The bodies fell, the smoke cleared, and Hutch scrambled from behind the couch. He shouted to Starsky, who was rolling out from behind the chair, cursing.
“Starsk – you okay?”
“Damn, tore my jeans.”
“Starsky, you got weird priorities. Guy almost blows your head off and you’re worried about your crummy blue jeans.” Hutch stood, slipping his Magnum back into the holster, kicking guns away from bodies. Never hurt to be sure – he’d hate to get it in the back from a perp who was supposed to be dead.
“Guess you can buy me a new pair, Captain – thanks for the warning.” Starsky turned to the doorway where Dobey had been standing when the gunfight erupted.
They had all three gone to serve the warrant on Jimmy Shoes, a crown prince in Stryker’s little mafia kingdom. They had been working for over a year to bring him down – started by Starsky when he was confined to the desk after Gunther, picked up by Hutch after he got done with the high-profile court case that followed, and then finished by Dobey when he had stumbled upon an old bench warrant and used it to get a new search warrant on Shoes’ donut shop. There they found all the evidence they needed. Automatic weapons, drugs, the ledger where Jimmy had painstakingly written each and every sale in even columns. It had turned out to be one of the best nights of Starsky’s life as he helped himself to at least two dozen donuts while he searched.
But Jimmy Shoes must have gotten wind of the arrest warrant, because when they arrived, they were shown into the house nicely enough, and then lured into the living room where two goons were waiting. If Dobey hadn’t noticed the shadow of a man in the kitchen, they would have needed the coroner’s wagon.
“Oh, God . . .”
Starsky heard Hutch’s soft prayer and turned to see him huddled over the still figure of Dobey, sprawled in the doorway. Hutch turned to Starsky, eyes wide.
Starsky knelt down beside Dobey, assessing the damage.
Dobey groaned and opened his eyes. The first bullet out of Tiny McGraw’s gun had hit him. Tiny had been just inside the kitchen door, his .38 aimed at Starsky’s chest. Dobey had shouted the warning which sent Starsky over the back of the chair, and then the .38 had swung around to him. He had been caught in the frame of the door. There was blood everywhere. Looked like the captain had one in the leg, the shoulder, and another somewhere in the midsection.
“You guys okay?” Dobey whispered. He moved his hand and laid it on Starsky’s knee. “Ripped your pants, son?”
Starsky looked at Hutch, who grabbed a pillow from the couch and pressed it against Dobey’s leg. He tossed Starsky the other pillow and Starsky shoved it under Dobey’s suit coat, pressing firmly on his shoulder.
Detective Campos, first on the scene, stopped in the doorway. “Son of a . . .”
“Manny – get a fucking ambulance!” Hutch roared, coming to life. He turned to Dobey. “Captain, how you doing?”
“How does it look like I’m doing? I’m bleeding like a stuck pig and all I got is you two hovering over me like mother hens. Hurts like hell . . .”
He grimaced and tried to move away from the pain. Starsky watched the blood seep through the fabric of the pillow and pressed harder. Dobey reached up to push Starsky away, to relieve the pressure, but his hand was caught by Hutch.
“Don’t move, Cap – we don’t know what kind of damage you got going on. Try not to move. Help’s coming.” Hutch looked at Starsky and shook his head.
“Will you two cut that shit out?” Dobey managed a ghost of his usual growl.
“What shit?” Starsky pressed harder. An ambulance siren wailed its arrival.
“That eye thing. Like you think I don’t see you.” Dobey groaned and took in a breath. He’d forgotten how much getting shot hurt. The last time he had been in this position, the man holding his chest had been boohooing like a baby. Elmo Jackson, big, tough, badass detective, clutching his hand, bawling his
eyes out . . .
better not fucking die on me, Harold.”
“Harold? Now I know it’s serious. Come on, Elmo – get a grip. People’s gonna be here soon and what are they gonna think – you laying all over me, crying?”
“What eye thing?” Starsky asked, bringing the captain back to the present.
“You know what eye thing,” he croaked. “Every blasted thing I say to you two – you check it with each other. Gets downright disrespectful . . . see right there, that’s what I mean.”
Starsky had glanced at Hutch when Dobey was talking, but now they both made an effort to focus only on Dobey’s face, which was ashen and sweating.
“Hang on, Cap – help is coming. You just hang on,” Starsky soothed.
Sirens echoed through the room and two paramedics barreled in. Hutch moved out of the way and as Starsky tried to move to make room, Dobey grabbed his arm and pulled him back down.
“Don’t tell Edith, yet.”
“But Cap . . .”
“No, Starsky – not yet. That’s an order. Wait till you know I’m gonna make it.”
Starsky looked at Hutch, remembered the captain’s reprimand, and quickly looked back down. “Okay, Cap – not till we know.”
Captain Dobey closed his eyes, hoping his life insurance policy would be enough for the kids.
“This is weird.” Starsky handed Hutch a cup of coffee.
They were in the surgery waiting room. Edith Dobey sat on the couch opposite them, cradling a sleeping Rosie, while Cal stretched out his long legs on the floor beside them. The rest of the chairs were filled with cops. Cops lined the hallway all the way down to admitting. Cops waited in line in the cafeteria, buying up every donut and sweet roll in the place. Outside, at least six cops huddled around a trash can, smoking. Waiting. Hoping. Praying.
“What’s weird?” Hutch took the coffee and scooted over so Starsky could share part of his chair.
“Hardly ever sit in a waiting room with you. Usually for you. Feels weird.”
“Yeah . . .” Hutch was not about to follow Starsky down that particular road. He had spent the good part of a month in this hospital – his back was well acquainted with many of these chairs. Plus, maudlin was an emotion he didn’t need to add to his growing list. He was having a hard enough time appearing brave for Edith. He knew it was going to be close, if they had gotten Cap here in time. But there had been so much blood. He was so tired of mopping up other people’s blood. He was so tired of waiting in waiting rooms. He rubbed a hand over his face, leaned over and placed a hand on Edith’s shoulder.
“How are you doing?” he asked.
Although they had promised Dobey they wouldn’t tell Edith, on the way to the hospital Starsky had picked up her and the kids. Dobey would just have to deal with it. They both knew that the wrath of their captain paled in comparison to the wrath of a cop’s wife kept in the dark about her husband’s shooting.
“How long, Ken?”
Hutch looked at his watch. “Six hours. Doctor said it might take a while.”
Detective Manny Campos came around the corner. “Can I see you guys?”
Starsky and Hutch followed him back down the hallway. All conversation stopped, and a sizable crowd gathered around the three detectives. Campos opened his mouth to complain, but Starsky laid a hand on his arm.
“We all wanna know, Campos. Let it be.”
Campos took a breath and then started talking in low tones. “Looks like you guys got Tiny McGraw and Lester Collins. No sign of Jimmy Shoes, Wally Stover, or anybody else. You were set up from the word go.”
“Fucking Shoes,” muttered Starsky, “what do we gotta do to get a break with that guy?”
The doctor walked down the hall toward Edith Dobey. The officers moved as a unit as they followed the doctor, surrounding the family and Hutch, who took Rosie in his arms as Edith stood and faced the doctor. And the news.
“He’s out of surgery. We got all the fragments. Took the appendix. He lost a lot of blood, but I think if we can keep any infections down, he should be okay.”
Edith sagged into Starsky’s arms and he led her into a chair.
Cal stood next to his mother and took her hand. “It’s okay, Mom – I told you he’s gonna be okay. Dad’s tough.”
Starsky patted Cal on the back. “You got that right, Cal – probably be back chewing my tail in no time.”
As the news traveled down the halls, through the cafeteria and outside, the hospital emptied. Officers headed back to the job, back to their lives, and back out on the streets. Until the next time. For these officers, there would always be a next time. A cop gets used to hospitals.
“When can I see him?” Edith asked the doctor.
“Come with me, Mrs. Dobey – he’s in recovery, but you can wait and go with him when they transfer him to ICU.”
“Cal, watch your sister,” Edith called back as she followed the doctor down the hall.
Starsky walked into the squad room the next morning with a wicked headache, drums banging in both ears, and sunglasses pulled down over bloodshot eyes. He and Hutch had celebrated their close call at Huggy’s very late, until Huggy had called a cab for them both, walking them out and shoving them into it, ignoring the protests of the cabbie and the loud singing of one very hammered Hutch.
Starsky had flashed his badge at the poor man, and then immediately dropped it into the gutter. Huggy had to slip the cabbie an extra twenty to take them home. The last glimpse Huggy caught of his sauced friends was Starsky’s white ass, hanging out the window, mooning him a goodbye.
“Why I put up with those two . . .” Huggy had muttered as he walked back into The Pits. Of course he knew why he put up with them. And he knew that the events of the day had shaken them more than they would ever admit. Huggy had gathered, in between the first macho retelling and then the drunken, more emotional retelling, that if it hadn’t been for Dobey, the gathering this night would have been a wake – for Starsky. Too soon after the last disaster for any of them to handle sober.
So Starsky was not in the best of shape this morning. But he was no worse than Hutch, who followed Starsky through the door with a weary frown, bloodshot eyes, and matching sunglasses. Hutch walked over, poured himself a cup of coffee, and sank into his chair. Starsky straddled his own chair and laid his head on the desk.
Manny Campos closed the file he was reading and smiled. “Oh, Starsky,” he called out.
“Campos – Jesus, keep it down,” Hutch grimaced over the edge of his cup.
“Manny,” Starsky muttered, his head still down on his arms, “don’t talk to me today.”
“Just thought you guys might want to go meet the new captain.”
Both heads swung around to him.
“What new captain?” Starsky shoved the sunglasses up on his head so he could get a better look at the smirk on Campos’ face.
“Seeing that Dobey’s gonna be laid up a while, they sent a replacement.” Campos’ voice was even, his manner casual. Something was up.
“Who?” Hutch asked.
Campos waited for a beat. The rest of the squad stopped talking, turned toward him. The room grew unusually still.
“Oh, well, I think you know her, Starsky.” Campos baited the hook.
“Know who?” Starsky stood, took the bait.
“I think you worked for her once . . . didn’t he, Campbell?”
Steve Campbell, who had been listening, frowned. “Hey, Manny – don’t get me in the middle of this. I want no part of it.”
Hutch had walked over till he was nose to nose with Campos. “Cut the shit, Manny – who is it?”
Campos ignored Hutch and turned back toward Starsky. “Well, Starsky, our new captain is none other than . . .”
The opening of Dobey’s door interrupted them. Everyone turned to see the object of the conversation glide through. Starsky turned last. The sunglasses fell down over his eyes as he whispered, “Kira.”
Hutch just stood with his mouth open. He had heard through the grapevine that Kira had made captain – he had used some choice words to express his ideas about the probable method she had used to climb so far so fast – but this had to be a mistake.
Kira, for her part, had the decency to look uncomfortable. Her blonde hair was pulled back into a bun; her slate-grey suit gave her a look of authority. Even her shoes – one inch black pumps – screamed respectability. She looked from one man to the other, willing her hands to stop shaking. It was hard to enjoy the bitter irony of the situation when she stood so close. Her first command. What a joke.
“Sergeant Starsky – Sergeant Hutchinson.” Kira smiled, trying to appear casual.
“No way,” Starsky shook his head. “No fucking way.”
Hutch rounded the desk and pulled Starsky toward the coffee pot. “Starsky – cool it.”
Starsky shrugged out of Hutch’s grasp and shook his finger at Kira.
“No fucking way are you gonna be my captain.”
“Sergeant Starsky – if you would please come into my office . . .”
“Ain’t your office,” Starsky interrupted, “ain’t never gonna be your office.”
Campos had come around the other side of the desks and grabbed Starsky’s left arm. Hutch had his right. They both felt the tension in Starsky’s body as he glared at the woman he had, until this moment, only been able to call “fucking bitch.”
“Come on, Starsky – not out here,” Hutch whispered in his ear.
“Yeah, Starsk – not here.” Manny felt Hutch tug on Starsky and he did the same. They managed to get him through the door into Dobey’s office. Kira followed and shut the door behind them.
The squad room erupted. Bets were laid, money changed hands. Odds were good the dynamic duo would not live to see the return of Dobey. A side bet had Starsky over Captain Gorgeous at two to one. Campbell, who had a bit more information than the rest since he had worked the case with them, bet a fifty dollar bill that one or both or all three would get suspended before the day was out.
Starsky stood just inside the door, arms pulled firmly into his sides, fists clinched. Hutch stood so that he was equal distance between his agitated partner and Kira. She walked around to Dobey’s chair, changed her mind, and settled onto the edge of the desk.
Campos slid casually to the other door, hoping to disappear under the cloud of tension that had settled around the room.
“Detective Campos, you can go . . .”
“Oh, no, Manny stays,” Hutch said evenly. “He’s part of the squad, too. Plus, I don’t particularly trust you, lady – I want a witness in here.”
“Hey, really Hutch – looks like you guys got something to talk about . . .”
“Got nothing to say . . . nothing.” Starsky’s eyes never left Kira.
“Please, guys – I know this is not the best situation, but can we just discuss it like rational adults?” Kira crossed her arms and chose to look at Hutch.
Hutch wiped his face, pointed Campos into a chair, and turned his back on Kira. He grasped Starsky’s shoulders, cutting off his line of vision to Kira, and looked right into his eyes. He squeezed until Starsky was forced to look at him.
“No, Hutch. I don’t care. No way . . .”
Hutch interrupted, “Listen to me, buddy. You gotta get a grip. We will fix this – but you can’t get yourself suspended in the process.”
He pulled Starsky closer, patting his back, and whispered, “We survived her once, we can do it again,” and pulled away to look into his eyes again. “We just have to get some things straight, right?” He winked at Starsky and turned back to Kira.
Kira waited, fascinated by the exchange. She watched Starsky lower his head, take a deep breath, and walk over to the empty chair, settling on the arm before Hutch took the seat. She went around and sat in Dobey’s chair, trying to regain the advantage that the surprise had given her – the advantage just negated by whatever Hutch had whispered to Starsky.
Manny felt the change in the room. He settled into his chair and crossed his legs. He tried to find a spot on the wall that could fascinate him for the rest of this confrontation he was forced to witness. He just hoped a subpoena was not in his future.
Kira cleared her throat. “Okay, gentlemen, here’s the deal. Your Captain Dobey is out for at least six weeks. I have been assigned here. Not because I asked for it. God knows I’m not that needy . . .”
Starsky stood, but Hutch pressed a hand on his back, and he sat back down.
“. . . but because for the last few months, I have been working on the task force that got you that warrant for Shoes’ place. I was just about to serve a writ on Wally Stover’s house when the call came through. Now the Chief thinks that we need to combine our resources and work on this together. And I have worked my ass off for too long to let you guys blow this for me because of one little incident . . .”
This was too much for Starsky. He stood and pushed hard against the desk. Hutch grabbed his arm, but he shrugged him off. Campos stood, looked longingly at the door.
“Incident? You call what happened an incident?” Starsky pointed a finger, eyes blazing. “Lady, how you ever made captain is beyond me. But if you think that me and Hutch will take orders from you – ever – you can just stick that . . .”
“Jesus, Dave – how old are you? You know I can have your badge right now for insubordination alone?” Kira stood, furious. She leaned into Starsky’s finger. “Sergeant, I suggest you cool it. Actually, I suggest you think seriously about some time off. In fact, why don’t you take the rest of the day? Pull yourself together. Because whether you like it or not, for the next six weeks – you do have to take orders from me.”
Hutch grabbed Starsky and hauled him back into the chair. “Kira, we get it, okay. We get it. But there’s something you need to know, too.”
Campos stepped back as Hutch took Starsky’s spot at the desk.
“We’ll work with you, because that’s our job. We don’t have to like it, but we’ll do it – because we’re good cops. But, if at any point we don’t feel you’re doing your job, or you put us in the trick bag, we’ll take you down hard – promotion or no promotion. Got it?”
Kira stood silent for a moment, looking at both men. She had missed this part the last time. The unified front – the bond – the partnership. They were like two halves of a whole now. Not like last time. And now these jokers held her future in their hands.
“The irony just continues, doesn’t it?” Kira sat back down. “Okay, Hutch, I read you. I stay out of your way – you don’t act like children and blow the case.” She ignored Starsky’s protest and looked at Detective Manny Campos, who was about to come out of his shoes.
“Campos – how are you doing?”
“Just fine, m’am. Can I go now?”
“Yes, I think we’ve got everything straightened out here, don’t you?” She looked straight at Starsky. “Oh, and I would appreciate it if you would address me as Captain.”
Starsky got up, whirled around the chair and out the door without a word.
Hutch nodded to Kira and then followed his partner. Campos smiled and offered, “Uh, welcome to the squad, Captain.” He closed the door behind him. Kira laid her head on the desk. It was going to be a long six weeks.
Dobey felt pressure on his stomach. He opened his left eye to see the head of his wife resting on his stomach, her arm across his chest. He smiled. And then grimaced as the pain in his chest and his leg hit him at the same time.
Edith raised her head. She saw that her husband was awake and moved up to cradle his head in her hands. Lightly kissing his forehead, she reached down and took his hand in hers.
“Forget to duck again, Harold?” Tears threatened as she watched him grimace in pain.
“Yeah, I guess. How am I doing?”
“Six hours on the table. Had to cut through the scar tissue to get to the one in your stomach – that’s why it took so long. But the doctor says you’re so rotten, it’s going to take more than bullets to stop you.” Edith smiled again. She smoothed the blanket, tugging at a stray thread.
“Don’t, Edith.” Dobey pulled her close. “I know how bad it was. I’m sorry.”
Edith sat back down in her chair, laid her head on his stomach and cried.
Dobey stroked her head. He hated like hell that he’d put her through it – again.
“Come on, Edith – I’m okay – you just said I was going to make it.”
Edith nodded, and lifted her head. She patted the side of her husband’s face.
Then she patted it again – harder. Dobey caught her hand in mid-air before she could land the third one. He had enough aches and pains.
“I thought we agreed – no more cowboy stuff.” Edith smiled, teeth clenched.
“I was serving a warrant, Edith. I still serve warrants, you know.”
“I’m not stupid, Harold. I know all about the warrant. Only one reason you come out of the station these days. I know it was Stryker.”
Dobey grimaced, partly from the pain, mostly from the truth. They had walked down this road too many times already.
Edith took his hand. “You can’t take them all down yourself, you know. I’m just worried your luck is going to run out one of these days.”
“Hey, my girl, my luck’s never going to run out – you are my luck.”
Edith smiled. “Oh how you flatter, Harold Dobey.”
They sat silent for a moment.
“You know, Harold, you almost killed the boys this time. I didn’t think Hutch was going to survive another minute in that waiting room. Starsky practically sat on his lap the whole time – making sure he was okay, while Hutch was making sure I was okay.”
“They were great, Edith – so damn proud of those boys. They work like real pros – especially Starsky. He’s come back a long way. How bout the kids – they okay? Didn’t scare them too much?”
“Oh, no, you would have been proud. Cal was so strong. Stood by me like a little sentinel. Took such good care of Rosie. They’re at school now. I thought it would be better for them. Doctor said you’d be out for a long time.”
“You get any sleep yet?”
“Yes, enough. And before you start to order me about – I’m staying here. Starsky took the day off and he’s on the way here with lunch and a change of clothes. I’m not leaving.”
Dobey smiled. He might be the big bad boss at work, but at home, he fell in line somewhere between Rosie and the cat. He liked it that way. He closed his eyes and remembered a conversation he’d had a long time ago . . .
“Dobey, you are one pussy-whipped mother.” Elmo walked around to the driver’s side of the car.
“You’re just jealous, Jackson – wish you had some sweet thing to come home to every night.” Dobey crawled into the passenger side of Jackson’s new car – a 1958 Cadillac convertible – white.
“Yeah, come home to be ordered around all night long. Man can’t get any peace with a woman telling him what to do all night.”
“Yes, you’re right, Elmo – it goes on all night long – all night.”
“If you know what I mean . . . all night long . . . man gets tired working all night like that . . .”
Jackson gunned the engine and the Cadillac squealed into traffic. “You are one crazy bastard, you know that, Dobey?”
“Yes, but I’m not the one that bought the whitest car in all Bay City, did I? How we gonna work undercover in this thing?”
“I’ll have you know, Sergeant Dobey – this car is the fastest thing going. Bad guys don’t have a chance.”
“Bad guys got plenty of chances because they’re gonna see us coming a mile away in this thing – it’s like we’re driving in a big marshmallow . . .”
“Did you just call my car a marshmallow?”
“How you doing, Cap?”
Dobey opened his eyes to see Starsky standing over him, holding out a greasy paper sack. “Up to some tacos? I snuck some in.”
Edith quickly reached over and took the bag from Starsky. “David, he is not ready for tacos – ever. He’s not supposed to eat solids, anyway. So don’t tempt him.”
“Yes, m’am – whatever you say.” Starsky turned back to Dobey. “So, how you feeling?”
“Like I got shot.”
“Yeah, scared us for a minute.”
“Scared me for a minute – thought you bought it when you went over the
chair . . .”
Edith slipped out quietly as Starsky sat down beside her husband. They needed a moment together. She knew from experience and the conversation in the waiting room that this had been a close call. Too close, and too soon.
“You did real good, son.” Dobey patted Starsky’s hand. “Proud of you – how you’ve come back – know I don’t tell you that often . . .”
“Often?” Starsky snorted.
“Rarely . . .”
“Okay – never. But I should. You’re a fine officer . . .”
“Cap – what kind of drugs they got you on?” Starsky stood and patted Dobey’s shoulder. “I know how it is – I got all soapy after I got shot, too. Just glad you yell loud – would never have heard you.”
“I’m just glad you still listen to me sometimes. Nice dive, by the way. Hurt anything?”
Starsky smiled. Just like Dobey to worry over him, while lying in a hospital bed. “Naw, I’m tough. Now you sure you don’t want me to hide those tacos somewhere?”
“No, the boss spoke.”
Edith walked back in. “Yes I did.”
Hutch followed behind her, a stack of magazines and a portable radio in his arms. “Hi Cap – good to see you up. Thought you might need some entertainment. I know this radio gets good reception in here . . .”
Starsky and Hutch exchanged a quick glance. That radio had kept them company on many long pain-filled nights during Starsky’s recovery.
“Yeah, even gets the Sports Chat from San Francisco if you turn it just right.” Starsky added.
“Thanks.” Dobey moved, trying to find a comfortable spot. Now that he was fully awake, he couldn’t find a place that didn’t hurt.
Edith rubbed his arm and Starsky grabbed the top magazine from the pile. Hutch looked around for a plug. Somehow they all just fell back into a natural rhythm formed during the last time they had all been together in a hospital room. Hutch plugged in the radio, turned it to a classical station. Starsky frowned over the choice of music, but just leaned against the window, reading. Hutch moved over to Dobey, straightening the blankets, checking the IV. Dobey sighed against the pain, and then it finally registered with him.
“What the hell are you two doing here?” he growled.
“Harold, that’s not nice . . .”
“We came to visit you, Cap . . .”
“No, I mean – why aren’t you at work? Must have at least a day of reports to finish – plus I can’t believe you’re not out looking for Shoes. Now just because I’m laid up here for a while . . .” Dobey was revving up, despite the pain.
Edith laid a hand on his chest. “Harold – do not get worked up.” She turned to Starsky and then looked at Hutch.
“So, what are you doing here?”
Starsky smiled and shrugged and Hutch looked at his shoes.
“What’s going on?” Dobey said.
“Why is something going on? Just wanted to make sure you were okay . . .”
“Cut the crap, Starsky – just tell me. You know I’ll find out anyway . . .”
“Harold, calm down . . .”
“Edith, I am not calming down until they tell me why all of a sudden they’ve got hours and hours to spend with me.”
Edith turned to Hutch. “Ken, you better tell him. I will not have him upset like this.”
Starsky and Hutch exchanged a glance. Then Hutch spoke.
“Chief call you yet?”
“Yes, he came by, but Harold was sleeping,” Edith answered.
“Well, you know they assigned us a new captain . . .”
“Standard procedure, yeah, so?” Dobey struggled to sit up a little higher in the bed.
“So, well, our new captain gave us the afternoon off.” Starsky said.
“What did you do?” Dobey leveled his gaze at Starsky.
“Why do you think I did anything?”
“Starsky, I got shot, I’m not stupid. Now what did you do – and who’d they assign to you? Simonetti? I know he just made captain . . .”
“God, he did?” Starsky had not heard that good news. All of a sudden, Kira didn’t seem quite so bad. If they had assigned that ratfink Simonetti to the squad, he would have already been fired. For sure.
“Hardesty. They assigned us Hardesty.” Hutch said.
Dobey didn’t say a word. Just sat for a minute, thinking. He knew the boys had some history with Kira Hardesty. She had worked the dance hall case with them. Rumor had it that she dated Starsky for a while. All he knew for sure was that it was during that case that he had to call them both into his office for a “come to Jesus” meeting. The first one he’d ever had to have with them. Gave them both a reprimand in their jackets. Didn’t help – he lost them for a while. Then they came back and seemed to be back to normal. Better. And then Starsky got shot in the parking lot . . .
“Captain, you remember Kira Hardesty?” Starsky asked.
“Yeah, yeah – remember you two acted like children around her. Something you need to tell me?”
Hutch spoke up. “No, Cap – it’s okay – we got it squared away. Just waiting on her to pull the files on Wally Stover and then we’re gonna hit the ground running.”
Dobey looked from one to the other. He was not satisfied with the explanation, but knew he couldn’t push anymore. Between the pain in his shoulder and the glare of his wife, he had to let it go.
“Okay, just don’t get into some kind of jam I can’t get you out of, okay? My reach doesn’t travel far from here.”
“Okay, Cap.” Starsky said.
“Yeah, okay, we know.”
Dobey closed his eyes and the nurse entered with another pain shot. He could use it.
True to her word, Captain Hardesty sent over the files on Wally Stover that afternoon. They had just gotten back to Starsky’s apartment when the box arrived, and Hutch grabbed the first file off the top and began reading. The sooner they got this case solved, the sooner they could get back out on the streets. Alone.
“What the hell?” Hutch’s voice startled Starsky, who had been in the kitchen making a sandwich.
“What is it?”
“That’s Captain Fucking Bitch to you. What she do now?” Starsky came into the living room, carrying two plates.
“You’re not going to believe it.” Hutch continued to read, shaking his head at every line on the page.
“I can believe anything about that woman.” Starsky handed Hutch a plate.
Hutch handed Starsky the file and took his plate. Starsky sat in the chair, put his feet on the coffee table, and rested his plate on his lap.
“This about Stover?” he asked as he flipped open the file.
Starsky read three lines. “What the fuck?”
“Yes, exactly.” Hutch leaned back into the couch, waiting.
Starsky read the whole page. Then he threw the entire file over his head. The papers flew out of the file, floating to the ground.
“Not gonna do it. Not one damn thing.”
“Oh, that’s a mature attitude, Starsk – real helpful.”
“That would be a regression. What do we do about it now?”
“Hutch – I’m not gonna do it. She can’t fire me.”
“Yes, Starsky, that’s the whole point. She can fire you.”
“Whose side are you on?”
“That’s low – I don’t care how mad you are.”
“Well, quit defending her.”
“I’m not – and quit yelling at me.”
“Yes, you are – God, look what’s she’s done to us, already.”
Starsky sat his plate on the table. “Damn her, I lost my appetite – she just makes me crazy, ya know?”
“Which is exactly what she’s trying to do. Now can you calm down
enough to help me figure out what to do, or are you just going to
curse her name all night?”
“Curse her name all night.” Starsky picked up his plate and took a big bite out of his sandwich. “Buckin bips,” he muttered between bites.
Hutch looked at his watch. He figured he had about twelve hours to wade through the files, figure out a plan to catch Stover and Shoes, calm down Starsky, and get to the drycleaners. He opened the next file and settled in.
Starsky ate the rest of his sandwich in silence. Then he leaned over and picked up another file. He flipped it open and read the notes about Stover’s activity during the past six months, written neatly in Kira’s tiny script.
He shook his head. He had thought they were done with her. Woman almost tore them apart. And to think he had actually thought he was in love with her. He had to get his emotions under control, though. Hutch was right. Hutch was always right about her.
After the pain and the anger had left him the last time, he finally realized that Hutch had been taken in by her just like he had. He glanced over to his partner, who was deep in concentration, chewing on a pencil eraser, head cocked. Made his heart ache. They had been through hell and back since then. Getting shot had put that she-devil into perspective – and into the buried past where she belonged. It was over. He had to remember that.
Hutch looked up. “Got something?”
Hutch smiled. “Okay, buddy – me, too.”
“No, I mean, sorry I acted like an ass today.”
“Yeah, she’s a piece of work.”
“I guess it just hits too close – almost lost you then.”
“Yeah . . .” Hutch closed the file and leaned over to Starsky. “Not gonna happen again, you know?”
“I know. Ghosts, I guess. Puts me in a bad mood. Only thing ever got between us . . .”
Hutch laid a hand on Starsky’s leg. “Starsky – she’s not getting between us this time. Look at me.”
Starsky leaned up and looked at Hutch.
“Last time, it was different. I was different. We were different. Nothing getting between us now. Nothing.”
Starsky reached over and squeezed Hutch’s neck. “Me and thee, huh?”
“Damn right – now could you get back to work? We have to get these guys. For Dobey, if nothing else. And we’re gonna have to do it by the book – and it’s gonna have to be Kira’s book. So we better get used to it, I’m afraid. And we better send Manny some flowers or something.”
Starsky sighed and leaned back. “I know, Hutch – but my car?”
“You can handle it – look how long I’ve had to.”
The next morning Starsky pulled the Torino into the back parking lot of Metro, got out and walked across the lot. Bernie Glassman, just heading to his squad car, stopped in shock. His partner, Mark Harris dropped the files he was carrying and had to scramble to pick them up. One of the papers landed at Starsky’s feet and he leaned down to pick it up.
“Better hang onto that, Mark – looks important.” Starsky smiled and held out the paper.
“You got court today, Starsk?” Mark asked, taking the sheet and tucking it into the file, exchanging a glance with Bernie.
“Hey, Starsky – you going undercover with the circus or what?” Bernie asked as he joined them. “Where’d you get that outfit?”
Starsky looked down at his bright green and white checked suit coat and bright green pants. “What? You guys don’t recognize style? Maybe I just wanted to class it up a bit.”
“And the shoes?” Mark chuckled. Starsky had traded in his addidas for white shiny patent leather loafers. “You sure you’re not going undercover?”
Bernie laughed. “Oh, I get it – you’re trying to get suspended.”
“Hey, I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Starsky, I saw the memo – the new dress code for detectives.”
“Yeah so, I also saw who signed the memo . . .”
“Yeah, so since when do you follow dress codes? Remember when Dobey had to get you special permission from the Chief for your blue jeans?”
“Bernie, you got a suspicious mind.”
They were interrupted by a honk, and they all moved out of the way as Hutch pulled into the parking spot beside them. He shook his head as he got a good look at his partner. I should have picked him up this morning – I knew I should have picked him up this morning, he thought as he got out of the LTD, dressed in a beautifully cut, dark brown, double breasted suit.
Mark gave a low whistle. “Now that is a sharp suit, Hutch.”
“Thanks.” Hutch walked up and nodded to Bernie. “Glassman.”
“Hutchinson, how’s it going?”
“Well, I don’t know, I can barely hear you over the noise of that,” he said and pointed to Starsky.
“Hey! What’s the matter with my suit?”
“Starsky – I told you to wear the blue one. What happened?”
“Didn’t have shoes to match. Had to borrow these from Huggy as it is.”
They said goodbye to the two officers, and walked into the building. They stopped conversation all the way to the squad room, where, when Starsky walked in behind Hutch, everyone burst out laughing.
“Oh my God, Starsky – who’s your daddy?” Campbell choked.
“Stuff it, Campbell.” Starsky walked over to his desk.
Kira, who had heard the commotion, walked out of the office door, took one look at Starsky, and barked, “In my office – both of you.”
She waited until Hutch closed the door and they both settled into the chairs.
“What the hell is that?”
Starsky counted to ten. Then he plastered a smile on his face and said, “What’s what, Captain?”
“What are you wearing?”
“A suit – per your memo.”
“That’s not a suit, that’s a parade float.” Kira sneered.
Starsky stood. “Hey, watch it.”
Hutch stood. “Kira, cool it. You wanted us in suits. We got suits. You want us out of the Torino. We’re out of the Torino. Okay?”
Kira looked at both of them. “Okay, okay. Sit down. Let’s start again.”
“Fine by me.” Starsky flopped into the chair, counting to ten, again. “So, what do you got for us?”
“Well, the task force wants to move on Stover today. They think he and maybe even Shoes is holed up in Stryker’s old meat plant. We tossed Stover’s place last night . . .”
“We were supposed to be in on that . . .”
Kira held up her hand. “Hey, that call came from the Chief. They used the County guys. Didn’t find anything. So the briefing is in an hour – downtown.”
Hutch rose. “Thanks, Captain, we’ll be there.” He turned to go. Starsky stood also.
“Wait a minute.”
They both turned back to Kira.
“I’m going, too.”
“Great,” said Hutch as he once again headed for the door, “see you there.”
“No, I mean – I’m going with you.”
Starsky couldn’t even get to two. “No, you’re not.”
“Well, actually, you’re going with me.”
Hutch gave up the escape and walked back to the desk. “What do you mean?”
“Well, since we’re both going to the briefing, and since the paperwork’s not through yet on your department car, you can ride with me.”
Starsky looked at Hutch. Hutch looked at Starsky. They both turned to Kira.
“You want us . . . to ride with you?” Hutch said evenly.
“In your car? Together?” Starsky added.
Kira sighed. “No, what I really want is a vacation on a beach. Preferably until Dobey gets back and can deal with all this shit.”
“What’s stopping you?” Starsky folded his arms over his chest. He forgot all about the counting.
“Listen – can you ease off a little? All I am asking is that we flash a united front at this briefing. Brass is all over me here, guys. Not that you give a shit, but I’m not exactly their favorite person. They don’t want me here. You don’t want me here. I’m not sure I want me here. But I’m here.”
Hutch rubbed his hand over his face. “Okay, Kira – we ride with you. That’s it, though. Then you let us do our job, okay?”
“Okay, Hutch.” Kira sank into Dobey’s chair. “Thanks. I’ll see you out there in a minute.”
Starsky walked out and waited for Hutch to close the door. “Hutch, you’re scaring me now. Why are we riding with her?”
“I don’t know, Starsky – she’s got a point. She’s got it coming at her from all directions. Can’t be easy – first woman captain – high profile case – us.”
“I think you actually feel sorry for her.”
“Starsky, she is human . . .”
“Not so’s you could tell.”
Hutch pulled Starsky out into the hallway, out of the hearing range of the squad, who had fallen silent when they came out of the office.
“Starsky – count to ten, smile and nod, remember? We’ll get through this together . . .”
“But there’s just something not right about her – the way she looks at me – at us.”
“Now you’re just paranoid. We’re fine. She can’t touch us.”
“Okay, okay. You just stop being so nice to her. Gives me the creeps.”
“You’re just mad because she didn’t like your suit.”
“What’s not to like?”
They didn’t find anything at the warehouse. They didn’t find anything at the next three houses they busted, or the restaurant where Shoes usually held his meetings. Three weeks passed and they had less to go on than when they started. Kira kept her word and stayed out of their business as much as possible. She had enough to worry about, because the Chief had let her know in no uncertain terms that if she couldn’t find and bust Jimmy Shoes, she would find herself as captain of traffic in the suburban division north of the airport.
Starsky and Hutch had gotten used to wearing suits every day. Well, Hutch had gotten used to it. Starsky swore he was getting a rash – took his shoes off every time they got in the car. This meant that when they had to jump out and chase down a hype or a snitch, he was usually hopping along behind, trying to tug his shoes back on.
He had toned down his wardrobe after the first week. He settled into a tan corduroy blazer, blue slacks, a light blue shirt, and a dark blue tie – his court uniform. After the third time he had to run barefoot through an alley though, he kept the addidas in Hutch’s car – trading them out when they traded cars.
They were issued a department car, just as Captain Kira directed. A 1973 green Pinto hatchback, which Starsky promptly nicknamed The Turtle, and which they even more promptly dumped each morning at the back of The Pits and took Hutch’s car. They didn’t dare take the Torino – for once Starsky agreed with Hutch that it drew too much attention to them. And the one thing they didn’t need was attention.
Captain Dobey was finally out of ICU and on the mend. This meant that he was as cranky as an old bear because he was feeling better and because he was cooped up in a hospital bed. It got so bad one morning that Edith stormed out and didn’t return for two days. But now they had him up doing physical therapy, which wore him slick, turning his usual bluster into a light breeze.
So he was relieved to hear a commotion in the hall. He hoped it was Edith or maybe one of the men from the squad. He was getting a little lonely. He leaned toward the door and listened to the familiar voices . . .
“Hutch, let me tell him.”
“Starsky, I can’t trust you not to tell him everything . . .”
“Maybe he’s still too sick . . .”
“You want your car back or not?”
“Course I do.”
“Well, then, this is the only way.”
“Will you two just get in here?” Dobey shouted from his bed.
His voice was almost back to normal. He was heartened to feel some of the old thunder return – should scare the boys good. He had just been down to therapy, where the doctor said he just might get to go home at the weekend, and he’d just gotten his afternoon pain shot, so he was in a good mood.
Hutch poked his head around the door. “Oh, hiya Cap, how you doing?”
“How you think I’m doing? Stuck here for weeks on end, doctors poking and prodding at me all day long – getting daily reports on the varying color and brightness of Starsky’s new wardrobe – what do you think? I’m in here on vacation?”
Dobey watched with delight as Hutch quickly ducked back out, and then Starsky suddenly appeared – obviously shoved into the room.
“Oh, hi Cap. How you . . . I mean – you look good.”
“Thanks, Starsky – I’m feeling pretty good today, too. Tell Hutch he can come in now.”
Starsky turned toward the door. “Hutch you can come in, now.”
Hutch walked into the room and stood next to his partner. Dobey just stared for a moment. He wasn’t used to seeing them in suits – except in court. They did cut a fine figure; maybe he should make the change permanent. Then he saw the blue addidas peeking out from Starsky’s trousers. No, he couldn’t do that to them.
He felt a little tug in his chest when he saw those shoes – Hutch had worn them for a week after Starsky had been shot in the parking garage. Wouldn’t take them off. It was like Hutch thought that if the shoes still pounded the pavement, then Starsky would be okay. Then Dobey thought about that old letterman jacket Starsky forced Hutch to wear the entire first month he was back to active duty – he called it their good luck charm. Hutch had worn it their first year together as partners and had even had it on when they all got kicked out of the hospital for setting off the fire alarm. The jackets and the shoes – it was part of their history. And he knew all about that kind of history.
“Okay, Dobey – what did you do with my shirt?”
“You know what shirt, bozo – my favorite bowling shirt, where is it?”
“How do I know where that disgrace to fashion you call a bowling shirt is?”
“It was in my laundry.”
“Which is still sitting at my house, Elmo, cause you haven’t bothered to take it back to your place.”
“You can wear one of my shirts.”
“Oh, sure, like the red one you wore when Snoops bopped you over the head with the baseball bat because he thought you were a dragon?”
“Snoops is crazy and you know it. How about the green one.”
They both stopped and looked at each other. The green shirt. The shirt Dobey had worn when he saved Elmo from Bennie the Shark, who had just been about to toss him off a five story building. Elmo had grabbed onto the tail of that shirt and hung on tight, while Dobey fought off Bennie and then pulled Elmo to safety. The shirt Elmo had draped around Dobey when he found him in the alley, having been beaten almost beyond recognition during the turbulent days that the Civil Rights Movement had bloodied their beat. The shirt they had wrapped Elmo’s tiny daughter in when they found her feverish in her crib and rushed her to the hospital, only to watch her die three days later.
“Uh, no – I think I’ll take my chances with the red shirt.”
“Good choice Jackson, good choice.”
“And she assigned us a Pinto – a Pinto!” Starsky complained.
“Yes, Captain, seems that Captain Hardesty,” Hutch paused for Starsky’s derisive snort, “thinks that the Torino is not department standard and so she issued us a car . . .”
“What about your car?” Dobey asked.
“Yeah, well, Captain Hardesty . . . thinks that my car is not up to department standards either . . .”
“The only intelligent thing she’s ever said . . .” Starsky grumbled.
Hutch ignored him and continued, “And so she changed your directive and gave us this Pinto . . .”
“She did what?” Dobey sat up straighter.
Starsky caught the captain’s shift and dove right in.
“Yeah, Captain – we don’t mean to burden you with this while you’re laid up and all, but according to Captain Fu . . . Hardesty, you run a very loose squad.”
“What?” Dobey’s voice rose another notch.
“Starsky . . .” Hutch warned, to no avail.
“. . . and that she should have us all up to standards by the time you get back.” Starsky leaned in closer to Dobey. “Just between you and me – I wouldn’t be surprised if she’s already got new drapes picked out for your office.”
“Like hell!” Dobey roared, and then winced.
Hutch pulled Starsky back from the bed. “It’s not that bad . . .”
“Like hell that woman is going to come into my squad, change my
directives . . . who the hell does she think she is . . .”
Starsky smiled wide and crossed his arms. Hutch shook his head and laid a hand on the captain’s shoulder.
Dobey continued, “. . . and what the hell does she know about a squad she has been in charge of for three minutes? Huh? You think it’s easy keeping you people working and productive and alive? And doesn’t she know you don’t mess with what works? I just got you two back up to snuff and she waltzes in there and tries to change my directives? Hell, the only reason she got promoted to lieutenant was because of that damn dance hall case that you two solved anyway.” He stopped and pulled in a ragged breath.
“Captain, it’s okay – Starsky and I are handling it – we only brought it up because we thought maybe you could get us another car or, and I can’t believe I’m actually saying this, back in the Torino.”
Starsky slapped Hutch hard on the back. “That’s my partner. Yeah, Cap, Hutch is right. We can handle anything she can throw us – we know it’s temporary – we just need our car back.”
“Our car?” Hutch looked at Starsky, eyebrow raised.
“Would you two stop it?” Dobey’s voice thundered around the room and out the door.
Starsky and Hutch turned to Dobey. To their surprise he was smiling from ear to ear.
“Lord, I didn’t realize how much I missed you two. Haven’t had a good holler in weeks.” He chuckled. “Sure would like to see how Hardesty handles one of your real hissy fits . . .”
“Hissy fits?” two voices sputtered in unison.
“Okay, okay.” Dobey held up a hand. “I’ll make a couple of calls. You’ll be back in the big cherry tomorrow. And get rid of those suits. Makes you look too respectable – you’re scaring the criminals.”
“Big cherry?” Starsky started to protest, but Hutch put his hand on his shoulder and spoke up. “Thanks, Captain. Really appreciate this.”
“Yeah, thanks.” Starsky echoed.
“Okay, so what I really want to know is how close you are to catching
Shoes.” Dobey settled back into his pillows, happy to be back in the action.
“You think she’ll show up?” Starsky asked as he peered around the corner of a house directly across from the house Huggy had told them held Jimmy Shoes. The uniforms had seen Wally Stover walk in thirty minutes ago. The police force had descended and now sat waiting for the word to bust the door.
“Oh, she’ll show – this is what she loves – the big finish.” Hutch grimaced at his own pun. Starsky shot him a look and then motioned with his gun to the car just pulling into the next street. They both watched as Kira, in jeans and a sweatshirt, hustled down behind another squad car.
“The queen has arrived – can we go now?” Starsky murmured into his radio and was rewarded with almost ten seconds of clicks.
The mission commander, Captain Donnelly, finally stood and waved the SWAT boys into position and they were in business. At the “go”, Hutch headed down to his position at the back of the unit busting the door, and Starsky swept around to the back, secretly hoping Shoes would escape through one of the back windows so that he could arrest him personally. As he rounded the last squad car, he saw Kira about ten steps in front of him.
“Fucking bitch,” he swore under his breath and increased his speed so that he caught up and passed her, ignoring her whispered, “Starsky.”
“I’ll be damned if I let that woman edge me out . . .”
Starsky hurdled a small shrub and had shouldered up to a tree when he heard her muffled scream. He turned to see two black sedans had pulled up on the side street behind the police cars, and two men had jumped out and were in the process of stuffing Kira in the back seat of one of them. Starsky swore and reached for his radio, shouting and diving out of the way as one of the thugs caught sight of him and opened fire. He managed to get a shot off before the sedan drove away.
“They’ve got Hardesty,” he shouted into the radio, giving a description and partial tag number as he scrambled around to the front of the house, where Hutch was coming out the front door, rolling his eyes.
“Starsky – get off the damn radio, will you?”
“They nabbed Kira.”
“Who nabbed Kira?”
“Shoes’ guys pulled up right after you entered the house, snatched her and just about blew my head off.”
Hutch hustled down the stairs and grabbed Starsky’s arm. “You okay?”
Starsky grimaced and reholstered his gun. “Yeah, but I would sure have hated getting plugged because of her.” He nodded toward house. “Empty?”
Hutch shook his head. “Yeah, they’ve got some kind of warning system or escape route or something. Coffee’s still hot. Damn. I thought we had them, too. Did you see which way they went?”
“The goons who nabbed Kira?”
“Oh, yeah, up Madison, that’s all I saw. That woman got in my way – couldn’t get a good shot.”
The screen door burst open and six SWAT officers thundered out of the house and down the front stairs. Campos waved Starsky and Hutch to follow and they all ran through three backyards to a house on the next block where at least seven men were spilling out of both doors.
“Police, freeze,” shouted Campos as the men scattered. Suddenly the yard became one big game of cops and robbers. Two little boys stood on their front porch and cheered until their mother pulled them back into the house. Starsky sprinted after a guy in a blue pin-striped suit, who managed to jump the fence and was heading back around the house next door. Hutch tackled one in the middle of the street, cursing as he heard his pants rip against the rough asphalt.
He turned the thug over and reached for his cuffs. “You’re going to pay for my pants, asshole.”
“Ain’t paying for shit, pretty boy,” Wally Stover leered back.
Hutch pulled Wally to his feet. “Well, well, Wally Stover, how nice to see you.”
“Fuck you, Hutchinson.”
“Not nice, Wally, not nice.”
Suddenly the street was filled with squad cars, paddy wagons, curious neighbors, and a Channel Ten news van. A reporter hustled over and Hutch quickly handed Wally off to a uniformed officer and turned.
“Not now, Jack.”
“Come on, Hutch – this is crazy. What the hell did you guys do? I haven’t seen this much heat since the Vic Monte days . . . hey, wasn’t that Wally Stover?”
Hutch ignored the questions and moved through the yard, his eyes moving over every thug. He picked up three guns and handed them to Mark Harris.
“Nice collar, Hutch.”
“Yeah, we did good today.” Hutch headed around to the back yard, where Bernie Glassman was pulling another thug toward the open door of the wagon.
“Hey Bernie, you see Starsky?”
Bernie grunted as he shoved the guy in and turned. “Saw him head over the fence back toward the other house, chasing Louie Torino, I think.”
“Louie Torino? The guy’s name is Louie Torino?”
“Yeah, I think it was him – haven’t seen him in years – Dobey sent him up for possession years ago.
Hutch started back toward the other house, breaking into a jog as a familiar hinkiness crept up the back of his neck. He saw two uniformed officers on the front steps.
“You guys see Sergeant Starsky?”
“No sir, all the action is up the street. We pulled sentry duty here.”
Hutch ran around to the back of the house. The yard was empty. He heard more sirens and saw people heading out of their houses and toward all the noise. He was just about to hop the back fence when he heard his name. He whirled around to give Starsky a piece of his mind, when he saw Bernie Glassman and Mark Harris dragging Wally Stover across the front yard.
“Hutch, hey Hutch – you better hear what this scumbag has to say.” Bernie shoved Wally toward Hutch. “You tell him what you told us, Stover.”
“Ain’t got shit to tell. Not without my lawyer.”
Harris grabbed Stover’s tie and pulled him to his knees. “You tell him now or I tell your lawyer all about the unfortunate accident you had on the way to the station.”
“Okay, okay,” Stover choked. “And they call us criminals. All I said was that history has a funny way of repeating itself.”
Hutch grabbed Stover by the tie and pulled him close. “What do you mean?”
“Just that your partner’s gone missing, hasn’t he?”
“How do you know that?”
“Cause that was the plan. You think we’re dumb enough to get caught like this after all these years?”
“Then how come you’re the one in cuffs, Stover?” Bernie growled. “Now you tell Hutch the other part or I swear I’ll let my partner loose on you.”
Stover laughed. “Oh no, not good cop, bad cop. I’m so scared.”
Hutch pulled out his Magnum and shoved it against Stover’s head.
Stover flinched and then said, “You give me full immunity, or your partner hangs.”
Hutch dug the barrel of the gun further into Stover’s skull. The world became very small. He could hear Stover breathing, could feel Bernie’s hands on his arm, but the vision that snaked its way through his brain was Starsky, on a meat hook. He cocked the gun.
“Hutch,” Bernie warned, into his ear, “c’mon Hutch – Donnelly’s coming.”
Hutch looked up to see the yard filling with cops. He put his gun back in the holster and wiped his face with both hands.
“Hey, get that man in the wagon, Glassman. He’s the last one.” Captain Donnelly walked up to the group. “What’s going on here?”
Hutch was still glaring at Stover, so Harris spoke first. “He says they nabbed Sergeant Starsky – says it was all a set-up, sir.”
“That true, Hutchinson?”
But Hutch was gone. He hustled across the yard, scrambled over the hood of the Torino and yanked the door open.
“Where’s he going?” Donnelly said.
“To find Starsky.”
“So he’s really missing?”
“He’s not here, sir. Last I saw him he was chasing Louie Torino across the yards.” Bernie answered.
“Louie Torino? Now that’s a name I haven’t heard in a while . . .”
Starsky was cold. As he floated up through layers of consciousness, catching snippets of words and sounds he couldn’t understand, the one thing he knew for certain was that he was cold. When he finally gathered enough strength to crack open an eye, what he saw made him wish he was still out.
Rows and rows of big steel hooks hung from the ceiling above him. The buzz he thought came from his head was the sound of the enormous compressors, keeping the whole place a frigid temperature. He was sitting up in a chair, his hands tied behind his back. He pressed his elbow into his side. No gun. Not that he really thought the Beretta would be there . . .
A soft moan interrupted his assessment. The rope around his chest pulled tighter. He realized he was not alone. He must be tied to Hutch. He tried to turn his head, but the movement made him dizzy.
“Hey, Hutch – that you?” He wriggled his fingers, trying to feel Hutch behind him and then a head bashed into the back of his. “Hey, watch it – gotta splitting headache as it is, buddy.”
“Starsky?” a voice whispered.
Starsky froze. He leaned his head back so that it was touching the head directly behind and below his own.
“Son of a bitch.” Starsky ignored his head and cranked his whole body until he could get a glance at the tiny sneakers and the blonde head. The wrong blonde head.
“Starsky?” Kira whispered.
“Kira? What happened? Where’s Hutch?”
“Don’t know – how long have we been here?”
“How the hell do I know? They knocked me out.”
Starsky rolled his eyes. “You okay?”
“I think so. Just cold.”
Starsky looked up at the ceiling of hooks. “Yeah, me, too. Looks like we’re at
Stryker’s meat plant. See anybody yet?”
“Just the Neanderthals who grabbed me and stuffed me down in the back seat. We drove a while. Made two stops. Let out one guy, picked up another one. They kept talking about you and how funny it was going to be – how happy the boss was going to be when he found out what geniuses they were – you know, thug talk.”
Starsky smiled. He appreciated Kira’s attempt at bravado – made him feel better about being hogtied to her. At least she wasn’t going to fall apart on him.
“Yeah, I think before they put me out, I saw Shoes in the car. Wonder what the plan is? I mean, you just got in the way, but why come back and snatch me? Took a big risk – cops were everywhere. Why didn’t he just hightail it out of there?”
“Got in the way?”
“Well you did, had to go around you to get to my spot . . .”
“I’ll have you know, Sergeant, I was following correct procedure . . .”
“Following – that’s for sure . . .”
“God, you’re an arrogant . . .”
“I’m cursed is what I am. You can’t even get kidnapped without dragging me into the middle of it.”
“You think I want to be kidnapped with you?”
A loud clapping interrupted them. “Oh, really – you two are priceless. How long have you been married?” Jimmy Shoes walked out of the shadows.
“Stuff it, Shoes.” Starsky growled.
“Sergeant Starsky, the irrepressible bull dog. Nice to see you again. But you’re going to have to introduce me to your companion. I don’t think we’ve met.”
“Fuck you.” Kira spat.
“My, my – such language from such a beautiful lady. I see why Starsky likes you. You’re just his type.”
“Fuck you, Shoes.”
“See what I mean?” Stryker walked around to face Kira. “You see, dear – there’s been a little mix-up. I guess I failed to specify which blonde cop I meant. Had no idea there would be two of you running around chasing after me . . .”
“What do you want?” Starsky pulled at the ropes. He hated well mannered crooks, made his skin crawl. The polite ones were unpredictable – serve you tea and slit your throat. He could go ten rounds with the thugs, knew how to get under their skin and then watch them make mistakes. He usually left the fancy pants types to Hutch.
“You know where you are, don’t you?” Shoes asked again.
“Your bedroom looks like to me.”
“Droll, Sergeant. No, you are not in my bedroom. But if the little lady plays her cards right, she may live to see it . . .”
“Rather die first.” Kira struggled against the ropes, which yanked Starsky back against her, and they cracked heads.
“Shit, Kira – cool it.”
“Kira? Kira Hardesty? Captain Kira Hardesty?” Shoes rubbed his hands together. “Oh, this just gets more delicious every minute.” He turned around. “Louie, get in here,” he shouted.
The man in the pinstriped suit that Starsky had chased to his abduction came out of a door. “Yeah, boss?”
“Do you know who we have here?”
“Yeah, I know. Sorry. I guess the guys got a little carried away – didn’t know you wanted Hutchinson.”
“No, this is better. This is Captain Kira Hardesty – newly appointed queen of Metro – Harold Dobey’s replacement.”
Louie came around Shoes to get a better look. “Wow, a woman captain? What is this world coming to?”
“Fuck off, asshole.” Kira struggled against the ropes again.
“But what a mouth,” Shoes smiled. “Although I think Sergeant Starsky has a little crush on her.”
“Fat chance,” Starsky muttered. He was using all this idle chitchat to get a good look at his surroundings. Two doors, plus the one Louie just came out of. Windows high in the walls – no use. Lots of stainless steel tables, racks against the walls, lights high in the ceiling. He frowned as he glanced at the meat hooks. He knew very well what those hooks meant. But what he couldn’t figure out was why? And who was this Louie? He hoped Hutch brought plenty of reinforcements with him – and coffee. He was getting colder by the minute.
“So now what?” Louie asked.
“So now, we wait. You know, this is turning into a most splendid mistake. Because I’d lay Vegas odds that Sergeant Hutchinson is already winging his way here to save his dear partner. If I know Wally, he made sure of that.
So when he shows, that means not only do we have the dynamic duo, but Wonder Woman as well. Stryker is going to die a very happy man.”
“What does Stryker have to do with this?”
“Sergeant, that is not for you to know. Just suffice it to say that your dear bullet-ridden Captain is going to have a very important decision to make very soon. I hope for your sake he makes the right one. Not like last time. I’d really hate to bruise this delicate skin.” Shoes ran a finger down the side of Kira’s face and she jerked back, cracking Starsky’s head again.
“Keep your hands off, Shoes. You said it’s a mistake, her being here, so why don’t you let her go.” Starsky gritted his teeth against the pain. “Besides, I’m going to be dead from a skull fracture before you get the chance to string me up.”
“Sorry,” Kira whispered.
“Boss – the phone.” Louie hustled back into the office.
“Ah, the phone. The ringing announcement of your fate.” Shoes turned and followed Louie.
“What the hell was that about?’ Kira said when the door closed.
Starsky twisted his wrists and dipped his shoulders, trying to loosen the ropes.
“You don’t want to know. Here, when I lean back, you try to get your shoulder down and out . . .”
“Yes, I do want to know – why are we in Stryker’s meat plant? What does Dobey have to do with this?”
Starsky stopped struggling and sighed. “Okay, Kira – the reader’s digest version and then I’d appreciate a little help getting out of here.”
“So, you know all about Stryker, right? How Dobey worked for years to bring him down, lost his partner because of it – how we finally got him – got one of his men to turn . . .”
“You guys caught the dirty cops . . . yeah, I read about it – it’s all in the file. What does this have to do with that?”
“Dobey’s partner – Elmo Jackson. Good cop, he and Dobey were real tight – like Hutch and me. They had enough to put Stryker out of business for good, but I guess a snitch went bad, Jackson got made and they killed him.”
“But that’s old history – Stryker’s in jail.”
“I know that. But Stryker and Jimmy Shoes go way back. I don’t know if Shoes is on some revenge jag or crazy or what – but I think he means to turn me into a side of beef.” He motioned with his head to the hooks above them. “They found Jackson on one of these,” he said quietly.
“Jesus,” Kira whispered.
“Yeah, but I don’t think you were part of the plan. You heard them – they were supposed to grab Hutch.”
“We gotta get out of here.” Kira tugged hard against the ropes around her chest, which pulled Starsky back against her. He narrowly avoided another collision by leaning hard to the right when he felt her jerk.
“Kira – stop that. Is your head made of concrete? You’re giving me a damn concussion every time you move. If you’ll just do what I tell you . . .”
“Oh, you’d like that, wouldn’t you? Big bad Starsky rescues himself and the poor defenseless woman. Why don’t we try it my way?”
“Your way gives me permanent brain damage.”
“Can you just cool it?”
Starsky counted to ten. He hoped Hutch would shoot Kira right between the eyes if she got him killed. The image of Hutch standing over her lifeless body cheered him up a little and he worked harder on the ropes at his wrist.
“What do you mean, they’re missing?” Dobey bellowed into the phone. “Somebody better get out there and find them. This is completely unacceptable.”
He shifted the phone from his right to his left hand, ready to continue his tirade, but the sight of Hutch coming through his door stopped him.
“I’ll get back to you,” he barked and replaced the receiver.
“Where is he?” Dobey demanded.
“Shoes,” Hutch said and held out a note. “Found it in the Torino. It’s for you. You better read it. I don’t think we’ve got much time.”
Dobey reached out and then stopped. “Crime lab guys take a look at it yet?”
Hutch frowned. “No time, Cap – they’ve got Starsky. And Kira.” He shoved the note in Dobey’s hand. “Read it.”
Dobey slid the note out of the envelope. “If this is a glimpse of your idea of procedure, I can see why she thinks . . .” He fell silent as he read.
“Son of a . . .”
Hutch paced. He itched to get to the meat plant. The note very specifically said that Dobey would find them there. Said that Stryker was dying of cancer and he wanted to spend the last few months of his life out of jail. Said that unless Dobey figured out a way to make that happen, he would find Starsky and Hutch hanging with the ghost of Elmo Jackson.
Dobey finished the letter and wiped a shaky hand across his face. Then he swung his legs out from the bed and sat up.
“Get me out of here.” He tugged on a green sweat jacket.
Hutch reached out to steady him. “You can’t go anywhere.”
“Hell I can’t. You read the note. We got to get to Starsky before he goes through with it.”
“Captain, you are in no condition to leave this hospital . . .”
“Hutch – either you help me or get out of my way. I am not losing another man to that maniac.” He struggled to stand, using Hutch’s arm to steady himself.
“Okay, but if Edith finds out-”
“Finds out what?”
They both looked up to see Edith standing in the doorway, hands on her hips.
“And what in heaven’s name are you doing out of bed, Harold?”
Dobey took two tentative steps toward the door. “Stay out of this.”
“Edith, it’s okay – I’ve got him. He’ll just stay in the car.”
“It’s not okay and I’m not staying out of this. Where are you going? And in those sweats?” She stood in the doorway, arms crossed.
Hutch toyed with the idea of tackling her. “Edith – Starsky’s been kidnapped. We’ve really got to go.” He pulled Dobey closer to the door.
Dobey laid a hand on Edith’s shoulder. “They’ve got him in the meat plant.”
“Oh God,” whispered Edith and she backed up three steps. “Not again . . .”
Dobey tugged her close and grabbed her chin. “No, sweetheart, not again – I promise.”
“But Harold, you can’t . . .”
“Yes I can. This time nothing is stopping me.” He kissed her forehead and moved her back.
“I promise, Edith. This is the last time.” Dobey said as Hutch took his arm and they made their way down the hall.
Edith clasped her hands together. “Stay safe,” she shouted after them.
Dobey gingerly let himself down onto the passenger seat of the Torino and winced.
Hutch handed him the radio and threw the car into drive, squealing all the way around the circular drive of the hospital.
“I thought Starsky was the reckless one.” Dobey hung on tight as Hutch slipped into traffic.
Starsky managed to get his right hand loose and was clawing at the knot around his chest when Shoes reappeared with Louie and five other men.
“Well, Sergeant, aren’t you the resourceful one.” Shoes waved his hand and two of the men grabbed Starsky as another untied him. He struggled for a moment, almost wriggled loose, but they clamped down hard on his arms and Louie walked over and punched him twice in the stomach and he stopped moving.
“Starsky.” Kira shouted and slid out from under the loosened ropes. She rolled under one of the tables and scrambled to her feet. She got about ten yards when a shot rang out.
“I wouldn’t do that if I were you, Captain. There’s no way out of here, you know. Steel reinforced doors. Keeps the meat cold. Besides, I’ll shoot him if you move.”
Kira turned to see Shoes’ gun shoved against Starsky’s temple. She held up her hands and two goons hustled over to roughly drag her across a table, back to the group. They shoved her to her knees next to Starsky. One of the goons kicked her in the back and Starsky lunged at him.
“Leave her alone,” he shouted.
The goon turned and backhanded Starsky across the face with his gun. He crumpled to the ground.
“Okay, enough.” Shoes commanded. “Put them in the freezer. Leave them untied and turn it off. Don’t want them dead before Stryker calls.”
“Do what he says,” Louie echoed. “Tony and Salvo – you two go check the main gate. We should be seeing something by now.”
The men hurried to obey. Shoes shook his head. He didn’t particularly like this little detail his friend had requested. He could have been drinking Pina Coladas with a beautiful woman on each arm by now. But he knew he owed it to the old man. The last favor. And then Shoes was done. He watched Kira struggle against the men dragging her away and smiled. She was an added bonus. He would take care of her personally.
“Steel reinforced everywhere. One entrance. There was a loading dock at one time, but they boarded it up. Still might be the best way in – we can bust through it easier. Shoes’ got at least twenty men I’d guess. Plus probably an extra ten outside. We won’t be able to get within a hundred yards without them knowing. It’s what he wants, though.” Dobey winced as a pain shot up his leg.
Hutch reached over and laid a hand on his shoulder. “You want to rest a minute, Cap?”
“Don’t mother me, Hutch. We’ve got work to do. I’m fine.”
Hutch smiled and turned right on Madison, headed for the command post set up a mile away from the plant. Since leaving the hospital, Dobey had used the radio to orchestrate the entire operation. Hutch had listened in awe as Dobey got three captains and the Chief of Detectives to sign off on four SWAT units, six sharpshooters and the Tank. The Tank was the new baby of the Chief – a Teflon armored truck with two machine guns mounted on the front and back. No one had even seen the Tank, but Dobey had managed to secure it with a phone call. He had also convinced the warden out at Lompoc to go get Stryker out of solitary, and had instructed Bernie Glassman and Mark Harris to deliver Wally Stover to the command post. Hutch just hoped they still had time. He shuddered as the lifeless body of his partner swung before his eyes.
“You okay, Hutch?” Dobey turned in the seat.
“Yeah, just impatient. How long you think we’ve got?”
“We’ve got time. Shoes won’t do anything without hearing from Stryker – and we’ve got him shut down.” Dobey reached over and placed a hand on Hutch’s shoulder. “I’m worried about him, too.”
“It’s just that they could hurt him so easy. You know Starsky didn’t go willingly. They probably roughed him up – his chest – scar tissue . . .”
“Hutch, he’s tough. And you know as well as I do that the department wouldn’t have let him out from behind that desk if he wasn’t ready for the streets. And you also know there was no way you were going to keep him inside, anyway. Besides, he’ll probably have the whole thing wrapped up by the time we get in there.”
Hutch wished he could be so optimistic. Then he remembered something in the note. “Tails you lose – what’s that about?”
Dobey sighed and shook his head. “He’s just messing with me.”
“What does it mean?”
“You know how this went down the last time, right? I lost Elmo?” Dobey shook his head as he recalled the last conversation he had had with his partner . . .
“Why you think you should go?”
“Cause I’m the pretty one, Dobe – plus you got Edith.”
“You’re not that pretty. Besides, I know the plant better.”
“But you’re no good undercover. You just reek cop out of every pore.” Elmo leaned over and sniffed Dobey’s collar. “Yep – piggy piggy piggy.”
Dobey shoved Jackson back over to his side of the car. “Well, what did the captain say?”
Jackson roared through a yellow light. “Did you feel that pick-up? This car is the keenest . . .”
“This car is the whitest . . . what you gonna do, Elmo – float this little cloud right over the plant and throw down a ladder?”
“First a marshmallow and now you calling this baby a cloud? Ain’t you got no respect for my wheels? You’re just mad because I’m the one who got the judge to sign off on the warrant.”
“What did the captain say?”
“Said we had to decide. Told us to flip a coin.”
“So let’s flip a coin.” Dobey reached into his pocket and pulled out a nickel.
Jackson glanced over and laughed. “You are one tight mother, Dobey – can’t we at least flip with a quarter?” He reached over and opened the glove compartment. He felt around for a minute and pulled his hand out, dropping a coin into Dobey’s hand.
“Here, use this.”
Dobey looked down at a 1922 Liberty silver dollar. He closed his hand around it. “What are you doing with this in your glove box, Elmo? Probably worth three bucks.”
“It’s my good luck charm. Had it in my pocket when we made sergeant and when you got shot. Lost it for a while – found it when I cleaned out my old car. Perfect timing. Now flip.”
“You calling or am I?”
Jackson eased the Cadillac into a parking space. He turned in the seat. “You call it – that way you can’t blame me if you lose.” He grinned and rubbed his hands together. “Come on baby – do me good.”
Dobey rolled his eyes and fingered the coin. “Okay – heads I go. You sit your sorry ass on the sidelines. Tails – you go and try not to stink it up too much.”
He tossed the coin, caught it and quickly covered it with his other hand.
He made a great show of pulling his hand back, and revealed an eagle.
Jackson shouted and snatched the coin from his hand. “That’s what I’m talking about! Never fails me – this coin. Guess you better get used to sitting in this car, Dobe – I gotta go arrest me some criminals.”
“But how could Stryker know about the coin toss?” Hutch asked.
“When we found Elmo, the only thing on him was that damn coin. And a note.”
“None of this is in the report.”
Dobey raised an eyebrow. “You and Starsky put everything in your reports?”
Hutch shook his head. He felt sick, knowing what Dobey must have gone through – first to lose his partner, then the guilt in knowing it all came down to chance – a literal flip of a coin.
“Tails you lose.” Dobey said softly.
“Tails you lose – that’s all that was on the note.”
“Jesus,” Hutch murmured.
“I figure Elmo just spilled everything at the end – trying to get an edge, you know?” Dobey took a deep breath and shifted carefully. “They had him almost a full day before they killed him. We knew where he was and we couldn’t get to him. Too much damn steel.”
Hutch gripped the steering wheel tighter and tried to concentrate on the road. Emotions hit him from every direction. Empathy for Dobey, anger at the men who killed Elmo Jackson and left Dobey to deal with it. Then a wave of stark terror washed over it all when he thought that those same goons had Starsky. History repeating itself, isn’t that what Wally Stover said?
Dobey sat silent, staring out of the window, lost in what Hutch could only imagine to be a nightmare of memories. When they finally pulled up to the command post, it looked like a war zone. He hadn’t seen so many police officers in one place since his academy days. He only hoped it was enough.
The first thing Starsky noticed was that he was warmer. He lifted his head off the concrete floor and squinted, letting his eyes adjust. One lone light bulb high in the ceiling cast more shadow than light. He saw a dark form huddled against one corner, and empty shelves lining three walls. The smell of old, rotten meat hit him as he struggled to his knees.
“Kira?” He was glad to see her move. Sure, she was a bitch, but he didn’t really want her to die in here. Meant he could die in here, too. He wondered if there was enough air. He took two deep breaths, which was a mistake as pain knifed across his chest. Broken ribs. Terrific.
“They’re broken. I heard them crack. Don’t breathe so hard.” Kira crawled over to him. “I tried to clean your face, too. Might get an infection, but at least your cheek’s not broken.”
Starsky looked at Kira. Something was wrong. She just sat there, staring at him. Shock. She must be in shock.
“How long have I been out?”
“Don’t know – about two hours I think. I was gone for a while.”
Starsky frowned. “Gone? Where?”
Kira wrapped her arms around her chest. She looked at the ground. She shook her head. When she spoke, it was barely above a whisper. “He grabbed me.”
Starsky leaned over to touch Kira’s arm and she recoiled, scooting all the way back over in the corner. “Don’t.”
“Shit, Kira – did he hurt you? Are you okay? What happened?” Starsky crawled over to a shelf and carefully pulled himself up.
“Leave me alone, Dave.”
Starsky walked over to where she was huddled. “Kira – talk to me. What did Shoes do to you?”
Kira looked up at Starsky and he saw the bruise across her cheek and a cut above her eye. “Not Shoes – Torino.”
“Did he hurt you, Kira? Are you okay?” Starsky squatted down in front of her.
“Leave me alone.” Kira pulled her knees to her chest and wrapped her arms around her legs.
Starsky reached out and touched Kira’s cheek. She grabbed his arm, twisted it down and kicked out, catching his shoulder, tossing him backwards.
“Stay away from me.”
Starsky picked himself up, wincing at the pull from his ribs. “Okay, okay. Just trying to help.”
“Don’t. You can’t help.”
“Apparently. Hey – what about the car? Did you see my Torino? Did you see Hutch?”
“What are you talking about?”
“You said he took you in the Torino . . . did you see Hutch?”
“Louie Torino, dumbass.” Kira sat up a little.
“Louie Torino? That Louie guy’s last name is Torino? Like my Torino?”
“Jesus, Starsky – do you ever read a report? Louie Torino was Stryker’s personal bodyguard for years. He’s been in Pentonville for the last fifteen – drug charge – just got out six months ago. You didn’t even know who you were chasing, did you? Figures. Hutch can read, though, right?”
Starsky, relieved that Kira seemed to be coming around, didn’t take the bait. “So are you okay?”
“Do I look okay? Fucking Torino thought he’d have some fun with me, I guess. Shoes came in and stopped him. Before I killed him myself. Got in a couple of lucky shots, though. Dammit. I hate it.” She turned back to the wall. “Men are assholes.”
Starsky smiled. Definitely coming around. “Present company excluded?”
She turned and gave him a half smile. “Oh, of course – you’re just a dumbass.”
Starsky chuckled and headed for the door, looking for any means of escape.
“It’s steel and there’s no way out. We’re in the freezer.”
“Not so cold, though.”
“Yeah, they didn’t want to freeze us before they hung us.” Kira chuckled, a little unsteady.
Starsky ignored her for the moment and searched every corner of the room until his ribs won out and he leaned against a shelf, breathing hard. “See anything when you were out there?”
“About ten more guys. They are definitely getting ready for something.”
“Yeah, ready for Hutch. I hope to hell he brings backup.”
Kira walked over to Starsky and put a hand on his shoulder. “Sit down before you fall down, will you?” She helped him lean against the door and sat down beside him.
They sat silent for a moment. Starsky tried to find a way to breathe without the pain. He fingered his swollen cheek. His head began to throb.
“So, Dave – since it looks like we may never make it out of here alive – you have anything you want to say to me?” Kira shot him a look.
“Not now, Kira.”
“Not now? Why not? I know you’ve wanted to. Hutch won’t let you. Well, no Hutch here. So – just let me have it.”
“No. Don’t want to talk about it.”
Kira scrambled around so that she was in front of Starsky. “Why not? What have you got to lose?”
“My dinner – the whole subject makes me sick.”
“Why? Because I slept with both of you? Or because he actually got to me first?”
Starsky ignored his ribs and scooted away. “See, that’s what I’m talking about – that’s the Kira I know. Calculating bitch. I told Hutch . . .”
“Told him what?”
“I am not getting into this with you. We need to figure out a way to get out of here.”
Kira leaned back against the door. “Starsky – there’s nothing we can do to get out of here. Either your Hutch will save us or he won’t. So why not talk about it?”
“Hutch and I have already talked about it. It’s old news. You’re old news. The incident, to use your own words, is over. So drop it.”
“God, do you ever give up? You just can’t leave it alone, can you? Why Kira? You got what you wanted, didn’t you? Hutch and I didn’t talk for weeks after. And when we did, it wasn’t good for a long time. Wasn’t that what you wanted? To break us up? Well it didn’t work. And now it won’t ever work, so you can just forget it.
“Jeez, Dave – you are such an old woman. Just trying to keep our minds off our imminent demise, okay? And for your information – no, I was not trying to break you up. Whatever that means. I was just having fun, you know? Women are allowed to have fun, too.”
“C’mon Dave – it was fun, wasn’t it?” Kira scooted closer.
“Kira, I swear I’ll knock you flat if you come any closer . . .”
Kira froze. She stared at Starsky for a moment and then got up quickly and walked to the opposite side of the room. “Fucking men – everything solved with violence. Just because you think you’re so much bigger. Stronger. Fucking men. Go ahead, Starsky – just try to lay a hand on me, you bastard.”
Starsky shook his head. Someone had really gotten to her. Messed her up long before him or Hutch came along. He wondered how she ever passed the psych evaluation. Probably slept with the shrink.
“I’m not going to touch you. Will you just calm down. I need to think.”
She just turned her face away. Starsky was glad for the quiet. His head was throbbing so much now, he felt a little nauseous. Probably a concussion. He wondered what Hutch was doing. If he was worried. Then he remembered his car. Hutch would be in the Torino. Double-clutching and driving too fast. He’d have to get Merle to do a complete engine diagnosis – who knows what Hutch would do to his delicate transmission . . .
Bernie Glassman met them at the door. “Stover spilled everything. All I did was tell him you were on your way, and he cried like a baby – you really got to him in the yard.”
Dobey glared at Hutch. “I don’t think I want to know what that means, do I?”
“Captain,” Hutch pulled Dobey up the steps, “do you put everything in your reports?”
Bernie helped Hutch get Dobey settled into a chair as Captain Donnelly and Colonel Commino drifted over. The three quickly immersed themselves in mission plans.
Hutch walked Bernie out of earshot of all the brass. “So, what did Stover say?”
“Just that they’re waiting till Stryker calls and then they’ll kill em. And it was supposed to be you, Hutch. They grabbed Kira by mistake.”
“Let’s make that work to our advantage. Any chance of me getting in that Tank?” Hutch peered around the corner where the SWAT guys were suiting up.
“Doubt it – Simonetti’s in charge of it.”
“Simonetti? He’ll run Starsky over before it’s all done.”
“That’s why we’ve got our guys as close as we can. Mark’s on the roof with the shooters. And Campos is up with the first unit at the door. That’s about as far as we got. Campbell’s talking to the driver to see if he can get in, but Simonetti already says he doesn’t want you anywhere near the front. Called you reckless and a cowboy, among other things.”
They spent the next ten minutes talking to other officers, trading up in assignments until Bernie finally talked one of his old recruits into switching places with Hutch.
Captain Donnelly held a quick meeting, and then Dobey made the call to Lompoc. Hutch could see his hands tremble as he growled into the phone, “Let me talk to Stryker.”
Starsky heard footsteps and then the door swung open. He rose slowly to his feet, shading his eyes as they adjusted to the light spilling in behind the dark shapes of two men. He felt Kira come up behind him and then the goons grabbed him and ripped him out the door. He heard Kira’s muffled cry as she was left alone in the freezer.
“Where we going, girls?” Starsky goaded the men, but they remained silent.
They walked him over against a wall and tied his hands behind his back, then pulled him into the middle of the room. A big open drain in the floor still held the remains of blood and guts. Gears ground together and the ceiling came alive as the hooks started forward, swinging back and forth, gleaming in the bright light as they circled above him – every one of them empty.
Starsky shuddered. He could feel his heart chattering, the blood rush in his ears. Wished he could disappear somewhere safe inside his head.
He had hid there once. When the blood and the fire and the depraved chanting had snaked through his brain. When he had almost tumbled all the way down. Almost.
He thought about Hutch. Hoped they had one more nick of time. Wished he knew the ending to this nightmare.
“So, Sergeant – seems there’s been a change of plans.” Shoes’ voice interrupted his macabre musings.
“You gonna let me go?” He struggled to keep his voice steady.
“Droll to the end. I’ll remember to tell your partner that. He’s right outside, you know?”
“Leave him alone.” Starsky lunged toward Shoes, but the goons easily held him back.
“Oh, don’t worry. I’m not going to harm a hair on his head. I’ll be long gone before he and Captain Dobey ride in to save you. Unfortunately, so will you.”
Shoes motioned to three men standing just behind him. They joined the other two and the five men lifted Starsky up on a table and laid him face down. He
turned his head to see one of the men push a big red button on the table. The hooks immediately stopped moving forward. He pushed the button again and the hooks slowly descended, still swinging, now clinking together. Sounded like a drawer of forks crashing to the floor, over and over again. Starsky struggled against the hands that held him. He knew it was futile. He could hardly breathe, the goons outnumbered him, and he had nowhere to go.
“So, this is the only part of Stryker’s plan I liked. The big finish. The grand finale. The dénouement. What I wouldn’t give to be here when Dobey and your partner come barreling through that door, only to find another one of the boys in blue swinging from the rafters. The old man may be dying, not to mention a tad loco, but this is quite a beautiful gesture. A fond farewell to his arch-nemesis shall we say? High drama. Bravo.”
“There’s not going to be a hole deep enough where my partner won’t find you, Shoes.”
“Oh, yes – now this is truly de ja vu. The other one railed on about his partner, too. I think his exact words were, ‘You’re dead meat.’ Delicious, but I don’t think he appreciated the irony. Too bad.”
The walls shook and the hooks began to swing crazily, catching and tangling.
“Enough talk – the cavalry sounds its horn. Louie, string him up.”
Louie grabbed a hook and one of the goons yanked Starsky’s jacket and shirt up, exposing his lower back. Starsky thrashed and kicked and ignored his lungs and his ribs and managed to twist onto his side.
An explosion rocked the room, sending everyone to the floor. Starsky slid off the table, landing hard and knocking what was left of the air out of his lungs. The last thing he saw was a huge truck smashing through the wall and a familiar arm, aiming a ridiculously long handgun out the window.
“One more nick of time, buddy – one more nick of time. . .”
He knew he should wake up. But he was so warm and cozy and he could hear Hutch talking in that low, quiet tone that always made him feel safe. He burrowed deeper into the covers, enjoying his slow ascent to consciousness, and then it all came roaring back to him and his eyes flew open.
“Take it easy, buddy. Take it easy. You’re okay. I’m here.” Hutch stroked Starsky’s head, holding him down with the other hand.
“Nick of time.” Starsky croaked. He saw Hutch’s concerned face, the black smudges under his eyes, the tension in his lips, and then he saw the hooks. He flinched, tried to take a breath, forgot his ribs and ended up doubled over, gasping for air as Hutch held his forehead.
“Take it easy – ambulance is coming. You’re going to be okay,” Hutch soothed.
As Starsky concentrated on breathing, he noticed that the warehouse was full of people. He heard the busting of doors, the shouts of capture, and he knew there was something he had to tell Hutch. He turned over, grasping at Hutch’s shirt, trying to get the words out. He watched Hutch grow darker and darker and then nothing.
Captain Dobey insisted on going in. He had to see for himself that Starsky was alive. He made his way down to the warehouse, walked through the hole made by the Tank and stopped. Even with cops crawling all over the place, even with the sight of Jimmy Shoes and Louie Torino in handcuffs, even with the last of Stryker’s kingdom lying in rubble at his feet, he still felt the familiar chill grip the back of his neck. He whispered a prayer and walked slowly down the line of hooks, now twisted and broken, and saw Hutch huddled over his partner.
He stopped and leaned against a table. He reached into his pocket for a handkerchief and felt blood. Pulled some stitches, he thought, as he continued down the length of the aisle. Edith’s going to kill me.
Hutch looked up. “He’s okay, Captain. He’s having some trouble breathing – keeps passing out. Where the hell’s the ambulance?”
Dobey laid a hand on Hutch’s shoulder. “Coming, son. Don’t worry. You got to him in time.”
Before Hutch could respond, Dobey walked away. He headed to the center of the room, stood with his hands clasped, head bowed. The room quieted around him. Officers stood still, watching him for almost a full minute. Then Dobey reached into his pocket, pulled out a 1922 Liberty silver dollar, cocked it in his thumb, and flipped it skyward. Everyone watched the coin turn over and over until it ricocheted off a hook, bounced twice down a table, landed on the concrete floor, and rolled into the drain.
“Heads or tails, Elmo,” Dobey finally spoke. “Either one – today we win.” He left the coin in the drain, in the blood and the guts of the past, and walked out into the sunshine.
“Starsky, you’ve got to tell us where she is.”
They were inside the ambulance, Starsky sitting up in a stretcher, Hutch on the bench beside him. The back door was open and Bernie Glassman, Manny Campos, and Mark Harris tried to hide their amusement as they watched the scene.
“Why don’t you believe me, Hutch? Huh? She’s just fine. And maybe I don’t remember where they stashed her. I have a concussion, you know. Almost got gutted like a trout – I may not be in my right mind.”
Hutch sighed heavily. “That I can believe. But we’re never getting out of here unless you tell us where she is. Simonetti is pissed. Told the ambulance driver he’d shoot him if he took off.”
“Simonetti? Like to see him on a hook . . . like to see him survive in this frozen hell hole for one minute with that whacko. Hutch – she’s crazy. Really. I’m not kidding. Forget everything else we know about her . . .”
He paused as Campos snorted and Harris started coughing. Hutch shot them a look and Bernie mercifully closed the door. Starsky saw Campos peeking through the window, ignored him and continued.
“. . . just listen to me. She’s certifiable. In the middle of being kidnapped, she tried to come on to me. And then tried to kill me.”
Hutch took Starsky’s hand in his. “Listen, buddy, I understand you just went through hell – compounded by the fact you were locked up with Kira . . .”
“Fucking bitch . . .”
“But you also need to get to the hospital and get those ribs checked out by a doctor. I don’t give a flying fuck where she is – I just want to make sure you’re okay.”
Starsky smiled. “I’m okay now.” He laid his other hand on Hutch’s. “You had me a little worried, though. I sure was hoping that wasn’t the Torino you were riding in on.”
Hutch grinned. “Never make it up the ramp, buddy. Engine’s too heavy. Maybe with the Turtle . . .”
“Starsky – where is Kira?”
The ambulance door swung open and Simonetti and Kira stood looking in.
“Well, isn’t this a cozy scene.” Simonetti drawled.
“Fuck off, Simonetti.”
“Watch your mouth, Sergeant – and that’s Captain Simonetti to you.”
“Fuck off, Captain Simonetti.”
“Starsky,” Hutch warned, “he just saved your life. Be nice.” He turned to Kira. “You okay, Captain?”
Kira nodded. “No thanks to your partner there.”
“What the hell are you saying?” Starsky tried pull off the blankets. Hutch held him down.
“Kira, get the hell out of here. Starsky needs to get to the hospital.”
“Yeah, to get my head examined. Why I didn’t just let them shoot you-”
“Reckless endangerment, insubordination, ignoring a direct order from a superior officer . . . shall I go on, Starsky?” Simonetti rubbed his hands together. “You know, I think you might, just might be able to get a job in janitorial services when this is all over.”
Colonel Doug Commino grabbed Simonetti by the shoulder. “You’d better stop thinking, Simonetti. Doesn’t suit you.” He poked his head around the door to the ambulance. “How you feeling, Sergeant?”
“Okay, Colonel – thanks.”
“Hutchinson, what is this I hear about you riding shotgun in my Tank?”
Hutch held a hand up. “Got permission first, sir.”
“Of course you did.”
Simonetti and Kira had taken a step back. Commino turned to Kira. “Captain, you need to get yourself checked out, too. Why don’t you hop up there with Sergeant Starsky and let’s get you both to the hospital.” The colonel held out his hand to help Kira into the ambulance.
Starsky opened his mouth to protest, but Kira beat him to it.
“If you don’t mind, sir, I’d like to stay here and give my statement first. While the details are still fresh.”
Kira ignored him. “Sergeant Starsky showed great courage during our abduction – even risking his own life to save mine, and I’d like to make sure it gets recorded. Correctly.” Kira looked at Simonetti. “You know how details get lost in these complicated operations.”
“Okay, Captain – just make sure a paramedic gives you a good once over. Damn fine work, all of you.” Colonel Commino rounded the ambulance out of sight.
“Pity the paramedic,” Starsky murmured.
“Starsky . . .” Hutch cautioned.
Kira grabbed Starsky’s shoe and shook it. “Glad to see you, dumbass. Get to the hospital. You’re going to need your strength for all those reports you’re going to have to write. Take tomorrow if you need to.” She nodded to Hutch and was gone, Simonetti following, muttering under his breath.
Starsky just stared out the door. “What the hell was that?”
Hutch grabbed Starsky’s hand again. “Starsk – just relax, will you? Sounds like she weathered the ordeal just fine. And I’m sure it’s thanks to you. Now forget her. Remember – count to ten, smile and nod?”
“I’ll remember never to get locked in a freezer alone with her again. She is one psycho bitch.” Starsky laid his head back and looked at Hutch.
“Can we just skip the hospital and go home? I just need a little couch time, that’s all.”
“Just as soon as a real live MD gives you the all clear, you can have all the couch time you want. Yours or mine?” Hutch saw that the ambulance driver had crawled into the cab and he leaned over and shut the doors.
“Ours.” Starsky said.
“We have a couch that’s an ours?”
“Sure – your couch is mine and my couch is yours. Home is either one. Long as you’re sitting on it with me, rubbing my feet. Ours.”
“Rubbing your feet?”
“Uh huh – you have to. They almost got frozen off.”
“On our couch?”
“At our house?”
“Well, yours has better TV reception, and all your plants, and your shower’s hotter . . .”
“So, what’s mine is yours?”
“Sure – of course.”
“And what’s yours is mine?”
The ambulance jerked and then rolled out onto the street.
“Well, yeah, mostly . . .”
Hutch grinned. “Mostly – what does that mean?”
“Okay, Hutch – I’ve been thinking . . .”
“. . . and you know how sometimes you drive my car?”
“And sometimes you double-clutch it?”
“You mean like when I’m having to race all over town, saving your ass?”
“Yeah. Well I was thinking that next time, you should just take your own car.”
“What?” Hutch leaped up, smacked the roof of the ambulance, and sat back down hard, rubbing his head.
“Well, because every time you drive my car, Merle has to keep it for days, tuning it up and it’s not cheap and . . .”
“So it’s our couch and our apartment and our shower, but I can’t drive our car?”
“Oh, now it’s your car? What happened to ‘please Captain, we need our car’?”
“You don’t even like my car . . .”
The banter worked like a balm, soothing away the fear, fuzzing the details, softening the pain. It would all resurface again, in long sleepless nights and endless conversations over too many cups of coffee. But for now, it was enough. Enough for Starsky to feel Hutch’s heart beat when he reached out and touched his chest. Enough for Hutch to examine the cut on Starsky’s cheek, have his hand swatted away and then clasped to Starsky’s side the rest of the way to the hospital.
There would be time enough later for Hutch to tell him about Elmo Jackson and Harold Dobey. About the heavy heart of their captain, made lighter today.
About a partnership so much like their own . . .
“I cannot believe you don’t like this car, Dobe.”
“What’s not to like – cigar box with wheels . . .”
“Take that back.”
“Are you in grade school, Elmo?”
“I mean it, take that back.”
“Okay, child – I take it back. It’s not a cigar box with wheels; it’s a refrigerator with wheels.”
“Saved your hide today.”
“You saved my hide today. Not the car.”
“Always saving your hide.”
“Unless I’m saving yours.”
“Well that’s how it works, Harold Dobey. You and me.”
“Together is better, huh?”
“You’d better believe it, my partner.”
“Well, my partner who saved my hide today – buy me a beer.”
“First say something nice about my car.”
“I like the driver.”
“Okay, well – it’s not a Ford.”
“Amen to that . . . beer’s on me.”
“Just make sure it’s not ON you like the last time . . .”
“Hey, that woman dumped it in my lap.”
“After you pinched her, Elmo. I told you once, I told you a thousand times – you pinch a woman, she pinches back.”