Slate gray, smooth and featureless, the casket stood in sharp contrast to the bright sun overhead. Starsky stood by it as family and friends comforted one another at the end of the short service.
Memories assailed him like a rainstorm backed by a strong wind, the intensity of one in particular nearly bringing Starsky to his knees.
Starsky was almost out of breath by the time he reached the end of the alley. He was relieved to see his friend there, taking out the trash. “Jackson.”
As Starsky slowed to a walk, Jackson looked up and shook his head. “What are you doing here? You’ll get caught.”
Collapsing to the cement, Starsky leaned back against the wall to catch his breath. “Nope. Aunt Rosie and Uncle Al are playing bridge with some church friends of theirs.” The fourteen-year-old dug a wrinkled pack of smokes out of his jacket pocket. He lit one and looked up at Jackson. “I wanted to make sure you didn’t get in trouble.”
With an uncertain smile, Jackson said, “Almost got caught. Got away thanks to you, Dave.”
Starsky took a long drag, then lowered his eyes. “I’m no snitch, Jack.”
Jackson kneeled down, resting an elbow on his knee. “What’ll happen to you?”
“No record if that’s what you mean.” Toying with the cigarette, Starsky remembered the look on his uncle’s face at being brought home by a cop. Not just any cop, but a neighbor, John Blaine. “I gotta work off the damage at the garage and do some volunteering at a homeless shelter. Guess I’ll be in the doghouse for a while.”
“Would you have got off if you had told?”
“Maybe. Some,” Starsky guessed. Seeing the troubled look in Jackson’s eyes, Starsky hunched closer. “It’s okay, Jack. You’ve been okay with me. Not like those other guys.”
Jackson got to his feet and grabbed the trashcan lid from the ground. “I’ve been thinking, Dave. Maybe it’s a good idea if I quit hanging around Mike and the guys. Mamma’s been real worried about money. I should get a job, help out.”
“Yeah, you’re right. Ma sent me out here to get me away from the gang at home.”
“Thought you hated her for it.” Jackson set the lid on the garbage and turned.
“She meant well.” Though he shrugged, Starsky would never forget the tears on his mother’s face. He looked up. “Are you quitting school? You only got a year left.”
“No, I’ll stay in for Momma, but soon as I’m done I’ll find something fulltime.”
“Jackson.” Starsky’s eyes lowered again and the doubts inside made his heart ache. “I won’t have any friends if we’re not hanging out anymore.”
“Sure you will.” Jackson came forward and held out his hand. When Starsky took it, he pulled him to his feet. “I’m your friend. Always will be.”
Relieved, Starsky smiled. The screen door creaked, and Starsky tossed the cigarette aside, looking up at Jackson’s mother.
“David Starsky!” she scolded. “Get home right now before I call your aunt!”
“Yes, ma’am.” Starsky flashed Jackson a smile and darted down the dark alley.
Someone touched his arm, and Starsky turned. “Sorry, just needed a minute,” he said.
Hutch nodded. “You okay?”
Starsky gave a smile a shot. “Gotta be. They’ll be expecting us at the house.”
Hutch patted his arm. With a nod, Starsky followed Hutch away from the site. They were almost to the car when he turned and gave the casket another look. It felt as if he’d left a part of himself behind—a part he wasn’t ready to leave.
Throwing his arm over his face, Officer Raymond T. Andrews tried to block out the bright sun pouring in through the sheer curtains. The hangover raged, and even the Wild Turkey from the night before couldn’t wash away the memory of the last few days’ events.
He kicked the covers off the twin size bed and sat up. After getting a handle on the rolling nausea and his pounding head, Ray got to his feet and staggered to the window. He pulled down the old blind, thankful he didn’t have to fight with it.
Ray found his crumpled jeans on the floor, slipped them on and pushed open the door leading out to the hallway. In the living room, he stopped long enough to grab three empty beer cans off the end table near the couch.
With a tired sigh, he groaned at the dirty kitchen and dropped the remnants of the night before in the trash. Ray took a glass from the cabinet, then turned to the fridge and saw his father walking into the small kitchen. After pouring some orange juice in the glass, he leaned against the counter to take a drink. He couldn’t look at his father.
“Get a little more of the hair of the dog,” Tom said. He rubbed his overhanging stomach and moved to the fridge. “You could use it.”
Ray didn’t answer, just drained the glass. He put some dirty dishes in the sink and turned on the water.
“Hey, boy.” Tom popped open the beer can and took a large drink. “Can’t let this get you down. You did the right thing. You’ll be back to work before you know it.”
“I’ll have to find another job till then.” When the sink was filled, Ray picked up the rag and started on a plate.
“The boys are gonna do what they can. We won’t starve, son.” Tom watched Ray and slugged back another drink. “Listen, we’re getting together tonight. You’ve missed a hell of a lot of get togethers since you put on a uniform. It’d do you good.”
Keeping his eyes on the task in front of him, Ray said, “Sure, Dad.” Anything was better than moping around the house for the next three months of his suspension.
Hutch shouldn’t have let Starsky get his way this time. When Helen died, he got his way by dragging his partner over to his place. The dinner they shared seemed to help, but this time Starsky wouldn’t come over. Said he needed to be alone.
Hutch sat down at the table with a sandwich, chips and a beer, his mind going over Jackson’s funeral. Starsky put on a hell of a good front for family and friends, but just under it was the painful loss of a childhood friend.
He knew the story well enough. One of the worst times of Starsky’s life was when his mother shipped him from home all the way to the opposite coast to live with his aunt and uncle. Jackson was the first friend he’d made there. After some trouble with the law, they’d made a pact to live on the right side of life.
Hutch wished he had thanked Jackson. If not for the friendship, he wouldn’t have his partner. Now Starsky was shutting him out, trying to deal with the loss. He had to find a way to help him past it. Trouble was, Hutch didn’t have the first clue how.
It was late, almost eleven, when Ray parked his pickup across from Venice Place. He stared at the lit window. Thinking back to the surreal events earlier this evening, he ran through a list of names. Cops from his precinct who might be able to do something. With every name came a reason as to why they wouldn’t help, or a memory of being shunned.
Detective Hutchinson had a reputation for seeing all sides. He listened with an open mind, never passing judgment until all the facts were laid out.
Well, he’d been judged. There was no doubt about that. Would the event of a few days ago keep Hutchinson from helping? Ray didn’t know. The entire department had turned their backs on him, so there were no guarantees anyone would listen, but Ray had to do something. He rubbed his face, worrying about how he would be received. Or if he’d even be believed.
He pushed open the car door and stepped out, crossing the street after a passing car. Once up the stairs, he stood in front of the door, knocking before his courage ran out on him.
The breath left Hutch’s chest when he saw who stood in his doorway. He stared at the young rookie before him. “What are you doing here?”
After swallowing the lump in his throat, Ray said, “I have to talk to you.”
“What do we have to talk about? You’re on suspension, and I won’t lift a finger to get you off.”
“It’s not about that.” Ray half-expected Hutch to slam the door in his face, but was taken aback when he motioned him inside.
Hutch brushed passed him, going into the kitchen. He took the teapot off the stove and poured the hot water into a waiting cup. “It’s late. Say what’s on your mind.”
Taking an awkward look around, Ray wasn’t quite sure where to begin. He shifted his feet before starting. “Some people I know . . . ”
Hutch shifted the cup on the table, watching Ray. Gone was the cocky rookie from a few days ago. This person was subdued, nervous and unsure of himself. “So, what about some people you know.”
Ray couldn’t believe he was going to say it. What he was about to do went against everything he had been taught. “They want your partner dead.”
Frozen in place, it took Hutch a moment for the words to soak in. He took the chair and sat. “Who?” He watched the struggle play out on Ray’s face, and it was then he realized how hard it must have been for Ray to show up with this information.
“Friends of my family.” Ray turned away. “Some family.”
“Starsky had nothing to do with your suspension.”
“Word got back to them about what happened after . . . ”
“Over hitting you?” Hutch got to his feet and moved to him. “Don’t you think that’s a bit of a stretch?”
“He’s a Jew.” Stepping away from Hutch, Ray started for the door. “I knew you wouldn’t understand. Even if you did, you don’t believe me.”
Hutch beat Ray to the door before he could leave, grabbing his arm. “Wait. Would they do it?”
Ray hesitated. “I don’t know. They’ve never talked like this before.”
Holding his hand up, Hutch said, “Just wait, Andrews.” He went to the phone and picked it up. “I want you to head to the precinct.”
“No way I’m going there.”
Looking into the young cop’s eyes, it was obvious he was unwilling to take another trek through the place. Hutch had heard Clayburn was already asking for a new partner. “You know the Pits?” Ray nodded. “Go there and wait for me. Don’t leave until we talk.”
Starsky turned off the TV as Hutch came through the door. “You said it was important.”
Hutch crossed to the couch. “Sit down.”
Surprised at his partner’s intensity, Starsky did as instructed. “Must be some piece of news, Hutch.”
“I had a visitor tonight, Starsk.”
Hutch began to realize how hard this conversation was going to be. He swallowed. “I don’t have the full story yet, but apparently some people want you dead.”
Taking a deep breath, Starsky nodded. “Well, it won’t be the first time someone’s had it in for me. Who?”
There was no getting around it. “Some of Andrews’ family.”
“Andrews? Raymond T.?” At Hutch’s nod, Starsky shot up and put his hands on his hips. “What makes you think he’s telling the truth this time around?”
“Starsk, if you’d seen him . . . ”
“Don’t try and sell me on him, Hutch.” Starsky headed for the kitchen, taking a beer from the fridge. He looked up as Hutch walked in. “He killed Jackson.”
“We have to talk to him,” Hutch said evenly. “We have to find out what he knows.”
“So where is this shining example of a cop?”
Hutch sighed. Starsky was furious, as he’d known he would be. “The Pits. We’re meeting Dobey there.”
Setting the bottle back in the fridge, Starsky moved around Hutch and retrieved his jacket. “Let’s go.”
“Starsky,” Hutch followed him to the door. “It took a lot of guts for him to come to me.”
Slipping his jacket on, Starsky nodded. “Sure. Don’t want to scare the punk off.”
Hutch trailed behind him, foreseeing a hard night ahead.
Ray looked nervously at the door and when a group of women walked in, he sighed. He took a look at his watch. For almost half an hour he’d been waiting. He would have asked for a beer, but given the hard look coming from the owner, Ray knew he wouldn’t be served.
He wished he smoked or something . . . anything to pass the time. A large shadow moved past the table, and Ray straightened when Captain Dobey sat down in the chair across from him.
Dobey motioned for Huggy and got a wave in return. He turned back to Ray. “You sure you want to be seen with me?”
“I didn’t know you’d been called.”
“When one of my men’s life is involved.” He looked up at Huggy, who set a beer in front of him. “Put it on my tab, Huggy.”
The nod and quick departure told Dobey enough. He looked at Ray. “If this is anything but the full truth, Andrews, any future hopes you have about being a cop won’t mean a damn thing.”
For some reason, Ray was relieved to see Hutch headed in their direction. When he saw Starsky coming in behind him, he stiffened. They stopped long enough to pick up two glasses of beer.
Ray set his hands on the table and ignored Starsky’s eyes boring into him. His bitterness towards the detective churned in his gut.
“Okay, Andrews,” Dobey said. “Start at the beginning.”
“Some nights . . . ” Ray swallowed. He couldn’t believe what he was about to do. “Family and friends get together, drink, talk . . . you know.”
“Why would they want Starsky dead?” Hutch asked.
“What happened in the alley was more than just him slapping me.” He licked his dry lips, wishing for a drink, and stole a quick look at Starsky. The heated gaze on his never wavered. “He’s a Jew and my people’ve got a lot of pride.”
“And you killing Jackson?” Everyone’s eyes went to Starsky. “What do they say about that?”
Ray’s eyes lowered and he tightened his mouth. “You get the idea.”
The tension was growing thick. Hutch watched Starsky, on the alert. “You said ‘my people.’ What does that mean?”
“Tight group of family and a few friends.”
“Any of them cops?” Dobey asked.
Ray shook his head. “No, most of them work at the oil refinery.”
“How many people are we talking here?” Hutch asked.
“Five or six people were talking about it.”
Dobey leaned forward. He’d been around long enough to know the truth when it looked at him. “How organized is this group?”
“It’s a small chapter. Enough to go on about business without being noticed by most. Thirty people . . . maybe forty.”
“Chapter?” Starsky was confused. He looked from Dobey to Hutch. “What does that mean?”
“Starsk.” Hutch turned in his seat and put a hand on his arm. “The KKK.”
Gripping the glass until his knuckles whitened, Starsky’s rage upped another notch. He could feel the heat of his anger racing into his face. “What the hell is a cop doing in the KKK? They’re the bad guys!”
“There’s some good people there!” Ray fired back. “All we’ve got is each other!”
“Bullshit!” Starsky yelled.
“Easy!” Hutch squeezed Starsky’s arm. “We’ve got a crowd here, Starsk.” Snapping his mouth shut, Starsky took even breaths.
Dobey brought his attention back to Ray. “Why did they trust you with this?”
“I’m one of them.” Ray shrugged his shoulders.
“Captain,” Hutch said. “There’s no telling if this is just a bunch of talk or if they’d go through with it. Given what’s involved, I don’t think we can ignore it.”
“We need more than just talk,” Dobey replied. “We need a plan. Conspiracy charges are tough to prosecute.”
“Everything’s done a certain way,” Ray offered. “A lot of it is just talk during the meetings. When they’re over . . . that’s when they get down to business.”
“We need an experienced cop in there.” Hutch leaned back in his chair and looked at Ray. “Can you get me in?”
“I don’t know. You’re his partner. They’d suspect.”
“Hutch, if what he says is true, they’d put a bullet in your head just as easy as they would mine,” Starsky said.
Dobey rubbed his jaw. “Andrews?”
“You’d have to get a blessing from more than just me,” Ray told Hutch.
“Starsky, all they know is that we’re partners on the job. They don’t know we’re friends. I can talk a good line.” Hutch looked at Ray. “How can I get a pass?”
“My Dad.” Ray lowered his gaze and focused on his hands. “He started the chapter. If you’re in good with him, there wouldn’t be a question.”
“Okay,” Dobey said. “Hutchinson, toss in a line and see how it goes.” He looked at Ray. “I’ll walk you to your car.”
When they were gone, Hutch watched Starsky nurse his beer for a few minutes. “Well?”
“Well what? You’re going in without backup.” Without me. Starsky’s voice was terse. “You already made up your mind.”
Hutch took a quick drink. “So’ve you.”
No way Starsky was answering that. “I’m not the one putting my neck on the line to get in good with a bunch of racist motherfuckers.”
“Listen, until we get a better idea, why don’t you stay at my place?”
“Not a good idea. What happens if a white-sheeted asshole should show up?”
“You can slip out the back quick enough. I don’t want to chance them coming to your place.”
Starsky raised the glass to his lips. He looked past Hutch, gazing at nothing in particular. “Just don’t ask me to give him a reprieve because he suddenly got a conscience, Hutch.”
Early the next morning, Starsky arrived at the Walters’ residence. Elma Walters opened the back door. The sadness in her eyes was like a punch to the gut. He wondered if such intense pain ever subsided when a parent lost a child.
He hoped he’d never find out.
“You’re here early.”
Starsky walked past her into the kitchen. “I thought I’d get a start on fixing that hole in the roof.”
Elma went to the stove. “Just sit right down, David. Breakfast’s just about done.” She stared down at the scrambled eggs and bacon still in the pan. “Jackson always complained about not getting the bacon cooked enough to suit him.”
The words made Jackson’s absence even more apparent. Starsky expected his friend to walk in, kiss his mother on the cheek and swipe a piece of bacon as she scolded him. He couldn’t count how many breakfasts he had shared with this family.
Resting his hands on her shoulders, Starsky leaned in close. “I miss him, too.”
Patting his hand, Elma smiled. “He cared so much about you, David. Always looked up to you.”
“Me?” Starsky was stunned. Jackson had managed to keep his family together through so many tragedies, while it only took one to almost tear Starsky’s apart.
“He wished he could help people the way you do. It’s a gift he never thought he had.”
With a little smile, Starsky said, “I always thought he was the smart one.”
Wiping away the tears, Elma shooed Starsky towards the table. “Get the milk out and let me finish cooking this before it burns.”
“Yes, ma’am.” Starsky grinned and went to the fridge. “Junior already leave for school?” He took out the carton and turned when he didn’t get an answer. “Mrs. W?”
Elma scooped the eggs out of the pan and onto a plate. She set it on the table and looked at Starsky. “No.” She turned back to the stove and finished cooking the bacon.
Starsky poured milk into a glass and put it back. “Junior’s strong. He’ll be okay.” Once the bacon was finished, Elma went to the table, set the platter down and took a seat.
“Maybe you can talk some sense into him, David.”
Starsky salted the eggs and picked up his fork. “What’s wrong?”
Worry etched her features and she looked as if she would cry again. Starsky hated that she had to worry about Junior after losing her son so recently.
“He quit school yesterday.”
“Quit?” Starsky was floored. “Whatever for?”
Looking down at her tea, Elma picked up the spoon and stirred it. “Jackson’s life insurance will pay off the house and most of the bills, but it don’t leave much for getting by. Junior plans on finding a job to help support us.”
“But he’s gotta finish school. Without it . . . ” Starsky stopped. He didn’t have to say any more. Elma knew what it meant. “Want me to talk to him?”
“Junior’s out looking for a job, David. He’s trying so hard to be a man . . . doing what his father did.”
Jackson didn’t quit school. Starsky almost said it out loud. “I can ask around and see if anyone’s got anything he can do after school.”
At the gratitude in Elma’s eyes, Starsky reached over and took her hand in his. “It’ll be okay. I promise.”
That afternoon Hutch met Ray at a small café. He waited until the waitress left after serving them coffee. “Any problems getting away?”
Ray shook his head. “No, I told Dad I was looking for a job.”
“Good.” Hutch picked up his cup.
“Since the refinery’s full up, I’ll be looking elsewhere.” Ray stirred sugar into his coffee.
“I need a little history, Andrews. How’d your father wind up starting a chapter of the KKK in Bay City?”
“We moved out here from Kentucky when I was ten. The coal dust gave him the headaches and he had to quit. Back then, most everyone was leaving and he thought California would give us a good start. He got in good with management at the refinery.”
“Family and friends followed?”
“Yeah.” Ray kept his gaze low as he sipped the coffee. “A lot of ’em got on at the refinery. Those that didn’t looked other places, but jobs were getting harder to find.”
“And they blamed anyone who wasn’t white who got jobs instead of them.”
“Some had to work for ’em. Blacks, Jews, Koreans . . . it wasn’t easy.”
“Pride,” Hutch muttered. “That’s when the chapter started.”
“Dad said we couldn’t rely on anyone but ourselves. The KKK helped a lot when we lived in Kentucky. Food, bills, medicine. Being a part of it meant something then. Getting government help means mixing with them, and Dad never thought we’d get a fair shake.”
“How’d you wind up a cop?”
Running his finger along the lip of the cup, Ray remembered how excited he was upon being accepted into the academy. “I wanted to do my part. Help my family pay the bills, help make the world the way they thought it ought to be.”
“You believe that’s how it should be?”
“I don’t know. I don’t remember a lot of Kentucky, but to hear them tell it, life was about as perfect as anything. Maybe it wasn’t, but the good outweighed all the bad they found here.”
Hutch rubbed his eyes, then leaned forward. “Any doubts about what we’re doing, I need to know right now, Andrews. I’m not putting my hide on the line for you to have second thoughts.”
“Do you? This is your family . . . your father. Think you can pull the wool over his eyes?”
“I don’t want anyone else to die. Does that answer your question?”
Hutch searched his eyes. Was he sorry for killing Jackson? He didn’t know. After getting to his feet, Hutch pulled a few bills from his pocket. “Let’s go. I’ll follow you over there.”
Pulling in behind Ray’s truck, Hutch looked at the house. He shouldn’t have been surprised by how it looked, but seeing it formed a knot in his gut. Three old tires sat stacked near the porch, a broken down old Chevy sat on blocks in the driveway and the trashcans near the curb were left lying by careless garbage men. The lawn was littered with trash and the house looked like it hadn’t seen paint in twenty years.
Hutch got out of the LTD and met Ray near the truck. “As far as your father is concerned, I came to you. Don’t forget.”
“Before we go in there . . .” Ray looked at the house, then back at Hutch. “Things like family, loyalty and honor go a long way. They’re not just words to people like my dad, no matter how rough he talks.”
Ray wasn’t convinced Hutch understood. “Mixed in with it you’ll hear nigger, kike, Chink, gook. Probably more.”
“I expect it.”
“It’s different when they’re in your face.”
“What do you think Vivian Fellers thought when you said it?”
Ray didn’t bother to answer, instead walking past Hutch towards the house. His anxiety increased, perspiration popping out on his forehead. He took steadying breaths the closer he got to the house.
Inside, tacked onto the far wall above the couch was a full-sized Confederate flag. Aged, well worn and frayed, the symbol was more than just a reminder of days long past. It overshadowed the old, worn furniture in the room.
“Where you been, boy?”
Hutch’s attention went to the man standing in the doorway leading from the hallway. Ray’s father was as he expected—late fifties, thinning gray hair, crooked teeth, belly hanging over his jeans. Tom Andrews wore an old white T-shirt that was a few inches shy of covering his pale stomach.
Ray took a deep breath and stepped forward. “This is my Dad, Tom. Dad, this is Detective Ken Hutchinson.”
Putting on his best smile, Hutch held out his hand. “My friends call me Hutch.”
Stepping back, Tom turned on Ray. “What the hell’s the matter with you, boy? He’s the partner of that goddamn kike!”
“Dad . . . ” Ray was surprised his father knew who Hutch was. Sweat dripped down his temples.
“Mr. Andrews,” Hutch said. “If I were in your shoes I’d feel the same way, seeing the partner of the man who struck your son. I asked Ray to bring me here.”
Unsure of what Hutch was doing, Ray looked from him to his father.
“What the hell for?” Tom asked, his mouth curling into a half-snarl that told Hutch this wasn’t a man to turn your back on.
“I wanted to assure you I’m doing everything I can to see Ray is reinstated. Some of us at the station think Sgt. Starsky should’ve been the one disciplined.”
Tom brushed past Hutch and went to the well-worn brown chair in the corner of the living room. He sat and appraised Hutch as if he were an old truck. “You talk like a college boy.”
Seeing the mistrust in Tom’s eyes, Hutch stuck his hands in his pockets. “You’re right about that, sir.” He moved to the center of the room keeping his focus on Tom. “I always liked Ray and thought he made a hell of a good cop.”
“And you think you can get him his job back?” Tom was skeptical.
“It’ll be tough.” Hutch took a look around the room. “May I sit?”
Permission was given with a motion of Tom’s hand. As Hutch sat, Tom said to Ray, “Get us a couple of beers. I want to hear what he’s got to say.”
Ray went to the kitchen and Hutch leaned forward. “The department’s not like it was twenty years ago.”
“Yeah, you got that nigger captain.” Tom took the beer from Ray and pulled off the tab. “I know what goes on there. What Ray and a few others tell me is you boys let all types in.”
After taking a drink, Hutch nodded. “We’ve got our work cut out for us, but we’re not giving up.”
“You get my boy back on the job and I’ll take a second look at you.”
Ray stepped forward. “Dad, it’s not that easy. You heard what Hutch said.”
“You just do what you’re told,” Tom ordered. He looked at Hutch. “Sometimes he don’t know when to shut up. Get him back to work.”
The man wasn’t about to listen to a long list of excuses. If Hutch didn’t deliver, they wouldn’t get far. After taking a large drink, Hutch stood and handed the can to Ray. “I was thinking of going out tonight and hitting a few clubs, Ray. You up for it?”
Ray was a little surprised at the invitation. Hoping it didn’t show, he nodded. “Sure.”
“Come by about nine and we’ll go tear up the town.” Hutch reached over and shook Tom’s hand again. “It was nice meeting you, Mr. Andrews. I’ll be in touch.”
When Hutch was gone, Ray went to the kitchen and poured out the rest of the beer. He had little taste for alcohol after the other night. Out of the corner of his eye he saw Tom in the doorway. “He’s okay, don’t you think?”
“Never thought you’d bring the likes of him here,” Tom grumbled.
“I need him to help me get my job back, Dad. You know that.” Ray tossed the can in the full trashcan and began pulling out the bag to take it out. “I like him, too.”
“Suppose you do, boy,” Tom admitted. “Watch out for him. He’s partners with that son of a bitch that hit you.”
“Not his fault. They got assigned together.” After tying the ends of the bag, Ray straightened. “That’s how it works.”
With a deep chuckle, Tom stepped forward and gave Ray a firm pat on the cheek. “Sure, Ray. You always had a good heart, just like your Ma.”
Ray didn’t answer. He stepped around Tom and left to take out the trash.
It took over four hours of work to patch the holes in the roof. Years of neglect and a lack of money had taken its toll. If Starsky could have afforded it himself, he would have had the thing replaced.
He climbed down the ladder and was met by Elma holding a cold glass of lemonade. With an appreciative smile, he took it and went to the chair. They chatted on the front porch while Starsky finished. Afterwards he went to the bathroom to wash away the grime and noticed the faucet leaked. He took a look under the sink to find the problem.
After telling Elma he’d be back, Starsky drove to the hardware store and purchased the needed items. What he’d thought was a twenty-minute job turned into two hours of work. By the time Starsky finished, he was half-soaked and exhausted.
A towel was tossed in his direction and Starsky looked over his shoulder at Junior. “Hey.”
“What are you doing?”
“Oh.” Starsky wiped off his face. “There was a leak and . . . ”
“I know about it.” Junior folded his arms and leaned against the doorframe. “I planned on fixing it this weekend.”
“Well, I figured since I was here . . . ” Starsky stopped. He felt like an intruder given the hard look he was getting from Junior. “Next time I’ll ask.”
Junior turned and started down the hallway. Starsky caught up with him and stopped him at the top of the stairs. “I heard you quit school.”
“I told Grandma not to tell you.”
“She’s worried about you, Junior.”
“Jackson,” he corrected.
Starsky nodded. It was Jackson now. He wouldn’t forget again. “You gotta get your education. You know that.”
“It’ll have to wait. Grandma can’t pay for her medicine on what she gets now.”
“Listen, I know some people. I bet I can help get you something after school.”
Shaking his head, Jackson wished Starsky would understand. “It’s gotta be full time. Part time don’t do me or her any good.”
As much as he’d have liked to, he couldn’t force Jackson to go back to school. Treating him like a little kid could only backfire in the worst possible way. “You put it off now, you won’t go back later.”
Feeling helpless, Starsky didn’t move as Jackson went down the stairs. There had to be something he could do. He needed rest and a shower to clear his thoughts. And maybe Hutch would have some ideas.
Hutch looked up from the car window at his apartment. He was relieved to see the light on. Inside, at the top of the stairs, Hutch opened the door and found Starsky in his kitchen. He could smell onions in the air. “Smells good. What are you making?”
As soon as Hutch walked into the kitchen, Starsky opened the oven door.
“Meatloaf?” Hutch asked.
“I can’t remember the last time I had a good meatloaf.” Starsky looked at his partner studying the dish. “You don’t like meatloaf? It’s the all-American dish.”
Hutch pointed at the meatloaf. “What’s that?”
Starsky leaned in to get a better look. “Oats.”
“Oats? As in my organic expensive oats that I use for my health shakes?”
“Yeah, it helps the texture. Besides, I didn’t think you’d mind me adding a little bit into it. What’d you expect me to use, that instant crap they call oatmeal at the store?” Starsky closed the oven door and went to the fridge. “Hutch, you of all people should appreciate gourmet cooking.”
“It’s not gourmet, Starsky. It’s meatloaf.” Hutch took the beer his partner held out.
“For one who appreciates a fine meal such as myself,” Starsky said with pride, “it’s gourmet.”
Hutch grunted and took a drink of his beer. He watched Starsky set the salad on the table next to the condiments. Rather than get into a discussion of the current case, Hutch finished off the bottle, tossed it in the trash and headed to the bathroom. After a brisk shower, he dressed and returned to the kitchen to find dinner served.
They ate in silence for several minutes, then Starsky couldn’t take it anymore. “I’m guessing Andrews didn’t blow your cover today.”
Keeping his eyes down, Hutch pushed the vegetables around the plate. “Before I get the KKK stamp of approval I’m expected to get him back on the job.”
“That won’t happen,” Starsky mumbled. “It hasn’t even been a week since . . . ”
Their eyes locked and Hutch set down his fork. “I figure if I put on a good show of attempting to get Ray back in uniform, it’ll help my credibility.”
“Ray, huh?” Starsky leaned back in his chair. “Sounds like the two of you are buddies already.”
“Come on, Starsk. Don’t be this way.”
“I shouldn’t be pissed a racist shot down one of my best friends? Is that what you’re saying, Hutch?”
“No. Just don’t take it out on me for doing whatever it takes to keep you breathing.”
Sighing, Starsky slowly relaxed, resting his elbows on the table. “Sorry. I went over to Jackson’s today. It’s not good.”
“Jackson quit school.”
No surprise there, Hutch thought. “So he could get a job.”
“Yeah, there’s not enough money left to cover everything.”
Hutch picked up his fork. “That’s too bad.”
“Is that all you’ve got to say?”
“What do you want me to say, Starsky? It’s a shitty deal, partner, but there are some things you can’t do anything about.”
“I hoped you might have an idea on how Jackson could stay in school and still work.”
“A part-time job won’t be enough.”
“I know that, but there’s got to be something else.”
Looking at Starsky, Hutch wiped his mouth and set the napkin on his lap. He was about to say something when a knock interrupted. Starsky was already out of his seat when Hutch looked at the clock. Damn, he thought. He had forgotten about Ray.
The last person Starsky expected to see when he opened the door was Ray Andrews. The urge to punch the young man out returned as fiercely as it had that night at Huggy’s.
Ray stood silently, expecting violence to erupt. He saw the look in Starsky’s eyes. His own animosity towards Starsky remained strong. He didn’t know if he’d fight if Starsky hit him. Before he could find out, Hutch came forward.
“Starsky, Ray and I’ve got to make an appearance at a couple of clubs tonight.”
Stepping aside, Starsky said, “Sure.” He wasn’t about to stay around Ray any longer than he had to.
Hutch looked over his shoulder at his partner, who took a beer off the kitchen table and headed for the greenhouse. Turning his attention to Ray, Hutch took a deep breath. “So, you ready?”
“Sure.” Ray watched Hutch putting on his holster and noticed the guitar sitting in the corner. He walked over to it. “You play?”
“Some.” Hutch picked up the Magnum and checked the chamber.
“How good are you?”
“I can hold my own, I suppose. Why?”
Thoughtful, Ray gazed at the instrument, then at Hutch. “If you can pull off some bluegrass, it would go a long way to impressing a few folks.”
“Yeah, it’s kind of like blood for us. Goes through you and connects you to people. Hard to explain.”
“I do play around with different genres.”
“It’s gotta come from the heart, though. You can’t have sheets of music in front of you.”
Hutch picked up the guitar and moved into the living room. He set his foot on the arm of the couch and propped the guitar on it. It took a moment, but before long he was playing some old hillbilly music. The words came back to him:
Old and in the way, that's what I heard them say
They used to heed the words he said, but that was yesterday
Gold will turn to gray and youth will fade away
They'll never care about you, call you old and in the way
Once I hear tell, he was happy
He had his share of friends and good times
Now, those friends have all passed on
He don't have a place called home
Looking back to a better day, feeling old and in the way
Ray smiled when he finished. “Wow, that was good. I’ve never heard it before.”
“Thank Jerry Garcia. The man’s a genius.” Hutch set the guitar back in place.
“Yeah, a few years ago he and a few buddies put a band together long enough to put out an album. It was called ‘Old and In the Way.’”
Hutch smiled. “Yeah.” He went to his albums and looked up. Starsky stared at him from the greenhouse. Averting his eyes, Hutch felt somehow guilty. He pulled out the record and handed it to Ray. “You can borrow it if you like.”
“I better not.” Ray gave it back. He walked to the door, still seeing the dark look on Starsky’s face in his mind.
“Let me know if you change your mind.” Hutch laid the album on his stereo and followed Ray out the door.
With the sun bearing down on him, Starsky stepped out of the Torino and looked at the small café across the street. His mind was on the conversation with Hutch last night, and seeing Ray there with him. He wished the damn case would just go away. It was an all too painful reminder of Jackson’s death.
Once inside, Starsky spoke with the owner and was directed to the alley. There he found Jackson dumping trash into the large dumpster. He hated seeing the youth wearing a dirty apron doing such menial work.
“What are you doing here?” Jackson set one of the cans down and reached for the next.
“I’ve been doing some thinking, Jackson, and there’s a way for you to go back to school.” Starsky stepped closer and took a deep breath. “You can still work part-time if you want.”
“I already told you—”
“I know what you said.” Starsky reached into his back pocket, getting out his billfold. “I’ll pay for your grandmother’s medicine. It’ll help take some of the—”
“You’re serious about this.”
“Of course I am. You’ve got to go to school.”
“No. It’s my responsibility. Not yours or anybody else’s.”
“Jackson, this is the rest of your life we’re talking about.” Starsky motioned at the trash in the alley. “Is this what you want?”
“You don’t have to tell me a thing. Daddy taught me about what it means to work hard. Whether it’s this or something else, I’ll take care of Grandma. I’m the only one she’s got.”
“You’ve both got me, Jackson. Let me help.”
“You want to help? Be my friend.” Jackson picked up the cans and started for the door. “Don’t do this again.”
Disappointed, Starsky put the wallet away. “Jackson—”
“I got to get back to work.”
The door closed and Starsky was alone in the alley. He bit back a curse and resisted the urge to kick something.
Hutch stood in the backyard with Ray’s family and friends, gathered together for a cookout. A small group of men stood in one corner, holding Styrofoam cups. Tom Andrews and another man were at the old grill poking at the hamburgers and hotdogs. Across the lawn some kids ran after a ball rolling towards the fence.
Three men sat at a picnic table, picking at the musical instruments. Bluegrass music filled the air with a hominess that Hutch could easily get used to. Songs of old gospel and songs of family and sorrow brought a homegrown ambience and yearning for simpler times.
As he soaked in the atmosphere, Hutch began to gain a greater understanding of the life Ray had led. There was still much he didn’t know, but this insight was far more revealing than anything else he’d learned so far.
He smiled when Ray came over carrying two plastic cups. “This is nice, Ray.”
“Glad you’re enjoying yourself.” Ray handed a cup to Hutch. “Take it easy with this stuff. It’ll kick your ass if you’re not used to it.”
At the first sip, the drink caught in Hutch’s throat. He coughed and it took a moment to find his voice. “What the . . . !” Hutch gasped.
Ray couldn’t hide the smile. “It’s home grown.”
“I’ve had moonshine before, but this . . . ”
“From around here?”
Hutch nodded. “It’s nothing like this battery acid.”
“This recipe’s been in the family for about a hundred years.” Ray took a drink and nodded towards an old man holding a glass jar filled with the hard liquor. “Uncle Red makes it in his garage.”
“For your sake, I hope no one’s selling it.”
“It stays in the family. Call it pride.”
They turned their attention to the music and when the song ended, Ray saw an opportunity. “Travis!” he called out.
A middle-aged man wearing an old John Deere cap came over carrying his banjo. “Ray. How you holding up, son?”
“Fine. This is a friend of mine. Hutch. He can hold his own on a guitar.”
Travis chuckled a little and shook his head. “A California boy?”
Hutch started to feel as if he was on display. He decided he didn’t like it. “I think I can keep up.”
“We’ll see ’bout that.” Travis walked over to the picnic table, picked up the well-used guitar and held it up in challenge.
Looking at Ray, Hutch asked, “Is this where they separate the men from the boys?”
“If you can drink that and play like them . . . yeah.”
Taking another drink of courage, Hutch hoped his fingers could keep up with the fast-paced music. He handed the cup off and went to the table. After a few strums on the guitar, the banjo started and he found a place to jump in. The tune was simple, but it still took work to keep up with the rhythm. Before long, Hutch had found his stride and began enjoying the impromptu session. Others joined in, adding their own style, which elevated everyone’s mood. The gathering crowd and the smiles on their faces told Hutch he’d made some inroads. As the song ended, everyone clapped.
Enjoying the handshakes and slaps on the back, Hutch looked in Ray’s direction and saw the approval in his eyes. But the good feeling was disrupted when shouts came from the house behind. Everyone turned to see three black men coming towards the back fence. “Hey, you goddamn honkies!” one yelled. “Take that shit back to the hills, you backward fucks!”
The women pulled the children back to the house. The men walked forward, Hutch moving with them, hanging back just a little. Travis walked past him, shotgun in his hands. They must have their guns within easy reach, he guessed.
He shouldn’t have been surprised to see Ray at the front standing next to his father. Hutch spread his feet and got ready should he have to intervene. All that separated the two groups was a fence.
“You got something to say, boy,” Tom challenged. He took the weapon from Travis and cradled it like one would an infant.
“I ain’t your boy!” The largest man spat.
“That’s for goddamn sure,” Travis laughed. The rest of the group chuckled along with him.
“Hey, Charlie,” Tom said.
A young man probably no older than Ray said, “Yeah, Tom.”
“Think these niggers could use a lesson in southern hospitality?”
Charlie’s eyes leveled on the black men across from him. “You bet.” He was handed a thick rope and dropped it down to expose a noose.
The three men stilled. No one had to tell them what kind of people they were dealing with.
“Come on, boy,” Tom taunted. “It’d be just like back home. All we need is a nigger, a burning cross and a big oak.”
The standoff lasted another minute, then the black men turned away. Ray’s family and friends continued with the taunts and catcalls until they were gone. Hutch walked over to him and spoke in a low voice. “This happen often?”
“No. They moved in a couple of months ago. It’s too public for Dad or anyone else to follow through with their threats.”
As the crowd broke up, Hutch and Ray were urged inside where the rest of the day passed without incident.
Carrying the thick photo album, Starsky bounded up the stairs to Hutch’s apartment. He halted at the door when he heard music from the other side. Normally he wouldn’t have hesitated, but this type of music gave him pause. Hutch always did have eclectic tastes, but this was different even for him.
Starsky eased the door open and stuck his head in, stepping inside as Hutch came out of the kitchen, wearing his robe. “Hey, I expected to see a hillbilly or two.”
“Hey, Starsk.” Hutch smiled and waved him in.
Closing the door behind him, Starsky went to the living room, setting the album on the coffee table. “What in the hell are you listening to?”
Hutch motioned to the stereo. “Incredible, isn’t it?”
“Can’t dance to country music like this.”
“Starsky, this isn’t country music.”
“Bluegrass.” Starsky went to the kitchen and opened the fridge. “What’s the difference?”
“It’s a mix of Scottish, jazz and blues.” Hutch watched Starsky open the beer bottle. “Country’s roots are in bluegrass.” He went to his partner. “Did you know bluegrass didn’t even have a name until after World War II? It’s the evolution of Scottish and Irish music over a good hundred years.”
“Thanks for the music history lesson,” Starsky said dryly. “You going out again tonight?”
“Yeah, just for a couple of beers.” Hutch eyed Starsky, waiting for some kind of reaction, but none came. “You okay with that?”
“Why wouldn’t I be?”
“I know it’s been tough on you, Starsky.”
It was on the tip of Starsky’s tongue to remind Hutch of Jackson’s hardships, but he held it. “Go have a good time. I’m more interested in an old Bogart movie tonight.”
Starsky waited until Hutch was in the bathroom. When the shower was running, he went to the coffee table and checked the photo album to make sure everything was in place.
Ten minutes later, someone knocked at the door. Starsky already knew who it was when he opened it. “Come here,” Starsky said. “I want to show you something.”
Unsure of what to expect, Ray followed, sitting down on the couch with Starsky and watching him open the album.
Starsky pointed to an old picture of Jackson and himself as teens. “This is me and Jackson. We thought we owned the world in those days.” He smiled at the memories. “It took some getting in trouble to figure out the world owned us.”
Ray watched Starsky flip to the next set of photographs, wondering what this was about.
“This is Jackson and his wife, Phyllis. They were like fire and ice, but fit together about as perfect as any couple could. Junior was about six months old at the time. He was barely two when Phyllis was killed in a car accident.”
The pit of Ray’s stomach did a slow churn and began knotting up. He stared hard at the photograph as if in a trance. Just a normal, happy family. Ray’s heart pounded and he couldn’t concentrate on what Starsky was saying.
On the next page was a more recent picture. Jackson Sr. stood with his arm around his son’s shoulder. Both wore large smiles. Starsky rested his finger on the photo. “This one’s only a few months old. Jackson was having a little bit of trouble with Junior at the time, but it almost seemed to go away when they were together. He would’ve done anything for his son.”
Ray shot up off the sofa, but before he could go anywhere, Starsky had a tight grip on his arm.
“You’re going to sit through it all!” Starsky bit out. He was ready to cuff Ray in place to make his point.
“Go to hell!” Ray yelled. He shoved Starsky away, nearly knocking him down, heading towards the door. Hutch came out of the bathroom at that moment. Seeing Starsky standing on the other side of the couch and Ray leaving in a hurry, Hutch didn’t have to guess what was going on. Without saying a word to his partner, he followed Ray out the door.
“Ray!” Hutch called out, hurrying down the stairs, but Ray ignored him, starting up his truck and speeding away. Slowly, Hutch walked back up to his apartment and back to Starsky, who hadn’t moved. Hutch looked down at the coffee table and saw the open photo album. He picked it up. “What the hell were you thinking, Starsky?”
“He needs to know exactly what it means to kill someone.”
Hutch slammed the album shut and dropped it on the coffee table. “It’s all I can manage to keep that rookie cop’s head together and you drop this on him! Goddamn it, Starsky!” Hutch yelled. “What the hell is the matter with you?”
“Me?” Starsky pointed towards the door Ray escaped through. “That cop you’re protecting is walking, talking and breathing fresh air!”
“I’m protecting him in order to save your life, in case you’ve forgotten. I’m not getting into it with you about how unfair life is, Starsky! He has to help throw his family in the slammer and he doesn’t need a damn guilt trip on top of it all!”
“Tell me, Hutch—does he feel guilty? Has he said two words about shooting Jackson down in cold blood?” Hutch was silent. “Yeah. That’s what I thought.” Starsky grabbed the photo album and stormed to the door. “I’m crashing at Huggy’s tonight.”
“I was just a few years younger than Jackson when Pop got shot down, Hutch. It tore my whole world apart. He’s got to know what he did.”
Starsky slammed the door on the way out. Hutch collapsed on the couch. Rubbing his eyes, he wished fervently that the case were over. Starsky couldn’t move on until it was. They couldn’t move on. The entire mess was taking a heavy toll.
Ray never explained himself to people. Throughout his life, he did what he thought was right and most never questioned him. In the academy he didn’t offer explanations of his actions. Knowledge and skills were the requirements. Simple, to the point.
When he didn’t see Starsky’s car, Ray parked behind Hutch and shut off the engine. Looking up, he saw the light on. If he went inside there was no turning back. It was paramount to an admission.
His Dad didn’t own up to any mistakes and never would. Parents don’t, his father had told him more than once. It set a bad example to appear weak in any way.
He was already going against everything he was taught anyway. No reason to stop now. Ray took his time getting out of the truck and walking to the door. Taking a breath, he knocked and waited.
When it opened, Ray looked Hutch in the eye. “Can I talk to you?”
Hutch stepped aside and closed the door while Ray went to the living room. “You want a drink?”
“No.” Ray gazed out the window into the darkness. It was easier not to look at Hutch. “When we lived in Kentucky, Dad would take my sister and me to his uncle’s farm in Alabama for the summer. We’d go fishing, swimming in the creek, and ride an old mare. It was the best time I ever had.”
Hutch wasn’t sure where Ray was headed with this. He leaned against the couch and listened.
“Dad would drive down with Uncle Travis the week before we were supposed to head home. It was always like a family reunion.” Ray smiled a little. “It was the only time we all spent time together as a family.” He looked down towards the street. “Some nights, Dad, Uncle Travis and a few others would take off. I always asked to go, but Dad promised I could when I was twelve. They’d be gone for a while. Sometimes they didn’t get back until early in the morning.” Leaning his head against the window frame, Ray closed his eyes. “I’d be awake when they got home, no matter how late it was. Dad would let me stay up, and I’d sit on his lap. They laughed and joked about what they’d done.” Ray raised his head and wiped a tear away. “I couldn’t wait until I was old enough to go with them. I wanted to be a part of it . . . to be just like them.”
“Jesus,” Hutch whispered.
Children always wanted to grow up fast and be like the adults they admired. No one should be surprised when they did.
“That day . . . during the chase,” Ray continued. “In the car, with the siren going, the radio blasting . . . it was like I thought it would be. Everything I was ever taught was bad was in the other car. Catching them would mean everything—I wouldn’t be a kid anymore, nobody’d be calling me a rookie. I’d be a hero like my Dad. But . . . ”
The pause hung in the air.
He shut his eyes as tight as he could against the images in his head. They were like the pictures Starsky had shown Ray, only these were covered in blood. “We stopped. His arms were up. He came towards us. I can still hear the sound of his body hitting the ground. God, what a fucking awful sound.” Turning around, Ray shoved his hands in his pockets. “That whole time during the chase, it was like I was flying as fast as the car was. I felt invincible. Even when I was talking to you, it still hadn’t gone away.”
“Adrenaline,” Hutch explained. “It’s like a drug. It takes a while to come down.”
“Dad told me our kind’s got to stick together. We back each other up no matter what. If somebody saw you tossing a rope over a tree limb, everyone that was with you would swear you spent the night playing poker and drinking home brew. I guess I didn’t think it’d be any different. Hell, even at the academy they taught us to take care of each other.”
“And when Starsky hit you?”
Ray’s eyes locked with Hutch’s. “He shouldn’t have done it,” he stated, no equivocation in his tone. “Jews may look white, but they’ll stab us in the back just as fast as a nigger.” Ray took a deep breath. “That’s what I’ve been told my entire life. I became a cop, and it changed things. I was starting to . . . question things. But in that alley I was my Dad.”
“Ray . . . ” Hutch began.
“No!” Ray yelled. “You don’t get it, Hutch! I stood over a black man who lay dying from a bullet I put in him! I told myself he deserved it! I was convinced of it!”
“When did you realize differently?”
“Oh, come on!”
Hutch walked over and grabbed Ray’s arm. “If you still believed that, you wouldn’t be standing here in my living room pouring your guts out, Ray! Tell me.”
Lowering his head, Ray said, “After I got suspended . . . I told my Dad.” He slumped back against the couch. “He got on the damn phone, called everyone up and we had a fucking party. I killed someone and got a hell of a party out of it.” He remembered escaping to the garage with a large glass of home brew and a bottle of Jack Daniels.
“You’re not your father, Ray. You haven’t been him for awhile, even before that day.”
“What matters is what I was, and now a decent man is dead!”
There was nothing to be said. Ray knew what he had done, knew everything came together the day Jackson Walters died. Too late.
“I don’t think you’re in any shape to leave tonight. You can sleep here on the couch,” Hutch said. After some urging Hutch got Ray to agree to stay and gathered some bedding for him. Once in the privacy of his bedroom, Hutch undressed and crawled between the sheets.
One brutal, simple act, done without thought or compassion, finished in the span of a single heartbeat. On the surface it almost seemed simple. Closer scrutiny exposed the destruction of much more than a single life in that same heartbeat
Hutch nodded off, no clear solutions coming to ease the pain of those around him.
Starsky put the car into park as Jackson stepped off the porch. With the passenger window rolled down, Starsky hollered, “Jackson, you wanna ride to work?”
Jackson thought for a minute, then grabbed the door handle. “Sure.” He got inside and leaned against the back of the seat. “Is this going to cost me a lecture?”
“It’s on the house.” Starsky put the car into drive and started down the street. “How’s the job going?”
“Okay. Boss said I might get to start helping out the cook. It’s more money.”
“That’s great.” Starsky turned the corner and glanced at Jackson out of the corner of his eye. “I was thinking maybe one of these weekends we could work on that old clunker of your Dad’s. You could get your license and drive yourself.”
“Why would you do that?”
“Better than walking,” Starsky told him with a half-smile.
It took another ten minutes to reach the café. As soon as Starsky parked, Jackson reached for the door. “Wait a sec. I got something to show you.” He leaned towards Jackson and opened the glove box, taking out a pamphlet and handing it over. “I talked to a teacher friend of mine and she says you can still get your diploma without having to quit your job.”
“I already told you—”
Starsky turned in his seat towards Jackson. “Just hear me out. You’re doing this for your grandma, Jackson. I respect that. It’s a hell of a lot more than I ever did when my father died, but this,” Starsky motioned at the pamphlet, “is for you. You can take night classes a couple of times a week.”
Jackson fingered the brochure and looked at Starsky. “I miss Daddy. You know? I still can’t get used to him not being around.”
“He still is, Jackson.” Starsky put his finger over his own chest. “Where it counts. He’ll always be there.”
“Thanks.” Jackson smiled a little. He stepped out of the car and closed the door.
“Want me to pick you up?”
“No, I can manage.”
“I’ll see you tomorrow.” Starsky leaned back and watched Jackson cross the street. It was the best he’d felt since Jackson died.
Ray pulled the truck haphazardly to the curb in front of Venice Place. Jumping out, he hurried inside. By the time he reached the top of the steps, he was out of breath. He knocked several times, hoping desperately that Hutch was there, even though he didn’t see the car out front. He banged on the door again, harder. “Hutch!” He tried the door. Locked. Ray banged his fist against it in frustration. He ran back down the stairs, got in his pickup and at the first payphone jerked the vehicle over.
Ray dialed the precinct. “I’m looking for Detective Hutchinson . . . yeah, I’ll wait.” He looked towards the street, hoping to see the beat up LTD approach. “How long ago did he leave?” He rubbed his eyes. “Okay, if he calls or comes back in tell him Ray Andrews is looking for him . . . yeah, he’ll know what it’s about.”
Slamming the receiver down, Ray leaned against the glass. He had to find Hutch. Taking a look at his watch, he almost groaned aloud. It was getting late. Another idea occurred and Ray picked up the phone book. He searched through the pages, dug for change out of his pocket and slid it into the slot. After dialing the number, Ray closed his eyes. Please, answer! Hearing the busy signal, he slammed down the phone. Damn!
Jogging to the truck, Ray got in and started it up, doing a U-turn in the middle of the street and ignoring the obscene gesture from the driver he cut off.
It didn’t take long to reach Starsky’s and at seeing the Torino, Ray was almost relieved, but Hutch’s car was nowhere in sight. He didn’t have time to worry about what sort of reception he’d get. Finding Hutch was the priority.
When the door opened, Ray steeled himself for the backlash. “I’m looking for Hutch.”
While not the rage it once was, Starsky could feel the slow burn roiling in his gut. “He’ll be here in a few minutes. You can wait.”
Ray didn’t believe him until he stepped aside. Walking into the apartment, Ray resisted the urge to keep his back to the wall. He expected Starsky to cold-cock him from behind. He went to the living room, keeping his hands in his pockets.
“Something wrong?” Starsky picked up the half-empty pop from the end table.
“There’s a meeting in about an hour. Hutch can go.”
Leaning against the back of the couch, Starsky observed the young cop keeping a nervous eye out the window. “Good.” He took a long drink, almost finishing off the bottle. “What’s wrong? Think I’m going to shoot you down?”
With a look out of the corner of his eye, Ray paused. “You probably think I deserve it.”
“No, I don’t.” Starsky downed the rest of the pop. “Nobody deserves to be shot down in an alley. Nobody.”
Ray turned to face him. “You’ve had a hell of a lot you wanted to say since the beginning. Get it over with.”
Starsky walked to the kitchen, put the bottle under the cabinet with the others he saved for recycling and came back to the living room. “You’re the one that has to say something. Not me.”
“I see.” Ray took two steps closer. “You expect me to say how sorry I am. You want to see me get down on my knees, bawl my head off and beg for your forgiveness.”
“It’s not me you should ask.”
“Would it matter who?”
“Would it matter? Will it make a difference to you or anyone else?” Ray shook his head. “I killed your friend and made his son an orphan. Nothing I say or do will ever change that fact, and it sure as hell won’t change what you want to do to me.” Ray went to the window, watching for Hutch, wishing he’d hurry. “The only consolation prize you get is knowing I see his face in every black man I meet.”
“It’s not enough.”
“It never will be.”
The LTD pulled in behind the pickup. A minute later, Hutch came through the door. He looked at Starsky sitting on the stool near the telephone, then at Ray. “What are you doing here?”
“There’s a meeting. You got an invite. We’ve got less than an hour.”
“Good,” Hutch said. “Get in your car. I’ll be there in a minute.”
Hutch wasn’t quite sure how to proceed. He had no idea how long Ray and Starsky were alone before his arrival or if anything had happened between them. “Starsk? You okay?”
“I got some thinking to do. You better get going.”
“About the other night . . . ”
“It’s okay, Hutch.” Starsky touched Hutch’s arm. “I’ll meet you at your place tonight.”
Hutch smiled. “I’m holding you to that.”
Few words were said between Hutch and Ray on the way to the meeting. Whatever had passed between Starsky and Ray remained a mystery to Hutch, but little doubt was left as to the impact on both men.
They arrived at an old barn on a desolate road, a few cars and trucks parked in front. Ray parked close to a few men standing near the corner of the barn, swapping drinks from a pint.
They walked inside. Hutch was transfixed by the large Confederate and American flags hanging side by side from the rafters. Keeping to the back of the crowd, Hutch stood next to Ray while Tom climbed a short set of steps to a small stage. He talked to the gathered men. Complaining about what he perceived to be the latest outrage, Tom Andrews told the story of how white rights were being eroded.
“I expected white sheets,” Hutch said in a low voice to Ray.
“We wear those for initiations and more formal gatherings.”
“Is the ranting session standard practice?” Hutch asked.
“Almost funny, you know.” Ray folded his arms. “Whenever there’s something worth bitching about, we have a meeting. Nothing much ever comes of it.”
Another speaker took Tom’s place. Hutch listened for a moment, then looked at Ray. “There was a time when the KKK was one of the most powerful political organizations in the country. There were parades down Pennsylvania Avenue with hundreds of members.”
Ray nodded. “Dad and the others say rolls dropped off because people were either scared of the NAACP or didn’t have a loyal bone in their body.”
“What do you say?”
“I don’t know. Maybe they’re smarter than the rest of us.”
It was almost an hour before the meeting finally broke up. Hutch had hoped for something more tangible to take to Dobey. He started to follow Ray to join a group and was stopped by Tom.
“Anything come of getting my boy back on the job?”
“I’m not Dobey’s favorite cop these days.” Hutch shrugged his shoulders as if he didn’t care what Dobey thought. “I went over his head to the brass. We should know something in a week or two.”
“Suppose that’s something,” Tom grumbled.
Hutch put a hand on Tom’s shoulder and stepped close. “Some of us are sympathetic to your cause, Tom. They’ll do what they can.”
“Back home we get a medal for shooting a coon.”
Biting his tongue, Hutch patted the man’s shoulder. As he walked away, Ray came back. “Anything?” Hutch asked.
“We’re staying here a while longer.” Ray glanced over his shoulder at his father and the others talking amongst themselves. “You can’t stay, Hutch. They still don’t trust you.”
“I didn’t expect an invite right off the bat.” Hutch had hoped, but knew how unlikely it was. “First chance you get, come to my place.”
Ray handed the keys to his truck over. “I’ll get a ride with one of the guys. When we’re done, I’ll be by after the pickup.”
“Don’t rush. I don’t want them to think you’re reporting to me.” When Ray nodded, Hutch went outside and got into the pickup. He hoped Ray was careful. These people might be considered uneducated hicks by most, but they could pick up on dishonesty . . . especially when it came from one of their own.
Starsky found his partner at home making ice tea. He walked into the kitchen and sat at the table. “How long you been home?”
“About half an hour.” Hutch filled the glass with ice. He turned and leaned against the counter. “Yours truly was not invited to the after-meeting meeting.”
Scooting the chair back, Starsky reached for the handle on the fridge and opened it. He took out a beer. “What’s a KKK meeting like?”
“About what you’d expect. You want the gory details?”
“Nope.” Starsky pulled the tab back on the can and took a sip. Rubbing his thumb across the aluminum, he said, “Looks like Jackson will be taking night classes for his diploma.”
“That’s great, Starsk.”
The look on Starsky’s face said otherwise. “He called tonight. I told him I’d take him to register tomorrow.”
Hutch sat across from him. “I thought you’d be pleased.”
“I guess I should be.” Starsky took a long drink. “I keep thinking back to when I was a kid after Jackson’s dad died.”
Starsky got up abruptly and walked into the living room before Hutch had a chance to reply. A knock at the door broke the brief silence. Starsky didn’t move from the window, so Hutch got up and answered it.
He was glad to see Ray on the other side. “Come in, Ray.”
Taking a step inside, Ray saw Starsky. He didn’t feel quite as intimidated as before. “I don’t have long. I told Dad I was getting my truck and going home.”
Ray followed Hutch into the living room. “As soon as a place is found, they’ll nab Starsky.”
“And do the deed right after,” Starsky commented.
Hutch shook his head. “It’s not enough.”
“Travis will pick a location. Charlie and Lester will do the kidnapping,” Ray explained.
“We need details,” Starsky told him. “Unless we get a place and a time this is nothing more than good old boys venting. Knowing how they plan on offing me would help, too.”
“It might be another day or two before I find anything out.” Ray watched Hutch pick up a notebook off the coffee table.
“I need the names of everyone involved, Ray. We might be able to get one step ahead of them.”
Ray sat and scribbled six names on the paper. “Soon as I know anything I’ll call.”
Taking the notebook from him, Hutch glanced at the names. He looked up and patted Ray on the arm. “You did good work tonight, Ray.”
The young cop’s silence wasn’t lost on Hutch. He walked Ray to the door. As soon as he was gone, Hutch went to the living room and looked over the names on the list. “Three of these are family members. It can’t be easy to do this.”
“Too bad his conscience wasn’t working before he killed Jackson,” Starsky said, his back to Hutch.
Hutch dropped the notepad on the table. “It’d be nice if it were that simple.” He moved closer to Starsky.
“You making excuses for him, Hutch?”
“These people have a completely different culture of thought and ideas, Starsky. It’s reflected in their music . . . ”
Starsky turned with wide eyes. “You like him. Andrews.”
“He’s not all bad, once you get to know him. People can change, Starsk.”
“I don’t want to get to know him! I want him to pay for Jackson’s death and it’ll never happen!” Starsky said raising his voice. “Instead I get to listen to you talk about how they think!”
“Starsky, listen—” Hutch began.
“Shut up, Hutch!” Starsky moved to the other side of the couch. “I know how they think—they hate anybody who’s different from them—blacks, Jews—my God, they think my people had Christ crucified! That we’re nothing more than greedy backstabbers!”
“It’s been ingrained into him since childhood, Starsky!” Hutch said heatedly. He took a deep breath. He didn’t want to fight. “Every adult Ray’s ever known preached this level of hatred his entire life. They use the Bible to back every unreasonable belief and fear.”
“Looking behind the reasons for it doesn’t change what it is, Hutch.” Starsky reached for his jacket and slipped it on. “We’re looking at this from opposite points and we’ll never meet in the middle.”
“Where are you going?”
“My place. We’re getting closer to the end of this, and if these assholes think you and I are still buddies, it’ll blow the case. I’ll call Dobey and have a car keep an eye on me just in case.”
Hutch met Starsky at the door. “Listen, I wasn’t trying to change your mind about Ray.”
“I know. There are some things we’ll never see eye to eye on, Hutch.” Starsky squeezed his arm before walking out the door.
Upon learning Jackson had the afternoon off to register, Starsky took him out to lunch first. They arrived at the learning center only to find it packed with applicants. What was supposed to take about an hour turned into four hours of waiting, filling out paperwork, meeting with a counselor and finding classes with available openings.
Starsky paid the registration fee only after Jackson extracted a promise that it was a loan. When they finished it was off to the bookstore where the higher costs almost changed the young man’s mind. It took some doing, but after agreeing on a payment arrangement, Starsky bought the needed items.
After dropping him off at home, Starsky left pleased with the day’s progress. While it wasn’t all that he hoped for, he was glad to see Jackson intent on finishing school. Maybe college is still in his future, Starsky mused.
Taking the long way home, Starsky mulled over the last few days. The future wasn’t as grim as he had thought at the outset. Even with the strain of the case weighing on his relationship with Hutch, they would survive the challenges of it.
It wasn’t until a pickup was tailgating him that Starsky took notice. He put his foot on the gas, but the vehicle remained too close for comfort. A much older truck with a cracked windshield zoomed past him and moved in front of the Torino.
“Shit!” Starsky was boxed in. They blocked him from maneuvering around the one in front. He reached for the radio, and one of the trucks rear-ended him from behind. The mike fell out of his hand to the floorboard. Another hit from the back almost caused him to lose control.
Seeing an empty lot coming up fast, Starsky jerked the wheel. The Torino hit the curb hard and sped across the dirt lot. The truck with the cracked windshield cut off his escape. Starsky swerved, but had to speed up to keep from crashing back into the truck tailing him.
The Torino did a 180-degree turn and slid to a stop. Starsky reached for his gun and froze at the sixteen-gauge shotgun leveled at his face by the passenger in the pickup. Two men he didn’t recognize opened his car door and yanked him out, throwing him to the ground.
Two kicks to the ribs and a punch to the face subdued him enough for them to take the cuffs out of his back pocket. Trying to catch his breath, Starsky couldn’t fight the strong grip on his arms as they were pulled back and the handcuffs applied.
They pushed him in front and toward the pickups, one of them hitting him hard in the face on the way. They tossed him in the back. He tasted blood in the back of his throat.
Someone threw a tarp over him. “Don’t move, you goddamn Jew bastard!” Someone kicked him in the lower back, a foot pushing him aside as if he were a bag of potatoes. Starsky closed his eyes and took deep breaths to control the pain. Someone started the truck, the old motor rumbling unevenly, and then they were moving. Agony went through his body with every bump. Hutch, Starsky prayed. You gotta find me!
The files Hutch had in front of him told him little. He went over every one of them, searching for anything that might give him something to go on. He’d called Huggy an hour ago, looking for a lead.
A group like this would need money to operate, and what little Hutch knew at this point told him they didn’t like traditional means such as banks. They trusted only cold hard cash, which made the searching more difficult and time consuming. They relied on donations from members and even a few non-members to fund their upkeep and rental of the barn from a retired rancher who knew little of what went on at the meetings.
Hutch closed the file and leaned back in his chair, looking over at Dobey coming out of his office. “I’m not getting a thing. You?” Dobey shook his head. Hutch checked his watch. Starsky still hadn’t called, but he knew registration might take a while. “I thought I’d run by Ray’s and see if there’s anything going on. He might have missed something.”
The phone rang and Hutch snatched it up. “Hutchinson.”
“Bro, you have no idea how hard it is for a man such as myself to track the whereabouts of certain white-sheeted individuals. Mum’s the word, if you know what I mean.”
“Appreciate it, Hug.”
Hearing the disappointment in Hutch’s voice, Huggy grinned. “I didn’t say it was impossible, Blondie.”
“You found something.”
“May not be much. There is a certain security guard who takes time off during his shift to pay a visit to a local girl by the name of Orange. He gets the cash for his expensive appointments from a pasty-faced dude by the name of Travis Andrews.”
“Ray’s uncle.” Hutch glanced at Dobey. “Where does this security guard work?”
“Seaboard Asphalt. It’s not far from the old airport on Bridger Road.”
Perfect for its isolation, Hutch thought. “Any chance of finding out when Orange will get her next visit?”
“Tonight. Seems she scheduled him for a midnight showing.”
“Thanks, Huggy. I owe you one.”
“Four, but who’s counting.”
Hutch disconnected the call and dialed Starsky’s number. “Seaboard Asphalt. This thing may be happening tonight.”
Dobey grabbed the phone from Starsky’s desk. “Dispatch two patrol cars to Seaboard Asphalt.”
Hanging up the phone, Hutch thought for a moment. “There’s no answer.” Dialing Ray’s number, he hoped his gut was wrong this time.
“Patch me through to Bennett’s car,” Dobey told the dispatcher. “This is Dobey. Where’s Starsky? Backtrack to . . . ” Dobey covered the receiver with his hand. “Where do the Walters’ live?”
“5129 Lincoln Park Drive.” Not getting an answer, Hutch’s gut twisted in knots.
Dobey relayed the information to the patrol car and set down the receiver. “They’ll call when they know something.”
Hutch stood and headed for the door. “There may not be time. I think they’ve already nabbed Starsky.”
Dobey followed Hutch out of the squad room.
When Tom and Travis pulled in front of the house, Ray looked up from under the hood of his truck. They hadn’t been here when he arrived, and he hoped they were coming back armed with information, so he could finally see an end to this case and his part in it.
“Dad, where’ve you been?”
“Come on, Ray. I got a surprise for you.”
Ray wiped his hands on the rag and tossed it in the bed of his pickup. “Where?”
He searched for an excuse to call Hutch. “I’m supposed to call Hutch soon. He thinks he’s got a way to get me reinstated.”
“Later,” Travis told him. “This won’t take long.”
With no other choice but to go along, Ray got in the truck, his dad driving and Travis on the passenger side. He’d never felt more trapped in his life.
The drive took almost twenty minutes. Seeing the old asphalt plant, Ray almost panicked. Charlie slid open the gate for them, then closed it back as they drove towards two other pickups.
He slid out of the vehicle and followed Tom and Travis past the heated tanks to a small shed, the acrid stench of burning rubber filling the air. Ray wiped perspiration from his brow.
Starsky lay on the ground with his hands cuffed behind his back. Ray halted in his tracks, whipping his head around to look at Tom. “What’s going on, Dad?”
Starsky rolled to his back and looked at the small crowd. His body screamed in protest. He ignored it, working to get on his knees. “You don’t know?” he challenged.
Ray looked from Starsky, then back to his dad. Nothing was going right. “I-I shouldn’t be here,” he stammered.
Tom came forward and put a reassuring hand on his son’s shoulder. “You’re covered, you know that, son. Everyone here will vouch for your whereabouts.”
Struggling with his panic, Ray took a couple of deep breaths. “He’s a cop, Dad. This isn’t Alabama. There’ll be an investigation.”
“And I told you,” Tom told him. “We got it covered. His body won’t be found here.”
Tom handed his son a revolver.
“You took the first step when you shot that Negro, Ray. This’ll be easy.”
Starsky saw the doubt and fear in Ray’s eyes. He tried to buy some time, counting on Hutch to find them. “Expecting him to kill a fellow cop isn’t the same for him as shooting down a black man, Andrews.”
Tom came forward and grabbed Starsky by the jacket. “My boy knows what’s got to be done! A kike is still a kike!” He threw Starsky to the ground and marched back to Ray. “Get it done with, Ray. We ain’t got all night.”
There was no more time, no more arguments left. If Ray didn’t do it, someone else would. He handled the gun, turning it over slowly in his hands.
He held it out to his father.
“What’d you say, boy?”
Ray shook his head. “I won’t do it, Dad. There’s been enough killing.”
“Ray,” Travis said. “This is gonna happen, no matter what, son. Let’s get it done and go home.”
Still holding the weapon in his hand, Ray shook his head. “I shouldn’t have shot that man. Shouldn’t have shot anyone. None of this would be happening now if it weren’t for me.”
“The hell it wouldn’t!” Tom yelled. He snatched the gun from Ray’s hands. “I raised you to know what’s right!”
“It’s not right!” Ray screamed back. “Jesus, Dad! It was never right!”
There was a loud crashing sound from behind, and the shriek of metal on metal. The men turned as the gate crashed to the ground beneath the wheels of the Ford LTD. Everyone scattered. Ray watched his father, waiting, and saw reality dawn over his face.
“You bastard!” Tom breathed. He struck Ray across the face with the butt of the gun, then turned and ran.
Starsky gritted his teeth against the pain and managed to get to his feet, plowing into Charlie to keep him from fleeing. He saw Hutch running towards him and breathed a heavy sigh of relief. “I thought I was a goner.”
Hutch put the Magnum away and took out his keys. “You know my timing’s the best.” He smiled, looking Starsky over quickly and removing the cuffs. “Where’s Ray?”
“He was here a second ago.” Starsky saw uniformed officers taking custody of the men. “I don’t see Andrews either.”
“I better go look for them. You gonna make it?”
“You know it.” Starsky watched Hutch leave and almost went after him, but had second thoughts at the pain in his ribs. Seeing Dobey, he walked over to him. “Hutch went after Ray and his father.”
Eyeing two cops putting a struggling Charlie into the back of their car, Dobey hollered for them. “You two! There’s one unaccounted for!”
The darkness hindered Ray’s search for his father. He slowed, trying to see past the shadows. It was dangerous here unarmed, but he had to find his dad. The man had a gun and the police officers wouldn’t hesitate to use their own weapons if they thought their lives were in danger. Hutch’s lecture just after shooting Jackson in the alley echoed in his ears. Never fire your gun unless your life is threatened.
“You looking for me, boy?”
Ray whirled around and froze. Tom stood, aiming the revolver at him. “Dad, it’s over. The cops are everywhere.”
“You made sure of that, didn’t you?”
“I couldn’t . . . ” Wishing the tears away didn’t keep them from streaming down his cheeks. “I couldn’t let you kill him, Dad.”
“So you turned on your own.”
“No, it wasn’t like that. I knew what would happen, Dad. I was trying to protect you.”
“Protect me?” Tom raged. “By letting them infiltrate us! That what your nigger-loving cop was here for! You told them all about us, didn’t you?”
“I had to.”
Tom raised the gun higher and pulled back the hammer. “And I’m doing what I have to do, boy.”
“Dad, please!” Ray begged. “I’m your son!”
“No boy of mine turns on me, Ray.”
“Hold it, Tom!”
Hutch came from out of the shadows. “It’s over. Put the gun down,” he ordered.
The cold smile Tom gave Ray sent chills down his spine. Slowly he lowered the gun.
Ray covered his eyes with his hand. He took a deep breath, but it did little to calm him.
A hand fell on his shoulder. Hutch.
“You’re dead to me, boy,” Tom said. Two officers put him in cuffs. “I ain’t got a son anymore.” He spit in Ray’s face. Ray jumped back as if burned, turning to hide his face as Tom was taken away.
“Ray?” Hutch said.
Wiping his face, Ray clamped down on the cry that threatened to break loose. He walked away to the cops and family he knew. He stopped.
The looks in the eyes of those Ray had called family were hate-filled. The cops turned their backs on him.
Ray walked away.
A week later
Starsky and Hutch stood in front of Ray’s home beside the pickup. Ray set the last piece of luggage in the back.
“You can still change your mind,” Hutch told him.
“I’d be lying to myself if I thought I was fit to be a cop.” Ray glanced at the old house. “Besides, this isn’t my home anymore.”
“Where will you go?” Starsky asked.
“My dad and sister had a falling out a few years ago. She said I could stay with her in Oakland until I figure out what to do.”
“You’ve got a friend here if you ever need one, Ray.” Hutch held out his hand.
Ray smiled as he shook it. “Thanks. That means a lot.” He went to Starsky and pulled an envelope out of his pocket. “There’s nothing I’ll ever be able to say or do to take back what I did, but maybe this might help out a little. Could you see that the Walters family gets it?”
An angry retort came to mind, but Starsky said nothing. He didn’t know if he would ever fully forgive Ray, but the price the former cop had paid was a high one. Starsky took the envelope. “They’ll get it.”
“Thank you . . . both of you.”
Ray got in his truck and drove away. Neither of the men said a word, watching the vehicle grow smaller in the distance, then disappear. They walked back to the Torino and got in.
Starsky looked down at the money, then at Hutch. “You know something?”
“I don’t think things could have ended any other way.”
“It’s not the ending you wanted.”
Starsky shrugged his shoulders. “It’s not the one anybody wanted, but it’s better than what it could have been.”
“Yeah.” Hutch rested his hand on Starsky’s shoulder. “Let’s go. I’ll buy you dinner.”
“Let’s stop off at Jackson’s first.”
Hutch smiled as Starsky started the car.