also mundane objects attracted his gaze: a glass bottle with a red label, a carton of matches, the reflection of the gyrating light on a squad car. He lingered on one specific picture, a close-up on the face of the victim. The skull was irregular where it had been smashed in and in some places part of the brain was leaking out.
Nauseated, Hutch threw the pictures back in the folder and hurled it in one of the desk drawers. He slammed it shut violently, causing a couple of heads to turn his way. He ignored them and gulped the remaining of his cold coffee. The bitterness of the liquid relaxed his nerves as it coursed through his body. He was pouring himself another mug when Starsky reappeared in the room carrying yet another cream-colored folder.
"Where have you been?" Hutch asked, not really out of curiosity but because he needed to test his voice.
"Records. I wanted to crosscheck our MO. Guess what I found?"
"Another similar murder?" His partner nodded as he sat down opposite him. "I don't remember handling any other case like that one."
"Simple. We never handled a case like that. But Daniels and Simpson did two weeks ago while we were on vacation." Starsky shuddered, recalling their sojourn in the virgin woods for a whole week. "And, the same MO was used for another homicide five months before that in San Diego."
"Who were the victims?"
Starsky read from the folder. "In Daniels' and Simpson's case, the victim was a forty-year-old housewife. She was attacked in front of her house. In San Diego, they clubbed a thirty-three-year-old lawyer. They got him in the parking garage of his office."
"Swell." Hutch sat back in the wooden chair. "Not much of a link between them and an eighteen-year-old stripper is there?"
"I need to check out something." Starsky shuffled through the pile of folders between their desks. "Where's the folder with the crime scene pictures?"
Hutch opened the desk drawer, reached in for the requested document and tossed it at the other detective without lifting his eyes. Starsky observed his friend with puzzlement but remained silent. He opened the folder and quickly found what he was looking for.
"Got it!" He handed three pictures to Hutch. "Okay, tell me what you see."
Hutch took the pictures and spread them on his desk. Each one came from a different crime scene. Like all other instances involving violent death, all victims looked anything but restful. One thing was common to all three victims though, they had died in the fetal position, their hands propped up near their face, their knees brought up to their chests, trying desperately to protect the most sensitive parts of their bodies. "Dead people smashed up pretty bad."
"Not them, dummy. Look in the background."
Hutch resumed his study of the pictures. He brought the desk lamp closer and examined one print, then the other, then the last one. "What's that here?" He looked up at Starsky, frowning. "A red matchbook. It's in all three pictures."
"Bingo!" Starsky applauded.
"Could it be the club's matchbook?"
"I checked. The matchbooks at El Mesa Grande are yellow. Anyway, what would a matchbook from a two-bit Bay City stripping club be doing in a lawyer's parking garage in San Diego and in front of a house in an upper class neighborhood?"
Hutch lowered his head and shrugged, conceding the logic of the argument.
"Anyway, here it is." He produced a red matchbook tucked away in a small evidence bag. "I stopped by the evidence room earlier hoping the crime team had picked it up."
"You mean you stopped by to talk to Nellie." Hutch teased, referring to the blond woman in Evidence whom his partner had started a flirting match with.
"What can I say? She likes me." He grinned. "You can open the bag, it's already been tested for prints."
Hutch examined the object. The matchbook looked like any other promotional matchbook found in nightclubs all over the country. A stylized elephant in gold hue was printed on the cover along with the words `California Republic'. The only additional information was a phone number with a Los Angeles area code printed on the back cover. Nothing else had been written inside the booklet and it appeared that only one match had been torn from the pack.
"Only one thing to do." Hutch sighed as he picked up the phone and dialed the number on the cover. Starsky silently counted the rings as he waited for his partner to hang up.
"What is it?"
"The phone number's been disconnected."
"Okay. What do you want to do?"
The dark haired detective consulted his watch. "Ten-fifteen. I think it's time to pay a visit to Mr. Mayor," he sighed as he picked up his jacket.
The detectives arrived at Julian Dennison's house. It stood in a nice district of the city, isolated from the daily activities of Bay City citizens. Funny how a mayor would want to live as far as possible from the people he represents, Hutch mused. The house itself had been built at the turn of the century and reflected the influence of Spanish architecture. Not as large as the villas usually found in some parts of California, the house was still imposing enough to easily entertain influential political contributors.
Having beaten his partner to the front door, Starsky rang the bell and waited right in front of the door, his hands casually hanging behind his back. A middle-aged Latino woman dressed in the traditional maid uniform opened the door.
"Detectives Starsky and Hutchinson to see Mayor Dennison," the shorter man said as both men flashed their shields and IDs.
Without uttering a word, the maid ushered them in the atrium and held up a hand to indicate that they were to wait there. As they were awaiting their audience with the victim's father, Starsky applied himself to examining his surroundings, bouncing around the premises with the wide-eyed curiosity of a child in a toy store.
"Hey, look at this cool letter opener, " Starsky said, lifting a thin knife-like object from the credenza.
"It's not a letter opener, it's an Incan artifact, dummy" corrected the blond man. "It was probably used in some ancient ritual."
"Ancient ritual? How ancient?" the darker man asked warily.
"Well, I bet the dagger you are holding may actually have been involved in human sacrifice rituals," Hutch replied with a teasing gleam in his eyes. He knew that although his partner could stare at gruesome, mutilated bodies while having lunch, he got the heeby-jeebies about mundane things such as spiders, vampire look-alikes and thousands year-old human sacrifices.
"Terrific." Starsky replaced the dagger on the credenza in one quick motion and Hutch braced himself for the clever reply that was sure to follow but his partner was interrupted by a voice echoing behind him.
"Good morning, gentlemen," the mayor greeted them softly as he ushered his visitors inside his office. Arthur Dennison was fifty-something, of average built and looks. His faded jeans and sweatshirt were rumpled and strands of grey hair barely covered his skull. Even ten feet apart, Starsky and Hutch could notice the slumping shoulders and the swollen eyes filled with grief. Both detectives had often seen his picture in the papers but today, Mayor Dennison was far from the smart-looking, eager and self-confident politician they were used to seeing. There stood a defeated man.
"Mr. Mayor, we are sorry for your loss and we appreciate your taking the time to meet with us," Hutch began, extending his hand. Dennison shook it absent-mindedly.
"I appreciate your concern but could you please get to the point? I'd rather get this whole thing done as quickly as possible," the politician asked in a sedated tone. His answers seemed to come from far away.
"Okay," Starsky agreed as he sat in a leather chair. "Were you aware of your daughter's job?"
"You mean, did I know she was a stripper?" The police detectives nodded. "No, I didn't know. Your captain informed me last night."
"Why is that, sir?"
"Because she ran away from home eight months ago. Right after Elaine, my wife, died. Karen loved her so much. On the other hand, we never seemed to see eye to eye. I always suspected it was because of my political career. Karen didn't think much of politics or any kind of power for that matter. Maybe that's why she chose to run away. Anyway, I never heard from her since her departure," he added wistfully.
"Have you ever tried to track her?" It was Hutch's turn to ask the question.
"Of course I did. I asked for the help of the police commissioner because I knew he would be discreet but they couldn't retrace her. I even hired a private detective for a while. I never heard from Karen again. Until last night, that is." His voice faltered on the last sentence.
"I'm sorry, Mr. Mayor, but I have to ask," Hutch broke the silence. "Did you ever suspected that Karen was using drugs?"
"I suppose a good father would be outraged by this question, Detective. But the truth is that it's a distinct possibility." He thought for a moment. "Just before my wife's death, Karen's behavior became wilder. She would disobey her mother and she would be gone from the house more often than not. I suspect she skipped her classes regularly though we never had any proof. Why, have you found something on her?"
"No, sir," Starsky lied. Hutch shot him an inquisitive look.
"Do you know who she was friends with?" The blond detective went on.
"I couldn't say. Karen never met anyone here. As I said, she was extremely opposed to my line of work. She always met her friends at their houses. To be honest though, I never saw her with any seedy character."
"Do you mind if we saw her room?"
"I don't mind although I doubt you'll find something useful in there. We've been through all of her stuff when she first ran away."
"Just being thorough," Starsky persuaded him as he rose from his seat.
Dennison remained seated and rang a bell. "I'll ask the maid to show you the way."
The room was not unlike any other seventeen year-old girl's room. Psychedelic posters on the wall, a desk, a telephone, a twin bed buried under a ton of pillows in the opposite corner. No stuffed animals though. They were replaced by a wall to wall collection of very expensive-looking porcelain dolls all costumed in international ethnic garb. Personal items were gathered on a bookshelf and in a couple of boxes lying on the floor.
"Could you imagine finding your daughter after eight months of daily anguish just to have her taken away from you in one night?" Starsky asked empathetically as he rummaged through bookshelves and cardboard boxes.
"Didn't sound like he was the perfect father in the first place either, Starsk," the other remarked as he searched the bed. "Is that why you lied to Dennison about the drugs on Karen's body?" Hutch asked.
"What would that have accomplished, huh? The man's daughter is dead, does it matter if we found some hash in her bag?"
Hutch marveled at his partner's humanity. It seemed that Starsky always knew where to step on the fine line separating right from wrong, aware that the truth was not always the answer, whereas he felt caught in a perpetual struggle to make sense of the blurred edges around him. "Anyway," he went on, "the place she found for herself didn't exactly do wonders for her, did it?"
Starsky shrugged and both men resumed their work, each one silently contemplating their thoughts.
"Hey, got something," Hutch called out.
The blond man produced a thick notebook locked with a tiny padlock from behind the bed headboard. "Thank God that girls and diaries go hand in hand," he chimed triumphantly. "Hand me your handcuff key, will ya?"
"Because any small key will usually open these kinds of latches."
"Why bother with the key? You could tear the thing apart in a jiffy," his partner said as he threw the silver key over to him.
"We're not savages, Starsk. Besides," he unclasped the padlock, "it's no trouble."
"Anyway, how do you know about these locks?"
"Well, my kid sister," the taller man admitted coyly, "used to write the most detailed accounts of what she thought of a certain boy in her class. And I," he added with a grin, "needed all the help I could find to do my chores."
"A little blackmailer, were you?" playfully replied Starsky, surprised by his friend's candid avowal. "So what do you got there?" he asked, pointing to the notebook.
"Let me see. Last entry is dated eight months ago, the day before she disappeared. `Finally," he read, "it seems that tomorrow is the big day. I sure hope CC keeps her promise and finds me a gig at the club. Anything should be better than this.' There's nothing after that."
"I guess we can rule out kidnapping, then. Anything else?"
"She keeps writing about `CC'. Here again ten weeks earlier. `I went to see CC yesterday. She showed me the money she made in one night. Imagine that, getting all that money just to dance a couple of hours. I told her to keep an eye out for any opening at the club. She said she'd see what she could do but that she'll have to ask Jay about it. He gives me the creeps but I guess I can talk to the guy if I want to leave this hell hole.'"
"Who's that Jay?"
"Isn't he the manager?"
"No. The manager's got a funny name." Starsky fished out his tiny notebook and shifted through the pages. "Here we are: Don Abbott. What about you? Talked to anybody named `Jay' on the crime scene?"
"No. Come to think of it, I didn't meet any CC either. I think we should pay a visit to the club and find out where CC lives. Maybe she could enlighten us about the mysterious Jay."
The manager at the club had been reluctant at first about disclosing information about `CC', aka Corinne Culvert. Unfortunately, the customary flash of badges had not been sufficient to encourage his co-operation. The detectives had to appeal to Abbott's practical side, stressing the connection between successfully closed cases and nightclubs remaining open to the public. That strategy finally provided them with an address: 208, 3rd Street.
Hutch rapped on the door of apartment number 208. The door opened halfway through to reveal a red-haired woman in her mid-thirties. She was wearing a red satin robe that covered a svelte yet somewhat neglected body. The dull and sagging skin reflected the ravages of time, malnutrition, alcohol, cigarettes, drugs even. Her hair, despite its fiery tint, lacked luster and her eyes mirrored a hapless soul.
"Police, ma'am. That's Detective Starsky and I'm Detective Hutchinson." Hutch introduced them as both men displayed their IDs. "May we ask you a few questions?"
For an answer, the woman let the men in and perched herself on a worn out sofa of indistinct color. The apartment consisted of a single room simply decorated with a few pieces of furniture: a small refrigerator, a stove, a sofa bed, a table, and a couple of unmatched chairs. Starsky brought one of the chairs over to the sofa and sat down while Hutch remained standing, facing the woman.
"Do you know a man named Jay?" Starsky began, resting his elbows on his knees.
"I know lots of Johns. We don't exactly exchange names, you know what I'm saying?" She selected a cigarette from the pack resting on the coffee table and lighted it.
"Then would you happen to know Karen Dennison, also known as Cheryl?" Starsky continued. He produced a glossy, eight-by-ten, crime scene photograph showing the murdered girl. The dancer turned her head.
"Why should I know her?" She inhaled her cigarette nervously.
"For starters, she danced at the same club you do."
"Really? Maybe we don't get the same shifts."
"Funny, she knew you. In fact she even mentioned you in her diary. According to her, you got her a spot at the club." The darker man tucked the photograph away.
"So? What if I did? You can't bust me for finding people jobs?" She found something funny in her last statement.
Starsky glanced over at Hutch. Without saying a word they had agreed on a strategy. As an immediate result, Starsky leaned in closer to the red headed girl.
"Sweetheart," he whispered in a conspiring tone, "we know that you knew Cheryl and we know that you know Jay. Cheryl is dead. That's why we want to know about Jay. Now if you don't help us and we find out that Jay had something to do with Cheryl's death we'd be inclined to conclude that you were an accomplice and as such, we'd be forced to arrest you. Who knows what would happen to you after that?"
Starsky paused and noticed the panicked expression on CC's face. "Now, my partner here," he pointed to Hutch who sported his best `bad cop' expression, "thinks you're in deep but personally, I don't think you had anything to do with Cheryl's death. You know what I think? I think Jay had something to do with Cheryl's death. I also think that you're afraid he'll do the same thing to you if he finds out you spoke with us. I don't want anything to happen to you. But for that you have to help me. You have to tell me as much as possible so I can make sure I put him away for good so he can never hurt you."
The woman seemed to contemplate her options while she dragged on her cigarette. She glanced from Starsky to Hutch several times. She finally made up her mind. "Okay, okay. I don't even know the guy real well. I mean I don't care what happens to him. He's just a John, you know. He got me a couple of gigs so I can pay the rent."
"And why would the gentleman do such a charitable gesture?" Hutch spoke for the first time.
"What do you mean?"
"He means, what does he ask you in return, CC?"
"Nothing?" Hutch asked incredulously.
"Well, sometimes Jay brings a suit by the club and he asks me to be nice to him, you know? So I show the suit a good time, I bring him in the private booth at the back, do a couple of dances, that sort of thing."
"These suits, who are they?"
"Businessmen. Politicians. They all look the same. Grey suits, cheap smile, busy hands." She tightened the cord of her robe.
"What else?" Starsky prodded.
"Then they talk for a while and then they leave."
"Did Jay ever ask Cheryl to show a good time to these men?" Hutch asked.
"No. Jay was real nice to her. He would say hi on his way in, and when he had time, he bought her a drink and she would order a Pink Lady with a cherry. Man, she loved anything with a cherry."
"So, she never had anything to do with Jay or the businessmen?"
"No. I was the only welcoming committee." She chuckled. "I should've worked for the board of tourism."
"One more thing, CC. You wouldn't happen to know Jay's last name, would you?"
She took a deep breath, closed her eyes and said, "LaHoya."
"Jay LaHoya? The governor of California's private secretary?" He glanced over at his partner.
"Don't act so surprised, honey. I see more suits in my little booth than you may have seen in the whole police academy." The dancer had regained some of her self-confidence.
"Anything else, CC?" Hutch asked as he and his partner headed for the door.
"That's it, sweetie. Girl Scout's honor."
"Where you really a girl scout, CC?" Starsky asked with a crooked grin.
"My uniform still fits, honey." She stamped out her cigarette. "Stop by some time and I'll show it to you."
Back at the precinct the detectives were trying to digest the new information CC had provided them with. Head in hands, Starsky attempted to gather and make sense of all the pieces of the puzzle while Hutch examined LaHoya's file they had requisitioned from the central database located in Los Angeles.
"Okay, so LaHoya works for the state. Why would the governor's private secretary be involved with a two-bit club on the strip?"
Hutch shot him a `do-you-really-need-to-ask-this-question?' glance.
"Aside from obvious reasons," Starsky quickly added. "I don't know about you but I smell something fishy about the whole thing." He slouched forward on his desk and rubbed his eyes with one hand. "And I'm beginning to think that we are in over our heads in this one."
"And everything points out to another corrupt civil servant. You know, Starsk, I think I can live the rest of my life without ever seeing another corrupt official."
"Same here, Blondie. Do you think he has a blackmail operation going?"
"It's possible, though we don't have much proof for that either."
"I'm sure he's involved with these murders. I can feel it." The dark haired detective rested his forehead on his fists.
"Unfortunately, Mandrake, we don't have enough to justify a warrant."
Starsky reluctantly agreed. He tugged at the file Hutch was reading. "Found anything in there?"
"Actually, he's got a record as long as the Bay City directory listing political associates, charities he supports." He stopped suddenly. "Hey, wait a minute. Starsky, take a look at the previous murder files."
"What have you got?"
"Dennison's name is among the governor's associates. I wonder if we can link LaHoya with the other victims. Let's start with the housewife's personal data in Daniel's and Simpson's case."
Starsky took the file and flipped through the pages. "Teresa Willis. Maiden name Bernardo. Divorced. First husband was Hugh Gordon-- "
"As in Senator Hugh Gordon?" Both men exchanged dumbfounded glances. "Starsk, I think we've just found our first break. Let's call him." Hutch said excitedly.
"That would be difficult. Says here that Jasper died three weeks after the divorce. Heart attack. "
Hutch slammed the receiver down. "Okay. What do you have on the lawyer, then?"
Starsky opened another file and read on, "Gary Brent. Gay rights lawyer in San Diego. He was living with his partner, John Osworth."
The other man cross-matched the name with the dossier he was holding. "John Osworth, Congressman. Let me guess: he also died of natural causes."
"He committed suicide two months after the murder."
"How convenient. I don't know about you but I believe the case definitely took a political flavor all of a sudden."
"Well, if LaHoya is indeed running a blackmailing operation, he's not going about the right way to make it a fruitful business. Corpses usually don't make prompt payments."
Hutch picked up the phone. "Let's call Dennison. Maybe he can enlighten us while he's still alive."
"May I speak to Mayor Dennison, please?"
Starsky guessed that the other party had demanded to know who was calling because Hutch answered: "Detective Hutchinson, Metro police.... What are you doing down there, Greenwood?" Hutch signaled his partner to pick up the other extension.
"I was about to call you," the detectives heard the young officer say. "I think you'd better get here."
"Why? What's happened? Is the mayor okay?"
"The mayor's dead, Detective."
Hutch slammed his fist on the desk in frustration. "We're on our way."
The detectives had spent a couple of hours at the mansion, gathering the usual details, asking the usual questions and making the usual verifications. They had come to the conclusion that all the evidence pointed to a regular suicide. Dennison had chosen to hang himself with an electric cord that he had attached around a beam of the bathroom ceiling. When the detectives arrived, Dennison's body had just been cut down and attendants from the coroner's office were laying it on a gurney. His face was swollen and bore a bluish shade, which contrasted with the red veins that puffed up his eyes. No other sign of violence was found on the body, the wrists were particularly free of any tell tale sign of restriction. A further search of the mayor's den indicated that his legal papers were in order, as if he had been expected to die soon. Dennison had even left a note on his desk stating that he saw no other solution since he felt entirely responsible for his daughter's death. Unfortunately, the dead man had not seen it fit to develop on the subject, leaving the two detectives with another victim on their hands and one less chance to catch the responsible party.
Frustrated and tired, the boys returned to the precinct to fill the customary reports and to redirect their efforts in the light of the new developments.
"Maybe LaHoya didn't tie the knot around Dennison's neck but I'm sure he's as guilty," Hutch spitted as he ripped a form from the typewriter's carriage.
"I know," Starsky agreed, looking just as dispirited as his partner. "Tell you what, we'll drop by Huggy's later. Maybe he can help us sort through the web LaHoya wove," he proposed while placing a cup of coffee on his partner's desk.
Hutch took another form and fed it curtly through the typewriter. Starsky had to slightly raise his voice to be heard over the metallic beat of the hammers.
"I don't understand it, Hutch."
"What?" The blond man responded without lifting his eyes from his work.
"Why would anybody want to end it all before their time came?" Starsky was sitting across the other man, his feet resting casually on the edge of his desk. "The way I see it, no matter how bad it gets life is all we got, you know?"
Hutch had stopped a second to find a reference in his notes. "I don't know, Starsk. Sometimes I think it can be overwhelming out there."
"Yeah, but kill yourself? I mean, it's bad enough you could get burned by some wacko out there without doing the job yourself."
"Listen," Hutch put his composition aside and looked directly at his partner. "One thing I learned doing this job is that people have their reasons for doing the things they do and it's not our place to judge."
"I just think that people who kill themselves instead of facing the music are cowards."
"Well, it must be wonderful in your black and white world." Hutch resumed his task, striking the metal keys even more energetically.
"If Osworth and Dennison hadn't offed themselves, we would be on a decent trail by now and we would be a step closer to catch the bad guys."
"Aw, grow up, will you?" The blond man threw a bundle of papers across his desk. He tried to return to his writing but changed his mind. He shoved his chair back and stood up. When he talked he stressed his words while waving his arms expansively. "Unlike your distorted belief, it's not really `Us' against `Them' all the time out there. And as much as I would like it to be black and white I have to admit that there are a lot more grey areas."
"Hey, what's wrong with you?" Starsky brought his feet down, concerned by his friend's strange behavior.
"Nothing's wrong. Get off my back, will ya?" Hutch managed to tone down his voice as he sat down at his desk. It was Starsky's turn to express his frustration.
"Hey, you wanna get all philosophical on me, fine. I'll let you ramble on and I'll shut my trap. But don't chew me out because I happen to have a different point of view. Okay?"
"What about my opinion?"
"What are you talking about?" the darker man asked, genuinely confused.
"How many times have I asked you to pull the plug on an undercover assignment that's gone sour? "
"Aw, come on--"
Do you listen to my arguments? No. I always end up doing what you want. It's like a joke with you, isn't it? You think you just have to pout or make puppy eyes and I'll cave in. Well, that's it." He stood and put on his jacket. "From now on you better prepare yourself for some changes, partner." He stormed out of the squad room.
Starsky followed him in the corridor. "Where are you going now?" he called after him.
"I'm going to Huggy's. Is that okay with you or did you want to decide for yourself?"
Starsky sighed, knowing from experience that no reply would soften his moody partner. He picked up his jacket and followed his partner out of the department.
The ride in Starsky's car was silent, as both detectives reflected on their last exchange. Hutch, more sullen than usual, was staring out of the passenger's window. As he maneuvered in the heavy traffic Starsky stole a few glances toward his musing passenger wondering what was wrong.
Sure, he was used to Hutch's mood swings during cases that seemed to dead end, like this one. His policy when this happened was `let it pass'. They would eventually get a break that would help them solve the case and Hutch would become his old self again. If that didn't work, then Starsky would tease his partner until he got a rise out of him and extract at least a glare from him. Generally though, his efforts would be rewarded by a sincere, though self-conscious, laugh as Hutch exhaled the built-up tension from his body. After that, they would head home, to whomever's house was closer, and entirely forget about the case as they gulped a couple of beers together.
In a world where excellence and perfection were the norm expected of them on a daily basis, that was their way of reminding each other that, once more, they had done good. Until then however, Starsky knew that his friend would carry the weight of every victim and witness on his shoulder, superstitiously convinced that he couldn't be a good detective if he didn't absorb the burden of the rest of the world.
Starsky hadn't completely parked in front of `The Pits' when Hutch got out of the car without uttering a word and made a bee line for the front door. Starsky followed in his partner's wake and hoped for a break very soon because it seemed that Hutch's azure gaze, ordinarily bright, was becoming duller day after day.
"My, my. If it isn't my favorite duo," the black man jovially greeted his visitors. Huggy Bear had dressed with his usual extravagance; a pink satin shirt tucked in corduroy wine-red trousers, and was easily spotted by the pair as they entered the dim-lit bar.
"Hey, Huggy." Starsky perched himself on a stool at the bar.
"Shall we pour a glass of delectable ambrosia or are you detectives looking for something more substantial?"
"No time for a social call. We're looking for some hardcore information, Hug. About baseball fans."
"Yes. I know what you're talking about. The word on the street is that the guilty turkeys are swinging for a big cheese."
"Yeah, we know. Jay LaHoya, the governor's personal secretary."
"Hey, has anyone told you that you would make a great detective," teased the bartender. "However I'm afraid you're looking for something way bigger than that, man."
"We're talking Jarlsberg in Cheddar County, if you get my drift."
"It would be nice if the cheese had a name, Hug."
"You might as well ask for the Orion constellation, my man."
"Well, I hope you're moonlighting as an astronomer `cause that turkey is smashing the skulls of young girls and that ain't a pretty sight." Starsky's tone had lost its cordial lilt, revealing instead the business-like voice he used during an interrogation.
"I am with you, man, but the party in question has connections even God doesn't have."
Hutch clicked his tongue in disgust as he rose from the barstool and headed in the direction of the washroom.
Huggy poured himself a finger of whisky and took a sip. "Hey, what's with your other half anyway? He's uncharacteristically silent today."
"You know him, Hug. He gets upset when he has to scrape the brains of an eighteen-year-old girl off the sidewalk. He's funny that way."
"You know me, Starsky, I'm all for law and order but I have this aversion to being exterminated. Anyway, there's no way you can touch him no matter how white is your armor, Mr. Knight."
"The guy has a long reach, huh?"
"Octopus, my friend."
Hutch returned to find Huggy and Starsky in the middle of a fervent discussion concerning baseball hall of fame. He sat next to his partner and tossed a small bag containing white powder on the bar.
"Using a new kind or urinal cake, Huggy? Look what I found in the washroom." Hutch turned his back on the bar, his elbows leaning on the brass handle.
"Hey, what's this, man?"
"You tell me. Looks like we have a very good reason to believe your joint is involved in the local drug ring Narco's been investigating lately. I bet they'd be interested in that little piece of evidence. I'm sure it's all a mistake, but before everything's cleared up, I bet your credibility on the streets would suffer a great deal, man. Don't you think so, Starsky?"
Starsky glanced at Huggy Bear, then at his partner. "What the hell are you doing, Hutch?"
"I'm doing my job. Or have you forgotten what that is?" His tone was icy.
"So it's come to that, hasn't it?" Huggy said with disgust obvious in his voice while Starsky was staring mutely at his partner with unmasked disbelief. Scribbling a phone number on a napkin, he handed it to Hutch. "Here you go, Officer. From now on, however, I strongly suggest that the both of you find yourselves another water hole to quench your thirst, if you get my drift."
Knowing a dismissal when they saw one, the detectives rose to leave. Huggy almost hurled the plastic bag at them as his eyes took on a darker shade. "And take that garbage back with you. I don't allow this stuff in my joint. At least, my patrons know that."
"What the hell is the matter with you?" Starsky almost screamed at his partner once they were outside.
"I'm doing my job. We're police detectives, remember?"
"You planted coke at Huggy's, man. What the hell are you doing carrying coke around anyway?"
"It's powdered sugar," the blond man replied with an even tone.
"I'm sure it makes a big difference to Huggy. Does that phone number really mean that much to you?"
"Huggy is walking a very thin line between bending the law and breaking it. It was time someone reminded him of his station. Should we close our eyes because we drink beer there?"
"That's not the point and you know it." Starsky unlocked the doors and stepped inside the car.
"The point is that there's a guy out there whose hobby is to smash people to a pulp. I don't know about you but that makes me sick. My priority right now is to put the bastard away." Hutch settled stubbornly in the car seat. "I'm sorry if you don't agree with my methods but that's how I work."
"Using your friends and planting drugs is your method, now?" Starsky asked, unsure of his friend.
He put the Torino into gear and spun the tires as he drove away from the curb. "I'll be sure to remember that, partner."
The five-minute ride to the precinct had never seemed so long, Starsky realized. Once in the building, Hutch marched far ahead as if he wanted to put as much distance between Starsky and him, taking advantage of his longer strides. He could not escape his superior though, because Dobey's voice boomed through the squad room as soon as the pair of detectives passed through the glass doors.
"Starsky! Hutchinson! My office! Right now!"
Used to the drill, both men filed in their captain's office. When the captain lifted his eyes he was disconcerted by what he saw. Hutch had taken a seat in the chair near the door while Starsky had crossed the room to lean against a file cabinet next to Dobey's desk. Something's wrong, he thought as his police instinct kicked in. These two are never more than a few inches apart. Hell, they almost sit on each other's lap and now they're not even looking at one another.
"I know you have a hot case right now but this cannot wait." He pointed to a stack containing about three dozens files. "The Police Commissioner has called in a regional meeting in two days and I need to report on these cases. I need one of you to update these files, indicate closed cases as such and follow up with any new lead." Bracing himself for a litany of protestations that was sure to follow, the police captain was bewildered by the resigned reply.
"I'll do it," Starsky simply said.
Whatever was wrong with his team, Dobey suspected it was a doozy. Starsky would have normally weaseled out of it at any cost but now he had been more than happy to volunteer for the task. Surprised by this uncharacteristic behavior from the dark haired man, the police captain immediately suspected a major fall out between the duo and shot a glaring stare toward Hutch who innocently averted his eyes.
"Anything I should know about?" Dobey asked, offering his best team the opportunity to let whatever was eating them out in the open.
"What do you mean, sir?" Hutch's innocent reply confirmed the captain's suspicion. However he knew better than to insist. His men would work it out on their own terms.
"Dismissed," he ordered gruffly. Then he added a simple advice, "but don't let it get in the way."
Since both of them had been engulfed in paper work for the rest of the afternoon Hutch had managed to avoid Starsky and, wishing only to avoid the uncomfortable strain between them, Hutch had chosen to take a cab home.
As soon as he crossed the threshold of his apartment he threw his leather jacket on the couch and hastily removed the holster around his shoulders. He stepped into the bathroom and threw water on his face. Looking up in the mirror as he wiped his face dry, he didn't recognize the reflection that was staring back at him. Disgusted, he turned away from the mirror.
Why had he acted like this? He had never leaned this heavy on anyone before, even less so on Huggy. He had actually `planted' drugs for God's sake! Starsky was right: was that damned phone number worth his integrity? Was it worth losing his friends over, along with a part of himself?
He'd been letting cases get too close to him lately. He felt like he was starting to lose his edge, the fraction of an inch that kept him on top of the bad guys and one step ahead of the rest of the world. He used to rely mainly on instinct to do his job but now he acted less on impulse, thinking too much. That was dangerous. His life as well as his partner's depended on his ability to predict the bad guys' every move.
Hutch headed to the kitchen and filled the water pot under the tap. After watering two tiny vines, he gave it up, unable to focus on that simple a task. He grabbed a beer in the icebox and collapsed on the sofa. He reached in the back pocket of his jeans and fished out the cocktail napkin on which Huggy had scribbled the phone number. He stared at it a long time. He had to prove he was on top again, that he had his edge back. He had to convince his partner that he was still useful to their partnership. He placed the bottle on the coffee table and picked up the phone. He dialed the seven digits and waited for an answer. After five rings somebody finally answered.
Well, well. I thought the number had been disconnected. "Jay LaHoya, please."
"Who is this?" The tone was still polite yet wary.
"Someone he spoke to last week."
The voice put him on hold and Hutch remained on the line for half a minute. The voice came back.
"How did you get this number, sir?"
"Mr. LaHoya gave me this matchbook and told me to call this number some time." Hutch hoped he had guessed right. "Is he there?"
"I'm sorry, Mr. LaHoya has stepped out for the day..."
"... please leave your name and phone number and I'll have him call you in the morning."
"No, thank you. I'll call back tomorrow."
He hung up.
So, the bastard is tied in to all this, Hutch thought contentedly. He had finally caught a break.
He looked at his watch and read 5:45 p.m. It was too late to head back to the precinct and he was tired. What would he write anyway? That he had dialed a phone number matching a club whose matchbook had been found on the scene of a crime? He pushed writing the report aside until the following morning and decided to fix himself a quick dinner. He opened his icebox and inventoried its content: bacon, mushrooms, onions and cheese. All the ingredients to prepare a great omelet but he was out of eggs.
Hutch closed the fridge's door and rolled his eyes heavenwards. He could always order in, pizza sounded good. No, he decided, we're always eating in restaurants and it's been too long since I had a simple home-cooked meal. He grabbed his holster and jacket and headed for the grocery store two blocks down the street.
As he walked back to Venice Place carrying a paper bag that was holding eggs, milk and a loaf of bread, he was whistling. His mood had changed with the phone call. He needed that break. They would break the case, he felt it.
"Detective Hutchinson?" asked a voice from the alley next to his apartment building behind him.
Alarmed, Hutch abandoned his grip on the bag of groceries and went for his Magnum as his upper body twisted around. The first blow that came unexpectedly out of the shadows stopped his motion. The wooden bat connected with the left side of his face. As he fell, his head bounced against the concrete, blood spurting from his lip and his brow. His gun was immediately kicked away. The second blow came almost simultaneously from the other side, this time hitting him in the ribs and knocking the air out of his lungs. At first paralyzed by the suddenness of the aggression, Hutch was now reflexively trying to protect his head with both arms and hands shielding his head and his face, unable to regain the upper hand. Taking advantage of this reaction, the attackers slammed their bats harder on Hutch's midsection, aiming at his kidneys and his ribs. They hit every part of his body.
His eyes shut tight by the pain and blinded anyway by the blood streaming down his face, the detective couldn't see his attackers or their weapons but painfully felt every blow they served. At fist, he had tried to count them, had tried to predict where they would be coming from so he could protect areas of his body in advance, but now the strokes felt like a hailstorm piercing through his sensitive body. He tried to move but he felt like his limbs were entrapped in molasses, thick, bulky and heavy.
Unable to think straight any longer, Hutch's inner mind kept providing him with a single image: that his partner didn't know where he was and that he desperately needed him. He recalled a similar incident where he had been pinned under his car, thirsty, in pain, and nobody willing to help him. He had also abandoned all hope of survival that time but against all odds, Starsky had appeared at the right time.
You came through for me once, buddy. Couldn't you do it once more?
As the bats clobbered him incessantly, Hutch abandoned all hope to overtake his aggressors. He felt weak, confused and disoriented. Somewhere, he heard the increasing wail of a siren.
Oh, Starsk, I wish that was you.
Finally, longing to be released from the torture, Hutch allowed the darkness to envelop him and slipped into unconsciousness.
The police squad cars pulled to a stop at both ends of the alley. A dozen of uniform officers soon had their guns aimed at the two assailants.
The new situation seemed to interrupt the men for a second as they stood over Hutch's crumpled and inert form on the ground.
"Drop the bat," Officer Greenwood shouted.
One of the men complied and dropped his weapon on the ground. The other seemed to hesitate, strengthening his grip on the bat instead.
"I said drop it," reminded the young officer.
In a flash, the man lifted the bat over his head and after only a second of hesitation, swung it down towards Hutch's badly battered face.
The bullet pierced through the man's upper chest before he could finish his motion. Everything fell silent as the uniformed crowd anticipated the next move. The bat fell first and landed mere inches from the unconscious man's face. The man remained upright for a few seconds while a telltale red blot spread on his shirt. Pulled by gravity, he eventually fell heavily on top of Hutch's body.
There was a short pause as everyone assessed the situation and made sure that any sign of danger had been eliminated. Gradually, the stillness was replaced by the organized chaos that usually accompanied a crime scene. A couple of officers seized the surviving assailant and handcuffed him. They read him his rights and shoved him away to an awaiting squad car. Four other policemen gathered around the two inert forms on the ground, working at extricating Hutch's body from under the man who had been shot. A paramedic was immediately called in to evaluate the detective's condition while another confirmed the death of the second attacker.
Police officers were already cordoning the area when Starsky's red car screeched to a stop.
"I heard the call on the radio. Where is he?" Starsky shouted frantically as he elbowed his way through the swarming crowd. "Where's Hutch?" Focused on their respective job, nobody seemed to notice of the curly-haired man. Frustrated at being ignored, Starsky called out his partner's name. "HUUUUUUTCH!"
"Over here, Detective Starsky," Greenwood called from across the mob, waving his arm in the air.
Spotting him, Starsky charged through the yellow tape without bothering to flash his badge. He approached the small group of people dressed in white surrounding his unconscious partner. Starsky was shocked by the scene before him. That form on the ground couldn't be his partner. His face was nothing but a swollen mass covered with blood and his limbs were arrayed unnaturally around him. Usually of golden tint, his hair was heavily caked with blood and dirt, dramatically framing his abused face.
"Oh my God, Hutch." Starsky fell on his knees beside his friend, hands grasping the air, afraid to touch the bruised body. The paramedics were strapping Hutch on a stretcher. "How is he doing?" He gripped the arm of the paramedic who was working across Hutch's body and repeated the question.
"You have eyes, man," the attendant snapped. Knowing that the man before him was the victim's partner, he softened his tone, which caused Starsky to loosen his grip. "Look, Detective, he's in a pretty bad shape," He paused and looked up at Starsky. "But he's alive."
Starsky sustained the medic's gaze. Amidst the gravity of the situation the man had given him something to be grateful for. Craving the physical contact mostly to reassure himself that Hutch was indeed alive, he delicately stroke the side of his friend's face.
"Hang in there, Hutch," he said out loud.
The men in white hoisted the stretcher into the ambulance but Starsky held on to the door.
"I'm going with him."
"Suit yourself." The paramedics familiar with Starsky and Hutchinson knew better than to contradict these two when one of them was injured. Starsky climbed into the vehicle and settled next to Hutch. Along the fifteen-minute trip to the hospital, he would be there to monitor his friend's every breath.
Hospitals were really trying his patience, Starsky thought. He hated the isolation of the claustrophobic waiting room, with its uncomfortable chairs and outdated magazines, while somewhere a frantic team of doctors and nurses were working on Hutch. He should be in there with him. That was his place because he knew he would be more useful in there than out here. Anyway, it beat not knowing. Not knowing was worse than waiting, he concluded.
Primed by his inner dialogue, Starsky jumped to his feet and stormed towards the ICU. He rammed the swiveling doors, ignoring the nurse's repeated attempts to stop him.
"What's going on?" a tall, middle-aged man (Starsky would learn later that his name was Dr. Howard Rotham) demanded as Starsky crashed through the doors.
"I'm Detective Dave Starsky and this," he pointed to his still-unconscious partner lying on the bed, "is my partner, Detective Ken Hutchinson. Can someone tell me what's wrong with him?" Starsky realized only too late that he must have looked stark raving mad to the medical team. Had he not been able to provide his police ID, he was certain that they would have called a security guard or injected him with a tranquilizer. On second thought, maybe he could use a tranquilizer after all.
Instead, the doctor's face brightened. "Have a seat," he indicated, "I was just about to get you."
Doctor Rotham had been kind enough to forgive the dark-haired man's behavior and patiently discussed Hutch's condition with him. Still full of adrenaline, Starsky had not grasped every technical term but his mind understood that Hutch would eventually be all right. Starsky had then stayed at his partner's side until midnight, feeling oddly grateful. Those bastards beat you to a pulp within an inch of your life and I am the happiest man on earth because you're still alive, babe. However, once he made sure that Hutch was out of immediate danger, he headed home so he could get a few hours of much needed sleep.
Because of the stress of last night's events, or maybe because the difficult case was taking its toll on his body, Starsky had slept late and awoke at nine-thirty the following morning. He was still groggy when he finally showed up at the precinct shortly after lunch.
"Where have you been?" the Captain shouted in his usual abrupt manner as Starsky sat at his desk.
"I stopped by the hospital to see Hutch."
"How is he doing?" Dobey asked, softening his voice.
"He was still unconscious this morning but at least he's stable. The doctors said they'd keep him under observation for a couple of days. His right arm is broken, couple of cracked ribs and to top it all, he suffers from a concussion." He dropped in his chair and let out a heavy sigh. "The phone company said that Hutch called the LA number Huggy gave us last night. They must have traced Hutch's address from the call. I tried the number this morning. The line's been disconnected." He dropped his head in his hands. "What the hell was he thinking?"
"Maybe he was thinking the same thing you think when you two go about disobeying my orders," Dobey answered with the mollified tone he seldom used on his detectives.
The reply made Starsky suddenly aware of the presence of his superior. He sat up straighter and fiddled with some papers, realizing that while he was sitting with Hutch, his captain had spent most of the night collecting clues against the assailants. "Have you found anything about the two thugs?"
"The guy that Greenwood shot was Jerome Booth. His associate's name is Sam Whealer. They both have rap sheets longer than your hair. They are renowned for handling other people's garbage."
"Okay, we're dealing with a couple of hit men hired by someone with a grudge against us. What's new?"
Dobey continued, "Some of their finer skills include assault, assault with a deadly weapon, attempted murder, armed robbery, rape--"
"Terrific." He looked at the ceiling, tilting his head backwards. "Tell me something, Cap'n. If you have all of this on record, why haven't these exemplary citizens been locked up for good yet?"
"Because another fine gentleman usually takes care of their bail and between the time they get arrested and appear in court, the case gets dropped outside the courts."
"Let me guess: Jay LaHoya."
"That's right. However if I'm not mistaken, Starsky, I don't pay you to guess. How about doing a little detective work around here? I would suggest you start by questioning Mr. Whealer who's been impatiently awaiting an audience with you. I've been saving him for you."
Starsky looked gratefully at his superior officer, a wan smile brightening his features. "Hey, you're really something else, Cap'n," he said in a mellow tone.
"Starsky, this," he tapped his right temple, "hasn't stopped working simply because I wear one of these," he pointed at the large yellow tie hanging over his ample stomach. Satisfied by the humble expression on his subordinate's face, the police captain disappeared inside his office, flipping the tie in Starsky's direction. "You might want to try it sometimes," he added with a glint of mischief.
The interview was more fruitful than Starsky had expected even without his partner's assistance. Booth had probably been the toughest of the pair because Sam Whealer proved only too eager to testify against Jay LaHoya. It didn't take much threatening on Starsky's part to extract from Whealer a list of dates and locations for a dozen of unresolved murders including those of the Bay City housewife and the San Diego lawyer. But most importantly to Starsky, Whealer admitted that LaHoya had called them personally to put the hit on Hutch.
It was almost eight p.m. when the detective put the finishing touch to the report he deposited on Dobey's desk. They had done their job. Because other cities were involved, and because the case had a definite political flavor to it, the rest would be up to higher instances such as the FBI and the DA to sort out the pieces. For once Starsky was grateful for jurisdiction.
On his way home, Starsky stopped by the hospital once more to check on his partner. At the nurses' desk he was informed that Hutch had regained consciousness a couple of hours earlier. The usual battery of tests had been administered, revealing no further complications. Another cloud lifted from Starsky's mind as he bounced towards Hutch's room.
Starsky peeked inconspicuously through the glass window in the door and took a few minutes to spy on his partner. Hutch was halfway sitting, his bruised body propped up against a molehill of pillows, a magazine resting lazily on his lap. Considering that his head was bandaged completely--covering most of the blond strands of hair--Starsky presumed that his friend must have been suffering from a monstrous headache and wondered at Hutch's stubbornness at pretending normalcy--even in private. Although the swelling had gone down considerably, Hutch's face was still puffed up above his upper lip and around his eyes. Furthermore, the short-sleeve hospital gown revealed black and blue bruises on his left arm while the cast on his right arm was wrapped in a blue cotton sling. Starsky guessed that the bruises were duplicated on his friend's legs as well. To top it all off, an IV solution had been inserted in Hutch's right hand.
"Hey," he eventually said through the partly opened door.
Genuine pleasure brightening his face, Hutch greeted his visitor with a full smile. "Hey, yourself."
"How's your head?" Starsky pointed at his friend's bandaged skull.
"I'll tell you something. It's doing much better than my ribs." As if to illustrate, Hutch rubbed a sore spot on his left side.
"You're the one who decided to act like a fool and head into trouble alone," Starsky reminded his friend, slightly rising his voice in the process.
"I know," Hutch replied in a contrite voice.
"I mean, you're lucky to be alive," he added heatedly. "If someone at Hélène's hadn't called the police--"
"You're a complete idiot, you know that?" The dark man was now almost shouting.
"What?" Starsky was off balance by the lack of reaction on Hutch's part.
"I acted like a jerk and I got what I deserved."
"Oh." The statement unsettled the detective for a second but he quickly recovered. "You bet you did. When I saw you lying in that alley I could have killed you myself."
Having worked out his frustration and fright at having nearly lost his partner, Starsky lowered himself in the green leather chair flanking the hospital bed. He turned the television set on.
"I've got good news. Whealer's been spitting more information than a computer at NASA headquarters. He's got enough to incriminate LaHoya and Mitchell for blackmail, murder and attempted murder." Starsky contentedly rubbed his hands together. "I'll tell you though, I've never been happier to hand a case over to the FBI. We're still technically in charge and we'll still have to testify when the case's brought up to court, but our work is done."
Hutch smiled at the thought of closing another case. "You did good, partner."
Starsky replied, beaming, as he resumed his channel surfing. "I should make you watch the horror flick on channel 5 tonight. That'll teach ya."
"Okay already. I said I was sorry. What can I say or do that will make us okay again?" Hutch asked almost pleadingly.
"Well, I don't know," Starsky made a show of racking his brain for several seconds. "I got it! You could tell me a secret."
"Somebody once said that friends share secrets. I want to know one of yours."
"Aw, come on, Starsk. You already know everything there is to know about me." Hutch settled in more deeply in the bed, careful not to disturb his ribs too much, and covered his lap with a couple of extra pillows to support his magazine.
"Okay, you don't trust me. I can understand that. I mean, you obviously can trust me with your life, but not with one of your secrets." Starsky wondered if he had been too far with the emotional blackmail. After all he just wanted his introspective friend to share a personal story with him.
"Okay. I ate a beef burrito for lunch this week," the blond man admitted with a gleam in his eyes. "With onions. How`s that?"
"It doesn't surprise me. I always suspected you were a closet junk food addict," the shorter man teased. "Come on. You can do better than that."
"That would mean that much to you?"
"No big deal. I just thought, you know..." I just thought that if you had an excuse, like me directly asking you under duress, you could finally share what's bothering you instead of burying it deeply in that troubled soul of yours. Starsky settled in deeper in the leather armchair and started flipping between the only five channels available on the small black and white television set that was hooked up over the hospital bed. There was a silent pause while each man reflected on his own thoughts. Hutch was the first to break the heavy silence in a soft whisper that eluded Starsky.
"What?" the darker man asked, still staring at the TV.
"I tried to kill myself once," Hutch repeated a little louder.
Starsky's finger froze on the remote. His brain felt like molasses, trying to overcome the shock of this new piece of information while he tried formulating what he was going to say next. He swallowed twice. When he was fairly sure that his voice would not falter, he turned the TV off and turned to face his friend.
Hutch, suddenly embarrassed by the detective's gaze on him, immediately regretted his confession. He lowered his head and developed a new interest in the starched bed linen. "A lifetime ago. I was sixteen years old. I was under a lot of pressure back then. It was my senior year in high school, my parents and my teachers expecting me to be the best at everything, my track coach telling me that I could always do better if I wasn't so lazy, me wanting to be perfect. I guess I couldn't cope." He tried to laugh--a mirthless laugh--but Starsky ignored the attempt at levity.
"Something very original," the sarcastic tone was not lost on Starsky. "I took my pocket-knife in the washroom and I started to slash my wrist." He took a deep breath. "I only had time to make one slit on my left wrist before the principal came in and stopped me. I didn't even have time to reach the vein. I wasn't even bleeding that much." Starsky thought he heard Hutch's voice catch on the last sentence.
"Your left wrist?" The darker detective suddenly realized something. "You mean the tiny scar you told me you got from a tractor accident when you were a kid?"
"You don't think I'd go around advertising I once tried to commit suicide, would you?" Hutch shifted uncomfortably but was stopped by his partner's hand on his arm. Starsky was silent several minutes, his mind putting two and two together, processing the clues he had missed in the past, recalling every situation involving his partner in this new light. Keeping a light touch on the blond detective's left arm, he finally spoke up.
"Is that why you always wear long sleeves shirts even when it's scorching hot outside?"
"That's for hiding my holster and gun. We're policemen, remember?"
"You don't wear your gun when you go jogging, or when you play basketball with the kids, or when we play tennis." Hutch shrugged slightly. He didn't pull away when the other man unclasped his watch. The blond man felt his friend's fingers gently stroking the inside of his wrist, paying particular attention to the pink blemish.
"You know the scar is almost invisible. I mean, you'd really have to know to notice it." Hutch was touched by the softness of his friend's voice. He looked up and met the wet blue gaze. His own eyes were burning with welled up tears.
"You noticed it." There was no accusation in the statement.
"That's because we're never farther than two inches away from each other. And you volunteered the tractor story, remember?"
"But I know it's there. It's a constant reminder of my weakness. It's like I've been branded forever. Like Dennison will be." Hutch pulled away and slid further across the bed. His breath caught from the strain on his injured ribs. He retrieved his watch still in Starsky's hand, careful not to disturb the catheter inserted in his hand.
"You were a kid," Starsky protested, leaning in over the mattress. "A depressed kid. You felt like the world was coming down on you. You felt helpless, hopeless and alone. You made a desperate gesture at a desperate time. But you came through. You don't need to feel guilty for the rest of your life because of one mistake." He waited for his words to hit home then he added softly, "Please stop it."
"But I see the scar every day. It's like a brand, you know. It's always there nagging me, reminding me that I was weak."
"So what? You've been weak since then, haven't you? I know I have. Remember Rosey?" And what about your brush with heroin? he wanted to add but he knew that reminding his guilt-ridden partner of his descent to hell would be too painful to handle.
"It's not the same."
"Why? Because it's okay as long as we can blame at least part of the failure on someone else but you have to blame yourself for the rest of your life for a stupid gesture you made twenty years ago?"
"Well that's it, isn't it? Every time I see my wrist, every time I put on my watch I feel so guilty. I think of all the people we both lost recently; I think of Terri and of all the times one of us really came close to cashing in his chips while the other was fighting like crazy to beat the odds. Then I remove my watch and it's there: `Look, Ken Hutchinson, people think you're so honorable, a damn good detective and a role model for society but deep down you know you're not. You tried to take your own life because you're a coward and a failure.'"
"You're neither of those things."
"That's not what you said the other day."
Starsky's heart stopped for a beat or two as he recalled their conversation. "Hutch, I didn't mean..." Starsky caught his friend's arm again but the other man quickly disengaged himself.
"It's okay, Starsk. Like I said, a lifetime ago." He swept his eyes with the back of his hand. Suddenly tired by the exertion on his sensitive body, Hutch slipped deeper under the covers and awkwardly shuffled the magazine with his free hand, determined to put an end to the discussion.
"You know what?" Starsky began in a lighter tone. "I'm very grateful to your principal to have found you in time."
"I'm not," he said, intent on the page.
"Why is that?"
"Because he expelled me from school. My parents shipped me away to my aunt and uncle in Minneapolis. I had to finish the school year there. My parents were devastated: a Hutchinson bringing disgrace to the family name like that. Nevertheless, they managed to keep it under wraps from the town. With the help of my principal, no doubt."
The statement shocked Starsky. "They kicked you out of school instead of providing you with treatment?"
"In 1960, Starsk, nervous breakdowns and suicide attempts didn't exist in Duluth. Anyway, my parents wanted to put me away in a sanatorium in Minneapolis. I had to promise them a bunch of things, plus that I would never try again. After that, the subject was definitely closed and they never mentioned the incident again. I think they genuinely managed to erase that year from their memory." There was a pause, then he added, "I thought I had too."
"Don't do this to yourself..."
"Forget it, okay."
Aware that the conversation was dead, in Hutch's mind at least, Starsky rose to leave. On his way out he laid a hand on his friend's shoulder, hoping the physical contact would convey at least part of what Hutch desperately needed. He didn't know what that was exactly: maybe warmth, understanding or absolution. Knowing Hutch however, Starsky figured his friend probably needed all three.
While Hutch recuperated from his injuries at the hospital, Starsky worked in concert with diverse government and police divisions to bring charges on the corrupt politicians. The team discovered that LaHoya's and Governor Mitchell's motive had been purely political. All victims were relatives or close friends of prominent political figures opposed in some way to Mitchell's financial or political schemes.
LaHoya had acted as the Governor's middleman, approaching the more influential opponents to exact their financial or political support and threatening to hurt their loved ones if they did not co-operate. The police believed that most of them must have accepted the terms while the most stubborn or upright elements, like Mayor Dennison, had seen their family murdered. Because they had chosen to commit suicide instead of contacting the authorities, the crime team suspected that a more influential party was operating behind the scene. Unfortunately, neither LaHoya nor Mitchell came forward with the information, choosing to spend twenty-five years in jail, instead.
After spending four days under medical supervision, and once the doctors had made sure that the patient had regained some strength and did not suffer from extensive damage, Hutch was finally released on the following Saturday. Starsky came by early in the morning to pick up his partner. Although Hutch's right arm still hugged closely his chest because of the sling, the bandages on his head had been removed exposing yellow, black and blue bruises on his face and body. Both men were now looking forward to a couple a days of idle leisure.
Starsky had insisted that his partner spend the weekend at his place, arguing that he still needed a nurse in his weakened state. Secretly however, the detective had hoped that the time spent together would help both partners work out their differences. Only too happy to leave the dreaded hospital, Hutch had agreed to Starsky's conditions, looking forward to a long weekend away from their chaotic beat.
Saturday had been quiet, Hutch spending most of the day sleeping off the painkillers for his ribs were still hurting him, Starsky catching up on his groceries and poring over a five-hundred-piece puzzle. On Sunday though, Starsky lured his friend into a tranquil walk in the park followed by a friendly game of checkers. After conceding four wins to the blond man and sensing that his friend was becoming restless, Starsky suggested they drive around for awhile, maybe stopping in some interesting place to grab lunch.
They cruised out of town taking in the quiet scenery of the Bay, far from the filth of Fifth Street. Hutch was propped up against a pillow tucked in between his left side and the car seat in order to lessen the strain on his still sensitive ribs. As he cautiously rode his car along the highway, Starsky shot regular glances at Hutch, making sure that his passenger was comfortable.
The fresh air that rustled through the rolled down windows was welcome by both men. They drove for the most part of an hour, swimming in companionable conversation, Hutch sometimes pointing out a special feature of the landscape, Starsky formulating possible itineraries for their next vacation, away from the virgin woods.
On his way back to his apartment, Starsky drove through common streets, passing well-known faces and equally well known but disreputable establishments. The dark haired man parked in front of a familiar building. A look of alarm overshadowed Hutch's expression as he recognized the pub.
"Come on, Starsk. I can't go in there."
"Yes, you can and you will. You've made an ass of yourself the other day and Huggy deserves an apology." He parked and took the keys out of the ignition. "Anyway, I don't have the energy to find another bar owned by a colorful informant to misspend my evenings and my days off."
Starsky held the door as Hutch reluctantly walked in the dimmed lounge. To his relief, Huggy was nowhere in sight. He led his partner to an empty booth at the end of the room. The waitress, a new girl, came by pad and pen in hand.
"Well, hello," greeted the dark haired man with his customary charming smile. "I'll have a burger with the works and an iced coffee, please."
"Just an iced coffee for me," Hutch ordered, anxiously glancing around, pleased to see only the other waitress. His relief was short lived though when a familiar silhouette, casually leaning on a table behind them, quickly caught his eye. Recognizing the duo, Huggy strolled deliberately--too deliberately, Hutch thought--towards their table.
"Well, well. Look what the rat dragged in," the black man said, stopping by the detectives table.
"Hey, Huggy," Starsky said through a mouthful of fries.
"You two fine citizens do know that we don't serve drug pushers in this respectable establishment," Huggy remarked.
You're not going to make this easy, are you? Hutch thought. He shot a pleading glance at Starsky, but the detective dismissed him with a `you're-on-your-own' shrug before directing his attention back to his plate. "About that," Hutch began tentatively, "I wanted to say that I was sorry for the other day."
"Let's see. If I were a fine, law-abiding, honest entrepreneur, no doubt I would graciously accept this heart-felt apology. However, I'm afraid that we drug pushers and other abusers of illegal substances, can't find it in our hardened hearts to forgive the Pigs." The proprietor raised his chin dignifiedly and started to walk away.
"Aw, Hug," Hutch called after him. "What do you want, man? Blood?"
The black man retraced his steps and leaned over the detectives' table. "No blood's necessary, man, I ain't no Dracula. But since I am the Pope of the Pits, let's hear a confession and a proper act of contrition." He sat down next to Starsky, settling in the booth like an eager parent at the Christmas pageant.
"Oh boy, this is going to be good," Starsky chuckled behind his all-dressed burger. Hutch shot him a silent `stay-out-of-this' look and turned back to Huggy.
"Okay, Hug. Here it is: A) I'm a jerk and I acted like a jerk. B) You are not a drug pusher and The Pits is not a drug supply store for any illegal substances. C) I never should have planted the bag in the first place, no matter that it was only powdered sugar, incidentally. D) I never should have blackmailed you. E) I am sorry. And F)," Hutch retrieved his wallet and took two ten-dollar bills that he set on the table, "I believe that this takes care of my tab for the month."
Huggy Bear glanced at Starsky and winked impishly. "Let's see. Cover your friend's tab as well and we'll call it even, my man."
"I'm sure you two have been plotting against me the whole time," Hutch accused his partner but he was met with a vehement headshake. The blond man tried to maintain his outraged expression but he finally gave up and laid another twenty dollars on the table. "So, am I forgiven?"
Huggy Bear took the bills and folded them neatly before putting them away in his shirt pocket. "I honestly don't know what you're talking about...my son."
They had just walked in Starsky's apartment when the phone rang. Hutch headed towards the bathroom, leaving the task of answering the phone to his friend.
"Will you be okay in there?" Starsky called teasingly before picking up the extension in the kitchen.
"I still have one free hand, you know. I think I can manage."
When he got out, his partner was leaning against the cupboard, holding a bottle of beer.
"That was Dobey," Starsky informed his partner, handing him a glass of milk. "The FBI just indicted Mitchell and LaHoya for extortion, attempted murder and seven counts of first-degree murder. Another crooked politician got what he deserved." He raised his bottle of beer in a congratulatory motion.
"I'll drink to that." Hutch imitated his partner's gesture and clicked his glass against the bottle.
They sipped their beverages in silence, Hutch having moved to the sofa to read the Sunday paper, Starsky slumped in the armchair, staring contemplatively into space. Long minutes passed before he finally spoke up.
"Hutch, I need you to promise me something."
"What is it?" Hutch asked distractedly as he expertly folded the oversized paper so he could better read an article in the lower-right corner.
"You know what you told me the other day?"
The blank expression on Hutch's face was slowly replaced by a pained grimace as the man recalled their hospital conversation. "Starsk, I told you to forget about it..." He threw the paper on the sofa and headed for the bathroom.
"No-no-no-no-no," Starsky's tone had a singsong quality as he attempted to lasso Hutch back in with his words. "Sit down and hear me out, Hutch. Please?"
The blond man reluctantly obeyed. Starsky had sat down next to his partner and both men remained silent a moment as Starsky gathered his thoughts before going on. The blond man took a deep breath and closed his eyes, bracing himself for the harangue that was coming. Instead he heard a soft-spoken plea.
"Please, look at me."
Once again, Hutch could do nothing but obey. God, is there anything he can't make me do?
"I need you to promise that you'll talk to me if you ever feel like you felt at that time in high school. I need to know that you will come to me anytime you are overwhelmed or confused. I know I'm not the most introspective person in the world and more than anything, I'd like to give you all the answers and promise you that you won't ever feel hopeless and helpless again. Truth is, I can't. We've been through too much already to believe that anyway and we'll probably face much worse in the future. But I can promise that as long as I'm here you don't have to feel alone, babe. `Me and thee' through anything and everything. Okay?"
Hutch let go a ragged breath. All the time he'd been talking, Starsky had been holding his gaze even when he had tried to turn away. Now the intensity of his friend's stare was burning through his whole body directly to his soul. Hutch fought for control as a myriad of feelings and emotions struggled to surface all at once. Anxiety, embarrassment, shame and guilt wrestled each other at having his secret past exhumed and his soul displayed in the open. At the same time however, this vulnerability felt good to Hutch. It was nice to have someone care that much. It was nice to let someone else be the comforter and the nurturer for once. And it felt even better because that someone else was his best friend. Tired of restraining himself, Hutch finally just let the dam break and for the first time since Gillian's death, he broke down in tears. He was immediately drawn in a tight hug as Starsky enfolded his arms around his quivering body.
"I'm sorry..." The blond man sobbed in the fold of Starsky's shirt, unable to regain control of the outpouring of his emotions.
"That's okay, babe. It's just you and me. You can trust me. Let it all out." It was all that Starsky could do to withhold his own tears as his friend allowed his pent-up emotions and physical exhaustion to be released while he stroked the blond hair.
They sat on the sofa during long minutes, Hutch crying and Starsky whispering comforting words. And although he hadn't mean to, Hutch's breathing finally evened out as he drifted in the soothing realms of sleep, aided by the warmth of Starsky's embrace. At that precise moment, Starsky also felt physically and mentally drained. Instead of retiring to his room and risking awakening his unconscious friend, Starsky sat back on the couch, closed his eyes and went to sleep himself, still holding Hutch's body close to him.
Monday morning had greeted the detectives with a fogless sky--a rare occurrence in Bay City history, which Starsky regarded as a good omen. After all, the case was almost closed, criminals had already received their due while others were awaiting the hammer of justice to pound their sentence. Most of all, they had both come out alive. Thank God.
Regardless of his injuries Hutch had insisted to show up for work, so the detectives had spent most of the day filling out reports in triplicate for the benefit of several government agencies. Their fingers were sore and they suffered from blurred vision due to the intensive paper shuffling. However, aware that their hectic life on the beat was soon about to resume, the partners treasured the tranquil moments associated with the conclusion of a case. They took the opportunity to re-center themselves, to analyze past strategies and to establish new ones. From time to time, they needed such a break to clear the air between them before launching into the unexpected again. But not today. Today they would relax and breathe, maybe to remind themselves that they were indeed alive. Even Captain Dobey managed to steal away from the phone and the Police Commissioner to stop by the detectives' desk to share the latest news.
"So, Mitchell still doesn't want to talk, Cap'n?" Starsky inquired, a number two pencil wedged between his teeth.
"No. I just got off the phone with the FBI. They said Governor Mitchell insists that he acted on his own." The police captain pinched the bridge of his nose in the manner of a person wearing glasses.
"Well, let's oblige him and let him take the fall if that's what he wants," Hutch concluded, only too happy to put this case behind him.
"I'm sure that someone far more important than a crooked governor is involved in this," Starsky mused. "I tell you, I get the feeling that Mitchell and LaHoya are only puppets."
"You mean the octopus Huggy was referring to?" Hutch asked, straightening a pile of legal size folders on his desk.
"Yeah. I get the funny feeling that it's not over." Starsky looked across the desk at his partner. Something in those deep blue eyes gripped tightly at Hutch's stomach. His own expression darkened with apprehension. If Starsky was right, this case was far from over. Somewhere, the puppeteer was festering with hatred until the moment he would exact his revenge. A cold shiver ran down Hutch's spine.
Oblivious to the shift in his men's mood, Dobey went on, "Well, forget it, Starsky. Last time I checked you and Hutchinson had a pile of files this high to attend to." The large man rose from his seat and headed towards his office. "Stop wasting your time with closed cases and get on with the rest."
"Yes, sir," they echoed as both men executed a mock military salute.
"Children," the police captain lamented, muttering silent expletives as he stepped back in his office, closing the door on his two amused detectives.
"What do you say we stop by Huggy's and I let you buy me a beer?" Hutch proposed, shoving the pile of papers in his desk drawer, eager to dispel the eerie atmosphere.
"Not so fast, Blondie. It's not over for me. I have a date with Nellie tonight and you are not invited," the other man said, lifting his eyebrows lasciviously.
"Who gets a date on a Monday?"
"People whose partners get beaten and locked up in a hospital during the weekend."
"Gee, are you sure you wanna go out tonight? I mean there's an awful lot of people out there with a grudge against us."
"You're the one who got beaten to a pulp, not me. Anyway, we're not going out, we're staying in," he corrected with a mischievous gleam brightening the blue eyes.
"Nevertheless, you might not be up to it. You wouldn't want to disappoint the lady, would you, Starsk?"
"Go home, Hutch, I'll finish the damn reports. They're almost done, anyway."
"Are you sure? I mean I could stay here and wait for you. You know, be your backup. At the same time I could make sure Nellie knows all aspects of Dave Starsky's amazing life. For instance, I could start by telling her how good a dancer you are because I've seen you dance with all these different ladies last week and you even gave them particular lessons because you brought every one of them home with you--"
Starsky covered his ears and interrupted his partner's tormenting litany. "No way. There's no way I'm gonna let you spoil this evening. I'm going to make a short trip to the vending machines. You better be gone when I come back. I'm warning you."
"Aw, Starsk, I could taste your food at the restaurant. I'll drive you everywhere you want to go, in my car of course, it's much safer," Hutch called teasingly after his friend.
"A short trip," Starsky reminded his friend over his shoulder as he passed through the department's doors.
Starsky secretly grinned as he walked around the corner of the corridor. He was as happy as a child at seeing his Hutch having fun again. He found the candy machine and fed two dimes and a nickel in the slot. He pressed a button and a package of chocolate-covered raisins tumbled down noisily. He popped a couple of raisins in his mouth, grateful that his partner had finally came back to his old self again. Whatever demons had assailed him earlier in the case, they had managed to beat it.
It seems that their lives were becoming crazier day after day. Sure, they were policemen and danger came along with the job. It had always been so. But now Starsky felt the peril was closing in on them personally. It was becoming harder and harder to predict were the next threat would come from. The border between enemies and allies was blurring a little more every day. The battle of Good against Evil wasn't waged exclusively in the streets, out there, anymore: it had invaded their own territory, their homes, their minds and even their souls. In such a shifting world, Starsky wondered if he and his partner would still be strong enough to face whatever would come down the pike in the future. What would it take for one of us to break for good? The thought frightened him and he hastily chased it away with another piece of candy.
When he came back in the squad room Hutch had already left. He sat down at his desk, alone in the empty room. He sighed and proceeded to put the final touch to his report. As he picked up a folder he noticed a white envelope addressed to `Starsk' leaning against the piggy bank separating his desk from Hutch's. Starsky picked up the envelope and noticed that it was sealed. With his pen he tore it open and retrieved a single note. On it were simply written two words.
Starsky read the words again through welled-up tears and smiled. He took the note and the envelope and dropped them in the electric shredder beside his desk. The machine groaned for a second as it minced the paper. There was no need to keep the note. After all, although they both knew that none was required, a promise between best friends was unbreakable.