Originally published in The Fix #7, In Person Press, October, 1989. The Fix zines accept both gen and slash stories. All 22 issues of the The Fix are still in print, including a collection of all the gen stories available in the first 20 issues, and available from Lionheart Distribution: http://www.lionheartdistribution.com/starskyhutch.htm. The author is not on the internet and doesn't have email. Comments on this story can be sent via snail mail to Flamingo, PO Box 823, Beltsville MD 20704-0823, and will be forwarded to the author. Scanned/first-proof read by Cyanne, final proof reading by SHaron. Special thanks to both!
Summer; the mountains hidden behind a tattered, persistent shroud of smog, their peaks clearest at dawn and sundown when traffic and industry are at their lowest ebb. For the most part only the beach areas escape the mantle of pollutants, thus ensuring that vacationers enjoy their stay. Not that they mind; they are so caught up in the sparkling surf, the miles of smooth, grey sand, and the glorious, endless sunshine.
A patrol car cruised slowly along the main streets of Venice. The two men inside seemed very interested in the clusters of scantily clad young women who flashed bright smiles and ran easily across those same streets, toting towels and plastic bags filled with lotion and soft drinks. Those waiting at stop signs stared through their Kool-Rays at the very young cop sitting in the passenger seat of the patrol car. Some of them waved, others smiled, but nothing kept their minds off the lure of the water and the sun for very long.
Music blared from vehicles and storefronts alike. The smells of hotdogs, coconut oil, and exhaust all mingled to tantalize the tourists, and gave Venice its unique, carnival-like atmosphere.
"Now there's something I'd like for my birthday," said Sergeant Luke Huntley in an awed whisper. "You think Doris would object?" The object of his admiration wore a skimpy polka-dot bathing suit the size of his hand.
Ken Hutchinson flashed a knowing grin. "Object? You'd be in that meatloaf she's gonna make. Honestly, Luke, don't we have enough excitement as it is?" The last was said with a good deal of sarcasm. Duty had been anything but exciting all week.
Luke looked over at his rookie partner and grinned. "Ken, you sound cynical. Don't tell me the glamour's wearing off." He didn't miss the irritation his words caused. Good, he thought, time to wake the kid up. Hutchinson was so new and squeaky clean he was making his fellow officers feel like jaded relics.
Added to that, his lofty view that a cop was supposed to be part social-worker and part guardian of the downtrodden was rubbing some of the men the wrong way. Huntley knew enough about his rookie partner to understand his white, upper-class idealism, but it wasn't winning him many friends, particularly among the older, more cynical men. While Venice division was a cherry assignment, he knew that would change as the druggies moved into the little beach town. They were already there in some spots, draped like seaweed on benches and retaining walls, their apathy in sharp contrast to the vitality of the tourists. If it was up to him, he would clear the whole goddamn scene of the scum; all they were was trouble.
His lieutenant, Mike Ferguson, felt the same way, Huntley thought absently. That was why he never let up on his men -- especially the new ones like Hutchinson. Luke fervently hoped this particular fresh-faced eager-beaver would survive because Iron Mike already had expressed his doubts.
"Too goddamn pretty!" had been Mike's first pithy comment.
"You want to get some lunch?"
His partner's voice startled him, but he nodded. "Yeah. Then you can drive the next leg of this tour."
"Anything to get some action," Hutchinson said, running a finger along his collar. "I was talking to Starsky the other night, and he was in on that big robbery arrest -- a hostage situation, with shots fired." There was a real note of envy in the soft voice.
"Starsky? Who's he?" He felt a twinge of annoyance at the way the name was uttered. He looked over at the younger man.
Hutchinson must have picked up on his mood, because he looked embarrassed. "Uh, well, we went through the Academy together, were pretty good buddies by the time we graduated." He smiled ruefully, his glance scanning the storefronts. "He was assigned to Hollenbeck... I got the beach." Something must have amused Hutch because he relaxed a bit, the smile now a grin. He turned to look at Huntley. "See, Starsky didn't know how to take me at first, but then we really hit it off... helped each other a lot." He shrugged, "It didn't take long to learn which instructors were out to get us." This time he laughed and shook his head. "Honest, we were nuts! I don't know why in hell they didn't toss us out." He fell silent, staring out the window, scanning everything they passed.
Huntley nodded. "They didn't toss you out because your scores indicate there's a brain under that... hair."
He'd caught himself just in time, for ice-blue eyes were staring right through him, daring him to make a comment about the fine, very blond hair. Close call. When am I gonna learn?
He put his foot to the accelerator, speeding up to beat the light. "What I meant was that intelligence and a sense of humor often go hand in hand. They may not want anyone who makes an ass of himself day after day, but high spirits don't count against you. A bad temper does, though," he added hastily, when he saw the expression hadn't changed.
He hoped he sounded wise and patriarchal; after all, that was his role for the next six months. Then, some other cop would have to wipe the rookie's nose.
"Hold it! Look at that kid." Hutch was pointing toward the corner.
Huntley looked, seeing a thin, very gangly youth of about fifteen standing in front of Stedman's Book Store. The sun shone on a thatch of red hair. "Looks like someone set fire to his head," he commented laconically. "What's he doing?"
Hutchinson shook his head. "He's spotted us. Let's drive past then come up the alley." His voice was tense.
"Ken, how many kids steal books? Hell, he probably wants to look at old man Stedman's Geographics." Still, as they drove past the store, he noted the kid was definitely itchy. Maybe Ken was developing the cop's instinct.
"See. I'm sure the kid is up to something, but if I can talk him out of whatever he's planning, maybe he'll see that he has even less of a chance of getting away with something bigger later on."
There was such a note of sincerity in Ken's voice that Luke winced. Maybe the rookie should have gone into social work as Frog Howard had laughingly suggested. Idealism. He wondered how many months it was going to take to convince Hutchinson that some people weren't the least bit interested in being good citizens.
"Maybe. Or maybe he'll be our first bust of the week," he said, looking sternly at his wide-eyed partner. "Ken, that windbreaker Red is wearing could conceal a Saturday Night special... for all you know. Kids that age shoot without thinking or conscience. We'll go through the alley, but you just remember to watch his hands at all times!"
"But if he see me as a threat rather than someone interested in him -- " came the protest, hand clenched in frustration, "then he won't listen to what I have to say."
"Hey! You listen to me, smart ass! Nobody's asking you to gun him down if he makes a move. All I'm telling you is to watch his movements. Now, loosen up, willya? The lieutenant will have both our asses if we do something wrong." Huntley made the turn, then swore at the double-parked car directly in his path.
His partner turned to him. "Let me out. I can get up the alley a hell of a lot faster on foot, and if anything's going on I'll be able to catch him." Hutchinson already had his door open and his long legs out of the car before Huntley could say no.
"You just remember what I said, I've already got three weeks invested in you!" The grin he got back was blinding and as the cap was fitted down over the fair hair, he had to smile back. "Go on, Goldilocks, earn your money."
Not even the insult could dent the look of pleasure on Hutchinson's face. "See you," was all he said as he slammed the door. He took off at a trot, covering the distance so quickly that Huntley sighed in envy. He was getting old... fit only to train the young punks coming in. Slowly he got out of the car to see what the problem was. Probably some bozo had flooded the engine... who cared?
It was okay; the black and white had cruised right on by, the dumb fuzz never even saw him. Too busy leering at the dolls showing off their tits for all comers. Well, that was cool. When he was older he was gonna get himself fixed up with some fox who knew her way around. Right now, though, all he needed was an old bag with a fat purse and her nose in a book He'd learned how to cut leather straps, lift wallets out of those open tote bags, and slit the bottoms of purses. Plus, he could run like Speedy Gonzales; nobody had ever caught him.
The cops had turned the comer and were now out of sight. Good. He slipped into the store, eyeing the customers with an experienced eye. Without pausing he made his way directly to the Mystery section. That was the best place to find a pigeon because they were always reading the books and ignoring their purses. He never tried to steal from anyone who was with somebody else... that had proved the undoing of his buddy Mark. Stupid jerk had grabbed some old dame's handbag only to have her friend knock him silly with her tote. Mark was now at Nelles in Whittier.
He spotted the woman and knew she was his. White-haired, shaped like a stuffed chicken, with a couple of diamond rings big enough to cut plate glass. Best of all, she had set her purse, (green leather -- expensive) down on one of the book stacks while she had her nose in a book. She was wearing glasses, and had a built-up shoe so she wouldn't be able to run after him -- even if she did spot him. Vastly pleased with his observations -- he was a fuckin' Sherlock Holmes -- he moved closer to her, lifting down a paperback that had been left on top of the book stack.
She never even looked up. This was going to be easier than he thought; must be some book. He smiled to himself, maybe he ought to steal that, too. But then old man Stedman would get on his tail and that was another story altogether.
Carefully he eased his knife out of his jacket, taking time to see if anyone had come up on his blind side. They hadn't so he moved confidently forward. That was the whole secret of this game; move as if you had as much right to be in the store as the next guy. People only got suspicious if you looked scared or guilty before you did anything.
He picked up another book and slid it onto a shelf, making it appear he was filing it in its proper place. His pigeon was still flipping pages; he would have to wait until she started reading. Obviously she wasn't going to buy the book without checking it out. Another two books were filed, deliberately out of order.
He saw his chance; she had stopped to read and had her back turned to him, as if she resented his being there. Well, she was gonna resent it a helluva lot more in a minute. By then he'd be long gone.
He made a long slit in the purse's side, then swore to himself. Instead of cheap plastic for the lining, there was some sort of fabric inside. The knife hadn't even sliced it. That called for other measures. He glanced around again, noting that the back doorway was clear. Putting his knife away, he simply took the purse and turned to go, making no noise as he hurried toward the exit. The old woman hadn't so much as glanced up; what a stupid dame. He could just imagine someone trying to make off with his mom's purse!
There was a sudden knot in his throat as he thought about his mother. He wondered if she was all right, and if his dad was still cheating on her with his secretary. Maybe he'd call her if there was any change in the purse.
He examined the back door, noting with relief that there wasn't one of those tinkly bells on it to announce people coming and going. There was a mom and pop store he wouldn't even buy anything at because of that kind of bell. People just automatically glanced up to see who was there. With his red hair he didn't need that kind of attention.
He was outside; his heart thudding in his chest, breathing in the salt air as if he'd been shut up for a week. Maybe that was the whole idea of stealing like this... testing people, seeing how stupid they were. He looked up and down the alley and didn't see anyone except a wino pawing through the trash. Great. He'd be able to go through the purse without much trouble. He began running not too fast, just enough to get him out of Stedman's vicinity. When he ran around the corner he spied a large crate beside a dumpster... just the place he wanted. There was only a pile of excelsior inside, and it was clean. He crawled in.
He opened the purse and dumped out its contents, gasping when he saw the sparkle of diamonds as they fell out. Jesus! Maybe his luck had really changed. Wouldn't his mom flip if he sent her a ring? Laughing, he opened a fat change purse and pulled out a roll of bills. His head reeled; he could see at least one one hundred dollar bill and a couple of fifties. Totally absorbed, he failed to see the shadow that fell across the front of his hideaway.
He jerked his head up so fast he almost cried out as muscles stung his neck. There, standing above him, dark uniform blotting out the sun, was a cop! He looked tall enough to be a tree, but surprisingly, the expression on his face didn't look too mean.
He'd go along with what the cop had asked. "Yeah. Here in the alley... I -- I was just looking for some ID, ya know?" With eyes narrowed, he waited to see what the reaction would be.
"In her change purse? Try again." This time there was a definite note of disapproval in the voice.
"Honest to God. I was going past the book store and this purse was just lyin' there -- so help me."
"Pick up all the contents -- all of them. Including the rings!" The command was snapped in a tone that would be stupid to disobey. Scrambling, hands trembling, he did as he was told, then crawled out of the box to face his enemy.
Who didn't look much older than he was... and had a baby face with pink cheeks and blue eyes. Something laughed inside him and he knew he had the upper hand; only a rookie cop looked that young. And this one was already on his side. He let the tears begin. "You gonna send me to jail?" he whispered, wiping his nose with the back of his hand. He handed the purse over without being asked. It was tucked tight under the cop's arm.
But the cop's reaction wasn't quite what he expected. "What's your name? Where do you live?" This was asked while he was frisked. He scowled when the knife was confiscated without comment, and handcuffs whipped out.
"You're gonna cuff me? I didn't do nothing wrong!" Had he misjudged this jerk or what?
"I asked your name, punk! Now!" The cop yanked him close, and said very softly, "You were in Stedman's. You took out a knife and slashed the purse, then decided to steal it instead, from the old woman standing in the Mystery section. You left by the rear exit and I watched the whole scene. Don't be stupid by telling me you're innocent. Now, what is your name!"
"N-Norman... G-Green. But everybody calls me Red." He could see the cop putting his nickname to his last name and smiling in sympathy. He relaxed even as the cuffs slid around his wrists. "How'd you like to live with that?" he asked miserably, now playing the abused role.
"I've heard worse," was the reply, "but not many. Now let me read you your rights."
"Don't need to. Teenagers don't have any," Red retorted. "And what do they call you, Officer?"
He'd hit the nail right on the head. The big cop gave him a look that should have dropped him in his tracks. "Enough, but I don't steal from old ladies to get even. Now we're going back to the bookstore."
At that moment there was a yell from Stedman's and a man burst out the back door waving his hands. Behind him was the plump old lady.
A siren whiffed for a moment, then was silent. Jesus! Where had the patrol car come from? The cop hadn't called anybody, yet here was a unit, and a big hard-faced guy getting out. Red's heart sank and he began shaking in his shoes. He'd seen that cop in action.
The rookie turned to Red, concern on his face. "Hey! Don't worry. Nobody's gonna hurt you."
Red eyed the night-stick stuck in the older cop's belt and sneered, "Maybe you ain't. But that bastard will. I seen him rough up a guy once and the guy wasn't doin' anything!"
"Shut up!" Nevertheless, the rookie shoved Red out of the way. "I got him. Tell Stedman I recovered the lady's purse, too."
The older cop drew closer, eyes scanning over the prisoner, then looking away, not recognizing him. Red thanked God he hadn't been caught in Venice before.
By now a crowd was gathering but the young cop began waving them on, still moving toward the bookstore. He carried the purse with an unconcerned air, a smile betraying his satisfaction at making the arrest.
Red heard the old woman let out a yell as she began hobbling toward him. He felt a little ashamed as he watched her laboring gait, then remembered the built-up shoe. Shit, that was gonna look real good before a judge. He'd stolen a cripple's purse. His face reddened and he averted his gaze.
"That's my purse! Oh, that's it!" she cried. "And that's the boy who was next to me in the aisle!"
"Hutchinson, bring the kid over here," said the older cop. "I want Mr. Stedman to identify him if he can."
Red winced as he was shoved over to face the owner of the book store. He saw Stedman stare first at his hair, then at his face and knew he'd lost again.
"Yes. That's him. He came in through the front and went straight to the back until I couldn't see him. I thought be was just using the store for a short cut." He turned to the young cop. "A lot of kids do and I don't object as long as they don't touch anything." He smiled ruefully, "I don't sell the kind of magazines they're interested in."
Red looked at the old woman who was busily pawing through her purse. "It's all there, lady. I didn't steal nothin'." He thought tiredly that a few nights in Juvie would at least get him off the streets and put some food in his gut. Tears stung his eyes and he felt small and alone. He wished he'd stayed in Tulare. He wished he'd listened to his mom.
A hand rested on his shoulder and he glance up through his tears. The cop, Hutchinson, was watching him. After a moment, he fished out a handkerchief and handed it to him.
"Here. No sense in making things worse, is there?"
Red wiped his eyes, awkward because of the cuffs. What kinda game was this? He tried to give the handkerchief back but was told to keep it. It was very clean, almost new with an initial sewn on the comer in dark blue. A scrawly H with a circle around it. "Thanks, but it ain't my initial... " he managed a watery grin.
"Keep it anyway. I've got plenty more."
Hutchinson took off his cap and ran his fingers through his hair. Red stared at the color. It was so blond it didn't look real. God, the guy looked like a model for Esquire or something. One thing he knew, he sure as hell didn't look like a cop. Not even wearing the uniform. Something akin to sympathy swept through him. Cops were mean as cat piss; he bet that they were mean to this one just because he looked the way he did.
"Thanks," he said impulsively and wadded the cloth up, thrusting it deep into his pocket. The action earned him a half-smile.
Red heard the other cop asking Stedman and the old lady to come down to headquarters and sign papers about him. The woman, who had some Italian name, wagged her finger at him. "You gonna end up dead, you keep this up. You want to end up dead?"
The hand squeezed his shoulder, so he merely shook his head, biting back the remark he wanted to make about stupid old dames who left their purses on tables. He was acutely aware of the unspoken approval from Hutchinson.
"Come on, Norman, let's go. This won't take long."
He felt the tears start again, and fished for his new gift. "Maybe they'll send me to Nelles, huhn? I got a good buddy there. He's in for three years."
He was spun around so quickly he felt dizzy. "Listen hard, kid. Three years in Nelles is hard time. It's no place for a purse snatcher! If you're smart you'll keep the hell out of places like that." Blue eyes bored into his and he saw the caring in their depths.
Jesus! Who was this jerk? Why did he care so much? "So where do you suggest I go?" he asked shakily. "I ain't expecting no welcome mat no matter where I'm sent."
The big hand lightly enveloped his arm, leading him toward the patrol car. "No, I don't suppose you are, kid. Well, maybe there's somebody who can help you get straightened around."
"Hutchinson! What did I tell you about that?" came the hard voice behind them. Red turned to stare at the other cop, and flinched at the open disgust he saw there. He knew better than to provoke this tough guy. Risking a look at the man he now considered to be his rescuer, he saw the mouth set in a thin line, the eyes narrow.
A little shiver went through Red as he stared; the rookie looked meaner and older. Maybe he'd underestimated the baby-faced cop; maybe he'd better watch his step from now on. "You gonna lock me up in your jail?" he asked. His shoulders were aching and he twisted a bit to loosen them up.
Hutchinson noticed the action and spoke to his partner. "I'm going to take those cuffs off. He's beginning to hurt -- "
"Serves the punk right," Huntley said curtly. He stared at Hutch, then added, "Okay, but you'll have to sit next to him in the back."
Glancing soberly at Red's face, the rookie knew the defiance he saw covered real fear, and a terrible loneliness. Quickly he took out the key and removed the cuffs, inspecting the thin wrists before pushing the boy into the car. "No funny stuff, or I'll put them back on," he warned, getting in beside Red. Then, relenting, "When did you last eat?"
The chin jutted out. "Didn't ask for you to feed me, did I? It ain't any of your business when I eat."
The rookie removed his cap. "It's going to take at least an hour to get you written up, fingerprinted and checked for priors. Then you'll have to be transferred to your new home, wherever that may be. You can be sure that nobody's gonna give a damn about the condition of your stomach. Now, answer my question."
Swallowing, Red murmured, "About four yesterday afternoon. I hadda cup of coffee and a doughnut."
Hutchinson nodded. "That's about what I thought. Luke, when we get to that Denny's I want to stop."
There was a snort of disgust from the front seat, but Huntley made no other comment. Hutchinson thought wryly that his partner was undoubtedly thinking about lunch, himself.
"Can I have a hamburger and fries?" Red had perked up, life back in his hazel eyes. "And maybe a chocolate shake. God! I ain't had a shake in ages."
"Oh, come on, don't do a Camille on me! I'll bet you live on burgers and cokes and shakes, right? With lots of candy and potato chips for dessert."
Red eyed the rookie suspiciously. "You sound like my mom, you know that? She always yelled at me when I was home."
"Where's home?" came the gentle query.
The boy looked away. "Tulare; I usta live out there, but I had to leave."
Hutchinson nodded, saying nothing else until they got to the Denny's parking lot. "Now. Are you going to behave when we go in there, or am I going to have to put those cuffs back on you?"
Astounded, the boy gaped at him. "Ya mean we're all gonna go in? You guys are gonna buy me a meal?" He shook his head as if that was too much to believe.
The cop laughed and ruffled the red hair. "Sure. Cops get hungry, too. Don't they, partner?"
Huntley's expression was one of fond exasperation. "Yeah, and that makes them meaner 'n Godzilla. Will you get out of the car and make tracks? Let's go."
In under forty minutes they were back in the car and on their way to the police station. Hutchinson had ordered a huge hamburger, fries, salad, milk, pie and ice cream for his prisoner, noticing with satisfaction that nothing had been left uneaten. Now, Red sat beside him, eyes half closed, his face old beyond its years. Why did kids like this one have such a hard time? He thought of his own youth with gratitude. While there had been parts of it he'd hated, he'd never been unloved or neglected. "How old are you, Norman?" he asked quietly, noting the sharp cant of one auburn eyebrow.
"Almost sixteen. In six -- no, five weeks. Gonna get me a driver's license when I get outta jail." The boy sat up, suddenly alert. "Shit! This ain't gonna stop me from drivin', is it?" He looked genuinely ill.
Hutchinson shook his head. "No. At least not this time, but if you are caught using a vehicle for the perpetration of any crime, you may have your license revoked." He watched while Red struggled with the legalese, then smiled as comprehension triumphed.
"Hell, I'm not that dumb. Nobody can catch me when I'm running... a car might get stuck in traffic, anyway." Having solved that dilemma to his personal satisfaction, Red leaned back and closed his eyes again.
Huntley caught his partner's disbelieving stare and winked. "Kid's quick, I gotta give him that." But the stricken look on Hutchinson's face gave him something to think about the rest of the trip back to the station.
The phone was ringing when Hutchinson finally arrived at what he mockingly called 'home.' He'd taken the closet-sized apartment for six months -- until the little cottage on the canal was empty. He loved that place, loved the ducks, the ridiculously shallow water, the tiny bridges. He'd first seen it when he'd rescued a kid whose go-cart had scooted off the path and into the waist-deep water. The kid had been in little danger of drowning; most of his howling had been at the possible loss of the cart. But fortune had served Hutch a royal flush; the boy's uncle owned the cottage.
He suddenly realized he hadn't picked up the phone, and made a grab for it, glancing at his watch. "Yeah. Hutch here."
"Well, lucky me. How are ya?"
Warmth washed over him and he sat down to pull off his shoes and socks. "Just fine, thanks. This is a surprise. Two phone calls in a week. What gives?"
A lazy chuckle was the only answer he got at first, but that was enough. He grinned, "Come on, Starsky, what have you got planned? I know something's going on in that warped mind of yours." He leaned back, loosening tie and collar, feeling better than he had all week. "I know. You had another shoot-out, and you only nailed one bystander, right?"
"You got it, Hutch. How's about getting together one of these nights -- or weekends? We gotta talk."
Hutch said nothing wondering if he'd heard right, and what Starsky might have in mind. It might prove interesting to meet and swap stories -- not that he had much to talk about. All the exciting things seemed to be happening to his former classmate.
"You there? You okay?" Concern tinged Starsky's voice.
"Hmm? Sure, I'm fine. you sort of caught me by surprise, that's all." He wished he'd grabbed a beer before he'd sat down, his throat was suddenly dry.
"Always could, Blondie," came the amused response. "But I got to thinking about going bowling, and... I wondered if you'd like to go, too."
Hutch listened intently to the deep voice, half-smiling as he pictured Starsky sprawled across a bed or couch, curling the phone cord between his fingers. Starsky was probably bare-ass naked, or wearing only a pair of cut-offs fit for washing cars. He realized he hadn't seen him in his uniform since graduation.
"Yeah. Why not? You want to double date, or just let me beat the pants off you right off?"
"How long since you been bowlin', Hutch?" The question was sticky-sweet, laughter behind every syllable.
Caught, Hutch had to admit not even once. "Now I get it. Since you're pushing it, you must be taking lessons."
"Nope, smart ass, just dating a chick whose Daddy owns the Ten Pin Lanes."
"I'm impressed. Does she carry your ball for you, too?" Hutch grinned when he heard Starsky choke on something. "You okay?"
After a minute, Starsky said weakly, "You're dangerous, ya know that? How's about Monday? That's the night I bowl after work. We could grab a pizza, lift a few, talk over old times. Maybe discuss what we wanna do with the rest of our lives. What say?"
Even as he heard the invitation, Hutch was shaking his head. "Can't Monday. Gotta court appearance involving a juvenile and it may involve some personal time." He thought about the pleading eyes that had followed him when he'd said good-bye to Red. "How's about the following week?"
"Nah, we only bowl twice a month. But that' s okay. Give me a call at the station and I'll swing by and pick you up."
"You still driving that old Mustang?" Hutch asked, recalling one horrible, rainy night on Mulholland when the car brakes had failed. He and Starsky and John Colby had been sure they were going to die, but were so drunk it had seemed hilarious at first. He wondered where Colby was now.
"Yeah, but I fixed the brakes." Starsky made the sound of tires squealing around corners, then burst out laughing.
"Just so long as we don't have to go around any curves, I'm game. I'll call you sometime next week."
They talked a few minutes longer before Hutch reluctantly placed the receiver back in the cradle. Funny how simpatico they were, even though they were as different as night and day. He removed the rest of his clothing and showered, then poked through the tiny refrigerator looking for something to eat. He decided he wasn't really hungry so settled for a beer and a slice of cheese. As he dropped into his one easy chair, he wondered how Red was doing. He'd find out on Monday; Luke had warned him not to get involved with these runaway kids. But there was something about the boy that haunted him...
Waves pounded the shoreline while rain and winds lashed the forms of the men who stood on the pier. Several, clad in dark-blue hooded raincoats huddled together, watching as divers sought to rescue a fisherman who had become trapped in his lines.
It was December; all along the Venice promenade sorry scraps of tinsel, and red and green bunting flapped in the rain squalls that had ushered in this last month of 1969.
Two of the men in blue separated themselves from the others and trudged back through the sand to the walkway that led to their patrol car. Heads still down against the elements, they slid into their seats and slammed the doors in mutual disgust. As they pulled away, the man in the passenger seat said, "The lieutenant didn't mean that the way it sounded, Hutch. You know how Iron Mike gets when he's mad."
Blue eyes stared at Huntley as Hutch backed out of the parking spot. "Really? Did you hear him tell anybody else to stay dry so their looks won't get ruined? One of these days, Luke, so help me I'm gonna flatten that conceited bastard even if it means my badge!"
"I can't say I blame you, but all he's trying to do is make sure nobody walks on you... underestimates you because of your -- " Huntley fell silent as his partner tromped on the accelerator. "Take it easy, pal! Don't take it out on me!"
"Oh, that's right, I forgot how you jumped in to defend me," Hutch said sarcastically, "You'd think I was some fuckin' pansy from the way the lieutenant carries on." He made a wide right turn, skidding through a puddle. "I've been a cop for a year now, and I think I'm a pretty damn good one -- so far, but it sure as hell isn't easy when even your own partner treats you with kid gloves." There was hurt and accusation in his tone.
Before Luke could reply the radio crackled to life. "Ocean 6, do you read me?" The dispatcher was Ellie Masters, an attractive woman whom Hutch had dated a couple of times.
"This is Ocean 6 responding, Ellie," Huntley said crisply, still staring at his young partner.
"There's a 211 in progress over at the Wax Works, three juveniles involved."
"We copy and are on our way. Ocean 6 out." Huntley merely glanced at the time; Hutchinson was already making the turn that would take them back to the popular surf board store. "Best time for a hit," he observed, "lots of Christmas dough in the till... most of the diehards home on a day like this."
"Maybe, if all they're after is the cash." Hutchinson turned to fix his companion with a stern gaze. "Billy Lewiston has more enemies than we do." He looked away, streaking toward their goal.
Huntley had to admit the rookie was right, and that he hadn't even thought about that angle. Little Billy -- as he was called -- had a mean streak in him that seemed to be directed toward the young surfers who paid him top dollar for his surf boards.
"Yeah, well nobody ever said genius went hand in hand with decency." Luke knew only too well that the little card games conducted in the back of the shop spelled trouble for the dumbos who thought they knew all there was to know about poker. "Stands to reason Billy's gonna get popped one of these days."
There was no one in front of the store when Hutch parked the black and white; the gutters were several inches deep with water and rain lashed at them as they ran toward the entrance. Huntley drew his gun and waved his partner around to the rear. Hutch scowled, then went into the adjoining store, gun still in his holster. Luke smiled, the last few months had seen some major changes in his friend... he was now somebody he could rely on... who knew how to protect your back. Better still, he was beginning to toughen up, due in part, he knew, to Iron Mike's unceasing demands on the rookie.
His smile faded as he peered into the store's interior, noting the fluorescent lights were out, the ordinarily flashing neon palms behind the cash register were also dark... apparently these kids weren't too bright. He crouched a bit, then eased the door open, wincing when the row of wind chimes began wildly tinkling as the wind hit them. "Shit!" he muttered, closing the door as fast as he could. There was no one in the showroom, of that he was certain, but that left the long storage room in the back.
"Hey! Lookit that ring, man! Hold the money while I take it off that fucker's finger." The voice was young, high with excitement, and directly ahead of Luke. He squinted, trying to spot the robbers.
"Hey, we gotta get outta here! Man, you don't need the damn ring. Look at all the bread we got... we can buy a shitload of things with this."
The second voice made Huntley frown; he'd heard it before... but where? He moved forward, ducking behind a surfboard when he heard another noise: Hutch was in place in back.
"Shhh! We got company, Red. Grab that flare gun and let's beat it."
There was an immediate note of panic in the voice that was so strong, Huntley almost laughed. He crept closer, knowing his partner wouldn't come piling in the back door without a signal from him. Stepping into full view, he shouted, "Freeze! Police!"
Before the second word was out, the rear door opened and the three youngsters stared at the second cop who was also pointing a gun at them. "Drop the gun," Hutch commanded, waving his .38 from right to left. "Don't move."
"W-we ain't. We didn't do nothin'." One of the youths was trying to scramble out of sight, under the row of storage shelves. Hutch nodded at Huntley before moving closer. "You two step back," he ordered. Then, going behind the shelves, he pointed the gun directly at a large packing crate. "You. Very slowly, come out with your hands up! Don't do anything stupid."
All four of them stared down, the remaining boys wide-eyed and jumpy. Their gazes shifted from cop to crate to cop, as if they were watching a tennis match.
"What're you waiting for? Christmas? Well, sonny boy, I've got news for you. I'm not Santa Claus."
Huntley gave the store owner a quick once-over; Billy was shaken, but conscious. When Billy was told to stay where he was until they had the last suspect in custody, he didn't protest.
"D-don't shoot. I'm comin' out -- gimme a chance. Please, don't shoot.... I ain't got no gun." The voice was muffled, shaky, but its effect on Hutch was immediate. He exchanged glances with his partner before answering. "Nobody's going to shoot you, Red. But don't make any false moves...."
The figure that emerged, hands held high, was as tall as Hutch; the flaming red hair longer, a shade darker, but still unforgettable. "What're you doin' here?" Red asked, "I thought you were gonna -- "
"Never mind what you thought!" Hutch snapped, eyes narrowing. He searched the youth with quick efficiency, handcuffed him, then told him to join his friends. Only Huntley sensed the disappointment beneath the cool exterior.
In a few minutes another unit was on the scene, followed by an ambulance for the roughed-up Billy. just before the juveniles were led away, Hutch pulled a manacled Red out of earshot. He perched on the edge of a display bin and stared at his prisoner. "When did you get out?" he asked.
Red shrugged. "Two months ago. Been keepin' outta trouble ever since -- 'cept for today." He shook his head, "You might of knowed it. We figured today -- what with the storm and all, that nobody'd be at the beach. Why the fuck are you guys here, anyway?"
His tone was so plaintive that Hutch had to hide a smile. "Red, it's that kind of thinking that's going to keep you in trouble the rest of your life if you don't start using your brain." He leaned forward, expression earnest. "There's very little crime on stormy days... but we cops do other things besides fight bad guys, you know. We were in on a rescue when the call came through. You tripped an automatic burglar alarm when you switched off those damn blinking palm trees. See? What you don't know will buy you trouble every time." He stood up, camaraderie gone. "You're sixteen now, a second offender. It's not going to go down easy this time."
He looked at the dejected figure, aware of Luke's impatience. "You seen your mom since you got out?"
Something flashed in the hazel eyes. "Yeah. Went home last month for Thanksgiving. She asked me to stay." Red swallowed, then shrugged. "Guess I shoulda. My old man finally split -- he's moved to Colorado."
Hutch nodded, then pushed Red ahead of him. "Take a piece of advice, kid. Go home. Go back to school. Learn a trade. I don't think it's too late for you, yet." He lowered his voice. "I've a friend -- another cop -- who'd give you the same advice. Maybe you should talk to him... his childhood makes yours look tame."
But the teenager had merely shrugged. "Yeah, I'm sure. What do you care, anyway?"
He didn't see the change in Hutch's expression. "Actually, I don't," Hutch said calmly. "I'm only interested in kids who want to make it without ripping off old ladies and beating up store owners."
"Come on, come on! Don't waste your time on this no-good punk!" Luke's pale blue eyes bore into Red's, and he smiled without humor. "Beside, I've gotta feeling we're going to be seeing this loser time and time again. He's gonna be a repeater, partner, all his life."
"Go fu-" Red began, then shut up when Huntley lunged for him. He was grabbed, shaken, and then shoved out the door into the rain. This time Hutch did nothing to come between him and the other cop.
"Maybe you shouldn't feel too bad, smart ass," Huntley jeered. "At least you'll have a dry roof over your head and food in your gut."
The sarcasm was lost on Red; he had just seen the look on the blond cop's face. For some reason he didn't understand he knew he had hurt Hutchinson. He stared at the confining cuffs, knowing that this time they were there to stay. Just before he got into the patrol car, however, he felt a hand on his shoulder.
"It isn't too late, Red. Go back home when you can. Get off the streets."
Tears welled in his eyes, and he choked back a sob. "Yeah, well, have a Merry Christmas." He thought of the bleakness of Juvenile Hall but refused to cry.
"Thanks, maybe next year I'll be able to wish you the same," Hutch replied.
"Hey!" Red said urgently, twisting away from the cop who was trying to get him into the black-and-white, "Do me a favor and don't tell my mom until after Christmas... I don't wanna spoil it for her...."
Hutch shook his head. "Can't do that. Besides, you spoiled it yourself when you decided to rob Billy." He moved back, "Now get going... and do some thinking while you're locked up, will you?"
"You mean to tell me that you are going to switch to Metro? Who in the hell do you know to put in a word for you?" The envy in Hutch's voice made his companion chuckle.
"Thought that would get to ya. I told you you should've transferred out of that Beach Blanket division. They're never gonna take a guy whose biggest collar has been a drunken Marine who wanted to swim to Catalina."
Hutch grinned sheepishly. "Don't forget he wanted to take Miss Marina Del Rey with him, you jerk." He leaned back, relaxing as Starsky maneuvered the Mustang through traffic. For someone who professed to hate Venice, his friend spent a lot of time down here, especially now that Hutch had moved into the cottage. More and more they looked forward to their time off; swapping huge lies about their dates, and making all sorts of plans for the future.
Looking over at the long profile, he felt a surge of affection that took him by surprise. Starsky really liked him, really wanted him to transfer to Metro... to work with him. "You're serious, aren't you?" he asked softly, waiting until that intense blue gaze met his own.
"No shit. Hutch, I swear, you are about as perceptive as a hunk of wood." Mischief glinted in Starsky's eyes. "I told you, pal, I think we'd make terrific partners... one of these days we're gonna set this town on its ear."
"Venice?" Hutch asked deliberately. "Why, Starsk, this is Iron Mike's town. He wears the white hat here."
"Venice! You must be nuts! You think I wanna work in a place where everything tastes of sand... and... and..." Starsky's indignation rendered him speechless.
"Don't give me that line, buddy. That sand is usually decorated with more beautiful bodies than you'll ever see working out of Metro... that's why we're cruising right now, isn't it?"
The flush on the dark features told Hutch he'd struck a nerve but Starsky wasn't about to admit it. "Besides, I've actually got Iron Mike eating out of my hand these days." It was an exaggeration, but not by much. What it had cost Hutch was something he never talked about.
"Figures. He always was a horse's ass." Starsky turned to look at Hutch. "He's dangerous, Hutch. Believes in takin' risks. I heard a couple guys talkin' about that Spangler deal. They said he was lucky none of his men got killed."
Hutch sat up straight, nodding his agreement. "Yeah, well, he didn't have much choice at the time. He gets results, though."
There was no response, but Starsky's disapproval was obvious. Hutch felt the need to offer some sort of reassurance. "Not to worry, pal. If it makes you happy, I've been thinking about a transfer, too. As soon as my rookie time is up."
He was rewarded with a grin that made him blink. "That's in exactly three weeks and one day! Promise?"
Laughing Hutch said, "Okay, I promise. Now, there's a health food bar over on Cormorant that makes -- " He got no further, for Starsky had slammed on the brakes and was whipping the car around in a U turn. "Are you off your rocker?" he demanded, holding on to the dash. "You gotta use the john, or what?"
"Just hold tight, Blondie, I thought I spotted somebody climbin' in a window up the alley." Tires squealed as Starsky slowed to avoid hitting the rain gutter too fast, but he was too late. There was the screech of metal and the Mustang came to a sudden halt. Starsky pounded on the steering wheel for a minute, then opened the door. "You know this part of town?" he asked, drawing his gun and checking it.
Hutch nodded, and slid out of the seat, studying the deserted alley. He felt the hairs on the back of his neck crawl, and shivered. "Which window?"
"I'm not sure, but I think it's the third one -- yeah, that's it!" He was whispering, cat-creeping along the brick wall of the building. A dust devil stirred papers as they approached their goal. "See? Window's been jimmied. What kind of place is this?"
"Pharmaceutical warehouse... small stuff. Maybe a few uppers, some barbiturates," Hutch stated. He peered in the window, frowning at the dark interior. "You go around to the front. I'll cover the rear."
Immediately, Starsky shook his head. "No way. He ain't gonna exit onto a street. Not in broad daylight... we stay here and wait for him." He tried to smile, but didn't succeed.
Hutch frowned. "I can see we're going to have to work at being partners if we ever do make it. But since you won't go, I will... see you later." If Starsky made any protest, he didn't hear it.
With an easy lope Hutch cut between two buildings, then ran headlong into a couple walking their dog. It took him a moment to realize that they paid him no attention at all. Of course! He and Starsky were off duty -- and out of uniform! A sense of freedom he hadn't experienced rippled through him, and he laughed silently. Plainclothes... detectives who didn't have to worry abut the uniform. That was what he wanted. Not just the partnership, which he admitted he wanted very badly, but a certain freedom to move among both the good and bad guys without that feeling of resentment he had grown used to.
Reality returned when he reached the locked door of the warehouse. There was a car parked at the curb with a man at the wheel. The motor was running. Without hesitation he strode past the vehicle, but not before fixing the license number in his mind. He gave little thought to Starsky; he was safe, waiting for the burglar to crawl back out through the window.
When he was safely out of view, Hutch turned around to watch. The driver was gunning the engine, nervous. If anything went wrong he would speed away, leaving his buddy inside to take the rap. Maybe that was his best bet, then he and Starsk would have the thief between them. He made his way back toward the car, deliberately staring at the driver. He was taking a chance, but that was what Iron Mike said made the difference between good cops and lazy ones. Cops who also were smart survived.
He saw the man behind the wheel lean forward, saw him lift something from the seat. As he pulled his gun to shoot, someone yelled, "Don't! God, no!"
Startled, Hutch swung around, then swore when he saw the gun. He flung himself down on the ground, rolling over when the roar of a shotgun nearly deafened him. From this position, he could hear footsteps pounding the pavement, but he couldn't tell whose they were. That blast would have Starsky on the run, at least he hoped so. He crawled over to the curb, careful not to get into the driver' s line of fire. On the ground, dropped by the burglar, was a carton of drugs.
He aimed at the figure standing beside it. "If you want to live, Red, toss that gun down." He was shocked at how little he truly felt at this moment; what had he expected, after all?
Metal clattered almost in front of him, and he kicked the revolver away. Out of the comer of his eye he saw Starsky, silent, deadly, and feeling returned. They nodded at one another, then Starsky went behind the car. His gun was trained at the driver's head.
"One twitch and you've bought it, mister," Starsky said. "Toss that shotgun out the window. Now!" The command held so much menace that he was obeyed instantly.
"Ain't shootin' at nothin', officer! So help me, Gawd!"
Starsky picked up the shotgun, spilled out the remaining shell and set the weapon out of reach, then yanked open the car door. "Out. And no funny stuff. On the ground, hands on your head!"
None of Starsky's behavior was missed by Hutch. He marveled at the economy of speech and movement employed by the other man. Admitting to himself that the implied threat of instant retaliation would have him peeing his pants, too, if he was the owner of the shotgun, he knew what was now expected of him.
Turning to face Red, he said grimly, "If you're interested in living get down there beside your buddy."
For only a moment, the young man hesitated, then obeyed, lacing his fingers together in the red hair. "I wasn't gonna shoot anybody -- "
"Shut up!" Hutch didn't want to hear it; didn't want to acknowledge his true feelings anymore. "Starsky, go call this in and get us some back-up. There's a phone in the warehouse." Hutch was gratified when his friend immediately dashed inside, not taking the time to query as to his capabilities. He also noted, with detached interest, that his hands weren't shaking.
A crowd was gathering but Hutch knew they posed no threat. "Just keep back, folks, and we'll have this cleaned up in no time."
"You really a cop? You got ID?" A voice expressing only honest curiosity gave Hutch a moment's pause. Smiling he pulled out his shield case and displayed the shining badge. "Yes, sir, I am... and so is he."
Starsky was standing in the doorway, a half-smile on his face. "Yeah," he said, "me'n my partner just happened to be in the neighborhood.... "
Hutch put away his badge, then went over to where Red and the driver lay prone. He knelt beside the juvenile, unsmiling. "You hear that, punk? By the time you get back on the streets, I'll be out of Venice. But if I ever learn that you're within fifty miles of L.A., I'm gonna haul you in on any charge I can make stick. Huntley was right. You're nothing but a loser."
He got up, sick with disgust, at himself, at those who had exposed his world for what it really was. Then, looking over at the figure in the doorway, he discovered another truth. With Starsky at his side, maybe they could make a difference.
Red barely turned his head, but he saw the tall blond walk over to join his partner. Bitterness flooded his soul; for he knew the young cop was now just like all the rest, and he was truly alone in the world. Maybe Hutchinson was right. Maybe this time he ought to go home and stay there. Maybe it was time to get a real job....
He heard a siren in the distance and closed his eyes, shutting out the sight of the two cops who stood side by side.