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Harry Collis parked his Mustang in such a hurry he took up two parking spaces, but he didn't care. Thanks to Angel, his pusher, he was about to make a little bread—maybe even score enough to sell some coke himself. Angel had looked him up, driven over and told him all about the muy mal hombre who was looking for a driver who could keep his head. All he had to do was show up here, on time, and make a good impression. He'd been surprised as hell when Angel had knocked on the door, but it sounded too good an opportunity to pass up. The job promised hard cash, a little nose candy, plus he would be at the wheel of a seventy thousand dollar Mercedes. With that as an incentive, who cared what the fuckin' job was? He grinned at the doorman, and straightened his tie. "Tell Mr. Keating that Harry Collis is here—he's expectin' me."
The doorman nodded and opened wide the door to the lobby, ushering Harry into a world he had only seen in the movies. Huge crystal chandeliers glittered high above his head, their light reflected in gold-veined mirrored walls. Pale carpets, inches thick, softened his every step, and he had to look hard to see the entrance to the penthouse elevator. Once inside, with the door closed, he noticed a pale yellow vase filled with peacock feathers next to the emergency panel. Now that was class! There were no buttons to push, but the elevator rose smoothly toward its destination, and suddenly Harry began to sweat. Why had Keating sent for him? As for that, if he was such a big shot, how did Angel know him? His pusher was nobody special; well, he'd hinted he had some good connections, but who believed pushers? They were the scum of the earth...didn't Alex keep telling him that? He giggled nervously, maybe, if this guy liked him, someday he'd be selling to Angel. Now, that would be a trip.
As the elevator came to a stop, and the door slid open, he had already made up his mind to do whatever was required of him. Anybody who lived like this had to be doing something right—this made Miklos' stinking little ranch look like a pigsty. This was what money was all about.
"Come in, Mr. Collis. Mr. Keating's been waiting to meet you for some time."
Stepping out into a marbled foyer, Harry blinked. The man speaking to him was a stranger—a mousy little guy wearing coke-bottle glasses. "Sorry, don't know you, do I?" He saw himself reflected in more mirrored walls, and wished he'd changed into his good suit. He held out his hand. "Nice to meet you."
The gesture was ignored. "Come this way. What would you like to drink?" The little man led him down a long hall into a very large, softly lit room where two TV's played the same show.
"Uh, tomato juice, if you got any."
For the first time the man smiled. "I like that—a driver who believes in staying sober. That's promising."
Then and there Harry vowed to stay on the wagon the rest of his life. He'd heard the word opulent used before this, but had never seen it in action. He knew the gold trimming on the lamps was real, the blonde dame in the chair watching the smaller TV was real, and the man watching him through grey, eagle eyes was real.
"That's right. And you're the brother-in-law of that cop who got killed."
Harry's jaw dropped. "How'n hell do you know that?" he blurted out. "Lud was married to my sister."
Keating got to his feet and extended his hand, grasping Harry's cold fingers in a hard fist. "Terrible thing when fine young men like that get murdered. My partner and I sent a contribution to the Widows and Orphans' Fund." His smooth features permitted the appearance of a brief smile, then cut it off. Thinning dark hair, once wavy, lay in straight, sprayed lines across the top of his head. "You have my sympathy, and my support."
"Is that why you sent for me? To tell me that?" Disappointment sped through Harry's body, leaving him tired. He took the tomato juice offered him by a servant and looked around. This was all a dream, had to be, and all he was going to get out of it was a glass of fuckin' tomato juice!
"Sit down, Harry. My contacts tell me that you are quite anxious to see that justice is done for your loss. Is that so?" Keating went over to where the blonde sat and switched the TV channel. "Watch that, you'll learn something."
"Why? Then I'll be smart enough to leave you, sweetie. You don't want that, do you?" Red lips puckered into a kiss, and five perfectly manicured fingers gave Keating a familiar salute.
He laughed, then reached down and grabbed her by the breast, squeezing until she screamed. "Funny, aren't you? Well, if I turn you over to Alonzo, that's all you'll be."
"Leo! Jesus, don't even joke about him...I didn't mean it." Big blue eyes filled with tears, and she rubbed her breast with careful fingers. "Asshole," she muttered, before turning back to the program. She didn't change the channel.
Harry stared at Keating as if he was from another planet. In all his days he'd never seen anyone behave like that, except in the movies or on the boob tube. He felt slightly ill, but gamely finished the tomato juice and looked around for somewhere to set the glass. When the servant appeared out of nowhere, he handed it over and relaxed. "You sure got a nice place, Mr. Keating," he remarked, trying to act as casual as he could.
"Yeah. Comes from hard work and good business sense. You got a good head for business, Harry?"
Keating sat down on the couch.
That made Harry laugh. Looking down, he laced his fingers together before answering. "No, sir. Money runs through my fingers like water, man. Helena yells at me all the time about that."
"Yes, drugs are an expensive habit." Keating settled back against the pillows, watching him with those eagle eyes. "If I hire you, Harry, you can have all the coke you want—when you're not driving. I don't hire hotheads or drunks, so if you indulge in either pot or booze you might as well leave now." His right hand toyed with the tassel on the closest pillow.
"Can't handle the headaches pot gives me, and I only have a drink once in a while. My whole damn family barely touches the hard stuff...soft drinks, mostly." Why in hell was he telling this hard case that?
Keating smiled, looking five years younger. "It's good to hear you say that, my information bears that out." He leaned forward as if he was eager to share some secret. "My information also says you want someone very badly, Harry. And that happens to fit right in with my own plans."
A chill crawled up Harry's spine. "I-I dunno what you mean, Mr. Keating. What're ya talking about?"
"Don't waste my time, Harry. My boys hear everything going on in this town—that's what they're paid for. They tell me you and your brothers want revenge on a certain cop. Are my boys lying?" There was a terrible menace in his tone.
For a fraction of a second, Harry toyed with the idea of leaping to his feet and getting the hell out of Leon Keating's life, but as he met that steady gaze his will seemed to drain away. The family had thought he was nuts because he'd said it might be a good idea to let Helena do her own dirty work, but he was willing to bet they wouldn't object to letting a big shot like Keating take care of it.
"We've talked about working him over—'eye-for-an-eye' sorta thing..." He shrugged. Sitting here, staring at all this wealth and power, it sounded like some schoolboy prank. "We all really liked Lud," he finished lamely.
Out of the corner of his eye, he saw the blonde get to her feet, switch off the TV and approach Keating. She was wearing a silk robe with nothing but a pair of satin panties under it and Harry averted his eyes as she stopped beside his host.
"Leo, I dunno where you find 'em, but you better watch out for the family type." She looked over at Harry, blue eyes hard. "You from L.A.?"
"Not originally, ma'am. Tarpon Springs, Florida's where we come from."
The blonde curls bobbed as she nodded, her red mouth forming a brittle smile. "Thought as much. Well, if you go to work for Leo, here, you better check your balls every few hours 'cause he's got a way of—Ouch!!"
Keating had grabbed her wrist and was bending her arm so that she had to kneel in order to keep it from being broken. "You little tramp! That's the thanks I get for saving your hide. Go pour yourself into some clothes and get me something to eat. Now!" He let go suddenly and she bit her lip as she rose to her feet, her gaping robe revealing perfect breasts, the left one showing a darkening bruise.
As if nothing had happened, he turned back to Harry and continued their conversation. "Like I said, Harry, if you want to work for me, I'll take good care of you, but I demand absolute loyalty." He smiled, eyes shutting like a cats. He reached into his shirt pocket and tossed a small packet onto the coffee table. "You do a good job for me and you'll have one of these, plus one grand a week."
Harry took the packet, let it sit on his palm for a moment before he opened it. Coke; hi-grade, more than he saw in six months. He dipped a finger into the white powder, tasting it delicately. Shit! It was uncut! Startled, he glanced sharply over at the watchful Keating. "It's uncut...you mean it?"
Once again Keating played with the tassel on the pillow. "Sure. Why shouldn't you fix your own poison?" He dropped his affable mood, and leaned closer to the fascinated Harry.
"Just you remember one thing, Collis. Once you work for me, you got no other family unless I say so. You don't open your mouth, or ask questions, and above all, you stay sober. My boys don't make headlines. They don't get picked up for being out of line, because once the cops get them, they're marked for life. And then I got no use for them. That clear?"
He was probably going to regret it, but for the life of him, Harry couldn't turn down Keating's offer. He'd be able to save enough money to get his own place, maybe even help Helena and the kid. Besides, it wasn't forever. "You gotta deal, Mr. Keating. When do I start?"
Keating got to his feet, and disappeared through a doorway. When he came back, he had the little old guy with him. "This is Mr. Caulkins, he'll handle the details." His expression changed, was cool and appraising. "And Harry, don't ever show your face here again, or you'll lose it. Understand?"
All Harry could do was nod. Bewildered by Keating's sudden animosity, he asked, "Did I say something wrong?"
"Forget it," snapped Caulkins. "Did you bring your car?"
"Yeah. It's out front..."
"Take it to this address, then get into the Ford sedan you see parked behind the Taco Bell on Third and Marenga. Here are the keys. There are instructions taped to the dash and a pair of surgeon's gloves on the seat. Wear them!"
Something began winding very tight in Harry's stomach, but he managed to look assured. "Then what?"
Caulkins gave him a withering look. "There's a body in the trunk. Take it out and do as the instructions tell you."
"Jesus Christ! You already killed Hutchinson?" He felt, robbed, betrayed. What was Helena going to say? He longed for a line or two of coke, but knew better than to fool around now.
Caulkins shook his head. "No. Just follow the instructions to the letter, have you got that? Then go home and forget this happened. We've already got an alibi for you should you need one."
It was too much to comprehend. Harry slipped the keys, coke and the address into his pocket, then was ushered to the elevator by the old geezer. Keating was nowhere to be seen. When he got back out onto the street, he noticed absently that somebody had re-parked his car so that it was legal. That cheered him up, and as soon as he was in it, he switched on the light to look at the little map. The glassine envelope with its tempting contents crackled against his shirt and he bit his lip in order to keep from using it. Uncut; what a high that would give a guy! Still, with cash and pure coke, he'd be able to make a few deals of his own...Keating never had to know. Grinning, filled with a joy he hadn't felt in years, he started his car. With a big mother like Keating after Hutchinson, the cop didn't stand a chance. He shot across the street, just before the light turned red. This was the life!
The Laundromat smelled of damp clothes, detergent and perfumed fabric softener. Hutch began sneezing and couldn't stop. At first, the customers had looked sympathetic, but now their glances were more annoyed than anything. He wiped his streaming eyes and vowed that Starsky would have to take the stupid sheets for the next month. He began loading the already dry loads into the back seat of the car, when he heard the squeal of tires and a familiar voice.
"You fall into a machine?"
Exasperated as he was, Hutch had to grin. "Get stuffed, you jerko. It's my damn allergies...getting worse every time I come in here."
Starsky got out of the Torino, nodding. "Get in your car and tell me which dryers are yours. I'll bring the rest out."
"You got a deal. Four and nine. Bring out four's load first and I'll fold 'em." He stared straight at his lover. "Towels. We're always out of towels."
He watched the color deepen on Starsky's cheeks, then the beloved grin appeared. "Yeah, we'll probably need some tonight, huh?" He raised his eyebrows.
"Never give up, do you?" Hutch muttered as he pushed Starsky toward the building. "Make sure they're dry." He cleared a space for the next basket... "Dunno why I care, damn things'll be damp by morning." He watched through the big window as Starsky pulled the little cart over to the dryer and opened its door. As he leaned in a bit to grab the farthest towels, his neat ass was exposed to view. Hutch grinned, eyes taking in every curve of the delectable rump, the narrow waist. The grin faded, though, when he noticed a lanky individual seated on one of the washers appreciating the same view. "Stay planted, asshole, or you'll join your shorts in the tub," he growled. He moved a little closer, absorbed in what was going on. Absently, he reached in his back pocket for his handkerchief, cursing when it got tangled with his comb. Yanking hard, he heard it snap and swore at the sound. One piece fell to the ground as he freed his handkerchief and he bent to pick it up. As he did, there was the sound of tires moving slowly over the gravel-strewn asphalt and he froze, keeping out of sight without knowing why. When the car had passed, he crept around to his trunk and crouched down still further. He saw a white Volvo estate wagon parking in front of the bakery, which was closed. It had tinted windows so he couldn't see inside, but all of a sudden he whirled, heart pounding, and looked for Starsky who was coming through the doorway of the Laundromat. He flashed on that day several years ago and yelled his partner's name as he pulled his gun from its holster, standing up to attract attention away from Starsky.
"Jesus, Winnie, it's a hold-up!" shrieked someone as the Volvo's door opened. "Here! Here's my wallet, my credit cards...take whatever ya want...just don't hurt us." The articles were tossed out of the car.
"What's goin' on?" Starsky asked breathlessly as he joined Hutch. "You okay?" The towels lay in a pile on the sidewalk, and the Beretta's barrel gleamed in the neon light.
Fighting to ignore his pounding heart, Hutch addressed the driver of the Volvo. "Sorry. You startled me when you drove in here so slowly," he said, kneeling to retrieve the scattered credit cards and wallet.
A very pale, very obese young man peered out at him. "Shit, man, I just got a ticket five minutes ago for speeding. My ball and chain's been chewing my uh, butt off so I was being—like—careful, ya know?" A pudgy hand accepted his belongings. "You the guard here, or what?"
Starsky, eyes narrowed, stared at the speaker. "Yeah, there's been some trouble with prowlers so the management hired us. What're you doing here?"
A woman's face, round as a small moon, appeared at the man's shoulder. Frowsy brown hair framed her features, and she chewed gum with the ferocity of a tiger eating its first meal in days. "If it's any of your business, we were tryin' to get to the bakery before it closed. Woulda, too, if Mr. Speedo here hadn't got a ticket!" She glared at the hapless man, jaws working the gum even harder.
Hutch waved his hand, and she stopped talking as if he'd stuck a cork in her mouth. "Well, everything's closed now except the Laundromat, so unless you've got clothes to wash, don't loiter. Go home, bake a cake, eat crackers and cheese. Just don't drive too fast getting there. You got that?" He tried to sound as stern as he could even though he'd seen Starsky turn away to laugh as he scooped up the fallen towels.
The Volvo's engine roared to life as the couple rolled up their windows, closing them from view once more. With a clash of gears, the Volvo lurched off the lot. Judging by the speed the man was driving, he'd have another citation before he got home. Hutch sighed, then felt a warm hand on his arm and turned to face a somber Starsky.
"What the hell happened, Hutch? I thought someone was-was—well, maybe a hit—" His voice trailed into silence while his grip tightened.
Hutch covered his hand, shivering from the added adrenaline in his system. "I heard the tires on the gravel, and you were just coming out the door...and I remembered the sound of that other car—"
He locked glances with the partner he'd almost lost and whispered, "I panicked, Dave. Pure and simple panic after all this time." He tried to smile, but failed miserably. "I thought I had it all behind me, but—"
The towels were tossed into the back seat and Starsky took him in his arms, pressing him close, sharing his warmth, his strength. He slowly pushed away, gradually releasing the fear. "Just like a goddam movie, right? The part where the girl is scared for her lover's safety..." This time the smile was genuine.
Starsky, eyes glowing, whooped his scorn. "Girl? I gotta check this out, pal." His gaze, critical now, swept over Hutch and he shook his head. "Nope. Feet're too big, the plumbing's all wrong, and I don't date girls who hafta shave every morning."
"No? How about the one your Aunt Rosie introduced you to? Hell, she had five o'clock shadow—"
A hand pressed against his mouth, followed by another sweeping up his back under his jacket. "Let's get outta here, Hutch. I want to make love, not waste time standing in a parking lot talkin' about old times..."
For a moment, Hutch stood studying Starsky's face. The neon light, despite its harsh glare, accented the deep-set eyes with their long lashes. The curls, thick and slightly rumpled, softened the hard, strong features. "Hey, handsome, wanna spend the night?" he invited. He felt a slow, familiar tingle that warmed and chilled him at the same time. "I live right around the corner—" he added, smiling at the unwavering gaze.
"Persuade me," replied Starsky coolly. He might have been talking to a stranger, except his eyes gleamed with suppressed hunger. He didn't move.Game time...if that's what you want...
There was no one around, and the walkway between the bakery and the Laundromat was dark and secluded—a perfect spot for what Hutch had in mind. "Come on," he said breathlessly as he drew the supple body along with him. Once out of sight, he pushed his lover against the bakery wall, pressing against him, seeking oblivion in a deep kiss. Starsky was all hard muscles and soft shadows, smelling of leather and aftershave. It was intoxicating. Hutch ran his fingers through the thick hair, murmuring, "You turn me on faster than a light switch." His hands slipped behind Starsky's waist, then slid to cup his beautiful ass. He felt their bodies touch and flow together. "Jesus! You're so...so..."
He closed his eyes as a hot mouth claimed his, and Starsky began to return the embrace. "I'm persuaded," he finally growled. "Let's get the hell outta here."
It took five minutes to retrieve the contents of the dryer, another eight for each of them to reach Venice Place and carry the laundry up the stairs, and less than three minutes for them to strip and tumble into bed.
"I want to make love to you," Hutch whispered as he caressed Starsky's body. Great, dark eyes widened when he slid his hands under the firm hips and began massaging the flesh.
"What are you doin', kneading dough? That ain't what I had in mind. Start by takin' care of this, will ya?"
Starsky bucked his body higher until Hutch could no longer ignore the hardening cock waving so temptingly just below his mouth. With a groan, he settled his lover back onto the bed and knelt to kiss the hot, straining flesh, only entering him when Starsky threatened to die on the spot, otherwise. God, how he loved to make love to this man; in all the world there was nothing he desired more than the lean, bronzed body beneath him.
Starsky's voice urging him to fuck slower, deeper, harder, only served to excite him until his last anchor with reality was the ultimate sensation of his lover's climax before his own oblivion. He didn't withdraw immediately; he couldn't bear the separation. Instead, he turned them onto their sides, legs laced together, and stroked the quivering flanks, massaging Starsky's semen into their skin. Sometimes that action alone restored the need for more sex; slow, delicious, exhausting, but tonight was different. Hutch felt the gradual relaxing of muscles and heard a long sigh. He smiled, then allowed himself a few little pushes back and forth before gently withdrawing.
"Thanks, babe," he murmured, as he groped for one of the clean towels.
It was handed to him by Starsky, who said softly, "You're welcome, darlin'. Feel free to call again."
"Ass." Hutch pulled the blankets up to cover them both. He slipped his arm around Starsky's middle and hugged him close, nuzzling his shoulder. "You feel like doing a little house hunting after work tomorrow?" he asked, holding very still.
There was the faintest intake of breath, but Hutch heard it and added, "I love you, you know," he said quietly, "for what it's worth."
Starsky turned within the circle of his arms until they were face to face, then reached up and stroked Hutch's cheek with gentle fingers before whispering, "I'll have you know, Sergeant Hutchinson, that your love is worth a helluva lot to me. It's what made me get outta that hospital bed and come back to work."
A kiss planted itself on Hutch's chin. "It's what keeps me alive from mornin' to night, just so I can return the favor...and love you back." He laughed aloud. "Of course I want to go house hunting! Haven't I been after you for a month of Sundays to start readin' the ads?" Another kiss landed on Hutch's neck. "But first of all, tell me why you changed your mind about waitin' until I made lieutenant? Why now—not that your answer's gonna make any difference, I just wanna know."
There were no lies between them, no excuses. "Ander's death, frankly." He traced along the curve of Starsky's upper lips. "I figured we're just wasting time..." He averted his gaze.
A forefinger lifted his chin, and a warm mouth covered his own. "And maybe we don't have time to waste, right? I've been thinkin' that way all along. Glad you finally tumbled, babe." He smiled, mood changing. "Now, where d'ya want to look first?"
Hutch shrugged, suddenly feeling very foolish. "Dunno. Where do you want to start? It was your idea, after all."
His lover became thoughtful, the animated expression changing as he frowned. "Damn! How much of a commute do you want? You wanna be near a lot of stores?"
Hutch groaned, and rolled over onto his stomach. "God! Is this what it's going to be like? Starsk, pick an area and let's worry about the other details later."
"Right! Let's start downtown. I've always wanted to live in one of those condos."
"Oh, no, you don't! I want a house with a big yard and trees and privacy!" scolded Hutch. "I'm already living in a fuckin' apartment."
There was a deep chuckle as Starsky pulled him into his arms. "See? You tell me to choose, so I do and you yell. I can see it's not going to be easy trying to please you. Let's sleep on it and talk about it tomorrow."
Hutch let his head rest on his lover's chest. "Don't give me that line of bull. Just because I want a yard doesn't mean we have to live in the boonies." He rubbed his face against the silky chest hair and sleepily said, "We're gonna need a big bedroom, and a bathroom with a tub and shower...Oh, and our own washer and dryer."
"Shut up! Or I'm gonna go sleep in my car."
"In a pig's eye," Hutch grunted as he was gripped even more tightly. "And I get the shower first in the morning."
An audible sniff was Starsky's response, then he grunted, "Sure thing—you need it more'n I do."
Hutch was too tired to do anything but jam his elbow into Starsky's midriff. There was no more talk after that.
Albert Caulkins carefully replaced the damask drape as Harry Collis pulled away. When he turned to face Leon Keating his face was a twisted mask of fury. "All right. Now that that gullible fool's gone, explain yourself. What do you know about Fass's disappearance?"
Keating began laughing. "Get off your high horse, Albert. Where in our little deal did it say I couldn't do things my way if I wanted to?"
But the smaller man wasn't amused. "So help me, Leon, if you've queered this operation by raising Fass's suspicions, I'll personally run you out of town!"
Keating stopped laughing and looked Caulkins up and down. "Yeah? With what I know about wasting Templeton? Just take it easy, big man. Fass is dead...and he had it coming."
The effect on Caulkins was immediate. He turned chalky white, swallowed, then his features contorted. "Dead? My God, do you realize the chance we're taking? Can you comprehend at all what you've done?" He yanked off his glasses and proceeded to wipe them with a silk handkerchief. "Whatever possessed you to kill Fass, of all people? I thought we'd agreed that you were going to set him up, then let my office arrest him for conspiring against the government." The glasses were settled back on Caulkins' nose. "That was how you were going to remain free, remember?"
Keating sighed, and ran his hand over his scalp before answering. "Like I said, the bastard had it coming. He reneged on the price we'd set, plus he wanted a cut of my operation. Tried to muscle in on my organization. Well, I been dealin' with weirdoes like him for years; I could see what was coming." He sucked his teeth, grinning. "I waited until his back was turned and blew a hole in him big enough to park your car in."
Caulkins scowled. "Bodies with holes in them tend to bleed, may I remind you. What have you done with the, ah, corpse?"
Ice cubes dropped into a glass, were covered with bourbon, then swirled with a swizzle stick. "Al, you must think you're dealing with some kind of moron. There's nothing left of Wilhelm Fass but some bone ends and a gold pivot tooth. Which, I might point out was saved because Alonzo figured Hutchinson might not have one—smart, right?"
A very small smile strayed across Caulkins' face, then fled. "I apologize, Leo. Acid would have been my choice, too. You did your homework." He folded the handkerchief and stuck it in his breast pocket, the ends in perfect points.
Leo's grey eyes fixed on the older man. "But you're still wondering why I need Hutchinson, aren't you? Well, Mister Mastermind, I did some thinking, and if Fass' partners knew he was coming out here—and they probably did—and all of a sudden he's missing, they're likely to get curious and come snooping. I want that blond cop because he looks enough like Fass to pass for him, especially if he's dead...and he's messed up real bad." He drained his glass, and walked over to a closed door.
"Coral? You got your ass ready to pick up some food? Get out here!" Turning back to face Caulkins, he continued, "See, I had to ice that first cop because there's no way he woulda passed for Fass." He snorted his contempt. "You still got everybody convinced you got a mole in my organization?"
Caulkins shrugged. "I did until Templeton stumbled onto the fact I couldn't produce one..." He sounded the faintest bit regretful. "There's going to be one hell of an investigation when he turns up dead. Of course, like so many smart men, he tripped up by phoning me when he was all alone." His features took on a predatory look. "He wanted to meet me at Chasen's, of all places. Thought it would be safe there." His laugh held no mirth. "What he didn't realize was that when he called me, my answering service transferred the call to me in my car. He thought I was home. I was waiting for him in the parking lot—and made him get into my car." He was like a storyteller relating a story; lost in its telling. "Strange, the things you pick up in the DA's office. I gave him a lethal dose of insulin; my wife's a diabetic, you know. He died quietly...and it will look like an accident when they find him in the car."
Fascinated, Keating asked, "So, where'd ya make the pop? If there're no marks on the body, they'll do a post, won't they?"
This time Caulkins' smile was genuine. "I was a medic in World War II. Give my wife her shot every morning. There're lots of places to inject drugs that wouldn't be suspected."
"Okay, so why couldn't you just prop him up at his desk and let him be found in the morning? Why all this James Bond stuff?"
The glasses shielded the expression in the older man's eyes. "A traffic accident means the coroner won't be looking for much beyond the usual. Heart attack, stroke, those sudden-onset causes that happen to older men—especially ones in high tension jobs." He smiled his fish smile. "Do you know how many lawyers die from stress-induced causes? John Templeton will simply become a statistic, that's all."
Nodding, Keating said, "Gotcha. Well, ain't that sort of what I'm doing? I want it known that Fass is dead, but I don't want anybody to suspect me." He took his wallet out of his hip pocket and bellowed, "Coral! If you ain't out here in one minute you're history!"
The door opened and Coral appeared, sans make-up, looking years younger in jeans and an oversized shirt of muted blues. Her hair was pulled back into a simple ponytail and her face was scrubbed clean. "So, whatcha want, hero? Reuben? Pastrami with horseradish? Hurry up!" She jerked her thumb toward Caulkins. "Anything for Mister Law and Order, there?" Her contempt was obvious.
Keating slapped her on the side of her face, almost knocking her off balance. "You goddamn slut! You mind your manners around your betters or I'll—"
Coral stood up, cheek flaming. "Leo, let's get somethin' straight right now. I may be only a whore, but when it comes to my betters you two ain't even in my league. Now give me the fuckin' money and let me get outta here." She curtsied in front of them both, then, laughing harshly, grabbed up her purse and jacket and sauntered out the door. "Two Reubens on rye, one with mustard, one with mayo. And fuck you both!" The door slammed.
Somewhere far below her she heard Lud's voice calling. She staggered to the edge of his grave and peered down, the baby tight against her breast. The grave was now an abyss, stretching on and on like the bowels of hell.
"Give him to me," Lud begged, hands outstretched, "for just a minute. I want to hold him." His eyes burned in grey flesh.
Even as she knelt there, her hair whipped about her face by the fetid vapors rising from below, she knew she couldn't relinquish the child. "Darling, please, I can't do it. He is so tiny—so helpless...I can't!" she wailed.
"'Lena, don't you understand? Only one single minute, that's all...and he will have all the power he will ever need." Lud's voice was like a stake driven through her heart, and she screamed with the pain of it, but as she fell back, she clutched her child even closer, ignoring his struggles to escape.
From below the rim of the abyss, Lud shouted for his son, vowing his safety. "Haven't I always protected you, 'lena?" he howled. "I protected everybody!"
She felt unseen hands clutching at her child and looked up, meeting a pair of fire-blue eyes. As she stared, the tall form of Lud's murderer took shape, his hair white flames that writhed, snake-like toward her. "Give him the child!" he commanded, reaching with blood-soaked hands to grasp one tiny arm. Laughing, the apparition yanked her baby from her and tossed it into the grave. "Keep him...keep him...keep him..."
She began screaming, her hands beating on her abdomen as if to hammer her flesh into an inviolable haven. "Get away! Get away! Jesu! Protect us, protect us!"
The overhead light flicked on and Stavros rushed into the bedroom, pulling Helena's arms away from her sides, holding them up while she writhed like some mad thing. Pink-tinged spittle covered her mouth as she shrieked her terror. Then, as suddenly as she had begun, she quieted down, slumping against her brother's huge frame. "He—he threw the baby into Lud's grave," she moaned, making no attempt to pull away. Meeting his horrified glance, she whispered, "He must pay a blood-price tonight, or I will die, Stavvy. Lud cannot sleep either. That demon must pay!"
"Shhh. Shhh. Yes, we will see to it this very day. Go to sleep, 'lena, it was only a bad dream." With gentle hands he pulled down her nightgown, tucking the covers tight around her before leaving the room. After he turned off the light, he went into the kitchen to make several phone calls...this thing could wait no longer. His final call was to Helena's doctor. They talked for a long time.
An accident on the Wilshire Blvd. off-ramp made the ride to Parker Center a nightmare, and Starsky and Hutch were thirty minutes late, which only served to sour Dobey's already bad temper. As they settled down to work signing off old reports, they kept glancing up and smiling at one another. Even another stack of reports shoved their way couldn't dim their good humor. After a trip to the men's room, Starsky came back with a folded section of the Times. He slid it across to Hutch, who opened it up, nodding when he saw it was the Real Estate section.
"Snitch it from Grimes?" he asked.
"He was through with it," was the cryptic comment as Starsky shuffled a tall pile of folders into the OUT basket.
When their first call came, they said nothing, merely signed out, then hurried to the elevator.
Since it was Hutch's snitch who had called, they used his car. Starsky began scanning the ads as they sped along, offering a comment or a whistle once in a while. When they were only a few blocks from their destination, the radio interrupted him.
"Zebra Three, Zebra Three, you have a 10-19 from Captain Dobey."
"This is Zebra Three," Starsky responded, "we're answering a Code Six right now. Patch me through, will ya?"
"Sorry, Starsky, this is a possible 187 involving an Officer of the Court."
"Zebra Three. We are going Code Three," Starsky replied immediately. He put back the receiver then took his gun from its holster, checking the clip.
Hutch shot his partner a startled glance before slapping the Mars light on the roof. Expression grim, he flipped on the siren, clearing traffic out of their way. "Who the hell d'ya suppose it is?"
"Dunno, but Dobey must want to see us real bad." Starsky started to say something else, but instead folded the Times section very neatly and slipped it under the seat. "Let's start looking in Los Feliz, huh? There's some nice places up in the hills."
Even though he was concentrating on his driving, Hutch had to smile. It was so typical of Starsky to act as if nothing unusual had happened. "Maybe we'll be lucky and this won't take long," he said. "Be nice if we could find something kinda close to the Greek."
"Yeah, summer concerts, frisbee in the park...just like everybody else." Starsky settled his gun back in the holster as they raced through an intersection.
"No. You're wrong, Starsk," Hutch said firmly, smiling at his partner's surprise. "Better than everybody else because it's you and me." He shut off the siren as he pulled into the parking lot, then removed the light. He nodded quickly, "Right?"
A big grin, an answering nod was his reward. "Damn straight, partner." Easing out of the car, Starsky flexed his shoulders, "Only we do the looking in my car, right?"
Laughing, Hutch nodded again. "Right!"
However, when they strode into the squadroom and saw the captain's grim expression, they put all thoughts of their personal happiness aside. Dobey gestured for them to come into his office, and closed the door.
"What's this all about, Cap'n?" asked Starsky as he sat down. "Who'd they attempt to murder?"
Before Dobey could answer, the door opened again, and Captain Shemansky entered. "Good. I see you found them." He leaned against the desk, back to Dobey, and looked at Hutch with smug satisfaction. "Where were you last night, Sergeant Hutchinson?"
Color flamed on the fair skin and Hutch exchanged a quick glance with Starsky. "Before I answer that, I want to know what business it is of yours!" he snapped, eyes narrowing.
Shemansky was visibly trying to control his temper. "At three this morning, Assistant DA John Templeton's car was recovered from where it had plunged down an embankment. Templeton's body was in the car." He reached for a cigar.
"Not in my office!" roared Dobey, getting to his feet. "Can't you read that sign?" He pointed to the wall across from his desk. "That applies to everyone who sets foot in here."
The cigar was left in its pocket and the OCID captain reached for a stick of gum, instead. The two detectives waited until the wrapper was safely deposited in the trash basket before daring to look at Dobey.
"I'm sorry to hear about Templeton," Hutch said with genuine regret. "He was a good prosecutor." He crossed his legs, unzipped his jacket. "But what does his death have to do with me?"
It was the question Shemansky had obviously been hoping for. He leaned forward, shaking his finger at Hutch. "It's well-known that you felt Templeton was harassing you. That his determination to find out your real motive for bowing out of the Fass case made you very angry."
Starsky yawned, then stood up as if to leave. "Maybe Hutch didn't like him much, but you're the one he pasted, and you're still alive," he said cuttingly. He moved to stand behind his partner. "What's the estimated time of death, Shemansky?" His fingers rested lightly on the back of Hutch's chair.
"Coroner's working on it now," came back the answer. His glance darted around the room, then rested once again on Hutch. "Where were you?" he demanded.
Hutch shook his head. "Shemansky, let me tell you something. You and I both know that until you have a time of death, and some reason to place me under suspicion, I don't have to tell you a damn thing. John Templeton had a hell of a lot more people with grudges against him than me, so go chase somebody else's ass." He got to his feet, addressing the watchful Dobey. "Captain, I just got a call from an informant pertaining to the Fass case. I think it's important enough to follow up." He glanced at his watch. "I'm already late for our meeting. Are we dismissed?"
The dark eyes surveyed him solemnly, then studied Starsky. "Neither of you know anything about this, right?"
"No, sir," they chorused, crowding one another in the doorway.
"That's good enough for me," Dobey said briskly, "but I want to talk to Starsky. You go to your meet, then I'll talk to you, too. Now, get outta here!"
The detectives conferred briefly; Hutch finally heading for the door. Starsky watched until he was out of sight, then came back to wait for Dobey.
"Harold! What in hell are you doing? There's a helluva good chance that blond hotshot is involved in some way—"
Dobey moved swiftly for a big man. With one hand, he reached for Shemansky's jacket lapel and pulled him away from his desk. "You shut your mouth and listen to me for just one minute! Ken Hutchinson has been under fire from men with a lot more ammo than you have and has come up clean each and every time! If he says he doesn't know anything, then he's telling the truth!" He let go and stepped back, adjusting his tie. "I'm going to lunch with Detective Starsky, then I'm going to call the coroner, and if I don't like what I hear, I'm going to write a letter to the Police Commissioner reporting your harassment of one of my men."
Livid with rage, Shemansky stalked out of the office, pausing only long enough to toss the gum in the trash. The cigar was jammed in his mouth, lit and a huge cloud of smoke promptly filled the squadroom. Smiling now, he turned back to the other captain. "We'll see who's right. My money is that your golden boy's halo is real tarnished. Be seein' you, Harold."
Dobey could only grunt, he was so angry. Starsky put a restraining hand on his shoulder. "You did say lunch, didn't you? I know this great little place that serves the best chili. Fresh blue corn tortillas—"
"All right, let's go. But I've got some hard questions for you, Dave, and I want some hard answers."
Starsky frowned, but said nothing as they strode to the elevator, the odor of Shemansky's cigar still pungent in the air. "Do you think there was foul play?" he asked finally.
Once again the dark eyes studied him. "I'm not going to start wondering about that until I hear what the coroner has to say. How long do you think Hutch is going to be?"
Shrugging, Starsky thought a minute. "Well, if old Pete is as eager to spill his guts as usual, he should be back in an hour. A bottle of Dago red, a few bucks and Pete's happy to cough up whatever he knows."
His glance swept the parking lot as he unlocked the Torino. When he stopped in his tracks and stared, Dobey said impatiently, "Come on, Dave. I want to get back before Hutch does."
But Starsky was already dashing across the lot to where one particular car was parked. Dobey, hurrying after him heard him say, "Migawd! Hutch!"
The captain's heart lurched and he stopped in his tracks. Starsky was standing beside Hutch's car, door open, and the car keys in his palm. "Something's happened to Hutch, Cap'n...He never went to his meet."
The four men in the Camaro were silent, their dark features revealing little of their inner turmoil. The driver of the car drove with extreme care, avoiding the streets where the cops patrolled. It took fifteen minutes to reach the downtown interchange, another twenty before the sign for the 605 loomed ahead, then fifteen more before the turn-off they wanted. The driver was the first to speak. "So where the hell did Harry go last night?"
Stavros, beside him, cleared his throat. "He left about eight, said he had a very important interview with a couple of big shots and wouldn't be home until late." A note of worry crept into his deep voice. "He never made it home. Bed wasn't slept in, didn't show up for work. That ain't like Harry."
In the back seat, Alex sat staring out the window, fighting to keep from throwing up. Beside him sat Miklos, hat in hands, endlessly playing with the brim.
"You realize we may have killed him, don't you?" Alex finally said. "This is absolutely crazy!"
"Killed who? Harry?" Nickolas uttered a harsh laugh. "That stupid little bastard's probably killed himself with some damn drug or other." He gripped the steering wheel until his knuckles whitened. "Helena's almost out of her mind with fear. She thinks that the cop snatched him." He glanced in the rear view mirror when a black and white cruised by. "Shit! I missed the turn-off."
"It don't matter," grunted Stavros, "we got lots of time, so drive slow. When that cop shows up missing there's going to be hell to pay."
"So what? Nothing like the hell our sister's going through," said Miklos, finally looking at Alex. "Maybe I should take her up to the ranch—let Rita look after her."
Alex stared at him. "You're as nutty as she is. Rita hates her, always has. 'Lena wouldn't stay there." He shook his head. "We can't get rid of Hutchinson until after dark. By then the cemetery will be closed. So what are we going to do in the meantime?"
They fell silent, each lost in thought. At last Nickolas spoke up. "He could already be dead, you know. Stavvy hit him real hard. Maybe we should check?"
"Sure. Just pull into a gas station, open the trunk and look him over. Christ, I think we broke his arm stuffing him in there." Miklos was sweating now, and wiped it away with his hand. "Roll down the fucking window, will you? We got nothing to hide."
"Jesus Christ, I don't believe you all. A man may be dying or already dead, and we're driving around like a bunch of goddamn saints! I can't take this—what we're doing is wrong!"
"Alex, if you don't stop whining, Hutchinson ain't gonna be the only one with a busted arm! It's the blood price...it's gotta be paid. We all took a vow on Lud's grave, didn't we?" Stavros turned to look at his brothers in the back seat. "I don't understand. Money, education, why should you be so different from us? We're the same," he said in a puzzled voice.
"Not anymore," replied Alex bitterly, "we've got more to lose. Good jobs, a ranch, our honor..."
"Only the honor of a debt repaid concerns us," retorted Nickolas bitingly. "Only the honor of our widowed sister, her peace of mind. Your worries are dirt, dust in the wind."
Once again they were silent and the Camaro sped through the suburban streets like any other homeward bound commuters.
Like them, the man in the trunk was silent.
By afternoon the wire services had all broadcast the story of John Templeton's death. Video film of the retrieval of his car was being readied for the early news channels. City officials had called a news conference for 5 p.m., promising to reveal what little they knew.
However, there was no mention of a missing police officer, Dobey reasoning that OCID would put Hutch's disappearance down to flight to avoid prosecution, thus incriminating the detective. One look at Starsky was enough to want to spare him that hell. He was going through enough as it was. Lunch had been several cups of coffee, a handful of stale Fritos, and three Tums.
He took five minutes to call Edith to let her know he would be working late and why. Her whispered shock was too painful to bear, so he rang off after swearing to call her if he learned anything.
He sat back in his chair for several minutes, closing his eyes and trying to picture various scenarios in his head. None of them were reassuring, and he knew that the longer Hutch was missing the more likely he was to have met with every man's ultimate enemy. To snatch a cop at a police station in broad daylight was an act of desperation. Desperate men often committed unspeakable acts. Behind his closed lids, tears burned his eyes. As he opened them, he reached for the phone, dialing Starsky's extension. "Dave, come in my office, will you? I need some information." Was that his only reason for summoning the man? Or did he need some sort of reassurance that Hutch was still alive?
He was shocked when Starsky opened the door and entered the room, then wondered at his surprise. Gone was the nonchalant air, the graceful walk, the smile lurking in the blue eyes. They had been replaced by simple fear...and the look of the hunter.
"Yeah? What kind of information?" Even with the captain his manner was wary, as if anyone asking for his time was the enemy, a barrier to be swept away.
Sensing this, Dobey got right to the point. "For starters, what do you think happened?"
"Must be Shemansky's goons," Starsky replied without pause. "Too much of a coincidence—the timing." Yet, even as he was speaking a note of doubt crept into his tone. "We weren't close enough to the Fass thing for him to be snatched by Keating. Hell, he didn't even get to learn what old Pete wanted."
They locked glances, Starsky sucking in a deep breath. "God, what if Pete was goin' to warn him about being in danger? Maybe I better go find out what he wanted." He turned on his heel, looking over his shoulder. "If he knows anything, I'm bringing him in."
"In the meantime, I'll try the DA's staff. To have both Hutch and Templeton meet trouble is too damn much of a coincidence, isn't it? There's something phony about that car accident. Then I'll start on Shemansky. And God help him if he knows anything about Hutch's disappearance."
"God won't be able to help him if he's holdin' Hutch," Starsky retorted. Then, just as he was leaving, he snapped his fingers and said, "Maybe you ought to call S.I. and see if they found Templeton's gun on his person, or in his car. Huggy told me when he left his office, he was mad as hell, and carrying his piece."
Dobey's expression didn't change, but he instantly recalled an occasion several years ago in which Templeton had confessed his distaste for firearms. He'd always dreamed of a police force modeled after the English bobby, but knew it was impossible here.
"Thanks, Dave, that's interesting."
He began leafing through his directory, looking for Natalie Scott's number. The young assistant DA had impressed him with her savvy when Shemansky had taken Hutch into custody during that clumsy attempt to frame him. Maybe she was also interested in helping now; Lord knew he needed help. A man could get lost in the myriad twists and turns of bureaucratic corridors. While Starsky and the other men prowled through the streets of L.A., he would search the offices and memories of the hierarchy. He hadn't been nicknamed The Badger by his first Captain for nothing. Smiling, he lifted the receiver.
Pain. Sharp, dull, throbbing, steady...Hutch lay folded up like a broken stick in the stuffy trunk, analyzing the various kinds of pain he felt. He cradled his arm close to his stomach, trying not to move it much. His head hurt worse than the goddamn break did and he knew the sticky stuff on the side of his face was dried blood. It had taken him all of thirty seconds to realize he was riding in the trunk of a car—probably that Camaro he'd caught a glimpse of just before the lights went out.
"Ugh..." He groaned out loud, knowing whoever was driving couldn't hear him. "You mother—just wait until Starsky gets his hands on you!" Since he had absolutely no idea of the time, he didn't know if his partner had even missed him yet. Especially if whoever snatched him had moved his car.
It was then that the hopelessness of his position hit him and he felt a sick lurch in his gut. What if he was about to meet the same fate as John Templeton? Despite the blinding headache, he had to think. What did he know about the DA's death? He hadn't been found in the trunk of his car, that much was certain, so chances were whoever this was would take him out and stick him in the front seat.
Ignoring his arm, he slowly turned on his side, grunting when his shoulder encountered something very hard. Sliding his hand up, he smiled when he identified the object as a large wrench. Maybe things weren't as bad as he thought. If he could only get the jump on the bastard, he might have a chance to escape. No matter how long he had to wait, he wasn't going to go down easy. He closed his eyes and began to take slow, deep breaths, focusing down on one certain person, one special smile.
It was then he realized that the car had stopped and a door had opened. He stilled, willing himself to absolute immobility. His fingers tightened on the wrench, then relaxed. If he didn't make it, at least Starsky would know he hadn't gone without a fight. "Come on, you fucker," he muttered. He was ready.