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Shemansky's secretary barely recognized the hard-bitten cop coming in the office door as the charmer she'd seen only a couple of weeks ago. Quickly masking her surprise, she said, "The captain is in conference. Can you wait?"
Smoldering blue eyes stared at her from beneath close-knit brows. "Just tell him it's Detective Dave Starsky from Metro Homicide. If he's busy, I'll talk to Jerry Tozukawa." He didn't take a seat, merely leveled his gaze at the captain's door.
Sensing something wasn't right, she left her desk and tapped on the door, easing her way in before Shemansky even answered her knock.
The room was filled with smoke and she waved her hand to push some of the foul air away. "Detective David Starsky wants to see you or Jerry now. Says it's important." She put enough of a challenge in her voice to let him know she wasn't going to leave without an answer.
"Can't you see I'm in the middle of a meeting?"
Her glance swept over his visitor and then back to him. It was that slimy toad from the DA's office, Caulkins, and she knew they were talking about John Templeton's death. For a moment, she flashed back on the day the blond cop had met with all the big shots, then left in a huff. Both DA's had been there, then. "I'm sorry, sir, but he looks like a man who needs to talk. Shall I get Jerry?"
Caulkins got to his feet, smiling at her. "Of course not. No doubt Sergeant Starsky is here on official business. Show him in." He went over to the window and looked out at the view.
She saw the captain send him a distinctly apprehensive look before she left the room to tell the detective that Shemansky would see him. If anything, the hard features grew even sterner, the eyes darker. For some reason, she was reminded of the movies about the lone gunfighter facing a gang.
Starsky had no illusions as to what his reception would be as he entered Shemansky's office. His attempt to question Hutch's snitch had been a bust; the old guy was three sheets to the wind on muscatel and swore he had simply wanted to hit up his sucker partner for a few bucks by feeding him some old info. Pete was no fool; and when he learned that Hutch was missing, he had gaped like a fish out of water. He had sworn on his mother's honor that he knew nothing about any snatch, and deep down Starsky knew the man wasn't lying. He had wished desperately that he had been just so he could haul him in. Now, empty-handed, he was at his next stop.
Shemansky sat at his desk, grinding out the remains of his cigar. A smallish, balding man stood over by the window, features turned away. Starsky frowned, certain the man was no stranger.
"Yeah? What's on your mind, Sergeant?"
"Where're you holding Hutch?" he asked bluntly, including the man at the window in his question. "I know you had your gorillas snatch him, but this ain't funny." He felt the words sticking in his throat and fell silent, watching both men.
"What the hell are you talkin' about? Nobody from OCID laid a hand on Hutchinson!" The florid face grew dark with fury as the captain leaped to his feet. "You and that yellow son-of-a-bitch worked this out, didn't ya? I want him for questioning in this Templeton mess, and he's taken a goddamn powder, hasn't he?" A beefy fist slammed down on the desk, sending the ashtray skittering across its top. "You got your nerve, Starsky, accusing me of a stupid trick like that!"
"Marvin, Marvin. Get hold of yourself. Listen to what Sergeant Starsky has to say." The little man had come forward during Shemansky's tirade and stood directly in front of Starsky, unsmiling. "I'm Assistant District Attorney Albert Caulkins. John Templeton and I worked together."
Starsky took a full minute to look the man over. Now that they were face to face, he remembered Hutch's description of the 'mousy' jerk with the cold eyes. He decided he didn't trust this one, either. "My partner's missing, and I have reason to believe that he was forced to go with OCID's zombies."
Something like amusement glinted behind the thick lenses, but Caulkins turned slowly toward Shemansky. "Well, the detective has made a very serious allegation, Marvin. Is there a shred of truth to it?"
If Shemansky had had high blood pressure, he probably would have died then and there; instead he gave Caulkins a puzzled look and shook his head, slowly sitting down again. He pulled the ashtray back to its original location, then dumped its contents into the trash basket under his desk. "Not a shred," he said dully. "And you and I both know it." This time the look he gave the older man was icy.
The exchange wasn't wasted on Starsky. Deciding to go with an inner voice, he made a conciliatory gesture. This was for Hutch; he couldn't afford to ignore a single lead. "Sorry, sir, but he disappeared under definitely suspicious circumstances, and we're afraid he's met with foul play."
Out of the corner of his eye he saw Caulkins make a move, but as he turned, he saw the man was merely pulling a chair up for him to sit down. He shook his head, but managed a smile. The DA took his former seat and gave Starsky his full attention.
"Please continue, Sergeant. There is a slight chance you may be right about him."
"It ain't a slight chance, sir. My partner never ran out on a deal in his life. Hutch—Hutch—" He couldn't say more about the man he loved, so merely told them about his partner leaving for his meet with his snitch, and later finding his car. "So you see, he never even made it out of the Metro parking lot."
He was just about to tell them about old Pete when he noticed Caulkins' expression. The DA had turned a pasty grey, and was leaning forward in his chair. "You okay?" he asked quickly, moving toward him.
He was waved away, and Caulkins shakily got to his feet. "I would like to hear more, Sergeant, but I just remembered I have to meet with the press. Captain, we'll talk more later on." He left the room without looking at either one of the men.
"Looked kinda sick, didn't he?" offered Starsky as he watched the door close.
"Sergeant Starsky, sit down. I think it's time you and I had a talk about a lot of things."
Starsky obeyed, puzzled by the usually blunt-speaking captain's conciliatory tone. He looked almost the same, except he was rather pale.
He glanced at his watch. "Listen, Captain, I've got to find my partner. He's been missing for more than five hours now."
"Please. This won't take long. It's been a long time coming." Shemansky's blunt fingers turned a wedding ring around and around, then began tugging at his collar. He called his secretary. "Get Jerry in here, will you? Well, as soon as he gets back."
Glancing pointedly at his watch, Starsky settled in the chair, giving the captain all his attention.
"Have you ever heard of the SIS?" Shemansky asked quietly.
"Maybe...maybe not," replied Starsky. "What about it?"
"When that department was formed in 1965 I was one of the men selected to join. I was young, smart, and too damn brash for my own good. It seemed like a great chance to make my mark. To get away from all the control exercised over the average cop..." He sat back, sighing, then shook his head. "We had the run of the city. Still do, as a matter of fact. Only I don't belong to that bunch anymore. You want to know why?"
"Only if this has somethin' to do with Hutch," Starsky said. "The story of your life can wait until I find him."
"Don't sell what I'm telling you short, Starsky. You need me and I need to find your partner, too. He knows something and he's getting snatched for it!"
"Yeah, well, if you didn't grab him that means he's in more danger than ever, don't it? So say your piece and let me get back on the streets."
"Well, there isn't a single department in Los Angeles that isn't hot to nab Fass. Not only will it end his hold on the dangerous criminal market, we've been trying to put a man into Keating's mob for three years, with no success."
Despite himself, Starsky was interested. "But Hutch told me that you said a mole was already under...and that was part of the trouble. That's why the DA wanted him to go in as Fass, to see if the mole was okay." He could feel his head spinning as the realization hit him. It had all been lies, but why?
The phone rang, and Shemansky snatched it up. "Oh, hello, Harold. Sorry to hear about— Sure, he's here now." He jotted down an address. "I think I've just solved one of OCID's big mysteries. Stop by when you can. I'll send him right over."
Starsky sat staring out the window. It was dark now, and somewhere his lover was being held—or worse, hurt and waiting for help. He flashed back on those days when Hutch had been pinned under his car. Jesus, his bright, beautiful Hutch. But something in Shemansky's tone brought him to his feet. "What's Dobey want? Have they found Hutch?"
"We'll talk later. Your captain wants you to meet him at the West Valley station on Vanowen. Use lights and siren all the way." He hesitated. "Good luck, sergeant."
"It's my partner who needs it, so save your luck for him."
Hutch closed his eyes, trying to count the number of voices he heard. His heart had almost stopped when he realized there were more than two. What if they all came at him at once? His chances were shitty at best, but so long as he had the advantage of surprise, there was still hope.
He tried to move his arm just enough to test it. Pain shot up to his elbow like a hot lance, and he swallowed the bile that rose in his throat in response. So much for using it; he was just thankful it wasn't his right one.
The voices continued their low dialogue, and he wondered where in the hell they were parked. There were no familiar sounds penetrating the steel trunk lid. He could smell little; the dust around him was wreaking havoc with his sinuses. That was laughable...what a time to worry about a stuffy nose!
He wanted to pray, to offer up his tarnished soul before it was too late, but while he had one single breath left he was going to fight. He tried to picture Starsky by his side, but couldn't...not here, not sharing his hell.Jesus, help me!
That was all he had time for; keys were being fitted into the lock, rasping against the metal. He wrapped his fingers tight around the wrench's handle, slitting his eyes so he would look unconscious. He hoped to God none of them had any medical knowledge. The trunk lid opened and he peered up into darkness. Two men were silhouetted there; big as houses, but neither of them held a gun. Maybe...just maybe there was a chance.
"Christ, what if Alex is right and he's dead? What do we do then?" A deep, slow voice asked the question.
"Shit, Stavvy. If you hadn't hit him so stinkin' hard you wouldn't have to ask. Get him outta there."
"How? You said he's got a broken arm...so how do I lift him out?" One of the shadows came closer, peering down into the trunk.
"If he's dead he won't care." Another man speaking in a high, rapid voice, "Come on! If we don't find out what happened to Harry, Helena's going to freak out. Drag him out!"
"Where's the flashlight? I ain't gonna do nothin' until I see him," said the one named Stavvy. "I ain't lifting no dead man without seeing him first."
Hutch knew how to take advantage of the darkness. He moved slowly, almost crying out as he shifted his arm and the bone ends grated. He fought back a sudden wave of nausea, then brought the wrench into position.
"Get the fuckin' flashlight, will you?" demanded someone.
Hutch heard a laugh and waited, trying to get the blood circulating in his legs. What was so funny?
"I'll give you one guess where I keep it. Yeah, in the trunk. If you want it, you'll have to get it yourself." More laughter.
That had to be the bastard who owned the Camaro, but who were these people? They certainly weren't from Keating's mob. They would have had him shot and buried by now instead of arguing.
"Hey, Miklos. You haven't said anything. Why don't you drag him out? Mister Big Shot chicken rancher."
One of the shadows moved closer, twitched at Hutch's pant leg. "See? The big bad cop won't hurt you. Maybe we should send you one of your white feathers?"
The tone had changed, grown surly, and two of the shadows merged, then were joined by a third. It was worse than Hutch had imagined, for now he knew who his captors were. They were Lud Anders' brothers-in-law, and they had sent the feathers to him. Revenge; a motive as old and deadly as humanity itself.
His hopes of being rescued faded; Starsky would be chasing Keating's bunch by now...and never suspect the truth. So...it was up to him. Ever so slowly, he began to move, hoping no light would fall on his hair and give his position away.
He thought about Starsky's fingers sifting, lifting, loving his hair. He wanted to weep at losing so much love.
"This is just great. We've got a body in the trunk and you three assholes are arguing over who's got the biggest balls! You make me sick!"
Hutch opened his eyes wide, needing to locate each speaker. He wanted to shout at them that he wasn't the enemy, but knew that amateur killers were the most dangerous. He had to get away because otherwise he was a dead man.
"I'll do it! It's my car and I want him out of there. Come on, Stavvy, you can at least get his feet." A shadow began moving, leaned in and groped for Hutch's arms.
Hutch swung his weapon full into the shadowy face, then kicked the screaming man away.
"Agghhh!" The form writhed and fell to the ground.
Before anyone could react, Hutch was out of the trunk and staggering away, still clutching the wrench. He'd put one of them out of commission, but he wasn't so sure that the others couldn't catch him. Ahead, a black ribbon of road curved gently around a small grove of trees, and Hutch sought shelter in them, sides heaving while he tried to catch his breath. He bumped his arm and let out a low groan, eyes filling with tears. Where in the hell was he?
But he knew, already, simply because his abductors weren't professional hit me. These four would want to make all their work—if that was the term—assume great significance...as if his death somehow would set to rest Anders' spirit.
An icy calm settled over him, and he moved quietly toward the great bulk of some of the older tombstones. If he lived through this night, he would add it to his collection of recurring nightmares. In fact, it might be the best one of all. "You bastards haven't got me yet," he whispered. And if he could find the fence they never would catch him.
It wasn't to be. He saw lights approaching on the road, and a flashlight probed the darkness. He began to run once again.
"There! I think I see him...focus off the ground...about six feet up. Yeah! Drive the car as close as you can." Alex Collis stripped off his shirt and shoes, then opened the car door. This whole scenario had gone too far. Now Nikki lay back there with a smashed face, and the enemy was trying to flee. He smiled; the cop wouldn't escape him...he could run like the wind. Even if he had objected to the idea of a blood-price, this was different. His brother had been attacked; he wouldn't make the same mistake twice.
He spotted the pale flash of hair and shouted for Miklos to stop the car. Hutchinson had reached the corner of the iron fence and was going to try to climb over it. "Not with that broken arm, you're not," he said with satisfaction. "Let me out here, Mikki, it won't take long.
"Watch the sonuvabitch. He's got the wrench."
Alex made no secret of his approach and when the cop whirled around, he laughed. "You're pretty smart, you know. But because of you, Lud is dead, and my sister's losing her mind. Now my brother's lying back there God-knows-how-badly hurt. You've got a lot to answer for."
The cop didn't say anything, merely turned away, trying to shield his eyes from the light. The broken left arm hung down useless, and Alex sensed then that the man had little reserve energy. His head and face were covered with old blood. He was like an animal at bay, and twice as dangerous.
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"You'll have to put the wrench down in order to climb over the fence, and when you do I'll get you. Why don't you give up and fight like a man?" he sneered.
"You cowardly bastard!" Hutchinson hissed, crouching like a fighter. "Four to one, me with a broken arm, and you dare to call me names!"
"Three to one. My brother's face is caved in, thanks to you. But when we're finished nobody'll recognize you, either." He moved a little closer when he heard Mikki behind him, and he began to smile. "If you're lucky, you won't die. All my sister wants is a piece of your hide."
The tall blond straightened, staring at him with an air of fierce determination. Alex knew a fleeting minute of grudging respect; the man was no coward, but it was too late to change what must be done.
"My partner will track you down, one by one. God help you then!" the cop snarled.
The words were uttered with such terrible conviction that they gave Hutchinson an even more menacing aspect. Alex heard Miklos suck in a breath. Another few seconds and the pendulum might swing in the blond's favor. "He's only one man, Mikki. Let's get him!"
They charged, and Hutch swung the wrench in a deadly arc, catching Alex on the wrist. He heard the crunch, felt a dozen tiny bones shatter, and fell, screaming in agony. "Kill the bastard...kill him!" he howled. Through a red haze, he watched as his brother, head down, made for their desperate prey. He saw one beefy hand reach out and grab the broken arm, and it was all over.
The snap of bone echoed through the still night. Overcome by a wave of pain, Alex lay down, listening to the sound of Miklos extracting the blood-price. The cop never made a sound, never cried out as the blows kept smashing into him. Finally, Alex heard a body slammed down on the car, and lifted his head. Miklos, shirt covered with dark stains, was putting the cop back into the trunk.
Alex struggled to his feet, clutching his wrist. "Let's get Nikki and Stavvy and get out of here."
"We're not done yet," said Miklos grimly, wiping his hands on his pants. "Just get in the car." He closed the trunk, then went to retrieve the wrench.
The car took off circling the cemetery slowly. It stopped once to pick up the two other men, then again as a limp form was carried to a gravesite and dumped on top of it. Moving like a shadow, it sped out of the cemetery gates and off toward the city.
The night wind stirred through the trees, drifted over the blades of grass, cooled the blood oozing from the body sprawled over the grave. From the hills came the lonely call of a coyote. It was answered by a siren somewhere in the distance that wailed, then faded away.
Here and there, crickets began a slow, April dirge.
There was no parking in front of the West Valley station, so Starsky drove past the already full lot, looking for a spot on Vanowen. A small van scooted out into traffic and he slid the Torino into the space with barely an inch to spare. He'd made the run from Parker Center in record time, but even as he ran toward the building, he felt he was too late. It was almost six and dusk was settling over the city. The lights were already on in the station, and as he climbed the steps he felt like a rat on a treadmill. If only he knew—if only somebody new what had happened to Hutch!
He stopped at the front desk, flashing his badge. "Where's Captain Dobey?" he asked curtly, looking down the hall.
"Room 401. Take that corridor and turn left. The sign'll say Interrogation—go right in, they're expecting you," came the equally terse response.
Starsky glanced sharply at the man and nodded. "Thanks," he said, then strode toward the interrogation rooms.
Dobey looked up as he opened the door and entered the room. It was stuffy; the odors only slightly masked by Lysol or some other cleaner. "Whatcha got?" he asked, slightly breathless now that he was here. "Anything about Hutch?"
"Starsky, I want you to meet Lieutenant Barnham. He's the man who called me. Barnham, this is Detective Sergeant Dave Starsky, the missing officer's partner. He's one of my boys."
Oh, Hutch, is that what you are—a missing officer? Starsky nodded, unable to speak. Barnham was about fifty; a stocky man with sympathetic brown eyes. Starsky knew if the man said he was sorry about Hutch, he would probably start to bawl.
The lieutenant took a deep breath, then began. He never took his glance away from Starsky. "About two hours ago we got a phone call, they found a man hiding in an empty dumpster behind a shopping center." Barnham stopped suddenly, and gestured for Starsky to sit down before he continued. "The guy was strung out on coke and it took two more men to subdue him, but we had a doctor look him over and then brought him here to book him." He smiled over at Dobey, who sat there with an intent expression on his heavy features. "To make a long story short, Sergeant, the prisoner suddenly broke down and began confessing something very interesting. He claims he's the one who pushed Templeton's car off the road..."
"What?" Starsky leaped to his feet, pulse racing. "Jesus, maybe he knows what happened to Hutch. Where is he?'
"Take it easy, Dave. Let the man finish his story," Dobey cautioned, but Starsky's whole body bristled with excitement.
"Well, naturally, we wanted to make certain everything was strictly legal—and since he was acting so off-the-wall, we called in legal counsel and a shrink." He regarded Starsky warmly. "Not more than twenty minutes ago he told us Leon Keating was looking for him because he was supposed to snatch a cop and somebody beat him to it."
"Please," Starsky whispered, "let me talk to him...just let me look at him." He turned to his captain, begging, "If he knows anything, he'll tell me. I won't lay a finger on him." So close, God, surely this nightmare would end and he'd have Hutch back safe and sound.
A young police matron tapped on the open door. "'The prisoner's ready, sir. You want him in here?" She saw Starsky and asked, "You carrying your weapon?"
He flushed. "Yeah. Forgot to check it in, sorry. Where do ya keep the lock-ups?"
She smiled. "About five feet away. See?" She pointed to a row of grey metal lock-boxes, some fitted with keys. Turning back to Barnham she repeated her original question. "You want him in here?"
"Please, and send in a stenographer, too." The lieutenant looked over at Dobey after she left. "Stop me if I'm wrong, but this missing man is Hutchinson, right? Part of the Starsky and Hutchinson team from Metro," mused Barnham, running a finger over his upper lip. "You think he's still alive?" he asked abruptly.
"He'd better be..." answered Starsky, returning with a key in his hand. "Or I'm gonna bust this town wide open." He smiled a fierce, challenging smile, but his eyes betrayed his fear.
Barnham motioned to the Metro captain. "Harold, why don't we go up to the observation room and let Sergeant Starsky have the first round with the prisoner? Since Templeton's already dead, maybe it's not too late to save Hutchinson."
The two older men gave Starsky a few, cautionary words, then left the room. Starsky began moving the chairs around to suit himself, then sat down to wait, rehearsing the questions crowding his mind.
By the time the prisoner and his guards arrived, he was ready. The steno got there a minute or two later and took a seat behind Starsky. "Don't take anything down until I tell you to," he said.
The prisoner stood before him, heavily manacled, face haggard from the ravages of the coke. This was no hardened criminal, merely some two-bit punk who'd been unlucky enough to get mixed up with the big boys. Starsky almost felt sorry for him. "Name," he asked softly, hoping the guy would spill his guts.
"I asked you what your name was," he repeated, leaning back in the chair. He knew from years of interrogating prisoners that if they got the impression you were going to take all night questioning them, some of them sang right away. He prayed this sick-looking creep was in a hurry to get back to his cell and toss his cookies.
"Collis—Harry Collis." The words were mumbled, eyes focused on the once-shiny shoe tops.
Starsky wrote the name down, frowning. "That two l's?" he asked, searching his subconscious for the reason the name sounded familiar.
"Yeah. Two r's in Harry." He giggled at his own cleverness.
"Try that again and you'll be sorry!" Starsky snapped. "I want the name of the cop you were supposed to snatch...and don't even think about lyin' to me." He glanced over at the jailer leaning against the wall and saw approval in his expression. He was young, but mean-looking, and Starsky almost smiled. A punk like this would think twice about messing with that guy. "You got a hearing problem? I asked you his name!" He got to his feet and leaned across the desk, barely controlling his fury and desperation.
"Keating wanted him—and that little runty guy with him—they told me to—to use the dead guy's gun to persuade him to come with me." Harry's hands shook and a thin trail of saliva drooled down the side of his mouth. "But I never had a chance—"
"Why the hell not? What stopped you? Lose your nerve?" Starsky taunted, studying the man's face intently. Why the fuck did he look so familiar? Where had he seen Collis before?
"I ain't afraid of nothin', you pig face!" Collis retorted. "Least of all a chicken cop—" He stopped, a look of horror replacing the bravado.
"If you don't spell out the name, you'll be eatin' your dinner through a straw!" This time Starsky came from behind the desk, removing his jacket and tossing it on top of the desk. "C'mon, big mouth, fight me!"
But there was no fight left in the prisoner. He flinched, then stuttered, "H-Hutchinson...that's his name."
Starsky wanted to smash the mouth blaspheming his lover's name, but with Hutch's life at stake, he couldn't risk it. "Okay. That's more like it. Now, you say you didn't snatch him, but if he turns up dead, you're our prime suspect. It'll be Murder One for you, and you can guess what happens to cop-killers before they go to trial?" He smiled the smile he knew put the fear of God into men like this.
"I didn't go anywhere near him! I swear to God he was already gone!"
Starsky's voice dropped, becoming silky smooth. He reached out and patted the quivering man on the shoulder. "But you know who did snatch him, don't you?"
"NO! On my mother's honor—"
"Your mother didn't have any honor. She had you, didn't she?" Starsky accused with withering scorn, noting the ugly red flush at the insult.
"You watch it, pig!" Collis said hotly, hands balling into fists, "or I'm gonna—"
Starsky's fingers wrapped themselves around the clenched fingers and began to squeeze. "Say one more word that don't tell me what I want to hear and you won't be able to hold your spoon any more, little boy! You goddamn better talk because that missing cop is my partner, and we go back a helluva long way!"
He saw beads of sweat appearing on Collis' upper lip and let go, satisfied. "Who'd got him, Harry? Before things get worse, tell me."
To his utter amazement, Collis fell to his knees, rocking back and forth in a spasm of grief. He crossed himself several times, crying out, "God forgive us! God help us! Helena—we did it for Helena." He buried his face in his hands, body still wracked with gut-wrenching sobs.
He was too late. Hutch must already be dead, and this bastard had known all the time. "I'm gonna tear you limb from limb," he whispered, "and then I'll get the rest of them."
"No, they weren't going to kill him." Harry raised a tear-stricken countenance to Starsky. "It was for Lud and Helena, that's all...the blood-price."
"Oh, my God!" The room swam as Starsky fought to keep from passing out. Anders, reaching out from the grave, his mad family vowing revenge. He knelt beside Collis, eyes burning with hate. "You telling me he's alive? You listen, scum, 'cause I'm gonna give you one chance to live— Where is he? Where'd they take my partner?"
Harry's head was down, but at the question he managed to look up. "We were suppos-supposed to take him to Lud's grave and l-leave him there. We were just gonna work him over—" He fell silent.
Starsky remembered now. The huge brothers and their pregnant sister, all filled with hate. And, as he remembered them, another piece of the puzzle dropped into place. The time he'd gotten the registration on the Camaro...it had been a man with the last name of Collis. Neither he nor Hutch had ever made the connection with Lud Anders. They'd just taken it for granted he worked for Shemansky or Templeton.
"Take us there," he said dully, retrieving his jacket. Even if there were just the four men, Hutch wouldn't have had a chance. He felt sick; sick of all of it. So much goddamn pain. What in hell was wrong with the world?
"Watch he doesn't get away," he cautioned the guard. "I gotta talk to my captain."
Less than five minutes later, phones were ringing in precincts all over the Los Angeles basin with orders to pick up Leon Keating and friends. At the same time four units from Valley, and two from Metro were streaking toward the hills.
"So what do you think you're doing?" Leon Keating asked angrily. "You ain't going nowhere."
Coral sniffed, "Leon, honey, if there's one thing I know, it's when to split. You can slap me around, beat me until I drop, but your best bet is to slip me a couple of grand and let me get out of town. That way I don't get arrested, and I don't tell the boys in blue what I know about you." She smiled her little girl smile before holding out her hand. "Make it three grand and let me keep the diamonds."
He cocked his head in disbelief, finally realizing she was dead serious. "I ought to kill you right now—"
She shook her head, still smiling. "Maybe you should, but now ain't the time, and we both know it." She turned to the man watching them and said, "Am I right or not, Al? I bought a ticket under a false name yesterday, and paid cash for it. If Leon is as smart as he's supposed to be he'll pay me off and kiss me good-bye." Her blue eyes glittered with a hard light that her young face didn't reflect.
Caulkins shrugged. "Pay her, Leon. The last thing you need is for Coral to disappear the way Fass did." He walked toward her, nodding his approval. "You're a survivor, my dear, I like that."
He reached into his suit coat and drew out a leather case. "Here's the number of someone who can forge a passport to anywhere in the world. Mention my name and he'll give you a good price." He handed her a blue-embossed card.
"You mean I should let this bimbo walk out on me?" demanded Keating, aghast. "Nobody does that! It's bad for business—"
"Shut up, Leon!" Caulkins warned. "Pay her and let her go. She's clever and she's not going to talk. You're wasting time!"
While Coral finished packing, Leon opened the safe and withdrew a stack of bills, counting them out with care. When he reached three thousand he sighed, then placed a small velvet box on top of the bills. "She don't deserve that much," he said stubbornly, fingering the box.
"She deserves a thousand more. Give it to her. That will ensure her silence and loyalty," Caulkins said evenly.
"No shit! As soon as she's out that door, she's dead. Like I said, nobody walks on me."
Caulkins crossed the room, his face blank with anger. "What is it with you types? Do you honestly think you can strew dead bodies all over and get away with it indefinitely? I've covered for you as long as I can, Leon. If John Templeton was onto us, then others must be, or will be before too long." His grey eyes bored into the gangster's. "Let Coral go. You won't regret it."
The girl, who had been standing in the doorway, came in carrying her suitcase. She put her arms around the smaller man and kissed his cheek. "You're a slimeball, Al, but underneath it you respect the little guy. Thanks."
She took the stack of bills, opened the box to check the jewels, and grinned saucily at the glowering Keating. "It wasn't all bad, honey. You're a great lay, but then, so am I." She drew his face down, kissing him with genuine affection. "I hope they don't catch you, baby."
The money and diamonds were slipped into her purse, and she waved as she left them standing there.
"I'm going to send Alonzo after her—" Keating vowed, reaching for the phone. "He'll carve her into mincemeat."
"Leon, put the phone down."
Keating turned and saw Caulkins standing with drawn pistol. "You outta your fuckin' mind?" he shrieked. "You can't kill me!"
"Actually, I can—with the law's blessing," Caulkins replied gravely, "but I don't want to. What you and I have to do is make certain we have alibis for two murders. Templetons' and Fass'." He laughed dryly. "All in all, I'd rather face a grand jury than the friends and clients of Wilhelm Fass. Your greed's made your brain go soft." He put the gun away and pointed his finger toward Keating's study. "The first thing we have to do is destroy anything linking you to my office."
The younger man was silent for a few minutes, but as he pulled out one sheaf of papers, he turned, lip curled. "And who in hell's gonna pay me back that fifteen grand I shelled out to frame the cop? Your eager-beaver assistant was quick enough to take the dough, but I ain't seen one red cent of it back."
"Don't worry. The SIS will see you're reimbursed—if I handle it right. How were we to know Hutchinson had that kind of money?"
This time it was Keating who heaped on the scorn. "You guys have got spies up people's asses, but you didn't even know he was rich...whose brain went soft then, eh?" He locked glances with his accomplice. "I want that money back, because so far I got nothin' to show for my investment. That's bad business, Al."
Before Caulkins could reply, the phone rang and Keating grabbed the cordless receiver. This was his private line and when this phone rang, he knew it was important. "Yeah." He flipped on the amplifier so Caulkins could hear, too.
"Trouble, Boss. I was following Collis, like you said, and the little asshole got picked up by the cops for disturbin' the peace." It was Alonzo, his nasal whine jarring on the ears.
"So? You go his bail and get rid of him?"
"No dice. The heat is holding him incommunicado. No bail, no nothin'. I couldn't get near him." There was the sound of a sneeze. "Shit! My ass is freezin' out here."
But Keating ignored his complaints. "What're you talking about? How come the cops didn't just toss him in the drunk tank?" He began to sweat, and saw Caulkins frowning.
"That's what I'm coming to, boss. He musta been coming down from that coke, 'cause he started yellin' about how he didn't snatch the cop—that you wanted him to, but somebody beat him to it—and that he'd pushed Templeton's car off the road."
Keating was on his feet, face pale as old milk. "How do you know that? Who told you?" he snarled.
"Gimme some credit, man. I stood bail for one of the drunks in the tank and he heard the whole damn story right from Collis' mouth. And if Harry told the boys in the tank, then he musta sung like a canary for the squeezes, right?" Another ear-shattering sneeze before the hit man continued. "I been waiting out here for over an hour, and something must've happened because a whole goddamn army of black and whites just took off. Funny thing is, they didn't all head in the same direction. I was wondering if they were coming to pick you up. Thought I better tell you—Boss? Hey, what was that noise? Leon? You got somebody there—That sounded like a shot! Hey, Boss!!"
Albert Caulkins gingerly stepped over Keating's body and scooped up a bundle of papers. Taking them into the bathroom, he dumped them into the tub, then liberally doused them with Coral's perfume before lighting them. While they burned, he raided Keating's safe, making certain he dropped enough money around to make the motive look like robbery. He moved quickly and quietly, taking Coral's picture out of the frame and tossing it onto the fire...she was a nice girl and had been kind to him in her own way. The smoke alarm went off, its insistent buzzing an irritant. Since it was merely an alarm, he ignored it, going about his business until he'd removed all connections of his dealings with Keating. When he was satisfied, he let himself out of the penthouse, rode down the elevator to the basement, going out the service entrance.
However, instead of heading home, he drove to a street corner in Silver Lake, sold his gun for eighty dollars to a punk who couldn't wait to use it in a drive-by. That done, he called the fire department, posing as one of Keating's neighbors who just happened to smell smoke.
He felt safe, now. Keating and Fass were both dead...as was, no doubt, Hutchinson. It was too bad about John, but it had come down to which one lived, and he'd made the choice first. He had four passports ready and waiting; a suitcase filled with money, and a paid-for chalet in Switzerland. He would be ready to start a new life as soon as he took care of a few loose ends.
He frowned, wishing he had heard more of Leon's conversation with his hit man. From the fear on Keating's face, the news hadn't been good. Probably Fass' men were in town. He shrugged; he'd done the idiot a favor by killing him if that was true. When it came right down to it, one could only count on oneself.
Mount Olive Cemetery had closed its gates at sundown, leaving its green lawns and winding roads empty of trespassers. Here and there, hordes of pale moths danced in the auras of the street lamps. An occasional bat, swooping down, would disturb their aimless, soundless cotillion. But the ranks would close as soon as the raider disappeared, and the dance would resume. Other than the leaves rustling in the breeze, there was only that silence that so disturbs the living.
The peace was shattered in an instant; into the confines of the cemetery roared the black and whites, their sirens wailing, their doors opening to spill forth grim, determined men with weapons at the ready. To the forefront was pushed a man who stumbled and had to be steadied. Manacles gleamed like silver bracelets on his wrists.
"Which way?" Starsky, eyes smudged with exhaustion, held himself under tight control. If left to himself he would've dragged Collis to their destination just to speed things up, but Dobey had cautioned him to keep things legal.
Collis pointed toward a gently sloping hillside. "Over there, just off the road. H-he should be there."
"If he ain't, and you're stalling, nothin's gonna keep me from killing you," Starsky warned. He began the short climb, legs trembling with fear. The last time it had been downhill, chasing Victor Humphries into that dry, dusty ravine. That had been five years ago, and here he was again...
Dear God, don't let me be too late. Behind him, voices low, came the patrolmen, keen eyes searching each gravesite for any sign of Hutch. When a flashlight's beam lit something that reflected back the light, Starsky shouted, "There! I see him!"
He raced the few yards, flinging himself down to gather the limp body close. "Hutch, oh Jesus, Hutch...please, don't be dead..." He looked up into a sea of faces, some open-mouthed in shock. "Don't just stand there!" he snapped. "I want every inch of this place searched in case they're still here." It was then he turned to look at this man he loved so much, barely recognizing the battered, terribly sad face. "Hutch?" he murmured, "Aw, babe, what did they do to you?"
"The ambulance'll be here any minute, Sergeant," someone said in a hushed voice. "Maybe you better put him down."
His reply was to draw Hutch closer, to bury his face in the cold, blood-soaked hair. With shaking fingers Starsky pulled the matted tendrils away from the broad forehead, examined the ominous bulge on the skull. When he saw the broken arm, though, he had a sudden flash of insight and knew that Hutch had never had a fighting chance. He began to weep, shaking his head in dumb misery as he held his lover to his heart. "Listen to me, Hutch. It's all over 'cept for you to get better." He felt like an animal, unable to fight the unseen enemy. Hutch was so cold...so still.
"Babe, listen, will ya? It's me—it's Dave. You gotta hear me, Hutch..." Through misted lashes he asked one of the men who was standing beside him, "Where the fuck's the ambulance? He's gonna die out here!"
"Sarge—it's here. See, they're bringing a stretcher." The cop stood up, striding down the slope to say something to one of the medics.
"Dead? You sure? Well, we'll check him out, anyway." The paramedic who spoke set his equipment next to Starsky. "I understand the victim's your partner. Can we take a look at him?" He went to place his hand on Hutch's temple, but on taking a look into Starsky's eyes, drew it back. "Every minute counts, from the look of things."
"He told you Hutch was dead, didn't he?" Starsky said dully. "He can't be—he's got too much to live for! I—we—" He bent his head. "Save him..." he whispered, "he's a good cop."
Hands gently lifted Hutch from him, laying him down on a blanket. Starsky sat back on his heels, watching the three men while they worked with amazing efficiency. When one of them lifted his head and nodded, his heart almost stopped. "He's alive?"
"As of this minute, he is. But we've got to get him to the hospital. He's in pretty bad shape."
Starsky watched while an IV was started, the fluid dripping at full speed into Hutch's right arm. A splint hid the left arm, and when he was placed on the stretcher, one of the men wrapped what looked like a silver blanket around him, taping it in place.
Starsky came to life, as the medics began rolling the stretcher down the incline. He snapped orders at the patrolmen, telling Metro teams to follow the ambulance to the hospital. "I want a cop at his door around the clock. And somebody get on the horn and tell Captain Dobey we found him—and he's alive." He clambered into the ambulance just as they reached to shut the door. "I won't get in the way, but we don't know if the goons who did this are waiting to ambush us somewhere else."
The ambulance began rolling, slowly at first, then with increasing speed. When it passed through the cemetery gates the siren sounded. Starsky's stomach lurched...such a familiar sound. Always meant something bad had happened. He studied the equipment stashed around them...if it didn't help Hutch, none of it was worth a damn.
One of the medics shot him a look full of curiosity. "Why'd he get worked over this way? What did he do wrong?"
Starsky stared at him, then over at the too-still form. "It was something he didn't do. And he was right." He felt the sting of tears begin, and turned away, wiping at his eyes, denying the ache in his heart. What in everlovin' hell was he going to do if Hutch died?
He tried thinking about his report, on the whys and wherefores of this whole scene, but the blurred images of the two men working Hutch over kept intruding. Nobody had ever loved him the way his partner did...even his mom said so. And, since that was the case, how had Hutch faced the future when Gunther's hit had nearly killed him? He went after the old bastard; tracked him down, drove him into the ground and then arrested him. Hutch had something to do...to keep him busy. How could he seek revenge on a crazy widow and her family?
"Hey, Sergeant, c'mere'."
He was on his feet instantly, hovering as close to Hutch as he could get "What is it?" he murmured, gazing down at the battered features.
"Wait...there..." One hand pushed Starsky closer, into Hutch's line of view. "Say something."
"Hutch? Can you hear me? It's all over..." He shook his head. "We're gonna get 'em, babe. It's all over."
He saw Hutch's right eyelid flutter, watched as his mouth tried to frame a word...and couldn't. With infinite tenderness he took the fingers of that big right hand and held them. "How'd you do it, partner? How did you keep from getting killed?" He pressed the hand to his mouth, not caring if he was seen or not. The knuckles were skinned and raw, but they were warming to his touch and that cheered him. He saw Hutch's lips move again so he bent closer, trying to hear what his lover was saying.
"Too...m'ch...to...live...f'r...right?" A ghost of a smile drifted across his face, then fled.
"That's all, sir. Can you move out of the way?" The medic was all business again, not really seeing him.
It was all right. Starsky had heard those few, halting words and they were enough to make him smile. No matter what they had to face, he knew Hutch was going to fight to stay alive. Like he had, and for the same reason. There was somebody who loved them enough to make everything worth while. When they arrived at the hospital he watched them roll the stretcher though the hospital doorway, then went to call his captain.
It was almost ten when Albert Caulkins arrived home. He had dined at Spago's, deliberately speaking to all the 'right' people to establish an alibi. He had experienced only a few panicky minutes when a patrol car—siren and flashing lights—had passed him on La Cienega. That was the one thing he mustn't do! If he was to see this through he must remain visible...and calm.
Despite the travesty at Keating's, he felt the day had gone rather well. There were really only two loose ends he could think of, Alonzo and Hutchinson, and if the detective was dead, so much the better. If not, it might be necessary to arrange for Hutchinson's immediate disappearance. He dismissed Keating's flunky, Alonzo, without a qualm. The man was an idiot.
Fass' friends weren't a threat either. They had no knowledge of his connection to the late Leon. He smiled; it had been a simple enough task to learn all of their names...Keating had boasted of his 'European connections.' It might be quite fitting if he fed the information to Interpol. Especially if he suddenly needed to leave the country.
His sense of satisfaction grew; he'd always been self-effacing, willing to let men like John Templeton take the spotlight. The press and public were inclined to believe those tall, handsome men who mouthed platitudes and breathed righteous indignation into the camera's eye. Vain, for the most part, they never seemed to realize they weren't running things.
The lights were on in his wife's bedroom and he wondered if she had eaten yet. She often waited until he came home; she liked telling him about her day, and he enjoyed listening to her chatter.
He was extremely proud of his home; it sat behind tall hedges, hidden from public view, an oasis of tranquility only a mile from center city. He placed his briefcase on the small, Georgian desk that sat in the hallway. Tomorrow would be soon enough to go through the papers; they were innocuous enough, nothing to connect him to Keating's sordid doings.
He decided to watch the news; perhaps Keating's body had been found—or Hutchinson's. He would need to be on his toes now that John was dead. Perhaps tomorrow he should also make certain that the Lear jet was fueled and ready. One should never be too careful.
He wasn't alone.
Frowning, Caulkins paused in the doorway, listening to someone taking a deep breath. He reached behind him for his gun, then remembered what he'd done with it.
"Turn on the light, Al." The voice was gruff, and vaguely familiar. He obeyed.
Harold Dobey sat in the large contour chair, filling it to overflowing. The captain's dark gaze was stern, his eyes never wavering. His revolver didn't waver, either.
"What are you doing here?" Caulkins demanded, anger overcoming caution. "If you don't have a warrant, I'll have you up on charges!" He started to walk toward the small table which supported his phone.
"The gun's gone, Al. And the warrant's all signed, and quite official." A different voice this time, but even more familiar. Marvin Shemansky, standing at the far end of the room. "Yeah, it's me. I got tired of being your patsy. Harold convinced me your side isn't on the up and up."
"This—this is an outrage! Get me the DA—I want to talk to my lawyer," Caulkins sputtered.
"Don't you want to know why we're here?" the Metro captain asked soberly. "Or have you guessed?" He looked over at the OCID captain and shook his head.
"You have nothing on me. I want to see my lawyer," Caulkins reiterated, determined to get to the bottom of this.
Shemansky came toward him, holding something wrapped in plastic. His bravado melted away; it was the pistol he'd sold to the young home-boy with wild eyes. "How did you get that?" he whispered.
Dobey cleared his throat. "Routine police work, Al. We've had you followed ever since John Templeton's death." His laugh was bitter. "We were determined to protect you from meeting the same fate, isn't that ironic?"
No. "I can explain everything," Caulkins began, thinking rapidly. "Right after John was killed, I got a tip—"
"Your wife's diabetic, isn't she?" interrupted Dobey. "In fact, you have to give her her daily injection of insulin, don't you? She was very cooperative, telling us how good you are with a needle and syringe." He pulled himself up out of the chair, adjusting his trousers with one hand. His glance narrowed, hardened with disgust as he closed the distance between them. "In fact, Marvin tells me you were a medic during the war..."
"What are you driving at?" Caulkins glanced wildly at both men, seeing what others had seen; men who gave no quarter where justice was concerned. He met Shemansky's gaze, and saw disbelief in his eyes. "Marvin! Don't believe what this—this liberal fool is saying! You and I both know how hard it is to bring people like Keating and Fass to trial."
He tried to raise a smiled and failed. "It's cops like him—" he pointed to the impassive black man, "who make it easy for criminals to stay in business by letting the little fish slip off the line. We need men like you—men who won't let the lawbreakers escape—"
"Just shut the fuck up, Al," said Shemansky wearily, turning away. "Harold knows all about your using my department for your own purposes." He sighed, shaking his head like a tired bull. "I may be a blockhead, and believe that the courts are too goddamn easy on crooks, and I may think that cops should take assignments—" He turned red, and stared into space. "But there's no way in hell I'd ever set up a brother officer and send him to his death like you did."
He took the wrapped pistol and thrust it in his pocket. "We found Keating's body right after you left his penthouse, you know. The fire you so cleverly set in the bathtub hadn't burned itself out—lots of paper fragments for SI to play with..." He grinned suddenly, exchanging looks with Dobey. "And, Harold's men picked up Keating's girlfriend before she had time to get into her car. You were wrong, Al. She talked. God, how she talked."
Caulkins opened his mouth to defy his accusers, but before he said anything Dobey spoke up. "Don't say another word, Al. I'm going to read you your rights, then we're going down to the station and book you on two counts of Murder One."
"And then what?" Caulkins sneered. "I'll be out on bail in an hour."
"No, you won't," Dobey retorted. "Natalie Scott is going to see to that. She's a real bright lady." He scowled, jabbing his forefinger against the smaller man's chest. "And just to make you really happy, Detective Hutchinson is alive at the moment. If he dies, I'm going to see that his death is added to your dossier, you got that!"
Caulkins said nothing, merely allowed himself to be hustled away. There had to be some loophole, someway to escape this trap. He was too clever to have tripped himself up. Someone else should pay; he wasn't going to end up in prison, not to face all the men he'd sent up. He shuddered.