Comments about this story can be sent to: BUC252@aol.com
MOTHER'S DAY SURPRISE
"Well, whatta ya think?" Starsky jerked his head toward the large window they were passing, and Hutch took a step back to read the sign over the establishment.
"Yeah, I guess. If you think so." The blond read the sign again, aloud this time. "Ming's Far East Emporium. You really think we might find something here?"
"I don't know, but since we've been in every other shop on this street, we may as well hit them all! I can never understand why I have such a hard time pickin' out a present for my mom. I dunno; birthdays, Christmas, now mother's day.... I just don't know what she wants. Besides grandchildren, that is."
"Well, I need to pick out something for my mom, too. Only she's liable to take one look at it and tell me that I shouldn't have because we already paid to bring them out here for the week. 'Just seeing you is present enough,' she'll say. You know, I'm really glad they get along so well - at least they can have fun together while we're on duty."
The shelves of the curio shop were strewn with Oriental figurines of all shapes and sizes. The signs on each shelf warned about handling the precious objects, but Starsky began to pick up and examine each piece anyway. He finally settled on one particular figurine. "What do you think, Hutch? Think she'd like this one?"
"Starsky, what is that?"
"I dunno, but it sure is colorful!"
"I'm afraid that just doesn't say 'Starsky's mom' to me. I think they'd both like something a little more down-to-earth."
The blond girl behind the counter, who couldn't have been more than twenty, paid discreet but close attention to the conversation between the men. Since she worked on commission, she was determined to sell something to them.
"Let's get outta here, Starsk. We're not gonna find anything."
"Yeah, I guess so. Sure is a nice little shop, though." Starsky set the figurine he held back on the shelf and followed Hutch toward the door. The smiling clerk intercepted them less than two steps from the threshold.
"Can I help you gentlemen find something?"
Starsky smiled roguishly at her, and Hutch jabbed an elbow into his ribs. "She's practically jail bait!" he whispered out of the side of his mouth. "I don't think so, Miss. We're just looking for some gifts, but I don't see anything that feels right."
"These gifts are for women, yes?" Both men nodded confirmation, and she went on. "Well, we do have a few particularly nice things." She led them to more shelves and showed them several items in particular, but none of them seemed appropriate. After half an hour in the little shop, the girl was clearly getting tired and the men had resigned themselves that they just weren't going to find anything.
"I'm sorry, Miss," Hutch said finally. "I don't think there's any point in wasting your time any further. The women we're getting these gifts for are just too old fashioned for all this stuff. We'll just try another shop."
They headed for the door again, and she stopped them one more time. "Hey, wait a minute!" Both men turned to her, waiting to hear what she had to say. "A new shipment just came in, and it's supposed to be all new items. I'm not really supposed to get into them until the boss checks them in, but I imagine just this once he won't mind. C'mon, please?"
Neither of them had the heart to turn her down, so they followed her to the back room, where four large boxes, three brown and one gray, sat covered in shipping tape. It only seemed like a second before she had the first box open, and it was filled with figurines different but strikingly similar to the ones they'd already seen. The next two boxes merited the same results.
"Just one more," the girl said, tearing into the giant gray box. She brushed aside a large volume of packing "popcorn", shaking her hands to rid herself of the static-filled pieces of styrofoam. Once the packing was out of the way, she withdrew from the box a large carousel music box, and then another nearly identical. The bases were about ten inches in diameter and four inches high, the carousels themselves stretching another nine inches above that. She turned the key on the side of first one several rotations, and a tune began to play.
Starsky turned a lopsided grin to his partner. "Fate must've led us to this place, buddy! That's just perfect for my mom." He listened and studied the carousel as it spun to the tune of "New York, New York." The second one played "Close to You", and Hutch decided to buy it for his own mother.
"Why don't you gentlemen take them up to the counter; I'll check the price book and be up in a minute."
When they left the shop fifteen minutes later, both men were carrying their purchases proudly, the young lady having even been kind enough to gift wrap them for the officers. "Ma's gonna love this!"
"Neither one of 'em's gonna love them if they found out how much we paid for them." Hutch cringed a little when he thought about it, thinking that his wallet even seemed a little lighter in his back pocket.
"Well, my credit card can take the strain. Besides, how often do we get to treat our moms?"
"Yeah, I know," Hutch responded, checking his pocket watch. "Hey, we'd better get a move on if we're gonna change before picking them up at the hotel. Our reservations for dinner are at 7:00 and it's almost six now!"
"Not to worry, partner. My car'll get us there in plenty of time!"
"Yeah, but will it get us there alive!"
"With me behind the wheel? It's an absolute certainty!" Starsky locked both gifts in the trunk before sliding into the driver's seat, Hutch already seated behind him. "Since your place is farthest out, why don't we start out going there so you can change, then hit mine on the way to the hotel."
"Sounds like a good idea, Starsk. And it'll save the most time."
Starsky chuckled softly to himself, which elicited a curious look from Hutch. "What's all that for?"
"I was just thinkin'. If we do get there in time to be at the restaurant before 7:00, my mom might go into shock. She always used to say I'd be late for my own funeral. She's not gonna know how to react if I'm on time."
Hutch smiled at the vision. "Well, then hit it, partner. Sounds like something I've just gotta see!"
Half an hour later the clerk in Ming's Far East Emporium was dusting the shelves when her boss, and the store's owner, came in. "How's business been, Cheryl?"
"Kinda slow today, Mr. Evans. I only had two really good sales."
"Maybe it'll pick up tomorrow." As he disappeared into the back room, she faintly heard him begin to ask, "Did my new delivery come...." When his voice stopped in mid-sentence, Cheryl became concerned.
"Mr. Evans? Mr. Evans, are you all right?" When there was no answer from the back room, she opted to go after him. "Mr. Evans, what's...." She stopped, speechless, as the grown man tore through the boxes from the recent shipment. He was clearly frantic, searching for something. "What's wrong, sir?"
"Cheryl," Evans stood up panting, giving up the search, "Cheryl, there were supposed to be two large carousels in this shipment. Have you seen 'em?"
"Sure, Sir. Why didn't you just say so sooner. Those were the two big sales I made today. These two fellas came in looking for something 'special', and they even paid full retail for them!" She smiled, clearly proud of herself, but her thrill dissipated quickly when he turned an irate face to her.
"What the hell did you think you were doing! I've told you that all incoming shipments must be checked in by me, and me alone, before being sold!" He approached her as he yelled, and her eyes became wide with fear.
He stepped closer, and she cowered, afraid he was actually going to strike her. When she ducked away from him, he finally realized what he was doing and backed off. "I'm sorry, Cheryl. Really, I am." He paused a moment, trying to think of an excuse, and came up with, "I've just been ripped off too many times by those suppliers from overseas. I just have to be sure everything is right before I pay for it."
"It's okay, Mr. Evans." Her voice still quivered slightly. "I checked them over real well before I sold 'em. They were fine - and the music played perfectly!"
Evans knew that he'd have to come up with another reason for his concern so he could continue to pursue the problem. "It's not that I don't trust you, Cheryl. It's just...." He paused and put on an expression somewhere between embarrassment and shame. "It's just that I requested those particular pieces especially for members of my family. They were special gifts, and I really need to get them back."
"Well...." her mouth drew to a fine line as she thought about the problem. "I suppose you could check the surveillance system to see what they looked like.... And one of them paid for the piece with a credit card. His address and telephone number should be in the sale records. You could contact him and try to buy it back if you need it badly enough."
Evans smiled warmly at her, and she felt satisfaction that she had been able to help him. "Cheryl, you're terrific! That's exactly what I'll do!" He headed toward the back room again, and turned back momentarily to tell the girl, "I'm really sorry I got so mad, Cheryl. Why don't you take the rest of the day off - paid. Go find that fella of yours and have some fun. I'll hold down the fort here."
The girl was clearly surprised at the event, which she couldn't remember ever having happened before. "Oh, thank you, Mr. Evans! Thank you so much!" She grabbed her light jacket from the hook and was gone in a flash. Mr. Evans smiled conspiratorially at her back as she left, thinking that this would give him the time and privacy he needed to take care of the problem.
The knock at the hotel room door came no more than five minutes before seven, and the voice from inside called that she'd be right there. Starsky smiled to himself, holding his gift, as Hutch stood next to him adjusting his tie. "I told you we'd be late! Mom hates it when I'm late."
"Hutch, I've met your mother. And she couldn't be angry with you no matter what you did, let alone a little thing like bein' late."
"Well, I guess it probably won't bother her this time. But it's not like she's never been ticked at me before."
"What?" he said with exagerated theatrics. "Did my perfect partner have a less-than-perfect adolescence?"
"You could say I wasn't always the ideal son. Of course, I'm sure it doesn't begin to compare to the hell you got into in the streets of New York."
"That, my friend, is a story all by itself!" Their discussion ended abruptly as the door flew open. There in the doorway stood a beautiful woman, her dark hair colored to belie her age and the faint trace of makeup covering up the signs of her years. She smiled broadly and gathered Starsky into her arms, pulling him down to kiss him on the forehead and laying a gentle hand on his cheek.
"Oh, Dave! I love you so much!" She continued to hold him for another moment, and Starsky thought how it was always this way when they saw each other. It was as if she felt that, if she let go, she'd never get her son back in her arms again. Like she feared losing him like she'd lost his father.
"Ma, it's only been six hours since you saw me! You act like it's been a millennium!" He smiled gently down at her, the softness in his tone belying the sharpness of his words. It occurred to Hutch that he never saw his partner so disarming, so soft as he was when he was with his mother. Somehow he was a little boy again, reveling in his mother's attention.
"Did I hear a familiar voice out here?" The voice came from the door to the adjoining hotel room, and a moment later a second woman came through. She was tall and stately, but gray hair and wrinkles told of years of hard work building a farm and a family. It was noticeable, however, that the most pronounced wrinkles were laugh lines, signs of joy and happiness living her life as she liked. "Ken!" Hutch walked into her arms and buried his face into her neck as she wrapped them around his back.
A muffled sound came from the blond man, but the woman who held him knew what he'd said. "I missed you too, dear. So much, you'd never believe it!" They'd purposely refrained from creating a scene at the airport that morning, looking on arm in arm as Starsky had scooped his small mother into his arms and swung her around. It was typical for the duo: the blond restrained and the brunette flamboyant. It was also representative of the way they lived their lives. But here, in the privacy of the women's hotel rooms, they could act freely and openly.
Hutch pulled back from her but remained close. Her eyes fell on her son's best friend with a warmth almost as strong as they'd held for her son. "I'm sorry, I've been so rude. Hello, Dave. It's good to see you again, too." She stepped forward, away from her son, and embraced the curly haired man, just as Mrs. Starsky strolled over to put a warm arm around her son's partner.
"Hey," Dave brought up excitedly, "you guys didn't even open your presents yet!" He pointed out the gifts they'd hastily set aside when they first entered the room.
"Why don't we wait until after dinner," both mothers spoke at the same instant, then laughed.
Hutch, ever the practical one, finally broke up all the soap. "Speaking of which, if we don't get going, we're going to lose our reservation. We're already late."
"Well, Ken, we're ready," Starsky's mother spoke up, and both men really looked for the first time at their mothers. They were breathtaking, dressed and coifed to perfection in celebration of the special dinner with their sons.
"I don't know, Mom," Hutch commented as the women gathered their purses and the foursome left the room. "I wonder if maybe I should've invited Dad too. It's gonna take two of us to fight off the men with you looking like that!" Mrs. Hutchinson blushed and smiled shyly but remained silent.
"That's okay," Mrs. Starsky interrupted. "You can borrow Dave. I don't want anyone fighting off the men for me except me! If I want to, that is!" She grinned wickedly at her son, who laughed boisterously all the way down the corridor.
Keith Evans sat in his small office at the curio shop, his feet propped up on the single non-cluttered corner. He held the telephone in one hand and watched the security recorder's playback, seemingly paying attention to both at the same time. "Yes, I understand that you've already paid for the merchandise.... Yes, I know it's overdue.... I'm taking steps to correct the problem right now. You should be able to cut it and have the product to your 'agents' by the end of the week. Yes, I promise I'll call you just as soon as you can pick it up." He quietly set the telephone down, feeling a little frightened and a lot angry. His 'customer' had made his possible fate very clear if he failed to retrieve the missing drugs.
The recorder had been running on fast forward/scan mode unobserved for several minutes, and Evans growled as he had to shut it off and rewind it, starting once again at the beginning of the tape. He started it scanning again, and finally hit the 'play' button when he saw a blond head appear in the doorway. A dark-haired man followed soon after, and they spent several minutes searching the shelves. They were out of camera range for a few minutes, then reappeared at the counter holding the precious carousels. With the certainty that these were the two men he was going to be searching for, he paused the tape, carefully studying the pair. Then he shut it off and extracted the tape from the player. The phone was put into use again, and he held the receiver between his ear and shoulder as he dialed the number and listened to the ring. While he waited for an answer, he flipped through the day's credit card receipts, searching for one with the correct dollar amount and time stamped on it.
The phone was answered while he was still going over the slips, and he paused to shift his attention. "Yeah, I need to have a photograph taken from a surveillance tape right away. If I send it over by courier immediately, how fast can I have it back...? An hour? That's fine, you'll have it in the next fifteen minutes." As he heard the line click, he finally located the credit slip he'd been searching for. "David Starsky," he read aloud, then copied down the name and home address of this man.
He checked the telephone book, and while the phone book gave no address listing, it did give the man's phone number. He dialed it up quickly, but when the phone went unanswered, he copied the number next to the address and put the book away. "Maybe he'll be home later on."
A few minutes after the unlikely foursome returned to the hotel room, the telephone rang. "Would one of you please pick that up?" Rachel Starsky asked over her shoulder while she and Hutch's mother hung up the jackets they had carried along but hadn't needed.
Hutch crossed the room to her telephone. "Hello."
"You know, you're really too old to think you can fool me into thinking you're your mother." Hutch laughed, immediately recognizing the voice and remembering the prank he'd used to play on his father before his voice had deepened.
"Son, what do you think you're doing keeping your mother up so late?"
"Well, I could also ask you what you're doing calling so late. I mean, jeez! It's after midnight there!"
"I think you're old enough to know now, son. I can never sleep unless your mother is curled up next to me!" Hutch was glad that his father - and his mother too, since he turned his back to her - weren't able to see the school-boy blush which began at his collar and ran up into the blond hair. No matter how sophisticated he got, or how active a social life he lived, he still couldn't get used to picturing his parents in that way.
"Speaking of your call," Hutch went on, changing the subject, "why did you have the hotel ring this room. Mom's is next door - this is Starsky's Mom's."
"Because after all these years, I know your mother. And at 11:30 at night, she'd inevitably be up either with you or with Rachel. So I tried her room first!"
"Okay, okay. I give up. You wanna talk to Mom?"
"Of course. You don't think I called long distance to talk to you, do ya?" Hutch handed the receiver to his mother, who had walked up next to him, and slid an arm around her waist to peck her on the cheek, laughing. He slipped away from her conversation to where Rachel and Starsky sat on a long seat at the end of the room. The woman was telling her son about some relative who'd just found out she was pregnant, and Starsky thought again: Aw, no! Not the "grandchild" business again! Even the thought was still painful for him, ever since the woman he was sure would be his children's mother had been killed.
Apparently his mother understood, because this time she did not broach the subject. She did, however, lay a thin hand on his, comforting in the only way she knew he'd let her while there were others present. Hutch remembered talking to Rachel on the phone shortly after Terri had died; she had so many questions but knew her son wouldn't be up to answering them. The phone had rung just after he'd finished the call to his parents, who were concerned for their "foster-son" Dave and how he was faring. Hutch had answered all her questions, but could not bring himself to get through the conversation without tears. He'd held it all in silently, knowing that Starsky needed the support of his strength. And if Hutch had broken down, as he really wanted to when he looked into his partner's pain-ravaged face, he knew Starsky would feel the need to be the supporter, when he really had no strength left to give. So Hutch held it in until Mrs. Starsky's questions elicited first a lump, then a catch in his throat, followed by the first sob, then the second. In a moment he was all-out weeping, the sorrow over the pain Starsky was feeling overtaking his heart.
Rachel had let him cry himself out, staying on the line when he couldn't even utter a word. Then she consoled him as Starsky would have. Yes, this was one very special woman with a clear understanding of the relationship her son and his partner shared.
He didn't interrupt the story she was now relaying to her son, but a flash went through his mind, wondering if Starsky had talked to his parents after Gillian had died. Or at that horrifying time in his life when Hutch hadn't been sure he could go on because Abby had left. Even though the memories were sad, a feeling a warmth and love rose in his chest. Here, in a single room, were three people who would never leave him - of this he felt certain.
It suddenly occurred to him that Starsky was talking to him, calling his name. "Hutch? Hutch, are you in there somewhere?"
Hutch focused his eyes again, putting his thoughts aside. "Yeah, I'm here. I was just thinking. Nothing important."
"It had to be something to cause a look like that! What was it?"
"Nothing, really! I was just thinking what a special mothers we have. We're both very lucky that way."
"And you thought that was 'nothing'?" Rachel stood up, toe to toe with him, a mockingly angry look on her face. "Well, since your mother is still on the phone, and isn't free to discipline you, I guess I'll have to do it myself!" She took two steps, one to the side and another forward, and planted a flat hand firmly on Hutch's behind, and Starsky curled over in laughter at the shocked look on his blond partner's face. "And for the rest of your punishment..." she moved both her hands to Hutch's sides, and he immediately broke into laughter at her tickling.
Over Hutch's peals, Starsky heard the woman on the phone tell her husband, "I'd better go, honey. It's getting late, and I think Rachel needs some help with our son." She smiled and hung up the phone, walking up next to Starsky, who still sat laughing at his partner's helplessness.
"You know, David, it's really not very nice to laugh at someone else's discomfort! Maybe you just need a different reason to laugh!" And she immediately attacked the curly-haired man, who wriggled on the seat trying to escape her traveling fingers.
After almost ten more minutes, the women finally let up on their defeated victims, watching with joyous expressions while their sons panted, trying to regain their breaths. "Honest, Ma!" Starsky exclaimed when he had gotten enough air to vocalize, "you'd think that we were still little boys or somethin'!"
"To us," Muriel Hutchinson interrupted, "you'll both always be little boys!"
"And so," Rachel picked up the argument from her blond/gray counterpart, "I think, and I'm sure Muriel would agree, that it's time you two got to bed!"
"Oh, Mom!" Hutch wined, and Starsky wondered if he was kidding or serious. "It's still early. We stay up later than this lotsa nights!"
"Well then," Mrs. Hutchinson addressed her son, "you've had this coming for a long time. Now you boys let us get our beauty sleep, and you go and get yours!"
"But, wait!" The thought suddenly occurred to Starsky. "You haven't opened your Mother's Day presents yet!"
"Okay, but if we open them now, will you go home to bed right afterward?" Starsky wondered why his mother always sounded as if he were ten.
"Whatever you want, Mom." Both women approached the table where they'd set down the large boxes, being sure they picked up the correct ones.
"You know, Ken, you really shouldn't have, after paying for the trip and all. Just seeing you is really enough of a gift." Hutch's mother smiled warmly, looking into the blue eyes of her son, who wore an 'I knew it!' expression.
"Well, I'm not too proud," Starsky's mom interrupted, breaking the look. "But unless David has found a way to fit my first grandchild in this box, it's not gonna be what I really want!" Starsky's blush was uncontrolled, but he thought how both his partner and he had accurately predicted their mothers' reactions.
The women opened their gifts, each fawning over the detailing of the horses and the carousel itself. "Oh, Ken! It's absolutely beautiful! Thank you so much!" Muriel wound the key and the musical began to circle to the tune of "Close to You". Rachel twisted hers, smiling her love to her son, and "New York, New York" joined in the confusing medley.
"Thank you, David!" Rachel stood, followed by Muriel, and both ladies hugged their sons. "We'll see you in the morning?"
"Yeah, Ma. We've got the whole day planned, just for the four of us! Is 9:00 too early to pick you up?"
"Not for me," Muriel responded. "Living on a farm, I'm used to getting up early. By 9:00 a good part of the day is through. My goodness! I'm going to feel like a regular lady of leisure!" Hutch slid his arm around his mother's waist and kissed her on the cheek again.
"You deserve it, Mom. See you in the morning!"
Starsky hugged his own mother, and both women waved as their sons went out the door.
Starsky was just unlocking his door, rubbing his eyes tiredly, when he heard his telephone ringing inside. He hastened the procedure and picked up the phone before the fourth ring could sound.
"Excuse me," said a very polite man's voice, "but are you David Starsky?"
"Yeah, who wants ta know?"
"I own the shop where you purchased a carousel earlier today. I'm afraid the clerk made a mistake when she sold you that item, as it had been reserved for somebody else. I wanted to inquire about possibly buying it back from you."
"Well, I'm sorry if you're in a bind, but I bought it as a gift. There's no way I can bring it back - it's perfect for the person I'm giving it to! I'm afraid you'll just have to make other arrangements."
"I'd be willing to pay double the price you paid for it!"
"No, I'm sorry. It's just not possible. Goodnight." Starsky started to hang up the phone when he heard the man still speaking.
"Wait, Mr. Starsky! You had a friend with you who also bought one. Do you think he'd be willing to return his to the store?"
"I'm sure Hutch wouldn't be interested, mister. Now, if you'll excuse me. It's awfully late and I'm gonna turn in." He hung up the receiver, and it occurred to him exactly what time it was. "Why would he call so late! Sure is a strange egg!"
He headed toward the bedroom, dropping pieces of clothing as he went, warming to the idea of the soft bed and several hours of uninterrupted sleep.
The next day dawned brightly, and neither man had any difficulty in being ready in time to get to the hotel well before the 9:00 deadline they'd set for their departure. Starsky whistled loudly and off key as Hutch turned the corner onto Commerce Boulevard where the hotel was.
The dark haired man had given in and let Hutch drive, understanding the argument that the four of them would be much more comfortable in a four-door car. "Who knows," Starsky addressed his blond partner, "when your mom sees this nightmare of a car of yours, maybe she'll be able to convince you that you need something newer."
"No, I don't think she will. In our family, cars of character are commonplace. We grow tomatoes, we don't drive 'em!"
"Very funny, partner."
They spent the remainder of the ride discussing their itinerary, and shortly they were walking through the large double doors of the hotel. They were wrapped up in the conversation and didn't even notice the pair of nondescript, inconspicuous men who followed. As the pair of officers entered the elevator, one man distracted the desk clerk while the other got a look at the registry. In short order they were out of the hotel and speeding away in their car. "Register says Muriel Hutchinson and Rachel Starsky. Well, we know the dark haired one is also a Starsky, and on the phone he referred to his friend as Hutch. Must be some kind of relatives or somethin'. We gotta report back to Evans - he'll want to know exactly what's goin' on."
Dave Starsky sauntered down the hallway toward his mother's room, his blond partner walking beside him. Hutch did not share his partner's cocky stride, but his step was also light. Both men wore casual shirts, jeans, and sneakers - perfect for spending the day showing their mothers the sights of their city. Rachel Starsky had been to L.A. before, visiting family and her son, but it was Muriel Hutchinson's first visit, and her son was determined to make her understand why he preferred it to his native Duluth.
"Which room d'ya think they'll be in?" The dark haired officer addressed his partner. "They're sure to be ready by now - neither of 'em is inclined to sleep in very late."
"Well, since Mom's room is the first in line, we might as well check there first." They were quickly approaching the room in question, and both men stopped, side by side, in front of the door as Hutch raised a fist to knock. The knuckles never met the door, though, as he pulled back when voices came from inside.
"Rachel, before the boys get here, tell me honestly. What do you think of the gift Dave gave you last night?"
"Well, El.... It sure is, uhhh, colorful. And the detailing is very accurate. And it certainly looks like it was expensive...."
"I know, I know. Okay, I'll say it first. I love Ken for getting it for me. Heck, I'd love him if he gave me a paper airplane like he did when he was six. But that carousel has got to be one of the ugliest things I've ever seen!" She smiled to lessen the admission she was making to her friend. "And, to be honest, I've never liked the Carpenters."
"Well, since you admitted it first," Rachel muttered sheepishly, "I have to agree. I'm afraid Davy has always liked things on the, shall I say, gaudy side? It was such a beautiful thought, though. And as for the tune, I love living in New York - Dave has tried to talk me into moving out here, but I just don't want to - but sometimes I think that if I hear "New York, New York" one more time I'm gonna scream!"
Unbeknownst to the older women, their sons had heard every word, and exchanged a significant look. "Think we should let 'em off the hook?" Starsky whispered to his partner, who nodded his head as he turned the knob. It struck him for an instant, as the knob turned, obviously unlocked, that he'd have to talk to his mother again about the differences between Duluth and L.A. You just couldn't go leaving your door unlocked in Los Angeles - even if you weren't asleep.
Both women's heads snapped up when they heard the soft voice of the blond man. "You know, you could have told us. We know you worry, but it really wouldn't have hurt our feelings."
"Oh, Ken!" Muriel shifted nervously, and Hutch wasn't sure if it was from their surprise entrance or from guilt at being caught. "I'm sorry, son! I know you probably tried so hard to pick out something nice!"
Rachel joined in at this point, standing to go to her blushing son. "I just didn't want to spoil our visit by seeming ungrateful, Dave. Please, will you both forgive us?"
"Ma, there's nothing to forgive. Why don't you just pack up the carousels, and we'll take 'em back to the store on Monday."
"Are you sure you don't mind?" Muriel gently touched her son's fair cheek as he shook his head, his dark partner mimicking his actions.
"Not at all. Now why don't you get them packed up. We'll put 'em in the trunk of the LTD now so we don't forget later, then we can get going."
"Yeah," Starsky joined in. "What till you ladies see the day we've got planned for you! You're going to have the time of your lives!"
After leaving the hotel, Steve and Scott headed for the address Mr. Evans had given them for the dark haired man named Starsky. He and his friend would surely be spending at least a couple of hours with their family members, either at the hotel or out in the city, which gave Evan's men the time they needed to search Starsky's apartment for the figurines.
Scott used an ancient switchblade, ground down to a fraction of its original size from repeated sharpening, to jimmy the front door. Once inside, they went over the place with a fine tooth comb, leaving it in an unbelievable disarray. They searched anyplace that was capable of holding the carousel, and some that weren't, just in case the man named Starsky had discovered the drugs and hidden them away, separate from the object itself.
They didn't discover the item they were seeking, but as they stepped back to think for a moment, Steve's eyes fell on a well-dusted wooden frame which sat in a place of prominence on the bookcase. The man with the curly hair stood in the photo with his arm draped across the slightly higher shoulders of a blond man. "Not that it tells us anything, but here's a picture of Starsky with that Hutchinson guy."
Scott searched the desk, and one of the large drawers was stuffed with magazines which covered a range of subjected from Beach Volleyball to Model Trains. One magazine, folded open to a page, caused the others on top of it to sit crooked, and Scott pulled it out of the pile. It was open to an add for a model outrigger available through mail order, with the form partially filled out in Starsky's left-handed scrawl. As he flipped the periodical closed and noticed the title "Plant World" emblazoned on the front, a small slip of paper flew from the magazine and wafted toward the floor. He was about to ignore it - the apartment was already a mess - when he noticed that it was the address label, which had loosened from the cover of the magazine he held.
"Hey, Steve! I've got it!" He held the tiny scrap of paper as if it were gold, reading the information aloud. "Mr. Kenneth Hutchinson, 1027-1/2 Ocean, Los Angeles, California! Hey, this is great!!! If we don't find the stuff here, we still have another place to check!"
"Yeah! There's no reason that they couldn't have taken them to the blond's. And it's a helluva lot brighter prospect than going back to Evans empty handed."
"You got that, partner! That is one man I don't wanna cross." Scott threw down the remaining contents of the desk, scattering paper everywhere.
"It's not here! We may as well give it up and get over to Hutchinson's. We've already been here way too long anyway." The two men left with a callous disregard for Starsky's personal property, leaving things broken, knocked over, strewn, and basically in a shambles. Then they added to it by not even closing the door on their way out.
Hutch pulled the brown LTD up close to the front doors of the hotel, and Starsky jumped out of the back seat before the car even stopped rolling, holding the door and offering his mother a hand from where she'd been seated next to him. "Thanks for the help, sweetheart," she told him, brushing his cheek with a kiss as she went by. Meanwhile, Hutch had shifted the car into park and was graciously opening the front passenger door for his own mother.
"Are you sure you boys won't come up for awhile?" Muriel Hutchinson's gentle smile was inviting, but it had been a very active day.
"Mom, how can you still be going after the day we had? Starsky and I are ready to hit the sacks, and here the two of you are, ready to take on the town!"
"Speak for yourself!" Starsky admonished him. "I don't care how tired I am - I can always find time for a lovely lady."
"Ohhh," Rachel smiled knowingly, winking at her son's blond partner, "so you admit that you are tired." Starsky cringed a little at being caught, but decided silence was the best response. "You boys go on along home. We'll see you both in the morning. We can have breakfast before spending our last day in L.A."
Hutch thought to himself that it was a rarity to find his curly-haired partner at a total loss for words, but that was exactly what happened when he stepped over the threshold of his apartment and flicked on the lights.
The place was in total disarray, and as the blond followed Starsky into the apartment, he was quick to realize that this was more than even his partner's average amount of clutter.
"What the hell happened?!" he finally mouthed, not sure if he was speaking to or for his speechless partner. The floor was strewn with books, papers, cushions, and whatever else whoever was responsible could find to scatter. All the desk drawers had been emptied out, as was the bookcase, and most of the furniture had been upended.
"This is worse'n Diana!" Starsky exclaimed when he finally found his voice. The memory made Hutch cringe for a fraction of a second, but it went unseen by his partner. It reminded him that this was the first time that this apartment had been invaded, and only the second time that any of Starsky's places had been broken into. Meanwhile, Hutch's seemed to be the favorite for abuse and invasion.
Starsky finally turned, still slightly stunned, to his partner, looking for answers in the blue eyes. "Why would someone do this?"
"I don't know, partner. We haven't been working on anything of any real importance lately. No newsworthy cases or anything!" He noticed that Starsky still looked a little numb, and had begun to slowly pick up items here and there. "Maybe it doesn't really have anything to do with you. Maybe it was just a run-of-the-mill burglary."
"Do you really believe that?" Starsky asked, beginning to come out of his lethargy.
"It's a possibility. And there are always possibilities."
The brunette's stunned expression, which had been slowly bleeding off, suddenly disappeared as if it had never been, replaced with a look of fury as he stood up, holding a square object in each hand. Hutch recognized the one on the left as being the picture they'd had taken together some time ago. The other, he knew, was an old picture of his mother and father, taken when Starsky was just a small boy. Both photos had adorned the dark-haired officer's bookcase.
"Are the pictures hurt or just the frames?"
Starsky answered him, looking over both objects carefully. "The pics look okay. I guess it's just the frames." Hutch could see that his partner was still frustrated. And his look was determined as he reached for the telephone that had been upended, but Hutch grabbed his wrist at the last moment, interrupting the action.
"I gotta get the crime lab down here!"
"Starsk, you're not thinking straight!" he said when he realized his partner's anger. "If you use that phone, you might mess up any prints. Why don't we call 'em from the car radio, then we can go to my place."
"Yeah, partner. It looks like you're spending the night."
"I'm sure they'll be done here before night," Starsky noted as they headed out the door, being careful not to touch the knob. "I can clean up the mess and sleep here."
"Not until we figure out who did it, partner."
"Hutch, you're being a mother hen! It was probably just a run-of-the-mill break in - someone looking to rob the place."
"Oh yeah, smarty?" Hutch came back, already forgetting that this was the very same argument he'd used earlier. "Then why is your stereo system still here? If I remember correctly, you shelled out quite a bundle on that conglomeration of wires and circuits."
"Well...maybe they couldn't carry it. Maybe they were only looking for cash and jewelry." They had walked up next to the Torino, which was in the same place it had sat all day, and Starsky finally thought to check it over. He ran a gentle, caressing hand along the white stripe, checking every inch of his pride and joy.
"Thank God they didn't hurt her," he said, turning to Hutch. "Maybe I should drive her over to your place, that way both cars'll be out of the way of the lab boys and girls." Hutch nodded agreement, realizing that Starsky had finally agreed, wordlessly, to spending the night at Venice Place. He opened the car door and sat down, picking up the microphone. "Control, this is Zebra 3."
"Hiya, Starsky," came the friendly response. "What's shakin'?"
"Too much, Mildred. Could you please send a crime lab team to my apartment as soon as you can. Seems I've had a little break in."
"That's a change!"
"Come again, Control?"
"Well, Starsky, it's usually Hutch's place that gets taken apart. This is a first, I think, for you!"
"A first I coulda done without, Sweetheart! I'll be over at Hutch's when they find something."
"Ten-four, Zebra 3."
Starsky and Hutch nodded to each other and both cars turned in the direction of Venice Place.
The hustle and bustle around Hutch's apartment was in stark contrast to the quiet that usually prevailed Starsky's neighborhood. The curly-haired man always figured that was part of the reason Hutch loved his greenhouse so much. A little piece of the country in the middle of the city.
The LTD pulled in the parking space out front, and the Torino slid in smoothly behind it, in just the same way that its owner stood behind the owner of the older car, backup under any circumstances. In spite of the street around it, the apartment building looked quiet, all the windows dark.
It took only a few moments before both cars were locked and the two men walked up the sidewalk toward the entrance. "Hey, Hutch?" Starsky whispered into the darkness.
"Uhhhh.... Ummm...don't tell Ma about this, okay? She worries so much because of me bein' a cop and all. I don't think she'll ever forget the way that Pop died."
"I won't, buddy. I've heard her, too."
"You haven't heard half of it. I mean, don't get me wrong, she's so proud that she could bust her buttons, but that doesn't keep her from worrying. Y'know how I call her every Friday night?"
"Yeah," Hutch responded as they mounted the stairs and started to climb.
"Well, I never told you this, but that's been our ritual every single week since I entered the academy. She insisted on it when I told her I was joining up."
"Really? I don't remember you doing it when we were in the academy."
"Hutch, how would the rest of the recruits have reacted if they knew I was calling my 'Mommy' on a Friday night? I never would've heard the end of it! I used to sneak into the nurse's office and use her phone to call collect. Nobody ever knew except the nurse."
"What'd she do when she caught you?"
"Well...let's just say I 'took care of it'. And boy, that woman could heal anything!" He wiggled his eyebrows suggestively, lightening the mood and causing Hutch to break out in loud guffaws as they turned the final landing toward his apartment.
The laughter was short-lived, though, as he noticed that his apartment door wasn't completely shut. The pair exchanged a look in the dim light provided by the hallway bulbs. Simultaneous, both men drew their weapons, cautiously approaching the wooden door.
"Police! Put your hands on your heads and come out peacefully!" Hutch listened for motion from the interior, but the only sound was his partner's breathing beside him.
After waiting some time, Hutch pushed the door open, standing against the wall for protection just in case he was wrong. Fortunately, he wasn't wrong on this count, and when the pair finally stalked into the room, nobody was there to greet them. Starsky reached for the light switch, but Hutch again grabbed his wrist.
"Just a minute, Starsk."
"What? Don't you wanna see how bad it is?"
"Just give me a minute to...." From the hallway light, which seemed bright now, Starsky could see the blond pull himself fully erect, straightening his back and throwing back his shoulders. "Okay, turn it on." Starsky flipped the switch, and the disaster was bathed in a warm glow.
The blond turned to his partner, and the emotions in the blue eyes told Starsky a million stories. What did he see there? Anger? yes. Even fury? Maybe. But something else, a sadness born of frustration.
"Why does this always happen to me?!" It was almost a whine the way it came out, but Starsky's heart fell for his partner. How many times could the two of them put this apartment back together before Hutch finally lost hope and moved. After last time, Starsky had actually tried to convince him to find another place, a place safer and less well-known. But the blond had argued that he'd finally gotten everything in it just right, that the setup was perfect for him, that he loved his greenhouse (not an easy thing to come by in the heart of L.A.), and a hundred other excuses. What Starsky heard was a different story: this was home, and nobody was going to drive him out of it.
"I'll use the radio in the Torino to call it in," Starsky told him, and left the ravaged apartment, giving Hutch time to reconcile himself to it. The dark-haired man knew how much more territorial his partner was about his possessions - not being unwilling to share them, but also not letting people take what was his, uninvited. He could be like a wolf stalking its prey when something or someone the blond loved was hurt.
And this time, they, whoever they were, had crossed both of them. That was the only thing deadlier than crossing one.
Hutch remembered back to the last time his apartment had been torn apart. Diana Harmon had been the culprit that time, insanely destructive of everything in the place. Somehow, this was different. Things weren't really destroyed, he realized - it was more as if they were searching for something. Drawers and closets were opened and items were strewn around, but the dining room chairs were still intact, and the plants were untouched.
He was so intent on the plants that he almost fell over the black case when his foot banged against it. His downward gaze fell on the guitar case, open and empty, with the instrument itself laying nearby. The back had been pried off, but otherwise it seemed to be intact. Yes, someone was definitely looking for something.
He held his treasured possession reverently, despite the fact that it wasn't as old as the one Diana had destroyed. That one had been a gift from his parents for his 16th birthday, and he'd cherished it ever since. This one, a replacement he cherished just as much as the first, was given to him by his curly-haired partner when he was hospitalized after the Diana Harmon fiasco. He almost dropped it, startled, when Starsky bombed up behind him, returning from the car.
"They say they'll be here soon as they get done at my place." He said it without his characteristic lopsided grin, and the blond knew that the bounce in his partner's step was pent-up aggression, not happiness. As he drew along side Hutch, Starsky noticed the object he was holding. "It's too bad about your guitar, buddy. Think it can be fixed?"
"I think so. They only took off the back - the rest is fine." He paused just a breath, then looked up at his standing partner. "Starsk, doesn't it look to you like they were looking for something in particular?"
Now that he'd brought it up, Starsky thought as he scanned the ravaged apartment, it didn't look like the general mayhem he'd seen at first. "Yeah, it does. Wonder what they were looking for."
"Beats me, partner. Hey, let's not mention this to my mom. She worries enough about me being a cop without giving her extra incentive."
"Now where have I heard that before? I suppose with how many hospital stays we have under our belts, they might have a reason. Okay, so mum's the word about this."
"The hardest thing is going to be keeping them away from our places until we can get this mess cleaned up."
"I dunno, Hutch," Starsky muttered uncertainly. "Mom can usually tell when I'm lyin' to her - or not telling the whole story. She always told me I'd never make it in show business."
"Well, this time you'd better put on an Oscar-winning performance, buddy. For their own goods."
It was well after 3:00 a.m. before the men and women from the police lab left Hutch's place, and things were just starting to settle down when the blond's telephone rang.
"Hutchinson, this is Captain Dobey. I just got the strangest call about your and Starsky's apartments being ransacked. Is this true?"
"I'm afraid so, Captain. Nothing's really been damaged too bad, just thrown around alot."
"Why didn't you call me? This could be related to your jobs, you know."
"It also could be just random vandals. Nothing was stolen, there was no danger, and the lab team just left, so it's all under control. We didn't figure it was worth waking you."
"Look, I know you're both on the roster for today, but I think you should take the day off. Being how late it is already, you're not going to be fit for duty sleep-wise until at least 10:00, and that's assuming you went to sleep right now. Try to take it easy, and by the time you're back to work the lab team should have some results."
"Okay, Captain. And...thanks." He turned to the brunette, who had flopped his weary body onto Hutch's couch. "That was Dobey. He gave us the day off to get some sleep."
"Hey!" Starsky almost shouted, opening his resting eyes. "If we get to sleep right now, we can spend most of the day with our moms!"
Hutch nodded, approvingly. "Not bad! Why don't you sack out here, and that'll save even more time." He had barely finished the sentence when he noticed his curly-haired partner had snuggled up on the couch and already fallen asleep. The blond laughed, located a warm blanket which he covered Starsky with, and headed for his bed for some much-needed rest.
Keith Evans sat talking with his men, giving them instructions in the small, confining space of the curio shop office.
"Go to the hotel and pick up the women. I don't want them hurt, but we've got to get that shipment back. Take them to the old warehouse at the docks. There's an office where they should be real comfortable. Then call and let me know that it's a go. I'll handle Starsky and Hutch. And remember, I don't want them hurt. Treat them with kid gloves." He stood up, enforcing what he said as they turned to leave. "And not one single bruise on either of them!"
None of the three men were happy at the condition Evans had placed on their work. Picking up the women without the possibility of bruising would be difficult, if not impossible. But then again, they were just old women - how much trouble could they be?
Starsky's knuckles clicked hollowly on the hotel room door, and both men looked at each other, puzzled when no response came. "Maybe they went out to breakfast? After all, we didn't tell 'em we were coming so we could surprise them."
"Yeah, but it's still so early. Do you really think they would be ready and gone this soon?" Hutch rubbed with the back of his hand at the scratchy blue spheres where his eyes were supposed to be. Starsky had slept through until dawn, but sleep had eluded the blond, not even affording him the three or four hours his partner had gotten. He was determined, though, not to let it interfere with this special "gift" from Captain Dobey.
"Maybe they're just still in the shower and can't hear us." He wrapped his fingers around the door knob and turned, surprised again when it was unlocked. There was something eerily quiet about the room, and they paused, ears alert for any sound, but were disappointed.
The blond officer noticed that the adjoining room's door was open only a crack, and left his partner's side to check his own mother's room. It didn't take him long to discover the same result that they'd found in Rachel's.
As he rejoined Starsky, he noticed that the brunette's gaze fell on the bed. A sheet of light blue paper, folded over once, lay on the pillow, and Starsky's face brightened. "I'll bet they left us a note!" He rushed over and grabbed the note, and something dropped from in the fold. His blond partner took the paper from his hand as Starsky bent to retrieve the fallen item.
Hutch read the note aloud. "Your mothers for the carousels. They will stay safe as long as you cooperate. You will be contacted. Do not notify the police department." His blue eyes, suddenly cloudy and uncertain, turned to his partner, who held up a intricately engraved locket on a broken chain.
"It's mom's, and she'd never go anywhere without it. I haven't once seen her without this around her neck." He used a fingernail, being careful to avoid smudging any possible fingerprints, to pry it open, showing Hutch the pictures inside. One side held a picture of two small boys, either one of which could have been Starsky at a younger age. Starsky and Nick, Hutch deduced, and looked at the other side. The photo there could very well have been the blond's partner himself, except for the neatly pressed clothes and the closely shorn hair. The black-and-white picture reinforced something Rachel had told him earlier about how much Davey resembled his father. Carbon copies, she'd laughingly called them.
"Boy, when that guy said he wanted them back, he wasn't kidding!" Starsky looked concerned.
"What d'you mean, Starsk? Do you know who did this?"
"I'd forgotten all about it until just now, but I think I might. See, I never got around to telling you, but the other night I got kind of a strange call. It was after midnight by the time I got home, but the phone rang and he said it was this guy from the shop where we bought the carousels. He said he wanted them back because they'd already been promised to someone else, but I told him they were gifts and we weren't interested in returning them. He tried a dozen ways to talk me into bringing mine in, and even asked if I thought you'd be interested in selling yours back, but I made it very clear that neither of us would want to." He paused a moment, looking at the locket again. "I guess this is their response. And now Mom's in trouble, and it's my fault for being so flip with that guy!"
"Starsk, it's not your fault. How would you know it was anything other than a simple request?" The blond laid a comforting hand on his partner's shoulder, and could feel the tension there. Starsky's reaction was not what Hutch expected - a rarity in their particular relationship. They could usually predict each other like clockwork. He'd expected anger from his dark-haired partner, and still waited for it to churn up and bubble over. He knew that when it did, Starsky would need his cool reserve as a balance, so he kept his emotions in check as much as possible, not letting his anxiety show. But the pit of his stomach had fallen out, creating realistic cramps in his abdomen.
"We shouldn't have brought them here. It's just too dangerous in this city." Starsky was mesmerized by the locket he held by its chain.
"C'mon, Starsk. You couldn't have predicted this. And, for once, this has nothing to do with our jobs. I mean, cripes! From this note, they don't even know that we're cops!" His adamant argument belied the statement which ran through his head, frighteningly: She'd be safe at home in Minnesota with Dad if it weren't for me. Nothing like this ever happens in Duluth.
The walk to Hutch's car seemed to take forever, but they had something they needed to check on, and the front of the hotel was not the place to do it. The blond climbed behind the wheel and circled the block twice, finally pulling in behind an ancient, abandoned gas station with only one pump. The LTD pulled behind the building, and Starsky noticed how well Hutch had chosen: they were unable to be sighted from any angle back here, the back lot being littered with stacks of junk and abandoned cars.
Both men circled to the trunk and opened the packages they'd previously presented to their mothers. The light was poor, though, and they let their fingers to a long of the work, seeking a seam or opening somewhere.
"Got it!" Starsky finally shouted, and a small panel on the bottom of the object was released. The internal mechanism, which created the music, came out easily, and behind it the brunette found a 5" square package of a white, powdery substance.
Hutch put his object down to look at Starsky's discovery. "Starsk, that's gotta be worth a fortune. You think it's pure?"
"Only one way to find out, partner," Starsky answered, opening a corner of the bag and inserting a finger to taste it. A moment later he spat it out. "Yep, 100% pure, I'll bet. Probably worth almost a million bucks."
"Well, now we know why they want 'em back. But what are we gonna do about our mothers?"
"We'll come up with something, partner," Starsky muttered, laying an encouraging hand on the blond's shoulder. "We will come up with something!"
Muriel and Rachel sat on a comfortable sofa in the warehouse office. Two threatening-looking men stood guard at the door, keeping them from leaving but imposing no other offense. The table in front of them held a pot of coffee, cups, sugar, and cream, but they didn't help themselves to any to drink.
A knock on the door, and one of the guards opened it to reveal his boss. Keith Evans silently studied the women for a moment, realizing that he didn't believe he was capable of injuring either woman. The only saving grace, he thought, was that neither they nor their sons knew that. His forte was a simple commodity, and he kept himself unusually alienated from the seedier side of this chosen product.
The women's eyes rose to meet the face of this stranger, both with courageous looks on their faces which could not hide the faint hint of fear behind the eyes. "Please don't be afraid, ladies," he spoke to them gently. "I don't want to hurt you, and I won't as long as your sons cooperate."
"We don't have to be afraid of you, you...you...." Rachel spoke up, standing to face her captor. "You don't know who you're dealing with here. You haven't taken into account our boys. And our boys are..."
"...going to find us, no matter where we are!" Muriel finished for the dark-haired woman, keeping her from speaking facts that were best kept hidden. She laid a hand on Rachel's arm, guiding her back down to their seat.
"Your boys will find you only when we want them to. And as long as you two behave, you'll be treated as guests."
"Guests are allowed to leave when they wish!" Rachel shouted at the retreating form of Evans, although this time she kept her seat. The guards, seeing no threat, decided it would be more interesting to guard the older women from the outside, and left behind Evans, locking the door and setting up their stations on the outside.
"I'm sorry about that, Rach," Muriel turned to her friend. "I couldn't let you give away that Ken and Dave are police officers." She whispered these last two words, like a schoolchild telling a dirty joke. "I don't know what they're going to do, but it could hurt matters a lot for these people to know what their skills are."
"I know, and I understood just as soon as you stepped in. I'm afraid Dave got his quick temper from me more than from his father - I just didn't think first. Thank heaven you did." The women joined hands in a mutually-comforting gesture, their primary thoughts not on themselves but on their boys.
Starsky and Hutch paced in front of Captain Dobey's desk, waiting for him to arrive and trying to decide just how much they should tell him. He was their friend as well as their boss, and they knew they could trust him. But the fewer people who knew, the better, so the argument continued to go back and forth until Dobey walked through the door.
"Okay, you two. You did a great job on the Sanderson case, and I know you'd like some time off, but I've got a new one that's right up your alley."
Blue eyes met blue in mutual consent, and Starsky spoke first. "We've already got a new case. And this one takes priority."
"This one is important too. Did you pick up something on the streets?"
There was silence all around for a few seconds, then Hutch spoke in quiet, measured tones. "Captain, someone's grabbed our mothers." His voice cracked on the final word, but he bore down and kept his cool.
"Aw, no! Why? When did this happen?" The two men took turns relaying the story, and Hutch produced the note they'd been left, sealed in a plastic bag to protect any prints. Dobey read the note and considered the alternatives. "I'll assign the new case to Simmons and Babcock. You two take care of this one."
"You bet we will!" Starsky said, his voice expressing a feeling just this side of the rage burning inside him. Even in New York, his mother had never been threatened like this!
"No, I'm serious. You've got to handle this thing with level heads. You're welcome to use any equipment necessary, and get a recorder put on your phone, first thing," he nodded a head in Starsky's direction. "You did say he'd called you there before, so your best bet is that he'll contact you there again. Where are those 'gifts' of yours now?"
Hutch looked up, surprised that they hadn't even thought of the drugs' disposition. "They're still in the trunk of my car."
"No, that's not safe enough. I want you to go and get your car, drive it in here - be sure you're not tailed - and leave them in the property room."
"No way, Captain!" Starsky interceded. "There's no telling if we're going to have to prove we still have the drugs. We're going to open 'em up, get the drugs out, and stash them in a safe - but handy - place!"
"Hutchinson, will you please reason with your partner?!"
"He sounds perfectly reasonable to me, Captain. And nothing short of an arrest warrant for the two of us is gonna make us turn that in." Dobey still looked skeptical, and Hutch added with a pleading tone, "It could mean a matter of life or death for our mothers! You must have had a mother once. Wouldn't you have done the same?"
"Yeah, I guess I would have," Dobey muttered softly, a shadow overcoming his face. As close as they were, he'd never discussed with anyone other than his wife and kids how his mother had been killed, and he missed her every day of his life after that time. It was a big part of the reason he'd become a police officer in the first place. "Get down to property and pick up any equipment that you need; you're welcome to anything. But do it in a hurry - you don't want to miss the kidnapper's call. And get it set up to make a trace. I doubt they'll stay on the line long enough, but we can't miss any possibility."
"Thanks, Captain," both men said sincerely as they left, realizing how lucky they were to have the support of this large black man. They had more than their share of exposure to Caucasians who were so prejudiced they couldn't work with a good man like this, and also to blacks who were so full of indignation at their culture's mistreatment in the past that they couldn't work with a white man. But they had a great relationship and valued him as both their superior and their friend.
It took over an hour to get the equipment they needed - "pick up any equipment you need" sounded so easy. But working with Bigelow meant filling out forms and looking up part numbers, and both men chaffed at the delay created by doing things "his way". But they were finally able to leave the building with the tracing and recording equipment, and Starsky aimed the Torino for home.
"Better drop me by my place on the way home, Starsk. I think I'll take my car and cargo someplace a little more discreet than on the street in front of my apartment."
"Maybe you should hide it in a junkyard. It is appropriate," Starsky said with a twinkle in his blue eyes, "garbage carrying garbage belongs in a dump!"
"Ha ha ha, very funny! But seriously, it's gotta be somewhere outta sight, yet nearby."
"Maybe my downstairs neighbor would let us use her space in our garage."
"No, I don't think that's such a great idea. If they're watching your apartment, I don't want them to see me pull it in there. They just may decide to search the cars, too."
"Well, then the only other possibility, partner, is Merle's."
"Now there's an idea I really hate! Don't you remember what he did to it the last time I took it there? And that was just for a tune-up!"
"Yeah, but this time he doesn't even have to touch it. That way, he won't be tempted! He can put a tarp over it in a corner of the garage, and nobody will think twice about it."
"Okay, I can go for that, but if my place is under surveillance, how can I get back there and pick up the LTD without them realizing it belongs to me. They probably don't know what my car looks like right now, but if I climb into it, it's a sure giveaway."
"I've got it!" Starsky muttered as he turned the wheel down a side street. "Well stop by Merle's, drop off your keys and have one of his guys pick it up and bring it back here. That way, there's no connection to you, which will keep your car and Merle safe."
"Agreed - but he's gotta promise just to stash her, not to mash her!" He smiled at Starsky's surprised look.
"Hey, Hutch! That sounded just like Merle!"
"No kidding!" He muttered back as they pulled into the driveway and around to the back of the building.
Merle came out and they gave him the details and made their request about storing the car, making sure that he understood about the precious "shipment" in the trunk. The blond allowed his partner to do all the talking, since it was apparent that Merle did not hold Hutch in the highest esteem because of his taste in cars.
For once, the Earl did not rant or rave or go off on any of his many and beloved tangents. Starsky handed the man Hutch's car keys and thanked him again. "And send me the bill!" he shouted out the window as he sped away.
On the way back to Starsky's, they stopped by Huggy's and used his phone to call Hutch's dad. It was a call the younger blond had been regretting, but he knew he couldn't put it off much longer. When he broke the news, the anguish in the older Hutchinson's voice was almost too much for him to bear.
"It'll be okay, Dad. I promise, I'll get her back safe. I promise!" Hutch was beginning to pick up some of the angst in his father's tone.
"I'll be on the next plane out! I'll help you!"
"No, Dad. You have to stay there. The animals need you, and you really wouldn't be able to do anything here but worry. What do you think Mom would want you to do?"
"Okay, son. I get the point. Call me as soon as you know anything. I'll have somebody sittin' by the phone, even if I'm with the animals."
"You got it, Dad. Good-bye." Hutch started to hang up the phone, then grabbed it back. "Dad?"
"Yeah, I'm still here."
"I love you, Dad." Starsky worried at the sorrow in his partner's voice, and laid a hand on the blond's arm in support.
"I love you too, Son. Good-bye." A click, and the line was dead. Hutch stood frozen in place, until Starsky finally tried to pull him away, leading him toward the door.
"C'mon, let's get to my place." Hutch allowed himself to be pulled back into the Torino.
They took turns waiting on the telephone and napping over the next twelve hours, neither of them willing to risk missing the vital telephone call. Starsky went out once or twice to pick up pizza or tacos, since his refrigerator was pretty bare, especially of things his partner was willing to eat. Starsky had smiled proudly as he presented the Vegetable Burritos he'd found for his partner, and Hutch had loved them.
It was early in the morning the next day, and Starsky sat with an old comic book opened over his lap. It was the very first one his mother had bought him, and he handled it gingerly. On a cop's salary, extravagances were few and far between when he was small, but comic books had been cheap, and Rachel had taken the inexpensive opportunity to exercise her energetic son's imagination.
Hutch lay in his partner's bedroom, on the bed but not under the covers, just in case something were to happen. He curled on his side, and with his recent haircut in honor of his mother's visit, the figure appeared very small and childlike, regardless of its 6'1" length. Starsky stood from the chair near the phone and walked to the door way, taking in his blond partner, quietly at rest. Thank God - finally asleep! He'd been worrying about the man, who hadn't slept more than an hour since their apartments had been ravaged.
As he took in the peaceful face, it changed before his eyes, the lips turning up in a smile. Wonder what he's dreaming. It's nice that he can have a dream instead of a nightmare for a change.
In the unconscious unreality, Hutch was suddenly transported back to the farm in rural Minnesota. He could feel the grass under his bare legs and it tickled at the edges of his shorts. The sun bore down brightly, and he squinted to look up into the face of the woman who sat on a log. She strummed her guitar - ancient to him, but well cared-for and still in good shape - and he heard her soft, gentle voice rising in a tune he remembered well. This was one of his best memories, come back now in a dream. He'd always believed he'd inherited his penchant for music from his mother, but somehow was never convinced when his father told him that his singing voice was as sweet as hers. He closed his eyes and basked in the warmth for a time, then looked again to his mother, now blond and smooth-skinned with youth.
He stared at her face, enraptured, and the surroundings around it changed, metamorphosed before his eyes. Now she was inside the house, seated in a plush livingroom chair, and he raced in through the front door. He realized that he was child-size once again, and he couldn't contain the tears that streamed down his face, shaking his shoulders in heaving sobs. He ran unhesitatingly to her side, and she gathered him in her arms and into her lap, where he continued to cry. He didn't notice the tears on her face as well.
When he calmed enough, she asked him what was wrong, having already checked him thoroughly for any physical reason for his anguish. He started to speak several times before he finally was able to tell his story, the sobs easing up from her gentle caress of his face and blond baby-fine hair.
"Th-th-th-they w-w-w-w-won't play with me!" It sounded so anguished, and her heart went out to him. "They c-c-c-call me names - tease me that I'm too s-s-s-s-smart. It's not my fault if the teacher calls on me! It's not!" His voice cracked and the sobs started anew.
"It's okay, sweetheart. It's okay," she muttered the litany as she continued to stroke his hair. "It's not your fault. You should always do your best." After several more minutes he finally stopped crying, and she took his cheeks in her palms. "I know that their words hurt now, but trust me when I tell you that someday you'll be treated differently for using your intelligence. And until then, don't let those kids get to you."
He didn't say anything, but snuggled up to her, pressing his face into her shoulder where he felt warm and secure.
Starsky saw his partner, who had rolled over so his face was no longer visible to the brunette, press his head deeper into the pillow. He silently circled around the bed, and the light through the window caused the wetness on his partner's face to glisten. If it happened a million more times, he'd never get used to seeing Hutch like this. He was usually so strong, so guarded with his more sensitive side.
The curly-haired man lowered himself gently on the edge of the bed as the silent tears continued to come. The hazards of their work made nightmares common, but they were usually fraught with violence. This was apparently a very different kind of dream than either of them were used to.
"Hey, Hutch!" His tone was fervent, but gentle. He hated to see the blond like this and needed to bring him around, but it wasn't necessary for it to be abrupt. "C'mon, blondie, wake up!" He laid his left hand on the sleeping form's cheek, feeling the wetness under it, and used the right to shake him softly. The shining blue eyes opened to his partner's face, inches from his.
"G'mornin', partner," Starsky said, relieved that Hutch didn't seem angered at the intrusion. "You okay?"
"Yeah," Hutch slurred, pushing himself to a sitting position and rubbing the nightmare from his eyes with his palms.
"Here, try this," Starsky handed the blond his handkerchief and Hutch used it to wipe the sweat and tears from his face. They sat in silence for awhile, but the brunette remembered to keep an ear out for the bell on the phone. After a few minutes, he spoke again. "You wanna talk about it, partner?"
"It's not important. Just my subconscious reminding myself how much she means to me." Starsky didn't need to ask who "she" was - he couldn't seem to pull his thoughts from his mother either.
"Y'know," the brunette began, "I remember one time when Dad was working a weekend shift, Mom took me into the back yard - Nicky wasn't very old yet and was havin' a nap - and she taught me how to throw and catch my baseball. I got a glove and ball for my birthday, and Dad was supposed to show me how that day, then got called in. She saw how disappointed I was, and decided to help, even though she really didn't know anything about the game. I mean, I was seven years old - who was I t'know the difference!"
"Yeah," the blond next to him said, "they really are somethin' else, aren't they?"
"The best, partner. And we're gonna get them outta this. I promise you." The reassuring hand on Hutch's knee empowered the words, and he began to feel better.
Starsky had just started to doze off during Hutch's shift a few hours later when the bell blared loudly. The blond had to restrain himself from picking it up quickly to keep it from waking his partner. They'd had a rash of wrong numbers over the last couple of hours, and the frustration created when all the equipment was turned on only to have it be for nothing was beginning to show in Hutch's actions. He was jumpy, but contained himself enough to switch on the recorder, then slowly pick up the receiver. Starsky was at his side before the earpiece reached his ear, picking up the portable radio that they would use to get a trace started if this wasn't another false alarm.
"Hutchinson." It took a few minutes for the voice on the other end to respond.
"Is your buddy Starsky there too?" the gruff voice spoke, "since this is his apartment."
"Yeah, he's here." Starsky made a grab for the phone, but Hutch held tight. "I've got a speaker for my phone. Is it okay if I turn it on? That way you can talk to both of us at once." His feigned politeness seemed to please the kidnapper on the end of the line.
"Sure, I think that'll do." He paused a moment, waiting until he heard a click. When both officers verified that they were on the line, he went on.
"We're very proud of you two boys. We're watching you right now, and we know you don't have any cops there! That showed remarkable intelligence for guys your age."
"Enough of this crap," Hutch grunted angrily into the phone. "Just tell us what you want." Starsky laid a restraining hand on the blond's arm, looking into his eyes and communicating silently. Take it slow, partner. Give us time to get the trace! It was unusual for Hutch to let his emotions get the better of him, but Starsky knew that this was one of the few things that could do it.
"I think you already know what we want, and what we'll do to get it." The voice was low and menacing, and the duo exchanged looks of concern for their parents.
"All right. Say we do know what you're talkin' about. What next?"
"OK, then. This is the way it's gonna work. You two are gonna give us those music boxes you bought at Mings, and we're gonna let you have your mommies back.... Unharmed."
"Where and when?" Starsky asked, trying to match the menace in the kidnapper's voices.
"We'll let you know, but you better be ready. The meet will be right after our next call - you won't have time to play around, so you'd better keep those goodies close."
"Wait!" Hutch shouted when it sounded like the man was going to sign off. "How do we know our mothers are still all right? We want to talk to them before we give you anything!"
"Well, I hope you'll understand, but the women aren't with me at just this moment. I do have a tape of them I'll play if you'd like. Just to prove we're on the up-and-up, ya know?"
"Okay, play it," Starsky ordered, "but we're gonna want to hear the real things before we turn over your 'shipment'."
Instead of hearing the kidnapper's voice respond, they both heard a click, then a decidedly higher-pitched voice, distorted from the poor recording. "Ken, darling, it's me. Rachel and I are both all right, so don't you two keep worrying. Now that's a switch, isn't it? Seems like it's usually you tellin' us that." The voice stopped abruptly, and Starsky saw Hutch trying to blink away the moistness in the blond lashes. "And, sweetheart, be sure and take care of your father. He's just like you, you know. Always wants everyone to see how strong he is. But he'll need you if this doesn't go well." They heard a sniff, then silence pervaded the room as Muriel ran out of things to say.
The speaker came to life again, this time in Rachel's distinctive New York accent. "David, Muriel is right. Now I don't want you to worry or get too upset. You've got to be brave, like your father was brave. Remember how brave he was, honey. And if something goes wrong, remember that I'll be with him."
"I love you, Ma," Starsky said sadly, barely getting out the words before the lump in his throat choked off his voice.
"We love you both," Hutch broke in, his voice cracking but still functioning at least. It only took a moment for the two distraught young men to remember that they were speaking to a recording. A click and the line went dead before they could say any more. Still, Starsky recovered first, and jumped for the phone to check on the trace.
The excitement was contagious as the report came back with the address from which the call had been made. Both men grabbed their jackets to check it out, when the blond pulled up short.
"Starsk, we can't both go. What if they call back? One of us has got to be here to talk to them!"
"Okay, but who's gonna stay?" Hutch could see that Starsky was just itching for action, and felt the same tingle in his own veins. But he had an easier time controlling it than his dark-haired partner, so he volunteered.
"I'll stay if you want," Hutch conceded as he sat back down on the couch, rubbing the nape of his neck with one extremely tense hand.
Starsky looked at his partner, ready to take him up on the generous offer, and saw the look in the blue eyes. There was a sadness there, and need to act just as strong as his own, and he didn't have the heart to let his partner make this particular sacrifice. "How about we flip a coin?"
Hutch's eyes brightened a fraction. "Sure! Sounds fair t'me." Starsky pulled a quarter from the recesses of his too-snug jeans. "You call it."
"Uhhhh..." Hutch paused while the coin was in the air. "Tails, I guess."
The coin fell expertly into Starsky's palm and, without looking, he transferred it to the back of his right hand, still covered with his left. Then he slowly pulled his left away.
Hutch heard Starsky take in a sharp breath as he gazed at the eagle's wings on the back of the coin. "It's tails," he said levelly, "Guess you better get going, partner." Hutch jumped up quickly, more relieved than glad to had won the toss; he was too worried about his mother to be genuinely happy about anything.
"I'll call you when I get there," he said gently to his partner, holding him gently by both arms. Starsky took the blond's hand in his own, gave one last squeeze of reassurance, and let him go.
"Okay, I'll be here," he said, a grim smile coloring his taught features. "You better hurry."
The two exchanged a mutual look of support and then Hutch grabbed his coat again and stealthily left the apartment via the fire escape out Starsky's kitchen window, his departure covered by darkness and trees.
Flagging a cab from two blocks over was a piece of cake, and from there the blond was certain he wouldn't have any observers. From there, it wasn't too long a ride to the station's motor pool. He always disliked the cars they kept, but under the conditions he knew he couldn't be choosey. The clerk had quickly given him the keys to a chromeless navy blue four-door.
The vehicle rode like a ton of bricks, and he could barely hear the radio on the car's dashboard as it came to life en route to the street they'd been told was the source of the call. They'd been able to narrow it down to a pay phone somewhere on this street. That the kidnappers used a pay phone was unfortunate, for it wouldn't tell them much, but he still wanted to check it out for possible clues, and the neighborhood would have to be combed for the kidnapper's hiding place.
The booth was half way up the block, and Hutch pulled the Chevy in next to it, ignoring for the time being the fireplug and "no parking" signs. As he had expected, the booth was empty, and there was no sign of anyone in sight that looked even remotely suspicious. It occurred to the blond to call the lab to check for fingerprints, but the filth in the phone booth spoke of rare cleanings, so there had to be thousands of them. He felt his spirits fall again, slightly.
As a last chance, he checked the telephone book, remarkably still held in place and hanging by its binding chain. A tale-tell note or remote scribbling was too much to hope for, and Hutch slammed the book shut and replaced it on the shelf where it belonged. But something blocked his efforts, keeping the book from sliding in under the telephone. A slender hand reached in to remove the obstruction, and trembled as it removed the guilty object. A run-of-the mill cassette tape in an inexpensive player was taped to the underside of the shelf, and Hutch jerked savagely at it until it came loose.
The blond took it to the car, sliding in the front seat and setting the player reverently on the seat next to him. The "play" button seemed to taunt him, laughingly, so he pushed it. Almost a minute of silence passed before a male voice finally came from the machine.
"If you've found this, you're either very clever or you've gotten the police involved. I hope, for your mothers' sakes, that you're just smarter than we think. At any rate, coming here will do you no good. We don't mind telling you that this telephone is nowhere near where we, or your mothers, are, so you're wasting your time. I'd advise you to get back to your apartment until you're contacted. Please don't make me regret my hospitality to these women."
There was a pause on the tape, then another male voice came on. "Say hello to your boys, ladies.... C'mon, say hello!" Silence again, then a peculiar scraping sound as something was dragged closer to the recorder. "Say hello, Mrs. Hutchinson!" Another pause, then a sharp sound, skin on skin in a resounding slap, not at all gentle. A sharp intake of air, and Muriel finally spoke up in a quivering voice.
"Ken, I love you. Please be careful. And tell Dave that Rachel's fine and not to worry. Good-bye, son." The tape came to an abrupt end, and Hutch stared at the inactive machine for several minutes, not even noticing the moisture on his cheeks.
"Mom...." he laid a hand gently on the recorder, then put the car in gear and pulled away, screeching the tires and attracting attention from several hookers milling the sidewalks.
When the blond played the tape for Starsky, the tears welled again in the brilliant blue eyes, and Starsky put a calming arm around the man's shoulders. A darker pair of blue eyes began to shine as well, and Starsky knew that his partner's concern was for both women, despite the clear evidence of the treatment his mother was getting. Still, they had to believe that their mothers' lives weren't in immediate danger, and that thought carried them through to what had to be the next step.
Hutch flopped uncharacteristically onto Starsky's sofa, and the curly-haired man sat on the coffee table opposite him. Both men were bleary-eyed from worry and lack of sleep, and Starsky noticed the huge, dark smudges which underscored his partner's eyes. It almost looked like the greasepaint football players wore, reminding him of the circles Hutch had developed during his ordeal with Monk. "Do I look as bad as you do?" he asked the blond with a crooked but tired half-smile.
"Believe me, I can't look much worse than you do." Silence fell on the pair for several minutes, the partners unable to look into each other's eyes again. Finally, the blond spoke up. "We're gonna have to make a decision, huh?" His chin rested on his chest, finding the front of his shirt more engaging than anything else in the room.
"'fraid so, partner. And it seems like we're stuck between a stone and a hard place," Starsky answered him softly. Hutch smiled slightly, knowing his partner had made the intentional mistake to get his partner's attention.
"That's 'rock and a hard place', Starsk," he said, not disappointing the dark-haired man. "And it sure looks like we are."
"I'm afraid I'm not too crazy about either of the possibilities. Our first option is to do nothing."
"In which case, they take it out on our moms." Hutch grimaced his displeasure of that idea.
"Or," Starsky went on, "we can give them the drugs just the way they want."
"And all that poison goes out on the street and into a bunch of kids' arms," Hutch said, remembering some of the junkies they'd run into over the years. Without the man sitting in front of him, he could very easily be one of them, and he knew with blatant clarity how much sympathy he had for these forgotten members of society. "Starsky, I can't go along with either of those choices. What are we gonna do?"
"That's simple, buddy. We need to find an alternative." Starsky could almost see the wheels in the blond head begin to spin, and he knew Hutch was doing his damnedest to come up with one. "Anything brilliant coming into that head of yours?"
"Maybe.... Try this on for size. Firstly, getting our mothers safe is our first priority, right?"
"You got it!"
"And we're also not willing to put that crap back on the streets, right?"
"Yeah..." Starsky's voice lilted, waiting and urging Hutch to get to the point.
"Well, I don't know if they'll go for it, but how does this sound. We pick up the carousels, and substitute some powdered sugar for the drugs."
"It'll never fool 'em, pal," Starsky interrupted.
"It only has to work for a second. This is the way we do it...we let on to the kidnappers that we're cops, then offer to trade the drugs and ourselves for the release of Mom and Rachel. We show them the carousels but insist on holding onto them until our moms are in the clear, then we give them the sugar."
"Hutch, you're not thinking straight. They're sure to test it right away, then they'll take us apart!"
"Not necessarily, partner. What if we rig a small fog canister inside each of the carousels. They take off the panel, release the trigger, and the room is flooded with smoke. In the confusion, we can get the drop on 'em and take 'em in." Hutch finally raised his eyes to meet his partners, gauging the reaction in them. What he saw there was a light he hadn't seen since this whole mess started.
"Partner, that could work! It could really work! But we're gonna need a little help with this one, I'm afraid." Hutch nodded in agreement as Starsky crossed the room and dialed the telephone. "Dobey, please."
As they waited to be connected, Hutch rose to stand beside his partner, and Starsky abruptly handed him the receiver. "What are you giving me that for?" the blond said, puzzled.
"Well, it's your idea, and for some reason the Captain is usually more receptive to your ideas. Plus, since you know all the details, you can answer any questions."
"Okay," the blond responded, listening for the familiar voice on the other end of the line.
"Hi, Captain." It was a nicety that Starsky wouldn't have bothered with, but Hutch's genteel mannerisms sometimes were of use in their profession. "We heard from the kidnappers. They want to trade, the drugs for our mothers."
"You're not crazy enough to go for that, are you?" Dobey practically screamed at him.
"No, but we've come up with a plan that should work. But we're gonna need your help to pull it off."
"What is this plan, Hutch?"
"Please, Captain. Just trust us this once." The voice was almost pleading, and Dobey found it difficult to refuse.
"Okay," Dobey sighed, waiting for the details, "what do you need?"
"Thanks, Cap. First, I need you to go down to ammunitions and get a pair of half-size smoke grenades...you know, the ones that are only a couple inches? And we also need a couple of those palm-size pistols with ammo." He heard a pause and assumed that, for Dobey, that was a sign of agreement. "Then go to the grocery store. Pick up two - no, make it three - bags of powdered sugar and some plastic storage bags, then drop them off at Huggy's. He'll take it from there. And Captain, when we call in for backups, please have somebody ready."
"Is this another one of you two's plans that the Commissioner would reprimand you as too risky, Hutch?" Dobey's tone was clearly concerned for his two black sheep.
"Well, Captain, that's why we're not gonna tell him. Thanks a lot - you don't know how much this means to us." Hutch closed the conversation.
"Yeah, I do. I had a mother once, too. When this is all over, we'll go out for a beer and I'll tell you about her."
"We'll be lookin' forward to it, Captain. Talk to you later." He hung up the receiver briefly, and let Starsky make the next call to Huggy. The tall, thin man readily agreed to run over to Merle's and pick up the packages from Hutch's trunk, wait for the items from Dobey, and take a round-about route, by car and on foot, to deliver all these things to Starsky's apartment. With the details settled, both men snuggled into the couch, half nodding off gently and waiting for the telephone to ring.
As usual, Huggy's word was good, and before long there was a pounding on the back window of Starsky's upstairs apartment. Aroused from his restless position sleeping on half of the couch, the dark-haired man threw up the window and took in the sight of what was on his fire escape. He continued to block the window, rubbing the sleep from his blue eyes.
"Hey, Starsk. You gonna let me in or not? You know the longer I stay out here, the more the chances are that I'll be seen. Even if I do blend in so well with the night!"
"Oh, sorry!" Starsky said, suddenly more awake for the sound of a human voice. A very long, very thin leg, followed by a second, brought Huggy Bear into the kitchen, where he immediately turned around to pull a grocery bag and a large box in after him. Starsky lifted the heavier box and turned to put it on the table when Hutch wandered into the room, awakened from the restless sleep Starsky knew he'd fallen into not more than an hour before. "Go back to sleep, partner. I'll take care of it."
"No, it's okay," the blond slurred, doing his best to focus and straighten his askew shirt at the same time. "We've gotta get to work on this. Ya never know when they're gonna call." He sat at the kitchen table and started removing the sugar and bags from the grocery bag, as Starsky started to open up the carousels.
"If you don't have anything else you need," Huggy said, seeing that they had things well in hand, "I think I'll take off. Might even be able to get some shuteye in before the breakfast shift."
"Yeah, thanks for everything, Hug," Starsky muttered, already deeply engrossed in the duo's project. "Drive careful, and watch your tail."
"I've been doing that ever since I met you two," he said with a wide smile as he slid out the window and into the darkness.
As it worked out, it was a good thing that Hutch had awoken, since they found it took four hands to properly insert the smoke canister into the base, along side the pretend-cocaine, and put the lids back on, using them to depress the trigger and keep the thing from going off in their faces. They noticed that Dobey had given them three extra bombs, probably just in case something went wrong when they were loading them.
They worked the better part of the night, and were just finishing and reboxing the carousels as the sun rose through Starsky's window.
Both men practically jumped out of their skin when the phone, silent for most of the morning, suddenly rang at around 8:00. Hutch was closer and practically yanked the cord from the handset in his haste to get it out of the cradle.
"Hutchinson." Starsky recognized that tone - it meant he was controlling forcefully, but ready to burst at any provocation.
"You been behaving yourself?" the voice asked mockingly. "I'm sure your mom would just love to know how obedient her little boy is being."
"Let's just get on with it. And I swear to God, if you hurt my mother again...."
"Ah, so you found the recorder, huh? Well, it did the trick: it got your attention and made you tip your hand. Now I'm going to take a wild guess that you and your friend Starsky aren't all that bright. Which means that you must've gotten the police involved in order to find that phone booth in the first place." The tone wasn't really maliciously threatening, and Hutch couldn't figure what the man's game was. Maybe he just basked in harassing him.
As the crease developed anew between the blond's brows, Starsky came up closer, ear to ear with his partner on the side he held the telephone, listening to what the kidnappers had to say.
"Look, we'll give you what you want," Hutch began, trying to lull the bad guys into a false sense of security. "Just don't hurt them."
"But you know what I said I'd do if you called the cops..." the voice said conversationally, and Starsky took the chance to grab the receiver from Hutch's hand.
"Hey, we gave our word, and we didn't call any cops. But we did use some tracing equipment we got from work to find the source of your call." He didn't give it away easily, wanting the man to think that the discovery was his own - against the duo's wishes.
"Now that is interesting. Just what kind of work do you two do that you'd have access to tracing equipment?"
"It doesn't matter," Hutch said, taking back the receiver. "We got it - that's all. But we're all alone here. No cops, just like you said. Don't you have Starsky's place under surveillance? Don't you know that we're alone?" Hutch didn't even realize his slip; "under surveillance"...what was a common and unquestioned term in their profession was also a term that was rarely if ever used by the general population.
"There it is," the voice said, developing a scornful tone. "There's the slip that's gonna cost you. 'Under surveillance'? Hutchinson, there are only two types of people who would use the term 'under surveillance', and that's PI's and cops. So...which are you guys?"
The pair allowed a silence to descend on the conversation, and suddenly the voice came on again, quieter, as though he was no longer speaking into the phone. "Howsabout it, ladies? Will you tell me what your boys do for a livin'?"
Starsky heard a voice in the background, relieved to hear the low New York accent of his mother. Please! the brunette prayed, hoping to somehow get the message through to his mother, Please! Just this once, don't play the strong one. Tell them the truth - it's important! Starsky clenched his eyes shut, trying with every bit of his brainpower to get the message through to his mother.
Finally, he heard the feminine voice again. "Okay, I'll tell you. Not that it takes much to make me talk about my Davey. Y'know, he's so much like his father. Even followed in his footsteps career wise - and no mother was ever so proud. When he joined the force....'
"Ahhh," he said, cutting off her story, just as she had intended, "so he's a cop!" Starsky and Hutch stood in frustration, listening into the phone, like an audience with its back turned to the stage. Then another, slightly softer, feminine voice joined in.
"Rachel! How could you tell them!" The softness belied the exasperation in her voice, but Rachel knew Muriel well enough to know that she was just trying to keep their captors off balance.
"I had to! It was the only way to save us and them!" Starsky's mother said loudly, then whispered out of the side of her mouth as the kidnapper turned back to the phone. "Don't worry - Dave wanted us to tell them. I can't explain how, I just feel it. It must fit into some kind of plan they've got, but I sure wish I knew what it was."
The man was holding the phone to his ear again. "Okay, Starsky, Hutchinson. I'm ready to give my terms for the exchange."
"We're listenin'," Starsky interrupted.
"There's an abandoned warehouse on the corner of Fifth and Pioneer. The side door doesn't lock, so come at 10:00 this morning. Be holding our merchandise, and wearing only snug T-shirts and running shorts. Leave your guns at home, boys, or your moms will never see the sunrise tomorrow. I wanna be able to see that you're not wired or carrying a gun. Walk to the warehouse office that'll be off to your left - one of us will be inside with your mothers, the other will be outside. You walk across the office, set down the drugs, we check the packages, and, once we've verified the content, we'll leave you. You wait fifteen minutes, long enough for us to get away, then you take your mommies and leave. You got all that?"
"Yeah, we got it," Hutch muttered angrily into the phone, "but we've got different plans. You get the packages and us in exchange for our mothers, then once they're safe, we'll hand over the drugs."
"You do it our way," the voice responded, "or we're not gonna do this at all."
"Okay," Hutch agreed grudgingly, "but those women had better be safe and healthy when we turn over your property to you." He slammed down the receiver, hoping that he'd deafened the jerk on the other end. The phone wasn't down more than ten second, though, before the pair exchanges bright-eyed looks and grasped hands, right to right in a firm shake.
"So far," Starsky finally spoke, still squeezing his partner's hand, "so good. They're going along with our plan. Let's just hope that the rest goes as smoothly."
"You think we should let Dobey in on it. I'm sure we can trust him." The brunette could see that Hutch wanted to, even needed to, know that the strong backup was there if they needed it.
"Yeah, I know we can. But I'm just afraid that they'd find out. I'm afraid this one is you and me and no one else, partner."
"Yeah, I guess you're right," Hutch conceded. "I just can't stand the idea that something could...might..." A single tear escaped the blue eyes, but, otherwise, the blond maintained his control. Now wasn't the time to lose it. Later, if he had to, he'd deal with the horrific emotions. But not now. "Sometimes," the blond said unhappily, "me and thee just doesn't feel like enough."
"I know, partner. But this time, we really can't let anyone else in. Not even Huggy, and I think we trust him almost as much as we trust each other."
"He has been there for us a lot, y'know. We wouldn't have half the commendations we've got if he hadn't given us the scoop on the street." Hutch's fondness for the barkeep showed on his face, and Starsky had to agree, nodding. "Half the department would've found out about my little problem after Forest if he hadn't lent us his pad and kept his mouth shut," the blond went on.
"Well, partner," Starsky said, putting an arm around the larger man's shoulders. "All we gotta do now is find a way to kill almost three hours without going totally nuts. Should be just long enough for me to beat you at monopoly, what d'ya think?"
"Yeah, okay. Sounds like a good idea." Hutch's lack of a sarcastic comeback to his partner's certain victory concerned the dark-haired man, and the game became a tug-of-war, with the men's attentions as the rope and the Monopoly board and thoughts for their mothers on either end. But since both men were distracted, the match was equal, and the game was still going when the time came for them to leave.
For reasons he really couldn't explain, Starsky tried as hard as he could to pull the Torino up in front of the warehouse silently. He knew that the souped up engine made that an impossible hope, and it really didn't matter since the kidnappers would know they were there very soon anyway.
He threw the car into neutral with a little more force than was really necessary, and Hutch immediately recognized the taughtness in his friend's arms and upper body. "Take it easy, buddy. We've gotta be smooth and cool if we're gonna get them out of this." He watched as Starsky brought his breaths under control while he tried to non-chalantly do the same with his own.
After a few minutes, Starsky looked his fair partner in the eyes. "You ready?" Hutch questioned, and started to pull on the door handle when his dark haired partner nodded sharply. As they climbed from the car, both men checked their sneakers, being sure that the tiny small-caliber pistols were well-concealed inside them. The blond remembered Starsky's laugh when he'd taken them out of the case; they looked more like cigarette lighters than honest-to-God guns, but they'd do in a pinch.
David Starsky trotted up so he was walking beside the large blond he called partner, pulling at the elasticized waistband of the running shorts he'd borrowed from him. Starsky usually took his run in his beloved cutoffs, but that had been ruled out and neither man was about to argue with the kidnappers on this small a point. The shorts and the T-shirts above them were skin tight, allowing for nothing to be concealed in the way of wires or weapons. Hutch was convinced that they'd be able to get away with the minute guns, believing that the kidnappers would never think to search them for something that small in their shoes.
Each man carried the boxed carousel with confidence, feeling more certain now that they'd allowed for every contingency. They'd get their mothers out of there, arrest the kidnappers, and be home in time to go out for dinner once the paperwork was straightened out.
The warehouse door creaked on its hinges, giving away their position and arrival to anyone whose hearing was acute enough to catch it. The interior was dim, but not so dark that they couldn't see the office door, exactly where they'd been told it would be. They took tentative, sneakered steps toward the room and were half-way there when two forms came through the door. Each man wore a mask and held a gun pointed directly at them. The shirts, as instructed, had not allowed for flakjackets, and Hutch had a quick flash on what a mistake that could end up being.
"Right on time.... I'm impressed," one of the men, Scott, said, then motioned with the tip of his pistol. "Come right in, gentlemen. No need to keep the ladies waiting."
They followed instructions, carrying the boxes in front of themselves like a shield. Their mothers were seated on the couch in the small room, directly opposite the worn desk, and were apparently okay. Even the blow they'd heard on the tape recording hadn't seemed to have left any marks on Muriel, who smiled slightly but worriedly at her handsome son. Rachel Starsky smiled brightly, unashamedly and unreservedly at her oldest boy, and with pride at the courage of both young men.
"Put the boxes on the desk," the same man ordered as the Steve took his place on the far wall, away from the door. Starsky and Hutch set them down gently, and tried their best to meet their mothers' eyes to convey a warning while their captors' eyes were glued to the objects of their desire. "Be ready," the looks said, but the duo was unsure whether the message had gotten across.
The kidnapper who had been doing all the talking up until now stepped closer to the desk to open the boxes, and as he did, a third, more commanding figure emerged from what could only have been the closet. This man was also masked, but his tone gave little doubt as to who was in charge.
"I'll do that," he told Scott, stepping forward to take the first box from the man's hands. "You keep an eye on them." The guard was a good soldier, and didn't take his eyes off the detective duo. Starsky and Hutch watched in anticipation, trying not to let it show on their faces, as the man in charge opened the box and extracted the carousel, flipping it over carelessly in search of the compartment door.
As Keith Evans pried the door off, the room suddenly erupted in a flurry of activity. Smoke billowed out, quickly overtaking and enfolding Evans and the man who stood next to him, and Starsky quickly advanced on the pair. A quick blow and Evans himself was out for the count. The guard with him was a little more difficult to subdue, but a series of two blows brought the man to his knees. But Scott reached out blindly and wrapped his fingers around a Babe Ruth special that was kept behind the desk. Before Starsky could land the final, knockout blow, the guard had swung it around, and it impacted with the curly-haired officer's kneecap, driving him down as well. With anger and pain on his side, but not hurt badly enough to be crippled, Starsky delivered the finally blow to the man's jaw, putting him out.
Meanwhile, Hutch rushed forward to take charge of the women, placing himself between them and the rear wall, herding them quickly out of the room. In the smog-filled room, he didn't notice the second guard, still standing against the back wall, who raised his arm and then brought it down again. A second later, though, he remembered Steve's presence, as the steel blade of the knife he had thrown slid into the muscles of the blond's lower back, bringing instant agony and crippling pain.
The fog didn't quite obscure Starsky's vision, and he saw the blond man go down in a heap, with the knife wielder coming at him to be sure he'd finished the job. But the brunette's hands were full, struggling with Scott as he kept his eyes on his partner. Steve, trying to finish off Hutch, was taken completely by surprise when Rachel Starsky, no more than 5'2" tall, grasped the arm he was using to reach for the officer and performed a sudden maneuver, which resulted in the man lying on the floor on his back. He started to rise, and Muriel, energized by her friend's courage, grabbed the nearby lamp. It broke into a thousand pieces when she smashed it over the kidnapper's head, but the women's efforts resulted in the second guard being rendered powerless.
The smoke didn't last long, but by the time it cleared, Starsky had Evans and the first guard cuffed together around the leg of the desk, having retrieved the handcuffs from a rather indiscreet place inside his shorts. His knee hurt like hell, but he was sure it wasn't broken. Maybe dislocated, he thought. He was sure that he wasn't going to be able to walk on it, though. He shifted his position on the floor until he could see his partner, who had been in front of the sofa protecting the women the last time he'd seen him. He wasn't ready for what he saw across the small room.
Hutch was unconscious, face down on the worn carpet, with the blade of a switchblade buried up to the hilt in his back. There was a lot of blood on the light-colored shirt, but not as much as there could have been. Thankfully, neither woman bending over the blond had tried to remove the weapon. Muriel sat stunned by her son's side, stroking Hutch's exposed cheek and blond hair. Rachel stood behind her, a look of concern on her face, with a supporting hand on the woman's shoulder.
"Mom, go outside to the Torino. Use the radio to call headquarters. Tell them we need a black and white and an ambulance. We're on the corner of Fifth and Pioneer. Tell 'em to hurry!" He didn't have to say it twice, and Rachel rushed from the room. Muriel's litany of support to her son was joined by Starsky's, but they knew there wasn't too much they could do until the paramedics got there.
Hutch awoke, gasping in pain, just as Rachel returned to the group. "They said they'd get here on the double. That Mildred on the radio was so nice - I'm gonna stop by the station before we leave and give her my great grandmother's recipe for pineapple and banana bread."
"Mom!" Starsky looked sharply up at her, still gently rubbing Hutch's shoulders, "you mean you were talking recipes while we've been waiting for the ambulance?"
"No, that was after she dispatched the help. She could tell I was nervous about bein' on the radio and all, so she was just makin' small talk." A groan from Hutch ended the recipe discussion.
"Take it easy, partner. It's gonna be okay." Hutch raised his head a fraction, and his mother quickly retrieved a pillow from the couch to cushion his head.
"Hurts like hell, but I'll be all right. It's really not that bad." Starsky looked into his partner's glassy eyes and wondered if he really believed the statement or if it was just for the benefit of the frightened women who hovered nearby.
"Dave.... Ken...." Starsky looked up at his mother's voice, and Hutch did his best to do likewise. "I've never been so proud of you two in my life. You risked yourselves to save us! Mind you, we are going to have a long talk later about the dangers you put yourself in, young man," she said, addressing her son alone now.
"Oh, no! Hutch, now you've got to get better. I'm not sure I can take on Ma alone." Rachel and Starsky laughed out loud, and Muriel and Hutch both managed a slight smile, she through her tears and he through his pain. Muriel's tears began to dry, and she was comforted somewhat by her son's alert state of mind. She was the first to hear the approaching sirens.
"Here they come, Ken. Hang on, they'll be here in a minute!" Hutch's mother was becoming upset again, afraid of having to let her son out of her sight for the ride to the hospital.
Rachel went out to show the first aid team in, and, to Starsky's surprise, Dobey was right on her heels. "Ma," he said from his seat on the floor, "this is my captain, Harold Dobey. Captain, allow me to introduce my mother, Rachel Starsky and Hutch's mom, Muriel Hutchinson."
Dobey gave a nervous laugh and shook hands with each of the women. "I don't think I've ever met real, honest-to-God saints before, but if you two raised these boys, you're as close as I'll ever come!" The joke set the women at ease and distracted them while the paramedics moved the blond stabbing victim to the stretcher. They covered him with a blanket, being certain not to dislodge the knife, and began to connect the restraining straps.
"Ma," Starsky looked up at his mother, "do you think you could drive my car enough to follow us to the hospital?"
"Sure I could, dear. That nice Mr. Jackson down the street back home has been teaching me to drive a stick-shift for the past six months. But why don't you drive it yourself and let Muriel ride with Ken." She motioned to her friend, who had taken up a position beside the gurney.
"Well, that might be a better idea under some circumstances, but not this time. Ma, don't get upset now, but I don't think I can stand up. That stupid putz with the baseball bat has seen to that. I'm afraid I'm gonna have to see the doctor, too."
"Oh, honey!" She doted on her son, trying to help him up on the couch. "Why didn't you say something sooner!" She turned from him momentarily, walking to the door and calling to Dobey across the warehouse. "Captain? Captain Dobey?! When they get Ken settled, could you please ask them to come back. Dave's hurt his knee, and he can't walk on it."
"No problem!" he hollered back from where he walked beside Muriel Hutchinson. Sure to his word, two men came and helped Starsky into the waiting ambulance, sitting besides his prone partner while they put a splint on the damaged leg.
"I told you," he said to them, "I don't think it's bad. Please, take care of Hutch."
"We can take care of both of you, Sergeant." As the rear doors were shut, the paramedic yelled out to the women who watched. "Don't worry, they're both going to be all right." His voice held a note of sincerity, and both women were comforted with the belief that there really was no threat to their son's lives.
Rachel climbed behind the wheel of the Torino, getting her bearings almost immediately in the strange car. "Did I hear you say," Muriel finally questioned when it sunk in, "that you've been learning to drive a standard for six months?! That's an awful long time to take lessons, Rach."
"El, I said I'd been taking lessons from a man in the neighborhood for six months. I never said it took me that long to learn!" She wore a wicked little smile and waggled her eyebrows much like her son was wont to do. "At least learn to drive, that is!"
"Oh, Rach!" Muriel said, laughing and blushing, "you are positively scandalous!"
"That kind of thing is only scandalous in Minnesota. In New York, that's just common social interaction." She kept her smile as she drove to the hospital, occasionally screeching the tires just for the sheer fun of it.
Rachel Starsky and Muriel Hutchinson walked carefully through the halls of Los Angeles County General, not for fear of getting caught but for fear of dropping the cargo they carried. After three days of their sons' residency in this hospital, the nurses and doctors had finally given up trying to enforce the rules regarding the men's diets and just let them do as they wished. It really was okay, since their efforts saved the staff from having to take the time to feed the officers dinner each night.
Starsky and Hutch were a little chagrined at having their mommies taking such thorough care of them. They also missed the usual treatment they'd be getting by some of the beautiful nurses on staff. Their mothers had taken over complete nursing duties including, embarrassingly enough, baths.
Hutch was on the telephone with his father when the duo came into the room, and Starsky positively beamed at the delicious aroma coming from the pot Rachel carried. The blond was propped up in bed with pillows behind his back, keeping the rapidly healing wound from contact with the bed. He smiled and waved at his mother, whose arms were full of plates, utensils, and a hot pad, which she rushed to put down so Starsky's mother could set down the heavy kettle.
"I'd better go, Dad. Mom and Rachel just got here, and it looks like they've brought enough for the whole floor." He listened into the receiver, then handed it over to Muriel. "He wants to talk to you, Mom." Her conversation with his father took place in hushed tones they were unable to hear, but Hutch knew that they had spoken by telephone at least once every four or five hours since the women's rescue and his subsequent injury. He had always known and accepted the caring relationship his parents had, and in later years envied it as his own marriage had fallen apart, but it was never expressed so openly or obviously as his father's constant phone calls did now.
As she ladled into bowls the comparatively bland chili, since she was convinced her regular recipe would have been too hot for the convalescents, Rachel requested an update. "So, what did the doctors have to say about you two. He was scheduled to be here at four, and since it's six now, I presume he's come and gone, huh?"
"Yeah, Ma, he was here. He said that this thing," he motioned toward the brace which fit over his left knee, "would be off in a few days, and that since he put it back in, the dislocation is healing fine. By next week Monday, I'll barely be able to tell it happened. I'm afraid Hutch won't be so lucky, though."
Muriel had heard this last sentence as she hung up the phone, and rushed to her son's bedside. "Why? What's wrong?? What did he say, Ken???" Hutch could see she was getting agitated, and tried to calm her.
"It's nothing, Mom. Really. I'm healing pretty well too, the Doc says. Starsky's talking about the scar the doctor says I'll have." Muriel cringed at the thought of a permanent blemish on her son. "Don't worry! It's on my lower back, so far down that it won't even show if I have my shirt off."
Mrs. Hutchinson looked relieved that the "permanent problem" was something as inconsequential as a scar, but had to admit to a little narcissism in her relief that it wouldn't be readily visible. Her feeling was genuine, as she remembered back on the frantic hours in the emergency room while the surgical staff performed the procedure to most efficiently remove the blade and eliminate as much bleeding as was possible. They had been successful, and Hutch hadn't even lost enough blood to need a transfusion. His body had replenished his supply in the first 24 hours, bringing his energy level back up to almost normal, and no major internal organs had been damaged.
Both men eagerly dug into the chili while Muriel produced a loaf of bread and gave each one a slice. "Ma, this needs pepper," Starsky commented, at which point Rachel silenced him with a look that only mothers have perfected. As their appetites were quelled, their eating slowed, and the discussion turned to a slightly more serious side: their rescue of the women and capture of their kidnappers.
"There's one thing I don't remember, you two," Hutch finally questioned. "I guess I must've been unconscious by then, or at least gettin' there pretty fast, but after the second guard threw that knife at me, how did Starsky manage to capture him, plus the one he'd been fighting."
"You missed quite a show, partner," Starsky said enthusiastically to his partner. "I didn't nail that second guard. They did." His gesture included the two women standing nonchalantly at the foot of Hutch's bed."
"What do you mean, 'they did'?"
"Well, by that time, I'd just cuffed Evans and the guard, and I turned around just in time to see you go down. The guard came after you, and my frail little mother flipped him like he was a coin. Then you're dainty, feminine mother smashed him over the head with a lamp."
Hutch couldn't decide whether to be amazed or amused, and finally let out a boisterous laugh that pulled at his stitches. "You're kidding me? Wait till I tell Dad this. My mother the bruiser!"
"Speaking of that, Ma," Starsky turned on his mother, "where in the hell did you learn a move like that?"
"Watch your mouth, David! But to answer your question, it goes back a long time. When we were first married and your father was in the academy, every day he would come home and teach me what he'd learned in self-defense class. He said if we were gonna stay living in the city, he wanted me to be able to protect myself when he couldn't be around. So I learned what a cop learned, and never regretted it. It was one of the best and most far-reaching things your father ever did for me, next to giving me you and Nicky. He made sure I could take care of my family, even after the Good Lord took him."
The room fell silent for a moment, both men thinking about their absent fathers. At least, Hutch thought, I know mine's safe at home in Duluth.
Starsky turned and looked his partner in the eyes, answering the thought out loud. "Yeah, but my Pop's safe, too, in a way, and sometimes I swear I can feel him." The mothers accepted the silent communication, although they had never seen it before. Finally, Muriel decided the time was right to lighten the mood.
"Hey, boys. Now that you're done with your dinners, we've got a gift for you!"
"Oh, Mom! Why did you do that? This trip was supposed to be our treat - and it really hasn't succeeded even too well in that!" Nevertheless, Hutch grinned in anticipation as he said it.
"Well," Rachel Starsky picked up the speech, "last weekend was Mother's Day, so we decided that this weekend would be Children's Day, and we're going to give you an early present."
"Ma," Starsky said, exasperated, "we're hardly children any more."
"You'll always be children to us, so stop interrupting." Rachel nodded to her friend, and Muriel picked up where she'd been interrupted.
"Now this isn't much, but Rachel and I put our heads together and thought that, considering the circumstances, this would be the present you'd appreciate most." She produced from her handbag a card-sized envelope, which she handed to her son. Starsky got up and hobbled over to sit on the edge of Hutch's bed so they could both look at it together.
"Well? Open it, Hutch!" Inside was a pretty standard get-well card, but the note inside was written in both women's handwriting and signed by them both. "In appreciate for being such wonderful sons," Hutch read it aloud, "we've decided that we've been spending too much time doting over your recoveries. Therefore, from now until your release at the end of the week, we will continue to bring your dinners and visit during visiting hours. The remainder of your care will be remanded to the four beautiful (and single, by the way) nurses who are assigned to this room." The relief in the detectives' faces was evident, as was their happiness when they remembered the four ladies in white they'd seen so briefly a few days ago.
"Thanks, Ma," Starsky finally blushed, "we love you both more than you'll ever know."
"That goes for me, too," Hutch joined in, the sincerity evident in his voice.
"Well, you're both very welcome. Hey," Rachel went on, "if we keep monopolizing your time, how are we ever gonna get those grandchildren we've been pestering about?" They all laughed, and Starsky felt good about the topic for the first time since Terry died.
"Speak for yourself!" Muriel spoke up. "I, for one, am far too young to be a grandmother!" She put on a mock-sophisticated face that totally broke up the other three, and Starsky and Hutch both thanked the Powers that Be for allowing them to not only have their mothers back safe, but also to grant them the remainder of this week together.
The door to their room was suddenly pushed open by a cart being pushed by two gorgeous women in white, who announced their intention clearly. "I'm sorry, ladies, but you'll have to leave. Time for the patients' baths."
They had a report three floors up of people hearing women's laughter echoing through the corridors.