Bernie opened the third beer in the same mood that he downed the first two. He’d been off-duty just two hours, and he knew that he had left his partner, his Sergeant, and a certain homicide Captain with more questions than answers, but for today, Bernie Glassman was done being a cop. That’s why he was here, in this bar, on the other side of town instead of perched on his regular stool at O’Malley’s. With the other cops. He soon realized that location didn’t make a bit of difference when the events of the day kept interrupting his best efforts to drink himself into a stupor.
“My God, he’s a junkie.”
He flinched again, as he remembered the hard eyes that had burned a hole through his chest when he uttered those words. It hadn’t come out like he meant it. Not an accusation. An observation. What the hell had he gotten himself into? First, the shock that a fellow officer could be hooked on heroin. Then, the realization that he had an obligation, a duty to report it. Because he was a cop. And that’s what cops do.
“Call it in,” he called to his partner, Mark Harris, as he followed Hutchinson into the alley. He found him huddled against a wall, panting, wild-eyed, filthy, and something else . . . what the hell had happened to him? He leaned down and placed a hand on his arm, but Hutch jerked and tried to crawl away.
“Hutchinson,” he tried again, “hang on, help’s coming.”
“Starsky,” Hutch moaned, “Jean . . . Starsk . . .”
Bernie tried to examine him, get him back to his cruiser, and get him to a hospital. He was a mess. But every time he tried to turn him over, to check out the cuts on his face, Hutchinson fought him – with what little strength he had. Bernie had tried to remember the details surrounding his disappearance as he laid a hand on Hutch’s back to keep him from crawling away, and then the Torino squealed around the corner and it all came back to him. This was Dave Starsky’s partner.
He rubbed his chest, remembering Starsky’s fingers digging into his skin as he gripped his uniform.
“No report. This didn’t happen, Bernie, understand. This didn’t happen.” He struggled against the rising panic he saw in Starsky’s eyes and finally, after Starsky’s choked “I’ll take responsibility,” Bernie did something he had never done, not in 22 years on the force, not for anyone. He nodded – no oath, no vow, just a silent pact – sealed in the dust and grime of that squalid back alley.
He helped Starsky get Hutch into the front seat of the Torino, and then remembered his partner. “Better go out that way.” He motioned down the alley. Starsky nodded to him over the roof of the car – held his glance for just a moment. Hutch moaned and flailed in the front seat, battling demons Bernie couldn’t even begin to understand. How does a cop get strung out like that? He had seen enough of the damage that needle left to last him two lifetimes.
Harris hustled towards him as he came out of the alley. The cover-up begins, thought Bernie as he shook his head and put his arm around his own partner, leading him back toward the car.
“Where’s Hutchinson? Did you see Starsky? What’s going on?”
Bernie ignored him, reaching for the radio instead. “This is Unit 27, we’ve got Sergeant Hutchinson. Please call off the Missing Officer. Repeat, disregard the Missing Officer.”
The radio squawked. “Please verify, Unit 27 – Sergeant Hutchinson has been found.”
“10-4, Dispatch. Sergeant Hutchinson is 10-8. Unit 27 out.”
Harris stared at his partner, stunned. Bernie walked around to the passenger side of the car and got in. Harris also got in, started the engine, and waited for the explanation, tapping his fingers on the steering wheel, watching his partner. Bernie sighed and rubbed his chest.
“Mark, dammit, I don’t know. He’s okay. Starsky took him. That’s all I know.”
Bernie lifted his empty bottle and the waitress nodded. Maybe the fourth beer would do the trick. He doubted it. The sight of Ken Hutchinson face down in that filth would probably sit with him a while. That and the sight of Captain Dobey, leaning against a cruiser, waiting for him when they pulled into the garage. He had just repeated what he told his partner – and Dobey had accepted it about as well. They didn’t doubt him, exactly. It’s just that good cops can sense things – and Dobey and his partner were good cops. If it weren’t for Bernie’s perfect record and Oscar-caliber performance, he would probably still be at the station, under the harsh glare of interrogation room lights.
He wondered where Starsky had taken his sick partner. He hoped he wasn’t trying to help him alone. He wondered how long Hutchinson had been strung out. He wondered how Starsky rationalized it – lived with it. He had known Dave Starsky from when they were in uniform together. They had been partnered for two weeks when Starsky’s FTO got the flu, and Bernie had liked the young man right away – he had good instincts, passion for the job, an innate sense of right and wrong – a good cop. The few times he had seen him since they had enjoyed a good working relationship. Until now. Oh, now they had a relationship, all right. A deal with the devil, more like it – signed with Starsky’s blood and Bernie stood holding the pen.
He took a long pull on the bottle; felt some of the tension in his shoulders roll off, settle down around his feet. He watched the waitress walk over with another beer.
“No, thanks.” Bernie held up his half-full bottle. “This has to be my last . . .”
“Compliments of the Bear.” The waitress sat the bottle on the table and walked away. The bear?
A thin black man appeared out of nowhere and stood at his booth. “You Glassman?”
“Who wants to know?” Bernie frowned as the alcohol chose this moment to arrive at his brain.
The man slid into the other side of the booth. He nodded to the waitress, who brought him a cup of coffee. Bernie’s beer-dampened mind wondered two things at once. One – why did he choose this bar, at the opposite end of town from where he lived, and two – would he know the district officers who would scrape his sorry ass off the floor after this man was done with him? He chuckled at the idea of someone actually coming to his rescue. Never happen. Not in this part of town.
“Bernie Glassman.” Huggy tried again.
“I take it you’re a bear?”
“Huggy Bear – proprietor.”
“I was telling your waitress that I’m just leaving.”
“No need to rush.”
“Had my limit.”
Bernie frowned. Was this man taunting him? He sighed. He hadn’t gotten into a real live bar brawl since his Academy days and he was certainly not up to it tonight. “Why don’t you tell me what you want, or what I did, and we can both get on with our lives.”
“You a cop?”
Bernie rolled his eyes. What was it, inscribed on his forehead? “That a crime?”
“Not in my bar. I like cops.”
“Glad to hear it.” Bernie made an attempt to scoot out of the booth.
Huggy reached over, grabbed his forearm and leaned in close. “Two cops in particular I like.”
Bernie’s internal radar fought through the beer haze. Coincidence? He didn’t think so.
“Might be three. Depends.”
“On whether you’re gonna take a walk with me.”
Bernie sighed. He was going to get his ass kicked. He wished he knew why. Made it easier to fight back when you knew what you were fighting back for. He learned that lesson from his ex-wife. And his ex-wife’s boyfriend.
“Where we going?”
“Up those stairs.”
For a brief moment, Bernie thought he had totally misjudged the Bear and the situation. Did he like cops because he liked cops? The guy’s name was Bear – was he now going to take him to his lair? He chuckled at his own joke, cursing his woefully-low tolerance of alcohol. But the guy did buy him a beer. . .
Bernie snorted at that. He had to get a grip. Of course he wasn’t about to get lucky. The man had very distinctly said – two cops. Today of all days. Two cops? No coincidence.
“Show the way,” Bernie’s clipped tones hid his uneasiness as he followed Huggy Bear up the staircase.
They stopped at a door at the top and Huggy knocked softly. He heard a murmur and then the door cracked open. If Bernie hadn’t been holding onto the railing, he would have gone tumbling back down the stairs as Starsky walked out the door, let Huggy Bear in, and closed the door behind him.
“Bernie. Surprised to see you here.”
Bernie tried to prioritize the two hundred questions clamoring for answers in his mind. What the hell was Starsky doing here? What the hell were these guys into?
“He’s my partner, Bernie.” Starsky just reached into his brain and picked out the most important one.
“Is he okay?”
“I don’t know – I think so.”
“How long has he been like this?”
“He’s not a junkie, Bernie.” Starsky spit the words.
Bernie cringed, wondering if the echo of that sentence would ever go away.
“What’s going on, Starsky? What am I involved in?”
“Are we still good?” Starsky asked.
“I don’t go back on my word. You know that.”
Starsky’s body relaxed, just a little. When he had leaned down over the banister to see what was taking Huggy so long with the coffee, and caught sight of Bernie Glassman, hunkered down in the last booth, drinking a beer, he had panicked. Again.
He had had a hell of a time getting Hutch up here. It was as if all of a sudden Huggy’s was the only place open in the entire city. They had sat in the car for half-an-hour, Hutch writhing and mumbling, Starsky cursing and soothing, until Huggy gave up waiting for a lull in business and just pulled his own fire alarm. Probably lost two hundred dollars as the patrons streamed out and down the street to another bar. But once they were stashed up in Huggy’s room without detection, Starsky thought they were safe. Until Bernie.
“Starsky – I didn’t come here looking for you. Hell, I’ve only been here once – at Donovan’s retirement party. I live up north. Just with the events of the day. . . I was looking for some peace and quiet. Didn’t want to go to a cop bar and nobody knows me down here.”
Huggy opened the door a crack. “Starsky, he needs you.”
Starsky bolted back into the room and Huggy stepped out.
“Friend or foe?” Huggy eyed Bernie. He wasn’t convinced that this man before him could be trusted, no matter what Starsky said about code blue and brotherhood of cops and all that other bullshit. He knew better. He’d seen worse. Cops were men first, and he knew any man had a price. He wondered how high they’d have to go to meet Glassman’s.
“What do you think?” Bernie replied, wary.
“You got a funny habit of answering questions with questions, officer. Learn that in cop school?”
“You got a funny way of asking questions that don’t deserve answers.”
Starsky slipped back out the door. Without a word, Huggy went back in.
“Is he okay?” Bernie wondered if he should pull rank and get Hutchinson to a hospital where he belonged. Starsky ran a trembling hand through his hair. He looked like hell. Bernie stepped in and put a hand on his shoulder.
“Starsky? Is he okay?”
Starsky attempted a smile. “Just not used to this, you know?”
“Yeah, hard to watch on someone close to you.”
Starsky drew in a shaky breath and switched gears. “They kidnapped him. Shot him up with the stuff. Got him hooked. He got away. You found him. That’s all I know.”
Bernie stood silent, stunned. He had seen and heard of all kinds of depravity in the last 22 years – but to string out a cop?
“A woman.” Starsky shook his head, cursing himself again for not paying more attention to Jeannie and the odd way Hutch acted every time he had asked him about her. He should have known something was not right with that girl.
“What are you going to do?” Bernie nudged.
“I don’t know, Bernie. Get him off the stuff, first.”
“What about Dobey?”
Starsky ran a hand through his hair again. Bernie wondered if it was out of habit or a sign of the severe stress Starsky was under at the moment. He wished he knew the man better – knew how to help him . . .
“Want me to tell him?”
“It’s my place. I’ll tell him.”
“You can’t do everything. Harold Dobey and I go back – I can tell him. Let me do something except cause you grief wondering whether I’m going to turn or not.”
Starsky thought about it for a moment. “No, I gotta do it. Thanks Bernie. But he needs to know from me and Hutch.”
“Well, I don’t want to pressure you, but you better make that a priority. He didn’t believe a word I told him.”
Starsky looked up, panicked. Again.
“Starsky,” Bernie grabbed his shoulder again, “calm down. It’s just because he knows you – he’s worried about you. If it makes you feel any better, my partner believed me.”
“Mark Harris – he put the call in . . .”
“Shit, I forgot about him.”
Bernie wondered if someone could die from stress. “Don’t worry – I’ll figure that out.”
“You can’t lie to your partner.” Starsky said, almost like a prayer.
It was over. Starsky knew it. He couldn’t run around putting out all the fires from this. He wondered why he even tried. Then he thought of Hutch – lying in the next room, fighting for his life and felt ashamed. He knew exactly why he tried. For Hutch – who didn’t deserve any of this – or any of the fallout. He would put out every fire every day for the rest of their lives if he had to. He looked over at Bernie, who watched him, concerned. Bernie had a partner, too. He had lied to his own partner. For them. He couldn’t let him do that.
“Tell him, Bernie. You have to. For Hutch. For us.”
Bernie gripped the hand Starsky offered. “He’s my partner, Starsky – you don’t have to worry about him. I trust him with my life; I can trust him with this.”
“Thanks, Bernie.” Starsky, finally convinced this flame had cooled to ash, itched to get back to Hutch.
“Get back to your partner. He needs you. I’ll take care of anything that comes up from here on out, okay?”
“Okay,” Starsky smiled and reached for Bernie’s hand again. “Thanks.”
“You can thank me later by giving me a piece of who did this to you. I’d be more than happy to sit in on that little party.”
Starsky nodded, turned, and opened the door, disappearing into what Bernie knew from experience would be hours of hell. He walked slowly down the stairs. He wondered if Harris was still up. He could use a little bit of face time with the man he chose to call partner.
He had a little story to tell him all about trust and loyalty and friendship and honor. And a partnership. And a promise.
The department was only as strong as its weakest link – how many times had he said those very words to some rookie ride-along? The strongest links emerged from the partnership of officers like Starsky and Hutchinson. Every partnership forged from that kind of integrity encouraged another partnership to develop and grow – adding to the chain.
For the first time in a long time, Bernie was proud to call himself a cop.