In a tiny apartment in downtown Bay City, a Shadowy Figure answered an old black telephone. Scrawny, dressed in thrift-shop clothes, pale-faced and watery-eyed, he wrapped his hand around the mouthpiece as if trying to keep his words from spreading too far into the empty room. “Hey there, Mr. Cassidy, figured it was you. Got your phone service back up, huh? Heard that was some storm!... Oh, not yet? Where you callin’ from then?... No sir, ‘course it’s none o’ my business.
“I got nothin’ else t’ tell ya though. You been gettin’ the newspaper clips I been sendin’ ya, right? An’ I been feedin’ ya information that ain’t in the rags. I swear I’ve given you everything I could find out, or guess at, about this guy and his partner but I’m startin’ t’ get funny looks from the people I’m askin’. I won’t do you no good out here if I get my ass in a sling.
“No, sir, from everything I can find out Starsky and his brother aren’t close, ain’t even seen each other in a long time. Although, wait a minute, there was somethin’, lemme think... seems like somebody tol’ me the kid came out here a few years ago, huge chip on his shoulder, and nearly got his brother and the partner into some deep shit.… Yeah, even if they were at odds, the one out here went to bat for his brother, saved his ass, from what I hear. Family, ya know? Might hate each other but still help out when there’s trouble. ‘Course that’s all hearsay ‘cause it never made the papers that I could find. Just rumors, which is why I didn’t tell ya. Figured it happened before the kid started runnin’ your errands.
“Their old man was a cop there in Brooklyn, ya know that, right? Well the one out here is, too. But you already knew that ‘cause you said your Starsky admitted it, and it was the first thing I could verify. Yours ain’t so high-minded, I guess…. Oh no, sir, Mr. Cassidy! No offense intended.
“Yeah, sure, I’ll keep my ears open and if I hear anything else you’ll be the first to know. If you need me for anything besides askin’ more questions, you got my number. But if I do any more diggin’ somebody’s gonna start wonderin’ why I’m so curious.”
Captain Dobey stormed into his office from the hallway, closely followed by Ken Hutchinson. Dave Starsky shuffled in last, looking contrite as well as tired and stressed. “Close the door!” Dobey sat down behind his desk.
Starsky did as ordered before moving over to stand, shoulder to shoulder, with his partner in front of the squad room door.
Dobey took a moment to compose himself. He didn’t want to go off half-cocked at his best men. “What the hell did you think you’d accomplish, Starsky? You’ve never hit a suspect before. Have you?”
“Humphries,” Starsky admitted, barely above a whisper. “Twice.”
“That was before he was arrested, right?” Dobey laced his fingers on top of the stack of files on his desk. “You’ve never struck anyone while he was in custody. At least not to my knowledge.”
“He never has, Captain.” Hutch half-turned to Starsky and put a hand on his partner’s stomach, lowering his voice. “Twice?”
Starsky met Hutch’s eyes briefly. “Tell ya later.” He couldn’t, or wouldn’t look at Dobey though; he spoke to his shoes. “It was only a slap. Sir.”
“Why, for Pete’s sake?” Dobey sat back and tried to relax. “If he files charges there’s nothing I can do. You realize that, don’t you? There were witnesses!”
“Yes, sir.” Starsky was still inspecting his blue Adidas.
Dobey glared at Hutch. “You didn’t stop him, Hutchinson! I’d have expected you to have better sense.” He knew his concern and confusion were showing and didn’t give a damn. “What’s goin’ on here, guys?”
Starsky finally raised his head. “It’s the Albert brothers themselves, Cap. I let the kid get to me.”
“How?” Dobey sat forward again. “You’ve only had the case for three days! What did they do to get under your skin so fast?”
Starsky took a step forward and, as if they were joined at the hip, Hutch did, too. “You saw ‘em in there, sir,” Starsky said. “The older one, Sid, he was tryin’ to make Mitch listen to reason. Up to now they’ve only been small time fences, nickel and dime stuff. Probably could have traded what they know about Stevens for reduced sentences. But the word Huggy hears is that Mitch has bigger ideas.”
“Huggy told us,” Hutch went on, “that Sid thinks he’s losing his brother to big dreams. Sid’s afraid the kid wants a larger slice of the stolen goods market in this part of the state, and it’s going to get Mitch killed.”
“But Mitch won’t listen!” Starsky spread his hands in futility. “You heard him, Cap, he was mouthin’ off to Sid as if he weren’t already in a boatload of hot water. The shit he was dishin’ out… I lost it, I guess.”
Dobey swallowed a frustrated sigh. “I’ll talk to the D.A. You two gave him solid evidence so the brothers are probably looking at a minimum of five years, each. Sid knows what it’s like but Mitch has no idea. Maybe if they’re offered something in exchange, Sid’ll be able to convince Mitch to grow up. Will they testify against Stevens?”
“I’m sure Sid would.” Starsky shrugged and shook his head. “Who knows what Mitch’ll do. He’s a wild card.”
“Captain, I think --”
“Don’t tell me what you think, Hutchinson,” Dobey bellowed. “Tell me what you know! What about Stevens? Have you found him yet?”
Hutch tried to hide a grimace. “Sid told us he and his brother --”
Dobey’s phone rang and he snatched it up. “Not now!” However, the stiff, authoritative voice on the other end of the line succeeded in getting his attention and, after a few moments, he held the receiver out. “NYPD, Starsky. Some guy from Brooklyn’s Sixty-Fifth Precinct.”
Fear flashed into the deep blue eyes as Starsky took the phone. “Yeah…. That’s me.”
Dobey didn’t think he’d ever seen as many expressions chase each other across Starsky’s features so quickly. After the fear, wariness and mistrust were followed by anguish, sadness and despair, before he banished them all. “I got it.” His voice was utterly flat. Handing the phone back to Dobey, and without a glance at his partner, Starsky bolted out into the hallway.
The abrupt change in the room’s atmosphere seemed to have rooted Hutch to the floor. “What do we do about Sid and Mitch, Captain?”
“They’re my problem for right now.” Dobey waved his free hand. “Go! I’ll find out what just happened.” While Hutch hurried out, Dobey pressed the disconnect before punching ‘0’. “Get me the NYPD. Sixty-Fifth Precinct in Brooklyn.” He waited with little patience and when a female voice finally answered, used his best command tone. “Captain Harold Dobey, Bay City, California, PD. Someone just called here and asked to speak to one of my detectives. I need to talk to that person…. Yes, ma’am, I’ll hold.”
Hutch slammed through the door to the garage before stopping his headlong rush. He breathed a sigh of relief but quickly became even more concerned when he saw Starsky leaning heavily against the driver’s side of the Torino. His arms were folded across his chest, head bowed, eyes closed.
Hutch approached slowly. Without a word, Starsky handed the keys to him and walked around to the passenger’s side. Hutch got in the car but didn’t start the engine. Starsky settled in the unaccustomed seat and stared straight ahead. It was clearly taking every bit of his will to maintain rigid control. Hutch broke the strained silence. “My place? Or yours?”
“Yours, please.” The words were barely audible.
Dobey’s impatience grew as he waited. And waited. When the woman came back on the line at last, the answer he got confused him and he lurched to his feet. “What do you mean no one called? I spoke to him myself…. He didn’t give his name, just said he was NYPD, Brooklyn Sixty-Fifth…. No, ma’am, I am not kidding.” He sat down, wary and suspicious now. “Put me through to your Captain of Detectives, please.”
Hutch drove carefully, taking no chances with his buddy’s pride and joy. The simple fact that Starsky had given him the keys told Hutch volumes. He didn’t attempt to question or cajole Starsky out of his withdrawn state. He knew his partner would talk to him when he was ready.
Inside the front door at Venice Place, Starsky shed his windbreaker and holstered weapon onto the back of the couch as he passed, heading directly for the sleeping alcove. Hutch took his jacket and holster off, dropped them next to Starsky’s, and followed.
When Hutch rounded the partition, Starsky was already curled on the far side of the bed facing the window. His arms must have been across his chest because the fingers of both hands were visible, laced at the back of his neck. His legs were bent, the knees drawn up tightly to his body.
Hutch crawled onto the bed, leaned against the brass headboard and pulled Starsky into his arms. He had a momentary flashback of himself being cradled against Starsky’s chest on a different bed, years before, but shook it off. Starsky needed his strength and support right now, exactly as he had needed his partner’s then. He nestled the curly-haired head to his shoulder and caressed the stubbly cheek. “What’s happened, babe?”
“Ma and Nicky are dead.”
Unbidden tears filled Hutch’s eyes. Nick was someone he didn’t like but had put up with for Starsky’s sake. Ruth was another matter entirely. Hutch adored her! She was the kind of mother Hutch had always dreamed of, one who loved her sons without question or condition. The tears overflowed and, not bothering to wipe them away, he held Starsky tighter.
“The guy said Nick went to a meet. For some reason, he took Ma with him.” Starsky swallowed a sob. “Things got rough and… they’re dead.”
Hutch’s first thought was the same as almost every family member of a victim: it’s not possible, there has to be a mistake. “How could that be? We talked to her only night before last.”
Against his chest, Starsky nodded once. “She knew I was worried when I couldn’t reach her after we heard about the storm. Called the minute she had service again.”
“She didn’t even realize that you’d contacted the Sixty-Fifth as soon as emergency communications were back up, did she? Probably thought the patrol car stopping by to check that everyone in the building was okay was ‘just routine’, right?”
“I hope so. Don’t want her to know how much I think about her, alone there, except for when Nick drops over.”
“I thought she sounded fine. Not like she was worried about anything.”
“And today she’s dead.” A shudder passed through the rigid body.
“Oh, Starsk, I’m so sorry.”
“Nick called yesterday.” There was no inflection in Starsky’s tone.
“While you were out running.”
“He knew to call here?” Hutch hadn’t realized that Nick was aware of his and Starsky’s deepened relationship.
“He wasn’t stupid.”
“Reckless, angry, too arrogant for his own good at times. But not usually stupid.”
“Did he know about us?” Hutch realized he was the one crying. Starsky had closed his emotions inside.
“I guess so. He didn’t say he’d tried my place first. Just said he was calling when he figured you’d be out for your morning run.”
“What did he want to talk about?”
“Said he’d gotten himself into something. Wouldn’t tell me what, just that he was afraid.”
“Afraid of what? Who?”
“Didn’t say, and he hung up before I could get anything specific out of him. I tried to call him back but there was no answer. Maybe he didn’t even call from his place. I tried Ma’s number, too.” He burrowed into Hutch’s chest. “Same thing.”
“What about the rest of your family? Your aunts? Uncles?”
“Didn’t want to scare ‘em too much. But I called a few.”
A mental light switched on for Hutch. “That’s why you scooted into Dobey’s office both times he left yesterday. You wanted privacy for phone calls.”
“Ma and Nicky never answered. Aunt Sarah told me they’d been fine last Sunday at dinner.”
“When were you going to call the cops?”
“If I hadn’t heard from either of ‘em, or any of the relatives by tonight, I was going to ask Dobey to make the call in the morning. Figured it would carry more weight from him.”
“Why put it off for so long, Starsk?”
“Ma’s pretty sure some old timers in the department still think Pop was on the take. Others, the ones that have stayed in touch with her, know it’s not true. Probably a delicate balance though, and I didn’t want to stir the pot if things with Nick weren’t as bad as I was imagining.”
A second candle came on in Hutch’s mental chandelier. “I just realized why you reacted the way you did when Mitch got mouthy with his brother today. You were remembering Nick and all the hassle he gave you when he was here that time. The mess we got into and how scared you were that he was going to end up in jail. Or dead.” He began rocking Starsky gently. “You’ve been worried sick about him and your mother since yesterday morning.” Against his chest, the head barely moved but it felt like another nod. “No wonder you didn’t get much sleep last night.”
“How’d you know that?”
“When you don’t sleep, partner, I don’t sleep.” Hutch ran his fingers into the dense curls. “I could have asked but I was hoping you’d tell me because you wanted to.”
“I did! But, geez, Hutch, you already carry the weight of the world on your shoulders. I didn’t want to add my family to it.”
“I love you, Starsk. Your family’s no burden at all.”
Starsky pushed himself out of Hutch’s arms. “I gotta get a flight out tonight.”
“We’ll get a flight.” Hutch dried his tears on his sleeve.
“No, Hutch, you don’t have to --”
“You’re not going without me.”
“I don’t know how long I’ll --” The phone rang. Hutch didn’t want to leave his partner to answer it but Starsky waved a hand. “It’s probably Dobey.”
Hutch slid off the bed, went out to the living room and picked up the phone. “Hutchinson.” After only a few seconds, he motioned for Starsky to join him and held the receiver so that they could both hear. “Starsky can hear you now, Captain. Say that again.”
“The call didn’t come from Brooklyn’s Sixty-Fifth. Whoever it was, lied.”
Hutch made sure to keep his tone flat. “The guy told Starsky his mother and brother were dead.”
“What?” Dobey barked. “No, that can’t be right. Nobody I talked to knew anything. And I spoke with four different people, including the captain of detectives, a guy named Ballinger, plus the switchboard supervisor. No California number shows during the past three hours.”
Hutch caught the look of hope Starsky cast to him like a drowning man. Maybe it isn’t true? Maybe they’re still alive?
Hutch put all his love and support into his return gaze. Hold that thought, Starsk, and we’ll find out.
“When I mentioned Starsky’s name,” Dobey went on, “I didn’t hear any evasiveness, either. If his two closest relatives had been killed, I can’t imagine why they’d try to keep it a secret. Ballinger suggested that whatever was said that upset you so much, Starsky, was somebody’s idea of a sick joke.”
“I don’t think that was it, Cap’n.” Hutch tried to keep the hatred he felt for whoever was doing this to his partner out of his voice. “I think somebody wanted to get Starsky’s attention.”
Starsky put his hand around Hutch’s on the mouthpiece and tilted it a little. “And they sure did! We’ll call you back, Cap!”
He took the phone and pressed the disconnect before quickly dialing eleven numbers. While Hutch paced behind him, Starsky listened to interminable rings, cut the connection again and dialed eleven more digits. By the time he was ready to hang up, Hutch had crossed to stand in front of him. “Still no answer at Ma’s or Nick’s.”
“Grab a shower, then start packing. I’ll square it with Dobey and get us a flight.”