This story was originally published in the zine: The Pits Vol II. Special thanks to Evelyn for transcribing the story for the net.
It felt a little strange.
David Starsky got out of bed, showered, ate a fast and boring breakfast of toast and milk, and got dressed for work. The same routine as every other morning, except that it was all so very different. He knew that his life would never be the same again and while that was an exciting thought, it was also a little frightening.
He was standing in front of the mirror, contemplating his image, wondering if the change could be read in his face, when the doorbell rang, He pulled a ratty denim jacket on over his T-shirt and went to answer it.
Instead of the uniform-clad figure of his partner, Ken Hutchinson, a stranger stood in the hall. Starsky stared for a moment and then began to grin. Hutch, his blond hair slicked damply back, clad in a plaid sports jacket, narrow slacks, and polished black loafers, peered at him through horn-rimmed glasses. "Good morning," he said prissily.
Starsky kept grinning. "So this is undercover work, eh?" he said. "If you don't like it, maybe we can get back into uniform."
"Uh-uh, no way. We've waited too long."
And worked too hard, he might have added. Four long years in uniform. Traffic duty. Getting cats out of trees. And trying desperately every minute to make the big busts, the ones that would get them noticed. It was like a game. Finding stolen cars—once or twice before the owners even knew they were gone. They kept a private record of every bust, every punk, every after-hours joint. It all paid off. Together they had racked up such an impressive arrest and conviction rate that their transfer to plainclothes had seemed inevitable, if not overdue. Their methods seemed unorthodox to the most conservative elements on the force, but the results were indisputable. Not only were they new detectives, but they were still partners. Surprisingly, even the generally unperceptive bureaucratic minds in charge of such things had apparently realized that they had a good thing going in the team of Starsky and Hutchinson. Hotshots, sure, but hotshots who got damned good results. Starsky and Hutchinson, for reasons that were not entirely clear even to themselves, would have it no other way.
Starsky struck a pose in front of his partner. "Well? How do I look?"
Hutch perused him from head to toe. "Gee, Starsky," he said finally, "I didn't know you were going to put on your best clothes for this assignment."
"Ha, ha. I had to get a comedian for a partner. The question is, do I look like a high school student?"
"You're supposed to be not too bright, right? Held back a couple of years?"
Hutch smiled sweetly. "You're perfect."
They were halfway down the stairs before Starsky was sure that he'd been insulted. By that time it was too late for any kind of snappy comeback even if he could have thought of one, so he just sulked as Hutch drove to within five blocks of McKinley High School and pulled over to the curb. "You better get out here. Wouldn't do for the new black sheep of the senior class to show up with the new literature teacher."
"Okay." But Starsky didn't get out right away. He held out one hand. "Well, here we go, partner."
Hutch took the hand and they shook solemnly. "I think this team is gonna work," Hutch said.
"No doubt about it."
"Same to you. To us," Starsky amended, smiling a little. He waited until Hutch returned the smile and then got out of the car and started across the street.
Hutch sat parked there a moment longer. He watched, still smiling faintly, as Starsky's familiar aggressive style of walking degenerated into the swagger of a street punk. Of course, there was a lot of the petty hoodlum in Starsky anyway. Maybe that was one reason he was such a damned good cop. After Starsky rounded the corner, Hutch drove on to the school parking lot.
He was lecturing on Hemingway's Old Man and the Sea, which he'd quickly reread the night before. It appeared to have been a wasted effort; no one seemed to care what he was saying or even that he was talking at all. One small group obviously ruled the class: three boys, young men, really, who sat in the back of the room, conversing in normal tones and ad libbing remarks about Hutch's clothes and probable parental heritage. Hutch just kept talking, hoping that no one would noticed the thin line of sweat that kept forming on his upper lip.
The class was nearly over when the door opened and Starsky came in, carrying a pink transfer card. He slammed the door, getting a laugh from the students. He acknowledged it with a slight bow.
Hutch lowered his book and surveyed the intruder coolly. "May I help you?"
Starsky's lip curled. "I ain't that bad off yet. They said I was supposed to come in here."
"Fine. Take that desk please."
"Where you want I should take it?" Starsky laughed loudly at his own witticism and most of the class joined in. He ignored the desk that had been indicated and strutted with unerring instinct to the group in the back. There was one empty desk there and he dropped into it; his legs stuck into the aisle.
Hutch glared at him. "What do you think Hemingway was trying to say in this story?" he asked after a moment. No one raised a hand to answer.
"Anyone?" Hutch sighed. "Do any of you have a question?"
"Anybody got a cigarette?" Starsky asked loudly.
Hutch closed the book. "Has anybody in here even read this story?"
A few timid arms went up.
"Well, good. What did you get out of it?"
The arms went down again.
Hutch gave up. "Try again tonight. There will be a quiz sometime this week."
There was a general groan, interrupted by the bell, and the class pushed and shoved its way out of the room. Hutch watched them go, noting with satisfaction the way his partner managed to insinuate himself into the troublesome trio. It was those three boys their investigation was focusing on. Each had several arrests behind him already, ranging from petty vandalism to pushing. And maybe they were even murderers, if the captain was right in thinking they had killed Patrick James, a narc working undercover three months earlier. His body had been found floating in the school swimming pool.
Before Hutch would catch his breath a new class had filed in, followed shortly by a frazzled-looking female teacher. She was only about five feet tall and looked scared. He felt sorry for her. Giving her a grin, Hutch gathered his books and adjourned to the teacher's lounge.
Starsky managed to get through the woodworking class without dismembering any part of his body and went from there to lunch. The atmosphere in the cafeteria was enough to take away even his appetite. He went through the line with his new-found friends, picking up a cellophane-wrapped sandwich, an apple, and a carton of milk.
The second of four lunch shifts was filling the room. Indistinguishable moist odors from the steam table mingled with the smells of closely-packed humanity. The noise level was approximately that of a rowdy football crowd.
The group Starsky was with took seats at a center table, rather strangely left empty in the middle of the room. The apparent leader of the group wore a black denim jacket with his name emblazoned across the back in red satin letters. Vinny took a swig of milk and fixed Starsky with a flat stare. "So what you into back in New York?"
Starsky shrugged. "Ah, a little of this, a little of that, you know?" He took a bite of the sandwich and washed it down quickly with milk. Absently he wondered what kind of sandwich it was.
"So how come you're out here?" Vinny handled the interrogation like a pro.
"My old lady figured I needed to get away, you know? Shipped me out here to my uncle." He reached into one pocket and pulled out a pair of dark glasses. "Any action in this dump?"
Vinny seemed to draw away a little. "We get along," was all he said.
Starsky only nodded, not wanting to press too hard at first. He took a bite of the apple and listened as the talk moved on to other things.
Continuing to play it cool, he turned down an invitation to cruise the Strip after school, saying that he had some business to take care of. No one showed the slightest curiosity as to what that "business" might be.
When the final bell of the day rang, Starsky walked out of the building alone and went back to the corner where Hutch had dropped him off that morning. About ten minutes later the old Ford pulled up and he jumped in. Neither of them spoke until they reached the first traffic light. Hutch glanced over at him. "You make a great juvenile delinquent," he said sourly.
"Thank you." Starsky took off the sunglasses. "How's the teaching profession?"
"What goes on in that school is not teaching. It's babysitting for a bunch of overgrown punks."
"Gee, sounds just like P.S. 83." Starsky tossed a couple of books and a spiral binder into the back seat. "At least you don't have homework to do."
"You don't mean you're actually going to do it?" Hutch asked incredulously.
Starsky grinned. "Hell, no, man. Why break a winning streak?"
Hutch nodded. "You're right. In some hands, a little knowledge would be a dangerous thing."
"Is that another way of saying that ignorance is bliss?" Hutch laughed.
"I think we're onto something with our boy Vinny," Starsky said a couple of minutes later.
"With six drug busts to his credit already, I think you're probably right."
The car pulled to a stop in front of Starsky's apartment building. "You gonna call Dobey or should I?"
"I'll do it."
"Okay." The dark-haired detective collected his books and jumped out, looking more like a genuine high school student that a thirty-year old detective. He slammed the door shut and then turned around, leaning in through the window. "Hey," he said.
He hesitated. "Ahh...we work good together."
"Sure we do. Everybody already knew that."
"Yeah." He stood there a moment longer, then slapped the side of the car with one hand. "Well, see you tomorrow."
"Right. Bye." Starsky stood on the sidewalk and watched until the car was gone. He took the steps two at a time, checked his mailbox, which was empty except for the phone bill, and went into his apartment.
He decided to shower, change and go out someplace for a hamburger. The idea of eating leftover Kentucky fried chicken, which was the only thing in his refrigerator, didn't appeal very much. Neither did the idea of eating alone.
There were several numbers he could have dialed and immediately acquired companionship for the evening, but he really didn't feel up to the necessary social amenities. Besides, he wouldn't have been able to talk to any of them about the case and that was what he really wanted to do.
He wondered why he hadn't asked Hutch to go have some supper. Though probably his partner was busy. Recently divorced, Hutch seemed busy a lot, going to concerts or the kind of movie where the words were translated across the bottom of the screen. Sometimes they grabbed a beer and a quick game of pool after work, but that was about it.
Well, Hutch was a great partner, the best, and a man couldn't ask for more than that.
Starsky, not given much to philosophical reflection, shrugged and popped open a can of beer as he headed for the shower. On second thought, he decided to just stay at home, eat the chicken, and relax. Think about the case. Maybe he'd even read a little of that damned book about the fish. Surprise hell out of Hutch when he answered a question in class.
It was almost midnight, long after he'd fallen asleep over Hemingway, when the telephone rang shrilly, jarring him awake. The book fell to the floor as Starsky groped desperately for the receiver. '"Lo?"
"Starsk? Did I wake you up?"
He rubbed his eyes with the back of one hand. "Huh? Oh, Hutch...no, I was reading. What's wrong?"
"Nothing. I was just thinking about the case."
"You think Vinny's going to bite?"
Starsky struggled to focus his mind. "Yeah, I think so. He's hungry. Cool, but hungry."
"Yeah, you're right."
There was a pause. Starsky glumly surveyed the gnawed chicken bones piled on a plate, wondering why the hell his partner had called him in the middle of the night to state the obvious. "Well," he said finally.
"Yeah," Hutch replied. "So, I'll see you in the morning, huh?"
Starsky hung up. He sat there a moment longer, bemused, then got up and went to bed.
The teacher's lounge at McKinley High bore a more than passing resemblance to the squadroom at headquarters. The same bilious green paint (the city must have gotten a bargain on that particular color). The furniture was similarly scarred. And much the same kinds of tensions were written on the faces of the people sitting around the room drinking bad coffee.
Hutch sat at the table, hunched over his copy of Hemingway, not really reading. He was listening to the conversation that ebbed and flowed around him. It was a frustratingly unrewarding way to spend the day; he hoped that Starsky was using his time more profitably.
It had come as a revelation to Hutch that none of the talk he heard in this room dealt with anything remotely concerning the learning process, the arts, or the students except insofar as discussing who was high on what that day or which girl was newly pregnant. So much for the ivory tower of academia, Hutch thought dismally. Four days at McKinley High had served to smash many of his most fondly cherished illusions.
Probably such disillusionment was an occupational hazard. Hutch was beginning to wonder what kept cops from getting cynical and bitter. Already he could feel himself solidifying into a "me vs. them" attitude. During the last week he had found himself more and more looking forward to the nightly phone call to Starsky, during which they would rehash the day.
It was time to do battle with English 204. Hutch left the lounge and made his way through the hall. A cloud of blue smoke hung in the air and there was a constant hum of conversation. He was convinced that some of the students never attended a class at all, but spent every day wandering through the corridors, talking, smoking, and, if the information Starsky and he had from Narco was right, dealing.
The class was in its usual state of uproar when Hutch walked in. His gaze flickered once to the back of the room, locating Starsky, and he relaxed a little. Starsky, attired today in jeans and a UCLA sweatshirt, did not acknowledge Hutch's presence by even so much as a glance, but Hutch knew his partner was aware of his arrival.
Used to the niceties of McKinley High by this time, Hutch simply stood up in the front of the room and started talking, not knowing or caring if anyone at all was listening. Vinny and his entourage seemed even more obnoxious than usual, perhaps because it was Friday and the weekend loomed.
The room was warm, smelling faintly of sweat and unwashed young bodies. Still talking, Hutch moved to the back to the room to open a window. He never saw the sneakered foot that appeared suddenly in the aisle.
He landed with a crash, flat on his face.
His instinct was to jump up, grab the nearest leering being, and throw him against the wall. Luckily, thought followed close on the heels of instinct and he realized that such an action would not be too smart. Might even blow his cover as the timid English teacher.
Another thought came immediately: Stop Starsky. Without knowing exactly where the knowledge cane from, Hutch was sure that his partner was poised on the brink of action, ready to leap up and charge into whatever fray might develop. It was a curiously comforting thought. Hutch shook his head ever so slightly. "Never mind," he murmured obscurely. Glancing up, he saw Starsky relax back against his chair. The dark blue eyes locked onto Hutch's gaze momentarily, asking a question that Hutch answered with a faint smile, and then Starsky turned back to Vinny and the others, joining in their laughter.
Hutch got to his feet, dusted off his clothes, and kept talking as he wrenched open the window and returned to the front of the room. He tried not to limp, although his knee felt like hell from the bang it had received.
If McKinley High was a battleground, then the second floor boys' John was No Man's Land. Ninety percent of the students never ventured in through the swinging door. The air inside was thick with smoke and heavy with the sour odors of inadequate plumbing. Sinks were used primarily for sitting on, toilets for dousing cigarettes and joints when one of the male teachers made an obligatory hourly visit, and the walls for perpetration of obscenities that some people apparently considered witty.
Starsky leaned against one of the walls, trying his best not to breathe. He was the only one in the room at the moment; the three boys who had occupied the three sinks when he'd arrived had taken at face value his suggestion that they depart with haste before unfortunate results befell them. In his first week at the school, Starsky had risen to the top of the heap.
There had been one fistfight, against a football player with the IQ of a none-too-bright Neanderthal, and his performance there appeared to convince a lot of people not to mess with him. It also earned him two hours' detention, a fact which amused some people greatly. His rise to power was helped by the face that he was Vinny's new bosom buddy.
Hutch came in. He walked over to one of the sinks and turned on the water; the only response was a terrible creaking of the pipes. He sighed and moved on to the next sink. That one worked. He cleaned the glasses carefully. "Well? he said, drying the lenses on his handkerchief.
Starsky smiled at him. "How'd I do on the test, teach?"
"You failed," Hutch replied.
A look of fleeting disappointment crossed Starsky's face. "I did?" He sighed. "Oh, well. How's your leg?"
Hutch grimaced and flexed the knee. "You mean it shows? Hurts like hell, if you want to know the truth."
"I could put you in for a departmental commendation," Starsky said, grinning again. "You were injured in the line of duty, after all."
"If you tell anybody what happened," Hutch began heatedly. He looked at Starsky's face and stopped, knowing that while his partner might kid him unmercifully, word of the incident would go no farther. "If you don't mind, could we discuss the case just a little?" he finished grumpily.
"Oh, yeah. Well, I'm going to a party tonight."
"Starting out down at Fat Joe's. That's the local hang-out," he added helpfully.
"I'm supposed to meet Vinny and the others about ten. We might go out to the beach."
Hutch was absently reading the graffiti. "You need company."
"Uh-uh. These guys may be stupid, Hutch, but they ain't dumb. You put a tail on me and they're gonna know it."
"You may be right," Hutch said dourly. "Vinny did better on the test than you did." He put the glasses back on. "Then you'll have to be wired."
"Ahh, Hutch," Starsky started to protest, but he realized at once that it was useless. He knew Hutch well enough to recognize the stubborn set of his partner's jaw. "All right. But stay away, okay?"
"I won't get any closer than I have to," Hutch promised. Starsky gave him a suspicious glance.
Fat Joe's was a neighborhood joint specializing in greasy tacos and low meat content hamburgers which, by virtue of having a loud jukebox and a proprietor who had a reputation for turning his head away at minor—and some not so minor—violations of the law, had become a popular place with the students of McKinley.
Starsky arrived at Fat Joe's shortly after ten. He wore the omnipresent Levis and a T-shirt imprinted with Jimi Hendrix's picture. Spotting Vinny and crew in the rear of the crowded room, he made his way through the jammed-together tables and chairs. He banged his shin on the corner of one table and grimaced. The grimace was not because of the sharp pain that shot through his leg, however. The real cause of his expression was the sight of one of the customers perched jauntily at the counter swilling down a Coke.
No one else in the place would have recognized the denim-clad hippie at the counter as the natty Mr. Hutchinson from English class, but Starsky spotted him immediately. Shooting daggers at the bland blue gaze that followed him across the room, he collapsed in a chair next to Vinny. "Sorry I'm late," he said with elaborate casualness. "Had trouble making a connection."
Vinny looked at him. "I didn't know you was connected out here."
Starsky shrugged. "Ah, you know. A few names I heard back East. Friends of friends, you might say."
"You ain't thinking of trying to go retail, are you?" Vinny asked easily.
"Retail?" Starsky pretended to mull that over. "Oh, you mean am I dealing?"
"Yeah, I mean are you dealing?"
Starsky resisted the urge to scratch at the adhesive tape holding the microphone to his chest. "Only a little," he said cheerfully. "Takes awhile to get everything together, you know?"
"Yeah, I know," Vinny said softly. His face looked too hard for his years. "Lemme tell you something, Starky. McKinley is my territory."
"Starsky," he corrected in a voice just as soft as Vinny's. "With an 's' Can I tell you something?"
"The way we do it back East is, whoever can hold onto the territory has the territory."
There was a heavy silence around the table. Then Vinny smiled. "This is supposed to be a party, right? I don't like to discuss business on social occasions."
"Then let's hit the beach."
The entire group rose as one and started for the door. Starsky very deliberately did not glance toward Hutch. His partner was so damned smart, Starsky thought grumpily, they'd see just how good he was at sustaining a tail.
Hutch, sucking on ice, waited until the small caravan of cars had pulled out of the parking lot before he quickly walked out of Fat Joe's and jumped into his own car. He turned on the receiver. Starsky was apparently riding in a car with Vinny, two other boys, and two girls. The conversation in the car came across very clearly, but nothing interesting was being said. Starsky spoke very little, beyond an occasional comment on the passing scenery designed, of course, to give his partner a trail to follow. The clues bordered on the vague and Hutch swore softly. Damn that Starsk. He was going to have to quit playing games or someday he was going to get hurt.
The Ford was running about five blocks behind Vinny's car as Hutch listened to one of the girls putting the make on Starsky. Suddenly she giggled. "What's this under your shirt?" she asked.
Starsky said something that was muffled, as if he or someone else had a hand placed over the mike. The next sound that Hutch could hear was unmistakably that of adhesive tape being ripped off somewhat hairy flesh. Hutch flinched in sympathy.
Hutch heard the one word, an abrupt shout in his partner's voice. Then the mike went dead. He pushed the accelerator to the floor and headed toward Starsky's last reported location. By the time he got there, of course, there was no sign of any of the cars from Fat Joe's. He pulled to the curb and parked, grabbing for the radio at the same time. "Zebra Three to Control."
"Go ahead, Zebra Three."
"Requesting all zone cars in the Vermont vicinity to be on the lookout for a green Chevy, California license 654 AHN. Apprehend on sight. An officer may be in trouble."
Hutch sat there a moment longer, gnawing on his thumbnail. What next? Then he remembered Patrick James, the narc killed three months earlier at the school. He and Starsky had answered the squeal and had pulled the body from the pool.
Lacking any other notion, he started the car and headed toward McKinley High. Once there, he parked in the faculty lot and walked around the building to the gym door. It didn't surprise him very much to see that the lock on the door had been jimmied open. Touching his gun reassuringly, he pushed the door open and went inside.
The vast gym was lit only by two small emergency lights. Hutch moved silently and swiftly across the room and opened the door to the adjoining pool area. Getting down on hands and knees, he peered across the surface of the chlorine-filled water. There was no sign of a body. He looked once more and then leaned back on his heels with a sigh of relief.
Something hit him from behind and he pitched over onto the cold damp concrete.
Starsky tried to sneer at Vinny. It wasn't easy to look tough in his position, tied to the water pipes by a dingy jump rope, but he gave it his best shot. Vinny didn't seem overly impressed. He lit a cigarette and blew smoke into Starsky's face.
Starsky blew it back at him. "You're under arrest, creep," he said, figuring it wouldn't hurt to establish himself as an authority figure right up front.
His words only seemed to amuse Vinny. "Oh, yeah?"
"You don't think I'm dumb enough to come into this alone, do you? I've got a partner and—"
Jenkins, a tall, rail-thin black kid who served as a sort of assistant head punk in Vinny's organization, walked into the locker room just then. He grinned at Starsky. "Your partner wouldn't happen to be a tall guy with blond hair, would he, pig?"
Starsky licked his lips, but didn't say anything.
Jenkins turned to Vinny. "Found some guy snooping around the pool. I took care of him." He reached into his pocket and pulled out Hutch's Magnum. "Spoils to the victor, right, Vinny?"
Vinny shrugged. "You reach Dudly?"
"Yeah, man, like you said to. Told him there was complications and that you wanted the buy to go down here 'stead of at the beach."
"Good. You just sit tight, piggily-wiggily. We'll take care of you later." Vinny took the gun from Jenkins. "You know how Dudly is. We come out there covered and we can bid our supplier goodbye." He shoved the weapon behind a bank of lockers. They left the room.
Starsky watched them go. His eyes were dark and feverish. The memory of Patrick James' body being pulled from the swimming pool was suddenly vivid in his mind. What had Jenkins meant by "I took care of him"? Might Hutch be dead even now, his body floating in that same pool? It seemed all too possible.
He blessed the arrogance that had led Vinny not to frisk him thoroughly before tying him to the pipes. He twisted and pulled until he managed to get two fingers into his jacket pocket. It took several more minutes for him to get a tenuous hold on his penknife. His whole body was tensed with effort and small drops of sweat rolled slowly, one after the other, down his face.
This was the kind of stunt that always looked so easy when the TV and movie heroes did it. But it hurt. Once he dropped the knife from between his sweaty fingers and had to start all over again. He told himself not to hurry, to take his time, that a few seconds one way or the other couldn't make any difference at this point. No difference at all if Hutch was dead.
But that couldn't be. Hutch couldn't be dead, because they were just beginning. There was a future, bright and promising and filled with a quiet sense of...well, companionship was the only word he could think of. It sounded corny, but that feeling of companionship had been growing between them for a long time now. He hadn't realized how important it had become until now, when he was threatened with its loss.
Finally he managed to get the knife in his hand, get it open, begin to saw back and forth across the rope with its edge. Biting his tongue in concentration, he moved the knife back and forth, back and forth. It set up a grating rhythm.
After a few minutes, he gave a firm jerk against the ropes, rubbing painfully against the raw patches already bleeding on both arms. The rope came free and he staggered slightly getting away from the pipes. He felt a desperate urge to move.
Their information had indicated that much of the drug-dealing took place out under the bleachers that lines the football field. If Vinny was making a buy tonight that sounded like a good bet on where it might be going down.
But there was something else he had to do first. Arming himself with Hutch's gun, he ran across the gym to the pool and threw himself down onto his stomach at the water's edge. "Hutch?" he whispered into the eerie, chemical-laden air. There was no answer, of course. He hadn't expected one. But there was also no sign of a body in the pool and that was good. He wiped the back of one hand across his nose and got to his feet.
There were things he had to do.
He stepped outside and walked to the faculty parking lot. As he had expected, Hutch's car was there. Starsky climbed into the front seat and reached for the radio. "Zebra Three to Control."
"Come in, Zebra Three."
"Officer requests assistance at McKinley High School," Starsky said. "The suspects may be armed and should be considered dangerous." He paused for a moment, watching blood drip from his wrists onto the seat cover. Hutch would give him hell. "Better send an ambulance. One officer is missing and may be hurt."
He waited just long enough to hear the acknowledgement and then left the car and started across the lot toward the bleachers. It was dark, the only illumination coming from the moon and several distant streetlights. Starsky moved quietly, going deeper into the maze of wooden supports.
He could hear soft voices coming from the next section of seats. Crouching low, he moved up until he could see Vinny, Jenkins, and two slightly older men he didn't know, standing in a tight circle. He rested the barrel of the Magnum on the edge of one seat, pointed at the group.
He waited patiently, his breath coming in short, quick gasps. If he was lucky, the back-up cars would arrive before the group finished their business.
The boys heard the sirens at the same moment he did. Starsky swore softly. Stupid sonuvabitch I am, he thought. Should have ordered them to come in quiet! But it was too late now. Vinny and the others were ready to flee.
"Freeze!" Starsky yelled. "Freeze, you creeps!"
For an instant they did; then Vinny appeared to remember that Starsky was only one man. "Scatter," he said, and the four of them took off in four different directions.
Starsky set out after Vinny. "Halt!" he yelled.
Vinny ignored him, climbing and scrabbling through the bleachers. Starsky paused only long enough to tuck the gun into his waistband and then followed. They reached the edge of the football field. Starsky was aware that two other zone cars had arrived and the man in them were in pursuit of the other three. He lowered his head to charge after Vinny. Stickball, not football, had been Starsky's forte, but he watched a lot of games on TV. He took a deep breath and launched a flying tackle at Vinny's legs.
Surprising even himself, he hit Vinny like the proverbial ton of bricks. Tangled and cursing at one another, they rolled another five feet. The gun slipped out and slid across the grass. When they finally stopped, Starsky was on top, more through luck and bulldog persistence than skill. He sat on Vinny's chest, taking a firm grip on the youth's shirt. "Where's my partner?" he grunted breathlessly.
"Screw you," Vinny replied. Then he spit in Starsky's face.
Starsky wiped his cheek with one hand, smearing blood and dirt with the spittle. "Listen, creep," he said very softly. "I still got my knife. Maybe you got it away from me, huh? Maybe while we was fighting over it, it sorta got stuck in your gut. It ain't a very sharp knife, jerk, and it's maybe even a little rusty." He paused, fighting for breath. "One more time: Where's my partner?"
Vinny studied him for a long moment, gauging the enemy. "In the equipment closet," he muttered.
One of the uniformed cops ran up to them. Starsky got to his feet and pulled Vinny up as well, shoving him toward the patrolman. "Take him," he said bitterly. Before Vinny was cuffed, Starsky had grabbed up the Magnum and was running across the field again, back toward the gym.
The equipment closet was locked and he spent a frantic three minutes looking for a key. He finally found a ring with a dozen or so keys on it. It took four tries to find the right one. He pulled the door open savagely.
Unconsciously, he held his breath against the expected, too-familiar smells of death. But it was all right; Hutch, bound hand and foot, was alive, propped against a battered wrestling mat. A filthy handkerchief was stuffed into his mouth. Above that, his eyes were open. "Hutch," Starsky said in a long sigh.
Hutch made a muffled sound. Starsky suddenly realized that his partner's eyes were frantic. He scooted into the closet next to him and pulled the handkerchief out. "Hutch?" he said again.
Hutch leaned over and threw up. If the gag hadn't been removed, he probably would have died in that hot, putrid closet, suffocated on his own vomit. Starsky grabbed him by both shoulders and held on as Hutch continued to retch.
When the convulsive heaves eased and finally stopped, Starsky gently rested the trembling man back against the mat. "You okay?" he whispered, his arms still around Hutch's shoulder
Hutch nodded slightly. "Get me...outta here."
"Sure, sure." Starsky tightened his hold on Hutch fleetingly and then pulled him out of the closet. They both took deep breaths of the fresher air in the hallway. Starsky untied the ropes from Hutch's wrists and ankles. "Sure you're okay?"
Hutch thought about it for a moment. "Yeah. I'm okay now. Didja get the bad guys?"
"Yep." Starsky pulled out his own handkerchief and made a useless effort at cleaning his partner up. "Yeah, we got 'em, partner. Good old Vinny Prudholm and his friends are on their way to jail."
"Hey," Starsky said a moment later.
"You puked all over my tennis shoes."
Hutch's eyes widened. "What did you say?"
"I said, you didn't have to puke all over my tennis shoes, didja?"
"I almost died in there, you idiot," Hutch said.
"Well, I saved you, didn't I? Didn't you know I would? Geeze, if I was dumb enough to lose my partner on our first undercover assignment, I might as well pack it in, right? And what thanks do I get?" Starsky's voice rang with indignation. "You ruin a perfectly good pair of tennis shoes!"
Hutch was staring at him in utter disbelief. "You priorities are a little screwed up, Starsk."
"So are my shoes," Starsky mumbled. He raised his head. He grinned.
Hutch watched the absurd, twisted smile spread across his partner's face. Despite the aching in his body, the foul taste in his mouth, and the stink that rose from his clothes, Hutch couldn't help giggling. And once started, he couldn't stop.
When the uniformed cops showed up, they found the precinct's newest detectives sitting in the hallway, bloodied, filthy, stinking to high heaven, and convulsed in helpless laughter. Maybe the laughter was hovering someplace on the edge of tears, but nobody seemed to notice.