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.”
The Shadowy Figure watched Starsky and Hutch hand their tickets to the boarding agent before walking through the gate. The airport was largely deserted and none of the row of nearby phone booths was occupied. The man ducked into the first one, closed the door, yanked the receiver off the hook, shoved coins into the slot, dialed, and waited.
“You sure were right, sir. United’s flight Fifty-Two. They’ve just boarded and the door’s been closed…. Yeah, I saw ‘em check one large duffle bag, no carry-ons. Scheduled arrival’s ten of six. Your time. You can grab some sleep before they get there.”
The two seats behind the portside bulkhead in Economy Class had been available which was the first good news Starsky had heard all day. Hutch could stretch his long legs out as much as possible and Starsky could easily step over them to get to the lavatory. He tried to sleep after they reached cruising altitude but, as keyed up as he was, it was futile. Hutch couldn’t seem to drop off either so the stewardesses kept them supplied with coffee.
“Did I hear you talking to your Aunt Sadie while I was in the shower?” Hutch asked, when the young lady who’d just refilled their cups was far enough away.
“Yeah. She said she hasn’t been in touch with Ma or Nick in a couple of days but that’s not unusual. Said if any of the other aunts, uncles or cousins had heard anything she’d know about it. Asked me to call her as soon as…”
“We’ll be sure to do that, Starsk.”
Starsky took a sip from his fresh cup. “Tell me what Dobey said about his second call to the Brooklyn cops.”
“Thought you were listening.”
Starsky hunched his shoulders. “Was trying to but I guess I was thinking about Ma. Sorry.”
Hutch nudged his arm. “No need to apologize. I can imagine what you’ve been going through since yesterday. Just wish you’d told me.”
“Didn’t want to worry you ‘til I figured out what to do.”
Hutch took a couple of swallows of the decent airline brew. “Well, Dobey talked to Captain Ballinger again.”
“What the hell was he doing there so late?”
“Dobey asked but all he got was a polite brush off. Ballinger did tell the captain that one of his detectives is aware of Nick’s… I think he called it ‘activities,’ but that the guy hadn’t heard a whisper about him recently. Since your dad was in the Sixty-Fifth, and the name’s so unusual, after Dobey’s first call, Ballinger’d had a few of his officers check surrounding precincts to find out if they’d heard anything. They came up empty. When Dobey called back and told him the guy had said Nick and your mother were dead, Ballinger repeated his contention that it was a sick joke.”
“What I don’t understand is why anybody’d do something like that.”
“This is a guess, but I’d say someone wanted you to come to New York.”
“Okay. I’ll ask again though. Why?”
“Beats me, buddy.”
“Ma says Nicky’s really been trying lately.” Starsky rested the cup against his mouth but didn’t drink. After a few seconds, he put it down. “He calls regularly, comes over at least once a week. Takes her out shopping. Went with her to temple on the anniversary of Pop’s death.”
“A dutiful son, huh?”
Starsky heard mistrust in his partner’s voice but before he could reply, Hutch patted his knee and left his hand there. “I’m sorry, Starsk. I shouldn’t have said that.”
Starsky laid his hand on top of Hutch’s. “You got no reason to believe he’s changed. Neither do I, actually. It’s only what Ma says.”
“When you talked to him yesterday, did he give you any clue at all about what was going on?”
Starsky shrugged. “Just said he was into something deep and he was scared.”
“Nothing a little more definitive than that?” Hutch added a small smile to the query. “Something we could go on?”
“He did ask me how you and I felt about the Feds.” Starsky took his hand back and downed the rest of his coffee. “Wanted to know if we trusted them. If we’d ever agree to work with them voluntarily.”
“I guess that would depend on what the case was. And who the Feds were.”
“That’s what I told him. Each case, and almost every agent, is different.”
“Did he mention, or did you get the impression that he was talking about the FBI? Or some other group of initials?”
“He carefully didn’t say. But I noticed he didn’t mention drugs specifically, so it’s probably not the DEA.”
“Funny money? Treasury Department?”
Again, Starsky shrugged. “What I can’t figure out is, if he’s gone to ground, why did he take Ma with him? Why involve our mother?”
“Maybe to keep her safe?”
“I hope that’s the reason.” Starsky couldn’t hide his irritation. “That would mean he’s thinking about someone besides himself. For a change.”
Hutch caught the eye of the stewardess as she passed and held up his empty cup. She nodded, smiled, and headed for the galley. Within a minute she was back with a fresh pot and filled both their cups. “Almost everyone else is asleep, fellas, so the pot’s all yours. Press the call button when you need a refill.”
“Thank you.” Hutch blew on the surface of the liquid to cool it, and to give her time to walk away, before he turned back to Starsky. “Any idea where Nick and your mom would have gone?”
“Maybe. But I won’t know, for sure, until we get to ma’s apartment.”
“And it wouldn’t do any good to tell me, would it?”
“Probably not.” Starsky sipped and a shy smile crooked the corner of his mouth. “Besides, I’m a cop now and I shouldn’t be telling you about stuff Nick and I did when we were kids.”
“I’d never breathe a word, Starsk.”
“I know that.” Starsky turned meditative again. “It doesn’t make any sense, Hutch. None of it. Someone calls me, tells me Ma and Nick are dead. Then we find out that, hopefully, they’re not, but are missing. And here we are, flying to New York in the middle of the night.”
Hutch reached for Starsky’s wrist and checked the time. “We’re due in at five fifty. You want to head for your mother’s place or the NYPD first?”
“Ma’s. If Nick left a note, and he damn well better have, we’ll find them and get this whole thing straightened out. Be on the next plane home.” Hutch looked at him and Starsky heard you really think so? Unfortunately, he didn’t and shook his head.
“Me neither. So, what if there’s no note?”
“Cops first. We should check in with Ballinger anyway. If his people can’t tell us anything, we go to the Feds.” Starsky put all his fear and uncertainty into his eyes when he looked at his partner, knowing Hutch not only could deal with it, but wouldn’t want him to hold anything back, as he had been doing since the previous day. “I got a bad feeling about this, Hutch. Nick said he was in over his head and I think somebody’s trying to drown him.”
“And you’re afraid your mom could be collateral damage.”
“But,” Hutch noted, “since Ballinger doesn’t know anything about either of them being dead…”
“There’s always hope,” Starsky finished. “Thanks, partner.”
The worried look on Hutch’s face softened a little. “We’ll sort it out, Starsk. It’s what we do, remember?”
Starsky had barely cleared the revolving door exiting the baggage claim area when what felt distinctly like the muzzle of a gun was shoved into his back. He was pushed toward the street.
“Don’t turn around, Starsky,” the gunman growled. “My pal’s got an automatic in your partner’s spine. Just do as you’re told and you’ll both live to see California again.”
A black stretch Lincoln took up a lot of space at the curb. Its rear passenger door was open and the motor was running, pumping exhaust into the pre-sunrise air. Starsky’s gunman thrust him into the back seat. When Hutch was flung in right behind him, they ended up in a tangle on the floorboards.
“Now ain’t that cute?” The gunman climbed into the car and the door was slammed behind him. “Just what he heard about you two, always all over each other.”
Starsky silently made sure his partner was okay as they settled on the seat, shoulder to shoulder. Starsky thought he probably hadn’t been meant to hear the pronoun but he couldn’t resist prodding. “‘He,’ who?”
“Never you mind!” The gunman sat, rigid and alert, on the rear-facing bench, an automatic held solidly in a gloved hand. “Don’t even think about trying anything, detectives.” He waved the barrel of the weapon around. “These doors don’t open from the inside, and I’ve got lots of help with me.”
Starsky memorized the man. He was stocky, probably slightly over medium height with thinning brown hair, cut short, and milky hazel eyes sunk in fat cheeks. The brown suit might have been fashionable twenty years ago. Mentally, Starsky shook his head, wondering if this was the best Nick, who was almost certainly mixed up in this somehow, could do for antagonists or associates.
Glancing around the interior of the limo, Starsky determined that he’d never see anything of where they were going. There was a black partition between them and the driver and all the windows were so heavily tinted it was impossible to tell whether it was day or night outside.
“This isn’t our jurisdiction,” Hutch said, conversationally, “but kidnapping cops is never a good idea, mister.”
The gunman’s laugh was nasty. “Good one, Hutchinson. That sense of humor might just get you through this alive.”
“What do you want?” Starsky made sure his voice betrayed no emotion.
“Not yet. I’m only the delivery boy. You’ll find out what your assignment’s gonna be soon enough.” The guy settled back. “For now, get comfortable, we’re goin’ for a ride.”
Hutch leaned solidly against his shoulder and Starsky did his best to return as much comfort as he received. Nicky’s gotten us into this shit, partner, and we’ll get through it. I promise.
Starsky put his thinking cap on. Some mysterious ‘he’ knew where Starsky worked, had called and told him Ma and Nick were dead. According to Dobey, the caller was lying, but from what Starsky had learned from his relatives and unanswered phone calls, they were missing. He and Hutch had flown to New York and had now been kidnapped. Since he didn’t believe in coincidence, Starsky figured this Someone must think he knew where Nick was, and wanted that information. As a matter of fact, Starsky hoped he did know. He’d die before he’d tell, of course, and that might be one reason why Hutch was sitting beside him instead of already dead. The Someone thought Hutch might be needed as leverage. Which probably meant his mother wasn’t a captive; Hutch would have been excess baggage if that was the case. So all Starsky had to do was get Hutch and himself out of this mess before he found Nick and tore his head off!
Unable to see where they were going, Starsky listened. Once out of the airport, they were moving fast, probably on the Expressway, since it was the first high speed route one came to after leaving JFK. He could tell the driver was being careful not to exceed the speed limit but others weren’t that law abiding. Early rush hour traffic roared past them, going in the same direction they were. No reason for that many vehicles to be traveling east just before sunrise so they were most likely heading west to Brooklyn, or toward one of the bridges into Manhattan.
The car swept through what was probably an interchange and Starsky was pretty sure they were now on the South Parkway, still hurrying west. Traffic was evidently building because the Lincoln slowed continuously until the driver exited onto streets with traffic lights or stop signs where Starsky began counting turns. He was sure they were going in circles because every turn the car made, blocks apart, was a right. Unique church bells Starsky recognized peeled every fifteen minutes letting him know the car was in Brooklyn, fairly close to where he’d grown up. The gunman was patently oblivious to the things Starsky was hearing and sensing.
When the limo finally came to a stop, the door was opened from the outside, flooding the dim interior with bright daylight. Starsky squinted in the abrupt illumination. Black hoods were thrown onto his and Hutch’s laps.
“Put ’em on!” The gun was waved in their faces.
Without comment, Starsky pulled the cloth bag over his head, hearing Hutch do the same. His shoulder lost its support when Hutch was yanked away from his side. A few seconds later a hand grabbed his arm and dragged him out of the car where another gun was jammed in his back. There was a briny smell in the air and the raucous cries of seagulls not far away.
Hutch grunted and it sounded as if he had stumbled down some stairs. Almost immediately Starsky was pushed but made it down what were presumably the same five steps without falling. After being shoved through a doorway, Starsky’s head covering was jerked off and he stood unsteadily, getting his balance and bearings.
Four scruffy-looking men holding hand guns stood around the block-walled windowless room. Ugly greenish light came from two rows of fluorescent fixtures in the ceiling. Obviously electric service had been restored to this part of Brooklyn. In the middle of the right wall, Hutch’s wrists were being handcuffed in front of him by a fifth man while the muzzle of a gun never left the small of Starsky’s back. That made six guys against them.
The cuffs around Hutch’s wrists were quickly chained to a huge bolt in the cinderblocks, slightly above his head. He wouldn’t be able to sit down from that position, therefore comfort was definitely not on the agenda.
The original gunman, that made seven bad guys, threw their duffle bag to the floor beyond Starsky’s feet. Destroying the small padlock with bolt cutters, he unzipped it and removed the two holstered weapons. “He wondered if you’d be allowed to wear these on the plane, fellas.”
Starsky wanted to kick the smirk off the man’s mouth but, with a quick look at Hutch’s stoic face, he put the thought away for the future. “Dobey tried to get us permits but there wasn’t time.” He didn’t bother to lie, these guys had probably planned things so that he and Hutch wouldn’t have a spare minute.
“That was the idea,” the smug gunman agreed.
Starsky heard a car pull up outside. Whoever was holding the gun in his back roughly pushed him into a kitchen chair next to a folding table in the middle of the room. That’s when the apparent leader walked in. Eight against two. He and Hutch had been in worse situations but not recently.
The new man was tall, well-dressed in a dark suit, white shirt and black tie, under what looked like a cashmere coat. His hair was brown, longish and swept back from his high forehead. Sallow cheeks were clean shaven. “Detective Starsky!” The leader moved to the table and sat down.
Starsky gritted his teeth; it was the voice from yesterday’s phone call. This was undoubtedly the ‘he’ the gunman had mentioned.
“I knew, if I worded things just right…” The voice now oozed satisfaction, “you’d jump on your steed and ride to your brother’s rescue.”
“Why’d you tell me he was dead?” Starsky allowed sarcasm to overlay the anger in his next question. “How could I rescue someone who was already dead?”
The man waved a negligent hand. “Oh, I knew your captain, or someone, would discover the truth quickly enough because I couldn’t make the call from inside the precinct.” He inspected his manicured fingernails before looking back at Starsky. “It was lucky that my South Queens location had phone service after last week’s storm. It’s the only one that does, so far.”
“Golly gee whiz.” Starsky lathered his next words with false sympathy. “I’m sorry repair crews didn’t realize the importance of your communications network. I’ll be sure to reprimand their supervisor.”
“Don’t worry, Detective, I managed.”
“I figured,” the leader continued, “if you thought Nick was in so much trouble that he could be dead, you’d come running.”
“What about Ma? Why’d you include her in your lie?”
“Salt on the wound? Fuel on the fire? Added incentive? I wanted you here as quickly as possible and if you thought your mother was in jeopardy, as well as your feckless brother, you’d be even more inclined to catch the first flight. And guess what? I was right!” He glanced at Hutch. “So glad you thought to bring your partner along.”
“That was never in doubt.” Hutch spoke quietly but with resolve.
“No,” said the leader, “I suppose it wasn’t.” He transferred his stare back to Starsky, looking at him with slitted, unfriendly dark brown eyes.
Starsky didn’t look away and sent back as much ill will as he received. The man broke eye contact, giving Starsky a feeling of grim satisfaction, the first he’d felt in over forty-eight hours. When he glanced at Hutch, his partner’s expression told him the exchange had been noted. Hutch conveyed his silent approval and congratulations, deepening Starsky’s pleasure. He looked back at the leader, adding insolence to his tone. “I guess you’re the one to answer my question. What do you want?”
“I want you to find your brother and bring him to me.”
Yep, exactly what Starsky had figured. He kept his face blank and his voice level. “If you have some sort of dealings with Nicky, you should know where he is.”
“You’d think so, wouldn’t you?” The leader smiled, almost good-naturedly. “But it seems your brother couldn’t decide who had his loyalty, me…” his voice and face turned glacial, “or the Feds.”
Starsky spread his hands. “This ain’t my city any more, mister. I’ve only been back a few times in over twenty-five years. Everything’s changed.” He tried a rueful smile. “Also, if you know anything of Nick’s and my history, you realize we’re not close. I have no idea where he is.”
“Then you’ll have to use your supposedly excellent detective skills and find him.” The man took an engraved silver case and a Zippo out of his pocket, extracted a cigarette and lit it. “You’ll have twenty-four hours.”
“Now, wait a --”
“If, by the end of that time,” the leader cut in, “you haven’t found Nick and brought him to me at my warehouse, Dock Seventeen in Gravesend, your partner will be eviscerated and his dismembered body disposed of where the pieces will never be found.”
Starsky’s eyes flashed to Hutch, whose face showed no emotion. To outward appearances, he was as relaxed as his bound position allowed. In Hutch’s gaze though, Starsky saw what the others didn’t, absolute trust.
“Do I make myself clear, Detective?” The leader crossed his knees casually and dragged deeply on his cigarette. “Your partner in exchange for your no good brother. I’m sure you’ll be getting the much better part of the deal.”
Despite his best resolve, Starsky’s legs were a bit unsteady when he got to his feet. He searched his best friend’s eyes.
Hutch nodded. “I’ll wait right here, buddy.”
Starsky looked back at the still-seated leader. “And just how am I supposed to find him? I got no wheels. You gonna call me a cab or somethin’?”
“Two of my men will drive you.” The leader waved toward a pair leaning against a wall. “Billy and Sammy will be in your back pocket until you find Nick.”
The two clowns who stepped forward were out of some casting director’s Tough Guys catalog. They were as tall as Starsky, thin but wiry-looking, square jawed with cold eyes, brown and blue. Black watch caps covered unkempt brown hair that hung to their collars. Their jeans, dark t-shirts and denim jackets looked as if they’d never encountered a washing machine.
“Terrific.” Starsky was handed the hood and, after one last, intense look at Hutch, pulled it on.
At the top of the five steps to the street Starsky was hustled into a vehicle that didn’t feel like or smell as clean as the limo. One of his escorts ran around and got in on the driver’s side, the second shoved him over and took up the remainder of the bench seat to his right. Both doors were slammed shut.
Starsky held his hand out toward the driver. “Sammy?”
“Naw, I’m Bill,” the man growled. “That there’s Sam.”
Starsky was glad the head covering hid his reminiscent smile as he stuffed his hand in his jacket pocket. “Want me to drive?”
“Where to, wiseass?” Bill’s tone was grouchy and impatient.
“I have no idea. Just go anywhere for a while, I need to think.”
Bill started the car and drove.
Starsky, counting turns again, let him drive through two soundings of the church bells; a little over fifteen minutes. Left turns only, as well as the carillon, told him that Billy was staying within the vicinity of the hideout. As soon as he felt Bill was beginning to let his guard down he broke the silence. “Okay if I take the blindfold off now? We’re far enough away from that place, I wouldn’t be able to find it again. Besides, if somebody notices this thing on my head, you could have cops on your tail.”
Starsky felt both men tense up but received a guarded, “Okay.”
Starsky removed the bag and looked around as if trying to identify landmarks. He was between Bill and Sam in the front seat of a Chrysler LeBaron, according to the emblem on the glove compartment. Starsky knew there would be a full-width seat behind him and two more doors. The hood and interior were an uninspiring gray.
Bill was slouched, driving right-handed, his left hand resting on the outside rear view mirror. Sam, on his right, was equally lackadaisical. Sensing a moment of supreme inattention from both, Starsky jammed his left foot onto Bill’s right boot on the accelerator while his left hand grabbed the steering wheel and yanked hard. The car accelerated and careened across traffic, clipping two vehicles.
Starsky fisted his right hand into the neck of Sam’s t-shirt and flung his head forward against the dashboard. At the same time, with his left hand, Starsky slammed Bill’s head into the central column of the steering wheel.
The LeBaron came to a bumper-crunching halt against the brick face of a building on a street full of storefronts.
Starsky stripped Sam and Bill of their weapons, crawled over the seat into the back of the sedan, and exited through the passenger side rear door. Leaping to Sam’s window, he dropped into his stance and pointed Bill’s gun at the two inept felons. “Somebody call the police!”
“They’re on their way,” a voice shouted. “If you ain’t a cop yourself, you better skedaddle.”
Starsky dug in his pocket, held up his shield, and maintained position.
Captain Cliff Ballinger, Chief of Detectives in the Sixty-Fifth Precinct, had an office full of plain clothes cops. “I’ve talked to Captain Dobey again,” Ballinger told a pacing Starsky. “He said you and Hutchinson are his best and hoped we’d do everything in our power to assist you. Where do you want to start looking for your mother and brother?”
“That’s for later.” Starsky stopped in front of Ballinger’s desk. “First, I need to get Hutch away from those creeps.”
“I understand your concern, Detective --”
“No!” Starsky interrupted. “You don’t, Captain. And that’s okay. I’m pretty sure my mother’s with Nick and, for now, they must be safe because you haven’t heard otherwise or found their bodies. Nick’s family, sir, but Hutch is my partner.”
Ballinger sat up straighter, obviously surprised and possibly impressed. “What would you like us to do?”
“In order to find where they’re holding Hutch I need all the information your department has on Nick, who he’s been running with and what he’s been into. The guy who took us has a score to settle with him.”
“Boyer’s the one to help you with that.” Ballinger gestured toward an older, suited gentleman who appeared to be in his late fifties and still in reasonably good shape. He had thinning light brown hair, cut short, was clean shaven with piercing brown eyes.
“Good.” Starsky directed his attention back to the captain. “I also want the FBI in on this.”
“Now wait just a --” Boyer huffed.
“I know Nick’s involved with Feds.” Starsky overrode Boyer’s expected objection - if he’d been in Bay City and someone suggested bringing in the Suits, he’d have had the same knee-jerk reaction - and kept his gaze on Ballinger. “FBI, DEA, ATF, somebody. I think he’s part of an operation with one of them. Let’s start with the easiest.” He looked intently at the captain. “Call the Bureau.” Realizing he’d overstepped, and before Ballinger could put him in his place, he grimaced and softened his voice. “Please?”
Ballinger picked up his phone. “Get me Special Agent Cardwell.”
Starsky realized he’d caused friction but didn’t apologize. Boyer dismissed the other cops and sat down. Starsky paced again.
“Agent Gessell? This is Captain Ballinger, Brooklyn Sixty-Fifth. I asked for Cardwell…. I see. Well, I have a Detective Starsky from California here and he’s -- Wait! You know the name?...” He shot a speculative look at Starsky, who had halted in front of his desk. “Okay, fine…. Yes, come as soon as you can, please.”
Boyer got to his feet like a hunting dog coming to point. Starsky looked his question at the captain as he hung up.
“SAIC Cardwell’s out sick and Gessell was glad to have taken my call. It seems Nick has been working secretly with Gessell. He’s on his way over to talk to us.”
Hutch regained consciousness but deliberately continued to hang from his cuffed wrists. He didn’t want his captors to begin beating on him again right away. He tasted blood and knew his lower lip was split. Running his tongue around the inside of his mouth he could feel a couple of loose teeth but his jaw didn’t feel as if it was broken. His head ached abominably from the blows to his face and from having impacted the cinder blocks several times. He also suspected a few ribs were at least cracked. I’m gettin’ too old for this shit, Starsk!
He heard footsteps approach and a fist buried itself in his mid-section. His back slammed against the wall and various vertebra protested painfully.
“Wake up, cop!”
Hutch straightened up slowly, taking weight off his bleeding wrists. Opening his eyes, he stared at the man in front of him. It was the nastiest-looking of the three gang members who’d been left to guard him.
“You might as well have some fun with him, fellas,” the leader had said. “Nobody’s ever going to see him again. Dump the body parts in the usual places.” He had motioned for two of his associates to follow him and they had left shortly after Starsky had been driven away.
Nasty and his pals hadn’t been reluctant to do as ‘ordered.’ They’d taken turns keeping watch from somewhere upstairs, then coming down to get in their licks until Hutch had passed out.
Now Nasty stood in front of him, near-glee all over his ugly face. “Round two.”
Starsky, Boyer and four other plain-clothes officers were gathered around a conference room table. Coffee cups and vending machine sandwich wrappers littered the surface. Starsky knew he should have eaten something but his stomach wasn’t ready. He’d eat after he got Hutch back in one piece. Instead, he made do with typical cop sludge laced with sugar.
Boyer had a fat folder in front of him. “I know you left New York a long time ago, Detective, so you probably didn’t have any control over what your brother got into.”
“I’m sure she did. But mothers can only do so much. Nick’s been into a little bit of everything, always on our radar, but never to the extent that we had to arrest him. Personally, I was hoping he’d grow out of it.” Boyer laid his hand on the folder almost fondly. “I was still in uniform when your dad was on the job. Admired the hell out of him.” He looked appraisingly at Starsky. “It seems like you didn’t fall far from the tree.” Then he shrugged. “On the other hand, Nick may have.”
“Ma tells me he’s been trying to turn himself around.” Starsky knew his voice sounded painfully hopeful but there was nothing he could do about it. “She believes in him, so I guess I have to, too.”
Boyer nodded. “That’s what we’ll go with then.”
“Who’s Nick been hanging around with lately? Somebody that has enough clout to have Hutch and me snatched at the air --”
The door was pushed open and a tall, thin-faced, dark-suited man entered, followed by Ballinger. “I thought this was going to be a private meeting, Captain? Who are all these people?” Starsky figured the guy wasn’t much older than he was and seemed to be covering confusion with a layer of harshness he might have thought appropriate when addressing mere cops.
“This is Detective Starsky from Bay City PD in California,” Ballinger said. “And maybe you know Jim Boyer. The others are part of Jim’s team.”
Gessell did only a partially successful job of appearing satisfied. “What’s your stake in this, Starsky?”
Starsky stood up in the agent’s face. “My partner’s my stake. He’s being held by a bunch of gun-toting clowns who want my brother.”
Ballinger pulled a chair out from the table. “Sit down, Agent Gessell. I think we all have things to talk about.”
The agent did as requested while Starsky and Boyer resumed their seats. Boyer dismissed the other men with a nod and they left. Ballinger took the chair next to the agent.
“So,” Gessell began, “What’s Nick got to do with this?”
“Hutch and I flew in on the red-eye,” Starsky explained, “because some guy called me late yesterday afternoon and told me Nick and my mother were dead.”
Gessell had the grace to look stunned. “God, I hope that’s not true.”
Starsky shook his head. “From all indications, it probably isn’t. Hutch and I were forced at gunpoint into a limo at JFK this morning, blindfolded, and driven somewhere. A guy, maybe six feet, one-eighty, well-dressed, brown and brown, told me to find Nick and bring him to Gravesend within twenty-four hours or my partner would be killed.”
“Find Nick?” Gessell repeated those two words out of everything Starsky had said.
“Yeah, he’s missing.” Starsky nailed the agent with a look. “What do you know about it?”
“Nick’s been working with me, trying to bring down the Cassidy gang.”
“Who are they?” Starsky tried, unsuccessfully, to curb the sharpness in his voice.
“Kidnapping, extortion, money laundering, probably murder.” Gessell waved his hand. “All up and down the East Coast. My boss has been trying for years to get someone on the inside.”
“Don’t tell me.” Starsky laced his tone with sarcasm. “My brother just happened to be available.”
“He came to me, Detective Starsky,” Gessell said, in obvious self defense. “I didn’t approach him.”
Starsky knew he was off his turf and needed to make friends not enemies. “Sorry. Didn’t mean to ruffle your feathers.” Gessell shrugged, accepting the apology. “Wait a minute,” Starsky said, “how’d you get over here so fast? I thought the FBI’s New York office was in Manhattan.”
“My boss, Special Agent In Charge Cardwell, moved his and my offices to the Brooklyn Federal Building a couple of months ago. It’s on Thirty-Ninth Street, not that far away.”
“Good. As soon as I get my partner back, and find Nick --”
“I saw him just the other day,” Gessell broke in.
“Where?” Starsky’s tension ratcheted higher.
“Barber’s Grill. We had lunch on Monday.”
Starsky mentally counted back. “That would have been the day before he called me at six, a.m., my time. He was scared shitless but he didn’t tell me anything! What did you say to him?”
Gessell pushed away from the glare in Starsky’s eyes. “Nothing! We just talked about what Cassidy had been up to since our last meeting.”
“Who else knows he’s working with you?” Ballinger was plainly trying to ease the tension in the room.
“No one! I’ve kept his identify secret. I even put him on the covert payroll under a pseudonym so that nobody would know his name. Before he agreed to work with me, I had to promise him I wouldn’t tell anyone until we had enough against Cassidy to go to my boss.”
“Okay.” Starsky wasn’t happy but he was no longer furious. “Something spooked him though, and he’s gone underground. I’ll find him, and when I do, we’ll call you. Maybe Hutch, Nick and I can help you finally bring this Cassidy guy down.”
Gessell actually smiled. “I can’t tell you how much I’d enjoy that.” He got to his feet, shook hands with Ballinger and Boyer before turning back to Starsky and offering his hand. “Call me, Detective. Captain Ballinger knows the number.” He left the room.
Starsky looked at Boyer. “Does the department have eyes on Cassidy?”
“You bet! We probably know all his hidey holes.”
“Could you get me a map of Brooklyn, please? If we can narrow down where they took me and Hutch, maybe you’ll have the address.”
“Martinez!” Boyer shouted and an officer stuck his head in the open door. “Bring my file on the Cassidys, and a good map!”
Starsky, Boyer and Ballinger sat down at the table.
Starsky replayed the trip in his head. “We didn’t cross any major bridges or go through a tunnel on the way from the airport. I couldn’t have missed those sounds…. I think we were on the Nassau Expressway, then the South Parkway, before we got onto surface streets.”
Martinez came back in with a thick file which he placed in front of Boyer. He opened a detailed map of the city, refolded it to Brooklyn, and laid it in the center of the table before stepping back.
“Also,” Starsky continued, “I remember the bells of Saint Perdita’s from my childhood and I could hear them, every fifteen minutes, while we drove. Seagulls screeching and a fishy smell when we got out of the car.”
“Things you get so used to you don’t pay any attention to them.” Boyer flipped through the thick file, found the page he wanted and ran his finger down the entries. “Gotcha!” Getting up, he pointed to a north-south street. “Cassidy owns an old building at 9910 Fountain Avenue, almost on the edge of Jamaica Bay. It’s the only one of his known locations near that church. He doesn’t use it much but it’d be easy to hustle someone in or out without attracting attention.”
Starsky turned to Ballinger. “Can I get some help, Captain?”
“Anything you need. You want a SWAT team?”
“No, sir!” Starsky responded, emphatically. “If you could have a couple of units cover the back of the building though, that’d be great. I’ll drive right up to the front. Cassidy told me to bring Nick to him in Gravesend so he won’t expect me to come back to where he’s holding Hutch.”
“If your partner’s still there,” Ballinger pointed out.
Starsky shrugged. “We go with what we know, for now.”
“Cassidy himself might have left,” Boyer said
“I hope he has!” Starsky picked up the map, mostly to give himself something to do with his hands. “He probably takes one or two of his goons with him when he goes anywhere and that’ll mean less for us to have to deal with. Six heavily armed guys in a block-walled room, where my partner can’t take cover if they’re pissed at my coming back without Sam and Bill, doesn’t sound good to me. If Cassidy and a few of his gang are gone, great! Your department can track them down later. Right now, all I care about is Hutch. When I drive up without my escorts the others may be curious enough that I can get inside.”
Ballinger looked at Boyer. “How long to set everything up, Jim?”
“We can roll in fifteen minutes, Cap!”
Hutch hadn’t lost consciousness this time although he almost wished he had. The only pleasant thing about this round was the fact that Nasty might have broken a bone or two in his hand on Hutch’s belt buckle. He’d certainly hopped around, cussing a blue streak, clutching the injured appendage to his belly, as if he had. One of the other goons had been sent upstairs after a first-aid kit and all three had spent some time inexpertly bandaging the cut, swollen knuckles. Hutch was enjoying the reprieve.
I know you’re doing everything you can, Starsk, but I really wish you’d hurry.
Starsky spotted two of the gang members in second floor windows of the dilapidated building. Hoping Ballinger’s men had the back covered, Starsky drove the banged up Chrysler to the curb at the top of the steps. The radiator was steaming but the old boat had gotten him there, which was all he could have asked. Taking his sweet time getting out of the car, he waited until the two men had scrambled down the exterior fire escape ladders to the ground and stalked toward him. Both carried shotguns in addition to the handguns sticking prominently from their waistbands.
“Where are Bill and Sam?” the one on the left growled.
Starsky put his hands out to his sides and strolled down the stairs. “All in good time, fellas.”
The goons followed on his heels. “The boss ain’t here!”
As soon as he was inside the room, Starsky spun and slammed the door in the guards’ faces. He dropped and rolled, pulling Sammy’s weapon from the small of his back under his jacket.
The only bad guy, a bloody bandage on his right hand, had jumped to his feet from the chair next to the table. Surprised but reacting swiftly, he threw a comic book aside, drew his weapon and fired in Starsky’s direction. The bullet hit the wall behind Starsky’s head.
Starsky put a .38-sized hole in the middle of the guy’s forehead. Spinning on his knees, he shot each of the other two as they lunged through the door. Not hit fatally, they nevertheless dropped their shotguns and went down. Starsky grabbed all the weapons and threw them on the table as uniformed officers crowded into the room. Starsky added Sammy’s gun to the pile and went to his partner.
Hutch’s face was leaking blood from cuts above his left eye and along his right cheekbone. He also had a split and swollen lower lip. His wrists showed raw abrasions where he’d probably been hanging unconscious from the restraints. Whatever damage had been done to other parts of his body was hidden by his shirt and jacket. He was on his feet though, and his eyes sparkled. “Nice moves, buddy.”
Starsky stopped a foot away and spread his hands. “Thanks! But no ‘what took ya so long’?”
Hutch smiled, grimacing immediately as his damaged lip must have complained. “How about you get me out of these cuffs and into some privacy and I’ll tell you how good it is to see you,” he said, sotto voce.
“It may be a while before we can find that privacy.” Starsky’s voice was so quiet only Hutch could hear him. “Just know how badly I want to lick the blood off your face and heal that beautiful mouth with soft, wet kisses.”
Hutch’s thin, weary smile held longing. “I’ll hold you to that, officer.” He rattled the bindings. “First though?”
“You think Third Eye over there has the key?”
“I believe he does.”
“Was he the one that did this to you?”
“They took turns.”
“Don’t go ‘way.” Starsky barely touched Hutch’s stomach before he stalked toward the man he’d killed.
“No hospital, Starsk.” Hutch was sitting on the rear step of the emergency vehicle. “I’m not hurt that badly.” The paramedic who was applying a second butterfly bandage to the gash above his eye harrumphed. “I’ve been here before, fella. I know when I need more than what you can do for me. Just patch me up, okay?” Starsky’s hand on his shoulder felt reassuring and he obviously knew Hutch wasn’t going to be dissuaded.
“Why’d they beat on you, Hutch?” Starsky kneaded his neck muscles with practiced care. “I don’t understand. Cassidy gave me twenty-four hours.”
“Is that his name?” Hutch winced and the EMT murmured an apology. “The guys who took out their aggression on me never said.”
Starsky nodded. “A local fed came to Captain Ballinger’s office and turned us on to Nick’s link with Cassidy. Afterward, Ballinger and Detective Boyer, there,” Starsky gestured toward the tan Crown Victoria in the middle of the cluster of cop cars where the New York detective was on the radio, “gave me all the help I asked for. My brother’s apparently been working with the FBI, trying to take Cassidy down. I’m thinking he realized, somehow, that his cover had been blown and has made himself scarce. As we both heard this morning, Cassidy wants Nick bad!” He pointed toward a gurney being brought up the stairs. “Just after we got you topside and into the hands of Dr. Kildare here,” The EMT huffed, again. “Boyer told me these three guys are known members of the gang.”
“Well, I’m afraid Mr. Cassidy is not an honorable man, Starsk. He told the three he was leaving here to have fun with me before they dumped my separate body parts in the usual places.”
“I was afraid of that. There was never going to be an exchange.”
“Nope. If you showed up with Nick at Dock Seventeen, they’d take care of you both there. Whatever was left of the three of us would probably be disposed of miles apart.”
Wincing only occasionally, Hutch endured the tech’s attentions while cops and other medical personnel loaded the two wounded kidnappers into an ambulance and a coroner’s wagon showed up to take care of Nasty/Third Eye. Crime scene personnel waited for their turn in the building.
When the technician was finally finished, Hutch buttoned his shirt over the Ace bandages now encasing his ribs. He left the cuffs unfastened over the gauze wrappings around his wrists and stuck his hand out to the young EMT. “Thanks.”
“You’re a good patient. I wouldn’t want to go to the hospital, either.” The tech dumped a couple of pills from a jar of aspirin into Hutch’s hand. “This is all I can give you since you refuse transportation.” He reached inside the truck and grabbed a small bottle of water from a case on the floor, giving it to Hutch.
Hutch swallowed the pills and drank all the water, handing back the empty. He allowed Starsky to help him slip his jacket on before gingerly putting his arm around his partner’s shoulders. They walked over to Boyer’s car.
“He doesn’t seem to be hurt too badly,” Boyer said into his mic. “They’ll come in and give full reports after we drive over to Mrs. Starsky’s apartment. Starsky thinks he may find out where Nick’s gone.”
Ballinger’s voice through the radio sounded gruff but pleased. “Tell him I’m glad he got his partner back.”
Starsky grabbed Boyer’s hand holding the mic. “Me too, Captain. Thanks.”
Ballinger laughed. “You’re welcome. Keep me in the loop.”
“You got it!”
“We’ll be in as soon as possible, Captain.” Boyer clicked off, threw the mic on the seat and turned to Starsky and Hutch. “You okay, Hutchinson?”
“Ready when you are, Detective.”
“You know where my mother lives, right, Boyer?” Starsky got in the back seat of the car.
“Sure I do.” Boyer hurried around to the driver’s side and climbed in.
“Come on, Hutch.” Starsky beckoned from the far side of the seat. “Get in here and lie down. You can put your head in my lap while the detective tries to avoid all the rail tracks and potholes between here and Ma’s place.”
Hutch stood for a moment, undecided about showing that much weakness in front of the NYPD. Since his head was really hurting though, and he knew it would feel much better pillowed on his partner’s thigh, he crawled in. He got as comfortable as he could and, without meaning to, fell asleep. He woke up only when Starsky gently brushed the hair from his forehead.
“Rise and shine, sleepy head. The old man got us here with hardly a jolt.”
“Watch who you’re callin’ ‘old man,’ whipper snapper,” Boyer retorted from the front seat. “I’m only a few years older than you two.” He laughed before he added, “well, a couple dozen’s ‘a few,’ right?”
Hutch sat up, happy that his head was less achy than it had been. Boyer pulled the car to the curb in front of Ruth Starsky’s apartment building. Having visited with Starsky twice before, Hutch was familiar with the well-maintained exterior and the flower-filled window boxes that were showing some storm damage. He put a hand reassuringly on his partner’s arm. “We’ll find them, Starsk.”
Starsky patted the hand. “Yeah, we will.”
Hutch climbed out of the back seat, followed by Starsky, while Boyer joined them from the front.
“You got a key?” Boyer asked.
“No. But Mrs. Kapinsky, first floor front, keeps keys for every door in the building. She’s in a wheelchair and never leaves so nobody has to break locks when there’s an emergency. Let’s go see what she and her son, Roger, can tell us.” Starsky led the way up the stairs and into the tiny lobby where he knocked on the first door on the right.
Inside, a bolt was withdrawn and a chain taken off its latch. A man about Starsky’s age opened the door and his face lit up. “Hey, Davey! Thought that was you out there. Come on in!” He stepped back, opening the door wide.
“Hi, Roger.” Starsky went in, shook Roger’s hand, then walked straight to the elderly lady sitting in a wheel chair next to the front windows. “Hello, Mrs. Kapinsky.”
She took his extended hand in both her bird-like ones, a bright smile on her aged face. “David! Your mother said you’d recovered completely and now I see it for myself. You look wonderful!”
“Thanks, Mrs. K.” He turned to Hutch. “You remember my partner, Ken Hutchinson, don’t you?”
“Of course I do.” She held her hand out to Hutch and he took it. “You look as if you’ve been through the wringer though, dear. I’m so sorry.”
“Nothing that won’t heal, Mrs. K.” Hutch made light of his injuries and stepped back as Boyer took his place. “This is Detective Boyer.”
“Jim, Mrs. Kapinsky. Please call me Jim.” He took her hand gently.
She scanned their faces. “I can only assume you’re all here because no one’s heard from Ruth or Nick in two days and a pair of disreputable looking men wanted to get in her apartment yesterday.”
“Can you describe the men, Mrs. Kapinsky?” Boyer took a notebook and pen out of an inside pocket.
“Roger got a closer look at them than I did.” She motioned her son forward.
“Mom saw them drive up a little after nine yesterday morning in a gray Chrysler LeBaron. She called me from the kitchen and said I should follow them. They went straight up to your mom’s apartment, Dave, as if they knew where they were going.”
“I didn’t want them in this building without someone watching.” Mrs. Kapinsky folded her arms across her withered chest. “I had a feeling they were trouble.”
“Did you get the license number by any chance, ma’am?” Boyer was making notes.
“I’m afraid not. The car was parked directly in front of the steps.”
“Not a problem, Mrs. K.” Starsky patted her hand. “I know the car.”
Boyer turned to Roger. “Go on, please. The men went upstairs.”
“Yeah. I got to the third floor landing as they were pounding on Mrs. Starsky’s door.”
“What did they look like?” Boyer turned to a fresh page.
Hutch could see Roger picturing the guys in his mind. “About my height. And Dave’s. Lean, with longish brown hair under dark, knit caps. One had blue eyes, the other, brown. Dirty jeans, black t-shirts, cloth jackets.”
Starsky nodded. “Bill and Sam.”
“I take it no one answered the knock,” Boyer guessed. “Did they ask you for a key?”
“They asked,” Roger said, his voice hard. “I declined.”
Starsky looked at Mrs. Kapinsky. “Had you seen Ma go out?”
“No, I hadn’t. Roger and I talked about it later. Neither of us had seen Ruth since the day before. And Nick hadn’t been around all week.”
“The two men left peacefully?” Hutch asked, a little surprised.
“They weren’t happy,” Roger told them, “but they didn’t cause trouble.”
“Went outside and sat in their car all day,” Mrs. K. reported. “Once in a while one of them left…” she smiled, slyly, “presumably to relieve himself, and to bring back something to eat.” The next look she gave Starsky was full of concern. “Guess they didn’t want to take the chance of missing your mother when she came home.”
“I told mom we should call the police,” said Roger.
“If they’d still been there this morning, I would have! But they must have left sometime after I went to bed at ten o’clock.”
Hutch caught Starsky’s look and nod. “I’m betting they got word somehow that you and I were on our way, Hutch. Finding Nick would be my problem.” He turned back to Mrs. K. “Okay if I go up?”
“Of course, David. You don’t need to ask. Keys are on the wall.” She waved her hand toward the front door.
“Thanks!” He dashed to the series of hooks next to the door, pulled off the key ring for 3C, and left. Hutch and Boyer hurried after him.
Starsky entered the apartment with some trepidation but not a great deal of worry, and the front room let him know he was right. There was no sign of disruption, struggle or foul play; the space simply felt empty. He was pretty sure he knew where his mother and Nick were but this was procedure. Even if it wasn’t his jurisdiction.
“You want to check your mom’s bedroom yourself, Starsk?” Hutch was standing in the entrance to the hallway. “Or you want me to?”
“You go.” Starsky headed for the kitchen. “I’ll check in here. It’s where she spends most of her time.” First, he made sure the stove was off before he opened the refrigerator, which was almost empty, then a few cupboards. Spaces on shelves seemed to indicate that canned and packaged food was missing. There were two dirty plates, two cups, a tall glass, and utensils in the sink, along with a frying pan showing scrambled egg residue. Apparently, she’d cooked breakfast.
“Starsky,” Hutch called.
Starsky hurried down the hall. Boyer, coming out of the second bedroom, fell in behind.
Hutch was kneeling at the window on the far side of an unmade double bed. He pointed to a partial ribbed shoe print and other smudges on the sill before using his handkerchief to raise the sash.
Starsky leaned out the window, staying well away from the impressions. In the soot and accumulated dirt on the ribs of the fire escape landing, he saw lots of footprints from only two pairs of shoes. One set was small, made by smooth soles. The other was larger and rippled.
“The window was closed,” Hutch told them, “but not locked. It can’t be from the outside.”
Boyer stared at the fire escape. “This must be the way they got out without being seen.” He looked at Starsky, then Hutch. “Is that the way you guys read it?”
“Oh, yeah.” Starsky stepped back so that Boyer could study the prints more closely. “Nick came up, somehow talked Ma into going with him, and they split, the same way he got here.”
Hutch stood up. “Okay, looks as if they’re together.”
“So the only question now is…” Boyer straightened up. “Where?”
“Come on!” Starsky rushed out of the bedroom and waited at the front door until Hutch and Boyer joined him. He locked up behind them and hurried down the stairs. Back on the first floor, Starsky nodded to Roger, who was standing in the doorway of Mrs. K.’s apartment, but didn’t pause. Instead, he turned and strode toward the rear, stopping at the door that led down to the basement. By the time Hutch and Boyer had caught up with him, Starsky had the door open and the bare bulb at the top of the stairs turned on.
“Why down here, Starsk?” Hutch peered into the darkness at the bottom.
“‘Cause this is where Nick and I used to play.” Starsky started down, followed by Hutch. Boyer brought up the rear. Reaching the basement, Starsky flicked another light switch, went to a wall next to the furnace, bent down and pried a brick out of the corner. He grinned as he stood up. “We were shorter then.” Taped to the back of the oblong was a piece of paper. Starsky took the tape off and unfolded the page.
Hutch and Boyer craned to look over his shoulder.
“‘If you’ve found this Big Brother’,” Starsky read out loud, “‘you know where we are. Yeah, Ma’s with me, she’s safe.’”
Starsky slid the brick back into its place, stuffed the note in his pocket, tossed the tape in a trash can, and headed for the stairs. “Meet you out front, Hutch. I need to take the keys back to Mrs. K.” Sprinting up the steps, he disappeared from view.
“That partner of yours is something else, Hutchinson.” Boyer sounded amused, impressed and slightly aggravated, all at the same time.
“Right the first time.” Hutch took a deep breath and headed for the steps.
Boyer turned the light off and followed. “I never saw anybody so scared, who was still able to hold himself together and get the job done.”
“You have now.”
“Yeah. Guess I have. You two been together a long time?”
“How does ‘forever’ sound?”
“Like you’re a lucky son of a bitch.”
“Is he always that energetic though?”
Hutch chuckled. “You should see him when he’s excited.”
Feeling the long, sleepless flight and the day’s beatings, Hutch paused on the stairs. He sensed he was holding Boyer back.
“Don’t worry about it, kid. If I’d had the day you’ve had, I’d be in a hospital, not just walkin’ slow.”
Hutch nodded gratefully as he made it to the main hallway.
By the time they got outside, Starsky was leaning against the Crown Vic. “Thought you got lost.”
“Show off,” Hutch muttered. He ducked his head and got in the back seat.
Starsky got in and sat beside him. “I’m sorry, buddy. I didn’t mean --”
Hutch put a hand on his arm and stopped him. “I know.”
“Hell!” Starsky was plainly upset with himself. “You got beat to a pulp and I’m tryin’ to make you feel bad.”
Hutch put all his forgiveness in a smile that Starsky returned.
“Where to now?” Boyer climbed in behind the wheel.
“Ebell Theater,” Starsky said.
Boyer started the car and pulled out into traffic. “Didn’t they tear that old place down a few years ago?”
“Ma told me they wanted to.” Starsky surreptitiously took Hutch’s hand and held on tight. “But some people from the historical society convinced the city it was a cultural landmark.”
Boyer snorted. “If you mean the one over on Bedford, it was just an old vaudeville place, wasn’t it? Then a movie theater?”
“I guess that depends on whether or not you’re with the historical society.”
When Boyer’s car reached the theater Hutch thought it looked pretty disreputable. The front entrance was boarded over and chained off.
“There’s a fire exit in the alley.” Starsky pointed around the corner.
Boyer turned into the narrow opening between buildings and stopped next to a set of double doors. Starsky climbed out, followed by Hutch, and Boyer joined them. Without a word, Starsky went to a fire escape on the side of the theater and removed a piece of metal about two feet long from under the bottom rung of the ladder. He walked back to Hutch and Boyer. “Nick and I put this there over twenty-five years ago.”
“And nobody ever noticed it.” Hutch kept his voice bland.
“Guess not.” Starsky moved to the doors, worked the flattened end of his device under the overlapping flange in the middle and popped the right hand door open.
Boyer grabbed it and shot a guarded look at Hutch. “I won’t tell anyone if you don’t, Detective.”
Hutch chuckled. “My partner’s always full of surprises, Boyer. You get used to them.”
Starsky walked to the fire escape and replaced his get-in-to-see-a-movie-free tool where it had rested for so long. Hurrying back to the entrance, he pulled the right door fully open while Boyer went to the trunk of his car and took out three flashlights. Giving one each to Starsky and Hutch, he switched his own on and went inside.
Even with the lights Hutch couldn’t tell where he was.
Starsky moved past him and Boyer and led the way around a corner and up three stairs. “We’re behind the stage. Watch your step.” He flicked the beam down at their feet. “Not sure how these old treads have held up over the years.”
“That you, Davey?” a voice called from ahead of them. “You must have found the old pry bar.”
“‘Course I did.”
In the beam of Starsky’s lead flashlight, Nick Starsky’s face was pallid and drawn. “Well, you made enough noise to wake the dead. Which, thankfully, Ma and I aren’t yet. Come on back.” He disappeared into the shadows.
Hutch put a hand lightly on Starsky’s back while they walked, both as a calming gesture and as total support. Boyer clomped along behind them. Nick led the way between backdrops, dusty scrims, curtains and pieces of scenery in a dizzying route before coming to a small room in the bowels of the backstage area.
As soon as Starsky cleared the doorway into what could have been a large walk-in closet, he bolted to his mother and threw his arms around her. Hutch and Boyer stopped, not wanting to intrude on the reunion.
Nick was standing off to the side. To Hutch, he looked chagrinned, pissed off and resolute, all at the same time. Neat trick.
“David! You’re squeezing the life out of me.” Mrs. Starsky looked up into his face. “You found Nicky’s note, right? Why are you crying, dear? What’s wrong?”
Starsky stepped back a pace, ducked his head and dashed the tears from his eyes. “Nothin’, Ma. It’s okay. Someone told me you were… never mind.” He threw a muted glare at Nick. “Everything’s gonna be okay, now.”
A Coleman lantern gave enough bright white flickering light to the space that all three cops turned their torches off.
“What happened to you, Hutch?” Nick’s expression was shocked.
“Oh, Ken!” Mrs. Starsky exclaimed.
Hutch went to her quickly, taking her hands and getting her to sit down. He knelt in front of her. “It’s nothing, Mrs. Starsky. I’m fine.”
“You don’t look fine! You look like you should be in a hospital. And how many times do I have to ask you to call me ‘mom’?”
Hutch kissed her cheek. “I won’t forget again.”
“I hope whoever did that to you will pay heavily,” she added.
“They already have, Ma.” Starsky leaned down and kissed her other cheek. “Hutch kept the bad guys busy while I went for the cops.” He straightened up and gestured to Boyer. “Speaking of cops, this is Detective Boyer.”
Boyer reached for Mrs. Starsky’s hand and bent over it as Hutch ducked out of the way. “Jim. My friends call me Jim.”
“Ruth. Mine call me Ruth.”
“Then I’d definitely like to be your friend, because that’s always been one of my favorite names.”
Hutch could have sworn she blushed but, in the less-than-steady light, he wasn’t sure.
“Oh, for Pete’s sake,” Nick groaned.
“Shut up, Nick!” Starsky snapped. “You got all of us into this mess so you’re going to sit down, tell us everything you know, and do what we tell you to do.” He stepped toward his little brother and glared. “Is that clear?”
Nick wilted. “Clear.” He backed off a pace, his face still sullen. “But what are you doing here? How did you know I was in trouble?” He gestured toward Hutch. “How come he’s all beat up?”
“Cassidy called me yesterday, told me you and Ma were dead.” Starsky’s words were clipped, icy. He avoided looking at his mother, who had gasped, and kept his ‘cop gaze’ on Nick. “Somehow he knew we’d catch the first flight and had Hutch and me grabbed at the airport the minute we got here this morning. He told me to find you, bring you to him, and he’d turn Hutch loose.”
“Your brother would have been here hours ago, Nick,” Hutch said. “But he didn’t want to leave me with those guys longer than necessary.”
“I figured you and Ma were here, or somewhere reasonably safe,” Starsky continued, “since nobody’d found your bodies yet. So I went after my partner first.” He stared at Nick, unblinking. “Hope you don’t mind.”
Nick hung his head. “I’m sorry, David.”
“Apologies later, kid.” Starsky looked around the cluttered space.
Following his gaze, Hutch saw two nests of blankets, a few battered chairs, plus empty tin cans, paper plates and napkins in a corner trash bin. A small camp stove was set up on a crate with a frying pan on top. “How long have you two been holed up here?”
“A little over two days.” Nick cast a wary glance at Starsky. “Since just after I called you, Davey. Electricity’s off but at least the plumbing still works. We brought some food so we haven’t had to go out.”
Starsky pulled a chair away from the wall, spun it around and straddled it. He nailed Nick with more intimidation. “Start talking.”
Boyer pushed a second chair over for Hutch and sat down on a third.
Nick perched on the corner of a crate, gripping the edges with white-knuckled tension. “A few months ago, a friend of mine named Harry Lambert asked me if I wanted to make some money.”
“Good friend, was he?” Starsky jumped in.
Hutch put a hand on his arm. Easy, Starsk, let him tell it.
Starsky got the message, sighed and nodded, before turning back to his brother. “Sorry, Nick, I’ll try not to interrupt again.”
“I’ve known the guy for years,” Nick continued. “Did minor jobs with him, all for the same boss, George Cassidy.” Throwing a furtive look at Boyer, he went on right away. “Nothing illegal, I don’t think, just running errands, picking up stuff, making deliveries. Things like that.”
“Sure,” Boyer commented, clearly not fooled. “Taking his suits and shirts to the dry cleaners, dashing out to get Chinese for dinner….” He shook his head as if appalled at the gullibility of youth. “That kind of thing.”
Nick hunched his shoulders. “Okay. I guess I figured some of them weren’t completely legitimate errands but nobody ever got hurt.”
“Get on with it, Nick,” Starsky prompted. “This guy came to you.”
“Yeah.” Nick took a deep breath before continuing. “Said I could make more money if I was willing to do some other stuff.” He fisted his hands in his lap. “I had to answer all Cassidy’s questions first though. He wanted to know everything about me, our family, pop, ma… you. Told me if I lied, he’d know it and I’d be fish bait.”
“So you answered his questions,” Starsky repeated, “he checked you out and you started doing these… other things for him.”
“Such as?” Hutch goaded. His hackles were always up when Nick Starsky was around and this time was turning out to be no exception.
“Such as transporting some people every so often.” Nick sent his brother a forlorn look. “On the first trip, Harry and I drove out to Fire Island late one night in Cassidy’s limo. We went to a big house, picked up a well-dressed man, and brought him back to Gravesend.”
“Lemme guess,” Starsky said. “The warehouse at Dock Seventeen.”
Nick appeared startled. “How’d you know?”
Starsky waved the question off. “What happened then?”
“Harry and I waited around a few hours until Cassidy told us to take the guy home.” Nick shrugged. “We did.”
“How often did you make that kind of run?” Boyer already had his notebook and pen out and was writing on a fresh page.
“Every couple of weeks, different parts of Cassidy’s territory. On the second and third trips it was two guys in suits with hired muscle.” Nick dropped his gaze to the hands on his knees. “But one night, about six weeks ago, it was two schmucks all beaten and trussed up, plus two guys holding guns on them.”
“What happened that time?” Boyer was scribbling quickly.
“We didn’t have to make a return trip.” Nick’s voice was barely above a whisper. “Cassidy told us to leave the limo and go home.”
“I’m pretty sure we had a pair of floaters in the Lower Bay about that time.” Boyer’s words were addressed to no one in particular.
“Since then?” Hutch didn’t want to usurp Starsky’s or Boyer’s roles but he felt Nick needed to be shoved a little, verbally.
Nick shrugged again. “Couple of trips out to Queens, another to Staten Island. Once all the way up to Albany. No more bloody passengers though.”
“Did you contact the FBI?” Starsky was definitely still in interrogator mode. “Or did they come to you?”
“I went to them. I knew, after that fourth trip, that I was getting into something I couldn’t handle by myself.”
“He came to me first.” Ruth reached her hand out and Nick grabbed it. She looked at her youngest son with pride before turning her attention to Boyer. “I’m still in touch with some of my husband’s friends on the force, Detective… uh, Jim. One of them suggested that Nick contact Tom Gessell.” She looked back at Nick and nodded for him to continue.
“I got in touch with Tom,” said Nick, “but told him he’d have to come alone, and not make any official report. Yet.”
“And he went along with that?” Starsky’s surprise matched Hutch’s.
“Yes. But only after I dropped the name of Pop’s old friend.” Nick was studying his white knuckles as if he’d never seen them before.
“What happened then?” Hutch had gotten caught up in the tale almost in spite of himself.
“Tom and I met a few times. He had to tell his boss he had a new informant, of course, but I begged him not to give my name. I have no idea why Tom agreed, but he did. After a few weeks he convinced me to work with him, officially, to bring Cassidy down.”
“When was all this?” Boyer asked.
“And what went wrong?” Starsky added.
Nick got up and moved to a crate that held a partially filled gallon jug of water and some plastic cups. “About a month ago, Tom put me on the FBI’s covert payroll of undercover informants. I was known only as ‘Knack’.”
“Nick knack.” Starsky smiled, probably in spite of himself. “Cute.”
Nick poured a cupful, swallowed every drop, poured a second and drank that, too. Belatedly he held the empty up to the room as a whole? “Anybody else as thirsty as I am? We got more cups.” When no one took him up on his offer, he returned to the corner of his crate. “Three days ago, I made a mistake.” He looked at Starsky, all kinds of emotions from sorrow to fear in his eyes. “I didn’t think it would lead to all this.”
“Just tell us, Nicky.” Starsky had dropped his badgering tone and adopted his more usual support-for-little-brother attitude.
“I walked out of the café too soon.” Nick gripped the familiar edges of the crate. “I’d been catching Tom up to date and didn’t wait long enough after he left. A dark blue sedan had driven up and Tom was getting in the passenger’s side when the driver glanced over and saw me.”
“And you’re scared just thinking about it,” Starsky noted. “Aren’t you?”
“You bet I am!”
“Why?” Boyer asked.
“It was Special Agent in Charge Cardwell!”
Hutch exchanged unenlightened looks with his partner and Boyer. “So? Why would you think that meant you were in trouble?”
“Because he’s Cassidy’s man.”
“What?” Boyer dropped his pen.
“I’m not lying, Detective. He was the guy Harry and I had picked up on that first trip.” Nick stared at Boyer. “The well-dressed man who had a long, friendly meeting with Cassidy at Gravesend, and that Harry and I had then driven back out to Fire Island.”
“Wait a minute.” Hutch was confused. “I think I’m missing something. You had your usual briefing with Tom Gessell, your contact at the FBI. You came out and saw him being picked up by his boss. Cardwell looked over and saw you, probably figured you were ‘Knack,’ but…” He glanced at Starsky and Boyer. “What’s the problem? Don’t tell me he recognized you from that night months ago. It was dark! You were a flunky in a limo.”
Nick got up and began to pace, frustration in his body language. “He must have!” He stopped and stared at Hutch. “I lit cigarettes for him a few times during the drive back out to the Island after his lighter ran out of fluid. I didn’t think he’d remember me but…” He transferred his imploring gaze back to Boyer. “When he looked at me the other day, outside the café, I saw it in his eyes. He knew I recognized him, too. He knew I knew he was at Cassidy’s beck and call.”
“So everybody knew something!” Boyer shook his head. “You have to be wrong though. Cardwell can’t be dirty.”
“Oh yeah?” Hutch was pretty sure sarcasm wasn’t appropriate but he didn’t apologize. “Why not?”
“Wouldn’t be the first time an agent’s gone bad,” Starsky added.
“Crime always pays better than a government job,” Hutch pointed out. “You know that, Boyer.”
“But, Cardwell?” Boyer posed the question generally. “He’s the most important FBI agent on the East Coast!”
“You haven’t been able to get anything on Cassidy in all the years you’ve been trying,” Starsky said. “Neither have any of the alphabet soup.”
Hutch couldn’t resist providing the final link in that chain of logic. “Could it be because he’s got the New York SAIC in his hip pocket?”
Starsky turned back to his brother. “So, Nick, you saw Cardwell, he saw you. What happened then?”
“I don’t remember getting to my place. I got drunk while I was trying to figure out what to do.” His attempt at a smile was a failure. “Didn’t remember until too late that drinking doesn’t help thinking at all.”
Starsky nodded. “That’s usually the case.”
“When I woke up few hours later, I stuffed some things in my gym bag and got the hell outta there! Stayed in a ratty hotel and slept off the liquor. The next time I came to, it was way past midnight. Even though the phones were still out at Gravesend, I figured Cardwell would have sent a message to Cassidy right away, letting him know one of his errand boys was an FBI plant, and essentially putting out a contract on me.”
“Sounds about right,” Hutch commented, with wry humor.
“That’s what I thought.” Nick stared at his brother. “Then I thought about Ma and what either, or both of those guys would do to her, because of me.” He sent a pleading look toward Ruth, before bearing up under Starsky’s stern gaze again. “I walked over here, since they might have been looking for my car, and made sure I could still get in. I didn’t think we’d have lights but I wanted to see if the toilets flushed.”
“Cut to the chase, Nick,” Hutch urged. He knew the tension he was feeling had to be ten times worse for Starsky.
“I left my bag here and went to get Ma.”
Ruth’s expression was pure love. “Nick climbed up the fire escape at my apartment at about five a.m, night before last.” She put a hand over her heart. “Almost scared me to death. He told me everything while I fixed breakfast. He didn’t want to waste the time but I made him explain things, twice, and used the opportunity to get some decent food into him.” Her smile turned reminiscent. “As well as your father’s hang-over remedy.”
Nick looked back at Starsky. “Never knew she could be so stubborn.”
Starsky shook his head, probably amused that Nick had finally discovered something Starsky had known since his father died.
Ruth took Nick’s hand again. “He was getting more anxious all the time but I wasn’t about to leave my apartment without being convinced that we had no alternative. Plus, if we were going to be without full bathroom facilities, I wanted to shower first.” She withdrew her hand and laced her fingers in her lap. “He told me to put on almost every piece of old clothing I had because it might be cold in here.”
“While she was doing all that, I crammed blankets and what camping gear we had into Pop’s army duffle, added some canned goods and anything else I could think of.” Nick looked as if he was proud of his accomplishment. “I wrote the note, ran down and taped it to the brick. When I got back upstairs, I realized it was nearly nine o’clock so I took a few minutes and called you, Davey.”
“I wanted him to tell you everything,” Ruth said, “but he was afraid that Cassidy’s men would show up at any moment.”
“Turns out he was right, Ruth.” Boyer looked up from his notes. “Mrs. Kapinsky told us two of Cassidy’s men arrived just after nine, wanting to get into your apartment.”
“And did they?” She sounded more angry than concerned.
“Nope,” Starsky assured her. “Roger followed them upstairs, refused to open the door, and watched until they left.”
She breathed a sigh of relief.
A sudden look of uncertainty crossed Boyer’s face. “Nick, how’d you and Ruth get all this stuff,” he gestured around the room, “down that narrow fire escape ladder?”
“Two trips. Thankfully, the alley’s only busy on trash day, and most of the apartment people on both sides work, so I don’t think anyone saw us.”
“If you were on foot from here to her apartment,” Boyer persisted, “how’d the two of you get everything back here?”
“We flagged a taxi,” Nick said, still sounding pleased. “Had him drop us a mile from her building, and caught another one. I didn’t think they’d be looking for us in one of the city’s million or so yellow cabs. Had the second driver drop us off two blocks away though, and we walked from there. I checked all the time and never saw anyone behind us.”
Ruth sat up straighter. “I carried my share, Detective. I’m not fragile.”
“I never thought you were, Ruth.” Boyer smiled and it lit up his eyes. “In fact, I’ll bet you’re a tough cookie.”
The smile she returned brightened the room.
“Back up a minute.” Starsky grew thoughtful and stared at Nick for a few cold heartbeats. “You called me from Ma’s, said you were scared, but you gave me nothing to work with! Why the hell did you even bother?”
“I asked him to,” said Ruth. “As soon as he came back upstairs. I knew you’d worry if we both disappeared without a word.”
Starsky hadn’t taken his eyes off Nick. “I worried anyway, didn’t I?”
“I tried to give you a heads-up,” Nick whined, “so that you wouldn’t be completely surprised if you heard something had happened to us. I was pretty sure I didn’t have time to tell you everything though, and you wouldn’t have settled for anything less. I wanted to get Ma out of there!”
“What were you going to accomplish by coming here?” Starsky probably tried to keep the heat out of his voice but didn’t quite manage it. “Why not get on a plane? Hutch and I would’ve protected you both!”
“Beats the hell outta me, Davey!” Nick flared. “I’ve never been as good at thinking on my feet as you are. What would you have done?”
Starsky stood up and dragged his brother off the crate, fists knotted in the rumpled jacket. “I wouldn’t have put Ma in danger in the first place, kiddo!”
Nick tried, without success, to dislodge Starsky’s grip. “Yeah? Well, you weren’t --”
Hutch moved between them, putting a gentle hand in the center of Starsky’s chest and a fist in the hollow of Nick’s throat. “Back off, Nick!” He felt he’d achieved the right combination of force and calm but didn’t much care if he had to flatten the younger Starsky to make sure he was obeyed. Each brother took a deep breath and Hutch relaxed a little, allowing his voice to take on a soothing tone. “We can all cast aspersions later. Right now we have to figure out what to do.”
“You think Gessell’s solid, Nick?” Boyer’s question broke the tension.
“He’s never been anything but straight with me.” Nick took a step away from Hutch’s continuing glare. “I was going to try to contact him but all I have is his office number, which goes through the switchboard. And Cardwell probably monitors that. Ma and I have been trying to come up with a coded message he might understand.”
“Too complicated, kid,” Boyer said. “I’ve got a better idea.”
Everybody sat back down, breathing more easily.
“How about I go to Ballinger and tell him everything?” Boyer nodded at Starsky and Hutch. “You two told him you’d give your official statements about your kidnapping and the shootings. I think you need to come with me and do that. The Captain can call Gessell and ask him to come back to the precinct. We’ll see what his reaction is to all of this.” He stood up. “Everyone sit tight for a few minutes until I can get a couple of my guys in an unmarked car over here.” He nodded at Ruth and Nick. “We don’t want to attract attention but I won’t leave you two unprotected.”
“What about taking us down to the Precinct?” Ruth suggested.
Boyer shook his head. “Too many eyes around a station house. With this news about Cardwell, I have no idea who else might be collecting two paychecks. I’m sure of my own squad, and my captain, but that’s as far as I’m willing to extend trust right now.”
“Cardwell’s out sick today,” Starsky said. “So he shouldn’t know anything about the kidnapping, or our finding Nick. Yet.”
Boyer nodded. “Everybody in the Sixty-Fifth probably has the first part of that information but we can hope Cardwell doesn’t.” He left the room.
Nick dropped back down on his crate, his head bowed. “I’m sorry, David.”
Starsky hunkered down in front of him and put a hand on his knee. “You said that before, little brother. What are you sorry about now?”
“It never occurred to me that Cassidy would call you.” His voice cracked. “And even if you found out I was in trouble some other way, I didn’t think you’d come.” Looking up, there were tears in his eyes.
“Oh yeah?” Starsky squeezed the knee hard enough to make Nick jump. “Then why’d you bother to leave the note in the basement?”
Caught, Nick choked on a sob. “I guess I hoped you would.”
Starsky straightened up and enfolded his brother, pulling the curly haired head to his chest. Nick flung his arms around Starsky’s waist and gave in to his pent up emotions.
Hutch pulled his chair over and sat down next to Ruth, taking her hand. “What are we going to do with them, Mom?”
Hutch smiled. “Yeah.”
“I think I knew.” Tom Gessell, sitting in Captain Ballinger’s office, sounded as tired as he looked. Starsky thought the agent appeared at least ten years older than he had that morning.
“How?” Boyer was obviously surprised at the admission.
Gessell shrugged. “Cassidy slipped through our fingers too many times for it to be coincidence. And Cardwell’s always been a little too slick, too… superior, I guess I’d have to say, when it came to making sure somebody outside the Bureau took the blame.” His shoulders slumped. “Also, he has a big house on Fire Island. I’ve never been there but it’s rumored to be way above his pay scale.”
“It’s not your fault, Gessell,” Starsky said. “He’s your boss. You’re required to respect him and follow his orders.”
Gessell sat up straight and snapped his fingers. Everyone in the room could see a light come on behind his eyes. “That’s the real reason why he moved our offices over here from Foley Square.”
“I wondered about that at the time,” Ballinger said. “It seemed strange, especially when you consider how much Cardwell obviously enjoyed the status of that location. What was his explanation?”
“He said we should be in the middle of Cassidy’s territory, in case we got a good lead and had a chance to move on him.”
“Now you don’t think so?” Ballinger persisted.
Gessell shook his head. “I think he wanted to know who my new informant was. He kept asking questions and getting angry with my evasiveness. The day he picked me up at Barber’s Grill I had a feeling he was close to demanding a name when I got in the car.” Another light plainly clicked on in his mind. “After he looked over and saw Nick though, the subject wasn’t mentioned again.”
“I’m betting,” Hutch was patently thinking out loud, “if he had known before three days ago, Nick would have vanished involuntarily.”
Gessell slumped again. “I know I shouldn’t simply take your word for everything you’ve told me, Captain Ballinger. I should have it checked out. No offense intended.”
“None taken,” Ballinger replied.
“I’m not going to though. It makes perfect sense to me, and it answers all the questions I didn’t realize I needed to ask.”
“Don’t be too hard on yourself, Tom.” Ballinger waved a hand, dismissing the agent’s self-imposed guilt. “We all wear blinders sometimes.”
“And if it would help,” Boyer added, “I’m sure Starsky and Hutchinson won’t mind if you read their reports, once they’re typed up. All the details, plus corroboration, are in there. Shouldn’t take long.”
“Not necessary, although I appreciate the offer.” Gessell nodded at Starsky and Hutch. “I’m sorry you both had to go through that.”
“Goes with the job,” said Hutch.
Gessell straightened, got his ‘FBI face’ back on and looked at Ballinger. “What can I do, sir?”
“You can help us set a trap for your boss. If it turns out we’re mistaken, he won’t even know he was under suspicion. We’ll take Cassidy and his goons into custody and Cardwell can come along later and file whatever Federal charges he wants.”
“And if he’s dirty?” Gessell’s voice was strained.
“He’ll try to warn Cassidy and we’ll round them all up together.” The captain folded his hands on his desk, as if it was already a fait accompli.
“I understand.” The agent got to his feet.
Hutch put his hand up in a ‘wait’ gesture and looked at Starsky, Ballinger and Boyer. Gessell sat down again. “You called Agent Gessell, Captain, and asked him to come here as quickly as possible. He told you that Cardwell had shown up, saying he was completely over his twenty-four hour flu, so Tom had to make up an excuse to get out of the office.” He looked at the faces staring at him. “Does anybody else find it incredibly convenient that Cardwell was out sick on the day two out-of-town cops were kidnapped, hidden away, one was beaten, and the other was issued an ultimatum to find his missing brother or have his partner murdered? Maybe it was coincidence but I’m thinking Cardwell was deliberately away from the office today, got word that things had gone wrong, and had to come to town and find out what was really going on.”
“Whatever the reason, Hutch, he’s here now!” Starsky tried to keep his voice calm but was afraid his anticipation was showing. “You and I can go have our friendly conversation with him.”
“I know we were talking about it while Gessell was on his way over,” Hutch went on, addressing the captain again. “How Starsky and I could walk into Cardwell’s office and light enough of a fire under him that he’d run to Cassidy with the information that we were coming for him.”
Ballinger nodded. “That’s what we discussed.”
“Still sounds good to me!” Starsky was really looking forward to the exchange.
“I have another idea.” Hutch looked at him. “You’re not going to like it.”
Starsky raised his eyebrows. “Am I gonna hate it?”
“Then I’ll bet it’s a good one. Let’s hear it.”
Hutch sucked in a breath. “I take Nick and confront Cardwell.”
Starsky forced himself to wait a beat before voicing his immediate reaction. “You’re right. I hate it.”
“Hear me out, Starsk. When Cardwell sees Nick he’ll know his connection to Cassidy’s blown wide open, or at least he’ll suspect as much.”
“Which helps us how?” Ballinger asked.
Hutch widened his focus to include everyone else in the room again. “It’ll allow me to propose a deal. A payoff to forget what Nick’s told me.”
“And where am I during this conversation?” Starsky kept his voice rigidly controlled.
“Supposedly being interrogated about your part in the shootings. Where I hope you’ll really be is on the other end of the wire I’ll be wearing.” Hutch glanced at Boyer. “You, my partner, and Agent Gessell will be listening, recording every word.”
Ballinger turned to Boyer. “How soon could we set that up, Jim?”
“I can get the ball rolling before we go to the theater, Cap,” Boyer replied. “Be ready by the time we get back.”
Ballinger nodded before turning to Hutch. “Okay, I’m listening. You and Nick go to see Cardwell. Then what?”
Hutch cocked his head as if it was obvious. “Cardwell takes us to Gravesend to talk to Cassidy.”
“Over my dead body!” Starsky tried to suppress his instant fear.
“No, Starsk, listen. It won’t be as bad as it sounds. I wear the wire so you’ll all be able to hear me. I’ll tell Cardwell I found Nick exactly where you said he’d be. When he explained why he was in hiding, I realized I could make a deal with both Cardwell and Cassidy - say, a hundred thousand dollars for my silence.”
Starsky almost choked. “What’s to keep him from killing you and Nick on the spot, Hutch?”
“In a Federal office building? In the middle of Brooklyn? Broad daylight? He can’t be that crazy!” Hutch looked for support from others in the room.
“He’s not,” Gessell assured them.
“What if he agrees?” Starsky knew he was grasping at straws. “Takes you to Gravesend, or wherever Cassidy is? What if we can’t keep you in sight? What if we lose you?”
Hutch turned to Gessell. “Can you put a bug on Cardwell’s vehicle?”
“Not without making an official request and getting authorization.”
“If you use one of ours?” Ballinger asked, “Would that make it possible?”
Gessell thought about it. “I guess so. I’d only be breaking procedure then, not using FBI equipment without permission. I’m sure I can plant it on his car in the garage as soon as I get back. It’s a black Mercedes.”
“Of course it is,” Starsky muttered.
“Make sure he leaves here with our best equipment, Jim,” Ballinger said.
“You bet, Captain.”
“You won’t be able to stay too close behind us,” Hutch continued. “He’ll be looking for a tail. But if you can hear us, record everything, and keep track of the car from a couple of blocks away, you can storm onto the scene right after we get there. You’ll probably know pretty soon after we leave the Federal Building where Cardwell’s headed.” He looked at Boyer. “Starsky told me you know every one of Cassidy’s hangouts, right?”
Starsky opened his mouth to object but Hutch went on. “Wherever we end up, Starsk, I’ll make damn sure Nick and I don’t go inside a building. Any building. We’ll stay outside where, hopefully, NYPD officers will be in a position to have a visual on us. I won’t let anything happen to Nick. I promise.”
I wish it was only Nick I was worried about, partner, Starsky sent silently to his other half.
“Are we guessing it’ll be Gravesend?” Ballinger asked Boyer.
“I’d bet on it, sir. We know Cassidy’s done a lot of work on the warehouse there. Probably not a bad hideout now, even without electric or phone service. Better than any of his others.”
Ballinger made notes on his yellow pad. “I’ll put a few units at the location now. Then, as soon as we’re sure that’s where you’re headed, everyone else will converge.”
“That’ll be great, Captain.” Hutch sounded relieved.
“Yeah, terrific.” Starsky was not happy.
“Can you give us a minute?” Hutch got up, headed for the door, and Starsky was right behind him. Out in the hallway, Hutch checked a few spaces before he found an empty office. Starsky stepped in on his heels and Hutch closed the door.
“Hutch,” “Starsk,” overlapped, one almost pleading, the other persuasive.
“I told you you’d hate it.” Hutch gently rubbed Starsky’s upper arm.
After a few seconds, and definitely against his will and better judgment, Starsky nodded. “You know me too well.”
“No such thing, babe. But hear me out. We need to get Nick free and clear of this mess and the only way I see of doing that is by getting Cardwell to commit himself to being Cassidy’s man. If you guys have my proposed deal on tape, and he takes Nick and me to a meet, Cassidy goes down for kidnap and assault on a police officer, with our testimony. And Cardwell goes down for aiding and abetting criminal activities for as long as he’s been getting away with it. That part will fall on Nick’s shoulders but he has to grow up sometime.”
Starsky was reluctant and scared, for both Hutch and Nick. Hutch had won the argument though. “I didn’t say it’s not a pretty terrific plan, Hutch. I only said I hated it.”
“Knew you would.”
Fresh cups of coffee had been partially drunk by the time Boyer returned to Ballinger’s office. “He’s got the best tracking device we have, sir.” He ducked outside, came back in with his own mug and sat down.
Ballinger turned to him. “Let’s get the rest of this new plan straight. You three need to go to the theater and pick up Nick, right?”
“Yes, sir. I’ll leave Russell and Dailey there to continue guarding Mrs. Starsky, if that’s okay with you, Cap’n.”
“It’s your show, Jim. You’ve got my full support.”
“Thank you, sir. We’ll bring Nick back here so that Hutchinson can get set up with the wire while Roberts installs the receiver and recorder in my car.” He looked at Starsky and Hutch. “Don’t worry guys, we’ll double- and triple-check everything before we leave here. Can’t have any technical difficulties with the equipment today!”
“Range?” Ballinger asked.
“Three hundred yards. But we’re going to stay a lot closer than that!” Boyer turned to Hutch. “Gessell thinks you and Nick should take a cab to the Federal Building. Avoid having curious eyes see you arrive in a cop car. He’ll be waiting down the street for me. We’ll drive around the building, park half a block away, and listen.”
“What about Dock Seventeen?” the captain asked.
With a nod, Boyer deferred to Starsky.
Starsky leaned forward, his elbows on his knees. Ballinger reminded him so much of Dobey, sharp as a tack and supportive of his men, he found himself wanting to make this captain proud of him and Hutch. “We hope you can add a SWAT team to those units you’re going to be placing around the warehouse soon. On the adjacent roof, if possible.”
Ballinger made more notes. “I can do that.”
“Once Jim and his teams know where we’re going,” Hutch said, “there should be enough officers to handle whoever Cassidy’s got in reserve.”
“From your mouth to God’s ear,” Starsky muttered. He did his best to smother his deep concern when he briefly met his partner’s eyes, before directing another request to Ballinger. “Uh… can Hutch and I borrow a couple of guns, Captain? Cassidy took our gear bag when he left the Jamaica Bay hideout.”
Ballinger looked at Boyer. “See what we’ve got in the armory, will you, Jim?”
“Sure thing, Cap.” Boyer shot an apologetic look at Starsky and Hutch. “Should’ve thought of that myself. I’ll take you down there before we go to the theater.”
“That’d be terrific!” Starsky found his anxiety easing a little. “After Hutch talked me into this hair-brained scheme, we came up with a quick plan. See what you both think. He and Nick will stir things up --”
“Wait a minute,” Ballinger interrupted. “I just thought of something. What if your brother doesn’t feel like putting himself in this kind of danger?”
Starsky gulped; that hadn’t occurred to him. “I guess I’ll have to --”
“Starsk?” Hutch broke in, gently. “It’s no secret I’ve never liked Nick, but I watched him while he was telling us everything.” The sky blue eyes said he might be changing his mind about the brat and Starsky silently sent his thanks. “I think he wants to help. I got the feeling he knows he was way over the line into the Dark Side and is hoping you’ll come up with a way he can step back.”
Starsky took a deep breath and let it out. “I’ve never wanted you to be more right, partner.”
Ballinger appeared satisfied. “Assuming he’s willing, or that you both can convince him, please go on.”
“Boyer, Gessell and I will listen,” Starsky said. “Recording every word.”
“What if Cardwell refuses to admit anything and won’t play along?” the captain asked. “Tries to bluff it out?”
“Hutch has a very convincing way about him, sir.” Starsky sent a look at his partner that no one else in the room would have interpreted as ‘loving’ but he knew Hutch felt it down to his toes.
“What if he insists on searching you, Hutchinson?” The captain was apparently not yet satisfied.
Hutch shrugged. “I’ll refuse and we’ll leave. Think of something else.”
“He won’t take that chance,” said Boyer. “From everything I know about him, and thinking back over the times we’ve worked with him, he’s a realist. He’ll see his career about to go down the drain and be willing to do anything to prevent that!”
“Okay.” Ballinger drew a line under his notes. “Every unit available will be in place, either at Gravesend or ready to head there, as soon as I can make the arrangements.”
“It’s us, Russell,” Boyer shouted, entering the theater through the fire exit. “We come bearing cheese steaks and fries.”
“Well get your asses up here then,” Russell hollered from deep within the backstage recesses.
When Hutch entered the crowded space, Boyer was handing Ruth a huge sandwich wrapped in brown paper. “Sorry about my colleague’s language, Ruth.” He grinned.
“I’ve heard worse, Jim.” Her return smile made everyone chuckle.
“What’s happening, Dave?” Nick set his unwrapped meal aside. He still looked scared but not quite terrified any longer.
“We need your help,” Starsky told him and some of the blood drained out of Nick’s face. “You and Hutch are going to go see Cardwell.” Nick backed up a step but Starsky put a hand on his arm. “Hutch’ll be wearing a wire. Boyer, Gessell and I’ll be in a car half a block away, hearing and recording everything.”
Nick sat heavily on his crate. Ruth put her sandwich down, got up and slipped her arm around his shoulders. When he looked up, she smiled her total support. Nick absorbed the love, then faced Starsky. “Okay.”
“Good!” Starsky sat in one of the chairs. “Before we get into the details though, this is the first food Hutch and I have had all day and we’re hungry! So you better eat, too.”
“Relax, Nick,” Hutch urged. “We’ve got a lot to talk about.”
Everyone found seats on chairs, crates, or the floor, enjoying their meal as much as possible. Nick kept throwing worried looks at his brother, probably envisioning what the coming showdown would be like.
Finally, Starsky wiped his mouth and fingers thoroughly with several napkins before crumpling those up with the greasy paper from his sandwich. Rather than tossing the wad toward the trash can in the corner, as Hutch expected, he got up, sauntered over, and deposited the debris properly.
Hutch watched the swagger and saw his partner’s small smile; he knew his ass was the subject of fond appraisal. When Starsky trailed his fingers across Hutch’s shoulders on his way back to the chair, Hutch shivered. Glancing around, he was relieved to see that everyone else in the room had been finishing their lunches, oblivious to the silent exchange. In order to cover his sudden discomfort, he got up, collected wrappers and napkins, and took it all to the same bin before sitting back down.
“Here’s the deal, kid.” Starsky focused on Nick. “Ma stays here for now with Detectives Russell and Dailey, until we have all the bad guys in custody. The rest of us are going back to the precinct so that Hutch can get wired --”
“You mean more than he already is?” Nick sent an obviously forced grin around the tense room.
“Watch it, Nick.” Hutch raised a cautionary finger. “Your brother’s a little too tightly wound up for wisecracks right now.”
Nick looked apologetic and nodded. “Go on, Davey, I’m listening.”
“I hope so.” Starsky was all seriousness. “Because some of our lives may depend on it.”
A secretary ushered Hutch and Nick into Cardwell’s office, closing the door behind her when the agent, without looking up, waved a dismissal.
Hutch approached the desk and waited until Cardwell, making a point of finishing the report he was reading, finally met his gaze. “Sure glad you’re feelin’ better, Agent Cardwell. Those twenty-four-hour flu bugs can be nasty.” When Cardwell didn’t reply, Hutch went right on. “You don’t know me but Nick Starsky, here, my partner’s brother, tells me he knows you.”
“Should I know that name?” Cardwell’s sarcasm was blatant as he sat back in his chair.
“Cut the act.” Hutch kept his tone calm. “Right this minute, my partner’s explaining to the cops how he came to kill one of George Cassidy’s cohorts, and seriously wound two others, during my rescue earlier today.”
“Rescue? I’m afraid I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Cardwell tried to keep his face blank but a small tic appeared at the corner of his left eye.
Hutch waved off the disclaimer. “Seems Ballinger and company weren’t too happy about my buddy’s out-of-jurisdiction deadly force. They were grilling him when I left.”
“Who are you? I didn’t catch your name.” The agent made no move to shake hands.
“That’s because I didn’t throw it.” Without being invited, Hutch sat in the guest chair closest to the desk and casually crossed his legs. “Hutchinson. Detective Ken Hutchinson.”
“My secretary said you had something important to tell me, which is the only reason I allowed her to show you in. Since I’ve been out all morning and am really swamped with work, I’d appreciate it if you’d cut to the chase, Mr. Hutchinson.”
“My partner’s brother, the one sweating like a pig behind me…” Hutch waved a hand over his shoulder, “has been in hiding since you two recognized each other outside Barber’s Grill three days ago.”
“He’s obviously not in hiding now,” Cardwell observed, with unconcealed sarcasm. “How did you happen to find him?”
“Before they took Starsky into interrogation, he told me where he suspected his brother was holed up.” Hutch, affecting an air of total unconcern, let his gaze wander around the room. “Having already given my statement about the kidnapping, I went where Starsky said. And there he was!”
“Good for you, you found him.” Cardwell didn’t bother to try and hide the mocking tone of his voice. “But why are you both here, if I may ask?”
“Ask away.” Hutch re-crossed his knees, hoping he wasn’t overdoing ‘nonchalance.’ “But like I said, Cardwell, can the act. Nick told me everything.”
“And what ‘everything’ would that be?”
Hutch dropped his offhand demeanor and drilled Cardwell with an icy look. “You’re in Cassidy’s back pocket, the reason he’s been able to avoid being put away like the scum he is! You’ve been his protection and safety net for years. His payoffs probably bought that house out on Fire Island. I hear it’s a real beauty.”
Cardwell shot another look at Nick that would have scorched his jacket if Hutch hadn’t raised his hand between them, drawing attention back to himself. “Forget the stoolie, Cardwell. This is between you and me now.”
Cardwell picked up a pack of cigarettes from the corner of his desk, shook one out and lit it with a cheap lighter. Hutch noticed the hands were shaking slightly. “Do I assume correctly that your companion is ‘Knack’? The informant my agent has been working with?”
“Damn, Cardwell! No wonder you climbed to the top of the Federal pile.” Hutch smiled with blatantly phony admiration. “You’re sharp!”
Cardwell attempted to convey aplomb by sucking on his cigarette. “So why are you here? If you believe him, why aren’t I in handcuffs already?”
Hutch shrugged. “When Nick told me your part in Cassidy’s continuing freedom, I figured it was time we met. You see, Cardwell, I don’t suffer from my partner’s scruples. I smell a tidy little payoff if Nick and I keep our mouths shut.”
“Yep. One hundred thousand dollars. I’m not greedy and you’ll never hear from me again. I’ll give some of it to Nick, of course, say twenty grand, but I’ll keep the rest. Starsky and I’ll go back to California, you and Cassidy go on doing what you’ve been doing.”
Cardwell’s face suddenly hardened. He ground the cigarette out in an ashtray, pushed his chair back and got to his feet. “Stand up!”
Hutch didn’t move. “Now why would I do that, when I’m so comfortable?”
“Because,” Cardwell snarled, “I’ll bet you’re wearin’ a nice little wire and someone’s trying to entrap me.”
“Oh, come on, Cardwell…” Hutch put on his best sneer. “You’ve been watching too much television.”
“If I do…” Hutch changed to his most threatening voice, “Nick and I will walk out of here and take what we know straight to Ballinger. We won’t get paid, of course, but that’s okay. I don’t need the money, my family’s very well off. I’m a cop only as long as I feel like being one.” He uncrossed his legs, put his hands on the arms of the chair, preparatory to rising, and stared at the SAIC. “What’ll it be, Cardwell? Deal with us? Or face the full wrath of the NYPD, and your own Bureau, when they find out how you’ve been abusing your position?”
Hutch could feel Nick, tense and scared, behind him but, thankfully, he didn’t bolt and remained mute.
After what seemed like a long time but was probably only ten seconds or so, Cardwell visibly deflated and dropped into his chair. He dug out another cancer stick and lit it.
Hutch sat back and re-crossed his legs. “That’s better.”
“What happens to Nick?” Cardwell’s voice was subdued but hard.
Hutch shrugged again and, out of the corner of his eye, saw Nick shudder. “I don’t care. I let Starsky talk me into coming here to find out what kind of trouble his brother had gotten himself into. Now that I know he’s basically a weasel at heart, after we get our deal with you and Cassidy, he’s on his own. My partner doesn’t have to know a thing about it.”
“Shut up, Nick!” Hutch kept his gaze locked on Cardwell as he spoke to the younger Starsky. “You’re only here because you didn’t want to have to face your own brother. So you’re going to need to think of a way to make yourself useful when we meet Mr. Cassidy.” He sent a conspiratorial smile toward the agent. “Hell, he’s got a tricky little mind, Cardwell, you and his former boss could probably find a niche for him.”
“Cassidy doesn’t like squealers.”
“Your problem, not mine.”
“One more word, Nicky, and you’re fish bait. I can see it in Mr. Cardwell’s eyes. You better put your thinkin’ cap on and come up with some reason why the man you’ve ratted out, and this nice FBI agent, will want to keep you around.” He turned and glared at the very pale Nick. “And don’t even consider asking your brother for help, or coming out to California for a fresh start. You’ve made your bed, kid, lie in it!”
“What is it you want from me, Mr. Hutchinson?” Cardwell asked.
Hutch shook his head as if disappointed. “You really need to work on your memory skills, Agent Cardwell. It’s Detective Hutchinson. I told you that. And all I want is an entrée to Cassidy. A formal introduction, as it were. We met under less than amicable circumstances this morning, but I’d like the next conversation to be a bit more civil.” He gestured toward the phone next to Caldwell’s elbow. “Call him! Get him over here! Tell him to bring fifty thousand dollars in small bills. He might not have that much in his back pocket so we’ll give him an hour. I guess we could take a check from you ‘cause I’ll go straight to your bank and cash it.”
“What you suggest presents a problem.” Cardwell pushed the phone away from himself. “You see, the storm last week took out telephone and electric service to most of Queens, Brooklyn and Staten Island. Both are already back up in the heavily populated areas but I’m afraid Gravesend is way down on the list of priorities.”
Making sure his tone was blasé, Hutch offered the obvious solution. “Take us there, then.”
“Won’t your partner be looking for you?” Cardwell asked. “Wonder where you went?”
“He knows I’ve gone after Nick. Maybe he wasn’t where I was told to look so I’m having to search. But it doesn’t really matter, it’ll be hours before the Sixty-Fifth is satisfied that he didn’t take the law into his own… You know the spiel.”
“Yes, I know it well.” Cardwell met Hutch’s eyes. “So, you want me to take you and Nick to meet Cassidy.”
“Nick already knows him, as you’re very well aware, and I’ve had the distinct displeasure.” Hutch put as much steel into his return gaze as possible. “But I figure if you two split the hundred thou payment, it won’t take too much of a bite out of your wallet. Or his.”
“Thoughtful of you.” Cardwell almost choked on the words.
“How did you get here?” Cardwell ground out his cigarette.
Hutch brushed invisible lint from his jacket. “Cab.”
“I have a car downstairs.” The agent pushed his chair back. “We’ll use that.”
“Peachy.” Hutch uncrossed his legs and got up.
“I told you, Nick…” Hutch turned and glared. “Shut up!”
In Boyer’s car half a block from the Federal Building, Boyer was behind the wheel with Gessell in the back. Starsky, in the shotgun seat, was sweating bullets. The sounds of several people leaving Cardwell’s office came through the recording device mounted between the dashboard and the front seat. A red light was stationary on the tracking unit next to the tape machine.
“Your partner’s good.” Gessell sounded impressed.
“Right the first time.”
Boyer smiled at the repeated phrase. “Try not to worry, Starsky. I’m sure my captain has units in place all around Cassidy’s warehouse by now. We won’t let anything happen to your brother, or your partner.”
“You have no idea how much I’m counting on that.”
Cardwell was driving the Mercedes out of the huge garage as he probably did everything else, with a sure, arrogant touch. The guard at the gate raised the barrier before the car had to slow, and saluted as it passed.
Nick, visibly uncomfortable but holding it together, was in the back seat. Hutch sent him a look of as much reassurance as he thought he could get away with, masked under a scowl, before he faced forward.
As soon as they’d cleared the underground facility, Cardwell opened the conversation, his voice sounding entirely too casual, to Hutch’s way of thinking. “Your partner must be a bit of a loose cannon, Detective. One dead and two seriously wounded?”
“Had much experience with partners have you, Cardwell?”
“I had one once.”
“Oh yeah?” Hutch hoped the recorder in Boyer’s car was getting this. “How’d that work out for you?”
Cardwell grimaced slightly. “Not very well.”
Hutch shifted so that he had a better view of the agent. “His personality wasn’t compatible?”
“More like he was a bit too inflexible.”
Hutch laughed out loud. “That’s the first time I’ve heard of honesty being synonymous with inflexibility.” Cardwell shrugged and Hutch thought the insouciance was only slightly forced. “What’d you do, get him transferred to Bisbee or some other backwater?”
Cardwell waited until he’d intimidated traffic into allowing him to turn left through a red light. “Let’s just say his widow is enjoying the minor benefits of his brief but spectacular career.”
Hutch turned more toward the agent. “I’ll bet you’ve never said that to another living soul, have you, Cardwell? You think you can brag to us because you’re sure we’ll both be dead soon.” He brought his left knee up on the seat and laced his fingers on top. “Well, allow me to dissuade you from that path, Mr. Special Agent In Charge. You see, before I came to your office, I spent a lot of money and sent an overnight shipment to my captain in Bay City with tape recordings and hard copies of every word Nick told me. They have chapter and verse of all Cassidy’s recent activities, plus the part we now know you’ve played in his remaining free and unobstructed for years. If Dobey doesn’t hear from me before he opens that package in the morning, you’ll go down.” He turned to face forward again. “Oh, maybe not immediately, but my captain’s a bulldog when one of his men’s been injured or killed. He won’t rest until you’re nailed. Trust me on that.”
The white knuckles on the steering wheel told Hutch Cardwell was paying attention. Lowering his voice and making it decidedly menacing, Hutch went on. “And that’s nothing compared to what my partner will do if I’m not back at the Sixty-Fifth in a couple of hours to haul his ass out of the fire.”
Hutch glanced over his shoulder at Nick and winked with the eye Cardwell couldn’t see. Apart from a very pale face, Nick seemed to be holding up pretty well. “As for killing the weasel in the back seat?” Hutch sent an icy glare toward Cardwell that should have frozen the air between them. “My partner may not like Nick very much but you probably understand the concept of family, even if you don’t have one. Believe me when I tell you that Starsky would never rest until you’re in a Federal prison for the rest of your life. Or dead. Preferably the latter, if I know my partner. And I do, Cardwell, I know my partner.”
Cardwell pulled to the curb on a narrow street, put the car in Park, and looked at Hutch. His gaze held unvarnished hatred, but also an overlay of what appeared to be caution. “How can I be sure you’ll go back to California. What guarantee do I have that I’ll never hear from you again? Blackmailers aren’t known for their integrity.”
“You have my word.” Cardwell snorted and Hutch nodded. “Of course, keeping the type of company you do, I’d expect you to disbelieve me.” He hardened his stare. “But trust me on this, Cardwell, when I give my word on something I keep it. I told you Starsky and I would leave and you’d never hear from me again. I meant that because I do not ever want to hear your name, or see your face, after today.”
Cardwell thought about that for a while before he put the car in gear.
Inside Boyer’s Crown Vic, which was parked on a sparsely traveled street, Starsky and Boyer were hunched over the recording and tracking devices. The red dot began to move.
Gessell was leaning over the seat back, his fists clenched. “Did Cardwell really imply what I inferred about his partner?”
“I’d start looking into that if I were you,” Starsky said. Then he gave the grim-faced agent a tight smile. “And thanks for using those two words in a sentence. I think I understand the difference now. Never could get ‘em straight.”
Boyer laughed, took his foot off the brake, and pulled back onto the street.
Cardwell drove the Mercedes onto the dock and parked next to the stretch Lincoln. On the landing at the top of a short flight of stairs the gunman from that morning’s limo ride got up from his folding chair. Even though he must have known who the black car belonged to, he drew his gun and stood sentry outside a door that obviously led into the refurbished warehouse.
“Come on in, gentlemen.” Cardwell opened his door.
Hutch put a hand on the agent’s arm and stopped him from getting out. “Not on your life, Cardwell. Or rather, not on mine!” He reached under his jacket and laid his borrowed Python across his lap. “Nick and I aren’t going anywhere.”
“But… I thought you wanted… what’s goin’ on?” Cardwell sputtered.
“Go inside and bring Cassidy out here. I’ll talk to him in the open, in what’s left of broad daylight.” He glanced out the window at the fast-falling dusk, tightening his grip on the .357. “At least out here I have cover, and a decent chance of defending myself. Your car might even be bullet proof and it’s certainly better than thin air.”
Cardwell hesitated, plainly detesting the position he was in. On the stoop, the gunman opened the door behind him and hollered something to someone inside.
“We’re going to have company soon, Cardwell,” Hutch pointed out. “Don’t you think you should keep them from coming out shooting? People could get hurt.”
Cardwell got out of the car, made a placating gesture in the guard’s direction, and started toward the stairs.
“THIS IS THE NYPD!” It was Boyer’s voice blaring through a bullhorn.
Nick bolted out the left side of the back seat. Hutch rolled under the steering wheel, out the driver’s door, and plastered himself on the kid’s back. Keeping the Mercedes between them and the steps, Hutch hurried Nick around to where they could crouch down behind the trunk.
“THE WAREHOUSE IS SURROUNDED. THROW ALL WEAPONS OUTSIDE AND COME OUT --”
Before the sentence could be completed, heavily armed men poured out the warehouse door, past the gunman, and down to ground level. Cardwell ran through them, pushed the guard aside, and disappeared into the building.
Starsky dashed out of the alley next to the warehouse and threw himself over Hutch and Nick. A bullet, fired from the direction of the stoop, kicked up asphalt near his right heel. He popped up, fired three rapid shots at the gunman at the top of the steps, realizing he hadn’t meant for the future smirk-wipe to be that final.
From an adjacent roof and alleys at both ends of the dock, shots took out every man who had exited the front of the warehouse. More gunfire from behind the building was undoubtedly taking care of those at the back.
With only one brief look between them, Starsky and Hutch sprinted for the steps and leaped up them. Starsky shoved the dead gunman off the stoop as Hutch yanked the door open. Starsky rolled in left, knowing Hutch was doing the same to the right. Starsky came up on his right knee, his left leg out to the side and braced. The Beretta he’d borrowed from the armory was solidly in both hands. “Police! Freeze!”
In his peripheral vision, Starsky saw Hutch end his roll to the right in a position mirroring his own, about ten feet away. The borrowed Python was equally steady and potentially deadly.
Cardwell and Cassidy, plus three others, were scrambling. Each had a gun or two in his hands but none appeared certain about where the threat would come from, the roof, back or front.
Led by Boyer, flak-jacketed NYPD officers piled into the room through the door Starsky and Hutch had entered. Numerous others surged in from the rear.
Lighting was dim, coming from a feeble Coleman lantern on the table in the middle of the large space, plus numerous candles scattered around on flat surfaces. Cigarette smoke was thick in the air.
Cardwell and Cassidy glared accusation and anger at each other but, when one of the lesser crooks dropped his guns, making a metallic racket, the two head honchos seemed to lose their last-man-standing attitudes. They placed their weapons on the table. The rest of the goons disarmed themselves and raised their hands.
Boyer motioned to his men. “Gather up everything that could remotely be considered a weapon and cuff these bastards. Check out the rooms upstairs.” His officers, avoiding crossing potential lines-of-fire, did as directed.
Neither Starsky nor Hutch moved from his rigid position until both the FBI agent and Cassidy had their hands securely restrained behind their backs and thorough searches had produced three more guns and two knives.
Hutch’s happy smile warmed Starsky’s heart and he began to relax until he noticed Cassidy’s expression harden. Glancing over his shoulder, Starsky saw his brother standing in the doorway. “You shouldn’t be here, Nick!”
“I just wanted to see their faces.”
“Okay, you’ve seen ‘em,” Starsky snapped. “Now stay outta the way!”
Hutch guided Nick to a clear spot against the wall.
“Hey, Starsky,” Boyer called. “Is this your luggage?”
Starsky waited for Hutch and they walked over to where Boyer was standing next to their missing duffle. Handing Starsky his borrowed .357, Hutch squatted down and unzipped the bag. Right on top were the holstered Python and Beretta. “All’s well that ends well…” Hutch quoted.
“I suppose,” Starsky finished, with a grin.
Hutch could hardly remember everything he and Starsky had to go through after the take-down. It all blurred into repetitive statements, both at the scene and down at the precinct, giving the gun he hadn’t fired back to the armory and having Boyer officially return his own.
After that, it was riding over to the theater in the wee hours of the morning and reveling in Ruth’s happy tears, before finally being driven, with her, his partner, and Nick, to her apartment.
“Can I stay at your place, Ma?” Nick asked from the back seat. “I don’t really feel like goin’ home.”
“Of course, dear.” Her quiet monotone made Hutch realize how tired she had to be.
“Get some sleep people.” Boyer pulled up at the curb and put the car in park. “You all did good work yesterday and the NYPD won’t forget it.”
“Can you come for dinner tonight, Jim?” Ruth asked.
“Ma!” Nick protested.
“Hush, Nicky,” she said. “I’m inviting this nice man to have dinner with a houseful of near-felons.” She smiled at Boyer. “Bring your wife. We’ll do our best to be a civilized family.” Casting a significant look toward her two sons in the back seat, she added, “for once.”
Boyer laughed heartily. “It would be my pleasure, Ruth. I’m not married though. I hope that doesn’t negate the invitation.”
Hutch was sure Ruth blushed that time. “Of course not. Shall we say six? Or is that too early?”
“That’ll be perfect.” Boyer hopped out of the car, ran around and opened her door for her, handing her out. He didn’t let go while Nick, Starsky and Hutch climbed from the back seat. “Detectives Russell and Dailey will gather your belongings from the theater and bring them over this afternoon. I look forward to learning much, much more about all the Starskys tonight.” He turned to Hutch. “I assume you’re almost a member of the family, Hutchinson.”
“Oh yes!” Ruth slipped her arm around Hutch’s waist. “He’s my other California son.”
“Six o’clock then!” Boyer jogged around the front end of the car, got in, dropped it in gear, and burned rubber down the street.
Hutch hadn’t thought the Crown Vic would have been capable of such acceleration. He was also thinking of how much younger Boyer acted, even after all the stress and strain of the prior nineteen hours.
Upstairs, Ruth, with apologies for fading on them, disappeared into her bedroom. Hutch and Starsky helped Nick make up the couch.
“Uh, Davey, listen, I, uh, ” Nick hugged a pillow to his chest. “I just wanted to --”
“Not tonight, Nick.” Starsky sounded as tired as Hutch felt. “Let’s get some sleep. We’ll talk tomorrow.” He glanced at his watch. “Well, later today.” He pulled his younger brother into a hug. “Okay?”
Nick nodded. “Okay.”
Starsky led the way to the small bedroom he and Nick had shared as kids. When the door was closed behind them, he undressed Hutch, mindful of bruised ribs and abraded wrists. With his hands resting lightly against the Ace bandage, he looked into Hutch’s eyes. “This should probably stay on for tonight.”
“Whatever.” Hutch was suddenly short of breath and it wasn’t from his injuries.
“We’ll see how bad the bruises look in the morning.”
“It’s morning now, remember?”
Starsky pulled the covers down on the nearest twin bed. “Hope you won’t mind being crowded.”
Rather than answer, Hutch drew his partner close and kissed him.
Starsky eyed the second bed against the wall, as if still unsure. “We could push ‘em together. Spread the covers over both. Make more room.”
Hutch laid down on the narrow mattress. “You talk too much.”
Starsky turned the bedside lamp off and shed his clothing, illuminated by streetlights only. As worn out as he was, Hutch’s libido overcame his weariness. Starsky turned him on without even trying.
Starsky climbed on the bed and straddled his hips. “Warm enough, babe? Want the covers over you?”
“Nope. You’re more than hot enough for me, pal.”
“Do I get my soft, wet kisses now?”
“Oh, yeah.” Starsky applied the first one with a feather-light touch. “A promise is a promise.”
After dinner that night they were all sitting around the dining room table, cups of coffee and dishes of ice cream in front of them. Ruth was at the end near the kitchen, the chair at the opposite end was vacant. Hutch figured it was possible that no one had sat there since her husband died. To her right were Starsky and Nick, while Hutch sat to her left.
Boyer, next to Hutch, had a satisfied gleam in his eyes. “Cassidy’s remaining goons are squealing like stuck pigs, each one trying to provide more evidence against his boss than the next. Cop shops from Maine to Florida are lining up to get a piece of the action.”
Starsky had an overly-serious look on his face. “May I see a show of hands from all those who feel sorry for him?”
Hutch noticed that even the mild-mannered, usually forgiving Ruth didn’t so much as twitch a finger.
Boyer seemed to take pride in the Starskys’ unity and lack of sympathy for Cassidy. He ate another spoonful of ice cream. “Also, in case you’re interested, a few federal prosecutors will probably make their careers off Cardwell. Gessell’s already told anyone who’ll listen that he’s going to make sure all of his former boss’s shenanigans are exposed. There will be no cover up. The Bureau brass aren’t happy but I don’t think Gessell cares. He’s in line to be appointed as the new SAIC and he’s so embarrassed by what Cardwell was able to get away with for so long, he won’t be denied.”
Boyer sat for a minute, clearly thinking of the ramifications of the previous day’s activities. “If Tom does the job I think he will, he’ll end up being the kind of agent Cardwell should have been.”
“Besides, maybe a little embarrassment will be good for those guys at the top.” Starsky picked up his bowl and licked it.
“David!” Ruth gasped. “Manners!”
Boyer laughed. “Let the man enjoy himself, Ruth. He’s earned it!”
Ruth looked at Hutch, trying her best not to laugh. “Does he do things like that at your place, Ken?”
“I’ll never tell, Mom.” Hutch got a ‘you better not’ glare from his partner.
“Gessell also told me,” Boyer went on, “that he’s going to have you, Nick, officially credited with the most important part in bringing Cardwell down.”
Nick almost choked. “What?”
“You heard me.” Boyer’s smile erased most of the lines on his face. “An official commendation. And it’s my understanding that the Bureau doesn’t give out many of those.”
“Congratulations, Nick!” Starsky slapped his brother on the back. “Maybe you can parlay that into a job somewhere.”
“Maybe he can.” Boyer left the sentence hanging.
“What do you mean, Jim?” Ruth raised an eyebrow. “You’re considering something, I can see it.”
“Well…” Boyer went no further.
“Go on, Boyer,” Starsky prodded. “Spill it.”
Boyer put his spoon down and sent a no-nonsense stare at the younger Starsky. “I told your brother that I’ve watched you, Nick. You’re floundering, don’t know what you want to do. But I hope, after everything that’s happened, you know now what you don’t want to do.”
Nick tore his eyes away from Boyer’s intense gaze. “Yeah. You could say that.”
“Good!” Boyer picked up his spoon again and dug into the remainder of his dessert. “Because I’m going to offer you a job.”
Startled looks were exchanged around the table. Nick had to clear his throat before he could manage, “What kind of job, sir?”
“‘Sir’!” Boyer laughed. “I like that. Shows there’s hope for you, son.” He finished his ice cream and pushed the dish away. Folding his arms on the table he leaned toward Nick. “I’m sixty years old, kid, set to retire from the department in two months. Goin’ to work for my brother-in-law over in Newark. I want you to come with me.” He sat back and patted his stomach, contentedly, before sending Ruth a winning smile. “That was a wonderful dinner, Ruth. Thank you so much for inviting me.”
“Your gift of the wine was appreciation enough.” She took a sip from her glass.
“Boyer,” Starsky said, an edge to his voice, “quit courting my mother and get on with it! What kind of job are you offering my kid brother?”
Hutch found his partner’s foot under the table with the toe of his shoe and rubbed the ankle. Starsky looked at him, nodded, and settled.
“Ralph Easterly, my sister’s husband,” Boyer explained, “owns a great big security firm. He’s older than I am though, and wants to retire next year. He’s asked me to come over and be his Chief of Operations until then. At which point I’ll move up to his CEO slot. He’s aware of my age and knows I’m not going to want to be on the treadmill indefinitely either, so he says I need to bring someone I trust along. Someone we can groom to take over when I’m finally ready to pack it all in.”
“Uh,” Nick stumbled. “Why me?”
“I told you.” Boyer’s tone was solemn. “I’ve watched you. You’re a good man and I think all you need is the chance to prove that to yourself. And maybe to your mom and brother, too. The way you handled yourself through everything yesterday proved it to me.” He grinned. “Besides, Gessell’s sold on you.”
“But…” Nick’s eyes darted around the table. “I nearly got people killed over the mess I was into.”
Boyer sat back. “Are you tryin’ to talk me out of givin’ you this job?”
“No!” Nick gulped. “Of course not.” Clearly flustered, he turned to Starsky. “What should I do, Davey?”
Starsky put his hands up, palms out. “Don’t look at me, kiddo.” Although the words were stern, there was a smile in his voice. “You gotta make this decision on your own. However…” he added, a twinkle in his eye, “if you’ll take a little brotherly advice, you’ll say ‘yes, please, and thank you very much’ to the nice man and then go work your fanny off for him and Mr. Easterly.”
Nick’s look of uncertainty cleared and he smiled. A smile, Hutch noticed, almost as beautiful as his brother’s.
“Okay. Sure. You bet!” He reached across the table to shake Boyer’s hand. “Thanks Detective.”
“Jim. I think, when we go over to meet Ralph next week, you can call me Jim.”
Boyer nodded, satisfaction and relief on his face. “Ralph and I will teach you the security business, Nick, and, who knows? In ten years you could be making six figures protecting oil sheiks and big business types.”
“Don’t swell his head, yet, Boyer,” Starsky cautioned. “Teach him all the ropes first before you start putting dollar signs in his avaricious eyes.”
Nick looked at Starsky, as serious an expression on his face as Hutch had ever seen. “I won’t let you down this time, Davey.”
Starsky put his hand behind Nick’s neck and brought their foreheads together. “I know you won’t.” Applause broke out all around the table. Starsky flicked the back of Nick’s head and drew away. “Hutch and I’ll hold you to that promise.”
Ruth stood up, picked up her wine glass and held it high. Everyone else stood also and raised their glasses. “To my sons,” she said, proudly. “All three of them!”
“Hear, hear,” was Boyer’s hearty response.
Arms were extended above the center of the table and glasses were clinked together before sips were taken.
As everyone sat down, Hutch realized Starsky was staring at him. He knew he and his best friend, partner and lover would celebrate this unexpectedly happy outcome to what had started out to be a disaster just as soon as they got home. Even if the mess with the Albert brothers was still pending, he and Starsky would weather it. Together.
Fear and a cruel hoax
A day of pain, plans and trust