It all started February 21st, 1975 . . .
Officer Ken Hutchinson tried to get comfortable in the confines of the Boeing 727’s seat. He was supposed to be on vacation, traveling from Duluth to the Big Apple to visit, of all people, his estranged wife. But relaxation was as out of his reach as the sun, and as far from his mind as the lakes of Minnesota were from the streets of New York. He gazed out of the airplane’s window at the vast expanse of midwestern America below. A view of the Great Lakes in all their blueish-gray glory gave him a small bit of comfort.
Ken had grown up on the shores of Gitche Gumee, Lake Superior. After college, he took a job serving and protecting the good folk of Duluth, to the dismay of his lawyer father who had hoped for grander things from his only son. It may not have been the most prestigious job in the world, but it made Ken feel good to help regular people, not just those with big bank accounts. Then Ken met Nancy - a gorgeous daughter of the big sea waters - and he’d been blown away. He couldn’t believe his luck when she agreed to marry him. What’s more, he thought he’d heard his father breathe a sigh of relief when they said their “I dos,” since Ken had been known to walk on the wild side from time to time.
For awhile, Ken thought his life wasn't half bad. Until it was. His fair maiden became restless for bigger and better things and moved to the hills of Beverly, California, leaving him and his tin star of a badge far behind. Then one day, she’d called out of the blue and invited him to New York, where she was working on a show.
Maybe Nan - I mean Van-es-sa - really wants to work things out this time, Ken told himself in one of his frequent one-sided conversations. Offering to buy my round trip ticket’s gotta mean something, right? I should be happy that she got a chance to work for… what was it again? Oh, yeah. Fashion Week at House of Dior, in New York City. Good job remembering where you’re going, Hutchinson. He watched out the window as clouds, like wisps of white cotton candy, passed by, but his mind was fixed on his bride.
To say that Vanessa was beautiful was an understatement. She had a stunning figure and the fine features of her face were crowned by a silken mass of chestnut hair. Ken couldn’t really blame her for not wanting to hide all that gorgeousness in a rustic hideaway like Duluth, where her biggest admirers had only been elk and fishermen. She’d left her cop husband more than a year earlier, assuring Ken that it wasn’t a permanent separation, just a chance for her to find herself.
I guess the House of Dior beats the hovel of Hutchinson any day. If I can only remember that my little Nancy Sunshine from Minnesota is now ‘Vanessa’ the one-name supermodel, I might not piss her off right away. At least not in the first five minutes anyway.
Nancy’s ambition and red hot looks helped her quickly land a job with the Rodeo Drive Committee, a conglomerate of upscale fashion design houses and other businesses intent on making Rodeo Drive, Beverly Hills, the premiere shopping district in all of California - dedicated to a culturally elite lifestyle, of course. Nancy had made herself indispensable and versatile to the Committee, doing everything from modeling for private collectors to running advertising campaigns for runway shows. It was only natural that she change her plain-Jane name to something more suited to her glamourous new lifestyle.
Compared to the haute-couture fashion industry, a cop in Duluth is about as exciting to Nan, make that Vanessa as, well... haute-couture is to me. Ken’s thoughts were as tense as his jaw muscles. ‘She may have a point. I spend most of my time prying frying pans out of the hands of irate housewives and writing up broken tail light violations. But I wish Vanessa could appreciate the other things I do. Heck, I talked a jumper off the Lester River Bridge a few months back, and just last week I took down an armed robber. Okay – technically a jazzed up teen with a pellet gun.
Nancy’s - make that Vanessa’s - latest and greatest coup was being chosen to oversee a portion of The House Of Dior fashion show in New York. She had even gained permission from Elizabeth Taylor to display her fabulous Le Peregrina Pearl necklace alongside the pearl-embellished Dior collection, all to be protected with pricey state of the art security of course.
When Vanessa had told Ken about the show she’d also let him in on her ulterior motive, backed by the Rodeo Drive Committee, of seducing the House of Dior into opening a store in Beverly Hills.
I have ambitions, too, he’d thought a dozen times from his end of the phone. He’d passed the detective's exam and lined up a job with the homicide division of Bay City Police Department but decided to wait and tell her in person. He hoped it would be a wow factor in restoring their shaky relationship.
Bay City may be a redneck cousin twice removed from Beverly Hills, but the commute is good and I can afford to live there on a detective's pay. We’ll be able to see each other at least every weekend. She should be pleased with that, I hope.
Ken tried to stretch out his long legs in the limited space provided. Boeing definitely hadn’t had anyone over six foot in mind when they designed commercial seating. His audible sigh caught the attention of his seat companion, whom he’d inadvertently disturbed. The fortyish man in a wool blend business suit seemed nonplussed and struck up a conversation.
“Don’t like flying much do you?” He gave Ken a knowing smile.
Oh, man. Mr. Bad Suit wants to talk. Not exactly at the top of my ‘to do’ list right now. Oh well. Being polite doesn't mean having to be eloquent.
“Don’t fly much. Don’t care for it,” Ken mumbled.
“I fly all the time. New York to Los Angeles at least twice a month. Let me tell you my secret,” Mr. Suit explained. Just as Ken began to consider whether a job as a traveling salesman sounded any better than his own, the man leaned in and whispered conspiratorially, “When you get to your hotel, take off your shoes and socks and make fists with your toes in the carpet. Make you feel like a million bucks.” Ken’s temporary best friend nodded and winked. “Something to do with air pressure and blood circulation.”
Ken worked up a half-hearted smile as a stewardess appeared with a cart of food. Great. Not all the kooks are locked up in city jail. Thank all that’s merciful that our dinner is here. Rubbery chicken trumps nutty travel advice every time.
To be continued . . .
Ken wasn’t expecting the shiny limousine that arrived to pick him up at the LaGuardia terminal. He was more used to dull yellow cabs that smelled of unwashed bodies and stale cigarettes. The driver, a lanky dark-skinned man sporting a quilted denim suit and matching hat, introduced himself as Huggy Bear. He took Ken’s bags then smiled toothily when Ken opened the front passenger door himself and got in.
“Hey, man. The beautiful people are supposed to hang out in the back.”
“I like to watch where I’m going. Besides, I’m not really a limo kind of guy.” Ken explained.
“I hear ya, bro.” Huggy said as deposited Ken’s bags in the back seat and climbed back in behind the wheel. “I’m not really a limo driver kinda guy.”
“I guess that explains the getup,” Ken said with a nod to Huggy’s clothes, quickly deciding he liked the quirky driver. “That doesn’t exactly follow any limo company’s dress code I’ve even seen.”
“I’m just filling in for my cuz. You’re welcome to sit wherever you want, but the back seat has does have its lures. That’s where the booze is.” Huggy pulled out into the crazy airport traffic, ignoring the horns and obscenities that were hurled at them.
“Not interested in drinking right now, buddy,” Ken said between gritted teeth. “I’m going to meet my wife at her swanky job with Dior and I need my wits about me.”
Huggy tapped his horn, apparently just because he could. “Oh, ho! A kept man, huh. Must be nice.”
Ken bristled a little. He could accept that Vanessa was earning more than he was and told himself that his masculinity wasn’t threatened by the fact. What bothered him more was that he hadn’t had sex with his wife for over six months. Was it unmanly to crave physical intimacy? But Mr. Bear didn't need to know that detail.
“Not much to keep,” Ken responded with a shrug. “I’m fairly low maintenance. Actually I’m a cop. One of Duluth, Minnesota’s finest.”
“A midwestern cop? I bet you fit right in at a fashion extravaganza,” Huggy’s comment was highlighted with skepticism. “You even own a tux?”
“As a matter of fact I do. I've been told I clean up pretty well. I figure as long as I keep my opinions to myself and lay off the bubbly, I can make my way around a cocktail party with the best of them.”
The look Huggy gave him was appraising and his voice became as smooth as aged bourbon. “I bet you can, my blond brother.”
Is Huggy actually flirting with me? Ken smirked. It had been years since he'd sampled the grass on that side of the fence, but the attention felt good. He couldn’t remember when anyone had come on to him so blatantly, and it shored up his dwindling self-esteem. “I’m a married man, Mr. Bear. Keep your eyes on the road.”
Huggy guffawed, glad he hadn’t offended the good looking cop. “Okay, Blondie. Just testing the waters. Maybe I’ll head out to Duluth some time if all the boys there are as fine as you.”
“I’m going to be moving on myself hopefully. I’m planning to take a job in Bay City, California. To be near my wife’s work. She has an office in Beverly Hills.”
Huggy looked thoughtful. “Bay City? Hummm. Sunshine, palm trees and babes by the bay? I’ll have to look into that. These New York Februaries are not my style. They say there might be snow tomorrow. One flake of snow and New Yorkers go batshit crazy. All head out to buy bread, eggs and milk. Like they’re all jonesin’ for French toast. Snow doesn’t freak me out. I hail from Chicago myself. Two words for you. Lake Effect.”
Ken threw back his head and laughed, knowing just what Huggy meant. Nothing was colder or more unpredictable than snow blowing off the Great Lakes - unless it was his wife.
As Huggy Bear negotiated the bumper car rally disguised as New York traffic with aplomb, Ken forced himself to relax, but raised an eyebrow when Huggy swerved around a truck flashing its emergency lights whose driver had stopped to unload a refrigerator in the middle of the street.
A few minutes later Huggy pulled up in front of the East Fifty-Seventh Street entrance of the House of Dior. Ken let his bright blue eyes follow the glass and steel structure up to the sliver of sky above. He was reluctantly impressed by the skyscraper fronted by an elegant, tiled boutique that was open to the public. The simple word ‘Dior’ was all the sign over the door needed to say.
Huggy gave a one finger salute to a passing cabbie who’d beeped his horn, indicating he wanted their spot. “Hey, man. You want me to stick around for a while?” Huggy asked Ken. “I’m at your beck and call till the morning. You think the wife is gonna welcome you with open arms?”
Ken sighed heavily as he contemplated his fate. While he'd grown resigned to being on his own, he hadn't exactly enjoyed it. A friendly ally would be a nice change of pace. “Maybe you should stay put till I find out where I’m supposed to be.”
Huggy nodded. He reached under the seat for one of the portable CB radios he used to call the office and handed it to Ken. “Here! You can talk to me on this. The signal doesn’t carry far, but it has most of the channels truckers use and the emergency channel is 19. I’ll be on channel 6. My call sign is ‘The Chicago Bear.’ What’ll be yours?”
Ken turned the dial on the radio on and off, making sure it worked. It did. “How about ‘The Blond Brother’? I kinda like the sound of that,” he smiled and said.
Ken hit the sidewalk and pocketed the CB radio, not realizing that he'd flashed his holstered Magnum until Huggy rolled down the window and called out, “You sure you don’t need any help with that big thing you’re carrying, Blondie?”
Ken grinned wickedly and gave Huggy a salute with one hand, while he discretely grabbed his own crotch with the other. “I’ll call you if I need a hand, Mr. Bear.”
Huggy’s response was to chuckle and fan himself.
Ken grabbed his bags from the limo and managed to get through Dior’s revolving door without dropping anything. It was a close call. Once inside, he stopped to take in the decadent lobby. Glass, mirrors, metal and light filled every space with an overwhelming glow. Tasteful, silkscreened banners lined the walls behind the main counter with information about fashion week and the various shows.
The Le Peregrina Pearl held court in an impenetrable glass case with an armed guard standing by. Slightly to the right was another glass case displaying an array of exquisite jewelry sparkling with pearls and other precious stones. On a round carpeted platform, fine tailored linen dresses on glowing mannequins reflected the lustrous creams and muted undertones of the famous necklace. Vanessa’s contribution to Fashion Week was perfection.
Ken never felt more like a poor country relation. He could almost hear the designer couture garments gasping in shock at his well-worn blue jeans, plaid shirt, varsity jacket and earth shoes. At least his earth shoes were new.
Ever the cop, he took in not only the details of his physical surroundings but also the people nearby. It was near closing time for the public boutique and the last remaining customers were being given the bum’s rush by several silk voiced, elegant sales people. Rail-thin models and haughty upper management types paraded through the hallways. The area in front of the elevators was crowded with employees who filled the air with tinny laughter and catty whispers about the fashion show being held that evening.
Not seeing Vanessa among any of the various groups, Ken walked over for a closer look at the stunning Le Peregrina Pearl but quickly found himself out flanked by a second armed guard.
“Excuse me, Sir. You seem to be lost. We are not a hostel.”
Ken fought the urge to lay the haughty rent-a-cop out cold and cuff him to the nearest well-dressed dummy.
“My name is Ken Hutchinson. Officer Ken Hutchinson, Duluth PD. I’m supposed to be meeting my wife here. I believe there is a suite in this joint with my name on it.”
“Bzzzzz. Sorry, buddy. Try again. I've been here for ten years and I know for sure there are no Hutchinsons working here.”
“Listen you…” The click of high heels on polished tile stopped Ken in mid-tirade. A gorgeous woman in a peach cocktail dress was walking briskly their way. The beaded top of her dress curved over amble breasts, catching the light and dazzling the eye. It took Ken a few seconds to realize that this was Nancy - his Nancy. Make that Vanessa.
“Kenneth, darling! You’re here at last!” Vanessa greeted him with affected animation. “How I’ve missed you. You look tired, rough flight?” The sophisticated creature gave him a peck on the cheek, then turned to the guard and without taking a breath ordered, “Mason, take my husband’s bags to the VIP suite on ten, will you?”
Ken’s voice stuck in his throat. No one had called him “Kenneth” since his fifth grade Sunday school teacher.
The guard stammered out a, “certainly, Miss Vanessa. Umm, which floor?”
Vanessa closed her eyes for a moment as if in pain. “Tenth floor, Mason. Eight and nine are still being renovated. But the suites on ten are open. Surely you are aware of that, being a guard and all?”
Mason seemed to shrink right before their eyes. “I’m sorry. I didn't know your husband was arriving. I had no idea you were a Mrs. Hutchinson.”
Vanessa gave a slight sniff while Ken stiffened and wondered yet again if he still had a wife. “Just take care of the bags, Mason.” She dismissed the guard with a wave of her hand and grabbed Ken’s arm. Ken got the sneaking suspicion he was about to be shuffled out of sight until Vanessa could clean him up and make him presentable. He shifted out of her hold and smacked Mason’s hand away before he could reach the bags. Even if Mason was a jerk, he was a guard not a porter.
“I got these, Mason. I’m sure you have other people to hassle before you have to go home and polish your bullets.”
Vanessa rolled her eyes and recaptured Ken’s arm. This time he offered no resistance. She led him down the hall chattering non-stop about her hectic schedule and the upcoming show until they stepped inside an elevator.
Before Ken could say a word, they were joined by a leggy model-type with a pixie face framed by extremely short and unnaturally platinum hair. Leggy was flanked by two men who appeared to be her bodyguards. Both had long blond hair and muscular physiques underneath matching suits and held their hands behind their backs like good little soldiers, obviously enjoying guarding this particular body. The suited bookends weren't exactly identical, however. One’s hair was tied back in a stringy ponytail, revealing a nasty scar on his cheek.
A short weasel of a man slipped in just before the door closed. He twitched a smile at Vanessa, but then was almost immediately pushed into the corner, making him snort, fidget and spring up and down on his toes, like an obnoxious kid trying to see what the adults were doing.
As the group was whisked upwards, Leggy caught Ken’s appraising eye and brazenly kept it. “Good evening,” she said in a lilting European accent. “What striking blue eyes you have, Cowboy. You must be one of the new models for House of Dior.” She smiled seductively as she raked her eyes up and down his body.
Ken smiled back, finding the woman’s accent, as well as her open perusal, intriguing. Cowboy, is it? Yippee ki yay. Maybe I should come to New York more often. I’ve gotten hit on twice in the space of fifteen minutes. Up north, I blend in with all the rest of the blue-eyed blonds.
He opened his mouth, but Vanessa broke in before he could respond. ”He’s an out of town visitor, VIP you know, and he’s with me.”
The elevator sounded their arrival at the tenth floor, cutting off any further chance for conversation. Ken heard laughter come from behind the elevator door as it slid closed, an oddly wicked sound. Vanessa just grabbed his arm and led the way to the VIP suite.
Once inside the sumptuous suite, Ken gave a wolf whistle and dumped his bags on the floor. He spun around, taking in the king size bed and rich furnishings. Even he could tell the artwork on the walls were originals rather than prints from Sears, and probably cost a king’s ransom. The window provided a spectacular view of New York’s fashion district.
‘Wow, Nan! Ain’t nothin’ like this in Duluth. Shucks.”
Vanessa gave another pained smile and picked up Ken’s suit bag, hanging it in a hidden closet by the door. “It’s Vanessa, darling. Don’t forget that tonight. And please, don’t do your backwoods hick routine, either. It doesn’t suit you. We both know how articulate you can be when you want.”
Ken closed his eyes to the awe-inspiring urban view and the reproval on Vanessa’s face. He desperately wanted this trip to re-set their relationship. He cared for Vanessa, he really did. They had their differences but he’d told himself every day since she’d left that they could work them out. And he was so damn tired of being alone. The macho, lone wolf thing is overrated. But, Christ, Vanessa’s high falutin tone is already grating on my nerves. There was a time when the simple life was just fine for them both.
Let’s try this again. He reopened his eyes and approached her, drawing her close.
“I won’t act out tonight. I’m sorry, Vanessa, It’s great to see you. You look fantastic. And I missed you so much.” He kissed her glossed lips gently while still trying to convey his eagerness. When she graciously allowed him access to more, his fingers became lost in the wilds of her hair and his mind got tangled up in desire.
Too soon, she was pulling back. “Kenneth,” she whispered huskily in between kisses. “I told you my schedule in the elevator. I don’t have the time, right now to… get reacquainted. I have a million things to do. I’m not even dressed and I’m the emcee for the show tonight. I’d hoped you would understand.”
Ken moved past Vanessa’s mouth to press his lips against her neck as she began to push him away. “Stay here, beautiful,” he murmured, trying to sound more seductive than pleading. “I can’t get enough of you.”
She wasn’t falling for either tactic. “Ken, please!” She pushed him away more forcefully. “I have to get to my suite on the fifth floor. I’m behind as it is.”
Ken frowned in confusion. He’d missed something and it was big. “Why aren’t I staying with you?”
“I have a reputation as ‘Vanessa,’” she explained proudly. “As one of the Dior’s top models, I have private studio specifically set up to prepare for shows. It’s essential. I have specialized vanity set up for my makeup and closets for my wardrobe. And a bed of course.”
“With a bed? That’s handy isn’t it? Does anyone here know you are a married lady?” What’s going on here. Is she ashamed of me?
“I won’t stand here and be insulted. You know my career is important to me. I can’t massage your ego right now.”
Ken’s ego wasn’t exactly what he wanted messaged and after the long flight and limo ride that could have doubled as a demolition derby, his patience was stretched thin. “I could use a good massage. Maybe I should find someone to give me one since my wife can’t find the time.”
Vanessa scowled, placing her hands on her perfectly sized hips. “Have you been cheating on me, husband? Have you found some lounge lizard to fulfill your base needs?”
“No! Damnit. Have you?” Not that he was a Neanderthal, but sex was important to him. He wasn't about to deny it. Scratch that. Sex you could get on practically any street corner. What he craved was intimacy. Trust. Ken reached for her wrist, noticing for the first time the expensive Black Moon watch wrapping it with dark gems and a glowing dial. He felt a sucker punch to his gut. He couldn’t have afforded to buy Vanessa something like that on his salary. “This is new.”
Vanessa shook her hand impatiently out of his grasp. “It was a gift from Antoine De Pardo, the regional manager for Dior. It’s for a promotion of a brand-new watch design. He gave it to me to show off tonight and because of the outstanding work I do.”
“I bet.” Ken knew he was doing everything wrong, he just didn’t know how to make it right. But she wasn’t making it easy.
“I can’t talk to you when you get like this. And you always get like this.” Vanessa tossed her luxurious dark hair in a display of haughty indignance. “I’m sorry I can’t stay and work this out right now. I’ll see you after the show.”
She walked towards the door gesturing vaguely around the room. “There is a wet bar and a full mini-fridge in the large armoire, a TV and stereo system in the smaller one. I have a new 'Dior For Men' tux for you in the closet, along with patent leather shoes and all the accessories you need. A welcome basket of Dior grooming products is in the bathroom.”
As Vanessa passed a mirror, she caught her reflection and ran a hand down her hair in a gesture that was practically a caress. “Try out the skin bracer. It smells divine. The show starts at nine at the mezzanine showroom. Don’t be late.”
The way she’d turned from lover to commandant told Ken he’d fucked up again. But damn if he knew how to change who he was. As she walked out of the room, Ken spoke softly. “Vanessa, I’m sorry.”
She turned back to give him a smile that never reached her eyes. “You always are.”
To be continued . . .
Ken watched the door close then ripped off his jacket and flung it wildly after her. Damn, Hutchinson, you did it again. The jacket hit the solid wood with a satisfying thud. Too late he remembered the CB radio in the pocket.
He walked over to pick up the radio and looked it over. It seemed fine so he tossed it on the bed. He removed his gun and holster and placed them carefully beside the radio.
His plaid shirt and favorite green tee followed his jacket, flung haphazardly on a sleek, crushed velvet upholstered chair. He absently rubbed his now naked chest, then opened the closet and tried not to drool over the extravagant tuxedo, expertly tailored and satin lined, that hung there.
Makes my old one from the policeman’s ball look like a skid row reject. Shit. Shit. Shit and damn, Ken hit his forehead with his palm. I forgot to bring a white tee for the tux.
Rummaging through the closet, Ken found several boxes and bags on the top shelf. Ah! Leave it to Vanessa to not overlook the details. Wife beaters aren’t exactly my style, but I guess it goes with.
Ken pulled a sleeveless vest-style tee out of one of the packages and tried it on. It was softer and of a much better quality than his usual thrift store undershirts. He gave his arm pits the obligatory manly sniff test. Definitely time for a shower. He wandered over to the bed again, sat down and toed off his earth shoes.
I’m not sure I like these negative heel shoes. I support the idea and they are comfortable but I always feel like I’m going uphill and getting nowhere. The story of my life. God! I feel like crap. I wonder if that guy on the plane was right about that toe thing.
Ken pulled off his socks. He grasped the carpet with his toes, thinking back to what his seat buddy from the plane had said about rubbing his toes in the carpet to make himself feel better. By now he was so aggravated he’d try anything. He went through the motion with his toes several times, noting how the luxurious pile was so much thicker than a Red Roof Inn, and actually began to relax. The headache that had been nagging him began to fade.
“I’ll be damned. It works!” He said out loud.
Maybe I should have asked Mr. Suit for some advice about women, since I’m apparently getting nowhere on my own. I never even got to tell Vanessa about making detective or my new job. Not that I could get a word in, with Nan rattling on. That’s always been a problem with us - too much talk and not enough listening.
I wanted to tell her about the job in Bay City, about how Captain Dobey seemed like a gruff character, but the picture on his desk of him holding his daughter at her Christening showed another side of him. Not that I’m much of a church goer myself, but it couldn’t hurt to be around someone who believes in prayer. The area was beautiful too. I think Van would love Venice Beach. Maybe I could find a little house on one of the canals.
Ken ran a hand through his hair despondently and paced the room.
Captain Dobey said homicide detectives work in teams. It would be nice to have backup in a tight situation. Someone to bounce ideas off, other than just a stranger in a plane. Hell, it would be nice just to have someone to shoot the breeze with. It’s been a while since I had a friend. Shit, nice fantasy you’ve got going here, Hutchinson. Any partner of mine would probably think I was a midwestern jerk. I’d bore him to tears on ride-alongs and stakeouts talking about my pathetic love life - or lack of one.
He stopped and looked out at the city skyline.
Oh, Nan. What happened to us? Good going, Hutchinson. You just had to push her buttons. I mean she went all out setting me up in these fancy digs. I never even thanked her. I’m a piece of work. Couldn’t keep it on simmer for a few more hours. I’ll be lucky to get a conjugal visit tonight. I’ll have to be real smooth and unruffle her feathers after her show.
His determination renewed, Ken stood and stretched, ready to shower, shave and dress. Yeah, I’ll be the most perfect ‘kept man’ the Big Apple has ever seen.
Just then, the unmistakable sound of machine gun fire erupted in his ears from somewhere below.
“What the hell?”
Screams and shouts echoed up from the lower floors. Another barrage of gunfire exploded, this time much closer, perhaps just a few doors down. Foot falls pounded intermittently, as if going from room to room, then stopped just outside his suite. Ken automatically reached for his gun and the radio. Apparently, cops never get vacation. He flattened himself to the wall beside the door, ready for whatever came next.
The door pushed open and Scarface from the elevator burst in, hefting an HK94 sub-machine gun like he’d been born with it in his hand. Ken held his breath as he watched Scarface scan the room. It took the intruder mere seconds to zero in on the empty holster on the bed. He picked it up, then threw it down with a guttural curse.
I may be a stranger to New York, but I know this isn’t a welcoming committee. I don’t know what the fuck this is, but I know I don’t like it.
Ken stepped behind Scarface, silent as a ninja in his bare feet and coldcocked him on the back of his head with his Magnum. Scarface was unconscious before he hit the floor. Ken quickly shouldered the semi-automatic as more gunfire and cries of pain assaulted Ken’s already shattered nerves. They sounded very close, too close. He ran back to the door to listen, but the hall had suddenly become as silent as a tomb.
Fuck. I hope this building isn’t about to be my final resting place. At least I’ll have VIP status at the gates of hell.
Ken opened the door and peered out. He heard more screams and gunfire from the floors below, but for now, the hallway outside Ken’s room remained quiet. His attention was drawn to the glowing EXIT sign above the stairwell door.
Hutchinson, you should just leave. Leave and call the cops. This is not Duluth, boy. I’m out of my league. This is more than a hyped up teenager in a Seven Eleven. Not with this kind of fire power.
Ken heard soft moaning at the same time as he noticed a figure crumpled near the door and his urge to help overrode his good sense. Someone was injured and needed help now. Not fifteen minutes from now or however long it would take NYPD to respond.
Ken took a deep breath and stepped out into the hallway. Double-checking that no one else was around, he ran to the fallen man and turned him over gently. It was Mason.
“Ohhhhh,” Mason let out a weak groan. “I … I … wanted… see you … apologize.”
The rent-a-cop’s body was riddled with bloody wounds, the worst right above his heart. Fuck! Mason’s bought it and wants to apologize? “Shhhh. It’s okay. You were just doing your job. I’m sorry I was a dickhead. What happened here, Mason?”
“Terrorists . . . . Crazy blonde bitch and her crew of flunkies blocked the exits. Corralling everyone downstairs. Hostages. Going on about rights for slave labor. Something like that.” Mason gasped as his lungs filled, his life blood trickled slowly from the corner of his mouth. “I hid. . . followed ‘em up the stairwell. Got one of the bastards.”
Ken looked to where Mason’s eyes had darted. The corpse of a muscular blond man lay by the elevators around the corner. Ken recognized him as the other goon who had been with Leggy. He could have been Scarface’s twin.
“Ohhhh. God.” Mason coughed again and Ken held his head steady.
“Take it easy buddy. I’ll get help.”
“No. Please. Stay with me. Always wanted to be a cop like you. Asthma… couldn’t.”
Always wanted to be a cop. A cop like me. “Sure. Sure, Mason. No cop coulda done a better job. We’ll stop them, Mason. They won’t get away with…”
As Mason quietly took his last breath, Ken patted his head gently and fought back a sob. “You did good, buddy.” Brave sonofabitch.
Ken’s pristine white shirt was smeared with blood and soaked with nervous sweat as he took the Barretta from Mason’s lingering grasp. His decision was made. He was a cop. He didn’t run from trouble - he ran into it. He people, goddammit. He wouldn’t leave his wife and other innocent bystanders alone with a bunch of blood thirsty terrorist wackos.
There has to be something I can do from the inside until the cavalry arrives. Something to de-escalate the situation - like we learned in police training. I’ll just have to think of what. But for now, I’m armed and dangerous, and not much a rule follower. I’ve just got to call this in and get backup. Backup. The CB!
Ken scrambled for the portable CB and turned it on. The red light flashed. He adjusted the channel to 19. It crackled noisily and Ken winced. He thought he heard a woman’s bored voice and played with the dial to get better reception.
//You have reached emergency services. How may I direct you?//
// Oh, Jesus. Great. Listen I’m...//
Ken didn’t want to reveal his identity on an open line.
//… at the Dior building on 57th. Some sort of fanatic group has taken people hostage. They are heavily armed. Send in the troops with vests.//
The woman’s voice changed from boredom to annoyance. Apparently, she’d spent one too many Friday nights stuck at a switchboard fielding calls from nut jobs.
//Sir, this line is for emergencies only. Prank calls are punishable by strict fines. If this is a true emergency please state the problem.//
Ken stared at the phone as more screams and high-powered gunfire echoed up the lower levels. He didn’t know what constituted an emergency in New York, but where he came from this situation damn well qualified.
//Fuck me, lady. Does it sound like I’m ordering a pizza?//
The radio let out a whine as Ken lost the emergency channel. He hoped the hapless woman would take some action but wasn’t about to count on it. Frantically, he tried to think who else he could call, then snapped his fingers and tuned the radio to channel 6.
To be continued . . .
Huggy Bear had moved the limo to the loading dock behind the Dior building. After hours it was hardly ever used. The only other vehicle parked there was a nondescript white van with the Dior logo on the side.
Ensconced in the backseat of his luxury car, heat blasting and listening to Aretha on a fine stereo 8-track deck, Huggy was enjoying a feast from a local deli supplemented by free snacks from the mini-bar. The good-looking cop hadn’t called. He hoped that meant Blondie and the missus were getting it on. He considered maybe crashing the party and chatting up a few models. Male or female, he didn’t care.
The sun was setting and the Dior building looked unusually dark and quiet. Huggy was beginning to wonder when the beautiful people would arrive. Fashionably late, he supposed. When CB crackled to life, Huggy jumped at the unexpected sound, nearly choking on a cold cut.
//Ummm. Blond Brother. This is Blond Brother. Bear? You there? Please be there.//
//Heeeey, my Blond Brother! Chicago Bear here. Man, you sound out of breath! You havin’ a good time, bro?//
//Bear. Oh, thank God. Listen - this building is under siege. You’ve got to call the cops.//
Thankfully, the funky limo driver immediately took Ken seriously.
//What? You okay? You hurt or somethin’?//
//You’ve got to make them believe you,” Ken urged desperately. “A terrorist group has taken over the building. They’ve already killed at least one person and must have a shit load of hostages. Employees, management - you name it. Doors are locked. I’m sure they are going to make demands soon, Bear. I’m staying put to get more info but you have to call the cops. Got that?”//
//Yeah. Yeah. I got it. You be careful! Don’t do anything stupid!//
It may have been an inappropriate time, but Ken felt a wash of warmth sweep over him clear to his end of the CB that someone - anyone - actually seemed to care about his well-being.
//Ten-four Good buddy. I’ll get back to you with more info. Stay close, okay? Out.//
Ken left the radio on Channel 6. He tucked his Magnum into the back waistband of his jeans and hung the radio by its leather strap from his wrist. It was awkward but out of the way. Then he raised the machine gun and opened the stairway door.
In the VIP suite, the man with the scar on his cheek began to come around as a walkie-talkie clipped to his belt squawked.
//Luther. Answer, damn you// a feminine voice with a European accent shouted from the walkie-talkie. //I’ve lost touch with Gunther. Is he with you?//
Luther moaned, opened his eyes and lifted his head from the floor. The room wavered in and out of focus and his skull throbbed. He reached for his radio with one hand and sluggishly massaged the bleeding gash on the back of his head with the other.
//Luther here, Astrid. Where is my brother?// He slowly rolled onto his back and closed his eyes to shut out the spinning room.
//That’s what I was asking you, idiot!//
//Gunther is not with me. I was knocked out by someone in the VIP suite on the tenth floor.// Luther sat up and wiped his hand on the thick wool rug in distaste then looked around the room, noting the empty holster on the bed.
//How could you let that happen?//
//I was hit from behind with something heavy - a gun I think.//
//And now they’ve gotten away? See if you can find out who,// Astrid demanded.
Luther stood unsteadily and took in Ken’s belongings scattered about. A smirk crept across his mouth. “Left in a hurry and forgot your shoes. That’s interesting,” Luther murmured. He unzipped the duffle and pawed at its contents. “How horrible. So much flannel and denim.” Then Luther noticed the airline ID attached to the handle. “Duluth, Minnesota,” he read. “Looks like we have ourselves a real live American cowboy.”
//Astrid? Is that tall, blue-eyed, blond man from the elevator down there with you?// He spoke into the walkie talkie.
//No. I don’t see him. But the bitch he was with is hanging all over Antoine De Pardo. //
So the gorgeous Dior model who took the cowboy up to her room is now with De Pardo. Is she cheating perhaps? Luther rubbed his head briskly, considering. “Isn’t that fascinating,” he thought aloud and pocketed the small tidbit.
The prospect of a hunt, especially with human prey, practically had him salivating. //Good. Very good. I will go find my brother now and we will hunt down the American hero. Out.//
As he left the room, Luther saw Mason’s body laid out in the hall. The dead guard’s face was covered by a man’s white handkerchief and his stiff arms had been carefully arranged across his chest. His gun was in its holster and some sort of gold shield had been placed reverently in his folded hands. Luther squatted down for a closer look. It was a police badge, issued by the City of Duluth, Minnesota.
“So, Cowboy,” Luther pursed his lips and straightened. “I know you now.”
Luther pulled the dead guard’s gun from his holster and checked it for bullets. It was empty. He got up and tossed the useless weapon aside. On his way to the elevator around the corner, Luther saw a second body crumpled on the floor. Recognition spiked through him. It was Gunther.
“Nooooooo!” Luther ran to his side and knelt to turn him over. A machine gun was still clutched in his hands, Gunther’s lifeless eyes - so much like Luther’s own - stared up into his.
“Mein Bruder. Mein lieber Bruder!” Luther half-lifted him into his lap and rocked with grief that quickly morphed into outrage. “I will kill him! I will kill him for what he has done!” Luther grabbed the gun from his dead brother’s hands and headed for the stairs.
Everyone who had remained in the building after business hours had been rounded up and taken to the Mezzanine showroom. The hostages sat in the neat rows of chairs previously arranged for the fashion world’s elite to watch the evening’s highly anticipated event. But the extravagant room was now a chamber of horrors. Fashionable models sat together with white uniformed catering staff, whimpering and clinging to each other for comfort.
“Silence!” Astrid screeched and the room immediately became quiet except for a few hushed sobs.
“I represent those who have no voice.” The tall, thin blonde proclaimed as she strutted up and down the runway like a psychotic superstar. Her platinum pixie cut resembled a futuristic helmet under the runway lights. Skin-tight, black leather pants and stiletto heels added to her pseudo-militaristic appearance.
“I do not wish to harm any of you wage slaves and working-class heroes. But I demand that the House Of Dior fund my campaign to rid the world of the enforced poverty represented in the wages of overseas garment workers. The children who work long hours in sweatshops making designer clothes for the rich and clueless. My demands will be met or you will die for a noble cause.”
Pulling her attention away from the insane rhetoric, Vanessa looked up at the face of Antoine De Pardo, whose arms were wrapped tightly around her. He was fifteen years her senior, but his dark wavy hair and Romanesque features gave him a royal, ageless appearance.
She’d been intrigued with De Pardo from the moment they’d met. He was so different from the men she’d known. When he’d invited her to his penthouse and indulged her with Dom Perignon and compliments, she drank up both. It didn’t take long for her to end up in his bed.
At first Vanessa had felt terribly guilty, but De Pardo had promised to take her - and her career - to fantastic heights. Imagine! Little Nancy from Duluth. The only place Ken had been able to take her was the Ridgeville Drive-In. Ken was a charmer, it was true. There was a time she had counted herself as the happiest girl in Minnesota. But every day she looked in the mirror she saw her beauty fade. In a few years she’d be completely invisible. Ken may have had a heart of gold, but that was no longer the kind of gold that would satisfy her.
De Pardo’s suave promises had convinced Vanessa that she should leave her husband for good. She’d thought that if Ken would come to New York, see the work she was doing and the people she now associated with, he would realize she had outgrown Duluth. Outgrown him. Maybe then, a divorce wouldn’t be such a blow. Maybe he wouldn’t take it personally. But then again, with Ken Hutchinson everything was personal.
As Vanessa watched the female terrorist parade up and down the runway, she didn’t know what she regretted more, cheating with De Pardo or dragging Ken into this shit show. “Antoine,” she whispered, “this woman is out of her mind. Does she really expect these demands to be met?”
“Hush, Vanessa. Don’t draw attention to yourself. She hasn’t asked me to arrange for any negotiations, yet. Perhaps she just wants media attention. Wait and see. It will be alright.” He patted her hand, but Vanessa didn’t feel particularly comforted. He may have been right, but waiting around had never been her style.
Astrid finally stopped pacing when she was handed a walkie-talkie by one of her well-armed henchmen. She spoke too softly into the mouthpiece for Vanessa to hear the words, but it was obvious whatever was said had caused her to fume. Suddenly Astrid screamed, making everyone jump. “WHAT! Well, find him you incompetent fool! Luther! Get rid of the problem! I have enough to deal with down here!”
“Oh, no, Antoine,” Vanessa moaned. “Only one man could make a woman that angry that fast. My husband, Ken.”
To be continued . . .
Newly minted Detective David Starsky didn’t feel like one of New York’s finest tonight. As a matter of fact, ‘fine’ was the last word he’d have used to describe himself. He felt more like a loser, a depressed loser. At least that was how the police shrink had explained it. Borderline clinical depression following an incident where he had been compelled to use extreme force in the line of duty.
Extreme force - a fancy way to say ‘kill.’
Oh sure, Starsky had fired his gun following proper procedure. Internal Affairs had cleared him of any wrongdoing. The only problem was that Captain Harris’ youngest detective had shot a sixteen-year-old boy. It didn’t matter that the high school sophomore basketball star was taller than the average cop, wearing a mask and pointing a cocked and loaded gun directly at Captain Harris when Starsky took him out. David Starsky couldn’t forgive himself. He had shot a fuckin’ kid. Even his stint in the army hadn’t prepared him for that.
Starsky turned into a HESS filling station on the corner of Lexington and East Fifty-Eighth Street and pulled up to the pump. Captain Harris had given him light patrol duty to ease him back on the streets after a month of personal leave. He was trolling the fashion district alone in a police cruiser, observing the Fashion Week hoopla, driving in circles so as to be seen serving and protecting the many out of town visitors pouring money into an almost bankrupt city.
Harris had shown faith in his detective, but it was more faith than Starsky had in himself at the moment.
Starsky’s gaze wandered up to the Fifty-Seventh Street skyline while he topped off his gas tank. House of Dior was supposed to be havin’ a wing-ding, but somehow something looked off.
The lights aren’t right, he found himself thinking. Where are those annoying flood lights? I could have sworn they had some special lighting last night. Yeah, I remember. There was a picture of a cute old timey girl hangin’ off the side of the building, all lit up like Christmas, only in blue and gold. Wonder what happened to it? Maybe they blew a fuse. Better get my ass in gear and get over there. Checking out a blown fuse - that’s about my speed right now.
Starsky tried to pay his fifty-three cents a gallon like any good citizen of New York, but the grateful clerk refused to take money from a cop. With a smile the man behind the counter added a free regular coffee and a six-count box of Entenmann’s chocolate covered donuts to sweeten the deal.
Poor slob. Probably thinks he has to buy protection. Not my style. I’d watch his place even if he never gave me anything. But how can I refuse Entenmann’s? I’m only human. Patrol work does have its perks, after all.
A few minutes later Starsky pulled up in front the Dior Boutique and sipped his coffee. He peered over the rim at the quiet street. His instinct that something was wrong persisted.
There should be caterers and shit coming and going. Maybe I got the wrong night. They might be closed. Where’s the flyer Harris gave me?
Starsky routed around in his car looking for the Fashion Week schedule of events. He held his coffee in the air trying not to spill it on his seats, although the unfinished reports and junk food wrappers would probably absorb a whole pot of coffee before it even touched the upholstery.
I really gotta clean this cahr. No wonder no one wants to partner with me. Shootin’ at kids ain’t my only problem. I’m a loose canon and a slob.
An insistent knock on his window made Starsky jump and spill his coffee in his lap.
“Motherfucker! Wha’ the hell?” Starsky looked up to see a skinny black dude in a quilted denim hat making motions for him to open his window.
“Wha’ the fuck, asshole. You have a death wish?” Starsky asked as he cranked down his window.
“No. No. Mr. Officer, Sir. I… We… have a problem. A big problem. I mean as problems go this one is numero uno, you dig, man?” The man gesticulated wildly and hopped from one foot to the other.
“I’m gonna dig you an early grave, man. Wha’ the fuck are you talkin’ about?” Wild Thing might be on drugs, Starsky thought, but then again, even hypes deserved to be heard.
Huggy closed his eyes, trying to calm himself. “Okay. Here’s the deal. I’m a limo driver and...”
“Oh, yeah. And I’m a Mayor Beame…”
“You gotta listen! Or people gonna die!” Huggy clutched the portable CB like his life depended on it. Or someone else’s did.
“Okay. I’m listening,” Starsky said.
“I dropped off this fine-looking midwestern cop here to see his wife - she was supposed to be working at the big fashion show here tonight - but about an hour later he got on the horn and told me to call the police. Said the place was overrun with armed terrorists and they were takin’ hostages. I called but they thought I was pullin’ their chain! What kind of crazy shit do you have to do to get attention in this city? Oh, man I am so glad to see you!”
“You say this cop inside the Dior building called you? On that thing?” Starsky pointed to the clunky CB, determining that Wild Thing was sober, terrified, and quite possibly brave as fuck.
“Yeah. Yeah.” Huggy turned the radio on and gave his call sign, glancing nervously at the curly haired cop. “Chicago Bear callin’ Blond Brother. Come in Blond Brother.”
Ken had checked out the ninth floor, found nothing but two by four frameworks, drywall dust and construction tools, then made his way down to next level. Although not finished, the design of the eighth floor, featuring reflective glass walls, was hypnotic. Chrome accents subtly divided the glass into cubes and rectangles as inspiration for deskbound brainstorming and executive meetings high above the city. At this time of night, with no internal lighting, he felt like he was walking through a palace of crystal ice.
After looking around and not finding anyone, Ken slid down to the floor feeling sick and dizzy, his back against a bank of windows. The last thing he’d eaten was that rubbery chicken dinner on the plane, most of which he’d given to Mr. Suit. He had tried to keep his emotions walled in when seeing Vanessa again, and then when he’d confronted the hitman. But his insides finally caved when he’d laid out Mason.
I hope his family will accept my old badge as a badge of honor for the poor soul. Maybe I’ll even live to go to the funeral.
His somber thoughts were interrupted by a worried, familiar voice coming through the CB.
// Copy Blond Brother. It’s The Bear. Blond Brother come on, Blond Brother. Somebody here wants to talk to you.//
Ken jumped up and turned to look out the window to the street below, lowering the volume on the CB. A police cruiser was parked in front of the building with what looked like Huggy’s slim figure standing beside to it.
//Blond Brother, here. Good to hear your voice, Mr. Bear. But keep it down.//
//This is Detective Starsky, NYPD,// a new voice announced. //Please identify yourself.//
Ken sagged with relief, his hand flattening against the glass. Huggy had gotten through to a fellow cop. A brother. //Yes, Sir. Detective Ken Hutchinson, Duluth, PD. I’m visiting your fair city and ran into a bit of a problem. We’ve got a hostage situation. At least one civilian guard dead, and I suspect more. One perp also confirmed dead. I’m on the eighth floor doing reconnaissance on my way down.//
//I believe the hostages are at the Mezzanine area in the showroom. I understand Exits are locked. Estimate hostages at thirty or more. Perps - I honestly don’t know. Leader is a caucasian woman, six foot, short dyed platinum blonde hair, European accent. Rights of garment workers seems to be the cause of the day.//
Ken finished his report then waited, exhausted and tense, to see if his message would get across.
Is this for real? Starsky’s adrenaline began to pump. If so, the soft spoken out of town cop and a lot of other people were in deep shit.
//Okay, Detective Hutch… whatever. I got it. I’ve got your back, partner. Hold on a second. Gonna call it in.//
Starsky reached for his police band, not wasting another thought. “Dispatch? Starsky here. Got a one-zero-zero-zero, repeat one-zero-zero-zero. Officer down. Officer down. All units respond. Hostage situation. Dior building, East Fifty Seventh Street. Use extreme caution. Repeat. Hostage situation. Shots fired. Possible casualties. Officer down.”
Starsky winked at the shell shocked Huggy Bear and shrugged off the despondency that had been dragging him down. This was no time for self-pity. “That’ll get them off their asses. We’ll sort it out when they get here.”
Taking the CB back from Huggy, Starsky spoke back into the mouthpiece. First things first. //Hutch? You still with me there, pard? You injured at all?//
//Yeah, I’m here, Detective Starsky. Thanks, pal.// Relief was achingly evident in the disembodied voice. //No, I’m not hurt. Just pretty wiped out. I’m gonna continue my search and try to get you more info.//
//Whoa, Whoa, there pard. Hold your white horses. You are gonna sit tight and wait for the calvary. NYPD is in charge now. Your job is done, Hutch.//
//What is it with all the cowboy metaphors today, huh? And the name is Hutchinson. Do I really come off as that much of a hick? Don’t answer that. I’m going on. Your guys are going to need to know what they’re up against. The one asshole I locked horns with had a HK94 sub. They’re not fooling around and one brother has already fallen. I don’t want anymore.//
Starsky was struck by a wave of admiration. //I hear ya, Hutch. But you’re out of your jurisdiction. My job for now is to keep you safe. You get to a good hiding place and keep your head down. You carryin’?//
// Yeah. I got my Magnum. And an HK94 I got off of a terrorist goon I was able to get the jump on.//
Starsky chuckled into the radio. This midwestern cowboy had balls.
//Okay, John Wayne. Guess you can take care of yourself. But seriously, Hutch, you can’t take down a group of terrorists single handed. They are goin’ to make demands and we’ll negotiate. It’s S-O-P. We got time, so promise me you won’t play The Lone Ranger.//
//Okay, pard. I pro. . .//
The transmission was suddenly interrupted by the sounds of rapid gunfire and shattering glass.
To be continued . . .
“Hi-yo, Cowboy! Come out and play! I won’t hurt you, much! I just want you to die. Die hard like my brother did.” Luther had tracked Ken down to the eighth floor and was firing high powered rounds at the walls of mirrored glass as he closed in on his prey. The walls exploded one by one until it seemed like it was raining glass.
Ken ducked down and covered his head as sharp fragments fell around him, stabbing at his exposed skin.
The thug Mason killed was this creep’s brother? It figures. Nice going, Hutchinson. I didn’t check the dead guy for a weapon and now his fucking bro is armed and angry… at you. You’re gonna make a great detective, asshole.
“Too bad you lost your horse and your boots,” Luther taunted as he closed in on Ken’s position, never stopping his erratic shooting.
Ken needed better cover or he was a goner. But in order to reach the exit he’d have to make run for it across what had become a sea of shattered glass. In bare feet. The thought made him shiver, but he had no time to waste.
If I don’t act now, I won’t live to kick myself later.
He steeled himself, then broke across the gauntlet of glass toward the stairwell, covering himself with machine gun fire and leaving a trail of bloody footprints in his wake. But he made it.
Safe behind the exit door, the gunfire stopped at last. He heard Luther scream in rage. Must be out of ammo. Ken checked his spent clip on the HK94. He was out of ammo too, but still had his .44.
“Great. Me against a terrorist army with only a six shooter,” Ken mumbled to himself as he visually checked the chambers of his Magnum. Fuck. I even sound like a cowboy now. He snicked the safety on and tucked the gun back into his waistband.
Starsky’s frantic call filled the stairwell.
//Hutch! Hutch! You there? Talk to me Hutch. Come on ans. . .//
Ken switched off the radio and waited, his chest heaving. He could barely stand. The bottoms of his feet had been turned into raw hamburger and felt as if they were being flame-broiled.
Luther was sure to follow his trail of blood. But Ken thought if he moved quickly, he could use it to his advantage. He waited behind the door and when Luther entered the stairwell seconds later, Ken hit him from behind with the butt of the machine gun, sending the scar-faced blond tumbling.
Suddenly, Luther twisted and grabbed at Ken’s arms, dragging him down with him. As Ken toppled down the stairs, his elbow cracked against a sharp edge and his knee rammed into something not much softer. Luther’s ribs? They’d both lost their grips on their machine guns and the weapons clattered down the steps, metal on metal echoing loudly in the enclosed space.
Ken must have blacked out then because the next thing he knew, he was sprawled on a landing, his entire body battered and aching. Luther was out cold next to him. The number on the wall above them read ‘6’.
Ken instinctively and fumbled for his Magnum tucked in his jeans, but then fell back on a riser. Blood dripped in his left eye from a gash on his forehead. He studied Luther, who lay motionless but still breathing.
I can’t believe for once something has gone my way today. If this goon had come to first, I’d be a dead man. What would it feel like to bash in this motherfucker’s skull right now? He toyed with the temptation. But, while his morals and his training were dented, they were not yet destroyed. Instead, he removed Luther’s belt and used it to bind his hands to the stair rail. Luther’s head fell forward, a dark bruise forming on his brow.
His strength continuing to drain, Ken fumbled through Luther’s pockets. He found a walkie-talkie, a pack of French cigarettes, a Zippo lighter, a Swiss army knife and a handkerchief. In his jacket pocket was his passport. Ken wiped his face with Luther’s handkerchief. It smelled of fine cologne, but still managed to turn his stomach. Then Ken blinked the fog from his vision to read the fine print of the passport.
'Luther Werner, Germany. Occupation, Jewelry Appraiser,' he read. That’s strange. Well, I guess putting down ‘terrorist nutcase’ might get some eyebrows raised at customs.
Ken slid the cool cylinder of his gun down the front of his jeans. He slumped against the wall, fighting against tears of pain and despair.
Who did I think was - a one-man army? Starsky had advised him to stand down. What had he called him - ‘Lone Ranger?” He was no fucking hero. He was a lonely, midwestern cop out of his element, trying to hold his marriage together.
Ken took the Swiss army knife in hand and pulled slivers of glass from his battered and bloody feet, trying to block the pain from his mind. When he had done all he could stand, he wiggled out of his undershirt, cut it and wrapped the makeshift bandages around his wounds. Then he glanced over at Luther, who was still dead to the world.
I feel like shit. My feet hurt like hell. How am I gonna get through this? I’m so fucking alone in this. No, wait. I'm not alone.
Ken picked up the CB and turned it back on.
//Starsk?// Ken cleared his thick throat and tried again. //Starsky, you there?//
//Hutch! What happened? Are you okay, buddy?// Starsky’s confident voice, complete with Brooklyn accent, came across the airwaves.
Ken gave a slightly hysterical laugh, feeling strangely reassured. //No, not okay. But hangin’ on. The calvary here, pal?//
//Oh, yeah, Hutch. Everybody’s here. My Captain and half my precinct. A dozen cruisers and SWAT for good measure. I think I even spied with my little eye a couple of Feds. Tell me what happened, Hutch.//
//Had a shoot-out in the glass and chrome corral, pard. I’m a bit cut up, but the other guy looks worse.//
//You took him out yourself, John Wayne? How bad are you hurt?//
//Shit. That bad, huh? You take it easy. Huggy Bear here says you’re quite a looker. I’d like to see that pretty mug in person, you hear me? No more heroics.//
//Is that a proposition, Starsk?// Ken nearly forgot his pain and exhaustion at the thought. There was something in Starsky’s voice . . . .
//Whatever you want it to be, Hutch. Let’s start with me takin’ thee out on the town.//
//Sounds great. I could use a beer, crisp salad and juicy steak right about now. That and a transfusion.//
//Fuck, Hutch. You bleedin’? Listen to me. You stay where you are and don’t move. No more private parties. Where are you?//
Ken looked around blearily. The burning in his eyes made it hard to read the sign on the emergency door. //Sixth floor. Stairs. Got a goon tied to the rail. He’s alive but out cold. Starsk, I gotta at least try to find the hostages. My wife… we were going try to get back together. I had plans...// Ken’s voice trailed off, the radio slipping from his hands. He was so very tired. His muzzy brain wondered if he was going into shock.
//Don’t you fade on me. Try to stay awake. I get it, buddy. But you need to stay alive for the little lady. And me, too. I’m coming in for you. I promise. You hang tight. Two suits are comin’ my way. FBI from the looks of ‘em. I think the terrorists have made their demands. Keep this line open.//
Through the profanity-laced teasing and the quasi come-ons, Ken could hear the concern - real concern - in Starsky’s voice. He suddenly wanted to do whatever that voice told him. But he just couldn’t. Not yet. Even more, he didn’t want to drag anyone else into this clusterfuck until things were more under control.
//Starsky! No! Don’t you dare come in alone! I don't want you to risk yourself for me. I’m not worth it. Starsk! Starsky!//
Starsky hated to cut Hutch off even for a moment. The man’s frantic pleas went straight to his heart and squeezed painfully.
Not worth it? Fuck. I don’t even know him and even I know he’s worth a hell of a lot. The thought struck him like a match. I mean, who does that? Who goes up against armed terrorists all by his lonesome to protect a bunch of strangers? Even for a cop he’s a fuckin’ hero. I’m supposed to be the one with the fucked up self-esteem problem. I guess we make quite a pair.
Starsky turned to face the two Feds swaggering towards him. He lifted his chin and clutched the CB clutched tightly in his fist as he whispered to Huggy sotto voce, “Feds are nothing but bullshit and trouble.”
Huggy pulled his hat down to partially cover his face reluctant to come nose to nose with the FBI. Relieved that his blond brother was in good hands, he slipped into the gathering crowd like an eel in the shallows and headed back to the limo.
And crowd it was. Starsky’s distress call had caused an eruption of controlled chaos in the fashion district. East Fifty-Seventh Street was cordoned off, while a block away, fur and cashmere-draped fashionistas demanded answers from harried street cops, furious to be missing the night’s big show. The SWAT team adjusted their bullet proof vests, ready for action. Captain Harris could be seen everywhere, assessing the situation and barking orders.
The Feds, a tall, slim Asian and a short, portly Caucasian, introduced themselves as Special Agent Johnson and Special Agent Johnson.
Starsky’s blue eyes narrowed, glittering like high polished steel. “You’re both named Johnson? Wha’ are you twins? Or did your esteemed organization run outta names?”
“We understand you’re in touch with someone on the inside,” Tall Johnson ignored the barbs, his face an expressionless mask.
“Yeah. An out of town cop. He was visiting his wife. Managed to not get caught, so far. And I wanna keep it that way.”
“How do you know he’s a cop? What kind of crazy mother fucker would stay inside if he had a chance to get out? More likely he’s one of terrorists himself, trying to confuse us or get intel on our operation,” short Johnson smirked, seemingly eager to lord his expertise over young detective. “Give me the radio.”
But Starsky wasn't ready to hand over his connection to Hutch just yet. “I know he’s a cop. I know here and here.” Starsky snapped, pointing to his head and his heart. “He talks the talk and walks the walk. He’s taken out one of the perps already. Have the terrorists made any demands yet?”
Tall Johnson must have sensed that the unstoppable force of the FBI had met an immovable object in Detective Starsky. “They want four million dollars deposited into a Swiss bank account for the Coalition For Free Workers,” he told Starsky. “They also want the CEO of Dior Paris to raise the wages at all the facilities they do business with. From button makers to zipper pullers. And they want a legal contract for the deal signed, sealed and delivered before anyone is released.”
Starsky couldn’t believe his ears. “Wha’ the fuck? The money I can understand, but the other crap? That would involve thousands of people all over the world!”
Short Johnson was as expressionless as his counterpart. “We have till midnight. Then they will kill a hostage every half hour they have to wait.”
“Somethin’ ain’t right here,” Starsky scowled. “Anyone would know those demands would take months to negotiate. This whole scene stinks like the Staten Island landfill in August.”
“Let me talk to your ‘cop’ friend. See if he can enlighten us,” Tall Johnson pressed.
Starsky bristled. They seemed more concerned with their own phoney baloney status than of Hutch’s identity or the precarious position he was in. Starsky was pretty sure Hutch was badly hurt and most likely not up to dealing with the two human brick walls. A protective instinct flared.
They'd probably question their own mothers, he thought bitterly. But lives are at stake and not just Hutch’s.
Starsky sighed and reluctantly handed Tall Johnson the CB. He wanted to extricate to Hutch but doubted the agents would allow it. He’d have to come up with a plan on his own.
//This is Agent Johnson of the FBI. Identify yourself.//
Ken hadn’t followed Starsky’s directions to stay put. Just the opposite. He’d gone down to the mezzanine level, taking a moment to rest against the stairwell door. Now shirtless, his heaving chest was covered in sweat, blood and dirt. Each step was like walking on hot coals. His head ached and his eyes felt as if they’d been washed with bleach. If he sat down to rest he was afraid he might never get back up. He nearly jumped out of his skin when the CB came to life.
//Starsky?// He turned down the volume and spoke softly into the speaker.
//This is the FBI,// came an unfamiliar voice.
Hutch’s heart deflated like a three-day old balloon. //Where’s Starsky?// He asked.
//Now listen, you. How can we be sure you’re even who you say you are? You’re not in any position to make demands. I want to know what you know or what you want me to know, I know you know what I mean.//
A fight on a new front was the last thing Hutch needed. Only one thing could keep him going. This ordeal was close to taking everything out of him. He wanted - no needed - the New York cop’s support. //Wha’? Put Starsky on you FBI asshole. I’ll only speak to Starsky.//
Agent Johnson shoved the CB back to Starsky, barely suppressing a growl. Apparently the FBI had just met two immovable objects. “You better report to me anything he says that’s pertinent to the case or I’ll have your badge.”
Starsky waited only a New York Minute for the stone-faced twin Johnsons to storm away before calling out, “Fuck you!” and not caring who heard. There was just something about authority figures in suits that rubbed him the wrong way. Maybe it was their devotion to protocol, while Starsky cared more about people. It had a way of getting him into trouble.
//Starsk? Buddy, you there?//
//Yeah, I’m here, Hutch.// Starsky squeezed the CB as if it could somehow physically connect him to his inside partner. //The big bad feds are gone for the moment. How ya doin’, pard?//
//I’m just above the mezzanine. There’s a duct here I think might be big enough to crawl through. I should be able to see and hear what’s going on from there.//
//Wha’? Are you crazy, Hutch? You’re hurt. You said you was bleedin’, buddy. You can’t be climbing around in ductwork!//
//Don’t worry. Used to be a sheet metal worker summers in Duluth. You should see what I can do with duct tape.// Hutch could practically hear Starsky’s smile on the other end.
//Can’t wait. But listen, if you’re gonna do this, keep in touch. I’m gonna find a way in. You ain’t alone, babe.//
//Starsky, you can’t! Think about it. The terrorists came in right before closing. Dior has security beefed up because of a priceless piece of artwork they have on display on the main level. You’ll set off a million alarms before you set one foot inside this pretentious shack. I’m going to find out how many perps we’re dealing with, their firepower and positions. I need to check on the hostages, too. My wife. . . // Hutch hesitated for a second, //I can do this Starsk. Let me do this.//
Starsky closed his eyes. This was no Saturday matinee. A real life John Wayne was about to face ruthless outlaws with true grit alone.
Guess that makes me the plucky sidekick who may have to save John Wayne’s ass at the last minute.
//Okay, Hutch. But if I lose touch with you all bets are off.//
//Thanks, partner,// came the soft reply.
To be continued . . .
Ken used the Swiss army knife to loosen the screws and pry open the vent leading to the showroom. “I gotta get one of these beauties, they come in handy. Or just keep this one, since that eurotrash lowlife won’t be needing it in jail,” he mumbled to himself, trying to focus on something other than his pain and exhaustion. And his nerves. He hoisted himself into the vent and pulled himself through the sooty dark tunnel, panting, not wanting to think about the dust and grime that was collecting on his skin and hair, clogging his throat.
When the vent split in two directions, he stopped, disorientated and unsure which way to go. He pulled the Zippo out of his pocket, flicked it open and ignited the flame. He peered down both ducts, then caught the sound of muffled voices floating up from the left. He continued on the opened channel 6 on low volume.
//Starsk. I’m in the duct above the showroom. Now I know how a TV dinner feels.//
//Glad to hear you jokin’, John Wayne. Your plucky sidekick down here is trying to find a way in. I’m checking out the delivery entrance. The Bear has the limo at the loading dock and tells me there’s a van parked there with him. Jersey plates and cheap lettering on the side. It might just be a delivery van, but my spidy sense is tingling. I’m gonna try to get in back here. I’m gonna get to you, pard.//
//Please, Starsk. Don’t even try. I need you out there on the ground. I need you talking to me or I’m gonna lose it, buddy.// Hutch, swallowed, realizing how true his statement was.
//Take it easy. This will be over soon and you’ll owe me a meal. How’s about you take me to Delmonico's. Best steak in the City. Midwestern boy like you probably likes his steak mooin’.//
//Actually, I prefer green salads and goat milk shakes. But I could eat.//
//I’m a meat and potatoes man, myself. What about the wife? Or is she one of those twiggy models who eats a grape and calls it a meal?//
//You got her pegged. Believe me, my wife barely tolerates being in the same room with me. She’d never enjoy a night out with the guys.//
//Sounds like you and her got problems, babe.// Maybe it was the wrong tactic to take, but Starsky hoped diverting attention from the confines of the vent would help reduce the tension Hutch had to be feeling.
//Yeah. That’s why I’m here in New York. We were going to try to work things out. I don’t want our marriage to end, but . . . the woman I married is long gone.// Hutch didn't think he'd understood the truth of it was until he’d spoken it aloud. //I don’t even know her anymore, let alone have anything in common with her. She’s left me behind and I’ve been holding on to a smoke-filled dream of what love is meant to be. The smoke is slipping through my fingers and I can’t hold on anymore. I’ve never felt so alone,// he found himself admitting. As much as his body ached, this was an altogether different pain. A kind that might not ever heal.
//Listen to me, Hutch. For right now, if only for just this minute, you can hold on to me. I won’t let you slip away. You ain’t alone. No way, no how. And if Miss Hoity-Toity no ass model can’t see what she has. Then I say, good riddance.//
//Thanks, Starsk. That means more to me than I can say. Sorry about bending your ear. We all got problems, right? You married?//
//Naaaa. I ain’t the wife and kids type. But… I get what you said about bein’ alone. The last coupla months been hard on me, too.//
//Why’s that, gordo?//
There was silence in the tunnel and Hutch thought for a minute that he’d lost the radio connection, but then he heard Starsky answer back, more subdued that he’d been thus far. //I shot a kid in the line of duty.//
Holy shit. As much as Ken knew this man, which was practically not at all, he knew he'd never hurt anyone on purpose. He seemed too passionate about life. An event like that could break Detective Starsky.
//That stinks, Starsk. But I’m sure you did what you had to under the circumstances. And you’re back on the streets, so it must have been a good call.//
//Yeah, so they say. When I fired, I had no idea he was a kid. He was tall and wearing a ski-mask. And he was holdin’ a gun on my captain.// Starsky closed his eyes and saw the scene in his mind as he had a thousand times before. The same vision that disturbed his sleep night after night. //I found later that he was only sixteen. Sixteen - and I stopped his life, Hutch. Stopped it cold. He had so much livin’ to do.//
Starsky paused and Hutch ached to give him some comfort. A supportive hand on his shoulder, a squeeze of his knee.
//Infernal Affairs cleared me// Starsky continued, //but I can’t get passed it. I’ve been second-guessing myself ever since. Maybe thinkin’ I should quit the force. I don’t know what good I can do anymore.//
Hutch held his position in the vent, quiet as a tomb. Suddenly, the filth, the pain, the dangerous situation meant nothing. All that mattered was the man at the other end of the CB, struggling to find his worth. Just the same as Hutch was.
//Starsk, I’m not gonna say it’s alright, because it isn’t. But I bet you gave someone a life, too. And not just your captain. More than likely, now some other poor fuck’s not going to end up on the wrong end of a messed up kid’s gun because of you. You gotta see that what you do does matter, even though you might never get to see it.//
//I never thought… I guess you’re right.// Funny how unburdening himself to a stranger crawling through an air vent made more sense than any number of sessions with a shrink. But this was another cop - someone who faced the same choices Starsky did everyday. Someone who understood wanting to help yet sometimes having to hurt . . . to kill . . .
//Of course I’m right. I’m John-fucking-Wayne.//
Starsky grinned in spite of himself. //Thanks, Hutch.//
//Starsk, I gotta move, I hear voices.//
//You be careful. I… you just watch your ass and remember our date.//
Ken clicked off the CB to save the battery. He crawled cautiously towards the hum of voices until he could almost make out the words. He dragged himself a few more agonizing feet until his face was right over a dust caked grill covering an intake duct. He ran a hand over his grimey face, the dirt smearing with the sweat.
Fuck. You’d think a swanky place like this would get their ducts cleaned once in a while. You can always judge a building by its ductwork. You are losing it, Hutchinson. Pay attention.
From his closed in vantage point, Ken had a good view of the runway below as well as the captive audience. Astrid was talking animatedly into a white courtesy phone. There was a constipated look on her face. How could he ever have thought her attractive? By the imperious noises she was making, Ken guessed she was arguing with the same FBI asshole he had talked to earlier.
He scanned the room and counted two goons with machine guns pointed at thirty-four civilians seated in orderly rows of chairs. Two men wearing the same uniform as Mason were also seated and tied up. The way one was slumped, he seemed injured.
Someone sat at a table behind Astrid holding an ice pack to his face. The blond ponytail hanging from the back of the man’s head was etched in Ken’s brain.
Shit! Someone found that dickhead Luther whatshisname. He sure has some luck. Unlike me. Don’t get distracted here. Do your job, detective. Ken searched the hostages’ frightened faces and realized that the weaslley man from the elevator was not among them. Who was he - comic relief? And where was he now?
Ken shifted in the cramped space to get another angle on the scene. He almost cried out as his many painful injuries made themselves known all at once, but managed to breathe through it. He wiped at his eyes and then spotted something a hundred times more painful - Vanessa in the protective arms of a distinguished older man.
That stuffed shirt she’s hanging on to must be De Pardo. But that’s no hug of comfort from a concerned employer, buddy boy. I know lovers when I see them. She used to touch and look at me that way. Okay, so maybe Nancy - shit, I mean Vanessa - wasn’t particularly passionate - more like the Ice Queen - but those two are a couple. I’d stake my badge on it.
Ken closed his eyes as another thought tore through his heart, like the wild trajectory of a bullet.
You were a sucker to think this trip was going to be a second honeymoon. Vanessa’s in love with DePardo. Guess she just wanted to end it with me on her own turf. Show off her new life - and her new lover.
Ken never felt like a bigger fool. My wife doesn’t love me anymore. Maybe she never really did. Starsky’s shown more concern for me in two hours than Vanessa has in years. I feel angry as fuck, but part of me feels relieved.
He found himself thinking about the new life ahead of him in Bay City. Imagining what it would be like to have a partner at his back like Starsky. Ken banged his head on the vent, trying to corral his wandering thoughts, but only succeeded in giving himself a blinding headache, complete with cartoon stars.
You know, ‘Hutch’, you are pathetic. A sharp big city cop like Starsky would never want to be paired with a dolt like you. You are really and truly fucked.
“De Pardo! Let go of your whore for half a mo and get on this phone.” Astrid’s shrill command grabbed Ken’s attention, her accent no longer sexy and intriguing. Now it just sounded sneering and affected. “The FBI is talking trash and nothing is getting done. Tell them to get a move on or at midnight your little bit on the side will have the honor of being the first to die for the cause. Who said cheaters can’t be winners, huh?” The laugh she released chilled Hutch’s soul.
Okay, Hutch. So you’ve been cheated on. Join the fucking club. You may not have Vanessa’s love. But there just might be a little piece of Nancy’s heart left. Come on. Time to save the day, Cowboy. Starsky’s waiting to ride off with you into the sunset and that sounds pretty fucking glorious right about now.
Hutch wiggled around in the tunnel like a snake and made the laborious trip back the way he came.
To be continued . . .
Starsky tapped on the window of the limo but Huggy was lost in the soulful sounds of Aretha. He tried the handle and when the door opened right up, Huggy shrieked.
“Hey, dummy. Why’d you leave your door open?” Starsky scolded. “I coulda been anyone.”
“I thought it was locked. Damn all these buttons anyway,” Huggy lamented. He was out of his element. Give him a comfortable clunker any day, he thought. Besides, he wasn’t going to be someone’s go-fer forever. “I don’t know what half of these gizmos do. What’s goin’ down?”
“I gotta find a way into the building without the Feds knowing. Hutch is backed in a corner and I’m afraid his time is runnin’ out. You and me maybe be the only people right now who believe that. I know it’s a long shot, but I wanna get into that van and have a look around. Maybe they’ve stashed keys to the loading dock.” Starsky finally took a breath and faced the Bear. “Ya got a Slim Jim? Maybe a lock pickin’ set?
“I’m shocked you’d think I’d have jimmy bars and burglar tools in here.” Huggy snapped off the radio. “What do you take me for? A common street hood? I am insulted, bro.”
“Sorry, Bear. It’s Hutch, ya know. I’m worried about him. I got a bad feelin’ about this whole terrorist thing. All my alarms are goin’ off.”
Huggy gave Starsky an appraising double take. “My man, my man! You got it bad. I got a feelin’ this is more than just loyalty to a brother-in-arms. But I’m not sure he swings that way, curly.”
Am I that easy to read? Starsky thought. Or is it just this nutty character who sees right through me? “Don’t matter," Starsky pocketed the notion for later. "I just gotta see him safe. If all I get is a pat on the back I’ll be happy.”
“I hear ya.” Without another word, Huggy reached under his seat and produced a long, thin metal tool perfect for picking car door locks. Then he leaned across Starsky and took out a velvet wrapped set of burglar’s tools from the glove box. “This ain’t mine, ya dig? It belongs to my cuz. But it’ll get you started.”
Starsky chuckled deep. He always admired those who came prepared. “This could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship, Shweetheart.”
Huggy winced. “Oh, man, ouch. Never do that Bogie again.”
Starsky took the tools and exited the limo. “Everybody's a critic. Maybe I’ll stick to John Wayne impressions. Those are appreciated.”
“You maybe want some help?” Huggy offered.
“Thanks, but no. If this goes bust I don’t want you to take any heat. It’s all mine. Your biggest help would be to keep any eye out.”
Huggy gave him a little salute, then Starsky trotted over to the van and gave it the once over. “Jersey plates? Why would a big-name firm like Dior deal with the Jersey DMV?” Starsky took another look at the Dior logo. “These letters are just slapped on. And in a hurry, too. They’re peeling off already. Looks like Huggy made a good call.”
Starsky had just began to work at the lock the driver’s door when Captain Harris turned the corner of the building. The grey-haired but fit police captain gave a sharp whistle. “Starsky! I’ve been lookin’ for you. What the hell are you doin’?”
“Cap! I’m glad you’re here.” Starsky stopped and turned to face his captain, the jimmy in his hand. “I don’t have a lot of time. I need you to run the plates on this van. I think it might belong to the bastards inside.”
Captain Harris looked at the plates then back at Starsky, a shade of concern crossing his face. "Jersey? Yeah, I’ll run them. What’s going on with you?”
“It’s that cop inside. Officer Hutchinson. You oughta know. I’ve been talking to him on this CB, since before I called for backup. He came to visit his wife. His limo driver’s sittin’ tight,” Starsky said, with a nod toward the long dark car. “Cap, the cop’s hurt - in more ways than one - and I want to get him outta there before the terrorists find him. If they are terrorists - and I’m beginning to have my doubts.”
“Okay, Starsky. I get it. You got yourself emotionally involved and you wanna help this guy. But under the circumstances, going in alone is not the answer. It’s too soon, son. And what do you mean if they’re terrorists?”
Starsky felt his throat tighten. I know what he’s thinking and maybe he’s right. How can I go in, six-guns blazing to save the day if I don’t have the balls to fire? But right now, there’s too much at stake.
“I keep getting weird vibes about these jokers. Their demands are impossible. It’s almost like a smokescreen. I got no evidence. Yet. Just a gut feeling.” He focused on his superior officer, trying to ignore the cold grip of terror in his chest.
“Starsky, I trust your intuition but…”
The radio squawked in Starsky’s hand. He looked meaningfully at Harris and jerked his chin towards the van. The captain shook his head and tsked, then jogged off to run the license numbers. He didn’t want to be a witness to his own officer breaking and entering without a warrant.
Starsky turned up the volume of the CB.
//Hutch? Hutch you there?//
//Starsk. I… I can’t...// Hutch’s voice cracked, bone weary.
//Can’t what, babe? Can’t hear?// Starsky fiddled with the fine tuning, but feared it wasn’t what Hutch meant. //Can you hear me now, Hutch?//
//Can’t do it. Can’t go on. I’m done.//
Hutch sounded weaker than ever and Starsky felt desperation well up.
//No. Nonono, Hutch. None of that, crap. You gotta tell me what happened.//
//Give me a sec.// A groan and a stifled cough filled the airwaves. //Okay, Starsk. I’ll… I’ll try. I’m in the stairwell on the mezzanine, just above the front entrance. You got thirty-six hostages in the mezzanine showroom. That blond woman I told you about is the leader. Two armed brutes are guarding the hostages. One more goon, the one I thought I took out, is back. But a little weaselly guy is missing. You’ll risk stray bullets hitting civilians, tear gas might work, though.//
//Civilians like your wife? Talk to me. Was your wife hurt...//
//My fucking wife is just fine. Better than fine. I’m sure her new man would take a bullet for her. He’s already wrapped around her!// Hutch coughed again.
//Oh, shit, Hutch. I’m so sorry.//
//You’re sorry? Don’t be. I got what I deserved. I was living in a fantasy world. This is my reality. A two-bit hick cop. Dying alone in a stinking stairwell in a posh New York high rise. I’m sick of living a fucking hopeless lie. Yippee ki yay. Don’t even have a horse to saddle up and ride away on. Funny - I always thought of myself as more the sea-faring type.//
//Listen to me, Hutch. I got nothin’ to lose, nothin’ to gain, here. But it’s really important to me that you hold on. You got a blow. A bad one. You’re hurt and scared, I know. But I ain’t lettin’ you die hard. I care about you. It’s like you get me. And I think I get you. You die on me, parta me’s gonna die, too. You give up, I give up. //
//Starsk, jezus, don’t say that. You don’t even know me.//
//I don’t know you? Oh, I know you, babe. You’re beautiful and brave. You’re funny and smart. You’re honest and care about people. You wear your fuckin’ heart on your sleeve where anyone can take a shot at it. I want you to make it so I can meet you in the flesh. You gonna disappoint me? Huh?//
//You know all that about me?//
//Yeah, I think I do. Whatta ya say?//
//Starsk. It hurts. Everything hurts so fucking much.// Hutch’s voice was fading.
//I know. I’ll take the pain away. I promise.// For a few seconds all Starsky heard was crackling of the CB. //Hutch? Hutch? Answer me damn it!//
//Starsky. It’s okay.. I… I just heard a noise. Like a drill. I’m gonna take a look.//
//Shit! You nearly gave me a heart attack! What the fuck are you doing now? Stay the fuck down till I get to you! Huuuuuuutch?//
The CB went dead and Starsky knew Hutch had switched it off. He nearly threw the CB across the parking lot.
Fuckin' Cowboy’s gonna kill me. But what a way to go. Starsky looked to the heavens. I am due for some luck, ya hear me up there?
After a few more minutes of working the jimmy, the door lock snicked and Starsky was in.
To be continued . . .
Ken struggled to his feet once more and took a few staggering steps. The fingers of one trembling hand clutched his Magnum, heavy as lead, as the others dragged across the wall, leaving dirty prints on the eggshell white surface.
I gotta do this. If Starsky finds a way in, he’s not going to stay on the sidelines. I have a feeling he listens about as much as me. I need to hold on. It’s been so long since someone cared about me for real, not just for show. I gotta try to make it. Make it for Starsky.
He opened the emergency door a fraction and peered out to the empty balcony of the mezzanine that hung over the lobby. The drilling noise was louder here, seeming to come from directly below him. If he could get to the balcony railing, he might be able to lean over and see what was causing the noise.
He opened the door a little wider and placed one bandaged and bloody foot carefully out onto the balcony, then jumped as Astrid’s voice squawked from a walkie-talkie from somewhere out sight below.
//Ratso. Come in, Ratso. How much longer?//
A nasal Jersey accent answered. //Ratso Rizzo here, Dollface. Wha’ ya miss me already? I sure know how to keep a woman beggin’ for more.//
//Damn you, you rat faced chauvinist pig. Just tell me you are almost finished.//
Hutch crept across the balcony until he could see over the ornate wooden rail to the floor below. The weasel from the elevator was crouched at the glass case that held the Le Peregrina Pearl. An open suit displaying an assortment of cutting tools was at his feet next to the walkie-talkie. The drilling sound Ken had followed was coming from a device Rizzo was using to cut through the glass case, as easy as butter.
Oh! Fuck. Me. Raw. These motherfuckers aren’t terrorists. They don’t care about working conditions in the garment industry. They’re crooks! Plain and simple. And they’re after the pearl necklace.
On the floor below, Rizzo chuckled. //Cool your jets, gorgeous. I’ll be through the glass in a minute. Then I have to get the necklace out of the frame. Unless you want me to rip it out like old contact paper. Got any scotch tape in case I tear it a little, Dollface?//
//Just do your job. And be warned. Luther is positively chafing at the bit to make someone pay for the death of his brother before this job is over. And if he doesn’t get to that cowboy, who knows who he’ll turn his revenge on.//
//Bubby. Baby. I didn’t sign up for any killin’ spree. I just want my share of the money. I’m lookin’ forward to sittin’ on a beach in Rio and earnin’ twenty percent. Hey!// Rizzo stopped the drill for a second. //Do you bathe in the nude? Want some company? I’ll bring the baby oil.//
//You disgust me.” Hutch could practically hear Astrid’s lip curl. //I hardly call offing one security guard a ‘killing spree’. But Gunther and Luther always were trigger happy sociopaths. All the more reason for you to hurry up. If Luther cuts down Cowboy before you get the necklace, his death will be on your head.//
//Sure. Sure. I get it. Blame the American. You foreign chicks are all alike,// Rizzo declared, his special expertise lending him bravado he wouldn’t have had otherwise. //Still, I wouldn't kick ya outta bed.//
Hutch retreated back to the stairwell, covered by Rizzo’s raucous laughter. He swayed as he radioed Starsky.
//Right here, babe.//
//They aren’t terrorists! They’re jewel thieves, after the Le Peregrina Pearl. The whole terrorist thing was just an elaborate smoke screen. And the missing weasel from the elevator is somebody called Ratso Rizzo. He’s cutting his way right now into the case with the necklace.//
//Ratso? I know him. Lowlife Jersey safe cracker. This must be the job of a lifetime for him. Listen, I want you to make your way to…//
The door to the stairway burst open and knocked into Hutch, causing him to lose his balance. He fell hard to the floor, the radio and Magnum spilling out of his hands. The CB sputtered and died as its case cracked and its batteries were knocked loose.
“We meet again, Cowboy.” Stunned, Hutch watched as the toe of an expensive leather boot kicked his gun away.
Before Hutch could get his bearings, Luther grabbed up the Magnum and pulled Hutch to his feet, quickly snapping a handcuff on his right wrist. Luther then dragged him out across the balcony and pushed him against the hardwood railing. The force of the shove made cartoon stars explode behind Hutch’s eyes in a million colors. He grunted as Luther pushed him back down to the floor and fixed the other half of the cuffs to a sturdy rail post.
At the sound of a click, Hutch twisted around to see Luther pointing at him with his own weapon. “You are quite a mess, Cowboy. It’s so nice to see you suffering.”
Luther chuckled and kicked Hutch’s bare and bloodied feet. Hutch bit his lip as he tried not to cry out, then spit out blood at his tormentor’s Italian-made boots, spoiling their shine.
Luther kicked him again in response, wiping the blood from the leather onto Hutch’s filthy jeans. “You’re pretty brave for a man about to die. I’m going to kill you for my brother.”
“I didn’t kill your brother - a guard in the line of duty did,” Hutch said raggedly. “And he already paid the ultimate price. There is nothing here to avenge. No reason to scar your soul with an innocent man’s death.”
Luther looked Hutch up and down, taking in his bare, well-muscled chest streaked with dirt and his feet, cut to shreds from his run across jagged glass. “You? Innocent? Hum. Somehow I doubt it.”
Hutch was finished. He knew it. He thought of Starsky on the outside. How he’d believed him from the first, listened to him. Encouraged him every bloody step of the way. Somehow Starsky was with him even now.
“Ever kill a man, Luther? Ever watch someone’s eyes go dark the moment their soul leaves their body? I have,” Hutch said, channeling Starsky’s memories of a death that would be with him forever. “Sure it was in the line of duty, justified. But that face still haunts my nightmares. The face of death. The death I caused. No patriotic rhetoric will ever cleanse that blood from my hands.”
“Spare me your heartsick whine about killing. To the world, I may be just an art dealer, but I think I’m going to enjoy this. You have no idea how far I’m willing to go to get what I want. Too bad you make such a pathetic target.” Luther waved the gun in Hutch’s face. “And your wife was screwing around on you with her boss right under your nose. You’re not a only a second-rate cop but a lousy lover too, it seems. Has your sad little life left you impotent? How does it feel to be such a loser, Cowboy?”
“I’m sorry your brother got killed. I’m sorry anybody has to die. Is a necklace worth so much? You kill a cop and you’ll never see the light of day again. Let alone those millions you were no doubt promised. This theft is not going down. The cops are outside waiting for you.”
Luther screamed, “You’re stalling, you fucking bastard!” and put his thumb on the trigger.
Hutch turned his head and closed his eyes, utterly exhausted. I wonder if you feel the bullet if you’re unconscious.
Just then a familiar voice burst out behind him, “Happy Trails, Motherfucker!” A single gunshot exploded and Luther lunged forward, blood streaming from his shoulder.
Hutch opened his eyes to see a vision in a gray haze - a man crouched in a perfect firing stance behind Luther. The hands holding the gun were steady and sure. The vision’s head, crowned with soft dark curls, lifted slowly, followed by the rest of his body. His movements were as graceful as a cat. The shooter took a deep breath and holstered his weapon, then his startling blue eyes searched out Hutch’s own.
“Starsky?” Hutch called weakly. “Starsk? That you?”
Starsky stepped over Luther’s still form to come and kneel beside Hutch. He took his face in both hands. “Hutch? Hutch, look at you. Look at that bee-utiful face. Even covered with blood and shit you’re still gorgeous.”
Hutch let out a laugh that was more like a sob. “I bet you wouldn’t say that to John Wayne.”
“Who says I wouldn’t? You’re better looking than John Wayne anywho. God, Hutch. Thank God you’re alright.” He placed a brief kiss on the top of Hutch’s head. “Oh, man. I’m gonna need the whole box of Band-Aids to patch you up, babe. You got any holes in you shouldn’t be there?”
“No, I… wasn’t shot. Thanks to you. It’s my head mostly and… and my feet.”
The handcuffs forgotten, Hutch tried to get up but then stifled a yelp as the cuff bit into his wrist.
“Take it easy, Hutch,” Starsky said with concern. “I gotta get the key.”
Starsky moved back to Luther and checked the pulse at his neck. “He’ll live,” he announced. He picked up Hutch’s gun, then searched Luther’s pockets for the key to the cuff as Luther let out a moan.
Hutch closed his eyes, this time in relief. With Starsky near, stress fell away from him in waves, leaving him with a floating sensation. From the mezzanine he heard strong shouts. “NYPD! Put down your weapons!” The bullhorns of the SWAT team made the situation clear. “You are surrounded. Throw down your weapons or we will release the tear gas canisters.”
Starsky returned with the key. He snapped the cuff off Hutch’s wrist, then ran his hands over Hutch lightly, looking for injuries but ending up with his arms wrapped around him. He called out for a medic in his distinctive Brooklynese, then began to croon a worried litany of comfort words near Hutch’s ear and rocked him ever so slightly.
“It’s alright, Cowboy. Rest those baby blues. You’ve earned it. I’ve finally got you and I’m not letting go.”
Hutch allowed himself to relish not only the sound of the voice he had clung during to the past few hours but now also the physical comfort of his buddy’s arms. That was, until he heard a woman scream. The sound startled him even as Starsky’s arms tightened around him protectively. Nancy?
Astrid had climbed the stairs to the balcony, forcing Vanessa ahead of her like a shield to escape the confusion below. She held a caterer’s knife at Vanessa’s throat and zeroed her gaze in on Hutch. “It seems the little woman has been cheating on you, Cowboy,” Astrid sneered. “So I’m sure you won’t mind if I slice her pretty throat.”
Hutch jerked forward but Starsky held him him back. “She won’t hurt her, she can’t get away,” he whispered in Hutch’s ear. “The place is crawling with cops.”
“So maybe you do still care? I wouldn’t expect anything less from a man like you. So soft, so sensitive.” Astrid taunted. “I’ll let her go if you let me pass.”
Hutch sought Vanessa’s eyes and saw her fear, but an underlying spark as well. He gave her a little nod. Little Nancy Sunshine hadn’t been a cop’s wife for nothing. Vanessa stomped her stiletto heel into Astrid’s instep and yanked her off balance. With a yell, Vanessa grabbed Astrid’s arm and twisted violently. The knife went flying through the air.
As Astrid flipped over the balcony rail, she managed to snag onto the band of Vanessa’s Black Moon watch, yanking Vanessa halfway over the railing with her. For an instant, it looked as if both women would fall. But before either man could make a move, the expensive band broke from the strain. As Vanessa regained her footing Astrid screamed and landed on the marble floor twelve feet below where she lay unmoving.
Turning away from the scene of the broken body on the floor below, Vanessa meet Hutch’s weary eyes now paired with Starsky’s inscrutable gaze.
“So that’s the little woman, aye?” Starsky asked to no one in particular as he smoothed back Hutch’s matted hair. Hutch nodded, a thousand feelings rushing through him. Starsky gently pushing his blond head into the safe harbor of his shoulder.
“Take care of him,” Vanessa mouthed and walked away.
Starsky tipped his head then looked back to Hutch. “That’s it. You’re safe now. Let it go, Hutch,” he whispered. “I got ya.”
The Dior building was a scene of organized chaos. The SWAT team secured the rest of the floors and took in all that remained of the phony terrorist group. Several ambulances arrived on site, along with the coroner’s van.
Captain Harris hovered near Starsky and Hutch, making sure his brave detective and the heroic out of town cop had the support they needed. “You did what you had to do when it counted,” he told Starsky.
Wrapped in several blankets, Hutch blinked up at Starsky. He had been evaluated and given an IV and was vaguely aware that they were waiting for the next stagecoach. That’s good, as long as Starsk helps me get on board. "I wonder how those horses are going to get through the revolving door."
Starsky laughed and Hutch laughed, too. I must've said that out loud.
In the middle of all whirlwind activity, Ratso Rizzo, true to his name, had slipped out the back door to the loading dock that Starsky had broken into earlier. Le Peregrina Pearl dangled from his fist. He gave a quiet giggle at the sight of the van waiting for him like a loyal palomino. He slinked along the outside of building then ran to the van, eager to start the engine and take off, leaving his partners in the dust.
Huggy was tired of waiting. He fiddled with the radio trying to find a local news station that could tell him what was happening when he noticed a weaselly figure sneaking from the loading dock and heading toward the van.
Huggy smiled with recognition. “Well, if it isn’t Mr. Ratso Rizzo, hangin’ with the elite, are we? Tryin to make a great escape? I don’t think so.”
For once, Huggy appreciated the decked-out limo as he took advantage of the tinted windows and the quiet electric start. He waited until Rizzo had started the van and was backing up, then he rammed the heavy vehicle into the passenger side door, stopping the van instantly.
Before Rizzo could extricate himself, Huggy had grabbed him by his shirt lapels. Huggy yanked Rizzo out of his seat and up against the side of the van.
“Hello, there. Ratso. Havin’ a little car trouble?”
To be continued . . .
Starsky paced near the vending machines of the packed emergency room at Lenox Hill Hospital. He was keeping an eye on Godzilla, the night nurse, who wouldn’t let him accompany his cowboy to the examination room. Starsky stopped and dug in his pocket for change. He guided his quarter into the slot, opened the door and pulled out a bottle of Pepsi. With a quick motion he snapped off the bottle cap at the bottle opener provided. Before the cap even hit the bottom of the container, the bottle hit his lips and was half gone.
He wiped his lips on his sleeve and strutted over to the desk. “Come on, doll. Let me back there,” he said in his most flirtation style as he leaned against the reception desk and jutted out a hip. “My… partner is a hayseed from the sticks. He’s gonna need me to, ya know, to keep him from bein’ overwhelmed by this big city of ours.”
“Detective. Your partner is in good hands and no food or drink is allowed beyond the yellow line.”
Starsky looked down at his feet straddling the painted line. Obviously, his charm wasn’t working on Godzilla. He tried sincerity. “Have a heart, miss. It’s true, he’s got nobody. Nobody but me.”
Her stone face cracked just a little. “Well, since you’re a cop. But I’ll deny everything if you start trouble.”
Starsky patted her hand. “Thanks, doll.” He finished his Pepsi in another long gulp and handed her the empty as he swallowed down a burp.
She shook her head. “Room three, Hot Shot.”
I still got it, Starsky thought as he swaggered down the hall until he found examination room three. A white-coated resident who looked like a young Dr. Marcus Welby was talking softly to Hutch. They both looked up as Starsky entered. Hutch had been cleaned up and was partially covered by a sheet. What skin was exposed was covered with bandages and his feet were wrapped like a mummy’s. “Doc,” Hutch managed to rasp out, “this is the cop I was telling you about. He saved my life.”
Starsky ducked his chin and held out his hand for the doctor to shake. Detective Starsky,” he murmured. “How’s he doin’.” He tried to hide his embarrassment at so much gratitude being aimed at him from bright blue eyes.
“He’s doing well, Detective. He lost a lot of blood, but his blood pressure has stabilized so I don’t think he’ll need a transfusion. He’ll be very weak for a few days. He has no internal injuries, but we are watching his kidney function. He has a mighty impressive set of bruises on his back. He has a mild concussion, I guess midwestern boys have hard heads.” The resident stopped a moment to see if his newly acquired bedside manner was working on the two tough cops. Starsky had moved to Hutch’s bedside and taken his hand. They seemed lost in each other’s eyes, so he cleared his throat before he continued. “My biggest concern is infection from the multitude of cuts on his body. I believe the stitch count is at forty-three.”
Starsky looked up at that. “Damn, Doc. You made a Frankenstein out of him.”
Hutch chuckled, “It’s sounds worse than it is. Doc said I won’t scar much. Most of the stitches were on my feet.”
“Yes,” the resident agreed, adding, “he’ll need to stay completely off his feet until all the swelling goes down. I’m admitting him for observation tonight. Just a precaution. I would let him go home tomorrow if he had someone to stay with. But he says he doesn’t have anyone here.”
“Hey, Hutch. Wadda ya mean, ya gots nobody? I ain’t nobody. You got me remember? I wasn’t fuck… sorry, Doc. I wasn’t kiddin’ ya. You come home with me. I got a place with my Ma over on Eight-Fourth by the Mays. My Ma will love to fuss all over you. My Pop was a cop, she’ll love you. You might even get a Paul Munie special out of the deal.”
Hutch looked up pleadingly at the resident. “Could you give us a minute, Doc?”
“Oh, of course. I’ll tell the desk to get your room ready. I heard Dior is springing for private rooms for all those injured.”
Starsky waited till the resident left. “What is it, Cowboy?”
Hutch shook his head, but thought better of it as the room began to waver. “Starsky, you know that Duluth is a far cry north of the wild wild west. I’m not really what you would call a . . . cowboy.”
“You ever ride a horse?”
“Well, sure. My father had…” Starsky cut him off. “You ever been to a rodeo?”
“I did work summers at a rodeo, but that…”
“You ever sit by a campfire and play guitar under the stars?”
“Yes.” Hutch growled and started to cross his arms, forgetting his IV. But Starsky grabbed them and gently put them back down on the thin mattress. He noticed his hands were like ice.
“See? Cowboy. Besides, I have a feeling you could be anything you want to be if you put your mind to it. And you have the right back up.”
Starsky grinned at Hutch’s raised eyebrow. He grabbed a blanket and covered Hutch’s exposed chest, tucking it in around him. “Now tell me why you can’t come home with me for a few days.”
“Starsk? Is… is Vanessa alright?”
“Yeah, she’s fine. My Captain talked to her. She broke a nail or somethin’ but she was just fine. That oily boss of hers took her home.”
“She… she left?”
“Without battin’ a mascara’d eye, pard. I’m sorry. You want I should call her for you? You… you want her to take care of you?”
Hutch closed his eyes. What a day. I lost my wife. I almost lost my life. Now I’m stuck in a hospital far from home. Well, actually Duluth isn’t my home anymore.
Starsky squeezed Hutch’s hand, worried about the closed eyes and harsh breathing of his cowboy. “Babe? You okay? You hurtin’? Look, you just rest. You’re exhausted. I’ll take care of everything. Anything you want, okay?”
Starsky. What a great pal. Stuck around and saved my life. I guess I found something today, too. I wonder what a Paul Munie special is. Maybe I'll ask him some day.
Hutch squeezed back and opened his eyes. Starsky’s concerned face hovered over his, gently stroking his hair. He could feel his warm breath on his cheek.
“Starsk? Thanks. I’d love to stay at your home. You… you think your ma would mind you taking a trip to California after I’m healed?”
“Naaaa. She’s got my brother still. He’s a bum, but we love him. He keeps her on her toes. I only been back with her for a few months. So what’s in California?”
“New job, new beginning, new… partner. Me and thee?”
“I like the sound of that, partner.”
“Detectives Hutchinson and Starsky. I like the sound of that! Of course, if you’re coming out to Bay City from New York, there may be some classes to brush up on at the police academy there.”
“Make it Starsky and Hutch, and you got a deal.”