This story was originally printed in the S&H zine THREE-ELEVEN, published by 10-13 Enterprises in 1983/4. Special thanks to Daphne for transcribing it for the web.

Terri Beckett, with Chris Power, is the author of TRIBUTE TRAIL. See for details! Comments about this story can be sent to:

Terri Beckett

"We'll get 'em this time, partner, if it kills us."

Hutch glanced briefly at the man beside him in the driver's seat. Starsky was leaning slightly forward, body tense with anticipation, his dark blue eyes narrowed into glittering slits.

"Third time lucky," Hutch said softly. Twice now the gang had slipped through their fingers - almost literally - and it rankled sorely with the two detectives, neither liking to look foolish. But this time the bad guys had pulled one job too many, had gotten careless. This time it would be a good collar, and a solid, unshakeable case, and this latter-day Hole-in-the-Wall gang were going down for a long, long time. Third time lucky . . . "Park around the block."

"I know where to park, for God's sake," Starsky snapped irritably, swinging the Torino in a tight turn and whipping it into a space at the curb. Hutch restrained himself from making any comment; Starsky was already uptight enough, without him adding to it. He slipped his gun free of his shoulder holster and checked it carefully before replacing it. Starsky, having done the same, was now watching the quiet sunlit street, fresh with early morning. No smog, for once, and the air had the elusive clear sparkle of spring. It was going to be a beautiful day.

The radio crackled with their call-sign. "Zebra Three," came Dobey's voice. "Report."

"We're in position," Hutch acknowledged. "No sign of any action yet, but it's pretty early. Dickenson said eight to nine."

"Over an hour to go," Dobey grunted. "Okay, keep in touch. Anything moves, I want to know about it, you hear?"

"Gotcha, Captain."

Silence filled the car again.

"Think he'll show?" Hutch said after a while.

"He'd better."

"Could be he's got cold feet."

"He'll have worse than that when I'm through with him," Starsky growled. "I'll break both his legs."

Bet you would, too, Hutch thought. These bastards have really got under your skin. Well, I don't enjoy being made to look a klutz, either. And they've kept us on the bounce for long enough.

"You're starting to get paranoid about this," Hutch said.

Starsky turned to look at him, eyes wide. "Whaddya mean - starting to? I am friggin' paranoid about it!" The grin flashed across his face. "So're you, but you won't admit it."

Hutch grinned back. "Perhaps." Perhaps? He's right - we both want these punks so bad it makes our teeth ache.

"No perhaps. I can read you like a book, remember?" Hutch decided not to argue the point, and after relishing his victory, Starsky continued. "When your little friend finally shows, we follow right on his tail, okay? Catch 'em with their pants down."

"We should be so lucky," Hutch snorted. How many were in there? Three at least, and maybe the full quota of five. Plus Dickenson, which made six. Dickenson couldn't be counted on, however - if the odds were too long, Tricky Dicky could well opt for the winning side, and who could blame him? Besides Starsky, of course. Once this broke, the snitch's life wouldn't be worth shit. Protective custody might keep him alive until the hearing, but after that - The judge and jury might have their collective marbles shifted by some smooth-talking public defender, and the gang would be back on the street with blood in their eye, out to take a messy vengeance on the man who'd squealed on them. No, Hutch didn't blame Dicky for looking out for Number One. Survival instinct. So - Guess at six. We should have the advantage of surprise. They think they're untouchable down here. Never dream we'd walk right into the lion's den.

"Six?" Starsky asked absently.

"I'm not counting on less."

"Well, don't play the Blue Knight, buddy. No chivalry. Anyone twitches, blast his nuts off."

"That's sheer sadism, Starsk."

"Okay, softie, so take out a few kneecaps." A lone figure came into view, keeping to the shadows, furtive. "Here we go, Hutch. Told you, didn't I? He's more scared of us than of them."

"He's scared, that's for sure." They watched Dickenson's approach as if the way he walked could tell them something. It didn't. He didn't spare the eye-catching red-and-white car more than a cursory glance before he turned the corner and mounted the steps of a crumbling tenement, long condemned and due for demolition. The sign tacked up on the door announced the building unsafe and warned against entering. All hope abandon, ye who enter here. Well, not quite, but close enough. Windows, glass shattered, gaping like empty eye-sockets. The doorway a toothless yawning mouth. Pretty picturesque imaginings for a nice day like this, Hutchinson. He's gone in.

"Let's move," Starsky said tautly. Out of the car, he crossed the deserted street in a swift lope, and Hutch, following several paces behind, got a momentary twinge of guilt. Have to notify the captain.

"Starsk," he said. "Wait up," and ducked back to the car. It took only a minute, but Starsky was impatient.

"C'mon, Hutch! D'you wanna live forever?" he demanded. Hutch joined him in the tenement doorway.

"Be fair, Starsk. He'd have nailed us both to the wall if I hadn't called in."

"We better get this thing sewn up fast, then. Before the Seventh Cavalry turns up."

"Don't want to share the glory, huh?"

"You bet your sweet ass. These turkeys are ours, Hutch." He stepped into the dark lobby. "Mine 'n' yours, babe. An' no one gets a slice of our monopoly."

Hutch chuckled. "Me 'n' thee -" he said, and Starsky, three steps up now on the first flight, slipped his gun loose and grinned down at him.

"- Against the world. And that includes the rest of the LAPD."

We've got maybe ten minutes before the Marines hit the beach. Squad cars, SWAT teams, the works - and won't it be nice to have the whole bunch neatly wrapped up and ready for them?

Four flights. On the top step, Dickenson's signal - just a used matchbook, but the logo is the Valkyrie, from the nightclub of that name. So they're in there. A closed, peeling door, anonymous as any other. The lady or the tiger? Here we know it's the tiger. A nod from Starsk. He doesn't speak, doesn't need to. Been this route so many times -

A sneakered foot hit the door in a jarring kick, the catch gave way, door swinging wide. A barking shout of "POLICE! FREEZE!" as he went in, low, and the ear-splitting clatter of automatic fire, savage spitting of flame, impact of lead hitting like so many sledgehammers. A set-up. Dickenson set us up . . .

He never completely lost consciousness, but there was a timeless period of confusion that didn't quite register until at last he was aware of the silence again. And the sunlight streaming in a long dusty swathe through the window onto the floor, turning the pooling blood to impossibly bright red. Reality seeped back. He was half-propped against the wall, where the bullets had thrown him. Starsky was lying a few feet away, a loose sprawl of limbs. The spray of bullets had caught him in a shallow diagonal across his chest, ending in his throat. The return swing had stitched a line of holes from Hutch's midriff to his left shoulder. The front of his shirt was sodden.

"C'mon, Hutch! D'you wanna live forever?" The words seemed to echo in the quiet. Well, you couldn't have known. Couldn't have guessed it would end like this. That Dickenson would sell us out - that they'd be waiting. "We'll get them this time if it kills us." It was quick, anyway. You can't have felt a thing. Quick. Not clean, but I guess we couldn't have everything.

"We'll get 'em . . . if it kills us." We may not, but they've had it, sure enough. Killing two cops - that's a mistake they won't get away with. It doesn't hurt. Shock, I suppose. Hell, I know. Can't feel a goddamn thing.

If he reached out with his left hand, he could just touch Starsky's right shoulder. Hadn't much coordination, though - couldn't get a grip. Is this how it was for you, that morning in the parking lot? You couldn't speak to tell me but your eyes said it all. Your eyes aren't saying anything now, all the life is out of them. Open, and blue, and lifeless. Dead. There's blood in your hair. Yours or mine? It doesn't matter.

Wonder how long it takes? Wait up, huh? If you get too far ahead, I may not be able to find you in the dark. Wait. It won't be long, and I've waited for you often enough . . .

All the king's horses . . . can't put either of us back together again. Not this time. Too late.

Someone must have heard - called in. And the captain won't wait around. But they won't get here in time. Not in time for you or for me. Hope they don't send some green kid after those bastards. Not a job for a rookie. Send in the Heavy Mob.

A spasm knotted in his chest, and he was mildly surprised by it. Wasn't fair. But too much to hope that the pain would hold off. It hurts, Starsk. Christ. Can't breathe too good, lungs filling up. How long does it take? The bright sunlight was dissolving into a hazy fog, and he was tired. So tired. Too tired to sit up. He slipped sideways, reached out and dragged himself closer to his partner's body, got an arm around him, rested his cheek against the dark, blood-matted curls, and closed his eyes.

Listen, I never got to say it - not properly - but I love you. Never needed to say it. We lived it, didn't we? And, anyhow, if I had, you'd have got that embarrassed grin and colored up and I'd have made a joke out of it so maybe it's best I never - Christ, it hurts, Starsk.

There's a helluva lot we never did get done. Never will get done now. Regrets. Useless. No time for regrets when you're dying. Been here before, often enough, but this time I'm not gonna fight it. No one left to fight it for. Let it happen. Come 'n' get me, I'm ready.

Be right with you, Starsk.

Time to go in, playtime's over. Put away the toys. Put out the light. It's time to sleep.

The banks in Bolivia will have to wait.