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A FRIEND REMOVED Part 4
The swagger was back in Starsky's step as he and his captain headed for the doors out of the psychiatric hospital. The only thing keeping him from being totally ecstatic at the occasion was the still-missing Hutch. Dobey's rented car was parked nearby, and Starsky waited while he unlocked the doors, then slid in on the passenger side.
Cathy was just passing Grace's desk, carrying a tray full of medication, when her head, bent to study the drugs in her charge, snapped up at Grace's sudden expletives. "What's all that for?"
"Those two cops - they just left here and forgot this stupid picture!" She waved a photo of about 3" x 2" in the air. "Doc Jones set it down here and then walked away."
"You could probably catch them if they only just left," Cathy suggested helpfully.
"Nah, why bother. When they realize they forgot it, they'll be back. Seemed real important to 'em."
"What's the picture of?" Cathy asked, at the same time stopping Grace's hand on the way to sliding the photo in a drawer.
"Some guy that's missing. Friend of theirs or something. I heard 'em say that they couldn't seem to find him anywhere."
The hair on the back of Cathy's neck stood on end, and she had long since given up trying to ignore it when these feelings came. She didn't even question it - just chalked it up to some sixth sense that was occasionally awakened. Her right hand on Grace's left, she set the tray down with her left and used that one to extract the picture from the receptionist's fist. She turned it over to study the face it showed.
"Oh, dear Lord! It's John!" He was much younger, maybe five or ten years, and was wearing what appeared to be a uniform shirt.
"You know him? Grace questioned, chewing, and Cathy wondered when she'd retrieved the ever-present bubblegum.
"He's a patient here! A John Doe with amnesia! I've got to get in contact with his two friends. Do you remember if they said where they were staying?"
"Nah, I wasn't payin' that much attention. Don't worry. Like I said, they'll be back."
"C'mon! Think! They must've given some idea where they were going!"
"I swear, they didn't! But if it's any help, they just finished meetin' with Neal Jones. He might know somethin'."
While Cathy knew Neal as being a staff doctor, she hadn't had occasion to work with him much because they practiced in different departments of the center. Nevertheless, she picked up the phone and shoved the receiver into Grace's hand. "Have him paged. NOW! I'm going to go see if maybe they're still in the parking lot."
She spun toward the door, but didn't even get one step in that direction when the odd pair barreled back through, Dobey patting his pockets. "Are you sure you got it back from Jones?"
"No, I told you that already! I am not sure."
"Well, we can always have Jones paged and asked if he knows what happened to it!"
Cathy stepped up to interrupt them, her lovely eyes meeting Starsky's dark blue ones. "Excuse me, I think I can help you. You're looking for this, aren't you?" She handed the photo to Starsky, the warm skin of her hand brushing against the rough skin of his. She blushed as he continued to watch her, then finally pulled her eyes away from his.
"Thank you, miss.... Ahhhh...I'd better get going."
"You don't have to go." She stuttered a moment, then rephrased. "I mean, you shouldn't go! I know where John is!"
"John?" Starsky's look changed to confusion. "Who's John? Your boyfriend?"
"No! Your friend! I know where he is!" She was becoming more excited by the moment.
Starsky held out the picture again. "You've seen this man? You've seen Hutch?"
"Yeah! He's here! He's a patient." She could see that Starsky was becoming agitated, and felt somehow that her favorite patient was someone very special to him. "C'mon, I'll take you to his room." She turned to Grace, who had somehow faded into the background. "Call Dr. Simons and have him meet us outside John Doe's room." She turned back. "This way, gentlemen." She introduced herself as they headed down the hall, with Dobey responding with introductions for himself and Starsky.
Starsky had to make a conscious effort not to run ahead of the other two in his eagerness to get to Hutch. He still had a voice in his head that said that the pretty nurse was mistaken - confusing one face for another. "Why do you call him John? I don't understand."
"Well, I really should wait and let Dr. Simons give you the details of his case, but we called him John because nobody knew who he really was, he had no ID on him, and he, himself, doesn't even know who he is. We had to call him something, so...you know...John Doe?"
Starsky's face was tense, and Dobey kept a hand on his shoulder, as if keeping a young stallion from bolting from the corral when spooked. "Keep cool, Dave. I know you want to tear the place apart to get to Ken, but it won't do him any good. Let's just talk to the doctor, then maybe he'll let us see him." He guided Starsky to a chair which sat outside a room. Cathy was moved by the man's concern, and stepped to his other side, draping a comforting arm around the shoulders. Were those shoulders trembling? Yes, definitely. But whether it was from concern, excitement, or fear, she didn't know.
"Why don't you tell me about your friend," Cathy asked, kneeling down next to the dark-haired man, hoping that the distraction would calm him. "I don't know anything about him, but I sure would like to know what kind of a man I've been treating."
The silence stretched on so long that Cathy feared he wouldn't answer, and she found herself strangely moved at the pure concern on the man's face. Dave. That other man called him Dave. Finally, Starsky spoke, his voice virtually quivering.
"Well...he's...he's...he's my partner!" He said it as if the term held greater significance than its actual dictionary-definition.
"Dave, do you work together? Is that why you say 'partner'?"
"Yeah. We're cops, partners, but it's more than that. . . ." He ran a hand through his hair, hesitating. "I don't think you can understand unless you've been on the force, but it makes us more than friends. He watches out for me, and I watch out for him. We cover each other's backs. We're there for each other.... On duty and off.... He's been the only one I could lean on during some of the worst times of my life, and he's leaned on me through some of his worst moments. It's like...y'know those stories they show on TV about twins who were separated at birth, yet somehow always felt that a part of themselves was missing? Well, that's what it feels like - and Hutch is the part I'm missing. And, I think, I'm the part he's missing too. When I hurt, he hurts, and when he hurts, I hurt. He's my best friend, buddy, confidant, support system. He'll stand behind me when no one else will, and risk his own neck to save mine."
He hesitated for just a second more, but really seemed calmer now. Talking appeared to be helping him through his fear for his friend. "He's the best partner a man could have, and if he has any faults, it's that he cares too much. That makes our line of work hard on him. Yet he still finds the strength to stick it out and be a great cop." His face curved into a smile, and his tone lightened. "Of course, if you ever told him I said this, I'd deny it to my dying day. That's how it is with us. Unspoken loyalty." Starsky jumped up and started to pace, carefully avoiding running Cathy down. "Where is that doctor? Sure is takin' him long enough!"
"He should be here in just a minute. Please, try to stay calm. I've been working here for a long time, so if you'll permit me...." She guided Starsky to stand against the wall, still for the moment. "Patients, no matter how bad of shape they may be in, pick up on the emotions of those around him. When you see John...I mean, Hutch...if you're upset, he'll become upset, whether he remembers you or not. By the way, 'Hutch'? Is that his first name? I really should change his chart."
Dobey entered the conversation he'd been watching curiously up to this point. "His name is Kenneth Richard Hutchinson, and if you need them, I can have the department physician send you his medical records."
"Ken Hutchinson," Cathy repeated. "Hutch. Somehow, that seems right for him. I'll check with the doctor, but I don't think we'll be needing his medical records. He's regaining his strength and seems to be fine physically."
"Well, Miss Craig, I'm glad that you approve of the way I've been treating my patient." The voice emanated from a smiling man who rounded the corner, and Cathy laughed liltingly at his friendliness. The man was of average height with a head of thick, dark hair, strikingly handsome with slight lines around his dark eyes, telling of a doctor who cared enough to worry about his patients. "Hi, I'm Doctor Kelly Simons." He offered a hand which Starsky shook eagerly, then let Dobey have his turn to greet the man who had been caring for Hutch.
"Doctor, we've finally identified our John Doe. His real name is Detective Ken Hutchinson, and these are his friends, partner Dave Starsky and Captain Harold Dobey." There was a friendliness in her voice that never seemed to leave.
"Okay, I know you too well, Cathy. How much have you already told them? There's no sense going over something that's already been said. I'm sure that Mr. Starsky and Mr. Dobey are eager to see their friend."
"Oh, all right, you've got me! But all I told them was that he couldn't remember who he was - I had to explain the 'John Doe' on his records. I figured I'd better leave the rest up to you."
"Okay, guys. I'll try to make this quick -I'm eager to get you in with your friend too. Now, there's nothing serious physically wrong with your friend, and his amnesia is considered completely psychological. The experience he endured damaged him emotionally to the point that he completely shut down. He didn't remember anything - not even how to speak. Now, thanks to Miss Craig here, he's made great inroads in learning to talk. But we can't reteach him the facts of his life. I'm hoping, now that we know who he is, that seeing you two will bypass all that and bring him back his memory."
"Doctor," Starsky questioned, "what exactly were his circumstances that brought him here. I mean, we come here on vacation, have one terrific day, and then he disappears off the face of the earth. Then he turns up here! Where'd you get him?"
"Your partner, Mr. Starsky, was found being held in an abandoned hotel. He had apparently been restrained there for several days, and, as a guess, I'd say was completely removed from any human presence. It usually takes that kind of seclusion to put a patient into this state. During that indeterminate time, he wasn't fed or clothed. He's lucky it's not winter or he'd have frozen to death. When he was found and admitted here, in addition to his psychological state, he was suffering from severe malnutrition and dehydration." He smiled in Cathy's direction. "Thanks to Miss Craig, he's been eating well and, although still underweight, is at least getting all the nutrition he needs. And he does look better."
"What can we do, Doctor?" This came from Dobey, as he watched the patient's dark-haired partner swallow hard.
"I want just what you probably want. I want you to see your friend. You see, it's just possible that seeing someone he knows will jog his subconscious into letting him remember because he won't feel so alone. But I think you should go in one at a time. Two might be too much at once."
"Kelly," Cathy suggested, "I think that Detective Starsky here should go in first. He and Ken are best friends."
"Okay, then. Dave goes in first. Let's get to it! I, for one, am eager to see what happens."
"Where's his room, Doctor?" Starsky asked, already headed down the hall.
"Wait! Stop, Detective Starsky!"
"Why should I stop?" Starsky went on, walking backward as he faced the doctor.
"Because you already passed your partner's room. It's this one right here!" He pointed to the second door from where the three of them stood, and they exchanged laughing smiles at Starsky's embarrassment.
The pillows and cranked up bed allowed Hutch to sit almost completely erect, and he held a hand-mirror in front of his face, trying out the new sounds and words he'd learned earlier that day. He watched his mouth carefully, doing his best to imitate the movements he'd seen the nurse make.
The creek of the door startled him, and he dropped the mirror on the bed beside his legs. He expected to see one of the nurses or his doctor, who were the only people in the world to him now. He wondered sometime what came before the time he was here - was there ever a time when he hadn't been here? Starsky rushed into the room, all smiles and excitement, and pounced on the end of the bed.
"Boy! You have no idea how happy I am to see you! Do you have any idea how much you had me worried, partner?" He looked up, hoping to see the man he'd always known, but the blue eyes were vacant, with no recognition in them. Starsky's hopes shattered, and he curled his legs under himself and sat face-to-face with the blond haired man. "Hutch! It's me! Starsky!"
There was still no sign of recognition in the face, but Starsky did see a little bit of pity there. Pity for me because the friend I loved is gone, or pity for himself because he can't remember a part of his life? He felt his eyes start to swell at the disappointment, then buried his face on his folded arms to prevent them from making Hutch even more uncomfortable.
A hand fell on his shoulder, touching lightly, and, to his total disbelief, he heard the beginnings of a voice. "Starsky...." Starsky didn't raise his head, and the tears flowed even heavier. He's only imitating what he heard me say. Learning, not remembering.
Hutch felt the shoulder under his hand quiver, and a phrase came to the forefront of his mind. It suddenly didn't seem so difficult to express what was in his mind, and he whispered to the bent head. "Who do we trust? Me and thee." The dark head jerked up in astonishment and joy, and as he looked again into the blue eyes, he saw a light there that he hadn't before.
"Hutch! Is that really you in there?!" He laughed boisterously, and the blond's smile practically lit the entire room. "M-m-m-m-me, Starsk." And such a sense of relief washed over him that he joined in Starsky's laughter. The three figures outside the room were alert for any sound coming from the room, but the pair's guffaws were not what they expected.
Dobey, Dr. Simons, and Cathy Craig burst into the room, amazed at what they saw when they came in. The men leaned on each other, both supporting and being supported. Dobey looked at them happily, and spoke in quiet tones to the medical personnel. "What you see right there, folks. That is who Starsky and Hutch are. Someone to lean on and be supported by."
Hutch turned a tear-stained face to the room's new occupants. He knew the first two faces, but it was the third that really interested him. "C-c-c-c-c-captain D-d-d-dobey!" He removed an arm from around Starsky, who was still laughing hysterically, and reached for his captain and friend, and squeezed the large hand tightly once he felt it in his own.
"Cathy," Kelly said, turning to the dark-haired woman, "why don't we leave them alone for awhile. I have a feeling we can be certain of a full recovery." They snuck out, unseen, but could hear three voices begin to chatter behind them.
Dr. Simons eagerly consented to releasing the patient from hospital care, since his memory and abilities seemed to be rapidly returning - the only indications of his previous condition being slightly slower movements - shades of the malnutrition - and an occasional stutter when a word didn't readily come to mind. Captain Dobey could literally hear and see the improvement from hour to hour, and he had no doubt that Hutch would be back to normal within a couple of days.
Hutch waited impatiently to rejoin his partner, who had left the hospital on a mission: his blond partner couldn't leave the building until he had something to wear. And since Starsky couldn't locate Hutch's luggage, he headed for the nearest department store to replace the missing attire. The recently recovered patient was more than slightly wary at this prospect - his idea of fashion and Starsky's tended to vary drastically.
While awaiting Starsky's return, Cathy came to Hutch's room to discuss his diet, wanting to be sure that he got the proper food to continue his recovery from the malnourishment. She came equipped with a clipboard and a diet instruction sheet, and sat at the edge of his bed while Dobey looked on.
"I don't think he's gonna need that diet, Miss," Dobey addressed the nurse as if Hutch wasn't even in the room. "Ken Hutchinson eats healthier than anyone I know."
"Really?" Cathy questioned, with a tone of disbelief in her voice. "Okay, hotshot," she turned to the blond figure in the hospital-issue robe, "why don't you list for me what a typical day's food would involve if you were back home."
Hutch ran down the list, from breakfast to dinner, and then for good measure added on the vitamins he was currently taking. When he was finished, he smugly looked to her for her reaction; it was not what he expected.
"Yuck!! You really eat that without it being prescribed to you?"
"Sure! Isn't it good enough to fill the diet's requirements?"
"Well, yeah, it is. But I certainly wouldn't eat it by choice! Give me a pizza anytime! Or better yet, a burrito! By the way, that rundown was awfully thorough for an amnesia patient!" She laughed, and Hutch thought how much she sounded like his partner.
"Speaking of Starsky, I wonder what's taking him so long!" Dobey and Cathy frowned to each other at the apparent non-sequiter, but let it pass without comment. Hutch fidgeted, eager to get up and out of a place he'd seen quite enough of.
"Captain, w-w-w-w-w-what are the local cops doing about finding out who did this to me and Starsk." He had been regaled with the story of Starsky's escapades over the last week or so, since Hutch had turned up missing.
"Well, they've gone back and questioned everybody again, but they're all sticking to their stories. Whoever put them up to this, they're all mighty scared of him."
"Maybe we should try another route. What can you tell me about the place where they found me. I was unconscious when they took me in and not alert enough to notice when the paramedics brought me out."
"I didn't get a lot of details," Dobey remarked glumly, "except that it was some old hotel called the "Palace".
"Oh! I know that place!" Cathy interjected. "It was really big back in the '60's. Then its popularity died out, and the owner went bankrupt. I think the city ended up confiscating the property for back taxes."
"Well, Bailey told me that they've kept the place under surveillance, but nobody's been back." Dobey turned his dark eyes to Hutch, a look of compassion haunting them. "Apparently, they intended to just leave you there to die."
Starsky breezed into the room just in time to hear the captain's last statement, and his light, carefree mood suddenly turned dark. "Yeah, and if I get my hands on those.... well, let's just say that someone is gonna pay!" He heaped four bags onto the bed, making the blanket and Hutch's legs impossible to see.
"Starsky, what is all this? I thought you were just gonna pick me up some clothes for today! I can pick up the rest later."
"That was my plan, but the store had so many neat things, I just couldn't resist." Hutch visibly cringed at this, thinking how different his idea of nice-looking clothes was from his partner's.
"Starsk, you really didn't have to. Maybe you should take this all back - all except one outfit so I can get out of here - and get your money back." He hoped that the dark-haired man would agree, since it was a much nicer way of getting rid of what he was sure would be very gaudy clothes.
"I wouldn't hear of it, partner," Starsky said, smiling, oblivious to his partner's attempt to spare his feelings. "Take a look - I got some really good prices, too!"
Hutch pulled the first bag closer, hesitating just a moment before he reached in and pulled the contents out. "Nothing special here," he muttered, examining the white T-shirts, socks, and underwear. He checked them only long enough to be sure they were the right size, which Starsky had surprisingly also gotten right.
He moved on to the next bag, with Starsky looking on happily, pleased with the job he'd done on the shopping trip. This bag held two pair of dress pants, a pair of tan cuorderoys, and a pair of designer dark blue jeans.
By the time the third bag was examined, Hutch almost sat in shock. Starsky had chosen items that Hutch very well could have picked for himself. There wasn't a gaudy shirt in the collection. "Starsk, this is all terrific! Everything is just perfectly suited for me!"
"Well, partner, I may not agree with your tastes, but after all this time I certainly know what they are! I did take one liberty, though." He handed Hutch the last bag, this one smaller than the rest, and from it Hutch removed an average size shoe box. Taking off the lid, he beheld a pair of sneakers, running shoes, in a bright, clean, white color.
Hutch examined them closely, and his partner felt an explanation was necessary. "Look, I know you prefer shoes, but they're a lot harder to get to fit right, and I figured these would be easier since you weren't there to try 'em on."
"Well, at least they're not electric blue," Hutch commented, smiling. "They're terrific, Starsk. And sneakers are just fine - it all is," he waved a hand to include all the attire widely distributed over the bed. "And now that I've got them, I'm outta here. Miss Craig, if you'd please...."
Cathy stood on the spot for a moment, not certain what he wanted, but when she saw his eyes move toward the door, it sank in. "Okay, Ken. But I wouldn't be seeing anything I hadn't seen the day they brought you in!" Hutch blushed furiously, and Cathy turned, exchanged winks with Starsky, and floated from the room.
"I do like that girl!" Starsky said fervently. "She really knows how to get to you!" He laughed at his still-reddened partner as the blond threw back the covers and began to change his clothes.
As he dressed, the three detectives talked about the case, and Hutch filled in his partner on what Cathy had told them about the "Palace".
"You mean all that land and the hotel belong to the city?" Hutch could almost see the wheels in his partner's mind turning, and his eyes gleamed. That usually meant he either had a great idea or was up to no good. Hutch decided to give him the benefit of the doubt.
"Ya got something, Starsk?"
"Maybe...maybe...give me a little bit. I wanna think this through before I say anything."
"Okay, just don't wait too long," Dobey put in as Hutch stood from pulling on the new sneakers. Now fully dressed, the three headed out of the room.
"The girl at the front desk told me we have to see her on the way out to sign out one last time before we go."
"Really?" Hutch asked, his spirits lifting slightly. "What's she look like?"
"She's not your type, Hutch. As a matter of fact, I had to concentrate real hard to figure if she worked here or if she lived here. Kind of the empty-headed type."
"Oh," was Hutch's only response as they approached the large front desk.
Starsky addressed the receptionist. "Okay, here we are, just like I promised. Where do we sign to get outta this chicken outfit?"
She pushed two clipboards onto the counter toward them, blowing a huge bubble as she did so. "Just put your signature at the "X" at the bottom of the page." The men picked up the documents, looking over them carefully before scribbling their names at the bottom. Both men were far too smart to sign anything without reading it first. "Y'know," she began again, "I'm real sorry you're not gettin' to see your other friend before you leave. I imagine he'll be comin' back before too long."
Starsky's head snapped up with a suspicious glare. "Miss, I'm a stranger in this city. I don't have any friends here except for the two you see here. What makes you think I'd have a friend to visit me?"
"Well, he did. The man who came in asking about you just after you were admitted. Said he knew you and wanted to know how you were doing. He even went and looked in on you while you were in "Evaluation". I think you might've been sedated at that time, though. When he came back this morning, I gave him the good news that you were being released, but then he ran off. He didn't seem very happy about it for someone who's supposed to be a friend." She shrugged her shoulders as if this was pretty much typical for the people she knew, and admitted to not questioning it any further.
Hutch turned to stare at Dobey. "Cap, you don't suppose..."
"Captain, it's gotta be!" Starsky interrupted. Who else here in Atlantic City would care how I was except the person who wanted me here in the first place!
"You're saying," Dobey began, trying to get a clear picture, "that this man who came to see you that first day is the same one who set up this whole charade?"
"Yeah! And the one who did that to Hutch. He nearly drove me out of my mind, and he actually succeeded in driving Hutch out of his, temporarily at least." This last was added with a quick grin of happiness at Hutch, who had been fully restored to psychiatric health and was quickly approaching full recovery in his physical state. The only thing it would take now would be some good food and rest.
Dobey turned back to the receptionist. "Listen, Miss . . ." he read the name plate for the first time, "Miss Cavanaugh. I need you to think very, very hard. Did this man ever say his name...who he was? It's very important that we know."
"Well, he hardly needed to, Mister. First of all, he's one of the most well-known men in town. Secondly, his brother is a patient here. His name is Jackson Preston." The name didn't ring any bells with the dark haired officer. He shrugged his shoulders at Hutch, who shrugged his back. It didn't mean anything to him, either.
"You said his brother is a patient here. Could we talk to him?"
"I'm 'fraid that one's in no condition to talk to anyone. But you could look in on him if you want. He's down that hall, Room 28. You'll have to look in through the window, but you should have a pretty good view. Oh, and his name is Jesse. He's only 23 years old. Cryin' shame, if you ask me."
The trio was already headed down the hall, nearly missing her last sentence. They checked the numbers on the doors, and pulled up short in front of the one marked "28". Hutch peered in the tiny window first, taking in the pitiful creature in the padded room. "I don't know 'im. I'd swear I've never seen that face in my life!"
He stepped aside and let Starsky take a peek, and immediate came to attention when he heard his partner's sharp intake of air. "I know that kid, although I don't think I ever knew his name." He turned around to address his two friends. "Remember when you had to escort that prisoner to Santa Barbara about a month ago? And you remember me telling you about the screwed up bust we had while you were gone?"
"Yeah, you and some of the guys brought in a bunch of kids for selling, but couldn't get your hands on the big cheese."
"Yeah, that's the case. Well, that kid," he motioned with his head, "was one of the ones we picked up that night. I didn't even fill out the arrest report myself, but ultimately, I guess I was responsible. But how did he get from a California jail cell to a padded room in New Jersey?"
"As a guess," Hutch deduced, "I'd say something went wrong in prison, and he lost it. His brother probably had him brought here when they decided nothing could be done. But who is this guy?"
"Jackson Preston," Bailey explained, "is one of the richest, most powerful men in the state of New Jersey. He owns several companies out of Atlantic City and two casinos here. He's also been tied to some shady dealings, but nobody's ever been able to pin anything solid on him. Why do you ask?"
"Because," Dobey addressed the officer directly, as his two men stood by, "there's a very good possibility that he's the one who's behind this whole mess! And I want 'im!!" Dobey slammed a ham-sized fist on the desktop for emphasis, causing both Bailey, Starsky, and Hutch to jump.
"Believe me, Captain, I'd like nothing more than to nail that guy. But there simply isn't enough evidence. That guy's slipperier than a mud-puppy in a waterhole."
"I've been thinking about that," Starsky proposed, and Hutch and Dobey's faces showed their surprise that he'd finally discuss his idea in front of the local cops without running it down with them first. "Now, whether it's Preston or someone else who did this, I think we can fool whoever this is into tipping his hand." Starsky went on to run down his idea, and Bailey, Dobey, and Hutch all had to admit it was an excellent one.
Before long, Bailey was on the phone with the commissioner's office, who called back shortly with approval from the mayor for the plan. He was completely willing to go along with whatever was necessary in order to finally pin something on the evasive Preston.
"Now," Dobey interjected, "all we have to do is find a believable person who nobody in New Jersey knows."
"I've got the p-p-p-perfect man for the job!" Hutch picked up the phone, requested an outside line, and before long dialed several numbers. There was a pause, then a smile spread on the blond's face. "Hiya, Huggy! You know anybody in New Jersey?", a pause, then, " How'd you like a free trip to the East Coast? "
"Of course!" Starsky exclaimed.
"Who's Huggy?" Bailey questioned.
"Huggy's the ideal guy, and we know exactly what he's capable of. Plus, we can trust him one hundred percent!" He finally realized he hadn't really answered the question. "Huggy's a friend from L.A. He's also one of our best informants. He's got a great ear for always knowin' what's going on!"
"Okay, get him out here as soon as you can," Dobey addressed Hutch and Starsky as Bailey nodded his approval.
For his plan to work, Starsky knew that nobody in town could see Hutch roaming the streets. So he went by himself to pick up Huggy from the airport, leaving Hutch to coordinate the other details from the precinct. When he became tired, he sacked out on the couch in the Captain's office, who was only too happy to cooperate given the opportunity to finally convict Preston.
Hutch did his job very well. When Huggy's plane landed, there were reporters waiting. The story wasn't earth-shattering, but it was definitely worth a short blurb in the paper or on the television news broadcast. Later that evening, Starsky, Hutch, Dobey, Huggy, and half the Atlantic City police force gathered around the small set in the squadroom, where the news was in progress.
"And in local news," the model-like anchorwoman announced, as a film was rolled of Huggy, dressed in a business suit, getting off the plane, "an out of town investor has released plans to reopen the old "Palace" hotel. It has been confirmed by the Mayor's office that the hotel, which has lain empty since the government claimed it for back taxes six years ago, has, in fact, been purchased by Mr. Robert H. Brown of California. Mr. Brown reports that renovation work is scheduled to begin first thing Wednesday morning. In other news . . ."
Bailey clicked the television off. "Well, so far, so good. Looks like Preston's going to have to make his move soon. You guys better get out there; this whole thing'll be for nothing if he gets there before you and doesn't find his victim there."
"The only question left," Dobey interrupted, "is how we're going to be sure that Preston himself will come with his men. I doubt he usually handles little details like this himself."
"Gee, thanks for the kind thought, Captain." Hutch put in, smiling. "Always nice to be considered a 'little detail'!"
"Very funny, Hutchinson. But this whole plan could go right down the drain if we can't solve this!"
"It might not be that hard to solve after all," came a voice from behind them. They turned and saw a new face on a medium-height heavy-set man. Bailey and the local captain introduced him as the police commissioner, and hands were shaken and introductions made all around.
"Excuse me, Commissioner," Captain Braille said, "but what did you mean that it might not be a problem after all?"
"I've studied Preston for many years. Not just watched or kept an eye on, but studied. I always knew he was up to no good. And one thing I've learned about him is that he doesn't trust too much. Yes, he'll trust any of his men to carry out a little task, like he probably did in taking you," he looked at Hutch, "there in the first place. But when it comes to something that could put him away, he always has to oversee it himself. I don't think he believes his men are all that bright - he is a man of extreme intelligence, and many pale by comparison - and he's always watching out that they don't leave something undone that could trip him up. I'm sure he'll go out to be sure that there isn't any telltale evidence left behind."
"You're certain of this?" Starsky asked with concern.
"Absolutely. I know that man as well as I know myself. And I know he'll be there."
"Well, then, partner," Hutch said, slapping a hand on Starsky's back. "I guess we'd better get out there, too!"
The last unmarked police car pulled away from the Palace a mere 1-1/2 hours later, having resealed the entrances so there was no sign that anything had changed. They even made sure that boards that had hung loose continued to do so.
All was not in readiness inside, however. Each of the room doors in that first corridor had an officer hiding behind it, and four more hid in the dark shadows of the pool, out of sight. Only one thing had yet to be resolved.
"You are not going in there in my place!" Hutch stated stubbornly, and Starsky recognized that set in his jaw.
"Yes, I am!" Starsky yelled back at full volume, overpowering the blond.
"No, you're not!"
"Yes, I am!"
"Boys, boys!" Dobey finally decided it was time for a referee. "Stop! Right now!! Since neither one of you can accede to the other, I guess I'll make the decision. The Atlantic City PD has given me authority over this case, so I'll make the choice."
"Captain, that's my place," Hutch petitioned him. "I'm the one who spent all those days s-s-s-s-s-s-secluded here! And I'm the one they're going to be looking for!"
"Captain, it's gotta be me! Hutch is in no condition to take on something like this!" At Hutch's frown, Starsky turned to him. "Blondie, I know you don't wanna admit it, but you're still not up to your usual par. I can see you're still weak, tired, plus there's no telling what you're gonna feel when you catch sight of those guys." He closed the distance between them, drawing close, his words only for his partner. "You've been through so much in the last week. I wanna be sure you're completely recovered before I go risking your neck again!" He didn't say it aloud, but his concerned look told Hutch that his curly-haired partner was as concerned for his psychological state as he was for his physical. It was somehow harder to express this, though.
Hutch, although he appreciated Starsky's concern, played his last card. "But they're gonna know as soon as they walk in that it's not me down there! In case you haven't thought about it, those curls of yours are brown, not blond!"
"A-ha! I already thought of that, too!" He opened a dufflebag he'd been carrying and revealed a man's blond wig, and Hutch was amazed at how close a match it was to his own hair. "In the dark with this on, he'll never know the difference. And you can be waiting to pounce when they come in after me."
Both men finally looked to Dobey for his final decision, and Dobey hesitantly gave the nod to Starsky. "Thanks, Cap. I'll get changed and then it'll just be a matter of waiting." Minutes later, with Starsky wearing the blond wig, his shorts, and a blanket wrapped around him, they all sat down to wait. Two officers were serving as lookouts in order to let them know the moment somebody showed signs of coming.
The alarm was finally raised about 2:00 in the morning, and Dobey, Starsky, and Hutch jumped from their slumber. Hutch checked the holster which held the police special the NJPD had loaned him, while Starsky held his in his hand as he jumped down into the shallow end of the pool. He lay near the drain on his side, the blond hairs of the wig falling toward the floor, his gun cradled under his arm.
Everyone stood motionless and out of sight, waiting for something to happen. Hutch nearly jumped from his hiding place when the men entered the pool area. Four burly men entered first, followed by a stern-faced Preston. Dobey felt the blond officer tense beside him, his hand tightening on the handle of the gun, unaccustomed to it's smaller size in his palm. The Captain could barely make out the anger in the man's eyes and face - it was clear that Hutch dearly wanted to tear this man apart. But seeing him behind bars would have to do.
"Okay, get him outta there," Preston ordered, then amended it with, "be sure you've got your gloves on. We can't be leaving any prints around." He himself pulled on a pair of immaculate white gloves, the kind Howard Hughes used to wear. The four men did likewise and two of them went after the unmoving blond figure at the bottom of the pool, two remaining behind to take the body from them.
Four hands reached for Starsky, bending close. When the decoy decided they were close enough, he suddenly pulled out the gun and pointed it at them. "Trick or treat, scum!" The rest of the pool room instantly erupted into action, with all the officers emerging from their hiding places.
The bust went smoothly, without a hitch, and before long all five men were cuffed and being read their rights. Hutch admitted to himself he was actually a little disappointed that none of them had resisted. He would've loved to get to exact a little revenge on the men for what they'd done to him, but he also knew that, when that kind of a fight was done, that he'd probably have to be carried away himself. He was still weak and out-of-shape, but a few weeks at Vinnie's would take care of that.
As the local police took the five of them away, Dobey, Starsky, and Hutch followed behind, relieved to finally have the case closed. "Why is it," Starsky inquired, "that every time we go on vacation we end up in the middle of a case? I mean, we'd probably get more rest if we just locked ourselves in our apartments with the phone off the hook."
"Maybe next time we should try that," Hutch answered. "And would you please take that off?!"
"Take what off?" Starsky looked down at the clothes he'd retrieved. "But I just got them on!"
"Not your clothes, dummy! I meant that thing!" Hutch motioned to Starsky's head, and the detective realized that the blond wig was still perched there.
"What? Don't you think I'd look good as a blond?"
Dobey interrupted their fight, figuring that if he didn't, it would go on all day. "Take it off, Starsky! One blond on this team is more than enough!"
Cathy snuggled closer to Starsky as they watched the chorus line doing the can-can on the stage. The waiter had already cleared away the dishes they and Hutch had emptied during the meal. Starsky slipped his arm around her waist and looked over at his partner, who didn't really seem to be enjoying the show all that much.
"What'sa matter, partner? This is the show you wanted to see, wasn't it?"
"Yeah," was his unenthusiastic response as he rested his head on his hand, elbow on the now-empty table. Starsky actually knew what was bothering the blond: his date, a girl Cathy had introduced him to just this morning, had called to cancel because she'd gotten sick. Hutch wasn't sure he believed that - maybe she just hadn't liked what she saw.
The lights went down, setting the mood for a more sedate number to follow the energetic can-can. Male and female dancers in evening clothes took their places on the stage in a salute to ballroom dancing.
Cathy leaned close to Starsky's ear and whispered, "don't worry about Hutch - I've found a substitute." Starsky looked at her with a smile and surprise in his eyes.
"Cath, you are something else!" he whispered back.
They watched the rest of the number together, and near the end the dark-haired officer saw the shapely silhouette of a woman coming toward their table. Just as she arrived at Hutch's side, the lights came up, and Cathy decided it was time for the introductions.
"Dave, Ken, this is Joy, from the chorus line. I invited her to join us." Starsky smiled approvingly at her choice for his partner, and he, Cathy, and Joy turned to see Hutch's reaction. Somehow, it was not what they expected.
"Well!" Cathy exclaimed, "I like that!" The man in question, tall, blond, and handsome, sat next to the showgirl completely oblivious to her. As a matter of fact, he was oblivious to everything, as he'd fallen fast asleep!
Joy slid in next to him as Starsky tried to rouse his partner. "Hutch!.... Hutch! Wake up!"
"Huh?" the blond muttered groggily as he raised the head he'd been resting on his arms.
"Let me try, Dave," Joy said to Starsky, while Cathy looked on in amusement. Joy twisted her head around to the left, interlocking her lips with Hutch's, and suddenly his eyes opened wide and he eagerly returned the kiss.
Cathy and Starsky laughed uproariously as the two finally pulled apart. Hutch looked toward them with a sly smile. "I think I'll go back to sleep. You will wake me again, won't you?" he said to the tall, willowy blond. Joy and Hutch joined in the laughter with Hutch regaining his second wind to spend their last evening in the city with two beautiful ladies.