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His Old House

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  His Old House

 

 

By Minnie K.

 

 

 

 

 

        Friday afternoons were Officer Minnie Kaplan's favorite time of the week. Everyone was laid back, looking forward to the weekend and serious crime usually waited until Saturday morning to rear its ugly head.

        Minnie had decided to take her coffee break in the detective's squad room this time. Not because the coffee was any better here than in the 'uniformed' break room, but because she wanted to catch up on the latest gossip. Someone had told her in passing that Starsky and Hutch had gone into the house renovation business and that she had to see for herself.

        Everyone knows that unless you use it on a car, Starsky doesn't know one end of a tool from another. Not that Hutch does either, but he would know better than to jump into a project he knew nothing about. She grinned to herself. Not that he'd admit there was anything he wasn't well informed about.

        She hadn't needed to worry about bringing up the subject. As soon as she walked in the squad room, she found the two sitting at their desks, ignoring the buzz and clamor of the active squad room and obviously in the middle of a 'Hutchinson' lecture. Hutch sat across from his curly-haired, bored-looking partner. Hutch was waving his finger at Starsky and Minnie caught the words "fiscal responsibility" and "escrow" as she passed by.

         Uh oh, Minnie grimaced, Starsky sitting still for a class on home ownership? This must be serious!

        Filling her cup, she made it to a nearby desk and had almost managed to settle herself against a corner when Hutch tried to drag her into his lecture-of-the-day.

        "Starsky, this is absolutely crazy! Who buys a house the first week they go looking? You wouldn't, would you, Minnie?"

        "Oh, now wait a minute, guys," she responded, brushing off her uniform and re-adjusting her glasses. "Don't drag me in on this house business. Besides, I heard you two went in on it together."

        "Now there, see!" Hutch exclaimed, growing more frustrated. "Now you've got everyone believing I had a hand in picking out that white elephant, when all I did was loan you half the down."

        "And I told you," Starsky replied calmly, still pretending to read the file in front of him, "you're going to see a nice, healthy return on your money. It's my loan to deal with, no problem."

        "Yeah, well..." Hutch said, "I just don't want to be made to look the fool." He crossed his arms and settled back in his chair, apparently running out of points to make.

        "Oh, come on, Hutch," Minnie said, her coffee threatening to slop as she waved her cup back and forth. "It can't be all that bad. Besides, nothing's wrong with a little hard work, 'specially if the price is right."

        "Yeah, see!" Starsky exclaimed. Throwing the case folder down on his desk, he tipped his chair back at a suicidal angle and propped up his feet. "Minnie can see the possibilities. A little this, a little that and bang! A nice little home for some nice little family who would be eager to snap it up in no time." He smiled at Hutch's glare and shrugged. "Besides, I don't know why you're so upset. You're the one who keeps saying it's my responsibility. I told you, no problem!"

        "That deposit money does entitle me to some say in the matter," Hutch grumbled. "And how you could think I would ever let you put our money down on a firetrap like that is way beyond me! And..."

        "And, and, and ..." Starsky muttered, interrupting Hutch before he could get really going. "And what, Hutch? You'd've never liked anything I could afford, anyway. The house might look a little used on the outside, but I happen to know that the basic structure is sound and the plumbing just needs a little work. There's a bus stop, laundromat, grocery, dry cleaning, and a pizza place close by." He ticked off the items on his fingers. "And the beach is not too far, if you don't mind a nice little walk. I'm tellin' ya," he said, getting up to grab coffee cup, "it's got prime location written all over it!"

        "Oh, really?" Hutch said quietly. "And just how would you happen to know about the foundation of this little beauty? The plumbing? The heating and air conditioning? What highly paid expert did you bring in to examine your new little purchase?"

        Starsky shrugged, pouring coffee into the questionable cup and mixing in an unbelievable amount of cream and sugar. His back to Hutch, he mumbled something not quite loud enough for Minnie and Hutch to hear.

        "What was that?" Hutch asked sweetly, eyes sharp. "Couldn't quite catch that."

        "I said one of Huggy's friends. Don something," Starsky said, not looking up from stirring his drink. "Huggy says he's great with all that carpentry stuff and really knows his business. He owed Huggy a favor and came to look over the place for me. He seemed to think it was all right."

        "Oh. Well," Hutch replied smugly, crossing his arms. "I guess you get what you paid for. A free inspection?" He grinned evilly. "Just don't come running to me when that future bonfire caves in on you one day."

        "You know, Hutch, you're gonna eat those words! When I show you the wad of money I'm gonna make from that place..." Starsky replied heatedly, spilling his hot coffee as he banged it heavily down on his side of the table. "I'm gonna make you rich!"

        "Rich? Partner, all I want out of that house is my half of the deposit back. Anything else you can keep. It may pay your bus fare home."

        "Done!" Starsky exclaimed, slapping the table loudly and holding out his hand for Hutch to shake on it.

        Hutch smiled and shook Starky's hand.

        Minnie shook her head as she leaned up against the table and sipped her lukewarm coffee. The look of victory in both the guy's eyes and the smiles on their faces as they shook hands reminded her of the bets her brothers would make. Both of the detectives they had scored points over the other. Both would be just as quick to make the loser eat crow when the final deal went down.

         Men!

        But she did wonder if Starsky was right for once. She knew a little about carpentry herself, her father having been in the business and all. Being the big sister to four brothers in a family who lived, ate, and breathed wood, plumbing and nails did leave one with a basic knowledge in such things. Besides, that name 'Don' rings a bell...

        "Starsky," she began, trying to picture the man she had in mind, "would that have been Don Abbott? Short little guy, bald, with big ears?"

        "Yeah!" Starsky said, grinning from ear to ear as he stood up. "Why? You know him?"

        "Yeah. Well, at least my dad does." Minnie felt herself smile into her cup as Hutch's head whipped around to regard her suspiciously. "My dad was a carpenter. He and Don Abbott worked together on and off. I hate to say it, Hutch," she said giving him her most sympathetic look, "but if it was Don Abbott, and he said the house was basically sound, then it probably is."

        "Hey, hey, hey!" Starsky laughed, glancing at his partner, reaching out to jab at his arm. "Guess that does spell possibilities, doesn't it, Hutch?"

        Hutch just rose, grabbed the file off of Starsky's desk and proceeded to file it, pretending an attack of sudden, massive disinterest.

        "Doesn't mean a thing, Starsk, even if it was the same guy," he muttered.

        "Hey, Minnie," Starsky said, walking over and leaning against the table she was sitting on. "Would your father be interested in doin' a little counseling on this project? You know, just a bit of advice here and there?" He grinned at her hopefully.

        "Starsky, my boy," she replied, grimacing at the idea, "you do have the worst timing. Dad retired last year, and you couldn't get him out of San Diego for love or money. But..." she added, using her most winning smile, "I happen to know something about the subject. Dad was a carpenter, one of my brothers is a plumber and another is his assistant. I know a couple of electricians who know what they're doing who've taught me a thing or two. If I don't know how to do it, I know someone who does." She grinned sweetly.

        Starsky rewarded her with his most winning smile and moved closer, looking deep into her eyes. Minnie took a quick sip of her coffee to hide her amusement. Starsky was such a little boy when he wanted something, seeing nothing wrong with pulling out all the stops on that unending charm of his. Only problem was, she knew him too well to be able to take that look seriously.

        "Minnie, would you be a doll 'n help me out on this? Tomorrow's Saturday, I have all day off 'n I'd really," he emphasized the word again, slowly and seductively, "really appreciate you coming around to have a look-see. I'll even buy lunch." He beamed.

        Gee, Starsky, shovel it deep! Minnie , trying hard not to ruin the moment by laughing.

        "Starsky, now really!" Hutch interrupted with mock-disgust. He walked over to the table and slipped his arm around Minnie's other shoulder. "We both know that Minnie just isn't that type of girl. She's more of a prime rib and candlelight sort of girl, aren't you, Minnie?" He gave her shoulder a slight squeeze and smiled innocently at Starsky.

        Top-notch snow job, only from the best. Minnie fought to keep her face straight.

        Flashing a frown of irritation at his partner, Starsky took Minnie's free arm and led her away from the table, and away from Hutch. "What d'ya say, Min? You come out 'n get me started on this project 'n I'll buy lunch." He threw a freezing glare at his partner while trying to keep a warm smile upon his face. "There's a great pizza place nearby."

        Minnie glanced at her watch, and grimaced at the time. Damn! Overstaying her break again. She was gonna have to get a move on before she was missed. Wouldn't you know I'd run out of time just as the bidding was getting good!

        She sighed. "Listen guys, gotta go. Starsky, Hon, you write down the address and I'll be there at 10 am. Make sure you have the keys, as I can't tell you much from just the outside." She headed for the squad room doors, taking her empty coffee cup with her. "And that had better be a deep-dish pizza, Starsky." She shook her finger at him as he handed her the hurriedly scribbled address.

        "Oh, don't worry," Hutch replied, returning to the file drawer and digging into the files once again. "I'll make sure he brings the keys."

        "And who invited you?" Starsky asked, irritated.

        "My money, pal," Hutch replied with a smirk, "I want to make sure I see it again."

        As Minnie left the squad room and started back to the garage, she could hear the two detectives start in on 'The House' again. Tucking the address away in one of her pockets, she decided it really wouldn't be such a bad idea to spend a morning looking at Starsky's place. She had been feeling more and more cramped in her own one-room apartment lately. She had always put away money for her dream house, but Traffic Co-ordinators made even less money than normal people. She had quite a bit saved up over the years, but was beginning to see herself as a little gray-haired old lady living in the same cramped rooms.

         Maybe it's time to reconsider what I really want and think about getting a fixer-upper of my own.

        While carpentry and house maintenance was never one of her favorite projects as a girl, she had picked up a few skills here and there. It might be more fun if it was a place of her own. She had a good idea of the work involved and she did have a house full of brothers she could drag in on the weekends. Maybe it was time to get moving on that.

 

 

***

 

 

        It turned out to be a really nice Saturday for a change and Minnie had almost enjoyed the bus ride down to the stop near Starsky's house. She was a little early because of the bus schedule, but figured she could get a better look around the building while she waited for the guys to show up.

        She had had a hard time this morning choosing what glasses to wear with her old clothes selection, not wanting to wear her police "specials" while off-duty. Minnie knew the thick, black frames weren't very flattering, but they did make people take her seriously. And Minnie was very serious about her job, even if it wasn't all that important in the scheme of things. Today though, the guys would get to see her in something else for a change, and she wanted to look halfway decent. She had finally settled on her transparent, light pink plastic frames to go with her brown, white and pink flannel shirt and an almost worn-out pair of jeans. No use getting anything good all dirty and ripped up. Especially if the house was the hell-hole Hutch seemed to think it was.

        Half a block from the bus stop, Minnie found the road that led to the address. It was actually more of a paved, open alleyway rather than a proper street, but it was nice and wide for parking. About half-way down, she found the house.

         It's a bit used all right, Minnie , but I've seen worse.

        It was a small house, covered in bits and pieces of old red paint. The tiny front porch was supported by two columns with a central front door that had two windows on either side. It sat up a bit off the ground and the only sign of front steps was a broken door propped up against the porch. Two old stuffed chairs shared what there was of the porch. An old, tattered 'For Sale' sign with a new 'Sold' sticker tacked onto one of the front columns was the only sign of an address. Over to the right was a small amount of land fenced off by a hurricane fence.

        Minnie pulled out her notebook, deciding to start on what she could see on the outside. If Don Abbott was the same old guy she had known growing up, then his free 'look over' consisted of a quick walk-through, a crawl under the house, a check of the fuse box, asking the prospective buyer what the sellers were asking, then a quick yes or no on whether the house was worth it or not. Not much to go on when you needed to do a little work on a place. And if she knew Starsky, he didn't know diddly-squat about how to get started on a project like this. While she wasn't a whiz at this stuff, she could at least point him in the right direction.

        Actually, while the flaking paint, wobbly rails, and missing steps gave it a pretty decrepit appearance, there didn't seem to be any signs of rot or termites. Once she had walked around it a couple of times, she was fairly impressed. Unless the inside was absolute trash, Starsky may have found something pretty nice.

        A second or two after her tour, Starsky's bright red, striped Torino roared up in front of the house and skidded to a halt. Starsky immediately leaped out of the driver's seat and jogged around the front of the car to meet her. If he or his passenger were wearing their old clothes today, Minnie couldn't tell.

        "Sorry we're late, Min. Hey, nice glasses!" Starsky beamed at her. "Hutch is being a grouch this morning and he's slowing me down," he said loudly, glancing at his quiet, sulking partner. "He didn't have to come, if he hates this place so much," he added.

        Hutch leaned back in the passenger side of the Torino, giving a loud, long-suffering sigh. "Well, buddy," he said mournfully, opening the door and slowly climbing out, "I just hate to see you embarrass yourself like this." He then slammed the car door shut.

        "This from a man who hasn't even seen the inside of the place yet!"

        "Yeah, well, a man doesn't have to see the inside of a sewer to know he doesn't really want to have anything to do with it."

        "Can I please see the inside now?" Minnie asked loudly enough to interrupt, reaching her hand out for the key. Knowing those two, they could keep this up all day and never even get the key in the lock.

        "Sure, Min!" Starsky put on his best little boy smile and handed her the key. "Just ignore this blond rain-cloud and tell me what you think. There's a lot of neat stuff inside, but it won't take no time at all to clean up."

        "Sure," she said, avoiding the broken door and hopping up onto the porch, "just remember, cleaning up is the easy part. And I didn't volunteer for that!" She strode over to the front door and fit the key in the rusty lock.

        First thing she noted when she walked through the door was the huge pile of boxes filling up the small house. Some were stacked almost up to the ceiling and close enough to the front door to make for a tight squeeze to get in. At least it wasn't garbage, like she had been dreading, but mounds of old papers, boxes, furniture and other odds and ends one usually finds in an attic. She could see enough signs of furniture, here and there under the piles, that she suspected the original furnishings had never been removed. She moved carefully, hoping to avoid stepping on anything that could move on its own. Bugs she could handle, but you couldn't pay her enough to deal with mice or rats.

        Starsky followed her close behind, beaming like a new parent. Hutch leaned against the front door frame, his eyes large as he surveyed the packed room, obviously hesitating to come in. Starsky pointedly ignored his sullen partner and proceeded to follow Minnie through the tightly-packed house.

        "This, as you can see, is the living room, followed closely by the dining room 'n kitchen nook." Starsky waved his arm toward the south wall. "And on the other side is the bedroom, bathroom and closet." He motioned toward three doors on their left.

        "Starsky?" Hutch exclaimed, aghast at the packed room. "What is all this stuff? It looks like my aunt's attic blew up." He took a small step to an open box, took out what appeared to be a purple seashell ashtray, then quickly dropped it back in with the other knickknacks, wiping his hands on his pants.

        "Isn't it great!" Starsky grinned, obviously thrilled. He opened the box nearest him and rummaged through it. "The real-estate agent said this house was used as extra storage room by the former owner, and they let me keep all this stuff for no extra charge!"

        "Which means, Starsky-my-boy, that they didn't have to spend any money carting all this junk away." Minnie laughed, taking a long look around. "Now you have to pay to haul this stuff to the dump."

        Hutch shook his head and snickered.

        "This isn't junk," Starsky replied earnestly, holding up an old ventriloquist doll, minus its head. "It's buried treasure. We could find some really neat stuff in here. Real antiques, you know?"

        As Starsky preceded to examine the ragged doll, Hutch walked up to his enthused partner. Watching him examine the worthless thing, Hutch announced "dummy" in his ear and moved past his partner, an amused chuckle following him. Starsky threw a scowl at him.

        Minnie laughed at the look of long-suffering on Starsky's face and tried to find a path through another boxed stack of 'treasures'.

        It was a small, compact house, with one large room as the living room, dining room and what Starsky called a 'kitchen nook'. The kitchen itself consisted of a tiny, white-and-rusted refrigerator and stove against one wall, and a sink with worn drawers, a small counter and two overhead cabinets precariously hanging against the other wall. Walking from one end of the kitchen to the other took two paces — if you walked slow and took toddler steps. A scarred and warped door led out from the kitchen into the yard, but was completely blocked by boxes.

        Carefully, knowing Starsky was watching like a hawk, Minnie silently moved toward the bathroom door and opened it. Inside was an old beat-up tub, a tiny, chipped, dented sink, and a lopsided john. She turned on the sink faucet, causing the ancient pipes to start clanging. The old bathroom linoleum was worn through in spots, showing where the john had overflowed a few times. Inside the closet was the water heater and a worn, slightly crooked rod with a bent-up wire hanger.

        Getting to the bedroom was a problem, as there were several boxes in the way. Starsky, the gentleman that he was, quickly picked up a box and shoved it out of the way on top of another pile, almost starting an avalanche. The bedroom was a decent size, with two windows on each wall, all carefully barred.

        While the house was older, stacked full of boxes and badly needing paint, Minnie didn't see anything really wrong with the place. It actually seemed to be a well-cared for house, just fallen on hard times. The only thing that sent off warning signals was the drop-down type of ceiling. Newer than the rest of the house, it seemed to drop down pretty low, a sign of a leaky roof. A lot of people installed the new type of ceilings, rather than spend a lot of money repairing the roof and ceiling properly.

        Deciding to tackle that first, Minnie motioned both guys over to where she stood. "Listen, guys, I need to get a look at the old ceiling, up above those tiles. Is there a ladder or anything under all this mess, or can one of you guys give me a lift?"

        "Oh," Starsky said, just remembering something, "there's a ladder out in the back." He disappeared out the front door.

        "Minnie," Hutch asked softly, after Starsky had been gone a few seconds, "how bad is it?"

        "Well... actually, Hutch, it ain't that bad." She continued, grinning inwardly at the surprised look on his face. "The house seems to be basically sound so far, if the roof holds out. All this junk actually makes it look worse than it is. It'll take a lot of work, but it definitely seems feasible." She punched Hutch on the arm and smiled smugly. "Looks like you may have talked yourself out of a nice little return on your money."

        Hutch tried to give her a worry-free smile in return. "Oh, well... Minnie, once you see this house after he gets done with it, you won't have to wonder why I pulled out. He couldn't unscrew a light bulb, let alone replace a john and put in new sinks." He slowly rocked back and forth on his heels, taking another look around.

        Now he's really having second thoughts, Minnie thought with amusement. Shouldn't have shook on it so soon.

        Starsky came to the door with an old, wooden extension ladder.

        "Watch your heads!" he announced loudly, charging through the door, dragging the ladder by one end. The other end hung out of the doorway.

        "Starsky!" Hutch exclaimed. "That ladder has got to be ten-foot long. You're supposed to collapse is down to a more manageable size." He walked over to grab the other end of the ladder, halting Starsky in mid-stride. "This ceiling is only about seven foot."

        Starsky turned with an 'I know that!' look and held his end while Hutch collapsed the ladder down to a better size. Minnie could tell that Starsky hadn't known that, but he sure wasn't going to admit it to Hutch.

        "Actually guys," Minnie sighed, pushing her glasses up, "it really should be a step ladder, so we don't have to lean it against the wall " She crossed her arms and looked pointedly at Starsky. "But it's your wall and I still need to get a look up there."

        "Why not?" Starsky shrugged, propping it against the nearest wall. "I'll probably have to redo the walls anyway."

        "Do you guys have a flashlight or something? It'll probably be really dark up there."

        "I'll get one," Hutch volunteered, shaking his head at the whole scene. In a couple of minutes, he returned with the Torino's flashlight and tossed it up to her.

        Minnie took a tentative step toward the ladder and re-adjusted the angle. Really, with that boy's sense of balance it's a wonder he can walk across the room! She slowly ascended to the ceiling, then pushed up on the foam tile. Scooting it out of the way, she poked her head into the dark and gloomy area.

        Minnie took a few minutes to examine the old ceiling just above her head. Nothing visibly wrong there. No sign of water damage. When she waved the light around to get a look at the whole area, she froze.

        "Well," Starsky asked, his voice muted through the ceiling tiles, "what do you see?"

        "Gee, Starsk," Hutch said, his voice even harder to hear, "must be pretty bad up there. Better start saving for a new roof."

        Minnie climbed a few more steps up the ladder and managed to squeeze the top of her body through the panel frame.

         Yep, she thought, Starsky's got a problem all right, but not the one he was expecting.

        "Uh, Starsky?" she yelled down, not sure how to break the news. "When you bought this house, did they say anything about a horse included with the deal?" She pulled herself down through the frame and started down the ladder.

        "A horse?" he questioned, looking up at her with puzzlement. "No, nothing about a horse. Why?"

        "Well, Hon," she began, putting a sympathetic hand on his shoulder as she stepped off the ladder, "you now have possession of a ceiling full of strange lookin' hay or the fixin's to create enough marijuana joints to supply this whole area for a week. You got bundles up there."

        Minnie stood back and watched the surprised look on their faces change into the determination to be the next person up that ladder. Starsky, holding the ladder, had the advantage of placing his foot on the bottom rung, motioning for Hutch to hold it for him. Hutch knew he was too far away and too slow to be the next one up, so he grabbed the ladder with an impatient jerk and held it silently while his partner made the short journey upward.

        Minnie handed up the flashlight and Starsky quickly wedged his upper body through the ceiling frame. He was quiet long enough for Hutch to get impatient and jiggle the ladder.

        "Well, Mister Homeowner, what do you see?"

        "The ceiling's packed with large bundles of cut marijuana stalks. Leaves still on the stalks and looks like it's still pretty wet," he sighed. "These weren't cut down too long ago." He carefully made his way down the ladder, passing Hutch the light and giving him a turn at climbing up.

        Hutch whistled at what he saw. "You say something about 'buried treasure,' Starsk? What I don't understand, Minnie, is what keeps those bundles from falling through," Hutch remarked, making his way down the ladder and handing Starsky back the light. "This ceiling doesn't look like it could carry the weight."

        "Well," she replied, looking at the ceiling for any signs of wear, "what you have are three main roof beams and some plywood boards stretched across them making a platform." Moving toward the kitchen area, she pointed to some of the tiles directly above the small sink counter. "You can see those tiles up there have been moved around a lot. I bet they just stood on the counter and shoved the stuff up there." Showing them what she meant, she sat upon the counter and drew her feet up. Carefully she stood up and leaned against the dirty wall, getting her feet solidly under her.

        "Careful, Minnie," Hutch cautioned, holding her by the ankles. "You must be right under it."

        Starsky tossed her the light. She pushed a tile out of the way and saw the tail end of one of the bundles right above the opening.

        "Yep, they just stood here and stuffed the stuff up through the opening and onto the platform. They must be taller than I am, though. I could pull it down, but don't think I'm tall or strong enough to man-handle it up. They wouldn't weigh a lot, but they'd be unwieldy." She replaced the tile and started climbing down from the counter, both detectives giving her a hand. She gave Starsky a pointed look. "What now? Call Narco?"

        Starsky stared at the floor, rubbing a shoe in the collected dust. "Hutch, check the back door for me." He headed for the front door while his partner moved toward the back.

        "It's completely blocked, Starsk," Hutch answered minutes later, unable to reach the door behind the heavy boxes. "They didn't get in through there." He then turned and went into the crowded bedroom, checking the windows. "All locked up in here, too."

        Minnie checked the kitchen window, although it was too small to admit a full grown adult. She carefully made her way to the front windows, climbing over old furniture, but those, too, were securely barred.

        Starsky sat on his heels, examining the front lock. It was old and rusty-looking, but there was no sign of tampering or crowbar use. He sighed and stood up. "Well, I guess I'm not the only one to have a key to this house."

        "Now, what?" Minnie repeated, wondering how a situation like this should be handled.

        "Yeah, buddy," Hutch chimed in quietly. There was no teasing now. "It's your house, how do you want to play it?"

        "What I do now," Starsky announced, taking a long, slow breath and motioning them out through the front door, "is buy Minnie that pizza lunch I promised her, and then decide what to do about this extra key floatin' 'round."

        They both followed Starsky out the front door and waited while he locked it. He jumped down from the stair-less porch and he held out his hand to help Minnie down. "The place is right down the street. And you," Starsky added over his shoulder to Hutch as he offered Minnie his arm, "will be allowed to join us. But only if you get your own pizza."

        "Ah, gee," Hutch replied, following Starsky and Minnie down the short street. "Miss out on a piece of your favorite anchovy and greasy-sausage pizza? I'm really hurt, Starsky."

 

***

 

 

        The Kid leaned up against the dirty building wall and wiped his runny nose against his sleeve. He'd been here in the shadows, between the two larger buildings long before the strange lady came. He was supposed to watch the house, but nobody ever went there. Everybody around here knew better. Watching her circle the building, he had grown more and more frightened.

        She had no business getting close to the place. It was Cape's place, and everyone kept clear of it. The Kid's fear had turned to panic when the red car and the two strange men pulled up. This was serious and getting worse. He'd better do something, but he couldn't think of what.

        When the three strangers had entered the house, the Kid knew he had to act. It had been his job to watch, make sure no one came near it, but he had been sick the last few days and hadn't made it out his front door. He hadn't even noticed the 'sold' sticker pasted over the old 'for sale' sign. Now he was not only in trouble, but in danger as well. Cape didn't tolerate mistakes. The Kid knew he was going to have to act fast and do something.

        After the strangers had been inside for a few minutes, he casually walked over to the red and white car. Leaning quickly through the open window, he flipped down the driver's side visor. He grabbed the car registration, flipped the visor back up and headed back to the shadows of the nearby building. The whole thing had taken only seconds.

        He wasted no time in running towards Cape's place. It wasn't much, but at least he could give Cape a name and description of the strangers. Maybe it would be enough to keep Cape from beating him.

 

 

***

 

 

        Minnie watched Starsky as she leaned back in the bright red booth and chewed on her pizza. He had been pretty quiet since they had come into the small, family-owned place. They found the pizza place mostly empty, it not being lunchtime quite yet, and they had been able to take over the large booth in the back. Starsky had left the pizza order to Minnie who, true to her word, had gone the works and ordered the biggest deep-dish supreme they had. Hutch, of course, had claimed he wasn't hungry and had only ordered water, making a show of inspecting his glass for cleanliness.

        Starsky had waited quietly while she finished her jotting down her list of projects the house needed to be habitable, and was now studying it in silence. Hutch had droned on for several minutes about the condition of the restaurant, and the possibility of bugs, while the other two had pointedly ignored him. Minnie realized it must have been a shock to Starsky at the amount of work the house would need, because he never even said a word when Hutch proceeded to dig into the pizza, too. Now Minnie was working on her third piece of pizza, as was Hutch, while Starsky had barely touched his second.

         He must really be starting to regret this whole thing, she mused.

        "Well, partner," Hutch began, wiping his face with a napkin, "how do you want to handle this?"

        Starsky folded up Minnie's list and put it into his jacket pocket. "I sure as hell don't want to call Narco in. Can you imagine Internal Affairs' reaction when they hear what was found on my property? They'd be hounding me for months, just 'cause they could. I'm not one of their favorite people, you know." He sighed. "Anyway, this is small-time stuff. No big deal. I don't see why we just can't handle it ourselves."

        "Yeah, well," Hutch said, crossing his arms and leaning farther back into the booth, "the first place to start would be the real estate agent you worked with. Did they tell you anything about the house's former owner?"

        "He said something about the owner having died a while ago. His main residence and this smaller property were supposed to be sold as part of the estate. I guess the main house was up in the better part of town, but they've had this place for sale for quite a while now."

        "Couldn't find a sucker 'till now, huh?" Hutch needled.

        "Are you going to help with this or not?" Starsky retorted, his impatience and frustration showing as he glared at his partner. "I can handle this by myself you know. This ain't your problem."

        "Whatever," Hutch said quietly, shrugging. He threw his partner an apologetic look.

        "Well, count me in, guys." Minnie said, wiping pizza crumbs off of her lap. "I'd like to see how this all turns out."

        "If you two are ready then," Starsky paused to throw some bills on the table, "it's time to make a call on Nelson Realty."

 

 

***

 

 

        While grateful that most real estate agents worked on Saturdays, they had spent an impatient afternoon trying to track down Jack Evers. Jack had been the one to handle the paperwork for Starsky's house, and he had several open houses that weekend. It took them twenty minutes at his office to convince the secretary they weren't interested in buying anything, and another twenty minutes to convince another agent that he couldn't help them with anything either. They were finally given the addresses of Jack's open houses. It took them four tries to catch up to him.

        Of course, since he didn't have the paperwork with him, he wasn't much help. All he could remember was the law firm that had transferred the sale of the house from the former agent to his office. It seemed that the law firm of Dennison and Meyers had grown tired of their old agent not being able to sell the property and had switched agencies six months ago.

        The law firm of Dennison and Meyers was closed for the weekend, but by flashing their badges at their answering service, they were able to get a return call pretty quickly. John Dennison himself had come in, sick from a cold, and had let them into his office. While coughing and blowing his nose, Dennison admitted that there wasn't much he could tell them without a warrant. Their client had been an elderly man with no family. He had died three years ago and had left all the proceeds of his estate to charity. The small, broken down house had been the last property to sell.

        The lack of any good leads had depressed them all a little, and Minnie decided that seeing all those houses for sale had only pushed her into feeling that she needed to take her own steps toward homeownership. Here Starsky had a nice little house that was going to cause him all sorts of work and trouble, yet she found herself wanting the exact same thing.

         Maybe it's time to get my butt in gear, she told herself for the hundredth time that day.

        After a quiet debate among the three of them, they decided that staking-out the house was the only way to find out who came and went. Minnie had volunteered a shift, but the guys didn't want to drag her too far into this.

        After dropping Minnie and Hutch off at their places, Starsky would return to park down the street from his old house. Hutch had agreed to watch the house Sunday.

        Minnie hoped that something would break for the guys soon, so Starsky could get started on his project.

 

 

***

 

 

        Stretched out across the front seat, Starsky was listening to the wind blow and the sounds of traffic from the distance. He hadn't had too much trouble staying awake all night. Whenever he felt sleepy, all he had to do was pull out Minnie's list and read it again. Although he would never admit it to Hutch, this home renovation project was really starting to scare him. He knew it was going to be some work, but the list Minnie had given him seemed a mile long. How much did a new john cost anyway? And how did you put in a thing like that? Walls that needed to be replastered before painting, sinks, stove and refrigerator that probably needed to be replaced were just a few of the things that kept him awake that night. Besides the fact that he was paying rent and a mortgage now, he would have to start saving for household supplies. He couldn't afford to pay professionals to get any of it done. It was a do-it-yourself-or-it-don't-get-done kind of thing. And cross your fingers the Torino held together for a while. He had visions of all his dating money and time swirling down the drain — definitely not a subject for sweet dreams.

        While ruminating quietly on this new mess, he heard Hutch's car long before he saw it.

        Anyone who couldn't identify that hunk of junk from the sound of the missing pistons and creaky springs had to be deaf. One day, that car of Hutch's was going to give up the ghost and slowly fall apart, a piece at a time in some busy intersection. He just hoped he wasn't in it when it happened.

        "Hey, Sleeping Beauty, wake up," Hutch beamed, leaning into the Torino's window a few minutes later, pushing Starsky's feet off the edge with his elbow, his hands full. "No use in me wasting my day if you can't keep up your end."

        Starsky slowly opened one eye and used it to glance at his horribly cheerful partner. "Shows how much you know," he replied. "I happen to be wide awake 'n completely alert. Nothin' has moved down this street all night. Nothin' gets past me without hearin' or seein' it."

        "Yeah, the Six Million Dollar Man and the Bionic Woman all rolled into one, huh," Hutch smirked.

        "Nah, I'm worth much more'n them put together." Starsky grinned, sitting up to make room when Hutch opened the door and slid in beside him.

        Hutch tossed Starsky a warm, fragrant bag then handed him a hot styrofoam cup. One good thing about having Hutch as a partner was that he couldn't stand to see someone go without the most important meal of the day, even if his idea of food was a bit outlandish and dull at times. Besides, Hutch owed him for the pizza yesterday.

        Both detectives sat silently, Hutch pondering as Starsky ate, watching the house through the tall shrubs. Both were thinking about the next step in the case. Waiting and watching on their own time, they could spend months and not catch anyone coming or going. And they didn't have months. Yet neither one wanted to bring in any more people than they had to. Simple matter of pride, Starsky had to admit.

        "You know, Starsk," Hutch began, not looking at his partner, "unless we're really lucky, we'll never get anywhere this way. This isn't even our territory. We could ask Mike and Jake to drop in and nose around for us. They cover this area pretty tight."

        "Yeah, I know." Starsky sighed, wondering if there were some old sugar packets in the glove compartment for his coffee. Hutch always forgot to put in enough. "Not my favorite pair. If we don't get something by today, I guess I'll go ahead and file a report with Narco. With my luck, they'll assign Johnson, and you know, Hutch, I really hate that guy."

        "I know, but the feeling's mutual, Starsk. You can be a very unpleasant person, you know."

        "I am not."

        "Hey," the Hutch replied, reaching for the door handle, "who would know better than me?" He smiled evilly.

        Finishing his last bite and giving up on the sugar, Starsky started the engine, waiting while his partner got out of the car. Promising he'd be by with lunch sometime later, Starsky put the car in gear and headed home for a hot shower and some real shut-eye.

 

 

***

 

        The Man sat in the same dark, dirty spot The Kid had, keeping an eye on the watchers.

        The Kid had made a mistake, and Cape had been furious. The Kid had gotten it good. The only reason The Kid had been able to walk home on his own feet was the fact that he had brought back a name, a description and an address.

        Of course, The Man had thought, Cape was the real one at fault.

        Cape trusted too much on the word of the street to keep out snoops. Cape should have known that a kid was no good as eyes, but Cape didn't like spending good money when he didn't think he had to. And The Man was not inclined to argue with him.

        The Kid was pretty smart, really. That car registration had been a good idea. At the start of the beating, The Kid had been able to hand the paper to Cape before he got really upset and it had calmed him right down. Cape had barely glanced at the paper before tossing it to The Man.

        "Take care of this guy. I don't want him hangin' 'round no more."

        Now Cape hadn't said anything about taking this guy out, so The Man hadn't planned on anything really rough. He had gone and played around at this guy's apartment for a while. Shame to haft'a destroy some of those nice things. But now that this Starsky guy had been given a warning, The Man just hoped the guy was smart enough to back off. He really hated to see people bleed. And he hated to be the one to make them do it. But better the stranger than The Man himself.

 

 

***

 

 

        Because of his lack of sleep, it wasn't until he got halfway up the stairs that Starsky noticed that something was wrong. He froze, quietly pulled out his gun, and listened carefully. Crouching down, he took a couple more steps, trying to see through his wide-open front door. After a minute, when he could hear no sounds, he quickly covered the last half of the stairway and pressed himself against the door frame, out of the way. A quick glance at the lock showed that it hadn't been jimmied or picked, but kicked in.

        "Come out with your hands up! POLICE!" he bellowed, throwing himself in the doorway, gun before him.

        There was nothing but silence. Carefully, listening for any sound, he ignored the sight of his apartment and checked the kitchen, bedroom and bathroom. It wasn't until he was sure he was alone and had put away his gun that he allowed himself to really look at the mess.

        They had done a very thorough job on his apartment. Just from where he stood, he could see couch and bedding ripped up, picture and pots broken, drawers opened and dumped, kitchen supplies strewn around, furniture broken. It was one hell of a mess. On one wall where his family pictures had been removed and dumped on the floor was spray-painted in red "Stay Away From The Place!"

        When he could calm himself down and finally think clearly, he jogged down to his car and used the radio to call his partner. Somebody was really going to pay now, and pay dearly.

 

 

***

 

 

        Hutch arrived quickly, pulling up next to his partner's car and bounding up the steps. Shocked, he stopped in the doorway as he got a first look at the damage. He gave a low, quiet whistle. Whoever did this job wasn't looking for anything. They were out to cost their victim some money.

        He found his partner in the kitchen, sitting on a fairly clean counter, staring down at a broken picture frame in his hand. Hutch walked over quietly, knowing whose picture it contained. Standing beside his partner, he looked at the shattered glass and one of the few pictures of Starsky's father. He could tell as soon as he had come in the room that Starsky was seething, but firmly under control.

        "Did it get scratched?" he asked quietly.

        "Nah, just the frame." Starsky shrugged tightly, not looking up. "Looks like they were thorough." He jumped down from the counter and placed the frame carefully where he had been sitting. "Apartment next door's empty. They could make all the noise they wanted."

        Starsky walked over to his emptied bookshelves and dug out a photo album from under a pile of books. By the time he walked back to the kitchen, Hutch had already removed the precious, unscratched picture from the broken frame. He handed it silently to Starsky, who placed it safely in the album.

        "So," Hutch ventured, deciding not to lean against the flour-strewn counter, "who's toes did we step on this time? Any idea what case this is from?"

        "It's the house." Starsky shrugged angrily, picking up a half-broken chair and sitting on it anyway. "We aren't working anything else that comes close to that type of warning." He waved at the spray-painted wall.

        "Yeah, guess so," Hutch reluctantly agreed. None of the cases they had open so far were connected to a specific location. Now was apparently the time to call in the troops. "You make the call?"

        "Just after I called you." Starsky rubbed his face with his hands. "The Uniforms should be here any minute now. I gotta fill out the report so I can have a copy for my insurance. Man! First my car insurance agency hates me, now I'm going to tick off my renter's insurance guy." He sighed, taking another look around. "At least my landlord won't have to get too involved, except for the door lock. Just my stuff was trashed."

        "Well, pack a bag, buddy, you're bunking with me for a while."

        Starsky just nodded as he walked to the front door, watching the black-and-white car pull up in front of his apartment.

        "We'll get them, Starsk," Hutch promised, coming up beside Starsky to watch the uniformed officers exit their squad car.

        "Yeah," Starsky sighed. "Eventually. I just wonder how much all this is gonna cost me."

 

***

 

        As soon as she could on Monday morning, Minnie made a beeline for the squad room.

        She had heard about the break-in at Starsky's apartment and wanted to know if they thought it had anything to do with the house. She sure felt sorry for the poor guy.

        They were away from their desks when she arrived, but she played around with filling her coffee cup as long as she dared. She was sitting at Starsky's desk when they walked in the squad room in the middle of a conversation with Detectives Mike Davidson and Jake Baker. Mike and Jake's territory covered the location of Starsky's house.

        "Listen, guys," Mike said, throwing his hands up, "I feel for ya, I really do. But we can't come down off of what we're doing now, just to cover some lousy bushels. We got a big coke shipment hitting our area at any minute, and we still can't find the source or how it's supposed to be coming in."

        "Turn it over to Narco, let them remove it and forget about it," Jake chimed in.

        "Come on!" Hutch said with frustration, heading straight for the coffee machine. "This is personal now. Do you know how long it took us to clean up that mess and list damages yesterday? And we don't even know how they got Starsky's address. What's he supposed to do, confiscate their stuff and hope they'll understand and go away?"

        "Well, now, that's real sad," Mike answered, as if he were talking to a child. "But I always imagined that you two could take care of yourselves. Didn't think you'd need babysitters."

        "Come on, now," Jake broke in. "We said we'd listen for anything floating around about the place, and we will. Just don't expect much with all this other stuff going down, is all."

        "Listen, you two," Hutch fumed, "we could mess around in there ourselves, but it would take us forever just to find a street source you two already have in your pocket." He jabbed Mike in the chest, unfazed by his threatening glare. "All we're asking is a little professional courtesy. A quick cut-to-the-chase by you guys to give us a lead. No one's asking you to babysit anything."

        "Hutch," Starsky broke in softly, trying to catch Hutch's eye. "They said they'll let us know if they hear anything." He waited until Hutch returned his gaze and then settled in the chair Minnie had vacated as soon as they had entered the room. "We'll handle the rest." His voice was calm and quiet, and Hutch quickly backed away.

        "Like I said," Mike threw over his shoulder as he and his partner went out the door, "don't hold your breath."

        Minnie stood in the comer, listening to the nasty exchange. She knew the guys wouldn't mind her there. Detectives Davidson and Baker considered Uniforms as less-than-human, so had ignored her. Starsky and Hutch had always made it a point to know all the Uniforms in their area, names and families. That was something most of the other detectives didn't bother with, but the attitude of the famous Davidson and Baker pair really stank. That kind of snobbery had never made much sense to her. If she were caught in a bad spot, she'd want to personally know everyone who came as her back up. It was good to know you had friends you could depend on. Davidson and Baker, on the other hand, were not well-liked by anyone. Not even, she suspected, by Dobey. And the Captain was just about as fair as a man could get.

        "So, they found you, huh, Starsky," Minnie said quietly, knowing there was no question about it.

        "Yeah, Minnie," he sighed, "cleaned me out pretty good." He accepted the cup of coffee his partner offered and sat staring at the phone. "Dobey says we can follow it up, but it would've been a lot easier with their help." He nodded toward the door. "But friends like that I don't need. Wouldn't want to be in their debt for very long."

        "Ain't that the truth," Hutch added, sitting at his desk and angrily stirring his coffee.

        "So, what's next guys?"

        "It looks like I gotta call Narco," Starsky said, drumming his fingers on his desktop and still staring at the phone, "and turn it over to them. We don't have the connections in that area to get us any info and we don't have the time."

        "Wait, Starsk," Hutch interrupted, "maybe we could push the timing on this. What if we put out the word that the house was going to come down, really soon. Park a bulldozer in front of it or something. If they're that upset about us being near the place, maybe they'll panic over losing their stuff. We stake the place out and wait until they show up to empty the ceiling. They couldn't afford to wait too long."

        "Yeah," Starsky sighed, "but why would they be so desperate for that little bit of stuff? It ain't worth hardly nothing on the streets. Not enough to cause trouble for, let alone be a reason to trash my apartment."

        "Unless we didn't find all of it," Minnie mused. "There are an awful lot of boxes crammed into that place, guys. Did you check out all the boxes, Starsky?"

        "Oh, man," he replied, wiping his face with his hand, "you saw the place. I couldn't even get near most of them. If they did stash something else there, it would take weeks to dig down to it, unless you knew which boxes it was in."

        "She's right!" Hutch exclaimed. "If Davidson and Baker are wrong, and that coke of theirs is already in town? Or what if that's where it's going? We know dealers don't like to store their stash outside of their territory, and they don't like to get caught with it. If it's in town, it has to be somewhere close by."

        "If the dealers are stashing that coke there, it would flush them out if they it was going to get confiscated or destroyed." A smile played across Starsky's features. "It sure wouldn't hurt my feelin's any to get that bust before Davidson and Baker do. But where are we going to get a bulldozer?"

        "Honey," Minnie said, reaching for the phone, "where there's Minnie, there's a way."

        Forty-five minutes and several phone calls later, Minnie had a located an idle bulldozer. Using her father's name and calling in a few of his old friends had gotten her permission to relocate it for a couple of days. The only hitch was that someone was going to have to pay for the transportation of the huge machine to the new location and back. Moving a bulldozer was not cheap.

        Dobey was skeptical at first, not sure that his detectives weren't overreacting. He did not seem immune to the idea of beating Narco to a large shipment, and such a large arrest would look good in everyone's records, including his own, Minnie knew. But he insisted on bringing Davidson and Baker in to handle the setup.

        Both Starsky and Hutch had tried to argue him out of including the other team, but quickly backed off when they realized that Dobey was putting his foot down on the subject.

        "Davidson and Baker know that area too well," he barked. "I don't care what personal problems you may be having with those two. It's their area of responsibility. They know the local layout and the snitches. If anything goes down, they are in position to hear about it first." He glared at the two, thankfully leaving Minnie out of his lecture. "Davidson and Baker will handle the logistics and the manpower. You two stick near that house and keep your eyes open. We know they already have Starsky pegged. It won't look strange if he's spotted near his own property," he said, switching to his 'fatherly tone'. "You two would be on my case if it was in your district and I didn't put you in charge. Do I have to order you two to 'play nice' on this?"

        Starsky glanced at each other and shrugged. Both seemed embarrassed by Dobey's parental tone.

        "Nah," Starsky replied with a shy smile, "you're right. Hutch 'n I appreciate the help."

        "Then Minnie, tell your contacts to have that bulldozer put right next to Starsky's house, and I'll authorize the payment," Dobey ordered nodding his head in approval. "Then let's call in Davidson and Baker, and get this show on the road."

 

 

***

 

 

        The arrival of the bulldozer Tuesday morning was a horrible shock to The Man. He watched in increasing panic as the big truck unloaded the monster machine. The crew left it resting almost against the decrepit-looking house, then packed up and left. Leaving another lookout in his place, The Man had booked it to Cape's place, totally unaware of a beat up LTD spotting his anxiousness and following him all the way there.

        He was reluctant to contact Cape himself with the news, but he was too afraid not to.

        Cape was gonna kill him either way.

        "They WHAT?!" Cape yelled, scaring The Man and the others in the room. "You IDIOT! Don't I have enough going on without worrying about your responsibilities?" The yelling went on and on for several minutes. The Man, hoping Cape was getting it all out of his system, stood and waited quietly while keeping an eye on the glowering bodyguards. Cape suddenly went silent and The Man barely saw the small gun pointed toward him before the shot was fired. The Man's lifeless body hit the floor with a thud.

 

***

 

        Sitting at the dark window inside the empty house next to Starsky's, Hutch was using binoculars to keep an eye on one of Cape's lookouts, pegging his position. He chuckled quietly to himself.

        "I don't see what's so funny," Starsky grumbled, sitting at the second window, staring at his house. "It's not like I don't have enough to do already, bullet holes won't help nothin'."

        "It's not that, Starsk." Hutch grinned at him. "It was the look on Davidson's face when we told him where that guy went to report the arrival of the bulldozer. Man, was Davidson upset." He set the binoculars down, since it was getting too dark to see anyway. "They couldn't get over the fact the biggest drug dealer in the area was being tipped off about your house."

        "Yeah, that was good." Starsky smiled at the memory. "And did you see both their faces when I told them we were using the house next door 'n they got stuck on the opposite roof? Their territory or not, I get first dibs. Serves them right for brushing us off like that and gettin' snotty about this whole thing."

        Starsky, Hutch and the others had set up early that afternoon, having carefully pinpointed Cape's look-outs. One by one, the undercover officers had taken up positions. By nightfall they were covering street corners, nearby shops, rooftops, and in the newer building next door. Davidson and Baker had been able to point out Cape's men who were watching the house, and none of them had left their look-out positions. No conversations took place when the evening look-outs quietly replaced the day shift. No warnings seemed to be passed along.

        If Cape and his men made a move to empty out the house tonight, they all should be surprised.

        Starsky, the actual homeowner in this situation, had pulled rank with Dobey and over Davidson's and Baker's disgust, had claimed the newer house next door. He and Hutch had quietly evacuated the elderly gentleman who lived there, who was only too happy to co-operate, and had set up and checked their weapons.

        "Well, one way or another, hopefully we get this finished tonight," Hutch said, playing with his radio. "And you get your house back. Couple more days and you should be able to move back into your apartment."

        "Yeah, well, don't think that I don't appreciate it 'n all," Starsky winced while rubbing his back, "but many more nights on your couch is gonna put me in traction."

        "Yeah? With all that insurance money you'll get for your damages, you can buy me a better couch," Hutch replied, then about it for a moment. "Well, maybe not. I've seen yours."

        Another hour passed, and was totally dark in the alley before a non-descript truck pulled in. Two men, dressed in ratty clothes, drove the ancient truck slowly down the short street. They carefully backed it up to the front of Starsky's beat-up, old house and parked it. They then unlatched the tailgate, leaving only six or seven inches between the truck and the front porch. Jumping up to the front door, they quietly unlocked it and entered.

        It was pretty hard to see details, but the distant street lights managed to show the men's movements outside. Once inside, the interior lights came on. No one could manage around that mess with only a flashlight. Apparently, the two men didn't seem at all concerned, as the front door was left open, pouring light out of the house and onto the truck.

        "Keep back, guys," a muffled voice came over Hutch's radio. "Three more suspects coming down the street."

        "OK, Mike," Hutch replied.

        The two ducked down by their windows, staying out of sight of the three men walking by. The strangers continued towards Starsky's place. Careful to stay in the shadows, Starsky and Hutch moved back to the side windows to watch the three enter the home.

        "Baker? What are they up to?" Hutch asked over the radio.

        "Throwing some of the front room boxes into the bathroom. Must be a ton of garbage in there."

        "It ain't garbage!" Starsky grumbled to himself. Hutch only smiled.

        The three new men must have made a difference, because after only a few minutes, a couple of boxes were taken and stacked in the truck. After fifteen minutes, about a dozen packing boxes were neatly stacked in the truck and the men started to close up.

        "OK, everyone, start taking out the look-outs," Baker whispered into the radio, signaling the undercover men into action. "Watch out, Street, the men are leaving. Take them out if we don't get there first."

        "Will do," those covering the street answered.

        Starsky and Hutch moved quickly toward the front door. Starsky kept an eye out the window. He could see three dark shadows move quietly by the front of the house, coming back the same way. The detectives stood in the shadows and waited.

        "OK, Hutch, they've moved past you guys, the Street'll pick them up," Mike said. "The guys in the truck are packing it up. If they turn your way, you've got 'em."

        Both ends of the street were being covered, but Hutch hoped they'd turn this way to leave. If they did, then Starsky and Hutch could make the bust themselves.

        "The look-outs are down," another voice came over the radio. "Ready to take out the three walking out."

        The truck driver and his passenger took the time to cover and tie down the back of the truck with a tarp.

        "Street here, we got three in custody," a new voice intoned. "You're clear to take out the truck."

        "Two to go," Starsky whispered. "And they're ours."

        Hutch turned his radio off and set it down. They could now hear the truck start and pull slowly away from dark house. The truck turned toward the left, leaving the way it had come, moving slowly.

        "Yes!" Starsky tensed. "We got 'em!"

        When the truck was almost even with the newer house, both men quietly stepped out of the front door. Starsky moved quickly but stayed low around the back of the moving truck, heading for the passenger side of the door. Hutch crept up to the open window on the driver's side of the truck and pointed his gun at the driver.

        "FREEZE! Police!"

        Just as the driver hit the accelerator, Starsky jerked open the passenger door and pulled the startled passenger out, letting him hit the ground. The man never had a chance to pull the gun that hit the pavement with him. Starsky's man froze, covered by the detective's gun.

        The driver hit the gas. The old truck tried desperately to make it to the street, but was suddenly cut off by a black-and-white blocking its path. Slamming on the brakes, gears screamed as the driver frantically tried to shift into reverse. Hutch fired, his bullet punching through the rear window, shattering the windshield. The driver froze, raising his hands in surrender.

        "Put your hands out the window! NOW! I'd better see you're clean!" Hutch was back at the driver's window a second later.

        The driver complied. He didn't put up a fuss when pulled from the truck, had his gun taken, or when they handcuffed him.

        "Pull it in, men!" Dobey's voice echoed in the darkness. He huffed as he trotted down the small street, watching his men taking care of business while heading straight for the truck.

        Starsky had handed his man over to a Uniform and untied the tarp. Tossing it toward the back, he leaped into the truck bed and shoved one of the boxes toward the open tailgate.

        "Hey, somebody get me a flashlight!" he yelled.

        "Hey, dummy." Hutch handed him one as he came up behind his partner and joined him at the back of the truck. "Didn't you ever learn to be prepared?"

        Starsky grabbed the light and preceded to examine the first box. There was a small, green crayoned 'X' on the side. Hutch could see more marks on the other boxes.

        "Special shipment." Starsky grinned. He carefully took his penknife and slit open the top of the box. Inside he found shredded newspaper packing. Carefully wrapped in clean towels in the center of the box were six stuffed, clear bags of white, powdery material.

        "Pass it here," Dobey ordered, anxious to know how well his men had scored. He tested the bag Starsky had handed him, smiling at his own verdict. "This is it!"

        Mike Davidson and Jake Baker ran up to the truck, obviously disappointed. It was their territory, and not only had they missed the action, they had even missed the unveiling.

        "You two," Dobey pointed at them, making sure they understood he was not pleased with them, "take these men in for questioning. I want Cape taken out. Now."

        Both Davidson and Baker, looking sheepish, moved to make sure their prisoners were transported to the station for questioning. Hutch knew they had never actually believed the stuff was in the house, and hadn't checked around the streets like they should have. They had thoroughly botched a big score that would have had their names all over it, and they knew a reprimand from Dobey when they heard one. Starsky and Hutch were the official Officers on Record as far as Dobey was concerned, and the bust would go in their file.

        "Good work, men." Dobey smiled at the two pleased detectives. "Now leave this with me for Narco to pick up. Starsky, you check out the place and see where this stuff came from."

        "Well, Starsky," Hutch laughed, slapping his partner on the shoulder as they walked to the house, "you were right about the hidden treasure part of this ugly thing. Too bad it wasn't your type of treasure though. You could have been a lot richer by now."

        "Yeah, well," his partner shrugged, "I never would've been able to figure out how to list it on my income taxes." He grinned.

        Jumping up on the porch, they entered the unlocked house. Starsky flipped on the light and was met with an even bigger mess than before. Against the far wall was an open, clean spot, right where five boxes could have sat unnoticed. Anyone digging through this mess would not have not have reached that spot for days.

        "Well, buddy," Hutch commented, crossing his arms and surveying the debris, "Looks like your house is worth a lot less now than it was an hour ago. The most valuable stuff was just carted out."

        "Hey," Starsky said confidently. "Don't count this place out yet. I'm sure there are other exciting, but less illegal things just lurking in here. It'll just take time and patience to fish it all out."

        "Oh, I wouldn't count on that. And there's one important thing you're forgetting, old buddy. You'd better take care of it pretty quick or Internal Affairs will be paying you a personal visit, real soon," Hutch added smugly. He knew Starsky had already forgotten how this had all started.

        "Oh, yeah? And what would that be?" Starsky replied mockingly, hands on hips.

        Hutch just crossed his arms, gave him knowing smile, and looked up.

        Captain Dobey was standing under the porch light of the neighbor's house, trying to keep an eye on the Narcotics Unit as they loaded the dozen or so boxes into their specially secured van, and at the same time trying to fill out the massive amount of paperwork they required before taking possession. He was a bit preoccupied when Starsky practically ran into him on the porch.

        "Uh, Captain?"

        "Yes, Starsky?" Dobey muttered, trying to reply patiently as he filled out yet another box on the triplicate form.

        "While you're doing all that Narco stuff anyway, could you do me a favor?" Starsky asked a little sheepishly. "Could you ask them to look at my ceiling for me?"

 

 

***

 

 

        Wednesday morning was bright and sunny, and Hutch was glad to see Captain Dobey was in the best of moods. Since his department had beaten the Narcotics Unit to a good-sized coke bust, the cost of moving the bulldozer in had been quickly forgotten.

        Of course, Captain Dobey's good mood just meant that he asked for all the required reports in his quiet voice, instead of his booming one. But the reports were due soon, and woe to the person who made him wait. Hutch didn't intend to be the one to turn his Captain's good mood sour.

        Mike Davidson and Jake Baker had been the last ones to finish up the night before, but they had come in early this morning to get the paperwork done. They had spent the time quietly, ignoring the back slaps and congratulations Starsky and Hutch received from their fellow detectives.

        Hutch continued trying to peck out his half of their report on his temperamentaltypewriter, while Starsky sat filling out more forms by hand. Neither one had taken their fellow detective's enthusiastic congratulations to heart. They knew it for what it was, as just a few digs here and there at Davidson and Baker. Hutch might have felt sorry for them if they hadn't had shrugged off Starsky's concerns as they had.

        An officer's apartment had been broken into, and the contents trashed. If that wasn't a call to rally around us, I'm not sure what would have moved them take us seriously. Just because they don't like us doesn't mean they should blow us off when we need them. We all have to trust each other, out there. And they wonder why hardly anyone wants to work with them.

        Dobey quietly entered the squad room, tossed a file folder in front of Starsky, on his desk, then continued on into his office.

        "Well, look at this," Starsky commented as he picked up the folder, "another gift from higher up." He picked up the folder and started to check out the contents.

        Hutch glanced worriedly at his partner. Usually Starsky was like a kid, full of energy and bounce after a good bust. But ever since last night he had been acting like a flat tire. Narco had removed the marijuana from his ceiling space. He and Starsky had filled out a few more forms, locked the house up -- for whatever good that would do-- and picked up a late snack before heading back to Hutch's place. Starsky still hadn't gotten a check from his insurance for his property damage. Starsky hadn't even complained once last night or this morning about having to sleep on his couch three nights in a row, or Hutch's lack of junk food for breakfast.

        It must be the house, Hutch decided, feeling a little guilty. He had thrown quite a fit about the whole thing, and Starsky had been really enthusiastic about wanting the project. He had even seemed to enjoy defending the ugly old rat-trap. But somewhere something had changed and Starsk didn't seem to enjoy it anymore.

         Maybe I'd better drop the subject for a while and see how he feels about it later. At least until his own apartment gets fixed back up. If he doesn't bring it up again, I won't.

        A few minutes later, while Hutch was still pecking away at his report, Starsky finished reading the folder contents. He looked a bit embarrassed.

        "So, partner, what's the good word this time?" Hutch asked around the pencil in his mouth.

        "It's a copy of Davidson and Baker's report," he answered, leaning back in his chair to balance it at another suicidal angle.

        "Oh?" Hutch said. "And what's their side of the story?"

        "They took Cape in last night with a whole herd of his men," Starsky answered, examining the ceiling. "It took a couple of hours, 'n shots were fired, but nobody hurt 'cept a couple of bad guys. They even found a fresh body in the basement. Cape's men hadn't had time to dump it yet. Cape himself is just a penny-ante guy, one of the low-life's in the area the bigger guys just ignored. He sure surrounded himself with some pretty loyal men, though. It took most of them about 30 seconds to start tell'n tales once they were booked."

        "Sounds interesting so far." Hutch finished his typing and pulled the triplicate form out of the typewriter. He started proofreading his work. "How did he wind up with a stash like that if he was penny-ante?"

        "It seems this Cape guy was a local hood who gained control of his turf by strong-armed action. He pimped, owned a few bookies, ran a few of the smaller drugs. Was working his way up. Not really very bright, but had enough dumb muscle to back him up. Davidson and Baker knew about him, but figured him as permanent small-fry. It looks like Cape had been saving up for quite a while to get into the main drug trade and had spent his whole wad on a shipment of some of the better grade stuff. He made his major purchase, stashed it in the house and was puttin' a choke hold on all the dealers in the area. A lot of pushers were turning up dead lately. Those that weren't dead suddenly put themselves out of business and disappeared. In another day or so, Cape was gonna take out whoever was left, dump 'em in ocean 'n then put his own suppliers out on the streets."

        Starsky shook his head. "The big guys in the area it was the other one trying to nudge 'em out 'n took pot shots at each other, pretty much ignoring Cape. By the time they'd've found out who the new man in town was, Cape would already have had a toe in the door 'n his men in place."

        "Ah," Hutch responded, "nothing like corporate advancement. Say anything about how you were tagged?"

        "Yeah," Starsky muttered uncomfortably, still staring at the ceiling, "Cape'd been using the house years before the old man kicked off. Got a key from somewhere and let it be known on the streets it was 'hands-off'. That's why there was no graffiti, no squatters, no garbage and no vandalism. Even with all that stuff stashed in there, he just had one look-out posted to keep it in sight. He wasn't worried about anyone coming near. Seems he didn't even know the old man had died until he was told about the first 'for sale' sign. Smart enough to know he didn't want the house in his name, but too dumb to get one of his cronies to take it. After it sat for a coupl'a years, he quit worrying about it at all. Just figured he had inherited the place."

        "And they made you... how?" Hutch prodded. "Through the reality?"

        "They found my car registration in the dead guy's coat pocket."

        "Ah." Hutch said quietly, realizing when it must have been taken. Not much a person could say to that.

 

 

***

 

 

        It was a beautiful Saturday morning that week. Bright and sunny. Starsky was up and around, taking a shower and getting dressed, thinking about how the rest of the week had gone.

        It had been pretty slow and quiet, so the guys had even been able to take a few extra hours off that Friday. It had still not been enough to lighten Starsky's mood, even when he had finally managed to find the time to get a new mattress and move back into his place. The insurance check for his apartment damage had been a huge disappointment. Figuring in his deductible and the fact that he had bought coverage only over the depreciated value of his things, it didn't add up to very much.

         Those insurance guys sure got off on depreciating the hell out of my stuff. Especially the TV and Stereo, he . He couldn't even replace half of what he'd lost.

        And now the house stuff was dragging him down, too. He now felt like he had bitten off more than he could chew. Another of his wild get-rich-quick schemes, Hutch would say. The little voice in the back of his head was eating away at him all the time now.

       This had been a bad idea. I should have it through more.

        Was he really all that willing to spend all his spare time and money trying to do something he didn't know how to do? Learning it all the hard way? The worst part was that he didn't see much of a way out now, except to stick it through and take his lumps. And get Hutch his money back.

        At least Hutch hadn't said a word about the house the rest of the week. It wasn't in him to kick a man while he was down and Starsky sure had been down and discouraged the last few days. He really appreciated his partner dropping the whole subject.

        Hutch had even talked him into a trip out today. Do something different. Starsky had planned to sleep in a little late this morning, but then he had gotten a strange call from Minnie about thirty minutes ago. She had wanted to know if he was up and decent yet, wanted to come by his place and talk to him privately.

        Curiosity killing him, he had told her sure, come on by, he'd be up by then. But she would have to take her chances on him being decent. She was only thirty minutes away by bus so he had booked it out of bed, and had just barely showered and gotten dressed when his doorbell rang.

        "It's open. Come on in, Min. I'll find you a seat in just a sec." Starsky gestured around the apartment. "How do you like my new decor?"

        "Well, Starsky," she took a look around his apartment at the trashed apartment, seeing it for the first time. "It does reflect your personality."

        "Yeah, well," he laughed good-naturedly, "most of the place still shows the touch of a heavy underworld influence." He pointed to the pile of discarded bedding, curtains and other boxes of broken items shoved over into a corner. "That and the fact I haven't had much time this week to start throwing stuff out, and that they left me with very few places to sit." He pointed to the one-cushioned couch, offering her the seat while he got one of his less beat up kitchen chairs and got comfortable across from her.

        "Look, Starsky," she began, "I'm really sorry about coming over this early, but I wanted to catch you first thing this morning."

        "That's OK, Min." He waved off her apology. "Hutch is coming over in an hour or so anyway. He's dragging me out to some art show or something at the museum this morning, and I'm gonna make him buy me lunch for my pain and sufferin'. Then we're gonna do something really worthwhile. I'm gonna drag him down to the hot-rod show downtown to show him what real art and craftsmanship looks like. Gotta full day planned before we start bagging up all the crap for the trash pickup."

        "Sounds like fun," she replied distractedly, still a little hesitant. "Look, Starsky, let me get started with why I'm here. I want to buy your house."

        Nothing she said could have shocked him more than those six little words.

        "Huh?"

        "Come on, Starsky," she said. "It makes perfect sense. You have a house that is going to cost you a lot of time and effort that you really don't want to put out. I've been thinking of getting myself a little fixer-upper, too. Here you have one too many and I have one too few. What could be a better match?"

        "Now wait." Starsky looked at her a little suspiciously. "Did Hutch put you up to this?"

        "Are you kidding?" Minnie laughed. "You think I want to hear him nag on me about buying that house the same way he did you? That boy ain't gonna be happy until the last board in that place hits the ground. Figures it would finally prove him right."

        "Really!" Starsky agreed wholeheartedly.

        "Besides, we both know you've lost interest in the place. But it really was a good idea, just not for you. Since you bought it for an investment, it's gonna be a bigger stretch, with you not wanting to live there 'n all. And as soon as I can get the basics going, I can move in 'n use my rent money and my security deposit on the place. I've got enough male relatives around here that I'll never run out of free labor for the heavy stuff. Besides," she added with a smile, "I've seen the place and have a better idea of what can be done to it than you do. You get out, I get in, and we're both happy."

        "Well, now it does sound pretty good," he carefully admitted, quickly deciding he loved the idea, but not wanting to seem too eager. "But how do you know you could get the loan?"

        Minnie gave him a disdainful look. "Loan's already set, Starsky, it's called the 'Bank of Daddy' if you must know. They know me very well and are willing to extend whatever money I need. I happen," she finished, "to be a very important person at that institution."

        "Well, well, well... " Starsky said cheerfully, a grin taking over his face. His mood had suddenly improved. "Let's talk price."

        He got up, trotted over to a kitchen drawer and found a pencil stub and a piece of paper. Sitting back in his chair, he screwed up his face and for a moment. This had to be handled delicately, friend to friend, fair to both.

         What amount, he wondered, can I actually get away with?

        Deciding to take a stab at it, he went blank-faced and scribbled an amount on the piece of paper and handed it solemnly over to Minnie.

        She took one look and laughed.

        "Starsky, Hon," she chuckled, "I may be beautiful, but I'm not slow. I know you got that place for peanuts, they were so desperate. Here's more of what I was thinking." She borrowed the pencil and wrote a counter-offer below his.

        He looked at the figure, pondering how far he ought to push this thing. True, it was more than he had put out so far, but it wasn't what you would call a decent return either. Hutch's remark about bus fare came to mind.

        He decided to push just a little more, no use caving in too quickly. "Now, Minnie, this really is a nice start, but I'm not sure this would really do it for me. After all, it is prime location." He gave her his most charming smile.

        "Now, Starsky," she replied, pointing to her offer, "there's more profit in there than you realize. For one thing, think of all the time you'll save by not having to go in and do any work on the place. Frees up your weekends and evenings for who knows how long. You could be working on that place for months before you could put it up for sale."

        "Yeah," he admitted, still trying to hold on, "I was going to get Hutch to help me with a lot of it anyway."

        "Well, there you go," she said triumphantly. "I know and you know he'd do it. But think of all the weekend meals that man is gonna drag out of you. Besides, you think he's gonna get his hands dirty working on that place without letting you hear about it every chance he gets? Harping on how he's wasting his time? Wantin' to make all the decisions on the remodelin', complaining to the whole force about what nasty work you're dragging him into."

        Starsky winced at the . It was true. Major points scored there.

        "And all the other stuff," she continued, pressing her advantage, "personal property taxes, garbage removal, regular maintenance while it's up for sale, vagrants, graffiti, vandalism, real estate commissions...." She paused, seeing him wince. "And think of all the good points. You get out from under before you get too far in, you get to go to the bank today with my deposit check, which I am more than ready to hand you right now, and you get to pay Hutch off. I'll even sweeten the pot." She paused, making him wait.

        "And that would be?" he finally asked, curiosity getting to him.

        "When I arrange for all that cr.... umm, antiques to be carted out, I'll arrange for you to have all the time you need to go through each and every box," she said in her best low and seductive voice, "and let you keep whatever you want!"

        That broke him. He laughed.

        "Minnie," he chuckled a few minutes later, holding out his hand to her, "you know me too well. I never had a chance, did I?"

        "Hon," she replied smugly, shaking his hand on the deal, "you never even had a clue.

 

***

 

 

        Starsky seemed to be having a great Saturday, leaving Hutch to wonder where this good mood had suddenly come from. He had been his old self and more, laughing, joking, and even managing to enjoy the art show after a quick trip to his bank to conduct some unexpected business. Hutch had touched on this and that subject all day, trying to discover the cause of this sudden change of mood, worried about bringing up something touchy and spoiling it. Starsky had just rambled on all afternoon with mind-numbing enthusiasm, about every over-priced and overworked car he had dragged Hutch out to look at. Hutch had been more than half-afraid that in his depressed state Starsky had picked out a flashier replacement for the Torino.

        Late Sunday afternoon, Hutch had dropped by to see if Starsky's good mood was still in full swing, or if it was a one-day-fluke type of thing. Surprised, he found a big moving van in the driveway, unloading a new sofa, bookcases, and a dining set. All were new and carefully wrapped, but looked strangely familiar.

        "Hey, Starsk!" he yelled as he entered the apartment full of people and packing material. He was finally able to get his partner's attention. Starsky was in the corner of the living room, supervising. "When did you get all this stuff?"

        "Bought it all this morning," Starsky replied, while showing the men exactly where he wanted the couch. "Got 'em to not only deliver it the same day, but they're taking out the damaged stuff with them."

        "Well, then," Hutch said, bemused, looking at all the furniture boxes. On Starsky's new mattress sat unopened packages of curtains, bedding and other household items. He had apparently hit many of the local department stores, too. "I guess your insurance paid off pretty well then." Now he knew why Starsky had been in a better mood yesterday.

        "Hutch," his partner replied wryly, giving him a sideways glance, "you seriously wouldn't have believed the size of that check. You gonna come with me to help pick out my new TV and stereo this afternoon?"

        "Sure, Starsk," Hutch replied distractedly, watching the men as they unwrapped the new couch. "This is great, partner, but I do have a question. Why is the couch coming in identical to the ripped-up one going out?"

        "Oh, listen! This is great! I went back to the same store I got all the other stuff from, and they still had the same models in their back room," Starsky answered happily. "I couldn't believe they hadn't sold out of this style yet. Was I lucky or what?"

        Or what. Hutch winced at the of warehouse after warehouse full of this stuff. It could be worse, he sighed to himself, at least I'm used to this stuff. No telling what else they had in that back room.

        "Yeah, you sure have the luck, pal." He nudged his partner in the ribs and flashed him a smile. "Congratulations, Starsky. Welcome home."

 

***

 

        About a month later, it was a tired and dark summer afternoon when the two detectives found themselves at a loss for something to do. Not that there wasn't mounds of paperwork, reports to file, and files to be updated, but nobody wanted to do that stuff on a day like today.

        The streets were quiet, everyone kicking back and enjoying the cooling rain after weeks of intense heat. People were just too tired to be mean and nasty for a while. Besides, neither detective had to urge to go and roust anyone when their work day would end in only a couple of hours.

        Starsky had his feet up on the desk, leaning back as far as possible, with a newspaper over his face. Contemplating the news. He was in a mellow mood. More than satisfied with a job well done. He and Minnie had gotten through all the paperwork, emptied the house of all the 'antiques' that Starsky hadn't wanted, had seen his savings and loan paid off, and was now prepared for the final scene in this 'near tragedy'. He and Minnie had done it all without a word to Hutch. They had even taken a blood-oath that when Hutch did find out who had bought the house, that he would never pry from them the selling price, as long as they both shall live. Hutch had more than co-operated by not once bringing up the house subject. Life was perfect and Starsky wanted to drag it out and enjoy it to the fullest.

        "Well, partner," a totally bored Hutch finally broke the silence, glancing at the time, "got any plans for tonight?"

        "Sure do," Starsky replied, removing the newspaper and sitting up at his desk. "Have a pizza date for later."

        "Must be a hot date if you're springing for pizza." His partner snorted. "Anyone I know?"

        "Just a friend." Starsky shrugged. "Which reminds me, I wanted to cut out early today anyway." He glanced at the clock and figured Dobey wouldn't be too upset if he left just an hour or so early, unless he got caught at it. "But before I go, I've got something for you." He reached for his wallet.

        "Oh, yeah?" Hutch stirred, suddenly interested as Starsky handed over a folded piece of paper. "What's this?"

        Starsky remained quiet, watching his partner's face as Hutch unfolded the check.

        "What?" Hutch exclaimed, looking up in surprise. "Starsky, where did you get this?" he demanded.

        "I sold the house," Starsky replied quietly, enjoying Hutch's obvious confusion.

        "No." Hutch muttered in disbelief, his mouth hanging open, "There is no possible way..."

        "It's a done deal, partner." Starsky rose, grinning, getting ready to leave. "Escrow closed, keys turned over, loan paid off, and profits banked." He stretched slowly, enjoying the feeling.

        "P-profits?" His blond partner stuttered, the color draining out of his face as he stared in disbelief at his check.

        "Sorry, buddy," Starsky replied solemnly, patting Hutch on the shoulder. "You really don't want to know."

        Starsky turned to leave, heading out the squad room door. Smiling to himself, he took a quick glance at Hutch and one last wave through the squad room window. But Hutch didn't see it. He was still staring at the check, his eyes wide and his mouth hanging open.

        Starsky chuckled, pleased with the response. He and Minnie planned on digging into Starsky's boxes of treasures, which were waiting quietly in his garage, and discussing what he could and should do with them all. A fun-filled evening of pizza and stimulating conversation covering antiques and home remodeling.

        Oh, and they'd talk about Hutch, too. No doubt about that.