This story is an amateur publication and does not intend to infringe upon copyrights held by any party. No reproductions without permission. Originally published in the Starsky & Hutch zine Ten Thirteen No. 1, in 80/81 A longtime fan generously donated digital scanning, typing and proofreading for the archive. Enjoy!
Terri Beckett, with Chris Power, is the author of TRIBUTE TRAIL. See www.speculationpress.com for details! Comments about this story can be sent to: kmankatz@CandW.ky
Somebody Up There
The Timeline of this story is immediately prior to 'The Snitch' and 'Targets Without A Badge'
No one knows what it's like
To be the bad man
To be the sad man
Behind blue eyes—
No one knows what it's like
To be hated
To be fated
To telling only lies.
There are three endemic diseases in the Police Force; ulcers, alcoholism, and suicide. Sometimes I wonder how long I am going to stay immune, or even if I am immune but those are the bad days.
Like right now.
You can always tell the Feds, Starsky reckons—it's the way their knuckles scrape on the ground. I.A. must be their first cousins. I know they're necessary, as in Who Guards The Guardians, or whatever the damn tag is, but there's something about the headhunters that cuts me on the raw the moment they come in the room.
Jago was a big man. I'm six-foot-plus, but that showed to nothing when he loomed in.
"Zoo's out early," Starsky commented.
"No." I sat down, riffled through the file tray until I found the requisition pad. "Be fair, Starsk. He can't help it."
"Being a failed clone."
"No kiddin'? Who of?""Lou Ferrigno."
"You sure? Could be Statler. Or Waldorf."
"Wise-guys." Jago smiled with genuine amusement. "You two really break me up, you know that?"
"We aim to please." Starsky grinned back, all teeth.
"Yeah, well, I guess you're gonna have to try harder at that, fellas."
"Y'don't say.""'Fraid so." He took a wad of folded papers out of his coat pocket. "Guy by the name of Bates, proprietor of Fairdeal Wholesale, filed a complaint. Police brutality. Shall we talk about it?"
"What?" I said, hearing the stupidity in my voice as if it was a stranger's.
"Bates?" Starsky repeated.
"Hey, come on, we didn't put a hand on him!" Starsky protested. Nor had we. We'd leaned a little, given him plenty of atmosphere, but nothing physical; and he had agreed to cooperate after we'd talked at him for a while."Listen," I started, "if he's said any different—"
"Hold it right there." Captain Dobey's bulk shoved between Jago and me. "What the hell are you throwing at my officers, mister?""Police brutality, Captain," Jago said, mildly. "One Johnny Bates, with broken collar bone, six fractured ribs and a punctured lung."
"That's crazy," I snapped. "He's help—"
"Shut up, Hutchinson," Dobey threw over his shoulder."No way!" Starsky bellowed, bouncing to his feet. "It's crap an' you know it! We—"
"That's enough!" Dobey raised his voice above Starsky's. "In my office, all of you!"As soon as the door shut behind the I.A. man, Dobey turned on him with an expression that would blight crops.
"Say your piece," he said. "And you two, keep your mouths shut. You'll have your turn after."
Give him his due, Jago was in no way fazed by the hostility, and Starsky was broadcasting strong enough to be picked up by the Coastguards. The smile was still in place, unforced, and there was no tension at all in the bull-neck, the massive shoulders. Christ, the guy was built like a dinosaur.
Starsky glanced sideways, caught my eye. "D' you reckon if I kicked him in the tail he'd a get a headache?" he hissed out of the corner of his mouth.
"Seems to me," Jago said without looking at us, "you've done too much kicking already today."
I grabbed Starsky's arm as he lunged forward.
"Easy," I said against my own anger. "Let's hear what he has to say, first.""Uh-uh." Jago shook his head. "I'll hear your side for starters."
"Like hell you will," Dobey barked. "Get on with it. I'm not having my best men kept off the street any longer than I have to." It's funny how we' re always his two best men when some goon from another department is slinging shit at us. The rest of the time you'd think we were something he found in a bargain basement. "Well? Do I have to wait all day to hear it?"
Jago gave in with genial grace, sat down at his ease in the leather chair. Somehow he seemed bigger sitting, than on his feet."To paraphrase Bates' statement," he said, "your officers called on him at the warehouse in the early hours of this morning, questioned him on certain items in his possession, and demanded to know how he came by them. When he refused to talk, they beat up on him until he gave them what they wanted to know, then landed a couple of good ones in the ribs as they left."
"Shut up, Starsky," Dobey cut in. "It's now twenty-after-three. How come it's taken so long for him to shout for the shoofly-boys?"
"He passed out, unconscious for several hours, and was found by an early customer. She called an ambulance and the cops. They got his story as soon as he came round in post-op, and called us in.""Hasn't it occurred to you that maybe it's a snow job?" I demanded. "He gave us info, and got caught out by—"
"The guys he squealed on?" Jag interrupted. "Sure it has. But unfortunately there are witnesses who saw you two go in, heard the beating, heard you drive away."
"They're lying," Starsky bit out."Sorry, fellas. I don't think so." Jago was still smiling.
There was a sick, bitter twisting in my gut, and I was barely aware of Starsky's furious protests. Put out a 10-13 and every cop in the area is there to back you up, haul your ass out of the hole. One lying sentence to the I.A., and your word stands for nothing. It's always the complainant that's lily-white, while everything you do or say is questioned with a kind of hungry suspicion that makes my flesh creep. You wouldn't think they'd once been street-cops. Okay, so it wasn't the first time we'd been in a similar situation, but for some reason, this felt different. This time it was getting to me. I wondered briefly if this was how Hal Bennett had felt.
"Are you telling me you're taking Bates' story over my men's?" Dobey snorted. "Come on, Jago, you know that punk as well as I do!"
"If it was him alone, of course not." he said, smile gone now. He even sounded remorseful. "But the witnesses kind of put a clincher on it."
"They are lying." I kept my voice cold, quiet, with an effort that made me sweat."Annie Bartlett is a trained nurse, the wife of Reverend Calvin Bartlett, and has been doing social work out of Delmonte Center for fifteen years. Maybe you know her. She had Nickie Truscott with her, a trainee-nurse who also works part-time at the Center. Mrs. Bartlett knows you both, recognized you both this morning. I'm sorry, fellas," he said again, and I wanted to hang my fist on his jaw. "Your turn, now, I guess."
"Not you, Starsky," Dobey cut in. "Hutchinson, get it over with."
I took a deep breath, made sure I had control of my temper. "We went to Bates' to—"
"Why then?" Jago interrupted. "At' what time—gone two—in the morning?""Because we had a tip-off," I said. "He'd just taken delivery of a shipment, but was about ready to cut loose and disappear. He was getting in too deep and wanted out. Do you mind if I go on?"
"Who gave you the tip?""Go scratch your ass!" Starsky blazed. "We don't hand out our contacts' names for the askin'. Or have you forgotten how it is out in the streets?"
"Okay, we'll pass over that," Jago said. You got the word, Hutchinson. Then what? Called your partner?""I got the word," Starsky told him. "Called Hutch an' picked him up in my car. Now will you let him get on?"
"We got there just after two—five after if you want it exact. Went in and—"
"Did he let you in?"
"Yes!" I snapped, more forcefully than I intended. "He let us in, and we—I asked him about the cartons while Starsk looked over the warehouse bays."
"Y'see, he's just a stop-over in the chain," Starsky put in. "The coke comes in from God knows where to some guy we ain't got yet. He puts it into sachets an' stows 'em in little fancy pots of skin-salve, boxes 'em up in flashy packagin' an' dumps the load on Johnny. Banda collects along with his legit merchandise, and distributes it around. We want them all."
"And to get the info, you leaned on Bates." Jago's smile was back. It's no secret the way you guys feel about drug-dealers, pushers. And you go in hard."
"We did not go in hard on Bates," I said. "Starsky found a stack of cartons with cocaine in the salve, we took a few for Forensic, and then we talked to him. He was willing enough to cooperate providing we could swing it with the D.A.'s office—which we are aiming to do today—and he gave us a few useful leads. Without any damage to him at all. We were there less than an hour, he was uninjured when we left, and apart from the couple we'd taken, the shipment was intact. Or d'you reckon that was a fee as well?"
"Oh, no. It's still intact. Why did you leave it?"
"To find out who was gonna pick it up, and tail 'em," Starsky said, in the tones of one addressing a mentally retarded child. "Because you can't make a drugs collar if they don't have possession, right? Bates was gonna keep in touch, let us knew when they turned up, an' we'd follow 'em to Banda's distribution point, because we don't know that, either. Yet."
"Why didn't you report in and have the place put under surveillance?"
"No reason to," I answered. "Bates was with us, and we didn't want Banda alerted by undue activity."
"Ah-huh. So you left at about what? Quarter after three?"
"No, nearer ten minutes to.""Ms. Bartlett heard your car pull away at quarter after and before that she and Nickie Truscott heard Bates shouting, screaming, and the sounds of fighting."
"She may have heard someone's car, but it wasn't mine!" Starsky growled. "Not at quarter after three."
"Where did you park your car?"
"At the back."
"Any other cars about?"
"Yeah. I slotted between a Plymouth an' a Chevy station wagon.""I think I've heard enough." Dobey pinned Jago with a mean, black stare. "You're wasting my time and your own, Jago. What evidence have you got against them other than Bates' statement, and witnesses who saw nothing more then their arrival? Damn man, their knuckles aren't even skinned!"
"I know," he said mildly, getting to his fact. "Which is why we're having this friendly chat here, and not in front of the Review Beard with guns and badges on the table. Their apartments are clean as well."
"You've had their places searched?"
"Sure. Marked-up shoes, pants. Bates bled some. But we found nothing. Except a pissed off stewardess." He grinned at me. "She didn't take too kindly to you cutting out in the middle of the night, then being woken up by my partner."
"You bastards," I whispered, and Dobey moved between us.
"Thanks for your time, fellas. We'll be in touch, let you knew how things go."
He went out, and Starsky kicked the door shut behind him.
"Police brutality!" he spat. "Give me half a chance an I'll show him friggin' police brutality that'll put him in a box!"
"Cool off, both of you!" Dobey blared. "Okay, it stinks! But look at it this way—you're stepping hard on someone's toes, or you wouldn't have been set up for IA... So get out of here and find them. Stay away from Bates. I'll deal with him—and we'll have his place staked out, the sooner the better."
We left him reaching for his phone, and went down to the cars. Stale city air though it was, it tasted cleaner than the squadroom's and Dobey's office. First the poor kids Greville had butchered, then Bennett, now this. I had the feeling I'd found the straw that breaks the camels' backs.
"Yours or mine?" Starsky demanded, making it a challenge."Mine," I snapped. "Being ferried around in a souped-up coke-can by a homicidal maniac is a little more than I can take after Jago."
"They've got nothin' on us. You're all soured up because of Helen. Gave you a hard time, huh?"
"You could say that.""Hey, don't sweat. You can honey talk her back." He grinned, illogically in a better mood as mine worsened.
"Sure I can. After Man-mountain's other half charged in on her?"
"Hell, he ain't so big. Know what they say—bigger they are, harder they fall."
"Crap," I said, and jerked open my car door. Starsky did an overacted wince as the hinges grated. "Get in, smart-ass. Let's go see what Huggy has to say—and I need a drink."
"Me, too. It's your turn to buy."
"No way. What was Annie and who-ever doing round that area?"
"Nickie Truscott. God knows. Social-workin', I guess. We could always find out? Could be she saw an' heard more than she knows, enough to let us off the hook at any rate."
"Yeah. Huggy first."
The Pits was half-full when we walked in, propped up the bar at our usual place. But the first beer didn't do much to shift the taste in my mouth."Do I detect doom, despondency, an' dire distress?" Huggy leaned towards us, absently polishing the surface of the bar with a clean towel, his long face a lugubrious mask. "I hear Johnny Bates ain't no ray of sunshine, either."
"That's right," I said, weariness suddenly weighting me down, crushing the anger. "It only hurts him when he laughs. Or squeals." I pushed my empty glass forward. "Fill it up, Hug."
"Word has it," he went on, automatically obeying, "that two certain fuzz not a thousand miles away came on kind of heavy."
"Funny you should say that," Starsky agreed solemnly. "We heard that ourselves, didn't we, Hutch?"
"Hug, it wasn't us.""Hey, good buddy, you don't have to tell me that," he protested. "I know it, an' you know it, so why the sweat?"
"Maybe you'd like to go down to Metro and convince the headhunters?" I grunted, taking my beer over to a vacated table.
"Ah," Huggy said wisely. "I get the picture. Never let it be said that Huggerino is less than lightnin' on the up-take. Are you off the streets?"
"No." Starsky ambled over to join me. "Our fists an' feet don't match Johnny's dents. Hey, Hutch, lighten up huh?"
Sure, lighten up. Forget that I'd just been forcibly reminded it's not enough to guard against the crooks hitting back, that our own guys are pretty good at kicking you in the crotch. As if I should need reminding after Hal.
"Hey," again. I looked at him. Me'n'thee, said his eyes and the lopsided smile.
"Yeah," I agreed, raising my glass to meet his. We drained them together, and Huggy spun a chair from another table, sat astride it, his face grave.
"So what came down this mornin'? They was good words I passed on, I'd swear to it."
"The stuff was there okay, an' so was Johnny with his bags all packed," Starsky said quietly. "But he was willin' to talk deals; when we left him just before three there wasn't a mark on him. Who ever worked on him moved right on in as soon as e were out of sight.""Or were there all the time," I cut in. "We only checked out the storage area and office, not his rooms above."
"That's true. But if he was done for squealin' by either Banda or the supplier, how come they didn't take the stuff away? They must have known it was odds on we knew it was there an' would be settin' them up."
"I don't know." I scrubbed my fingers through my hair, pressed the heels of my palms into my eyesockets. "Huggy, what can you get for us? Who are we crowding?"
"I'll ask around. Fret not my faithful fuzzy friends, my ear is to the grindstone, my nose to the wheel—"
"Sounds more like W.C. Fields than Super-sleuth." Starsky grinned. "Thanks, Hug."
"Make no mention." He signed to the waitress and three mere beers arrived. "'Course, it might not' have' anythin' to do with the' junk in the gunk."
"Don't complicate matters, for Chrissake!" I groaned.
"Okay, it's only a stray thought."
"Then corral it," Starsky said. "More twists we don't need."Huggy made an elaborate gesture of compliance, turned the conversation to street movements generally, and I let Starsky carry it for both of us.
Junk in the gunk.
No new idea, that, and since the gunk in question was mass-produced in Oregon and shipped round all the Western and Coastal states, we had so far found it impossible to discover at what point the two met up. The salve wasn't a low-grade product either, was one of the Grecian Velvet range, made from organically grown herbs, vegetable oils, and so on. No synthetics or animal products in it. Its price in the drugstores was from $20 upwards. But that was the junkless pots. What happened to the loaded ones Banda collected from Bates we did not know, and it was only a vague rumor Huggy had picked up a month ago that linked Banda in on the organization. He ran a small but highly expensive salon in West Hollywood called The Golden Hibiscus, where men and women with money to spare could get anything from a haircut to a sauna, and we were still nagging Dobey to get a female officer in there undercover. With the day's developments, it was likely he would finally agree.
It was a big operation, that much was clear, and though we'd heard whispers of it for months, Banda, then Bates, had been our first real breaks. Even so, weeks of careful investigation had failed to come up with any concrete evidence tying Banda in with Fairdeal Wholesale's drugruns. Or anyone else, if it came to that.
So why hadn't they—whoever 'they' were—cleared out the cocaine? Unless they didn't know about it, and the whole thing was entirely coincidental.
Which still left us with the burning question of the hour, why had Bates dropped us in the shit? And in view of that, could we trust another lead he'd given, the name of the trucker who'd delivered the latest shipment of coke and salve?
Usually the Grecian Velvet ranges came in on regular runs, pure and unadulterated. However, Bates had told us that now and then only part of the consignment would turn up, advice notes stating 'balance to follow'. The rest of the order generally arrived later the same day, sometimes at night, and this was the gunk that carried the junk. Nor was it brought in by the usual trucking company, but by smalltime rental firms hired for the one commission.
Last night, Bates had known the trucker, had played pool with him once or twice in a bar off the Strip. Pat Spengler, a guy in his early twenties, working days in a service-station's repair shop, moonlighting nights and weekends driving short haul rigs. But Bates hadn't been able to remember which service station, nor what name was on the rig.
"Huggy," I said into a lull in their talk. "Pat Spengler. We want to have a few words, nothing heavy. Johnny gave him to us, said he reckoned the kid didn't know he was hauling anything other than assorted lines of Grecian Velvet."
"Spengler. Don't ring no chines at all—but give me a little time—I am The L.A. Oracle."
"That I can believe." I produced a wry smile. "C' mon, Starsk. It's time we were makin' like cops out in Jungle City."
"The things I do to get a pension." he grouched, but led the way out with the bouncing swagger that belongs to no one else.
On the way over to the Delmonte Center, Dobey was patched through to us. He's interviewed Bates, and his story dovetailed with ours all the way along the line, with one noticeable exception. According to him, we'd worked him over to force his cooperation, and he was scared shitless that we would turn up and finish the job now he'd reported us. He was claiming loudly it wasn't his idea to call in the cops, involve I.A., and what made it more convincing was that he wasn't trying to avoid the drugs rap convincing from the shooflies' point of view. Dobey didn't buy it. But he did warn us again to stay way from Bates. He was now in protective custody, under Internal Affairs paternal wing."Oh, terrific," Starsky growled. "Anyone ever tell those creeps we're all on the same side?"
"Caesar's wife," Dobey snapped back, and cut off.
"—Must be above reproach," I said sourly.
"Wassamatter? Ya think I'm dumb, or somethin'?" He scowled.
"Yeah, an' I love you too. C'mon, put your foot on the gas, or will the vibration shake this heap apart?"
"Don't think it, Starsk." I found I could grin at him. "I know it, good buddy."
"There is nothing wrong with my car! Why don't you check with DMV, see if they've dug Spengler's address cut of that computer yet?"
"All units in the vicinity," the radio broke in, "San Pedro and 8th. Fire at Fairdeal Wholesale, assist in traffic control."
"Johnny's dump!" Starsky groaned. "Shit! What the hell happened to that surveillance?" Slapping the Mars light on the roof as I hit the gas.
"Could be an accident," I said, knowing it wasn't likely."Sure and I could get to be the next Pope!"
There were uniforms enough to cope with traffic and spectators. We pulled in beside Newcombe's dark Lincoln.
"What happened?" Starsky demanded, leaning out of the window. Beyond the cars, the building bellowed with flames."I figured you two'd a show," Landau grunted. "Place went up like a volcano. Incendiary device, probably."
"Heard a small explosion," Newcombe contributed. "But no one's gone in the place since we got here. It was locked up tight. If anyone was inside, Forensic will have trouble finding them, that fire is hotter than your average furnace. What did he store in there? Apart from Grecian Velvet and cocaine?"
"Perfume, talc, aftershave, deodorants, stuffs, like that. A lot of aerosol cans.""Had to be, to burn the way it is. They're gonna have problems keepin' it contained." Newcombe studied the blaze and the attendant firemen with professional detachment. "We'll stick around, see what the chief has to say on what started it."
I put the car into drive and we headed out.
"Can't be a coincidence, can it?" Starsky said, as a patrolman waved us through the cordon.
"What do you think?"
"I'm the dumb one, remember?"
"Okay, what does your primitive instinct tell you?"
"You really wanna know? I reckon we're in for one hell of a rough ride. Someone torched the place, and it could have been Banda, the other guy, the crowd who beat up on Johnny, or the little old lady down the block with a thing against warehousemen."
He'd missed out 'an act of God', which was as well. After the last couple of months, the only proof of His existence in my book was the fact that we were both still alive. That, in itself, was something of a miracle.
The Delmonte Center was off 7th and Merchant, and the plume of acrid smoke from Bates' warehouse was clearly visible above the roofs, funneling up to thicken the miasma that already hung over downtown L.A. Let Starsky scoff—right then I'd have given a year's salary for a week at Big Bear Lake, starting right that second with an instantaneous translation from a stinking back street to clean woods and pure air. I still don't know if that part of me is the Hutchinson Grasp Of Essentials, or the Hutchinson Ostrich Syndrome. Probably I'll never find out.
"Hey," said Starsky, an arm across my shoulders "Don't let 'em get you down, Hutch.""I'm okay. Too many late nights is all." But the weariness was nothing to do with physical tiredness, and he knew it, if he chose to keep it jokey.
"You should never have kicked that glop. Could be this is delayed withdrawal symptoms. What was it? Goat's milk desiccated liver, molasses—"
"Kelp and trace elements," I finished for him. Don't knock it—it was good stuff. "We'll check with DMV before we go in."
"Oh. Yeah. Spengler."
Then I abruptly recognized it for a delaying tactic, because I didn't want to see Annie avoiding our eyes, hear what she'd say.
"You deal with it," I said. "I'll go find Annie."
She did her best, but Annie was clearly uncomfortable, and not quite able to meet us eye to eye. But she wasn't lying. She reported facts as she had seen and heard. It was our misfortune that circumstance linked us in.
With Nickie Truscott, she'd answered an S.O.S., a phone call from a client, a junkie trying a solo withdrawal, and had been in the second floor room overlooking Bates' back entrance for most of the night. Annie's car was the Chevrolet, and the Plymouth had been there when they arrived. They'd seen no other car, nor anyone else come or go from the warehouse. Except us.
"So whose is the Plymouth?" I demanded, as we left the Center. It was a rhetorical question, and Starsky didn't bother with an answer. "I didn't think to get the license plate."
"Me neither. Dark brown, wasn't it?"
"Think so. Bates drives a green Packard, Banda's got a silver Lincoln. Reckon we could pay him a visit, though."
"Yeah. Why not be sociable?" Starsky grinned. "I kinda like the idea of movin' in on his joint."
"We're not moving in, Starsk," I corrected. "We're going to find out if he can give my mom a beauty treatment, her being hooked on organics and nature-products." He blinked, then chuckled.
"Okay, if you insist. Maybe we bettor go back an' swap cars."
"Why?" I asked, unwisely.
"He sure as hell ain't gonna be impressed when this scrap heap pulls up outside his fancy salon. The Torino, on the other hand, has Class."
I tried freezing him with a look, but it didn't work.
"Your idea of what is or isn't class is just plain juvenile," I said. "Did DMW have Spengler?"
"Not yet, computer's still down, they—" But I missed the rest of his reply, because a massive figure detached itself from a doorway, moving to intercept us at a surprising speed.
"Hi, fellas," Jago said, leaning one elbow casually on the roof of my Ford, blocking us.
"What the hell are you doing here?" I snapped.
"This' n' that." He smiled. "Had a friendly talk with Mrs. Bartlett, huh?"
"Yeah, real friendly." Starsky bounced a few strides closer to him. "Wanna see the blood' n' brains on my sneakers where I kicked her head in?"A slow, rich chuckle came out of that barrel-chest, the kind that kids and puppies are supposed to fall for when Santa Claus trots it out. Me, I wanted to deck him.
"I guess you guys wouldn't ride heavy on a nice lady, at that." He grinned. "Unless she was a pusher, maybe. All the same, I'd stay away if I were you. We'll be keeping an eye on her from new on in."
"What does that mean?" I demanded tightly. "So's she doesn't meet with an accident?"
"Something like that," he agreed. "Where you heading now? The Pits? Banda's place?" The bastard was predicting us too well for my peace of mind.
''No," I said. "Off-duty." He studied me, eyes cold and bleak as an arctic wind.
"Yeah?" A drawl of disbelief.
"Thing is, Jago," I went on over Starsky's snarled obscenity. "Are you going to be tailing us? Because if you are, I'll draw up an itinerary so's you don't get lost. First off, we're heading back to Metro to write reports, then I' m going home to clear up behind your partner."
"An' I'm gonna pick up this redhead," Starsky took over. "We' re goin' bowling, then back to her place for coffee. She lives over in Torrance, but she don't have a girlfriend, so you'll haveta sit outside and hold hands with yourself."
"And once I've got my place cleaned up, I'm going to meet a nurse when she comes off-duty at 10, and go on to the K'wai Tze in West Hollywood."
"Okay, I get the picture." He sighed. "Guess you two don't intend to make my job any easier."
"You're damned right, Mister!" I spat. "Because you're not making our lives smooth as silk right now! Haul your carcass off my car and keep out of my way!"
"Or?" he asked softly.
"Move it, Hulk, or do you keep your brains in the seat of your pants?"
"Hey!" Starsky interrupted "That's my line!"
"If you creeps want hassle," said a new voice, "I'll be happy to oblige." Another shadow came out of the doorway, Jago's partner, swarthy face hard, aggressive.
"Is that Beauty or the Beast?" Starsky wondered. "Don't you start fuss, sugar-pie, or we'll sure as shit finish it."
"Cool it, Frank," Jago said. "This is just a nice, easy conversation, ain't it, fellas?"
"No," I bit back. "Move."He shrugged, grinned, and obeyed, disappearing into the Delmonte without a backward glance. Powell, though, gave us a long glare before following him in. Starsky flipped the finger after them.
The reports weren't a line shot, for Jago's benefit. Routine stuff, they had to be done before we could check out Banda's place. Two nights a week, he closed late, and this was one of them. It was as well we had some time in hand, since I.A. wasn't done with us.
"Hutchinson," said Dobey, not looking at me. "Capra wants to see you in his office."
"Huh?" distracted from the typewriter, I jammed my forefinger between the keys. "Shit! What for?"
"I don't know. Go and find out."
"Okay, Cap," Starsky said peaceably, beginning to rise.
But Dobey snarled at him. "Is your name'' Hutchinson? It's the other half of the Dynamic Duo he wants."
"Only one of us?" I frowned, unease sliding down my spine. "Why?"
"Haul ass, Hutchinson!" And the door of his office slammed.
Starsky's eyes met mine, and a wry smile twisted his mouth. "Seems like we're all gettin' paranoid he sighed. "Aren't we?"
"Maybe." I shrugged, and headed for the door. "I'll let you know for sure when I get back."
Capra was a grim-faced, cold-eyed man in his mid-forties, and he'd made a name, for himself in Vice and Narco before transferring, to Internal Affairs some six years back. I'd heard of his reputation, but never met up with him, officially or unofficially, until now.
I'd been expecting more hassle over Bates, but he was far too clever to make it a direct attack.
"I've just been reading up on your career-notes, Hutchinson," he said without preamble, gesturing me to a chair. There was no animosity in his voice, only a joyless appreciation. "You and Starsky make a pretty formidable team. Got some notable coups on this arrest-tally between you."
"We make out," I said, refusing to be drawn off-guard. He was leading up to something big, had to be.
"Yeah. A lot of guys could envy the way you two—uh—make out. Still, when you're young, fit, razor-sharp, success comes a little easier, I guess. It's a cryin' shame it doesn't last. You've had a roughish time over the last eighteen months, by the look of it."
"Swings and roundabouts," I replied. "You win some, lose some. That's still the way it is out on the street.""I know." He smiled at me, and the ice slid down my spine again. "I wasn't talking about the tally, Hutchinson. I meant your hospital record. A shooting, a stabbing, 48 hours trapped under a crashed car, that plague virus, and botulism. Hasn't been a bed of roses for you, lately."
"I manage," I said, guardedly. "The Medical Board passed me fit every time."
"Of course they did, thank God. We can't afford to lose good cops." There was a slight emphasis on the 'good' "But things don't come as smooth for you as they did, do they? You're slower, aren't you? Less able to keep up the pace and the standard—you've set yourself, right?"'
"I've not noticed it," I snapped. "Sir."
"Maybe you haven't, but others have." He was still smiling. "It's a pattern, you see, Hutchinson. First the success, then the slowing-up, then success again. And why? Because that's when desperate men start taking short cuts. Like using a little judicial police brutality, using their guns a little too readily, accepting bribes—"
"Hold it right there." I was on my feet, leaning my fists on his desk and glaring down at him. "Are you—"
"No," he drawled. "You hold it, Detective Sergeant Hutchinson. I' m not accusing. I'm warning Watch your step. Because if you put one foot wrong, you are for the slammer. One thing I will not tolerate is a dirty cop, no matter what his motives. You've started in on the pattern with Bates, so you better break it right now, or you'll end up behind bars."
Or eating my gun, whispered a frozen voice in my head. Like Hal Bennett.
"I didn't touch Bates. Neither of us did." It wasn't what I wanted to say, but the words had gotten all tangled up in my head, and I couldn't marshal them.
"Sure, sure. You can go—but remember, Hutchinson, and watch your step. Because we're watching, too."
Chilled and sick, I got out into the corridor and started walking. If I could tell myself that Capra was wrong, way off-beam all along the line, it wouldn't have hit so hard. But I couldn't.
In some respects he'd got it right.
I wasn't as fast or as fit as I had been. The edge had gone—maybe not irrevocably, but it might as well be, for I.A. They did not believe in the benefit of the doubt. So they were closing in, winnowing wheat from chaff with a frightening vigilance.
They'd always watched us, right from the start of our teaming. We were too unconventional, too careless of the Great God Official Procedure, and that was not appreciated. But the hazing had never bothered us any, beyond raising our hackles. We were damn good at our jobs, confident in ourselves and each other.
But now it was different. Starsky I did not doubt, never could. Our team was a whole far greater than the sum of its two components—or had been. Because now it had a weak link. Me. It was a very bitter truth.
Okay, so what was I going to do about it? Apart from refusing to start in on Hal's route. There wasn't much I could do, except ride it out and hope to God if they did flush me down the tubes I wouldn't pull Starsky right along with me. And with his brand of loyalty it would be awful hard stopping him. But I'd have to. My career might well be on the slide, but his wasn't.
That was the lightest of the possible eventualities for it wasn't entirely a question of careers. The safety-factor was far heavier and more important. A mistake from me, a move made too slow, or not soon enough, an error of judgment, and Starsky could lose a hell of a lot more than a career.
Something inside of me twisted, opening up a raw and aching wound. Starsky dead because of some fault of mine—a chance happening of nightmarish horror, that came to sit on my shoulder and haunt me.
There was another choice. Why wait until I was thrown out? I could resign right now, but if I did, then so would Starsky, and all he ever wanted was to be a cop.
But at least he'd be alive.
What in God's name do I do?
With something of a shock I realized I was back on our floor, and ahead was a familiar jaunty figure assaulting the candy machine. I hesitated. If I told him what Capra had to say it would precipitate an explosion, and once he'd gotten over his mad at IA., he would be mother-henning me at the risk of his own hide, knowing as well as I did that the man was, in part, right about me. There was no way I was going to let that happen.
He glanced up and saw me, his grin appearing at once as he came to meet me; half of everything I am.
"Johnny?" he asked, pulling an expressive face.
"Yeah. What else?" I said, managing to keep the depression out of my voice. "If they found a plot against the President, I reckon they'd try and pin it on us. Don't be jealous, Starsk I guess you'll be up for the solo grilling before long."
"Divide an' conquer, huh?"
"A good theory, but not so hot in practice." Hearing the hollowness of the words.
"You said it, babe. Let's get outta here, huh? I finished your reports."
"Hey, thanks, pal." And we headed for the elevator, our arms on each other's shoulders.
But I still didn't have any real answers, and this was one time I couldn't get help from Starsky. It seemed like no matter what I did, he was going to end up paying for it, one way or another, and that I had to avoid.
I'd expected there to be obvious signs that my apartment had been tossed, but there wasn't. If I hadn't been told Powell had gone through it, I wouldn't have known. Especially as the place was kind of untidy to begin with.However, knowing it had been done was all the incentive I needed, and I spent the next two hours cleaning through. By the time I'd finished, that pad was tidier than it had been for a hell of a long time.
I fixed myself a quick meal, took a shower, and tossed a change of clothes onto the bed. Jeans and sweatshirt wouldn't do for Mr. Banda's establishment, it being up-market, so I had decided on brown pants, black rollneck and suede jacket—an outfit I'd not worn for years. Probably wouldn't fit me. I'd put weight on since I dropped the health food and Vinnie's gym.
At least, I thought I had, because the jacket sill felt pretty good, the waistband of the pants didn't pinch that much. It could be I'd lost the surplus over the last few months.
We'd put in some very long hours on a particularly unpleasant case—a series of sexual assaults and murders on young children, carried out with a sick viciousness that had appalled us both. We had thrown everything in on that one, taking little time out to do more than eat the odd meal on the fly, cutting out sleep as much as we dared and we'd caught him.
But not before he'd killed again.
My face stared back at me from the mirror as I combed my hair. Tired. Drawn. The moustache successfully masked the mouth, but the eyes had a look of—defeat—about them. And pain. The same twin expressions that Hal Bennett had worn; with hindsight I recognized them.
Pain and defeat and he'd blasted the back of his head away twenty-four days ago. He was forty years old. Only five years older than me.An assault on my doorbell jarred me out of my daze, and I turned away from the judas-glass as Starsky came in without waiting for the invite.
"Hi," he said.
"You're early," I said lightly. "Aiming on changing the weather?"
"Nope," he grinned. "I was fresh out of coffee, so I stopped over and bought some on my way. Figured I could drink some of yours, anyhow." Filling up the percolator and plugging it in. "So we got half an hour. Wanna talk about it?"
"Talk about what?" I didn't meet his eyes. The trouble with our kind of team is that he sees into me too well. And vice versa.
"You tell me."
"There's nothing to tell," I said, hearing the weariness in my voice too late to do anything about it. I sat down on the couch, leaned my head on the back, and stared at the plants on the high shelf. "There's a new pack of cookies in the jar.""Hey, great! Want some?"
"No. You can fix me coffee, though."
"'Kay. When it's ready. Hutch, Bennett's been dead over three weeks, now. Let it go, huh? There's nothing you can do, so talk it out. And don't say there's nothing to say because there's plenty."
"Quit it, Starsk.""No way. We' re a team, right? So if you' re havin' an attack of the blue meanies, I want in." His tone was light, jokey, but underneath was seriousness. "How long were you teamed with Bennett?"
"Nearly two years." He knew that, of course. My probationary time and first year on the cars had been with Hal. He'd taught me a lot: about the job, about people, and about myself.
He was a career-man, but never aiming to be more than a street-cop—or so he'd let on. One of the real Blue Knights, I always reckoned. I'd moved on, taken courses, aiming for plain-clothes detective, and had gotten into Robbery and Homicide, fulfilling mine and Starsky's Academy-born ambition to be teamed together, and the years went by.
I'd kept 'in touch with Hal, though. Two, three times a year we would meet up, tie on a bender and hash over the old times. We had things in common, and we'd made a good team, once he had trained some sense into the greenhorn. And over the years he'd done a damn-good job of covering over the way it was with him. So good, that even looking back I could barely see it without the aid of outside information.His two marriages had ended in divorce, that I did know. His promotion bids had all failed, and that I hadn't known he'd wanted, since he had always stressed he didn't need more than he'd got. He'd lost a couple of partners, one killed, one invalided out, and had spent some time recovering from gunshot wounds after the last one. He had always been a heavy drinker, but somewhere along the line it had become alcoholism. His injuries left him slower, the drink dulled judgment and instinct; he made a few mistakes, and I.A. moved in.
They watched him, interviewed him, watched him some more, until it must have seemed to him that there was a headhunter in every shadow waiting for him to make one more error.
Twenty-four days ago, stone cold sober, he had put the muzzle of his police regulation .38 into his mouth and pulled the trigger."We had a lot in common," I said.
"Not that much." Starsky snorted. "Hutch, let it go, please?" Then, when I did not answer, he read some of the fear in me and put it into words. "You're not going to walk that road. And neither am I. Bennett was a loser. We're not. We can take anything this lousy world hands out and still spit in its eye."
"Yes. Thee 'n 'me, remember?"
"He wasn't a loser. Not until too many kicks made him that way. Too many dirty, stinking jobs to do. Too many stabs in the back from his own kind."
"Quit it! Or I'll break your fuckin' neck!" he exploded, and I shoved myself to my feet, clumsy in my haste, and walked away. To the cupboard where I keep the drinks. I poured liquid in a glass and swallowed it, not realizing what it was until it hit the back of my throat. Rum.
I loathe rum.
"Coffee's ready," Starsky said over my coughing fit, his anger apparently gone as quickly as it had come. "Or are you startin' for Skid Row right now?"
"Not on rum," I managed. "Starsk, Hal was okay until Petrie bought it. And then," I went on quickly, "the Anders kid broke his back and he was nearly blown—"
"Hutch." He put his hands on my shoulders, made me turn and face him. "Okay, Bennett had some tough breaks, and the headhunters didn't help any. Neither did the drink problem. I know he wouldn't have had a drink problem if he hadn't been a cop. But you're seeing shadows on the wall, babe, an' they don't belong to us."
"So what killed him? Alcohol? The job? Internal Affairs?" I snapped bitterly. "They hounded him, Starsk."
"I know, an' I guess it tipped him over, but—"
"Now they're on our track."
"Yeah But that's no new thing. Hey, don't let 'em faze you. Hal Bennett, I.A., the poor kids Greville killed, what else is buggin' you?"
"The whole damn conglomerate—I'm tired, is all." Tired of too many parents grieving for a murdered child. Too many junkies too crazed to reach out for the helping hand, stabbing it instead. Tired of hurting too much, unable to pick up the pieces of all the shattered lives, while my own life quietly shredded along with the rest. Tired of carrying the fear of another hospital corridor, another wait outside of an operating theatre, an intensive care unit—
"Hutch?" The edge in Starsky's voice was not pain alone, it was panic. "For Chrissake, Hutch, you can't give up on it—you're no quitter—fight, damn you!" His fingers dug into my muscles, and he shook me, hard.
"Starsky, if I leave the Force, what will you do?" The words were out before I could catch them back, and I felt rather than saw his wince.
"That's a damn-fool question." His lopsided smile was shaky. "Requisition another partner, maybe. But they only ever stocked one Ken Hutchinson, so I guess we'd finally got to check out those Bolivian banks. Anyhow, you didn't have to ask because you already know that." I knew it, but it wasn't what I wanted him to say—that he'd stay on, giving me an easy way out. Doors were shutting in my face, not matter which way I turned. I couldn't find an opening. "What you need is a vacation," he continued. "We'll take off when we've flushed Banda down the tubes, even if it's only a long weekend somewhere. Pine Lake? Lake Tahoe? Or up in those mountains of yours, skiing?"
"You don't understand, I—" Words that should never be said. Hurt and furious, his eyes blazed at me, face abruptly pale with the force of his emotion.
"Don't you ever lay that on me!" he yelled. "Of course I understand! But if I can manage to live with the prospect of your lousy carcass ending up in a drawer in the morgue, then so can you! And if I can take all the crud the street and I.A. are slingin', you can! And you will!"
For the space of a few seconds I wanted to hit him. But it was gone too quickly to act on, and instead I leaned my forehead on his shoulder, taking a lean on the strength he offered.
"Yes. Okay," I said. "I'm sorry.""Yeah So'm I." His touch light on the back of my neck. "Hang in there, Hutch. We'll wrap up Banda and you'll get your vacation."
"Right now," I muttered, "it's coffee I need to get. Or is my percolator boiling dry?"
"No, it's poured an' gettin' cold."
I returned his bearhug, and stepped back, finding it no strain to produce a genuine smile.
"Thanks," I said. But I was still tired, even if the weariness would be a little easier to carry, for a while. I had no reserves left and that scared me—not for myself, for the other half of the team. Starsky's so much more than the guy I work with. But there is no fuel in apathy.
~~~The Golden Hibiscus closed at nine, we got there with five minutes to spare, and went in, two males feeling—and looking—out of place and ill-at-ease in the perfumed luxury.
Banda was not there, which was probably as well, since he could well know us by sight. We were taken in charge by a statuesque auburn manageress whose manner of flattering attention and coy competence showed clearly she was used to dealing with similar interlopers. Ignoring the approaching hour, she concentrated on putting us at ease, and we discussed my mother's skin-type, coloring, etcetera. Or rather, I told her Mother was a blue-eyed blonde in her mid-fifties, and she did the rest. Since the filial birthday gift would include the whole works, she was happy enough to show us the complete range of treatments available and the products used. All of it Grecian Velvet, and all of it available for sale as well as salon-use.
"Normally Mother uses the Honeydew cosmetics," I said doubtfully. "At least, I think it's Honey-something." Turning to my 'brother-in-law'."That's what Julie said," Starsky agreed, patting pockets. "I wrote it down."
"Honeydew is a very good range." She smiled her condescension. "Though not, of course, in the Grecian Velvet class."
"The trouble is," I said, picking up a pot from a display on a gilt and onyx table—the same breed of pot that had held junk in Bates' warehouse, "Mother has a very sensitive skin and gets allergy problems if she's not careful." —Aphrodite's Balm, the lid proclaimed in silver upon blue, A Restorative Gel, Refreshing As Sea Foam—I put it down quickly, catching the sudden unholy glint in Starsky's eye. "You're quite sure—"
"My dear Mr. Grant," she cooed, "there is absolutely nothing in our products that would cause an allergy—indeed, it's guaranteed." She picked up the little pot, pressed it into my hands. "And in earnest of that, please take this sample for Mrs. Grant to test. She will find it perfect for her face."
"Uh, thank you," I managed, giving it to Starsky. "Here, you'd better take it. Julie can show it to Mother when they're having their usual heart to heart over the tea-cups tomorrow afternoon."
"Good idea. 'Hey Mommy,"' he put his voice up a few octaves, "'I've got this great new skin lotion, wanna try it?"
"My sister does not sound like that," I snapped over the manageress' chuckles.
"You haven't heard her lately."
I glared at him, daring him to open his mouth again, and he grinned at me, all teeth.
"Uh, thank you, Mrs. Lafayette." I squinted at her lapel badge. It seemed a very appropriate name. "You've been very patient and helpful, we really appreciate it."
"My pleasure." She smiled, and sounded as if she meant it.
"The Golden Hibiscus must have a lot of clients who come back time and again; it's not often that efficiency and charm go hand in hand these days," I said, giving her my best sophisticate-man-of-the-upper-class-world-smile.
"We do, Mr. Grant." She fluttered improbable eyelashes. "In fact, it's sometimes quite a headache, trying to fit in all our regular friends. Mr. Banda could open another salon without any risk, and have full appointment books straight away."
"This is his only place," Starsky asked.
"Yes, at the moment. But as we are so successful, even if I say it myself, well—who knows?"
"Who, indeed." Starsky's smile was a borderline leer."I've a feeling my mother will be coming along on a regular basis," I said. "My sister, too."
'I hope so." She leaned forward and patted my arm. "I'll make sure there's always an appointment free for them. Mr. Grant, Mr. Murray, I look forward to your next visit." Her smile was very warm.
"So do I," I said, earnestly, squeezing her fingers. "Thank you for your time."
"I hope Mr. Banda appreciates you." Starsky bowed over her hand, managing to sound even more like Groucho Marx. "The success of this place has to be due to you—you're a real asset to him, you know." She dimpled and blushed like a fifteen-year-old.
"That's sweet of you." She giggled. "I'm sure Rog—Mr. Banda appreciates all his staff.""But some more than others?" I suggested, smiling again.
"Now, Mr. Grant,'' she used the eyelashes again, "I couldn't possibly say that!"
"No, of course not." I glanced at the clock on the wall, and started the exit routine. "Good God, it's nearly ten! Mrs. Lafayette, I'm sorry, we've kept you way past closing time; you should have thrown us out."
"If we've spoiled your evening—" Starsky contributed, voice anxious.
"No, no, it's quite alright," she hastened to reassure us. "I live in the apartment above, and I'm always the last to lock up and leave."
"Well, thank you again," I said, and Starsky echoed it as we made for the door. Outside, the cool night air seemed to carry the same exotic fragrance as the salon, or maybe it clung to our clothing. That could be embarrassing.
"Women of that age shouldn't giggle," Starsky muttered as we reached the car. "Aphrodite's Balm, huh?"
"That's what the lady said. It'd be too much to expect it's got junk in it."
"We should get so lucky. Wonder what kind of car she drives?" I glanced across at him, discovered a scowling profile. "If this is Banda's only joint, how the hell does he distribute the coke? It has to be too risky to pass out over the counter, doesn't it? And why didn't they shift the stuff out of Bates' warehouse? If the fire was started by the same guys who beat up on him, how come the delay? They had time to move it—oh, Christ, Hutch I'd give my eyeteeth for a plain, straightforward 2-11 right now.""Me, too." He'd sounded near as dispirited as I felt. We got into the, Torino, and Starsky hit the ignition
"Where to?" he asked. "The Pits?""Why not?" I agreed, and reached for the mike. ''Let's see if DMV are awake and have gotten their computer fixed."
They were, and in business. They even had an address for us, at last. Spengler rented a room across the river on 7th, and we headed out that way, not needing to discuss it. Okay, so Spengler worked nights, but some of his neighbors might know where.We hit pay dirt first time of trying. The girl who lived across the hall from him had a case going on Spengler. It only took one mention of his name, and she was talking a blue streak, mostly in praise of his manly charms and many virtues. But out of the adjectives we hooked a name—Round-The-Clock Rentals on the San Bernardino Freeway, near where it passed from Boyle Heights into Belvedere. Way, way out of our area, but what the hell, all we wanted was a friendly chat if he was there.
The guy in the front office sent us round to the workshops at the rear. He'd looked at us a little strangely, and didn't seem too sure of Spengler's exact whereabouts. If my head had been functioning the way it should, I'd have picked up the warning signs. But it wasn't, and I didn't, and we made for the shops as if we were out for an evening stroll.
As we reached the gape of the doorway, all the interior lights went out, leaving us prime targets silhouetted against the illuminated forecourt.
We split, hurling ourselves left and right, and a bullet cracked between us.
"Spengler?" I hissed to Starsky. Like me, he was sheltering behind oil drums, and were separated by the width of the entry—some thirty feet.
"Who else?" he grunted. "Sure as hell ain't my Aunt Rosie. Unless it's the same guys who put Johnny into hospital," he answered his question. "Did you see where the shot came from?"'
"No. You set?"
"Hey!" I yelled. "This is the police! Put down your gun and—" the bullet clanged against my drum, ricocheting with spectacular cacophony from metal to metal.
"Got him spotted." Starsky's voice was a quiet drift among the echoes. "There was a rig over to the right, just before the lights went. He's low down by that. Probably behind the wheels. Cover me."
I aimed into t he darkness, sent off three shots, and saw the dark shape that was Starsky suddenly break from his shadows and sprint along the edge of the diminishing corridor of light.
He was a swift-moving blot against the greater dark. I moved out from the drums to keep him in view as best I could, pumping bullets in the general direction of the invisible rig. I did my fastest reload ever, and fired off another shot. I was aiming high, at least seven feet, I hoped, above floor-level.
Then came answering fire. Two sharp cracks form a light caliber weapon. One bullet struck my oil drums, the other brought sparks from the concrete floor inches from Starsky's running feet. He dodged, but must have hit an oil patch because his legs went from under him as if a scythe had taken them, and he landed with enough force to drive the breath from his lungs. At the same time a metallic clatter and a gasped curse told me he'd dropped his .38, while the momentum of his fall carried him into the light, an untidy sprawl of limbs, clutching his left elbow.
The gun glinted faintly a few feet from him, and he lunged for it right-handed. I was already running, but so was the Hotshot. He'd broken his cover to get a clear sighting, and I got a brief glimpse of his outline, pale face almost blocked out by the raised gun in the double-hand grip. The barrel slanted down. I fired as I ran, one shot. There wasn't time for more.
The heavy slug took him in the body, lifting, throwing him back, and his one shot rebounded among the girders above us.
"Starsk—" I reached for him with my free hand, and running footsteps from behind spun me round, crouching.
A big man, massive against the forecourt lights, bore down on us, and my finger tightened.
"Hutchinson!" a familiar voice yelled, and the workshop lights clicked on, dazzling me. A foot struck my wrist and reflex action triggered the boom of my Python.
"You bastard!" the voice blared, and a fist like a pile driver knocked me flying. I don't remember hitting the ground.
I could have kicked his ass all the way to Banda's, and back again. 'You don't understand.' He'd said that to me. Christ. We understood each other better than anyone else in the world and he knew it, and he could still—I hadn't been able to keep the anger out of my voice, and maybe that had reached him where sympathy hadn't, and he'd apologized. But it wasn't over. I knew that. And it scared me.I've seen him in most of his moods—from high-flying in-love-with-the-world happiness to the deep introspective is-it-all-worth-it blues. This kind of depression was something I hadn't seen before. Not even after Gillian. But after Gillian, he hadn't shut himself away. I'd been there.
I was shut out now, and I didn't like it one bit. He'd never shut me out—not really. Not for long, even when we fight about something. Even when Kira was making our lives hell.
(Hutch, what's happening to us, babe? What's eating you? Can't I help? I love you, man, let me help?) Only I couldn't say it.
So I watched him. Going through the motions. He's a damn good actor. Maybe that's what he should have been. An actor, not a cop. That way, you don't feel it.Hal's death had shaken him up in a way nothing else had, not since I'd known him, anyway. Well, it had shaken us all. When one of your own chooses that way out—what's that saying? 'No man is an Island—' Right, and we'd all felt the ripples from the shockwave.
I.A. had been down on Bennett heavily. There were always those who would say that if he hadn't been guilty, he'd never have eaten his gun. But that isn't true. How much can a man take? You never know, until you face it yourself.
Hutch was close to it. I knew that, even if he wasn't letting on. I guess it was the look of—despair—in his eyes. I've seen that look before. Seeing it in him made me want to do two things: shield him, and kick that IA. goon's teeth clear down his throat.
They were after Hutch for a change. Usually it's my head they're measuring for the trophy-board. It's not a new thing, and I can handle it. It isn't exactly a novelty for him, but—hell, he wasn't even beginning to handle it. I figured that might he one reason he'd shut me out—didn't want to drag me down with him when they pulled the flush on him.
Except that he wasn't going anywhere without me—and if he didn't know that by now, then Ken I-went-to-College Hutchinson was dumber than I thought he was.
And then came Spengler, and that shoot-out. They call it Murphy's Law. You know, the one that says anything that can go wrong, will? I went down hard—felt the stab of agony that had to go with broken bone jar through my left arm and shoulder, and was reaching for my lost gun right-handed whom Hutch's Colt crashed out and I heard his yell and everything had that awful slow-motion nightmare feeling.I couldn't move, lay there hugging the floor, and he was skidding to a halt beside me, reaching for me. The lights went on, and Jago came barreling in like a herd of elephants, his bellow echoing along with the reverberating boom of the Python and before Hutch could move, the bastard was on him.
I don't know what I'd have done if I hadn't been convinced my left arm was in pieces. Jago had a gun leveled at me—I just lay there and stared at him and then at Hutch, who was out cold across my legs. And nothing made any sense
"You okay?" he asked. He looked pale, shaky—after being decked by Jago, I was surprised he was even on his feet. But I shrugged, flexed my arm. It hurt, but I could move my fingers.
"Nothing broken. I said. "You?"
"My jaw may never be the same again." He tried a grin, and it didn't come out right. "Starsk—"
"Save it," I said quickly. "Later, buddy." Because I could see Jago heading our way, and I already had a feeling what he was going to say."You two. We' re waiting for you in I.A."
Hutch and I looked at each other.
"You reckon I'm psychic?" I said.
"Because I knew that was what he was going to say."
"You're not psychic. He's just predictable. Let's go."
Me, I think maybe I am psychic. Because I had a bad feeling what was coming and I was right. Knowing that didn't make it any easier to face Hutch when I.A. finally let me go. They'd taken us one at a time, him first, and when I got out he was slumped on the bench in the hall, hands loose between his knees, head down. Not so much waiting for me as not knowing where else to go. He didn't oven look up when I stopped beside him and said his name.
"You suspended too?" was all I got, in a monotone I didn't like.
"I reckon Capra wanted it that way, but Dobey wouldn't buy it. No, I've just been warned off." He didn't move, so I sat down beside him, rested a hand on his shoulder. "Y'know? Dobey, Minnie, everyone but the goddamn precinct cat—all tellin' me to keep my nose clean, or I wind up on suspension too. When's your Board?"
Christ. Five days, with this kind of depression, and Hutch would be ready to—I cut the thought off, tightened my grip on his shoulder.
"It'll be okay. I heard myself say lamely."
"Yeah. Sure." He sat up, drawing a deep breath. "What are you going to do now?"
"Right now? I'm going to buy you a drink," I said. "You drive. My shoulder's sore." So was my elbow. Every now and then the nerve twinged like crazy.
Hutch isn't what I'd call a heavy drinker, but he sank three beers while I was still on my first, and even then the mood wasn't lifting any. This was the Pits, alright. I had to do something—so I let him start on number four, then said casually, "We need to talk about Bates."
He looked at me.
"Johnny Bates. We need to talk to him. Find out who put him in hospital, since it wasn't us. And whoever it was knows we' re close, or they wouldn't be getting so antsy. Like Dobey said." I was whistling in the dark, but I hoped I sounded more confident than I felt. "Look at it this way; who knows we didn't beat up on him?"
"Besides you and me?"
"Bates. And the guys who did it."
"Uh-huh. So we need to talk to him."
"He's too scared to talk. Besides, Dobey's already questioned him and got zilch."
"It's the only lead we got, Hutch. He's more scared of the bad guys than he is of us. I figure we've got to reverse that situation."
"Great thinking. Except he's in a hospital bed with a guard on his door, and there's no way we're going to be able to get our noses near that door, let alone past it to see him."
Sometimes Hutch can be too damned logical, especially when he's down. I sighed, started my second beer.
"Don't be defeatist," I said. He gave me a glance and stared back into his glass.
"What I'd like to know is what spooked Spengler," he murmured. Well, Spengler wasn't telling anyone that, except perhaps the angels. I thought about it.
"At a guess, the same guy who did the number on Bates. Dobey said Spengler called Metro wanting protection from us—we were out to get him any way we could. Now he could have heard about Johnny, or someone could have seen us at his apartment when we were checking him out, and warned him we were on our way. Like the girl across the hall from him."
"And we turned up before he could skip town with Jago and Powell on our tails." There was an ugly note of bitterness in his voice, a savagery that was alien to him. But at least the apathy was giving ground. "Just in time to watch me blow Spengler away."
"He had me cold, Hutch," I said quietly. As if he needed reminding.
"You know that, and I know that. But it's Jago the Shooting Board are gonna listen to."
"And he can't tell it any way except the way he saw it!" I snapped. "A .22 or a fuckin' Magnum—they're all the same at that range when they're sightin' on your head. What were you supposed to do, for Chrissake? Read him the Constitution? Jago may be a hell of a lot of things, but he's no kind of fool."
And it would probably be Jago and partner who'd be watching us, I realized. Watching Hutch, certainly and maybe me. In their situation, I'd be stuck to me like sunburn. But then, they don't know me like I do.
"Bates," I said firmly. "Any ideas?"
"Are you serious?"
"Yeah, I'm serious. You don't think I'm gonna sit on my ass an' watch all our work go down the tubes, do you? So we start with Johnny. How do we get in?"
Hutch turned his glass between his fingers.
"How's about walking up to the door and demanding to see him?"
"Oh, terrific!" I snorted. "Great thinkin'. An' they let us right in, no sweat, no hassle—"
"No, Starsk," he said patiently. "I walk up to the door and do the demanding. While the guards deal with me, you go see our friend Bates. It's called A Diversion."I don't know why I didn't think of that.
Huggy got us the floor and room number. He simply delivered some flowers and listened carefully to the receptionist who had them sent up. Then we went into action.
We had to assume the tail was operating, so Hutch drove to the hospital apparently alone in the car. It was damned uncomfortable making that journey scrunched up in the back under a blanket. Anyone who'd like to see how a democracy works should. travel in the back of that heap. Tolerance, that's the keyword. That guy combines the habits of a packrat and a slob. The junk in there is unbelievable. Really.
I wasn't sorry when we pulled into the basement parking and he got out, looked around and gave me the all clear. I kept low in case there were any watchers; waited until Hutch's footsteps told me he was heading for the main elevator, then I sprinted for the stairs. Hutch reckoned he could give me ten minutes—I made the fourth floor, via eight flights of stairs; in about two minutes dead, and flattened myself against the stairway-door before sneaking a look.No dice. Still one man out there, but he was looking kinda worried. All I can say is I wish I could have seen the performance Hutch put on. Like I said, that guy could make a living as an actor. If he wasn't camera shy.
From where I was, I couldn't hear what was going on, but the guard obviously could, and he wasn't happy about it. He looked around, indecisive—then he made up his mind and headed around the corner. I took my chances and dived for Bates' room.
I could tell he wasn't pleased to see me. As his hand reached for the bell push, I grabbed his wrist."We don't want company; do we?" I said mildly. "Three's a crowd, doncha know?"
"How did you got in here?" he croaked. "I got police protection."
"Sure. An' I'm a cop. Remember? Or do you want I should show you my badge to refresh your memory?" I leaned forward. "I don't have time to play games, pal. We didn't put you here, and we want to know who did. And why you dropped it on us."
"Get out of here!" He tried to yell, but it came out as a wheeze. "I'm not talking to you!"
Well, I didn't think he was going to sob on my shoulder and tell all. He was scared—I had to scare him some more.
"Spengler's dead," I said bluntly. "You could be next. I didn't find it very hard to get in here. Your friends could get to you just as easy. You got protection, sure, but it would give you an even chance if we knew who we're protectin' you against."
"Go fuck yourself, pig!" he spat. "You' re bluffin'."
I looked pained.
"You were a whole lot more cooperative last time we talked to you, Johnny," I said, sounding disappointed, hurt.
"Yeah, and look where it got me!"
"Bite on this, then—we put it around that you've spilled the lot, and it'll get you a pine box! You want word out on the street that you've turned snitch? And go Spengler's route? Or are you gonna help us stop 'em before—"
"He didn't know anything; why would they kill him? He's a delivery-boy. You're lying, Starsky—"
He lunged for the bell push and managed to hit it, before I stiff-armed him back, gasping, onto his pillows.
"They didn't kill Spengler," I bit it out. "They set it up for my partner to kill him. Because he knew enough, Johnny—enough to put the finger on someone. You know even more so figure it out for yourself what's gonna happen to you. I got no time to lay it out in picture-writing!"
Then I moved out of there, fast. Visiting-time was definitely up. I didn't wait around either, hightailed it back to the car and kicked my heels for ten minutes waiting for Hutch to show. When he didn't, I used the spare key to drive out of there—and got called in to Metro almost before I was on the street. It was Dobey, and he sounded mad. Didn't tell me why, but I figured it had to do with the activities of a certain Detective Sergeant K. Hutchinson.
Since he was already on suspension, there wasn't a lot Dobey could do to him when the hospital had called for help and had him brought down to Headquarters. Except bawl him out. I could hear that clear down the hallway—the squadroom was riveted with attention. The captain was mad, okay. Even I hadn't heard him use expressions like that before.
He greeted me, so I walked in, with a bark of: "And you can wipe that grin off your face, Starsky! You think I'm stupid or something? You think I don't know what you were trying to pull? I don t expect any better from you, damnit, but I had thought Hutchinson had some sense! Dumb, that's what that was!"
"Cool it, Cap," I said, sitting down. Hutch gave me a quick interrogative glance. "Bates was our ace. We had no choice."
"Making choices like that is going to land one or both of you in the slammer!"
"Don't interrupt me, Hutchinson! You're a hair away from getting locked up right now—don't push your luck! Starsky, I'm telling you one last time—I'm not bailing you out any more. This is it—finito. Capice?"I nodded.
"So what did he tell you?"
"Not a lot." I hedged, feeling awkward "Except that Spengler was only a delivery boy, knew nothing. Which he'd already told us. So why set him up? —Unless he was a liability, and they couldn't risk him tellin' where he picked up the shipment—or maybe he had to take it someplace else first for a switch to be made—he could have overheard somethin'—seen somethin'. So they spooked him, and got rid of him and our investigations in one. At least, that's what they aimed for, I reckon."
"Anything else?" Dobey sounded sour, like I was only repeating stuff he'd already gone over, time after time.
"No. Bates wasn't—uh—cooperating anymore."
"I see. You didn't get a thing more than I did," he said heavily, and opened a file on his desk. "But there have been some developments elsewhere. It may interest you to know that the Fire Department found the remains of an incendiary device in the warehouse, and there's evidence to show that it malfunctioned. Whoever set it intended it to go up a lot earlier, frying Bates along with the cocaine." He fixed us both with that black stony stare. "I intend to tell him that someone was trying to cremate him before his time. Your visit may have given him enough to think about, and it should loosen his tongue some. Furthermore, you're both off the hook as far as the premeditated killing of Pat Spengler is concerned," Dobey went on. "The call he supposedly made to us was logged in, but the forecourt attendant said they were drinking coffee together at that time, he didn't leave his sight, and no calls went out. Spengler got a call of his own, though, just before you turned up. Didn't say what it was about, but it panicked him. He took the gun they keep under the counter and headed for his car parked out back. Got as far as the machine shop, then you barreled in and the shooting started. The attendant is sure he fired first, and, I.A. haven't shaken him on that. All the kid had was a .22, and there's no way he reckons to mistake the sound of a Python or a S&W for that." We started to speak both at once, but Dobey's glare cut us off. "Meantime you're still on suspension until the Board says otherwise, Hutchinson. And Starsky, you're detailed to keep him under twenty-four hour surveillance.""Thought Jago and Powell already had," I said.
"That's their business. I'm giving you an order."
"Right. You've got four days. You better clear this up before then. Without stirring up too much shit." Again the glare. "Out."
Well, we had backing, I guess. Of a kind. It helped to know that Dobey, for one, believed in us. It was a whole lot better than nothing.Our problem was, where did we go from here? We'd struck out—correction—I struck out—with Bates. Hutch, with the slide well greased under his feet, had neither badge nor gun. I had both, on somewhat shaky tenure. And if we were going after Banda, then that wasn't going to be enough.
I put through a call to Huggy. He didn't like it, but he knew better than to argue with me right then. Hutch drove us down to the Pits—but before we left Metro, I made a point of collaring Jago and telling him what we intended doing. To save him wondering, I explained we were going to drown our sorrows at Huggy's, then take in a movie, have a late supper at Chasen's—I threw in the name just to see if his eyes would bug, but they didn't—and then back to Hutch's place. Twenty-four hour surveillance means exactly that."Nice for you." Jago didn't turn a hair, damn him. "Hope you mean it, Starsky. We're still gonna be watching you."
I told him what I thought of that, and went to join Hutch in the car.
The Special Order I'd phoned through was difficult to come by, Huggy informed us. I swore.
"Okay. So when?""Tomorrow. Maybe."
"Hug, we need it yesterday, dammit!""I know, I know. Be cool, Starsky," he implored. "I'm doin' my best, my man—"
"We know that, Hug," Hutch cut in. "How about a drink? And something to eat?""There I can help you. Comin' right up."
"Told Jago we were eatin' at Chasen's," I commented to Hutch as we sat down at one of the tables. He raised an eyebrow.
"Only if you're buyin'," he said shortly. Which was enough like the old Hutch for me to grin at him. But he didn't grin back.
Since Huggy could only supply our needs as far as food and drink went, we split after the meal. There was a cowboy movie showing at the UA. I can't remember now if it was Clint Eastwood or Charles Bronson. One of the two. My mind wasn't on the Technicolor escapism on the screen. I was tuning in on Hutch's wavelength.This wasn't a new thing for either of us. We do our best work with a kind of rapport that's almost telepathic. Or maybe empathic. Whichever. It's saved our lives more times than I care to count. I wouldn't be without it. Except that while this kind of thing is priceless when you're doing the work we do, it's also a hell of a difficult thing to handle when one of you is going through any kind of crisis. There's no effective off-switch, no way you can say—that's it, enough, I'll come back when the static's gone.
I said earlier that I'd felt shut out. I didn't feel so much shut out now, as blockaded by the Great Wall of China. I was sitting right next to him, and he was slamming up brick after brick, working that off-switch with everything he had; it was scary and it hurt. There was no consolation in the thought that he wasn't being too successful at keepin' me out, if he had to work so hard at it.
I gave up the pretence of watching Eastwood—or was it Bronson?—and turned just enough so that I could look at him. Nothing showed. Nothing much does. He's not superficial, Hutch—he's deep, real deep.
He's not like me; he'll cruise along, peaceful, cool, and you'd never know what's going on under the blond surface. But when he blows up—man, you better be ready to duck.I knew him too well to be fooled by appearances. That mask might take anyone else in, but not me. I remembered what he'd said the other day—what would I do if he quit the Force?—and wondered if he really was that far down. Being a cop means something to him; it's his life. For me—it's the only thing I want to do. If we quit—
"We 're not going to," I said, and only realized I'd spoken aloud when he stared at me.
"Oh—uh—let's get out of here, huh?""Now? The movie's not finished."
So we left the theatre. Hutch caught up with me. "Thought you liked Lee Van Cleef."That was who it was? Christ, I was worse than I figured.
We'd decided to alternate his place and mine—I'd sleep on his couch one night, he'd take mine the next to even out the discomfort. I've slept on his couch enough to know it's not got the width a bed needs, and I usually wake up on the floor. My couch is wider but he's two inches taller than I am, and that kind of cuts any advantage back to zero.So there we were. It was one, maybe two o'clock in the morning, and we were both still awake. I felt so tired I reckoned I could sleep on a clothesline, pins and all. My eyes were gritty and my body lead-weighted—but my mind just wouldn't slow. Like a squirrel in a cage, running itself into exhaustion.
I could hear Hutch every time he changed position, and I knew he was still awake. He's not a restless sleeper normally when he goes, he goes like he was hit with a mickey. Total shutdown. Doesn't even twitch. He's just about the neatest sleeper I've ever known, given the right circumstances, and the quietest. So I knew he couldn't be asleep.
I don't know how long I lay there, staring into the darkness, one of us should speak, should break the deadlocked silence between us. And I also knew it wouldn't be him. But I waited, hoping.
I don't find words easy. With him, I've never needed them anyway, so it hasn't mattered. He knows how I feel about things—he feels it in himself. That's empathy, isn't it? I haven't needed to say it aloud. But now he was deliberately shutting down systems, cutting contact—because he was afraid of it. Of what it would do to me if—
Christ. That nightmare again. I'd told him I could live with it. And I can. It's something I had to face early on in our relationship, when I realized that this tall blond guy was somehow more to me than just a partner, more than just the man I work with, share stake-outs with, swap dirty stories, double-dates...I don't know, except he was somehow more. More than a friend, almost a part of myself. Like Siamese twins. So much so that what hurts him, hurts me. And vice versa.
Okay, I'd thought it through, accepted the possibility that he is going to end up in a drawer in the morgue, another unit in the cold statistics of cops killed in the line of duty. That part was quite easy, because I could tell myself it would never happen, not while he had me to look out for him, like I was his Guardian Angel or something. But it's come awful close this past year, a number of times; and, God help us, I can feel him slipping through my fingers like sand, and it, isn't just a possibility any more. It's getting to be a certainty.If I knew it, then so did he. And it explained why he was trying to shut me out. I know Hutch and his guilt-trips, and it took no guesses to figure out he was aiming to avoid taking one in advance, so to speak As if it would somehow be his fault. Those banks in Bolivia—we're Butch 'n' Sundance; it's a joke, we laugh. But, we know what happened to them—what will happen to us. Accept it, Hutch. Whichever way it comes down it's together. No way out, babe.
I was still locked into that train of thought when sleep finally caught up with me, and I didn't get to say anything at all.
I'm not sure what woke me; either the smell of coffee, or the doorbell. Yeah, it was the doorbell, because I thought it was my alarm and rolled over to cut it off, and fell off that goddam couch. Hutch's floor is hard.
"Oh, shit," I said. I'm not very inventive when I've just woken up, nor am I all that coordinated. So I stayed where I was, getting my head back into gear, and collecting a worm's-eye view of Hutch passing through to open the door. Huggy. I struggled out of the tangle of blankets around me, and sat up. "Christ. What time is it?"
"Seven-forty," Hutch said, bringing me a mug of coffee. It did my mental processes a lot of good. "Hi, Hug. What's the word?"
"Brung you your Special Order," he said, taking coffee and a handful of cookies. "Like I wanted to save you the time' n' trouble of callin' round for it, an' littering up my select establishment."
It was a Colt Python, .357 Magnum, and by the looks of it, brand-new. I've often wondered where Huggy can get hold of these things, but I know better than to ask. Hutch took it without a word, sat down at the kitchen table an started checking it over.
"Thanks, Hug," I said. "Put it on my tab."He rolled his eyes at me like a spooked mustang.
"I have, already," he said, and wandered past to the kitchen, where he started opening cupboards and drawers and generally making domestic type noises. I figured we might get a decent breakfast for once, and left him to it.
Shower and shave finished the waking-up job the coffee had begun, and by eight I was sitting down to shirred eggs on rye toast and fresh coffee, with enough of an appetite to do Huggy's cordon bleu justice. Hutch had already eaten—he left the table to take his turn in the bathroom, and as the sound of the shower cut in, Huggy's eyes met mine.
"Could say so. It's hit him harder than it should, Hug."
"C' mon, Starsky. You been on suspension before, both of you.""It's not just that," I said, keeping my voice low, although I know Hutch couldn't hear me. "Too many kicks, too often. The kids—"
"Yeah. That as a rough one."
Hecouldn't know how rough. It was a case we wanted to crack so bad it made our teeth ache. And eventually we had, but not in time to save five children from the kind of death only a complete headcase like Greville could have got any kicks from. I think if we'd known about the last one when we finally collared the bastard, then he wouldn't have made it to court. She was just four years old—blonde hair, blue eyes. She would have been pretty. After what he'd done to her, she wasn't. I'm not going to be able to forget what she looked like. Or what I could read in Hutch's eyes as he looked up at me from where he knelt beside her. We went out, when at last we got off-duty, and got drunk. Nothing else we could do.
"Uh-huh. But it was Hal Bennett's suicide that really hit him." I pushed the congealing yellow mess around my plate. "Veteran street-cop—broke Hutch in. The headhunters were on his back. He ate his gun four weeks ago."Hutch, hiding the depth of his grief even from me. Unable to let it go, or channel it. Letting it eat at him from inside, the Spartan boy hiding the fox under his cloak. Dumb bastard. But then, maybe I wasn't all that smart, or I'd have figured some way to help him. Well, brooding over something never got anyone anywhere.
"Heavy," Huggy said sympathetically.
"Yeah. But it goes with the badge." God, if there's one cliché I really hate, it's that one. "You got any word on Banda, Hug?"
"I have." The mobile taco danced into a grin. "But if you don' mind, good buddy, I'll save it 'til Hutch is out here. That way I only need to say it once."What it came down to was that Banda wasn't solely in business with that Golden Hibiscus place, no matter what Mrs. Lafayette thought she knew. He had a big slice of another salon—Aphrodite's Garden.
"Jesus Christ!" I said. "You wanna run that by me again?"
"Aphrodite," Huggy repeated patiently. "As in the Love Goddess? Classy joint, too."
"And Banda has a piece of it?"
"Uh-huh. And a piece in it, if you catch my meanin'." He winked. "The broad who runs the outfit."
"Another one? Has this guy got a harem?" Hutch wondered.
"Possibly. We could check it out.""Sure. But how do we lose Jago and friend?"
Which was a point. We didn't want that pair playing 'Me and My Shadow' all over downtown L. A. Huggy's eyes narrowed into silent laughter.
"We-ell, maybe we could confuse 'em, some?" he suggested.
Huggy's ideas are often pretty wild, but they usually work. I checked first to see if Man-Mountain did have Hutch's place staked out and sure enough there they were, parked across the street.
They both looked unshaven and pissed-off. And they didn't appreciate it any when I went across and tapped on the car-roof.
"You want breakfast, there's a place just down the block," I informed them. Powell sat hunched like he had a crick in the neck
"Thanks," said Jago "But we're not hungry. You plannin' on goin' somewhere Starsky?"
I put on a thoughtful frown.
"Maybe. Drive up into the hills, get some fresh air. Or just go downtown for a change of pollution. We'll flip a coin. See y'round fellas."
Huggy had given us brief but explicit instructions; we had to be in a certain place at a certain time, heading along Figueroa towards the Convention Center, aiming to be at the junction with 4th at exactly 11:32. What was coming down, we didn't know—as Hug said 'whatcha don't know, ya can't perjure yourself with'. One thing was sure; if it was something he'd dreamed up, it would out twist a pretzel.Jago and Powell were sitting tight on our tail, not bothering to be devious about it. If I'd've slammed on the brakes, they'd be up my ass before they knew it.
"How the hell is Huggy gonna prise those creeps off our backs?" I demanded, glaring at the reflection in my rearview mirror. "Any sign of him?"
"Nope," Hutch said. "Whatever it is, it's got to be good to shift them."
"Crap. If we didn't haveta cruise along like we're the air, I could lose 'em, no sweat." He didn't answer, Just sat there, those wide shoulders kind of bunched, resisting the urge to keep on turning round to stare back at the procession of one. He was getting awful edgy. Which was better than the apathy, I guess.
But I'd been spending too much time mirror-peekin', and not enough with my eyes on the road, and I almost missed seeing the clown who pulled out suddenly from a curb-side parking slot.
"Hey," I yelled, my voice high. "Watch the—my fender! He hit my—"
"No, he didn't." Hutch craned round as the car, an ancient Studebaker, swerved in behind us, forcing Jago to hit all his anchors or ram him."He did too! I felt—Christ!" A second heap queue-jumped in from the outer lane, and headlights locked into the Stud's wheel-arches.
Heads and flailing fists bobbed out of the windows, drivers and passengers screaming obscenities and threats, ignoring Jago's car wedged between them. Hutch's eyes met mine for a split second. I floored the gas pedal and laid rubber, because if this wasn't Huggy's brain child, it would do just as well.
Aphrodite's Garden was classy enough on the outside. Inside—you pushed open those doors, walked into somebody's fantasy. I don't know whose, but I wouldn't mind a few bucks' worth of it. The air was heavy with some kind of musk-and-flowers scent and the lobby was carpeted with pile so thick you were in over the ankle. Blue and green were the predominant colors—there were wide couches against the walls, covered with deep cushions, and the walls themselves were painted with classical murals. I was still staring when Hutch nudged me.
"Company, pal"She was about five-four. The kind of body to give a guy dreams. Black hair, long, twisted into a loose braid with blue ribbons. A face out of the glossies. She had on this pale blue Greek tunic-thing, leaving one creamy shoulder bare, reaching just short of mid thigh. High-heeled sandals laced up her calves. And legs that just didn't know when to quit. Maybe this was Aphrodite?
''Can I help you, gentlemen?"
Even the voice—soft, cultured, just a trace of accent—I couldn't speak. Hutch cleared his throat, went into the spiel we'd worked out. I didn't hear one goddam word. She might have been listening to him, but she was looking at me and those enormous violet eyes were doing things to my metabolism.
"One moment, I'll see if Phaedra is free."
She gave me a smile and turned away, and right then I was hooked. Those legs, that cute little—
"You're in lust again," Hutch said, sotto voice. I'd forgotten he was there, and his voice startled me.
"Ain't she somethin', though?"
"Sure. The question is, what.""Your disposition is gettin' soured," I told him, hoping that Angel-tail would come back.
"Have you forgotten why we're here?"
"Of course not." I snorted, trying to remember. I can't help it. Maybe it's my hormones or something. Hutch was looking at me over the top of those crummy black horn-rims he'd adopted for the occasion.
"So maybe you'd like to talk to Phaedra?"
"Hell, no. You're shy, buddy-boy," I said quickly. Then a curtain rustled, and Phaedra came out.
"Chloe said you gentlemen were inquiring about our insurance cover." Chloe. So that was her name.
"That's right," Hutch said smoothly. "Keith Howard, and my associate, Don Sinclair."
She smiled faintly, nodding in acknowledgement—a real frosty blonde, in the same kind of tunic, but in her case ankle-length and green. She must have been at least twenty years younger than Mrs. Lafayette, with all the cool elegance in the world. Classy was an understatement. But unobtainable. Chloe, on the other hand—
"I'm afraid I can't help you, Mr. Howard. All details like that are handled by our business manager."
Hutch gave her a stun-at-five-paces smile. "In that case, Miss—"
"Phaedra.""Yes. Miss Phaedra—perhaps you could let us have his name, tell him we called?" He pressed a visiting card into her hand. "We'll phone him and make an appointment. I'm sure we can offer him very advantageous terms."
See what I mean about him being an actor? She thawed some.
"Certainly I'll inform Mr. Banda. He's not here at the moment, but if you were to phone later on this afternoon?""We'll do that. On a more personal basis," he was really turning on the charm now. "We also offer comprehensive insurance covering your own possessions—jewelry, furs, cars—"
Her smile broadened. She's got dimples. Maybe she was thirty years younger than Mrs. Lafayette.
"Mr. Banda takes care of all that for me," she said.
I took my cue."He's a very lucky man." I gave her my Man-of-the-World look, and she blushed very faintly. Score One, Starsky. "Thanks for your time, ma'am."
"You're welcome, Mr. Sinclair," she said. "I'm sorry I couldn't be of more assistance." Then she looked us up and down with what I can only describe as—interest. "But perhaps we can interest you in our professional services?"
Hutch cleared his throat again. "Thank you, but maybe I'll take a rain-check on that—"
"No, wait a minute." I rotated my left shoulder experimentally. It gave me a painful twinge. So did my elbow. "My shoulder's gettin' kinda stiff," I said."Your shoulder?" Hutch interjected, clearly disbelieving.
"Yeah." The glare I gave him didn't have much effect. "The one I damaged in the garage, remember?"
"Oh. That shoulder."
Phaedra was all sympathy.
"Many of our clients find a massage extremely relaxing, and in a case like this, certainly beneficial." She gave a sudden, dazzling smile. "Our Business Man's Special, Mr. Sinclair? Very reasonable at twenty dollars."
Twenty bucks, I thought. But maybe I could claim it on expenses, especially if I managed to get any information.
"Sounds great," I said. "Can you—uh—fit me in without an appointment?"
"I'm sure we can arrange something." She turned to check the book on the jade-topped table. "Yes. One moment, Chloe!"She didn't do anything so vulgar as shouting, but the voice was pitched to carry. And right on cue, Angel-tail sashayed back in. My pulse-rate went back up.
"The Business Man's Special, dear." She indicated me, and Angel-tail smiled. "Mr. Sinclair's left shoulder is troubling him."
"Of course, Phaedra."
"'Uh, how long will this take?" Hutch interrupted. We all turned to look at him. I raised an eyebrow. Chloe took my hand.
"About an hour, sir."
"Uh-huh. An hour."
"'See you later, buddy," I said pointedly. He nodded, giving me to understand from his expression that he didn't relish the wait. I grinned at him, and he left, polite as ever. Chloe looked enquiringly at Phaedra, not letting go of my hand.
"Chloe," Phaedra said. "Mr. Sinclair is a special customer. Make sure he has everything he wants."
I swear that's what she said. And from the look in Chloe's eyes, she knew exactly what she meant. I somehow knew that I was gonna enjoy what came next.
And I was right. The 'Special Treatment' was one of the nicest ways I know of spending a spare hour. Besides the more usual salon services like massage, shampoo, and manicure, Chloe knew some tricks that left me hollowed out clear down to my toes. We only had one awkward moment—I'd kind of forgotten I was wearing a gun—but after that it was pure silk. I floated out of that place feeling at peace with the world, with only a vague niggle that maybe I should inform Vice. But Hutch brought me down to earth fast enough.
"For a guy who's supposed to have had a beauty-treatment, there doesn't seem to be any improvement," he said.
"Sour grapes, Mr. Howard," I said, getting in behind the wheel. "My shoulder feels great."
"Uh-huh. Wasn't just your shoulder that was stiffened up, right?"
"You're gross, Hutchinson." I gave him an injured look. "You wanna know what I got from Angel-tail or not?""If it's a description of your Close Encounter—definitely not."
I pulled out into traffic. "Banda seems to have quite a few fancy ladies on his string," I said. "Mrs. Lafayette, Phaedra—add another to the list."
"Chloe?" he guessed wide of the mark.
"Uh-uh. Though she'd like to be able to get him to notice her. No, this one is Jolene Frankland, and she works with him. See, he's got this I-bring-my-salon-to-your-home-deal, and she goes round with him on his mercy-missions, bringin' beauty an' relief to the filthy-rich an' raddled. An' you know somethin' else? She owns a brown Plymouth."
He started to look interested. "So Banda and Jolene make house-calls. Taking their Grecian Velvet range along."
"Junk in the gunk," I agreed. "Pretty near fool-proof, isn't it? What did you get?"
"Aside from a look at the appointment books, zilch. And it didn't make much sense—until now." He fished in his pocket, came out with a piece of paper. "They were fully booked—double-booked even. Only those names had an initial by them, and a different time, and sometimes addresses."
"Let me see." I glanced at the copy he'd scribbled "That's it, okay. These'll be his house calls. When were they scheduled? I mean, what date?"
"Tomorrow," he said. I thought about it.
"'Kay. Guess we can get round to it, huh? What say we go check out the late-lamented Spengler right now?"
To be honest, I didn't hold out much hope of being able to find that was going to help us. But it was all we could do, and far better than sitting on our asses doing nothing but worry. Give Hutch something to work on, to occupy his mind, and he's okay. But park him somewhere with no distractions —a bench in a hospital corridor, a situation where he's unable to do anything—and he starts to come apart. It's a trait I've thanked God for. Like the time after I'd blown Bellamy away, and they reckoned I'd got maybe four hours left. He didn't sit around waiting. Or when Marcos and his freaks kidnapped me. He damn near moved mountains. Hutch likes to be in control. 'I am the Master of my Fate—I am the Captain of my Soul.' That's him And he hates nothing worse than finding out that he isn't, that he's up past his eyeballs in a situation he can't do a damn-thing about.We weren't more than two blocks on before the radio squawked at us.
'"Zebra Three—patch through for Captain Dobey."
Hutch and I both winced. We knew what was coming.
The Captain didn't have much choice about hauling us in for a confrontation; I.A. were breathing down his neck. Jago and Powell weren't happy about us making them look stupid, and Hutch was, after all, supposed to be off the streets.
"Okay." Dobey fixed me with that black glare under lowered brows. "You didn't bother to report in the morning, and we couldn't raise you until past midday. What were you doing? Sleeping in?"
I was watching the headhunters. Powell's lip curled in a sneer.
"Ask the babysitters," I suggested. "An' is it my fault they can't do their job? What are we supposed to do, hold their hands so's they don't get lost again?"
"You shook us deliberately!" Powell yelled. "It was all set up—"
"You got a real inflated idea of our ingenuity," I said, wide-eyed. "Hutch, did we fix for that car-tangle?"
"No," said Hutch, and George Washington would have been proud of him.
"See?" I said, rather smugly. It wasn't appreciated by anyone.
"You may not have fixed it, but you sure as hell took advantage of it," Jago said softly. "So where did you go, Starsky? And why?"
I gave him my best butter-wouldn't-melt look of innocent virtue."We went to a beauty salon!" I said honestly. "Y'see, every few weeks, Hutch's roots start growin' through dark, an'—"
"Save that for the hearing," Powell snapped. "Funny guy. See if they laugh."
"Do we have to listen to this, Captain?" Hutch put in calmly. "If Jago and Powell are making accusations, I feel we should hear what they are. If all they want to do is stand and trade insults with Starsky, I think we should find a better time and place."
"You name it," I said instantly, addressing Powell.
"Shut up, Starsky," Dobey barked."You're starting to get me angry, "Powell whispered. "And you wouldn't like me when I'm angry."
"I don't like you now," I said narrowly. I don't believe in assing around. "You want to make something of it?"
"Cool it, Starsk." That was Hutch. "You're not making things any better."
Whose side was he on, I wondered.
"As of now I want a log kept on where you go and when," Dobey said. "And you'll report in to me every morning at nine." He glanced at Jago. "Satisfied?"
"For now," he said, quiet and relaxed. He looked long and hard at Hutch, then at me. "For now. Just take care, fellas, huh?"
I was about to assure him on that point when Dobey fixed me again.
"Starsky. Lieutenant Capra's office. He's waiting for you."
Hutch gave me a sympathetic look, but it was no surprise to us except that it had taken him so long to get round to me. We may have been expecting it, but that didn't make me feel much easier about it.
I've wondered, sometimes, what kind of cop wants to work for I.A. It's tough enough doing what we have to without our own guys on our backs—it must be even tougher having to do the investigating. No one loves the headhunters. Even their mothers. If they have mothers. If they don't reproduce by fission, like other bacteria.
Capra was nobody's Mr. Nice Guy. His reputation was a legend even in his own department. Hard, tough, uncompromising.
"Starsky," he said as I walked in. "I've been expecting you. Close the door."
I did. He didn't tell me to sit, but I wasn't gonna be there for long, so I didn't make a point of it.
"How old are you?"It wasn't the question I was expecting, which should have warned me about the direction the interview was likely to go. It also reminded me that Hutch had told me virtually nothing about his session with this man. Ominous.
"Thirty-six," I said. "It's in my file. In March."
"Uh-huh. And how long have you and Hutchinson been a team?"
"Eight years. Nearly nine. That's in the file, too."
"Eight—nine years. That's long time." No response seemed called for, so I didn't make one. "You've got a good record." No surprise, I know what our record was like. "You're proud of that, aren't you? That impressive list of successes?"
"Yeah." I said. "Sure. Shouldn't I be?""I'd be surprised if you weren't." He allowed himself what passed for a smile. "Yes, you're proud of it. But what else does it mean to you?"
I didn't know the answer to that one. "Huh?"
"More importantly, what would you do to ensure your success rate stays high?"
Christ, he was laying it on the line. No fancy footwork—a straight kick to the crotch. I couldn't pretend I didn't understand.
"I don't think I like where you're comin' from," I said quietly. "Sir."
"No. You wouldn't. Any more than your partner did. But the question still stands. Look at it from our point of view, Starsky. You're thirty-six. You're not getting any younger. You've got a reputation you don't want to lose. It's a vicious circle. You can't keep up the pace you used to, so you take short cuts."
"Who says so?" I demanded.
"Apart from Johnny Bates who may or may not be lying?" He looked at me measuringly. "Let's take a hypothetical case. Two cops—partners—startin' to slow down. The old edge just isn't there any more. But, they've got standards—their own and other peoples'—to live up to. What are they going to do? Let things slide to a level they can handle, or start stretching a few points. Hmm?"
"You lay this on Hutch?"
"I'm asking the questions, Starsky."
"Yeah. And I'm giving you the same answer I'm making book he did. No way, Mister! We got our standards sure. And we stick to 'em. If we lean heavy, then we make damn sure we've got reasonable grounds. You want I should quote you chapter and verse?"
He did that peculiar half-smile again.
"No need. I can easily believe you could, if necessary, recite the relevant part of the Police Manual. However, there's nothing in that Manual that allows one officer to fire at another when both are attempting the lawful execution of their duty. Is there? Or have I missed a later amendment?" And so on, a whole lot more shit along the same lines.
I hate sarcasm. I can never think of the right comeback. It gets under my skin. But what got even deeper was the knowledge that he'd laid this on Hutch, too. And I wasn't sure of Hutch any more—oh, Christ, that sounds wrong. I just wasn't sure how he'd taken this, how he'd react now. He wasn't shrugging it off, putting it in the right perspective as he's so often told me to do. That much I did know.
I walked out of Capra's office and was halfway back to the squadroom before I realized. And then I stopped, backtracked to the washroom. I didn't need to go, but I wanted a minute to get myself together before I faced Hutch. He reads me like I was a book—hell, no, like I was a neon-sign-writing two-foot high—and he'd know. He'd see it in my face, even if he was trying so hard not to pick up on me. I didn't want that, not before I'd had a chance to sort it out myself. So I stood in the empty room that smelled the way they all do, of Lysol and human basics, and I thought about what Capra had said.
He was right. That, first of all. We were getting older. Slowing up. Not by much, maybe, but the edge might be dulled. That edge, though, was only part of whatever it was we had, gaining us that 'impressive list' of collars and convictions. We were proud of that. Both of us. You don't get much out of being a cop; pay and praise are pretty thin on the ground. An arrest and conviction record like ours is something a lot of other cops envy. We had that—we know we were doing our job and doing it well. As well as we know now, anyway, and up until now that had seemed like it was enough.
Now—I wasn't sure anymore. Okay, I still had pride in what we'd achieved. But like Capra said—you get a reputation, you don't want to lose it, you don't want to be less than you were. And how far are you willing to go to keep it?
That, I guess, is the bottom line. I wasn't sure what my answer was—I didn't know how far I would be willing to step across the line between what's acceptable and what isn't.
Hutch and I, we've never been kid-glove cops. That doesn't work with the steel-clad bad guys we meet up with. I learned early that you can't always wait for the punk to make the first move. Part of our reputation, out on the street, is that no one—but no one—gets away with handing us any shit. Like Hutch said once—Nomo me impune lacessit. Right on. But getting physical unless we had to—no way.
And I remembered Matt Coyle, and 'Iron' Mike Ferguson, and what Coyle had said to us the night we took him—how one, day we'd be showing up, too. And then—? What it came down to was just that big question mark. How far will you go to keep what you have? Give a little, get a lot. Hutch had felt the same way about Ferguson's Law as I did. There are no half measures. We didn't have it in us to make that fine balance of judgment that he made.
So what did that leave? I found myself looking into a pair of blue eyes on a level with mine, and what I saw in them I didn't like. The eyes were mine, the reflection in the mirror above the washbasins. Only it wasn't just defeat. It was fear, too.
"I reckon it's catching," Huggy said. I blinked at him realizing that I hadn't heard what he'd been talking about."My shot?" I looked from him to the pool table.
"It was your shot. You missed your shot, Starsky," Huggy explained, sounding peeved.
"What's catching?" I wanted to know."Whatever's ailin' Hutch. 'Cause you appear to have contracted a bad case of it." He took the cue from my hand. "I purely hate to play a man whose mind is not on his game. You want t'pay me now or later?"
"Pay you?" I repeated. I was starting to sound like a frigging mynah bird."Yeah. Ten per ball, an' forty on the game."
"Later." The way I remembered it, it had been five per ball. Period. But since I wasn't sure, I couldn't argue. Hell, I didn't even know what we were doing there. "Hey. What time is it?"
"Ten after ten, Starsky," Huggy said, expertly lining up the cue ball for a shot to the far corner pocket.
"Time flies when you're enjoying yourself," I told him and picked up my glass. "Gimme another beer, willya?"
"Make that two," Hutch said at my elbow. He was clearly pissed-off. Didn't blame him. I wasn't altogether the little shaft of sunlight myself. We leaned side by side at the bar. "Enjoy your game?"
"About as much as you did."
"Uh-huh." He gazed into the amber depths of his glass. "Your place tonight."
"You want to eat first?"
I shrugged. I wasn't hungry. "If you want."
"Or we could pick up something on the way."
"Whatever you feel like," I said sharply, and heard the edge in my voice. This situation was really starting to get to me. Terrific. Both of us all set to crack up. "Sorry." I got the apology in fast. "Guess I'm wired. Look, I'm not hungry, but if you want to eat—"
"Not particularly." He was relieved, as if he hadn't wanted to say anything, would have made an effort, but was glad he didn't have to.
Suddenly it was as if I was inside his head, looking out and I could feel it all, the whole crushing weight of his depression and the fear and the despair and the frustration. And the directionless anger, the fury that was beginning to turn on himself because it had no other outlet.
"Hutch." A thread of desperation crept into my voice. "Let's split, huh?"'
'"Yeah," he said. "Guess we may as well."
He sounded beat and I was tired too. In fact, I was just about as tired as a guy can get and still be on his feet. Wasn't all a physical thing, though. I was bone-deep, through and through tired—of everything, the whole lousy shit-stinking world. And of what it did to us—was doing to us. Killing us, slowly. I wanted to hit something, anything. But it wouldn't do any good, and besides, I didn't have the energy.
At least tonight I got the bed.
I crashed out as soon as my head hit the pillow, and normally, when I'm this tired, I don't dream. Hutch reckons everybody dreams, you just can't always remember it. When I'm really whipped, it's like drowning in black velvet, and that suits me. At other times, the bad outweighs the good, so who needs to remember? But that night, I dreamed.
I knew it was a dream—had to be; reality is never that weird. I was in a tunnel, and it was dark, just this circle of light at the far end, diminishing as it got further and further away. I had the feeling I'd left something behind, back there in the light—a feeling of regret, of loss. I couldn't go back. Didn't seem to be moving—more like being carried along by a current too strong to fight. And I didn't know where I was heading, only that everything I loved, valued, was receding with that light. I couldn't do anything about it, but somehow it didn't seem to bother me. The thing that did get to me was the numb sense of—desolation, I suppose it was. This ache in me, because of what I'd lost.
That was about it. Just before the light went completely, I woke up. The disorientation of the sudden transition from dream to reality jolted me some, had me wondering for a moment where I was, what had woken me—then I heard Hutch.
I was still kind of confused, I guess, because I thought he was awake too, and said "Hutch?" expecting answer. I didn't get one. The disjointed monologue rambled on, not making any sense, only one thing coming through. I rolled out of bed, got to him as fast as I could without breaking my neck falling ever something in the dark.
"Hutch?"What little light there was showed me an untidy sprawl of limbs, half on and half off my couch—highlights of ruffled pale hair, the sheen of sweat on face and throat as he tossed in sleep. I didn't need to guess what was haunting him. He was on the same kind of trip that I'd just got out of. I took hold of him, shook him gently.
"Hey, Hutch. Wake up."
He shuddered, blinked, dazed by sleep and the dream. He stared up at me as if I were a ghost.
"Yeah. S'alright. You were dreaming." I kept one hand on his shoulder, reached for the switch on the table-lamp. In the flood of light Hutch looked even worse—he swung his feet to the floor, dropped his face into his hands. I could feel him shaking. "Okay now?"
"I—don't know. Christ." He combed his fingers through the sweat-matted blond hair, drew a deep breath. "Yeah. Sorry. Did I wake you?"
"No. I guess we both got the same problem."
We sat there for a minute or two, then he looked at me. "Thanks."
"For nothin'. You want some coffee?"
"Yeah. Gotta go to the john—"
He went, and I made the coffee. Neither of us was going to go back to sleep, that was for sure. We played Monopoly for what was left of the night. I won.
As per instructions, we drove to Metro to report in, and while Hutch made for the squadroom, I detoured for the cafeteria to collect a couple of coffees and Danish. We only remembered that we'd forgotten breakfast when my stomach started grumbling during the drive in. But we hadn't felt hungry earlier.
The place was busy; one watch coming, the other going, and I was just trying to decide between donuts, Danish, or raisin squares, when a familiar voice said: "Shouldn't you be riding herd on Hutchinson?"
I turned my head, saw Powell.
"I am," I told him. "I got him in my back pocket. You wanna look?""You're a real comedian aren't you?" he sneered. "I bet you're a joy to work with. You make a great pair, you and him."
"We have bean told so," I said mildly. But I'd got a bad feeling starting in my gut. Powell was needling, picking on me. Was he just out to hassle, or was there more to it?
"A Gong show reject, and a homicidal maniac," he said loudly. "L.A.'s finest. Christ." He looked as if he was about to spit at my feet.
"Watch your mouth," I warned him. I don't like that kind of talk.
"You don't tell me what to do," he hissed He was glaring at me like he hated my guts—as he probably did. The feeling was mutual. "You concentrate on keeping that partner of yours in line."
"I'll do that." I paid for the coffee, decided on Danish for me and raisin squares for Hutch. "You better take care you're sure of your facts, Powell. You and the rest of I.A., before you start slinging the shit. It's gonna come reboundin' back at you when he gets cleared."
"Facts, creep, are what put your partner on suspension," he said, getting kind of warm under the collar. "The fact that he and you beat up Bates, that he shot Spengler. And threw down on Jago." His voice took on an ugly bite at that last sentence. "A fellow cop, for Chrissake! What kind of flake does that? And how many others has he gotten away with, huh? That guy's a menace—he should be behind bars, not walking free on the street—"That was when I made another decision that I'd heard too much of Powell's voice, He hadn't been watching me, he'd been orating to the audience we'd gathered, and he wasn't expecting the left jab that doubled him forward. And it felt too damn good to be able to hit out at something, to be able to get rid of some of the frustration that was building up inside me, and I guess I sort of lost control. He presented his chin at just the right angle for my best cross, so I hit him again, sending him staggering back into the racks of various foodstuffs. Then he came at me yelling like an Apache.
I was so intent on wiping Powell's sneer off his face that I never even saw Jago making his charge down—and suddenly I was flying backwards, crashing into tables and chairs, ending up on the floor under the cutlery stand, and Hutch was bending over me, asking was I okay. Sure I was. I was prime candidate for a kidney graft, and my back was in three separate pieces, and I was as mad as hell. Hutch helped me to my feet—Powell was being held up by Jago, and I got a lot of satisfaction out of the mess he was in. Maybe we should just give Jago a doggie bag to take his partner away.
"What the hell did you think you were doing?" Hutch was demanding angrily. I shook free of his grasp. I could hardly tell him I was defending his honor.
"I got sick," I said.
"Yeah. Looks like it."
"Sick of listening to that bad-mouthing bastard," I snapped, holding myself upright against a table, realizing Jago must have literally thrown me nearly twenty feet, and no longer sure about him being a failed clone. "And when he quits hidin' behind the Incredible Hulk, I'm gonna—"
"You're gonna do nothing!" Hutch had hold of my arm again. "You step out of line one more time, and so help me; I'll deck you myself!"There's gratitude for you.
I did gather I wasn't anyone's Personality of the Month from the subsequent interview with Dobey. I reckon he came within a whisker of apoplexy. And Powell gobbled like a turkey cock, while Hutch and Jago stared at me. Coolly.
By that time I'd figured why Hutch was so pissed-off at me. After this, if I wasn't on suspension too, we'd both be watched like hawks, and we'd lose out on the chance to make the bust on Banda's Home Comforts Service. I'd actually started apologizing—or trying to—as he gave me a cursory first aid and cleanup job in the washroom, when the idea hit me."Hutch!"
"Hold still," he growled. "If it smarts, too bad."
"Hutch. I think maybe I got a cracked rib.""What?" he stared at me, frozen in the act of transferring a wet washcloth from the basin to my right cheekbone. The surplus moisture trickled up his arm and he dropped it back into the water. "Oh, come on Starsk. You may have the worst case of hypochondria this side of the Mayo Clinic, but—"
"I ought to get it checked out, Hutch," I said, practicing a pained-but-brave wince. For a moment he looked concerned, then caught on, and there was a flicker of a grin before the concern came back, more obvious than it had been.
Maybe he's not the only one who should have been an actor. I must have put on an awful convincing performance as the wounded warrior, because within the hour I was being ferried by Hutch to the Emergency Station at County. At least, that's where we hoped everyone thought we were going.
For once the Hutchinson Heap was marginally better for the job than the Torino. She is kind of noticeable, and we didn't want to spook Banda.
We'd already decided which address to stakeout; a plush pad up in Trousdale, and according to the list, Banda was due there at 12. We figured we had to be in position by 11:30 at the latest, but we had plenty of time. Which was as well, since we had to make like a mystery tour via the hospital. Hutch was hedging his bets."Sure you don't want to check in?" he asked.
"Just drive, willya?" If I sounded sour, I had reason. Maybe not a cracked rib, but bruises that ached like crazy. Hutch took the hint and drove.
We had no warning—never got a glimpse of them until suddenly the big car was cutting across in front of us. Hutch cursed and stood on the brakes, just avoiding ramming into them.
"Now what the hell—?"
But I'd seen the unmistakable bulk emerging from the passenger side.
"Jago," I sighed; reaching for the door-handle.
"And Powell," Hutch added, and slammed a fist against the steering wheel. "Shit!"
"Cool it," I said, opening the door as Jago loomed towards us.
"They workin' miracles down at County today?" he asked, smiling at me. I didn't smile back. "You're lookin' pretty fit for a guy with busted ribs, Starsky. Fixed you up real quick, huh?"
"Nah," Powell joined him, a sneer on his face. "You never heard of the 'layin' on of hands', pal?"He shouldn't have said that. I was having enough trouble controlling my temper as it was, and I know we both had to stay frosty if we wanted to stand any chance of finishing the job. But Powell—my knuckles itched to smash that curling lip through his teeth.
"The secret's in where you lay 'em," I snapped. "Like I'm gonna lay my fist on your jaw."
"Okay, fellas." That was Jago, imperturbable as the frigging Rockies. "Why don't we can the comedy routines, huh?"
"Yeah." Powell, with his over-size buddy along, clearly wasn't worried about a thing. "You know the drill, punks. Assume the position."
That did it for me. I went for him. Hutch tried to stop me, but it was Jago who got between us. He must have moved like greased lightening—I didn't see him, just felt the impact as his fist thunked into my middle, exploding the air from my lungs—and then I was too busy trying to breathe to notice much, until I managed to blink the tears out of my eyes, and focus on Hutch. And saw the gun in his hand.
"Hutch—" I sucked air and croaked his name. It was all I could do right now. I had the speed-potential of a geriatric turtle, thanks to Jago's pile-driver punch. Hutch didn't look at me. His eyes were fixed on them, his face set into that cold, impassive mask that meant he was one step away from berserk.
"That's enough," he announced. It wasn't more than a whisper, but it carried. "I'm a policeman, and I'm armed. Suspensions, Review Boards can't change that. Now you listen to me, and listen good. We've been framed, set up for Bates and Spengler, and it's odds-on Banda arranged it to get us off his back—"
"You expect us to believe that?" Powell blared. "You blasted Spengler, threw down on my partner—what were you trying to do? Blow away witnesses—"
"Shut up." Icy snap. "I don't give a shit what you believe. I told you to listen, not flap your jaw!""Button it, Frank." Unexpectedly, Jago bought in on our side. "Go on, I'm listening."
I'd got my breath back under control by then, and using the car as a ladder, hauled myself up to lean on it until my knees came back to me. Hutch spared me a glance, checking me out, then looked back at Jago.
"Banda's his own pusher," he said levelly. "He delivers the coke to his clients on his regular house-calls, along with the beauty treatment. He's got an appointment at noon today, and we're going to be party-poopers."
"You got a warrant?" Jago asked in that easygoing, friendly way of his. He knew damn well we couldn't have.
"Reasonable suspicion. We don't need one," Hutch said, explaining as to a five-year-old. "You get the picture? Because that's what we intend to do. Don't get in our way. You hear me?" He holstered the gun as he spoke, and I breathed a little easier.
"You're a flake," Powel began, but Jago cut him off.
"Button it, Frank," he repeated. "Seein' as how you're kinda set on the idea, Hutchinson, why don't we make it a foursome, huh?"
And the three of us stared at him, completely speechless. Well, Hutch and I were. Powell started gobbling, but Jago went right on.
"You forgettin' what the guy at the garage told us?" he said to his partner. "Made a statement we couldn't shift an inch. That has to stand for something, I guess.""But he damn near blew you away!" Powell howled in outrage. Jago shrugged.
That could have been partly my fault," he said. We didn't believe our ears. "I charged in on a darkened area with the light behind me. No way could he have recognized me right off, and no street-cop worth his salt is gonna take chances in a shootout situation. As it was, the gun didn't fire until I kicked him. Benefit of the doubt to Sergeant Hutchinson. Also regardless of who beat up on Bates, someone planted the bomb in his warehouse."
"Aw, come on, Frank. Don't let's get paranoid about this," Jago said mildly. "We're gonna go along and keep 'em company, see what comes down."
I still wasn't sure I was hearing right.
Hutch never raised his voice. "You're not going to stop me, Jago," he said.
"Nope. Not yet. I'm not saying I'm buyin' all your story, but I'm sure as hell convinced you're sold on it. So I figure we'll just stick close."
"And you don't go in with a gun." Powell had to get in his five cents worth. "Hand it over."
Hutch shook his head. Just once. "You want to try and take it away from me?"
I tensed myself to move fast, but I didn't need to. Jago put a hand on Powell's shoulder.
"Leave it, pal," he advised. Yeah, I thought bitterly, leave it. You got enough on Hutch already. Give him a few inches more rope and let him hang himself, save you the job.
"You okay?" Hutch asked me."Yeah. Terrific. Considerin' a dinosaur just walked on me. Listen, do we haveta discuss this out on the street, or can we be civilized about it an' maybe talk over coffee? Like in McDonald's just down there?"
"Sure, why not?" Jago beamed down at me. I decided that if he patted me on the head, I'd take his hand off at the wrist. Hutch frowned."We don't have time," he said. Hell, we had plenty, but he wanted Banda so bad it was making his teeth ache. Jago gave him a long look, and I felt Hutch's impatience. Okay, if he wanted to flatten those bastards, that's the way he'd do it.
"Better move out, then," Jago smiled. "What's the plan?"
Hutch told him. It was simple enough—stake out the place until Banda showed, let him get deep enough, and then go in and bust him. We figured we might get a chance to search the car as well. There was nothing there that Jago or Powell could find any objections to apart from the fact that Hutch was technically on suspension, but that appeared to have been shelved for the time being. Jago, however, couldn't resist a parting shot.
"Hutchinson," he said over his shoulder, before folding his bulk into the passenger seat. "Don't go in over-hard huh?"
That got to me.
"Fuck off!" I spat. "You just make sure you got your two-legged Doberman on a leash!"
Hutch was tight-lipped as he drove. I know he was mad—at I.A., at himself, maybe at me. I wondered how Jago figured on looking inconspicuous. I mean, a guy that size is kind of hard to miss. And if they lost us Banda, then World War III was going to start. The way Hutch was driving, maybe it already had.
"You wanna jump red lights," I said reasonably, "we bettor use the siren."
"Oh." He mumbled an apology. I sighed, checking, the mirror for Jago and Powell. They were still with us. Guess it wasn't my day.
We got lucky with the address—a very select condo with basement parking. Hutch slotted the LTD between Jago's Chevy and the wall, which meant that the Heap was screened from the rest of the sleek and shiny high-priced wheels already parked there. Me, I wished I'd insisted we'd brought the Torino. Wouldn't feel so much a poor relation then.
The waiting is the hardest part of any stake out. This time we didn't have to wait long. I got a glimpse of a silver Lincoln on the ramp, and hauled Hutch down out of sight, angling the mirror to let me see what was happening outside.
It was Banda. With a very slick chick—had to be Jolene—a white satin cloak and the Greek mini-dress. Foxy. They were carrying midnight-blue leather cases with design in silver—vines and columns, and a Venus de Milo with her arms on. That kind of brought Chloe to mind. Maybe I could go for another twenty dollars worth of Business Man's Special when I get paid next. But I guess Chloe wouldn't love me any more by then.
"Starsk." Hutch gave me a dig in the ribs. "What goes on?""Oh—they're headin' for the elevators," I told him. "Any minute now—'kay, let's move."
The Lincoln was locked, but that didn't deter us. I got a knack with locks. Powell gave me a hard look, but didn't say anything. After all, he was accessory-after-the-fact.
The interior was squeaky-clean. The payload was in the trunk. Cartons of Grecian Velvet everything from shampoo to skin balm.
"You wanna check this?" I asked Powell politely.
I sighed. It seemed like intelligence wasn't his strong point.
"Listen, you wanna be sure we don't plant anythin' in here, don't you? I mean, we could slip stuff in real fast, an'—"
"Okay," Jago said. "Go ahead, Frank."
I began to have my suspicions about Jago right then, when I saw how he watched Powell pawing through the pots of goo. He was enjoying it. Jago, that is, not Powell. That stuff reeked—he wasn't going to get rid of the smell for weeks. Got to give him one thing, he did a thorough job, whether he liked it or not, and sure enough, he came up with a little glassine sachet—one ounce of prime cocaine. Finest kind. And that was only the first of many. He didn't look too pleased about it, though.
"Let's go get 'em, Starsk," Hutch said crisply, and we took off for the elevators, Jago on our heels, and Powell, desperately trying to clean his fingers of the scented gunk, swearing in our wake.
No one spoke during the ride up to the second floor. We didn't need to. Hutch looked at me—his expression said quite clearly; 'We go by the book.'
'You got it.' I telegraphed back, and he gave an infinitesimal nod.
"Number Five," I said, as the doors slid open.
A balcony walkway ran the length of the building—we started down it, Hutch at my shoulder, Jago and Powell a few paces behind. By the book. Strictly by the book.
So we did. There was no response to the doorbell, so I knocked, and we waited for another minute or so. I was about to knock again when the door was opened, and girl's face showed in the four-inch gap held by the chain.
"Mrs. Templeton at home?" Hutch said, and I held up my I.D. so that she could see it.
"Esta la senora. Templeton aqui?" I asked, and Hutch shot me a look. I wondered if I'd got it right. She understood, anyhow, because she nodded, pushed the door closed, and the chain was unhooked. As we stepped over the threshold, I heard the murmur of voices and headed in their direction, ignoring the increasingly shrill protests of the maid.
The room was all white and green and paneled pine. Windows floor to ceiling gave out onto the balcony above the pool, and on a lounger beside the windows, the presumed Mrs. Templeton was stretched, wrapped in a kimono, a towel round her hair and her face plastered with green goo like a mask. It must have set solid, because only her eyes moved when she heard us. Then as they widened and she sat bolt upright with a squawk, the whole lot cracked. Really grotesque.
Jolene didn't scream. Both hands went to her mouth, though. And Banda—Banda got up from the cane chair and stared at us like a snake, while Hutch went through the routine. You couldn't fault him on a ward or action—could have used him for a training film at the Academy.
It wasn't hard to find the coke delivery; four ounces in the gilt and blue box of dusting powder. The dusting powder made Powell sneeze. Banda never said a word. I figured he'd been wrong so many times, he knew his rights. I read them to him. Jolene, wide-eyed and white-faced, followed her boss' example. Mrs. T. was volubly denying everything. It was all pretty-well S.O.P., and we had no trouble getting our three collars down to the cars. Although Mrs. T. insisted on being allowed to wash off the face pack and get dressed. Under that gunk, she was about mid-fifty, and still quite a looker. I guess she wasn't dealing with Banda just for the coke, she was taking advantage of the beauty treatments as well. As far as advertising went, she was a damn good recommendation for Aphrodite's Garden and their Grecian Velvet.
We took Banda and Jolene—Jago and Powell had Mrs. T., which suited me fine—and Banda had his lip well and truly zipped. Jolene wasn't saying much either. But from the looks she kept throwing him, she was scared as hell, and more of him than of us. Which figured with what we already knew about him. She wasn't going to talk while he was around, that was sure.
So we had Banda, at least until his fancy lawyer managed to spring him. We had Bates, and we had Jolene. Hutch's mood was better, too; a fierce kind of exhilaration, and it lifted me. Dobey's latest news went even further towards making me feel like it was coming up aces. Thanks to him going along and telling Bates everything I hadn't had time to tell him or didn't know then, Bates had been convinced he should spill all he knew. It wasn't a lot more than we already had, but he did admit that it wasn't us who beat up on him. So we were off that hook, and, surprise-surprise, Jago and Powell were off our backs. Hutch still had the shooting Board, but his suspension had been quashed. Boy, was it good to be free of that weight.
"So, did he say who it was?" Hutch asked. Dobey looked grim.
"Your Sunshine Boy upstairs. Banda. Or his heavies under orders."
"We got him!" I said, grinning. Dobey's expression did not change.
"Maybe. We've got to get Bates on the stand, first, and whoever else we can persuade to cough. Banda won't—he's hard, he's tough, and he's been this route enough times to the routine as well, as you, do. Don't waste time on him. His lawyer should be along any time now."
Which made Jolene our prime target. I was all for going in the way we usually did, but Hutch said no. Let her wait. The longer she waited, the more scared she'd get. The more scared she was, the easier it'd be for us. He said. Ken Hutchinson, Boy Shrink. Well, I figure you can only take this psychology thing so far, but right then if he'd suggested a trip to the moon, I'd have gone and booked the tickets.
"Banda's lawyer will be here any time. There'll be a lot of paperwork. It'll be a while before he gets in to see his client. Jolene hasn't asked for her permitted call, so I'm betting it's odds-on Banda's lawyer will be seeing her as well. But Banda first. She'll have a long time to wait."
Neat. And not a smell of hassle for I.A. to jump on. Personally, I wouldn't have fallen for the sweat-it-out routine if anyone tried it on me—but then—I wasn't a drugs pusher, or closely associated with one. Made a difference, I guess."Okay. Wanna kill some time?"
"Depends what you got in mind."
"Coupla beers down at Nellie's?"
It was dewy-cold, and tested like nectar, and we drank the first without putting the glasses down. The second we were more relaxed with.
"Powell was looking sick," I commented. Hutch gave a short chuckle."Wasn't he. Thought he'd puke on the spot. But Jago—I think he meant it."
Jago had smiled that slow easy smile and said he was glad he didn't have to follow us around any more. I believed him. I don't understand I.A., or the guys who chose to work for them, but—hell, Jago was okay, I had to admit that. Because it must have been him who swung it for Hutch to be back on the street; Powell wouldn't have spoken up.
"Drink to it," I suggested, and we did. "Reckon Bates'll testify?"
"Sure to, thanks to Dobey. Put the fear of God into Johnny, and he sings like a little bird."
We didn't laugh when we got back to Headquarters. Dobey was looking like all four Horsemen of the Apocalypse rolled into one.
"Bates," he greeted us. "He's dead."
We stared at him. After a minute I remembered to close my mouth."He was under police protection," Hutch said, disbelieving. "Someone got in to him?"
"Uh-uh. He was discharged as fit to leave hospital this afternoon, and since I. A. had cleared you they weren't watching him. He was walking down the block to a hotel when a twenty-three inch T.V. fell on him. From three floors up. A very nasty accident."
"Banda," I said between my teeth.
"He was here. He made only one call—the statutory one. We can't pin this on him."
"He's seen his lawyer?" Hutch put in.
"Just after you left."
Hutch looked at me, and I know how he felt. Mad as hell, and sick. Because that was our prime witness down the tubes. It was Banda's doing, okay—or whoever else was in on this organization, it made no difference—but we couldn't prove that.
"And?" I said. "Is he getting out on bail?"
"No. Oddly enough, he's staying put. Comes up in front of McLellan in the morning.
I considered that.
She was all we had, now. If I'd been in the mood, I might have felt sorry for her. Hutch's hard-man routine was straight out of the movies—not as good as mine, maybe, because Hutch can't look really evil, however hard he tries, but he can look ruthless. A cold frostiness that's somehow alien to those gentle blue eyes—oh, yeah, I've seen it once or twice. It scares me, so what it does to the bad guys I can imagine.
Tina Reeves was with her. S.O.P. I smiled at her. Hutch, now firmly into role, didn't.
"We're not exactly official," I said winningly. "So stay around, honey. Just wanted to tell Ms. Frankland a few things that might interest her." I smiled at Jolene, then, but she didn't respond. I hadn't expected her to. She wasn't looking at me, but at the Dirty Harry clone at my shoulder.
Hutch didn't waste time. He leaned forward, hands on the table, and fixed the girl with a basilisk stare.
"A man died two hours ago," he said softly. "A man called Bates. Johnny Bates. You may not have heard of him, but your boss had a lot of dealings with him. Your boss used your car—the brown Plymouth—when he went round to visit Johnny, and had the shit beaten out of him by a couple of his heavies. His Lincoln was too noticeable, and he didn't want to be noticed. Johnny sure as hell didn't see him and his friends—they were, hanging around outside, listening to the poor bastard cooperating with the police. He had a good job done on Johnny—made him so scared he laid the blame on us, until he got it into his skull that it was us protecting him from Banda. He talked then. Told us a lot of things about your boss. And now he's dead." He bit out the last sentence as if it tasted bad. "Do you think he's going to believe you've kept quiet?"
"Ease off, Hutch," I said, on cue. "She don't care a thing about Johnny gettin' burned. She's just Banda's patsy—the gift wrapping—is all."
"Oh, no. She's in deeper than that." He never took his eyes off her. "He sent his lawyer to see her, didn't he? Well, Jolene? What did he have to say? Keep your mouth shut, don't say a word, and Mr. Banda's fairy godmother'll wave her magic wand and everything'll be alright?"
"Hutch!" I protested, getting between him and her, and doing my best see-sweet-reason voice. "Calm down, partner. This kid didn't know why Banda wanted to loan her car. Hell, he's her boss—she's gotta do what he says.""Sure, sure. Like 'go walk in front of a truck, Jolene.' What's she going to say to that? 'Right away, sir'? Or is she going to be sensible and save her own skin? C 'mon, Starsky. Does she look like a moron?"
Jolene, as intended, was confused. If she hadn't been new to this game, I guess she'd not have fallen for it: As it was, all she knew was that we weren't going to lean heavy while we had a policewoman as witness, nor could we question her without a lawyer present. So why were we there?
"Leave it," I said quietly. "You're not getting through, Hutch. There's such a thing as employer-loyalty, y'know. Besides, how can a sweet girl like her know what kind of snake he is?"
"Yeah. He's going to throw her to the wolves so's he can get clean away. First offence—for her—what do you reckon? Five? Depends on the judge, of course. But they'll put her away, no sweat. Banda'll see to that—if he lets her live."
"I didn't do anything!" she blurted out suddenly, and we looked at her. "I don't know anything."
"You're not obliged to talk, Ms. Frankland," I said seriously. "Not unless you have a lawyer present."
"He's Mr. Banda's lawyer—he said he'd take care of everything, but I don't trust him and I don't want to go to jail or get killed. I never did anything!"
"Are you ready to make a statement?" I asked, and when she nodded I got Tina to call a stenographer.
In spite of what she'd said, Jolene did know something. Not a lot, but it was useful. About Bates she could tell us nothing new, she didn't know where or how the junk got in the gunk but she did know where it came from, and how it got into L.A. It came from Las Vegas, and there a handful of Vegas showgirls who made the run regularly, in pairs, and one of the pair was always heavily pregnant. When they reached the city, and the unknown drop, she'd 'deliver'—only the bouncing baby that was mamma's pride and joy was prime uncut cocaine. Neater than the French Connection. Another link in the chain, leading us closer to the man who was at the end of it, the Main Man, Mr. Big himself. It'd take time, but we'd get him. I was sure of that now.
The next run was due within forty-eight hours—tomorrow or the day after, Jolene wasn't sure. Well, that didn't matter—we'd just stake out the route until the mule-train showed.We were ahead of ourselves there, just a bit, because Dobey could easily have taken us off this case, considering the assorted hassle we'd gotten mixed up in. I guess he realized what it meant to us, because he didn't. He asked us if we wanted in and Hutch's 'Yessir!' came out before I even drew breath. Didn't matter. He took the words right out of my mouth.
It was all reports and briefing sessions then until we logged off, late, around ten, and went our separate ways. I wasn't worried about Hutch anymore, which may sound crazy, but I wasn't. He'd make it whatever it took, he'd make it. And as long as he did, so would I. The future wasn't looking so gloomy—hell, we were together again. Nothing could touch us as long as we stayed that way.
I took a shower, fixed myself a snack to hold me 'til morning, and went to bed. Didn't know a damned thing after that until the alarm woke me at six, and I felt wide awake, ready for anything, when Hutch turned up at seven. From the way he looked, he was feeling fine, too—didn't even bitch about taking my car on the stake out, and never flinched when I offered him breakfast. He didn't accept, though. Guess that would have been expecting miracles.
"I ate already. Let's move, huh?"
He was getting impatient, and that was good. It showed the old Hutch was in there. It was also bad, because he'd be a pain in the ass to share the long hours of stake out duty with. I picked up a book on the way out, and a pack of cards. There's this trick I'd been practicing—I reckoned I'd just about got the hang of it. I'd demonstrate while we waited—impress him—
"You got the field-glasses?" he said.
"Yeah, I got 'em."
He settled in the passenger seat, rolling down the window, and logged us en route to the rendezvous, and didn't speak again until we were headed out of L.A. and into the desert, the morning sun not yet clearing the smog haze. Well, we didn't need to say anything. We were well on the way to having this case sewn up tight.
I started whistling quietly to myself as I drove. It could be a long day ahead, but I still felt pretty good.
Hutch, relaxed in the seat beside me, was watching the scenery pass, until out of the blue: "Why do you think Hal did it?" It was a question I know he must have asked himself, many times. And I didn't know the answer anymore than he did. I could trot out all the platitudes and clichés, but I know he didn't want them.
"I don't know, Hutch."
"Guess it all got too much for him."
"Yeah. But he didn't have what we have."
"Huh?""We got each other."
He looked at me and smiled the first real smile I'd seen in a long tine, and I swear to God the sun came out.
"Like always, partner," he said. "Me' n' thee."
You know something? I reckon somebody up there must like us.