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A TASTE OF SILENCE
Hutch checked the clock as he shrugged into his forest green T-shirt, noticing he had more than an hour and a half before he and his partner had to be at the station. Since the trip from Venice to headquarters took twenty minutes (fifteen if Starsky had had his customary two doughnuts for breakfast), that left a little over an hour to kill. He wished he had the books his mother promised to send him--the hour would fly by if he could spend it looking over them. He wondered how long it'd be until Starsky got there; it was the brunet's turn to drive, and his reputation was notorious. No doubt he'd come his customary ten minutes late with a smile to charm the socks off a barracuda.
How can someone wake up as grouchy as Starsky does, and still be that "up" an hour later?
Hutch decided to wash his dishes from the night before. Actually, he noticed once he got started, these were the dishes from the last two days. "Have to start paying more attention, or you're gonna get ants, Hutchinson," he said out loud to himself. It wasn't like Hutch to let things like the dishes go for more than half a day, but then again, lately he'd put everything on hold and paid most of his time off to his newest hobby, tracing his lineage.
That "Roots" show really got to me. Who says there's nothing good on TV anymore. Hutch mulled this over for a few minutes before going back to dry the dishes he'd just rinsed.
All at once the apartment door came crashing in, taking him by such surprise that he dropped the plate he was holding. His hand instantly and instinctively went to where his holster should be. "Damn, didn't put it on yet!" he said as he ducked behind the table. He held his breath waiting to see who had come in through the door, a figure currently hidden behind a large piece of cardboard.
"HEY, YOU WANNA HELP ME WITH THIS?!"
He instantly recognized Starsky's voice, and came out from his cover. "Are you out of your mind busting in here like that? If I'd'a had my gun, you'd be sleeping with the angels!"
"Well," Starsky said as he dumped the large box on Hutch's couch, "when your neighbor stopped me on the way up, she asked me if I'd bring you a package she'd signed for. How was I to know you had someone shipping you weights for your barbells?"
Starsky looked up to see his partner's expression change from the shock of a near-heart attack at Starsky's entrance to the excited look of a small boy given a present on Christmas Eve--several hours early. "What's in the box, partner?" The curiosity was killing him.
"Uhhhh.... Nothing, Starsk," he finally said. He really wasn't up to being teased about his latest fascination, so he didn't want to let on to Starsky exactly what his mother had sent him.
Meanwhile, seeing that Hutch had no intention of telling him, Starsky stole a glance at the label, with the return address clearly marked from Hutch's mom in Minnesota. "That's a hell of a care package ya got there, buddy. Your mom must have finally found out all the health food garbage you've been eating out here and wanted to send you a real meal." Hutch, though, wasn't about to be baited, and simply picked up the box and put it in the closet. He grabbed his gun and jacket from their hook.
"Let's go," he suggested. "We can pick up breakfast on the way to the station." With Starsky satisfactorily distract with the idea of food, they both left the apartment and piled into the Torino. They had just finished a case the night before, and speculated on what their new assignment would be.
"What do ya think it'll be this time?" Starsky asked Hutch. "Pimps...drug dealers...politicians?" he laughed at his very small joke. "Then again, sometimes they're one in the same, huh?" and laughed even harder. Hutch groaned in simulated pain at the joke as Starsky pulled into his favorite diner, which just happened to be en route from Hutch's apartment and the station.
They got out of the car and filed into the diner. The grease smell assaulted Hutch's nostrils, and for a moment he wasn't sure he could take eating, or not eating, in this diner one more time. Both men checked out the two new waitresses on duty and slid into a booth near the back of the room. One of the new waitresses approached their table. She was tall and pretty, with silky long dark hair that waived down the back of a terrific body.
Here's a great chance to get to know someone who hasn't already heard about my bad traits, Starsky thought.
The thought also occurred to him that there could be real trouble if Hutch found this new woman in their lives as attractive as he did, but a moment later he discounted it. Hutch doesn't seem to go much for sexy brunets much anymore. At least, not much since Van. Boy, he needs to learn that lessen about "one bad apple."
Before Starsky could introduce himself with his best line, she interrupted him before he could speak. "Let me see now. You," she said as she pointed to Starsky with the eraser tip of her pencil, "must be Starsky, and you want to order a stack of pancakes with fruit topping and whipped cream, fried eggs, hash browns, sausages, and chocolate milk. And you," she turned her eyes toward Hutch, "want that horrible granola cereal the boss always keeps hidden under the counter, with milk and orange juice." Both men just nodded in stunned surprised and she turned to walk away. She turned back just long enough to place a single thin index finger under Starsky's jaw and push up, shutting his gaping maw. Both officers watched her hips swing as she walked away.
"Partner," he said to Hutch after she'd gone, "we've got to be in a rut. When even the women we don't know, know us, we're goners." Hutch smiled at Starsky's forlorn look, knowing that he'd written off the waitress and any possibility of date with her. When she returned with Starsky's huge stack of pancakes, a second plate with the rest of Starsky's order, and Hutch's granola, Starsky's sad look was replaced with one of near-pure joy. Hutch remembered a psychology book he'd read once that talked about how close sexual and oral gratification were.
This is what my old professor would call a "textbook case," he smiled to himself.
Starsky dug into his food with renewed vigor, and their conversation died down while Hutch also finished his granola cereal and orange juice. After he was done, he looked at Starsky shoveling food into his mouth and knew it was time for their ritual about Starsky's diet.
"Ya know, Starsk," Hutch started, "eating like that is going to put you in your grave faster than any of the bad guys."
As he was finishing the sentence, however, Starsky looked up at him with eyes as big as saucers. The stunned look quickly turned to one of panic, and he reached one hand over the table toward Hutch and pulled the other one away from his food to hold his throat. All Hutch's first-aid training fled when he first realized that Starsky was choking. The delay, however, was momentary, and Hutch jumped up, pulled Starsky from the booth, and turned his partner with his back toward Hutch's chest. Hutch carefully placed his hands about Starsky's midriff, in the proper position for the Heimlich maneuver. He was just getting ready to perform the first thrust when a voice said "Hey, Romeo. What exactly did you have in mind?" The voice, Starsky's voice, then started to laugh as he fell out from in between Hutch's arms and rolled back into the booth.
Hutch couldn't decide at that point whether he wanted to hug Starsky for being all right or ring his neck for faking the choking. As it was, he settled for giving him a dirty look, realizing that the surrounding diners were watching them. Every one of them, he could tell, was laughing with Starsky at him, and it wasn't a particularly enjoyable way to start the day.
Starsky went back to eating his breakfast while Hutch sat in silence. When the waitress came back to bring the check, Starsky motioned her to lean down and whispered in her ear. Off she went again, but Hutch's curiosity was once again peaked by his partner's actions. When she returned, she was carrying a bowl which she set down in front of Hutch which contained a half of a melon with several cherries in the middle,. Hutch smiled first at her, and then at Starsky, who said, "I'm sorry I worried you, partner. Didn't think ya'd take it so seriously." Both men laughed as Hutch dug his spoon into the juicy melon.
After paying the check, and leaving a generous tip for the waitress in reward for going along with their madness, they left the diner for headquarters. They clocked in and checked their desks, knowing that their new assignment was either waiting for them in folders on them or in Dobey's office. If Dobey summoned them, it would be their desks he'd call first. Usually only the smaller, more mundane cases were assigned to them without a briefing, so when there were no folders awaiting them, they knew it was something more serious and waited for Dobey's call. Sure enough, they had barely each poured themselves a cup of coffee when the Captain's loud yell could be heard through the squad room.
"STARSKY! HUTCH! IN HERE, NOW!"
"Such a nice way to be invited in, don't you think?" Hutch said in his best Laurel impression.
"Oh, yes, I should say so," Starsky responded in his best Hardy.
They casually strolled into Dobey's office and flopped unceremoniously into the two chairs in front of his desk. Starsky added insult to the impression by propping his blue Addidas on the top of Dobey's otherwise clean desk. Dobey followed them in, pushed the offending officer's feet off his desk, and took a seat behind it. The chair creaked and grunted as the large man sat.
He opened the top drawer of his desk, drew out two manila file folders, and handed one to each of the duo. "I'll make this short. Some nut has been killing street people. It's sad to say, but no one even noticed until the ninth one turned up missing. The city just has no good way of keeping track of these people, and some lunatic has been taking advantage of that. We didn't even have a clue until the bodies started showing up."
"But why would someone want to kill a bum," Starsky interrupted. He put special accent on the last word, wrinkling his nose in distaste. Hutch knew it was the term, not the people, he found objectionable.
"If we knew that," Dobey growled, "we'd already have a good idea of who! Now get out there and find the killer!"
Both detectives went out to their desks and started going over the names of the victims in silence. After half an hour, they'd gotten all they could from the folders. Starsky and Hutch both looked up at the exact same moment, and as their eyes met they didn't even have to tell each other that they were finished. Without a word they both stood up and, grabbing their jackets, headed out the squad room door.
Starsky put the Torino in gear and pulled out the PD parking garage. "I wonder if any of the other people on the streets knew the victims?" he said. Without a second thought he made a sharp right and headed toward the section of the city where they knew the homeless and destitute lived in the streets and in alleys. It was an area they'd been in before, although they would both avoid it if they possibly could.
Shortly they were cruising past run-down buildings and pawn shops, and the number of people roaming the sidewalks gradually increased. Hutch felt a pull in his chest when he looked at them. An old woman, maybe 65 years old, walked along, pushing a shopping cart which probably contained all her worldly possessions. Even though the temperature outside was rapidly reaching the 80 degree mark, she wore several layers of clothes, topped with a long winter coat.
She must be about my mothers age, he thought to himself.
Starsky was definitely on the same wavelength, for as he watched the street people, he remarked out loud, "How do people get to a point in their lives where they end up like this?"
"Well," Hutch answered, "the politicians would say that they live this life because they refuse to get a job. But we know better; most of these people have tried to find jobs but have been unlucky, or can't keep a job because of their mental or physical health. No one will hire you unless you can fill out a job application. And you can't fill out a job application without a permanent address. Then again, you can't get a permanent address unless you have a job to pay the rent. It's a circle that, for these people, could go on forever."
"I know how horrible experiences in their lives could cause them to withdraw, too," Starsky responded. His voice dropped in volume and pitch, and Hutch knew he was about to go from light conversation to deadly serious. "When Terry died," he continued at the new level, "I don't think even you know how close I came to packing it all in and ending up just like these people. I didn't want to care about anything anymore--knew I'd just end up hurting again, like I was then. I would look through my records or watch the television, and nothing interested me." The grateful look he gave Hutch spoke volumes of thanks for Hutch's standing by him at a miserable time.
"Well, I'm real glad you found your way back, pal. Who knows what kind a person I could be riding with if you were gone!"
Both men laughed, the mood slightly lifted, and went back to scrutinizing the streets of lower L.A. as they drove by. They pulled over where the largest concentration of people were milling around, found a parking spot, and got out. Starsky smiled and chose the first person he decided to interview, a man who must have been in his late thirties, but who looked sixty because of wrinkles honed in his face from worry and the elements and the permanent dark spots on his hands from baths that were few and far-between. As he approached, the man literally scurried away into the shadows, obviously having no intention of talking to this very out-of-place stranger.
"Boy, you're a real people-person, buddy."
"At least I tried to talk to him. Let's see you do better!"
Hutch chose a more unassuming woman, so petite she could almost be mistaken for a child. The age lines on her face and her open, inviting smile made Hutch certain he knew what she had done to make a living those few short years ago when she had been a real beauty.
"Excuse me, ma'am, but could I ask you a few questions?"
No response. There wasn't a flicker in her eyes or the slightest move in her body to indicate that she even realized he was there. It was as if he didn't exist, and that troubled him more than the man who ran away.
"Ma'am? Ma'am?" He tried again and again.
Turning away, he went back to Starsky's side, and they began to walk down the sidewalk from where the Torino was parked.
"How're we ever going to get these people to talk to us!" Starsky almost screamed in frustration. "We can con a confession out of just about any hardened criminal, but we can't even get through to these innocent people."
"We need," Hutch responded, "to talk to someone who actually knew these people before they were killed. Did you bring those pictures of the victims with you?"
"Because I think I just thought of someone who might know a little more about them than just their names."
Hutch had stopped walking in front of a worn, formerly white, building with large front double doors which were wide opened. The sign over the doors read "OHIO STREET MISSION".
Starsky stopped beside him. "I didn't realize we had walked this far. Father Kevin?"
"You got it, pal. At least we know he won't walk away from us."
Starsky smiled his agreement, and both men climbed the stairs and walked through the doors. There were ten tables set in rows with old wooden folding chairs set around them. At one end of the room a Sister sat at a run-down piano, playing and singing hymns. The other end of the room held a long, thin table which had food set up on it. Five men stood behind it ladling the food onto the waiting plates of the victims of society who came in to have a nourishing meal and a little comfort. The man on the far right of the serving table looked up, somehow knowing that the two who had just entered were not your average, run-of-the-mill street dwellers.
Starsky and Hutch walked up to him, and at their approach the young man's already handsome features became even brighter as they lit with an ear to ear smile of greeting. "Starsky! Hutch! It's great to see the two of you. Where have you both been since you came by at Christmas?" Their eyes traveled over his features and down to the white collar that encircled his throat--a neon sign for all who wanted to know the real heart of this man.
"You know the story, Father," Starsky answered. "Catching the bad guys and forwarding the cause of Justice."
"Shut up, Starsky," Hutch responded, laughing. "You sound like one of those comic books you always talk about reading when you were a kid." Hutch's voice became serious. "Father, can we talk to you alone for a few minutes?" he said, and motioned to the back room, where he knew Father Kevin kept a small office for just such occasions.
"Sure, Hutch," he said, and handed his ladle to one of the other men who was serving. He led the way to the office and took a seat at the small desk, motioning for the officers to take the two folding chairs across from it. Hutch took his and looked at the young cleric. He was an incredibly magnetic personality who drew people into the Mission and Church from all around. Classically handsome, Hutch felt sure there were young girls in the neighborhood who probably harbored crushes for this unattainable young man with the dark eyes and hair. Although he almost always wore the jeans and sneakers so common among those his age, he also always wore his black shirt and collar denoting the choice his life had led him to take.
"What can I do for you?" he asked. Starsky reached in his pocket and pulled out the pictures of the murder victims.
"We were wondering if you recognized any of these people. As far as we can tell, they were all homeless and all recent victims of the same murderer."
"Murder?!" the young man responded. "You mean these people are dead?"
"I'm afraid so, Father," Hutch answered. "Do you know any of them?"
Father Kevin took the stack of photos from Starsky and began to leaf through them. When he looked at the first one in the pile, his face fell and stayed there throughout the rest of the pile. "I know them all--they're all from this area of the city," he said sadly. "Not all of them by name, but most. Who could have done this?"
"That's what were gonna find out."
"Can you tell us," Hutch went on, "anything about these people. Why would anyone want to kill these particular people. Is there anything you can think of that would make them a victim? Anything that made them different?"
"Nothing, really. Lot's of bits and pieces, but generally these people don't talk too much about their pasts. Mrs. Jackson here," he held out a picture, "was more talkative than most. She was married years ago, but her husband was killed in World War II. They had two kids--both were killed in freak accidents. Could say it drove her to the streets to avoid being hurt again. She always carried this wallet full of pictures of her boys--showed them to everyone she came across." He smiled at the memory, then a cloud came over his face as he remembered the way in which she went to her maker. "At least she's in a better place now."
"Anything special about any of the rest of them, Father?" Starsky asked.
"They were all special in their own way, Starsk. Mr. Stemple here," he gestured to another picture, "generally didn't even know what was going on. He used to pull this rotted old wallet out of his pocket and hand out money, only there wasn't any money there. Only in his imagination. Tell me, how much of a threat can that be?"
"None, it would seem," Hutch said. He exchanged looks with Starsky that said he thought they had gotten about all that they could from the priest for now. He began to rise from the chair. "If you think of anything else, please give us a call either at home or at the station. We'll be checking in with both places. Thanks for taking the time--I know you're busy."
Father Kevin walked them to the door and they said their good-byes. Actually, shouted them was probably more accurate, since the nun at the piano was just finishing up a loud version of "Amazing Grace" and then slid into a rousing "One More Mountain to Climb". The music filled the room overpowering all discussion, so the detectives waved good-bye and left the mission.
They walked in silence, but Starsky noticed a distinct smile on Hutch's face. "What's so funny. You look like the cat that just at the canary. At a guess, I'd say it doesn't have anything to do with the case."
"You'd be right. I was just thinking. Do you remember when we first met Father Kevin?" The memory brought a smile to Starsky's face as well. They had been patrolling the area a few days before Christmas, and the heater in the Torino was broken down. Winter nights, even in L.A. can be awfully chilly, so the partners had stopped to warm up in the Mission. "Father Kevin had just been assigned, and he found a way first thing to get us involved in his work."
"What I still can't figure is how he ever convinced me to put on that suit. And not just the suit, but the beard, the pillow, the glasses, and the wig and hat. Somehow I always figured that when I played Santa, it would be for my or your kids, not for a bunch a street people who had no place better to go on Christmas." He did remember fondly, though, helping the Father and Hutch hand out modest presents to the residents of the area. Modest, of course, to them, but to the penniless people here, they were like spun gold.
They got back into the car and pulled out into the street. "As helpful as the Father was," Starsky said, "we still need more."
"What we need," Hutch interrupted, "is a way to get these people talking to us. One of them has to have seen something, but they're all as stubborn as pit-bulls."
"Look," Starsky said, rubbing his eyes, "I'm exhausted, and it's just about quitting time. What say we go to your place and walk across the park to that Italian restaurant I like so much."
"Sounds good!" He picked up the mike and clocked out as Starsky turned the car in the direction of Hutch's.
The sun hadn't set yet as Starsky and Hutch strolled through the park toward the restaurant. The park was crowded with children, playing in the dirt and on the playground equipment. They stalled their walk for a moment in front of a piece of equipment. The woman who stood near it held a baby girl in her arms no older than a year, and was, at the same time, trying to collect her two young sons off the jungle gym, aiming to head home. The younger, a boy of about four, gave up easily and came to stand by his mother's side. But it was obvious to both officers that the older, about six, had no intention of going easily. He continued to play while the woman called to him time and time again to get off and come with her. All at once they saw him jump down and run off. Starsky was about to go in pursuit of the small fugitive, when, to their surprise, the mother turned to them, unceremoniously parked the baby in Hutch's arms, the smaller boy in Starsky's, and took off at a sprint after the older child.
The four year old was very friendly, and, after looking Starsky over from top to bottom, said, "Can I get down?" Starsky, not sure exactly what to do with a small child, set him down but kept hold of his hand. "Wanna go play while Momma gets Frank?"
"Sure, why not?" Starsky shrugged his shoulders. He looked back at Hutch while the boy pulled him away by the arm. Then he let out a tremendously loud laugh at the look on Hutch's face. The bachelor was holding the baby with a confused look, having no idea what exactly to do with it. He held her against his body facing out with his arms around her waste, just the way her mother had put her into his arms. Once her mother was out of sight, she started to cry.
Great! What the hell do I do about this!
He tried bouncing her up and down the way he remembered seeing his aunts do with his young cousins, but that seemed to make her cry all the more. He started to sweat and wished fervently that the mother would catch that kid and get back here in a hurry. She squirmed in his arms, so he changed his hold on her, turning her around in the process and holding her close to his chest. She raised her face and took in his, felt his patting hand on her back, and immediately dropped into silence.
Thank God! Finally! Silence!
Once she was quiet, he thought, Gee, this isn't so bad. Could even get used to it. Once that thought registered, he, himself, was shocked by it. He didn't have too long to mull it, though, for the mother returned at that moment with the older, obviously unhappy, boy in tow. She smiled as she saw the great time Timmy was having on the swings with Starsky, decided to leave them for now, and went to reclaim her daughter from Hutch. She took her with a practiced single arm, keeping her other one on the boy who must be Frank. The little girl, while now firmly entrenched in her mothers embrace, kept her eyes on Hutch. He was immediately conscious and embarrassed by the attention he was getting from this little girl. The woman noticed Hutch's blush, and tried to put him at ease.
"She probably thinks you're her father," she said. At his astonished expression, she went on. "I'm sorry, let me rephrase that. My husband is about your height, blond, blue eyed. To a one-year-old, you probably look like him."
"Excuse me, lady, but do you always leave your kids with strangers in the park? That's not exactly safe, you know."
She laughed. "Of course not, and you're not a stranger."
"No, of course. I see you around here all the time, and I always pass you when I'm walking my dog in the morning. You run right past our house!"
Hutch looked at her closely and the redness in his face returned full force. "I'm sorry--you're right. I guess I just didn't really look."
"It's all right, and thanks an awful lot for the help. Frankie likes the park so much that he just doesn't want to go home! But it is past their bedtimes, so I'd better go."
It was obvious that Starsky was too busy having fun with Timmy to have heard her comment. "Starsk!" No response. "STARSK!"
"Huh?" Starsky looked up.
"They've got to go--past their bedtimes."
Timmy started to object, but Starsky gently took his hand a walked back with him to where his mother stood. "Can I come back and play with you again, Mister?" Timmy asked Starsky.
"Well, we'll have to wait and see. My home's not near here, so I'm not in the park that often. But I promise if I'm in the park when you're here, we'll play on the swings."
The boy's grin of victory was contagious, as Starsky and the boy smiled at each other. "When I see you next," Timmy went on, "will you smell as funny as you do today?" The boy wrinkled up his nose, and it took a moment until both men figured out what he meant:
They had worked all day in the scorching sun of summer, where it was better than 90 degrees. Carrying guns meant wearing jackets or shirts over their T-shirts even in the warmest weather, and both men's shirts were spotted with wet perspiration spots. Their mother turned red with her son's remark, quickly said her good-byes, and departed with all three kids.
"I guess we are pretty ripe after today," Hutch said. "Maybe we better go back to our place and shower before going to dinner. Wouldn't want to offend folks."
"Agreed. Let's go."
They turned around and started walking back the way they came. "Boy, if a kid like that notices, we must really smell like a couple of bums," Starsky said.
Hutch pulled up short, stopped on a dime, and turned on Starsky. "Starsk, you're a genius! You've just solved our problem!"
"Wait a minute! Wait a minute! Can't you slow down just long enough for me to get on your train of thought? What are you talking about."
"Well, you know that none of the people down by the mission will talk to us. And we also know that they do a lot of talking to each other, right? Well, don't you think they might tell us something if they thought we were one of them? I think we need to go under cover as homeless!"
"That might actually work! How about that, I'm a genius and didn't even know it! Of course, I suspected all along. Now I'm really hungry. Let's get back to your place and get cleaned up to go get something to eat."
"Starsky, if we're going to do this, we're going to have to sacrifice a little." At Starsky's confused look, he went on. "Look," he began frankly, "there's no way in the world you can fake the smell those people have from not being able to bathe. I'm afraid we're gonna have to give up showers until this case is solved. The residents will never buy clean bums."
"But what about dinner?"
"I'll make something at my house."
The silence hung in the room like a blanket, the air was so thick with tension that it was almost solid. Both combatants looked at each other at the same moment, their eyes meeting over the chess board set crossways over the coffee table in Hutch's apartment. Neither Starsky nor Hutch was about to let the other know what moves were on his mind.
"Look," Starsky finally said. "We've been at this for hours. What say we call it a stalemate and go on to something else."
"What'sa matter? Afraid your 'beginner's luck' has finally worn out?"
"No, I'm just bored."
"OK, I guess it would be just as easy to beat you at Monopoly."
"Before we start," Starsky began, "maybe you should call Dobey and let him know our game plan. He'll be suspicious when we don't show up at the station and don't radio in when the shift starts in the morning."
The pair had long since finished their dinners, at which they both agreed that they weren't in the proper state physically to start their undercover work in the morning. They needed at least one more day of "ripening" to develop the proper look. They had put in a call to Huggy Bear and asked if he could find them some rags that would be appropriate, and he agreed to send something over in the morning. They could put their plan into action the following morning.
Hutch walked over to the telephone and called the station. "Captain Dobey's office, please," he said to the switchboard operator. He expected to have to leave a message, an option that was fine with him. He knew how difficult it would be to explain the reason for their absence from duty tomorrow. He was, therefore, taken aback when a gruff voice came on the line.
"Dobey!" came the response.
"Oh, hi, Captain. I really didn't expect you to be there."
"What are you doing calling in, Hutchinson? You went off duty hours ago."
"Captain, you know how you're always on us to get caught up on all that paperwork we owe you? Well, we've decided we're going to take care of all of it tomorrow and wanted to know if you could messenger it all over to us at my place?"
"Why the hell can't you come in and do it, like all the other officers?"
"We need to do it here, and we need to do it tomorrow. I really can't explain more than that. Would you please trust us?"
"OK," Dobey said, resigned. "You'll have it either tonight or first thing in the morning."
When Dobey hung up the telephone, he had a thoughtful look on his face. He'd long since begun to think of Starsky and Hutch as sons, and it seemed the errant youths needed to be checked up on. He began to pack up all the files and forms they would need to catch up on their work, and, after clocking out, took the entire stack to his car.
I'll just deliver these myself. No need to pay an expensive courier to do it when it's practically on my way home. It'll also give me a chance to see what those two are up to!
He pulled his car to the curb behind the Torino, which was in turn parked behind the LTD. Might have known they'd both be here this late. Somethin's up!
Inside, neither Starsky nor Hutch noticed that a car had pulled up outside. They were deeply entranced by now in a Monopoly game, with the majority of the money stacked under Hutch's side of the board.
"It's not fair!" Starsky complained. "You have home court advantage!"
"We can't exactly play this in the park, you know. OK, the next time we play, it'll be at your place. Both men jumped slightly at the sudden rapping at the door. Hutch regained his composure, remembered his host duties, and got up to open the door. He didn't see Starsky behind him sneak a $500-bill out of the bank.
"Captain!" he said, shocked. "We didn't expect you to bring the paperwork!" He looked at the huge stack Dobey held in his arms, then stepped forward and took most of it off his outstretched arms. "Please, come in!" He had momentarily forgotten why they didn't want to go into the office, but that wouldn't last long.
Dobey took three long strides into the apartment, looked at Starsky sitting on the floor, and pulled up short, dead in his tracks. "Hutchinson, your apartment stinks! Don't you ever do any house-cleaning?"
"Uhhhh..." Starsky began. "I'm afraid it's not the apartment that smells, Captain. It's us!" At Dobey's wide eyed expression, he went on. "We came up blank trying to talk to the street people down where the victims were from, so we figured we might have more luck if we went undercover as one of them, or rather two of them."
"Yeah," Hutch put in, "and if we work on our paperwork all day tomorrow, we should be appropriately dirty and smelly by the next morning to start out down there."
Dobey was silent for a moment. Then he spoke up. "I approve of your plan, and I very strongly support your idea of working out of this apartment tomorrow. I wouldn't have you in the station this way for anything. Will you need any wardrobe?"
"Huggy's taking care of it, Captain."
"I suppose he is the perfect person to do it. I expect you to let me know before you actually start your under cover work. And I don't expect to see you again at the station until you've both had a shave and a shower; preferably two!"
"Thanks a lot, Captain," Starsky said as Dobey turned to leave. Hutch walked him to the door and said goodnight.
So that's what they're up to, Dobey thought as he walked to his car.
Two nights and a day later, they were ready to hit the streets. They had mutually agreed to take a cab to the neighborhood, getting out out of the immediate area where they could be watched. The cab driver was definitely unhappy with the bums in his cab, but when they paid and tipped very well, he reconsidered and wished them good day as they got out.
"We better split up before we get down there," Hutch suggested. "Bums in this area don't travel in pairs."
"You got it, partner!" He motioned to Hutch to go on ahead of him. "After you, buddy."
Hutch reached into the inside pocket of the oversized, worn suit-jacket he wore and pulled out a pair of round sunglasses with bent metal frames and a brown, discolored folding cane. He put on the sunglasses and extended the cane to its full length. Then he reached into his other pocket and pulled out a rusted metal cup. So prepared, he began to walk down the sidewalk away from Starsky, waving the cane in front of him in his imitation of a blind man.
"Where's Mr. DeMille when you need him?" Starsky laughed. His own clothes were in even worse shape than the ones Hutch wore, and that and the whiskers grown in on his face gave him all the disguise he needed. In his right hand, though, he carried a flask, a very old, very worn one. "Just another day in the salt mines!" he said to himself as he started down the same sidewalk Hutch was on. Hutch was almost out of sight already, and Starsky began walking believing there was enough of a gap separating them.
Two hours later both officers had been completely accepted by the residents of that area. Hutch sat on the sidewalk with his back up against a condemned building, holding his cup out when he heard someone come near. If the person who approached could not give him a contribution, he knew they might be in a position to help him with the case, and he questioned them subtly.
I never thought it would be so hard NOT to look at things. There's so much to see, even here, this is a lot harder than I expected.
Starsky, meanwhile, walked back and forth out near the street. He talked to the other street people, asking them questions about the victims. He took a gulp every now and then from the flask.
No one has to know it's only water.
When a car would drive by slowly, in the fashion he had seen many times before, he would run out with a dirty, worn, cloth and make an effort to clean the windshield of the car. Sometimes the drivers would throw him spare change; sometimes they just cursed at him.
Boy, am I glad I have a job. I can't imagine being one of these poor people stuck doing this all their lives! Headquarters will seem like paradise after this.
When darkness fell, most of the street people moved into the alleys for protection from the elements and the uniformed police that patrolled here after dark. Starsky and Hutch both followed the group in the alley and watched as each person found boxes or corners to sleep in. After everyone was settled there was one large empty box still unoccupied, so Starsky took Hutch's arm, in order to keep his cover, and they both went toward the box to spend the night. Fortunately their home for the night was away from the rest of the sleepers, giving them the opportunity to compare notes and discuss any progress.
"I have the names of seven more people who have disappeared from here in the last two weeks," Hutch told Starsky. Now that they were behind the box, he had taken the sunglasses off and was relishing the ability to actually focus on someone or something. He, therefore, looked Starsky directly in the face as he spoke.
"Lemme see that list," Starsky said. "Not counting the ones you already have, I've got the names of five more. Come on, THINK! There's got to be something that connects all the missing and murdered people."
"Yeah. Why these specific people? Is it just homeless people at random, or something more? Think about what the Father said about the two he knew. Was there any connection?"
Both men sat in silence, each going over their conversation with Father Kevin. Suddenly, both men sat bolt upright and looked at each other. "THE WALLETS!" they shouted in unison.
"Shhhhh!" Hutch said, reminding himself as much as Starsky. "It's pretty much a given that most of these people do not carry wallets. I wonder if any of the other victims or missing people carried them too!"
"But why would wallets make any difference?"
"I dunno, Starsk. We'll have to ask around in the morning. We may have found the link we're looking for, partner!"
"Good, because I, personally, am exhausted." Starsky took the hat he'd been wearing and pulled it forward until it covered his eyes. "Good night, partner. See you in the morning."
Both men lay down and went to sleep. Neither of them knew that there was a ragged-dressed man on the other side of their box, silently listening to their conversation and, now, their snoring. When he knew they were soundly asleep, he snuck away. Reaching in his pocket, he pulled out a twenty dollar bill and walked out of the alley to the street. He flagged down the first cab he found and gave the entire twenty to the driver to take him to an address in the upper class section of town. "God, I'll be glad to get out of these rags!" he said to himself. It was apparent that Starsky and Hutch were not the only people who didn't belong in that area of the city.
The cab pulled up in front of a large house adorned with dark brick and rich red mahogany. The man in rags, who was known only as Jack, climbed out of the back seat and almost ran up the driveway to the side door. Although no servants were there to answer the door when he rang the bell, he knew that the man who lived in the house had more than enough money to pay them if he wanted them. Servants created a trail too easy to trace, making it difficult to make a quick exit from town when needed. The large "FOR SALE" sign on the front lawn showed it as being available from the Excelsior Realty company--Mr. Big had agreed to rent the mansion on a month-to-month basis, provided he agreed to vacate as soon as the house was sold. Since it had been on the market for some time now, he knew the chances of this happening were slim, and that the relationship would probably be terminated when he was ready to do so.
A blue-suited man opened the door and let him in. "Hiya, Doc. What's shakin'?" He immediately regretted the words. The man he called "Doc" was about fifty, but his deteriorated physical state gave the impression he was much older. Doctor Henry Triton had been in the prime of his life when he began sampling the medications he prescribed. Each drug had led to a stronger and more powerful one, eventually surpassing the prescription drugs and leading into those only available on the streets. Continued use of these drugs over the past ten years had created a permanent tremor in his hands and large, dark circles under his eyes. Patients began questioning his ability to practice, so he decided to suspend treating patients altogether.
It was not an easy decision, but Mr. Big helped immensely when he came to him with an idea that would let him make a great deal of money without having to see any patients at all. The extent of his duties would be to simply sign his name, and in return he'd get enough money to keep him in as much food and drugs as he wanted or needed.
Jack followed the doctor into the study, where Mr. Big sat behind a huge oak desk. Jack didn't know his real name, and didn't need to know, just so long as he kept paying him cold, hard cash for keeping an eye on the skid row bums in his neighborhood.
"What have you got for me? Any new ID-carrying pigeons needing plucking?"
"Well, there are two new guys down there, but I don't think you're gonna want to take them two." He stopped speaking, reaching into a box of expensive chocolates that was sitting on the desk, choosing three, and plopping down into a chair that sat opposite the desk. When he didn't go on, Mr. Big yelled:
"WHAT HAVE YOU GOT FOR ME? YOU KNOW THAT I CAN'T RISK HAVING SOMEONE SEE YOU COMING HERE--WHAT CAN BE IMPORTANT ENOUGH THAT YOU WOULD RISK OUR OPERATION HERE!"
Jack sat bolt upright and wiped the chocolate that had melted on his hands onto his already filthy pants. "Uhh...like I said, Boss, there are two new guys down there, but somethin's up with them. There's a blond guy who's blind--just sits around all day, or walks once in a while, with a cane and a cup for handouts. The other guy's got curly brown hair, and tries to stay away from the first guy most of the time, but I heard them together after everyone else went to sleep. I snuck up next to the box they was sleeping in last night and listened in. I don't know who they are, but they ask a whole lotta questions, then compare answers at the end of the day."
"Is that all?" Mr. Big responded impatiently.
"No, Boss. There is one more thing you should know. They, whoever they is, they know about the wallets."
"YOU MEAN THEY KNOW ALL THE VICTIMS CARRIED IDENTIFICATION?"
"Well, no. But they know that all the victims carried wallets with them. Seems like it'll only be a matter of time 'fore they figure out why these particular people turned up dead."
Mr. Big had a look of disappointment on his face. "We barely started to pick this town clean, now we're gonna have to split. I've got to decide where our next base is gonna be. Maybe someplace else warm, like Miami."
He pushed a button on his desk, and a shapely woman walked in with a steno pad in her hand. Jack wondered if she knew just what her boss did for a living, and also wondered if he'd have a shot with her.
Maybe he'll even take me with him to the next city.
"Clara," Mr. Big's words interrupted his thoughts, "call Hank and Jimmy and ask them to come in here. I think they're upstairs playing poker. They're betting over who gets to be the next of kin the next time."
"Right away, sir," she answered, and briskly turned and walked out of the room. She didn't even notice the lecherous wink Jack had made in her direction.
"Jack," Mr. Big turned his attention back, "are there any abandoned buildings near where you and these two stiffs have been?"
"Yeah, there's an empty warehouse. Nobody goes in because it's off limits, but I bet it would be really easy to break that worn out back door and go in."
Just then, Hank and Jimmy walked in. Both men were well-muscled, but not necessarily the stupid hired hands so many others made do with. Both men had a spark of intelligence in their eyes, and an even stronger spark of danger. Mr. Big called both of them and Jack into a circle around his desk.
"OK, boys. Here's what you're gonna do...."
The first thing Starsky became aware of when he woke was the cold. He knew that nights in L.A. weren't always warm, but he'd never realized how cold it could get quite as much as he did now. He pushed himself up to lean his back against the wall, immediately conscious of the goosebumps on his arms. Between the cold, the discomfort, and the stink of himself and those around him, this was turning into one miserable case. He turned to his left, but Hutch was still in deep sleep. Even in his sleep, though, he shivered, curled into a fetal position with his knees drawn up to his chest and his hands concealed deep inside his jacket. Watching Hutch shiver, Starsky was suddenly transported back in time, standing behind a glass window but, in spirit, at a hospital bedside watching Hutch shiver from soaring fever from the plague. The thought flashed through Starsky's mind that Hutch could be sick again, so he silently held his hand close to Hutch's forehead, not quite touching. No excessive heat radiated from there, so Starsky figured his partner must be OK.
Hutch stirred, and Starsky hastily withdrew the hand, not wanting to be caught in this very apparent show of concern. Hutch's eyes were still closed though--he hadn't seen. They opened gradually, and he stiffly pulled himself to a sitting position beside his partner.
"This is no way to spend the night," he muttered.
"Any idea what time it is?" Starsky asked. He knew Hutch's outdoor experience would help them tell, so at the request Hutch stuck his head out of the box they had been sleeping in and shaded his eyes, looking up at the sun. He made sure, first, that no one was watching--this could blow his "blind man" cover if he was seen.
"I'd say it must be about 6:00 or 6:30. Guess we'd better get to work."
Hutch slipped back on the sunglasses and located his cane and cup while Starsky pushed the box further away from the wall, and both men emerged into the daylight.
They spent the better part of the day just watching the inhabitants and asking questions about them. Starsky made up a feasible story and found out that all the missing people did, in fact, carry wallets. Sometimes they carried them just to keep pictures of their dead loved once close, some carried one under the delusion that they actually had tons of money. The people who did not seem to be aware of where they were or what their situation was were the ones who really got to both officers. All the residents were sad cases, but here were people who belonged in hospitals, not living on the streets.
Hutch guessed it was about half way through the afternoon when Starsky ambled over to the spot where Hutch sat. Hutch struggled with the tendency to look at Starsky, remembering that blowing his cover could mean blowing the entire case. He stared straight ahead, while Starsky leaned against the wall next to him. Starsky spoke in quiet tones, for Hutch's ears only.
"Better check in with Dobey, or we're not gonna get paid for this. I'll go; it'll be easier for me to sneak away than you. Why do people always watch a blind person?"
"I don't know," Hutch answered in the same whispery voice, "but I agree: You should go--report in, just to be safe and let him know we're on the job. I'll be damned if I'm going through all this just for the glory! After all, someone's got to pay the rent."
Starsky wandered away, stopping along the edge of the sidewalk to wipe the windshield of a car stopped there. The driver yelled at him to beat it, and he walked on. Around the corner and a block down, he found a pay phone. he went in, searched his pockets for a dime, and put in the call.
"What's going on, Starsky," was all the greeting he got when the operator put his call through to the captain. "You two haven't signed in for two days now. Are you working or on vacation?"
"Sorry, Captain, but we've been under cover. This is the first chance one of us has had to get away. You wouldn't believe what a paranoid bunch these people are. Of course, if someone was killing my friends, I'd be paranoid too!"
"Have you got any leads?"
"We got a few new facts, but nothing case-busting yet. Just wanted to report in. I'll try to get back to you again in the next few days."
"But, Starsky, you haven't told me yet exactly where you are. Do you know how many places there are in this city where homeless people hang out? What intersection are you near...?"
But he didn't talk fast enough, and he heard a click and then got back the dial tone. Too late! Sure hope they know what they're doing, he thought.
Starsky returned to Hutch and together they decided to head over to the mission for the nightly meal offered there. Hutch grasped Starsky's arm and walked a step behind him, attempting to enhance his cover as a sightless person. Supper wasn't served at the mission until 5:00, and it was only about 3:00 now, but they had learned the previous night that, if you want to get a meal before the food ran out, you had to be in line ahead of time. Hutch made a mental note as they walked to mail a contribution to the mission when he got home.
But not until after a shower! he thought fervently. Hutch was a naturally neat person, and being this grimy and dirty was simply driving him nuts! How can Starsky look so content that way. With my luck, he'll get to like it and decide to give up bathing completely!
Two hours later they were seated at a crowded table with plates of meat, potatoes, and bread; three hours later they were back to their old places. There was still a few hours until sundown and bedtime, so they went back to their observations.
Neither officer had slept well out in the cold the last few nights, and the additional time out here today had made both officers slightly off their marks. Hutch, once again seated against a building, nearly nodded off several times, always rousing himself at the last moment. Starsky's steps were no longer quite so energetic, and the faces around him had begun to swim in and out of focus.
In addition, neither of them noticed that Jack had rejoined their happy little group. He sat near the corner of the building, close to the alley. This in itself wasn't all that unusual--in the evening people tried to stay close to the alleys so as to get the best spots for sleep that night once the sun went down. Starsky turned around to see a figure already in the shadows of the alley.
"Hey, buddy, come here. You want some of this?"
Starsky couldn't see what he was offering the man, but Jack stood up and staggered over, as if in a drunken stupor.
Probably booze or cash, Starsky thought, and dismissed the incident. It was brought back to his attention with sudden clarity a moment later, though, when they all heard screams from the alley.
"NO! NO! DON'T HURT ME, PLEASE! YOU CAN HAVE YOUR MONEY BACK, JUST LEAVE ME ALONE!"
The voice was Jack's, and both Starsky and Hutch ran into the alley after the perpetrator. They could see that Jack was down, probably dead, and two men were running away at full speed. The duo followed equally fast, and still had the deadly pair in sight as they ran into an open warehouse door around the back of the building.
Each officer stopped with his back to the wall on each side of the door, pulling his pistol as he got into position. They hesitated going in until they could hear the rapidly receding footfalls of the men. Starsky looked to Hutch, they both nodded wordlessly, and charged into the warehouse. True to form, Hutchinson went high and Starsky went low, but there was no one to greet them.
Starsky caught sight of the back of one of the men, running away, off to his right, and took off in pursuit. The suspect ran incredibly fast, but Starsky ran faster and in short order Starsky had taken one final flying leap to land on the runaway killer. He pulled his cuffs out from under the ragged sweater he wore, slipped one cuff around the suspects wrist, and dragged him over to a beam.
"Put your arms around this! DO IT!" He secured the cuffs with Hank hugging the beam, and left him there to go back to Hutch. It concerned him that he wasn't hearing anything from the direction he had come. What was going on back there?
While Starsky was apprehending Hank, Hutch was stalking Jimmy, walking softly in hopes of sneaking up on the second suspect. He though he saw a shadow straight ahead, and walked past a large stack of empty cardboard boxes to approach where the person making the shadow must be standing. I sure am glad this'll be wrapped up soon. Maybe this right here will be the end.
He caught a flash in his peripheral vision, too fast to really react to, and suddenly there was an inescapable tightness around his throat. He dropped the gun and struggled to lift his hands, his arms, enough to pull away the wire encircling his throat, cutting off his air.
"S-T-A-R-S-K!" he meant to shout, but it came out only in a whisper. His arms and legs were beginning to go limp, and the blackness began to eat in at the edge of his vision. The wire cut into the flesh of his neck, adding to the pain there. He made one last attempt to yell to Starsky, but no longer had the strength, even if he'd had the air for it. His last sight was of Starsky approaching in a full run.
Really did it this time, he thought. It flashed through his mind that he would be leaving Starsky alone if he died now, and that strengthened him slightly and helped him stay aware.
Must be worse than I thought. I never knew before that choking to death can make the floor seem to shake! His thoughts were detached, not really in the situation.
However, Jimmy, standing behind him, and Starsky in front, were both also reacting to his imagination. What Hutch was attributing to the aftereffects of the choking was actually a full-fledged California earthquake! Starsky realized what Jimmy was doing to Hutch and what the quake was doing to the building around them. He rushed to Hutch's aid, but hadn't quite reached him when pieces of the old building started falling around them. Before he reached Hutch, Jimmy released tension on the wire wrapped around his throat and made a run for the doorway they had all come in through. Starsky got there in time to keep Hutch's head from hitting the floor, and glanced back the way he'd come. A large section of the ceiling crashed down on Hank, who, being cuffed to the beam, was unable to avoid it.
"Come on, Hutch. We gotta get out of here! Can you walk?"
He pulled up on Hutch's arm, but, although the blond man's blue eyes were still open, he was unable to move at all. Starsky shifted his position, preparing to haul Hutch up on his shoulders and carry him out. Before he could finish the motion, though, the entire roof fell in on them all. The overhead beam came down directly on Jimmy, and Starsky knew he was dead. The crashing by the door and the continued rumbling of the floor kept Starsky from trying for the doorway. He lay with his body covering Hutch, trying to protect him as much as possible.
The quake lasted only a few minutes, but it felt like a lifetime to Starsky. As everything finally began to settle down, he lifted his face from where he was draped over Hutch. At first, all he saw was blackness, as far as he could see. He shook his head to clear his vision, and cement dust from the decayed block walls flew from the curly hair. As the dust flew through the air, Starsky caught sight out of the corner of his eye a place in the far corner of the pocket they were in. A dim stream of light leaked into their earthquake-constructed cavern, reflecting off the flying dust as it fell to the floor. Even with the reflection, the light was too dim to be any help. It was approaching nightfall, and what sun there was was on the other side of the warehouse. Starsky placed a gentle, dirt-encrusted hand over Hutch's face and felt that the eyes were closed, but breaths came and went through both the nose and the slightly opened mouth. Satisfied that, for the moment, Hutch was safe, he went to the source of the meager light, a hole in the debris that incarcerated them about one inch in diameter.
"HELP! We're trapped in here!" he yelled through the opening, but there was no one on the other side to hear. They had been well into the warehouse when the walls had come tumbling in, and even if the sound of his voice could carry to the outside of the building, there would be no one there who could, or would, help.
Better rest my voice, he thought. Never know when I might have to try again.
Starsky knew that, in this neighborhood, it was very possible they could be trapped like this for days if he couldn't figure a way out. He silently crawled the perimeter of the pocket they had found themselves in. The area was about seven feet square, six of which was taken up by Hutch's inert form. He was just finishing feeling his way around the block and brick fragments which imprisoned them. His knee nudged up against something that gave way more than any brick every did. Stooping down, he felt the softness of a piece of cloth and followed it down to a cold, stiff arm protruding out from under it.
"What a way to go!" Starsky said out loud. He didn't expect a response, nor did he get one from his partner.
Got to check out Hutch, make sure he's all right. They hadn't had any flashlights with them, and Starsky doubted they would have worked if they had. One benefit of this old, decrepit building: floors, walls, ceiling, all had been made out of cement blocks or bricks. No wood anywhere. If he could find something that would burn, he could start a fire. He searched his pockets and Hutch's too, coming out with the two notebooks they had been keeping records in and several miscellaneous other pieces of scrap paper: chewing gum wrappers, tissues, and, unbelievably enough, the fortune from a fortune cookie they had had a week or so ago.
How the hell did that get in there!
Starsky remembered the fortune well: "A friend who is always there is a true treasure."
How many times have Hutch and me proved that to each other. Well, guess this will have to be one more.
He reached in the pocket of the worn, now filthy, overcoat he wore and pulled out a book of matches. He'd found them in the street earlier that day, but did not know what ever possessed him to pick them up. Starsky reached out to feel for Hutch's legs, not wanting the fire to get too close, and instead felt something hard.
"Someone must be smiling down on us today, partner," he said out loud as he lifted Hutch's legs and found two more pieces of wood under them. Apparently one of the few crates that had been in the warehouse had broken up and pieces of it landed within their enclosure. He took all three pieces of wood and piled them a few feet from Hutch, piling the paper scraps and torn out notebook pages on top. Then he set the whole mess ablaze with the matches.
The fire's flickering gave Starsky his first opportunity to really check out his partner. A large egg had developed on his forehead, easily explaining his unconscious state. He untangled Hutch's limbs and laid him flat, not wanting to move him any more than necessary. The blond head was tipped at an odd angle, so Starsky placed a gentle hand on each side of the face and moved it semi-perpendicular to the shoulders. As he moved, he felt it start to move, to push against the hands trying to move it.
"Take it easy, partner. You just got knocked out. Seems we've been in a little earthquake." Starsky moved to within Hutch's field of vision as his eyes slowly opened. There was fear in them, and Starsky thought for a moment that he hadn't understood what he'd said. "It's okay, buddy. We're all right." Hutch's eyes calmed down, and the classic line flashed through Starsky's mind. "The eyes are the windows to the soul". If that was true, he wasn't sure what was in Hutch's soul right now. It was a look he had never seen before.
"Come on, partner. Come back to me. Tell me 'we shoulda known better' or 'you saw it coming'." Hutch's continued silence was troubling, but his eyes seemed to be lucid. "Talk to me, partner. Awe, come on! There's no way you can blame me for this!"
Starsky watched as Hutch's mouth moved, but nothing came out. He put his ear close to Hutch's lips, listening intently.
"I'm here, partner," could barely be heard from Hutch's mouth. Starsky drew back and saw the smile on Hutch's face, the best indication that he knew he wasn't in any danger. A hand lifted and began toward the throat. As it drew near, Starsky noticed the distinct red line drawn from under one ear to the base of the other. He held Hutch's hand and, instead, touched the area himself. Hutch flinched, and when Starsky withdrew his hand, it was wet with blood. Not gushing blood, not life threatening, but an indication of something worse. He now noticed the indentation on the front of Hutch's throat, but managed to hide his reaction from his partner.
"Hutch, can you talk?"
"Yes," came a barely whispered reply.
"I mean out loud. Can you talk any louder than that?"
"No," another whisper. Hutch's face fell as the impact of it hit him.
"You probably just need to rest your throat for awhile. Just sit there, stay warm, and I'll see if I can't get us out of here." By now the paper which served for kindling had already burned out, and the pieces of wood were fully fueling the fire. The smoke rose up, up, through what used to be the ceiling.
Hutch watched in silence as Starsky went to the small hole where he could see the light sneaking in. The blond officer breathed heavily through both his nose and his mouth, and was just getting enough air in his lungs to avoid feeling light-headed. "Crushed trachea" he remembered from his college bio days.
Never thought they'd be using that term to describe a condition of mine!
He watched as Starsky studied the hole carefully. It was about thigh level, and by looking through it he could see the rest of the warehouse. The outer wall of the warehouse which the hole faced had completely fallen in, allowing plenty of light to come in as the sun rose. Hutch noticed Starsky's eyebrows jump up, a sure sign that his partner had an idea cooking. Starsky lay down on his back near and perpendicular to the wall, and lifted his legs so they rested against the pile of bricks which formed their prison. He pulled his knees up to his chest and abruptly shot out his legs, pounding the soles against the hole.
"Maybe I can make this big enough to crawl through," he said. He pounded several more times, and both officers could hear the wall begin to rumble. "I think I got it!" Starsky screamed over the mounting noise. Then, instead of the offending section of their prison falling away, more debris suddenly fell in a torrent from the ceiling, further entombing them. The dust flew in their cavern, choking both officers. It became more difficult to breath through the clouds, and Starsky and Hutch's eyelids drooped and finally closed into unconsciousness.
All the lines on Captain Dobey's desk phone were lit. Officers and detectives from all over the city were reporting in, letting the department know their status and availability for duty in the emergency. He methodically went over the list of officers under his command which lay in front of him, filling in the status next to each name as they reported. No sooner did he hang up one line and go to the next than the recently vacated line was once again lit and asking for his attention.
"I'm trained to be a cop, not a damned secretary!" he exclaimed.
Slowly the phones returned to normal, and the Captain sat down to review his list. It was standard procedure in a state of emergency for all officers, on duty or off, to call in. Anyone not heard from had to be contacted and their status ascertained. He began going down the list, the hairs on the back of his neck already standing on end, because he knew of at least two officers he'd hadn't heard from. The remainder of the names on the list had checked in, so he turned his attention to the missing officers.
"I swear, those boys could find trouble in Disneyland!" He knew that, if there was a possibility of it damaging their covers, they might bend the rules and not report in, even in this emergency. He wasn't ready to jump to the conclusion that they were hurt, but their not reporting in could also mean trouble on the case. Pushing his chair back, he stood up and walked to the far wall of his office, where a street map of the city was haphazardly taped to the wall. Dobey used a yellow hi-liter to circle the intersections in the city where the homeless were known to hang out, remembering how Starsky had mentioned they were near an intersection.
As the yellow circles grew in number, Dobey became more and more worried about whether he'd be able to locate them at all. When there were ten circles on the map, he threw up his hands.
"I give up! This is never going to work!"
He went back to his desk and pulled a Rolodex out of his left desk drawer. This was a file he hardly ever used anymore--names and numbers of people, or more correctly informants, who had been helpful to him in the past and would possibly be in the future. Since taking the Captain's job, he seldom needed it any more, but he would no more get rid of it than he would his right arm. After over twenty years on the job, it was a part of him.
Plus, you never know when you might need it!
He rarely added to the file anymore, but five years ago he had added Huggy Bear's name when his boys had come to depend on the colorful man for help and information. He smiled as the term "boys" flashed through his mind. They were so much like sons to him, even though he really wasn't old enough to be their father. Errant schoolboys, the kind who, in the old days, would get sent to the principal's office for dipping little girls curls in ink wells. But, knowing his "boys", the girls were just as likely to kiss them than to get angry!
He picked up the telephone and began to dial.
"The Pits. Huggy Bear, Proprietor here!"
"Huggy, this is Captain Dobey."
"Hey, Captain! What's shakin'?"
"Bad choice of words, wouldn't you say? I was hopin' you could tell me. Have you heard from Starsky or Hutch lately?"
"'fraid not, Cap. Haven't heard or seen hide nor hair of the dynamic duo in at least three days. What's up?"
"They were supposed to check in after the earthquake, but I haven't heard from 'em. That was an awfully big quake, and, to be honest, I'm worried."
"I know what you mean. We're still picking up the pieces down here."
"Can you at least tell me where they were gonna stakeout? And what were they wearing, what kind of threads did you get them? I can't go down there asking questions without knowing where "there" is or what they looked like."
"Well, Captain, I'm not sure exactly where they were gonna go, but I do know it is somewhere near the Ohio Street Mission. Hutch was pretending to be a blind beggar, and Starsky was doing drunk impressions. The clothes were just what you'd see on an average street person. Really worn out and lots of layers."
"Thanks, Hug. I'll let you know if I find them."
"Hey, Cap, I expect to hear from you especially if you DON'T find them."
"You got it! Be talking to ya."
He hung up the telephone and stood up in one smooth motion. He locked his office, clocked out, and walked out of the station. Dobey noted the clock and realized he had been at the station all night. It was 4:30 in the morning, and the sun would be coming up soon. Near the door there was a candy machine, and for once the big man did not even consider stopping for a bite of something sweet. He did, however, catch a glimpse of himself reflected in the glass front of the machine.
No one down there's gonna talk to me in a suit like this. Better stop home and change.
Forty-five minutes later he kissed his wife and left his house, this time dressed in simple jeans and a shirt. Not too messy, but not too fancy either. People would find him easier to talk to this way he was certain. Dobey's wife, as well, had a worried look on her face, and for once it was not at the prospect of sending her husband off to a dangerous job. The entire Dobey family had become very close to the two missing officers in the past few years, coming to think of them as more a part of their family than lots of people who were really related.
"Good luck, honey. Please find them and bring them back safe!"
As Dobey climbed into his car, he thought about the time that Starsky and Hutch had actually put themselves in danger in order to help him when he and his family's lives had been threatened. Their generosity of spirit was beyond question and reason. They simply cared hard and loved hard once someone had earned a place in their lives.
He imagined a world of things that could have happened to his officers to keep them from reporting in. He couldn't seem to shake them from his mind as he sped down the street into the freshly rising sun.
Starsky woke up first, opening one eye at a time to try to avoid a crude, harsh awakening. The fire had long since burned itself out, and the unconsciousness from the dust had led into a deep sleep. He realized that the fire was out, but was surprised when he had to squint when looking around. The sun was rising on the side of the building their hole was facing, sending a bright shaft of light into the hole. It was enough, surprisingly enough, to illuminate their entire prison.
Wakefulness also brought the full ability to think, and he realized that Hutch was not yet awake. He knew that he would probably need more sleep, but still needed to assure himself that everything was okay. He crawled over to his blond friend and took his hand in his, placing his index and middle fingers on his wrist to check the pulse. It seemed at an appropriate rate, although he hadn't brought a watch and couldn't time it exactly. He checked the slice across Hutch's throat, and was slightly alarmed at the sight of the dust from the earthquake that had settled on, and was sealed to, the dried blood there.
"How could I be so stupid," he said aloud. "That's a sure way to get infected." He thought for a second, then pulled the flask out of the pocket of the coat he was wearing. Starsky then unbuttoned his coat and reached around his back to the waistband of the worn slacks he wore. There he had concealed a clean handkerchief. He might be away from his mother, but he always remembered her telling him that a gentlemen never leaves the house without a clean handkerchief. He may not have remembered everything his mother taught him, but this was one thing that had definitely sunk in.
Starsky poured some of the water out of the flask over Hutch's neck, cleaning the slice gently with a corner of the soft cloth. He then wet the cloth, squeezed out the excess, and wrapped the entire thing around Hutch's throat. Hutch began to stir at this point, but simply rolled his head in the other direction and went back to sleep. The motion had actually helped Starsky, since it gave him access to the back of Hutch's neck, where he tied the handkerchief in place.
That done, Starsky sat back to wait for his partner to fully awaken. He watched Hutch for any sign, and actually began to doze himself. Scenes of a story an older neighbor boy had told him as a child began to flash through his dreams. He remembered the story well, a classic horror story about a man whose wife always wore a ribbon around her throat, much the way Hutch was wearing his handkerchief now. 24-hours a day she wore the ribbon, and it drove the husband crazy that he never saw her without it. One night while she slept, the curiosity became too strong to resist, and he crept up on her and removed the ribbon.
Starsky jerked fully awake suddenly as the story ended. Only this time in the story, the body on the bed wasn't the man's wife's, but that of his blond partner. Yet just as in the story he remembered, when the ribbon was removed, the head rolled off the bed and across the floor, the ribbon being the only thing keeping it on!
Starsky breathed heavily, his chest hurting with the full intake of each terrified breath. "Hell of a dream! Always hated that story!"
His abrupt awakening, however, had awakened his partner, and Hutch propped his arms underneath him and pulled himself to a sitting position. He hesitated to speak, not sure what exactly would happen when he tried.
Maybe my throat just needed time to rest, and everything's all right this morning.
But something in the back of his mind kept him from really believing the hopeful thought. Starsky came and sat directly in front of him.
"Hey, that scarf makes you look like a cowboy!"
Hutch smiled at the remark, but began pulling at the makeshift bandage, meaning to remove it.
"Don't take that off! You know how easy it would be to get an infection in here? I'm afraid that's one part that they couldn't amputate if you develop gangrene." He smiled in a desire to lift Hutch's spirits, but it didn't elicit a like response from his partner. "Come on, partner. Say something!"
The look that flashed over his partner's face only lasted a moment. Most people wouldn't have seen it at all, but Starsky knew him too well. Fear had flashed in the blue eyes and over the sculptured features. Starsky answered his look with one of encouragement, and Hutch slowly opened his lips and tried for a word.
"SSSSSSS"--it sounded like a snake, but all right. But then, since the letter "S" is made mostly by forcing air between the teeth, the sound didn't really tell them anything.
"-tarsky," the remainder of the word came out, but only in a whisper. It had a little more volume than the night before, and Starsky did not have to lean close to hear what he said. But it was not his partner's normal silky voice. "Starsky," he tried again, but the results were no better.
"At least you're talking, partner," Starsky responded. "Considering what you're throat looks like, you're lucky anythin's comin' out at all."
Hutch sat back, dejected, not sure what to do. The face conveyed such unhappiness as Starsky hadn't seen in a long time.
"Look, when we get out of here, we'll take you to a doctor and he'll fix your throat. You probably just need some cough medicine or somethin'."
A whisper responded: "You mean IF we get out."
"No, I mean "when". We'll get out, I promise. Even if I have to pretend to be a mole and dig my way out."
"Just don't try that kicking idea again. Apparently this cocoon around us isn't real solid." It bothered Hutch that he had to whisper like this.
"I'll tell you what, partner. I'm so sure that we're gonna get outta here that I promise when we do I'll treat you to the best New York Strip steak dinner you've ever had."
"Wish we could have it now. I'm starved!" The exclamation lost some of its impact because of the low volume, but at that moment Starsky's growling stomach spoke up its agreement with the thought expressed by Hutch.
"No sense dwellin' on what we can't have! I'm gonna get to work on maybe making this hole a little bigger." Hutch moved to his side and set to helping him, the four hands tugging and pulling at the cement pieces surrounding the hole.
Dobey walked into the Mission, immediately seeing the young man he had come to question. The dark hair and collar stood out in the crowd, even while he was busy trying to help some of the people gathered there.
"Good morning, Kevin," he said, loud enough to be heard above the din. Father Kevin smiled at his approach, genuinely glad to see the portly police officer.
"Well, hello, Captain. Great to see you again."
Even though the young man was a Seminarian when Dobey first met him, he found it very difficult to think of him in the formal "Father" tone. He had first met him when the church where Kevin was interning was involved in an interfaith athletic league. The team that Father Kevin coached in volleyball, a group of young Catholic boys and girls, had had a match against the team from Dobey's church. Dobey genuinely respected and appreciated the way that the young priest dealt with the youths in his charge, and believed the young man had a true gift for it. At the time Dobey had hoped that Kevin's destiny was to be working with youth in the way he had seen him do at the match, but apparently that was not to be. No one was more surprised than the Captain when Father Kevin accepted a position at the mission.
"I know you're busy, so I won't keep you. But, can we step in the kitchen for a moment?"
The priest led the way to the kitchen, and once the door swung shut, turned to Dobey. "What do you need, Captain? I'll be glad to help in any way I can."
"You can help a lot by telling me if you've seen Starsky or Hutch lately. They were undercover when the quake hit, and I haven't heard from them since."
"I haven't seen them since the quake, Captain. But they did come in several times in the days just before it. I almost didn't recognize them, and, when I finally did, I was deathly afraid of blowing their covers. They came in and had a meal, then left. Didn't stop to talk to me at all."
"Kevin, you didn't happen to notice which way they went when they left here, did you?"
"Well, yeah. They walked out the Mission and turned right to walk along the side walk."
"Thanks a lot, Kevin. If you see them, please call me."
"Will-do, Cap. Bye and God Bless!"
About two hours and ten broken fingernails later, both officers sat back in exhaustion. They had pulled at the edges of the hole and had actually managed to get it enlarged to the side of the average cantaloupe, but the effort had left their hands sore and bleeding. It had also exhausted both men, each already weakened by their forced inactivity in such a cramped space.
"Let's take a rest, huh, partner," Starsky said, winded.
Hutch just nodded his agreement. He sat in the middle of the room and pulled his legs up until his heels touched the back of his thighs and rested his chin on his knees. It was an unusual position for Hutch, and Starsky was struck by how child-like it made his partner look. Starsky knew that Hutch was feeling particularly vulnerable, the body language alone told him that. The dark haired officer placed a hand of encouragement on his partner's shoulder, but stayed close to the hole, not wanting to miss anyone who might come walking by. So far, the area seemed completely deserted, and he neither saw nor heard anything.
"It's startin' to get dark again. Let's get some sleep and try again in the morning." He stifled a yawn by covering his mouth, and when his hand touched the lips, he was reminded again how thirsty he was. His lips were dry and cracked--it had been almost two days now since they had had any water. He looked to Hutch, now starting to lie down, using his right arm as a pillow, and noticed he also was looking very dehydrated. He knew a person suffering from dehydration had little chance of healing properly, and he was again struck by Hutch's silence. The scarf around his neck was still present, but the water in the canister was long gone, used to keep the makeshift bandage moist.
"Just get some rest, partner," he said as they both dozed off. "We'll get out in the morning."
Captain Dobey's sedan pulled up in front of The Pits, and he could see from the street that the bar was a flurry of activity. It was dark by now, and there was a steady stream of people going in and out. Some came in couples, looking for a drink, dinner, and a little diversion at the pool tables Huggy had in the back. But most came in by themselves. "Looking for a little action" was the term that came to the Captain's mind. People came to places like this at this time of the night to find companionship without commitment or obligation--to find a little diversion. The only time Dobey ever came to Huggy's was during the day, and then usually only when Starsky, Hutch, or both dragged him or met him there.
He slammed the car door and walked through the front door. Two steps in, he stopped to let his eyes adapt to the darkness--it even seemed darker than it was outside. When he started to walk again, he scanned the bar, looking for the barkeep. Several people walked past him in the confined space, and he suddenly felt a hand grab, then pinch, his left buttock.
"HEY!" he said, turning around. It had been many years and many pounds since anyone had seen fit to pay that kind of attention to him, and it took him very much off guard. The last person who had passed him, a rather attractive, thirty-ish woman, turned at his shout and returned to him.
"You free the rest of the night?" she said in a silky tone. When he failed to respond, she showed her teeth, like a jungle cat surveying its prey. "I just love a man with a lot of bulk!" she said through clenched teeth.
"I'm sorry, Miss. I'm only here on business. Besides, I doubt my wife would like it!"
"Why don't you invite her along?"
"I don't think so," was the Captain's final reply, before walking away, shaking his head in amazement as he went.
He spied Huggy from across the room, coming up from the back carrying a case of liquor. He made a bee-line for him, trying his best to avoid anyone else.
"Captain, my dear Captain," Huggy said as Dobey took a stool in front of the bar. This certainly isn't your neck of the woods?"
"Just wanted to see if you'd heard anything more on Starsky or Hutch. I've been up and down the area where I thought they might be, but either no one is talking or no one's seen them. Think you could put your feelers out in the area down by the Ohio Street Mission. The Father there says they were in a few times over the last few days, so apparently they were in that area. I've spent the last six hours covering that territory, but no sign."
"Captain, ain't this s'posed to be your day off?"
"Some things transcend even days off, Hug." For a moment the a look passed between these two very different men, each acknowledging wordlessly how much they both loved the missing duo.
"Why don't you go home for the night. I'll call you if I find out anythin'."
"Thanks, Huggy. Ya got my home number?" At Huggy's nod, "Good. I'll be talkin' to you."
It was just before dawn, six hours since a restless Starsky and Hutch had managed to finally fall fully asleep. Both men lay in their cavern. Hutch had, at some point, rolled onto his back, lying flat on the ground. Now his head began to rock back and forth from left to right and back again, in the throws of a dream, or actually a nightmare.
He and Starsky were hiking through the woods. Typically, Starsky had fallen behind, complaining about the trail, his feet hurting, the fresh air, and the idea of hiking in general. After a particularly loud complaint, they both stopped where they were to rest, separated by about twenty feet of trail. Suddenly, Hutch heard a very distinct, unmistakable sound, and looked up to see a mountain lion poised to strike Starsky from a boulder-perch above and to Starsky's right. For some reason, his partner hadn't heard the noise, and was still sitting, adjusting his hiking boots, completely oblivious to the danger. Hutch opened his mouth to yell a warning, but he was unable to utter a sound. His feet were frozen on the trail, keeping him from running to his partner, so he tried again to shout a warning. Nothing again. He stood on the spot and watched as the lion leaped, landing on Starsky, tearing at fabric and flesh with incisors designed just for that purpose. Starsky struggled and screamed, an ear piercing scream Hutch'd never heard him make before. Then the screaming stopped, and the lion turned to him with his fangs and lips dripping with Starsky's blood. Then the cat bent down again, this time wrapping his jaws around Starsky's neck.
With a jerk Hutch sat bolt upright, Starsky doing likewise, either from the sound or from the unexplained connection he knew existed between himself and his partner. He looked over to Hutch. The blue eyes were wide as saucers and his chest heaved in and out with the turmoil going through his mind. Hutch knew the dream and what it meant--being in a position and being unable to save Starsky's life. He had similar dreams often, especially when Starsky's life was in danger. He didn't understand why it would choose to happen again now, since, other than starving, Starsky's life wasn't in danger.
"You okay, partner?" Starsky looked concerned. Hutch didn't respond, but Starsky understood. He sat down beside Hutch and put his arm around his shoulders, waiting for the heaving breaths to stop. Both officers had gotten used to the nightmares which often accompanied their job, but it never made it easier to have them or to watch as their partner did.
By the time Hutch's breaths slowed the sun was beginning to shine through their "porthole to the world".
"Maybe today someone will come by, partner," Starsky remarked encouragingly. "How's the voice. Any better?"
Hutch made an attempt to speak and got out a quiet "I don't know". At these words, though, they both knew that it wasn't any better.
"I'd better check your bandage," Starsky said. "Need to be sure there ain't any infection or bleedin'." Hutch lifted his chin slightly, allowing Starsky access to the bandanna he had so hastily placed there. Strong hands reached around the back of his neck and untied the knot he'd placed there. Starsky pulled it gently away, being extra careful not to tear the scabbing where the cloth was stuck to the dried blood.
Starsky let out the breath he had been holding as he finally pulled it completely away from Hutch's neck. The scar looked awful, large, sore--as though someone had drawn a knife across the white skin there. He wondered for a quick moment exactly what kind of wire or thread the hit men had used to make such a mark. Then the thought was discarded. Luckily, there was no sign of infection or additional bleeding, so Starsky replaced the handkerchief and again knotted it around the back of Hutch's throat.
After retying the knot, Starsky dropped his arms back to his sides. "Are you as weak as I am? I wouldn'ta believed I could feel so tired right after sleeping. Hutch nodded and closed his eyes a moment. When he reopened them, he was surprised at how heavy the lids felt.
"Starvation," Hutch whispered. "Or dehydration. Maybe both. Somebody better find us soon, buddy!"
The urgency in his words conveyed through the quiet voice, but, since there wasn't anything else to be done, they sat with their backs against the wall created by the quake and just rested.
Starsky awoke again, the only part of the dream he remembered being the hearing of his name called. He wished he could remember what the dream was about. It seldom happened that he didn't because most of them were so vivid. Even the good ones, and those were few and far between.
Then, suddenly, "STARSKY!" It was the same voice as in his dream, but he was awake! Now that he thought about it, it was Dobey's voice.
"Thank God!" he said aloud. He turned to his left and shook Hutch. The blue eyes opened, then opened wider as the Captain once again called to them.
"WE'RE HERE, CAPTAIN," Starsky yelled.
"I can hear you," Dobey yelled, "but I'm not sure where you are! Keep on yelling until I can get a fix on you."
Dobey moved down the alley, then through the opening where the doorway to the warehouse had been. Ten feet into the building he came upon another obstruction, a "wall" obviously made by the quake, with a hole about eight inches in diameter. He stood and watched as a hand, a very familiar hand, reached out to him through the hole.
"I'd know that ring anywhere! Starsky, are you in there?" The question was rhetorical, but he asked it anyway.
"Of course it's me! Who'd you think? Could you please get me and Hutch outta here? We've been stuck for two days!"
"You got it! I'll go call for some help--we'll have you out of there in no time."
Rescue vehicles arrived, and the sounds they made gave Hutch and Starsky some comfort in knowing that they'd be free soon. "Move as far as you can from the opening," the fire rescue captain ordered, and both officers shifted positions to the very back of the makeshift room. Hooks and jacks were put in place and human and mechanical strength joined to pull out the side of the cavern, suddenly dousing the duo with sunlight they weren't accustomed to. Starsky crawled out first, squinting his eyes in order to see Dobey, waiting for them on the other side. Dobey rushed to his side. It was fortunate he was there, because as soon as Starsky pushed himself to his feet, he immediately collapsed again, his knees turning to jello. Dobey caught him before he could hit the ground, and support him until the paramedics he had had the good sense to call could take Starsky from him.
"I don't need no help!" Starsky insisted, trying weakly to push them away. "Help Hutch first."
"We will, don't worry," the men replied, but still led him to the back of the ambulance. Hutch was even weaker than Starsky, and he didn't even make the effort to stand up. He crawled to the side and Dobey and one of the returned paramedics lifted him by the arms and led him to Starsky's side. Both men were shortly sitting on the back of the open ambulance. IV's were started with the fluid they needed to rehydrate their systems.
"Check Hutch's neck!" Starsky insisted. No one up till now had even realized that the handkerchief tied there served as anything more than part of Hutch's disguise, but the look on Hutch's face told them that what Starsky had said was no joke. The medic closest to Hutch didn't even bother trying to untie it. He quickly pulled out his scissors, a pair especially made for this kind of situation, reaching around to the back of Hutch's neck with them, and cut the scarf off. He gently pulled it away, and Starsky, Hutch, and Dobey all saw the astonished look on his face when he saw the cut there.
"Officer Hutchinson," he said after a few moments, "I think you'd better lie down." He kept his voice level, and Hutch didn't object. When he lay on the stretcher, the paramedics had a better opportunity to view the damage done at the blond officer's throat. They whispered between each other, not letting anyone else hear what they were discussing. Then one of the white-dressed men took some fresh gauze and salve and treated the slice as best they could. "Does it hurt when I do this?" he asked as he applied the salve.
"No, not too much," Hutch whispered.
The medics exchanged a look. "Would you repeat that louder, please?"
""Fraid I can't," another whisper, no louder than the first. "Been trying for two and a half days, since that scum did this, but it's not gettin' any better."
"That's okay, it's gonna be all right." He turned to Dobey. "We're ready to take them in now."
Starsky wasn't exactly thrilled at the prospect of going to the hospital, but Hutch was going, needed to go, and he would have followed his best friend to the gates of hell if that was what it led to. Hutch was still lying down inside, so Starsky climbed in to sit beside him. One of the paramedics followed, and the other stayed behind to secure the doors before going up front to drive.
"I'll follow you in," Dobey shouted after them, not knowing for sure whether they heard him or not. "At least they're alive," he spoke more to himself than anyone else, and went to get in his car to go take care of his boys.