This is gonna be the coolest Christmas Eve party anybody’s ever seen, I thought, watching Anita, Diane and all my other ‘elves’ scurry around. I’d gotten the biggest tree I could find, set it up in the corner farthest from the bar, figuring it would be out of the way of any falling-down drunks, and we’d been decorating it all day. Anita was hanging the last of the tinsel and I had to admit, it was a mighty fine Yuletide spectacle.
“What d’ ya think, Huggy?” she called, flinging a final few aluminum strands onto the already gaudy display.
“Lookin’ good everybody,” I shouted. “ Just the little stuff left to do now. First eggnog’s on me, when the party starts.”
Hoots and hollers were heard throughout the room and back in the kitchen. Oh, we are gonna run through the ‘nog tonight.
There was plenty of room underneath the evergreen for presents and those had been showing up, one or two at a time, until there was quite a pile now. As soon as everyone from Metro got off work and made their way here, I was pretty sure it would be an impressive accumulation. My brothers and sisters in blue always remembered their Huggy Bear and his helpers. Even if they didn’t always pay their bar tabs in a timely manner.
“Huggy, what do you think we….” Diane’s question was interrupted when the back door flew open.
Preceded by two shabbily dressed members of his gang, Stanley Zucker slithered in. His goons were armed to the teeth and pointing weapons in every direction. My happiness bubble burst. I had sincerely hoped never to see that particular denizen of the criminal world again, but here he was in my fine establishment on the eve of Christmas. Three other equally unappealing members of the lowlife community followed Zucker in, the last one slamming the door.
“Lock it!” Zucker ordered.
The goon did as told. “This is damn good hardware, boss.”
“Good! It’ll keep out the riff raff,” Zucker snorted.
“Well, well, and well again,” I said, pasting the phoniest smile on my features I could manage. “To what do I owe the pleasure?”
Zucker pulled a grungy knitted cap off his head, revealing why he was known as ‘The Snake.’ A tattooed cobra coiled around his neck. The hood flared over the top of his bald pate while the beady eyes and menacing tongue extended onto his forehead. It had taken some inmate two years, I’d been told, to complete the work during Zucker’s first incarceration, and it was mighty impressive. Best prison ink I’d ever seen.
“My boys and I are here to add to your festivities,” he hissed, stuffing the cap in his back pocket.
“Gee, Mr. Snake,” I began, screwing up my courage to banter words with this piece o’ slime, “when you joined Delaney in his little escapade last month, I figured you’d be more than half way to South American by now. You decide t’ hang around, dodgin’ cops, just so you could come to my party tonight?”
“Always loved your jokes, Huggy,” Snake retorted, patently lying. “I swear I want to hear your best one just before I kill you.”
“I’ll start thinkin’ right now then,” I managed to get out of my dry throat, “‘cause I wouldn’t want to disappoint you.”
“Only way you’d do that,” he snarled, ‘is if you don’t get your friends, Starsky and Hutchinson, down here so I can get all my grudges settled at one time.”
I knew this wasn’t good. Starsky and Hutch were due with the rest of Metro in a couple of hours. Somehow I had to warn them. Or keep them away. “Uh… well, now… maybe…” I stammered.
“What?” Zucker leaned into my face. “You tellin’ me they ain’t comin’ to your shindig?”
“No, not exactly…” I was trying to think of something, anything to say.
“You get ‘em here, Bear.” The tip of a very large, shape looking knife appeared at the corner of my left eye. “Call ‘em! Tell ‘em you’re gonna be throwin’ the party o’ the century and they better not miss it!”
Attempting to swallow around the knot of genuine fear that had lodged in my throat, I made my way to the bar, fumbled the receiver as I picked it up, and dialed Starsky’s squad room number. As soon as it was picked up at the other end, I started speaking loudly. “Hey, Hutch! It’s yer ol’ pal, Huggy Bear. Lemme talk to Starsky… Yeah, Hutchinson, only Starsky.”
I waited, cocking my eyebrows at Zucker. I heard Starsky snap his fingers, presumably at his partner, and a soft click on the line indicated someone else was now listening.
“Starsky!” I went on, as cheerfully as I could force myself to sound, “Skinny tells me… what? Oh, he’s my new cook, fat guy, we call ‘im Skinny. I’ve told you ‘bout him, makes all those new dishes I got on my menu. He’s makin’ a special one for tonight, which brings me to this conversation.” I looked around at the watchful faces of Zucker and his gang, and the anxious faces of my friends.
“Are you in trouble, Hug?” Starsky’s voice whispered into my ear.
“Yes, indeed!” I answered heartily. “I know you’re busy so why doncha shut up and lemme get t’ the reason fer m’ call?” Taking a breath and pretending to get myself back under control, I went on in a lower voice. “Skinny tells me he’s heard a rumor that you and your blond partner ain’t gonna grace us with your presence down here this evenin’.” I made the last half dozen words sound as ‘offended’ as possible. “So, I’m askin’ ya straight out if Skinny’s right. You two thinkin’ o’ stiffin’ yer ol’ buddy? Yer pal? The black brother that’s gotten your asses outta more slings than an orthopedic ward?”
Zucker couldn’t hide a smirk and moved closer, maybe trying to hear whatever Starsky was saying. Which wasn’t anything. My buddy was silent, but I knew his mind was working overtime. Right along with that college boy partner of his.
“Beverly Hills?” I hollered, supposedly in response to whatever Starsky had said. “Who the fuck in that glorified burg is more important than me? Everybody up there’s an over-dressed pimp or a green satin hooker! You come on down here, boy,” I snorted, “bring your snivelly blond partner with ya, see some real, live, honest-t’-God action! More good times and high spirits than you’ll find at any other venue tonight. I can guar-an-tee that!”
“How many?” Hutch’s voice asked quietly.
“Six o’clock, m’ man, jus’ like on the notice I sent a few weeks ago.” I wished I knew if my garbled messages were getting through. “Tha’s right, six. The fun’s startin’ now but we’ll be expectin’ you by then.”
I shrugged at Zucker and started to hang up. Trying to make it look as if I’d just thought of something else, I put the receiver back to my ear. “Oh, an’ Starsky,” I barked, “not a word o’ this to Dobey or those two other clowns in your squad room. Ya hear me? This is gonna be a so-phis-ti-cated party. See you both at six!” I slammed the receiver down.
Zucker let out a guffaw before he plowed his fist into my stomach, hard.
My knees buckled and I went down, seeing stars and the probable end of my days on this earth.
Anita and Diane ran to my side and Zucker backed off, still brandishing the knife though. “Get him on his feet, ladies, he’s gonna introduce me to his new cook.”
My insides knotted up worse than they had from the punch. If Raoul didn’t catch on quick, we were all dead. The Snake prodded my back with the point of his knife and walked me to the kitchen. Two of his goons had my prep and wait staff lined up behind the stainless steel counter.
“Which one o’ you is Skinny?” Zucker shouted, the knife dangling visibly now over my shoulder. He’d heard me say ‘fat guy,’ but a couple of my employees qualified.
I caught Raoul’s eyes and tried to send him the plan wordlessly. Now, you gotta understand, Raoul’s three hundred pounds if he’s an ounce and he’d done two stretches in Q for crimes he swore he never committed. He’s been with me for more than three years and I trust him with my life. I’m just not sure I trust him to dive into a melodrama without a script.
His eyes widened when he saw the knife before they went squinty. “Watch who yer callin’ names, asshole,” he growled. “I only allow certain o’ ma closes’ friends t’ call me that.”
I silently sent him a, ‘thank you’ when he flicked a quick look at me.
“So…” Zucker still sounded suspicious. “the Bear, here, says you heard a rumor.” He shoved me ahead of him.
I stumbled toward the counter. “Starsky and Hutch,” I mouthed to Raoul, “not comin’ t’night.”
Nonchalantly, Raoul walked to his meat preparation table, keeping his eyes on Zucker. “All right with you, suh, if I keep on with ma work here? I gots t’ make Veal Provencal fer as many as two hundred hungry people.”
He pulled a haunch out of the refrigerator and slapped it onto his cutting board. “Yer cronies, here, though” he made insolent gestures at both gang members, “took all ma knives, boss.” He shrugged. “Cain’t prepare no meat without ma cutlery.”
Zucker motioned to one of his thugs. “Give ‘em back, Sly. But make sure you watch him good. If any of those blades goes anywhere except into a slab o’ meat or a vegetable, put a slug in his kneecap.”
“Be more than happy to, boss,” the guy on Raoul’s left said, apparently relishing the idea.
“Now then,” Zucker continued, “what about this rumor you heard?”
Raoul inspected each of his knives after getting them back, selected the large carving utensil and stropped it a few times. He looked insolently at our tormentor as he rested the steel on its eventual target. “You mean about Starsky and Hutch?”
“Yeah,” Zucker sneered.
“They ain’t comin’.” Raoul bent over the veal.
“Why not?” The Snake was plainly unsatisfied.
Raoul slammed the point of the razor sharp implement into the wooden block under the shank and looked angrily at our captor. “How the fuck would I know that?” Leaning on the knife handle, he glared at Zucker. “I heard a rumor. I knew Huggy’d want t’ know, ‘cause it was about his lousy cop friends. I tol’ ‘im somebody said they ain’t gonna show up.”
He pulled the knife out of the wood with some difficulty and started slicing. “If Huggy embellished on what I tol’ him, that’s his problem.”
Zucker pointed his piece of steel at me. “You better damn well hope you changed Starsky’s mind, Huggy.”
Admonishing his henchmen next, he threatened them with the same weapon. “Keep your eyes on everybody in here, Sly. If any of them makes a wrong move, shoot ‘em in the leg before you come get me.”
Dragging me by my shirt collar, we moved back into the main room.
“Looks ‘t me,” The Snake observed, pointing his sticker at the boxes of garland, lights and ornaments stacked on the bar, “like your staff’s been layin’ down on the job, Bear. Get the rest o’ these decorations up! Make this place look like it’s fit for a party! Right now, it’s pathetic!”
He spun on two of his gang members who were pawing through the presents under the tree. “Put those back, you shitheads. We’ll have plenty of time, later. We don’t want nobody walkin’ in here and noticin’ anything wrong. Huggy’s probably got deliveries due. We gotta appear natural.”
He slapped me on the back of the head. “Bring me a beer, barkeep.” He sauntered over to a booth, slid in and put his dirty boots up on the opposite bench.
With only slightly shaking hands, I drew a beer and took it over to him.
He swallowed half the glassful before he put it down, wiped his mouth and belched loudly. “Get to work. You got plenty t’ do before your invited guests start arrivin’.”
I walked back to the kitchen door and pushed it open. “You all okay in here, Skinny?”
“You bet, bossman,” Raoul responded, sending me a wink neither of the hoods could see.
I turned and made my way to the bar. Anita and Diane had begun laying garlands around the edge while Wayne, my only male waiter, was taping it in place.
I got out the step stool and started hanging more greenery along the shelves of liquor bottles and glasses. Anita came over and kept me supplied with garland and tacks.
“What was that all about with Starsky,” she asked, sotto voce.
“Skinny was the nickname of a friend of Starsky’s and mine from way back,” I explained in a voice so soft I wasn’t sure she could hear me. “The world knew him as Nelson, only Starsky and I called him Skinny. Sure hope m’ man remembers.”
I moved the short ladder and climbed back up. “Eight years ago, just after Starsky and Hutch made detective, that bastard in the corner thought Nelson had crossed him on a stupid low level scam.” I looked down at her and knew she was hearing me. “He killed him.”
Anita sucked in a breath but held it together, handing me more greens and thumbtacks. “The three of you sent him away?”
“Starsky and Hutch did that,” I whispered. “I really didn’t have much to do with it. But Zucker, there, knew I’d turned my guys onto him. He swore he’d get me, too, when he got out.”
“He killed Nelson and he’s already free?” She was clearly disgusted.
“In a manner o’ speakin.” I glanced in the mirror to make sure Zucker wasn’t paying any attention to me. “The judge only gave him ten years but I guess he couldn’t wait. He’s one of the half dozen guys that broke out of prison a few weeks ago with Mel Delaney. Four of ‘em’ve been caught but I knew Zucker wasn’t one of them. Like I told him though, I never thought he’d stay around. Figured him for long gone.” I hung another swag.
“Where’d he get these other clowns?” She gestured subtly to the three gang members in the room.
One, a wiry, undernourished youngster, was slouched near the locked back door. For a second, I wondered what a kid like that was doing with Zucker and his crew.
The last two, who looked as if they could be brothers because they had similar features and hair color, were huge and muscle-bound. Didn’t look like they were carryin’ much in the way of smarts. They wandered, picking items up and inspecting them before setting them back down.
Each of the three seemed to keep a wary eye on Snake at all times.
“I’m told there’s a corner downtown,” I murmured, “where lookin’-for-a-job thugs hang out. He probably trolled through and picked ‘em up.” I stared in the mirror again. “Can’t imagine he cares what happens to any of ‘em, after tonight.”
“So we got a murderer and escaped convict, plus five penny ante desperados on our hands,” Anita muttered. “That sucks.”
“Tell me about it.”
“Hey, Bear,” The Snake called from his corner. “Bring me another beer. And put one for each of my boys on my tab.” He laughed heartily at his little joke while I climbed off the stool, drew his beer and five more. Diane delivered them, cautiously. Zucker laughed a lot.
The place was now decorated to the nines. Multicolored lights shone in the garlands hung all around the room. Fat red candles under hurricane shades flickered on all the tables. A small Santa, his reindeer and gift-stuffed sleigh rode the top of the jukebox.
I ushered the delivery boy, who’d just brought five cheesecakes, out the front door. “Sorry ‘bout the back door bein’ locked, Arnold. I’ll have it fixed so you don’t have to walk all the way around next time.”
The kid shrugged unconcernedly and left, casting a suspicious eye toward the youthful gang member who’d moved from guarding the back door to patrolling the sidewalk in front. All his weaponry was concealed.
I went back inside, into the main room. Looking around, I couldn’t see anything else that needed to be done. I glanced at my watch and saw that it was five forty-five. Nearly showtime. Maybe my messages hadn’t gotten through. Or maybe Starsky thought I’d already had one too many when I called, and was going to avoid The Pits entirely. Could be only me and my elves were going to bite the dust tonight. That’d be better than all my friends from Metro dying too, but --
Voices sounded from the front entrance.
Zucker jumped up and ran to grab my arm before I could move around the partition.
“M’ man Dugout’ll handle it,” he stated. “He’s been tellin’ everybody that the place is closed for a private party tonight. He knows who we’re waitin’ for ’cause I gave him pictures of your two buddies.” He snickered, evilly. “They get their mugs in the papers a lot!”
The voices grew louder and I recognized one of them.
“You better tell that no good nephew of mine that if he doesn’t open this two-bit tavern for me right this minute,” the voice of Captain Harold Dobey bellowed, “I’ll burn it to the ground and cover the ashes with salt. Nothing, and I mean nothing will ever grow here again!”
I hissed in The Snake’s ear. “That’s my Uncle Harold. He runs girls out of his two mansions. I had no idea he was gonna show up tonight but, if you don’t let him in, he’ll do exactly what he says. And believe me, Mr. Zucker, he won’t care if there’s anybody in here when he does.” I cocked my head. “Get on his good side though, and you won’t ever have to run a petty scam again in your life!”
“Let ‘im in, Dugout!” Zucker hollered.
I tried to contain my nerves and fear as I heard numerous people stomp and clatter down the two steps from the entrance. Were those high heeled shoes I heard? Oh, good lord, what did Dobey think he was doing?
“Hang up my cashmere, fool,” Dobey snarled. “And if you drag it on the floor, I swear I’ll make you lick the dirt off with your tongue.”
There was the sound of shuffling and shifting while coats were probably shed and hung on the numerous hooks that line the hall. More high heels skittered around and I distinctly heard giggling. This was going to be an unmitigated disaster.
Preceded by clouds of cigar smoke, Harold Dobey, Captain of Detectives, Ninth Precinct, Bay City Police Department, surged into the main room of my bar. It wasn’t the first time he’d been here, of course, but this was, by far, his most impressive entrance to date.
He was dressed in a cream colored suit that was only slightly stressed at the seams, the jacket of which didn’t have a prayer of closing over his paunch though. His shirt was lemon yellow and his tie and pocket handkerchief were cobalt blue. The cigar in his hand smelled like genuine Cuban tobacco.
I was amazed at the depth of the BCPD’s property and undercover wardrobe department.
Behind Dobey, the young guard who was evidently known as Dugout, hunched in, peering cautiously around Dobey’s bulk. “Sorry, Snake. They crowded me. I couldn’t keep ‘em all out.”
“Shut up!” Zucker snapped. “Get back to the door.”
“But, Snake, you’re not gonna believe who’s with ‘im,” Dugout whined. “Lemme stay. Please?”
“At least go lock it!” Snake shouted.
I had to smile a little. Stanley Zucker, The Snake, didn’t even realize the situation was rapidly spinning out of his control.
Dugout snuck back in and sidled up next to the hulk brothers, as if hoping they’d protect him.
Dobey’s haughty gaze swept over my staff, who’d gathered behind the bar, and the lowlifes scattered around the space. Coming to rest, finally, on Zucker, his eyes widened. “My, my, Nephew,” he purred, in a voice that sounded impressed, “I had no idea you knew this gentleman.”
Gliding forward, Dobey extended his hand to Zucker.
Attempting to keep my face blank, I wondered ‘how did two hundred fifty pounds of Harold Dobey manage to glide?’ Mentally shaking my head, I decided I’d have to think about that later.
Zucker had no option but to shift the knife to his left hand so that he could accept the large black paw.
“Mr. Stanley Zucker, I do believe,” Dobey bellowed, heartily. “How you’ve managed to avoid all the cops looking for you is a story I’d dearly like to hear, sir!”
He dropped Zucker’s hand. “Later though.” He spun toward me.
I clamped my astonished mouth shut. “Yes, Uncle?” I inquired, politely. “How may I be of service this evening?”
“I found myself without a Christmas Eve party to attend,” Dobey pronounced, “so I decided to raise the level of your clientele by bringing a few of my new girls, plus excellent food and drink, to grace your lowly establishment.”
He spread his arms in a welcoming gesture and intoned, “Girls?”
The captain’s appearance should have warned me but I was, in no way, prepared for the person who came around the corner in response to his invitation, and strutted into the room.
She was a strikingly beautiful redhead, taller than Dobey in her three inch spike heels, wearing a form clinging green velvet floor length gown. It was slit up the side of her right leg, probably so that she could walk in the tight thing. A sleek black stocking covered the visible limb. The neckline was decorously high but the bodice only served to accentuate generous breasts. Long sleeves ended in deep v’s over the backs of her hands.
She sported several rings that, if the gems were real, were worth the price of my whole building. More glittery stuff circled her neck and dangled from her ear lobes. Tightly curled brilliant auburn hair cascaded to her shoulders, making an excellent contrast with her intense midnight blue eyes.
The second one of Dobey’s ‘girls’ entered and my jaw dropped even further.
A couple of inches taller than Green Gown, and more statuesque, if that was possible, she was drop dead gorgeous. Long, silken wavy blonde hair fell past her ruby lips, which pouted exquisitely. She was wearing a low cut scarlet dress that gave ‘hourglass figure’ a new meaning. A slit up the middle of the front of the skirt exposed long, shapely legs clad in red stockings.
She flowed across the floor to stand next to her girlfriend, putting a long-fingered hand on the green-clad forearm. Her lethal-length nails were the same crimson as her provocative lips, but it was her startlingly blue eyes that mesmerized. The lava-hot gaze that poured from them seemed to set everything in the room ablaze when she checked out all her admirers.
“Nephew,” Dobey mellifluously interrupted everyone’s stare. “I’d like you to meet my two newest… acquisitions.” Nodding to the blonde, he bowed slightly. “This is Shirley Temple and,” half turning to the redhead, “this is Delilah.”
I stepped forward, took a hand of each ‘girl’ in one of my own and bent over them. “Am I ever glad to see you guys!”
“Champagne, my bear,” Dobey proclaimed, drowning out my whisper. “We must have champagne for everyone.” Turning, he loudly summoned the rest of his entourage. “Barbara, Sheila, Anton….”
As blown away as I’d been by Starsky’s and Hutch’s disguises, only just now realizing that Hutch had had to shave off his mustache, I was equally stunned with the getups and outfits of Babcock, Simmons and Minnie Kaplan.
Simmons had stuffed his tall, lean frame into a shimmer of gold satin that was mostly hidden under a cream, sleeveless, three-quarter-length tunic. A black wig covered his dark blond hair and hung careless curls impishly over much of his face. Black high heels, black gloves and ropes of jet beads and earrings completed the outfit.
Babcock was clad to look like a short version of Winter Wonderland in a snowy wig that cascaded over ermine-covered shoulders. A white lace blouse and silky-looking foam-colored lounging pajamas covered his limbs. His feet looked really uncomfortable in white satin pumps.
Minnie, my Minnie, as I was bound and determined to be able to call her one of these days, was dressed all in black. Apparently cast as Dobey’s male aide, ‘Anton,’ she wore an ebony three-piece suit, a shiny black shirt and black Windsor-knotted tie.
Her hair was slicked straight back, making her usual black-framed glasses stand out.
It was the final piece of her disguise though, that had me chortling inside: Starsky’s ‘Ramon’ mustache. And, by God, she made it look good!
I clamped down on my smile and shifted my gaze to the object Minnie was pulling behind her. It was the biggest Igloo ice chest I’d ever seen. Didn’t know they made ‘em that big!
“Where shall I set up, sir,” Minnie queried Dobey, deferentially.
Dobey waved a hand dismissively. “Oh, I don’t care. Anywhere out of the way, I guess.”
Zucker appeared to realize he was no longer in charge and his face flushed.
“Hey! Whacha got there?” He stalked to Minnie. “Open it!”
Casually, she did so.
I could just see over the rim to the contents. There were half a dozen dark green bottles, wedges of cheese, boxes of crackers, tins that possibly held caviar, and other goodies I couldn’t identify.
Zucker stared and almost began to salivate. He pointed toward the bar. “Why doncha put that stuff out over there where we can all get to it.”
“That sounds like a fine idea, Mr. Zucker.” Dobey gestured to Minnie. “Do that, son.”
She hauled the cooler over to where Diane, Anita and Wayne waited, behind the bar. The four of them began to unload the delectables onto the long, flat surface.
I noticed that Snake’s two kitchen goons had come out to ogle the arrivals, their tongues literally hanging out of their mouths. It had probably been a long time since either one of them had gotten laid.
Raoul and the rest of my prep and wait staff came out, staring at all the spectacular figures clustered around the entrance. After a few moments, Raoul jostled them and they joined Anita, Diane, Minnie and Wayne. I sincerely hoped I was the only one who noticed that Raoul had his carving knife in his hand, hidden under his apron.
While Wayne and Diane grabbed flutes from the glass rack and Minnie and Anita began opening bottles, I looked around at the weird cast of characters currently populating The Pits.
Dobey had his arm around Zucker’s shoulders, guiding him toward a booth. “Now, Mr. Snake,” he began, genially, “please tell me how you have managed to remain free these past weeks. I was under the impression that half of California’s law enforcement personnel was searching for you.”
“Weren’t easy,” Snake informed him, visibly impressed with himself.
Starsky and Hutch sailed toward the huge, muscular brothers, bracketing them closely.
“Look at these muscles, Dee,” Hutch cooed, squeezing a bulging bicep.
“Noticed them the minute I walked in, Shirl,” Starsky replied, huskily. “I haven’t seen specimens like these two boys in many a year.” He batted his eyelashes at the patently flustered thug.
Hutch draped his long arm around the second brother’s neck, dripping his hand down over the brawny chest. “Do you really have to wear this silly thing?” He fingered the guy’s shoulder holster.
“Well…” the goon gulped.
“Take it off, why don’t you?” Hutch urged. Winking at Starsky, he used his other hand to play with the idiot’s greasy hair. “Delilah and I would just love to snuggle with you two in a cozy booth…” He stepped back and allowed his appraising gaze to course up and down the man’s impressive frame. “But it would be really uncomfortable if you’re wearing nasty objects.”
“Why is everyone armed in the first place?” Starsky’s tone was silky and sulky. “This is party! We’re all supposed to have fun!” He frowned prettily. “Guns are no fun.”
“Well… uh… I guess,” the second goon stuttered before unsnapping the fastenings on his holster and taking it off.
Starsky accepted it and laughed, happily. “Oh, that’s much better.” Smiling at Hutch, he continued, “Now yours, Shirl.”
Hutch held out his hand and the first brother shed his weapon and holster. “I’ll just put these over here,” Hutch said, taking Starsky’s captured automatic, too, and moving to a table.
“What else have you got in those tight ol’ pants, big boy?” Starsky ran his hands up and down his captive’s chest. “Come on, sweetie, show mama. What else?”
Reluctantly, and appearing somewhat embarrassed, the guy dug another small gun and two knives out of his jacket and pants pockets.
“Ohhhh,” Starsky exhaled, softly, “I could have hurt myself, couldn’t I?” He accepted the offerings and passed them quickly to Hutch.
Hutch came back from the cache and stared, pointedly, at his half of the bulky pair. He tapped his spike heel, impatiently. “Do you subscribe to the same overkill mentality as your friend, sir?”
“He’s my brother,” the man confessed, as if it were a misdeed.
“Of course he is,” Hutch simpered. “But Dee and I aren’t getting into that booth with you until you’ve removed all the items that might injure us.”
“We’d never --” the second brother began.
“Of course you wouldn’t,” Starsky interrupted, cheerfully. “Shirl and I are just cautious. You know how easily a girl can get hurt these days.” He batted his eyelashes again.
The reluctant one caved and handed over two more guns and a knife.
Hutch piled them on top of the rest of the weapons.
“Why don’t you two slide in first?” Starsky suggested. “That way Shirl and I can get to the little girl’s room, if we need to.” He grinned, shyly, at Hutch.
When the goons were crammed at the wall on either side of the booth, Starsky slid in one side and Hutch on the other.
Minnie approached with a tray and four glasses of champagne. She carried the tray in her left hand, holding a large towel underneath with her right. As she bent forward and delivered a glass to each of the two men, Starsky and Hutch surreptitiously took their weapons from under the towel.
That’s when I realized what had been stashed under the layers of goodies in the oversize Igloo.
Hutch hid his Python under the folds of his skirt while Starsky did the same with his Beretta.
The men gulped several swallows before they realized that the ‘girls’ were waiting for a toast. Embarrassed, they held their glasses out into the center of the table.
Starsky and Hutch each picked up a flute and clinked rims with the goons’ .
“To a memorable evening.” Starsky’s toast brought a smile to Hutch’s face.
I dragged my attention away from ‘Dee’ and ‘Shirl,’ and scanned the room.
Minnie was making the rounds, delivering champagne, and cop guns, to each ‘couple,’ in separate booths.
Simmons had attached himself to Dugout, the slender, pock-marked-faced kid who’d been standing watch out front and had so ineffectively barred Dobey and the others.
The detective was extracting a knife from an inside pocket, which he placed on the table, as far from his companion’s hands as possible, with the pistol he had already removed.
Simmons accepted his drink, and .38, from Minnie, while the oblivious youngster sucked down the bubbly.
In an adjacent booth, Babcock was all over the second guy from the kitchen. Two knives and two guns were piled on the table. “You have more than sufficient… weaponry, you handsome brute,” the detective crooned. “Why carry more?”
“What did you say your name was?” The pathetic excuse for a bad guy could barely get the words out of his drooling mouth.
Babcock laughed and pinched his cheek. “I’m Sheila.” He took two flutes from Minnie’s tray, passing one to his companion. While the guy was guzzling, he slipped his own gun out from under Minnie’s towel and put it behind his hip.
Raoul had maneuvered himself to where he was standing near Sly, the henchman who’d gotten pleasure out of menacing him and his staff. The big knife was held down by his thigh.
Sly was gulping champagne and stuffing caviar-covered crackers in his mouth.
I caught Raoul’s eye and shook my head marginally.
He nodded understanding and relaxed a little. He was obviously willing to wait for someone’s signal.
Minnie made the rounds of the room with two fresh bottles, filling and re-filling all six gang members’ glasses, before going behind the bar.
I moved over to where Dobey was urging Snake to drink up, while listening, avidly, to the escapee’s continuing tale.
“I’ll tell ya, Harold…” Snake emptied the freshly-filled glass in two gulps. “I know all the hidey holes now. I could stay outta the clutches of every stupid cop in this whole state, if I had to.”
“You’ll never get that chance, Zucker.” Dobey removed his gun from the back of his waistband and shoved it under Snake’s chin. “You’re under arrest,” he called, loudly.
Having patiently waited for their captain’s signal, Starsky, Hutch, Babcock and Simmons produced their weapons and stuck the muzzles into the closest vulnerable spot on each thug’s person.
“What the captain just said,” Starsky smirked to brother number two. Or was it number one? I couldn’t remember.
Sly jumped back from the bar and reached for his automatic but Raoul grabbed him around the throat and laid the sharp edge of his knife against the jugular.
Minnie disarmed Sly but Raoul kept the blade in place.
She then skipped around the room, collecting all the guns and knives and piling them on a central table. I’d never seen my Minnie skip before, but, Lord, it was a glorious sight!
“Bring the uniforms in now, please, Minnie,” Dobey requested.
She went to the back door first, threw the dead bolt and opened up. A dozen uniformed cops poured in, taking charge of the various gang members.
Minnie ducked into the entrance hall and soon more officers followed her back into my bar.
I reached forward, across Dobey, and lifted the wicked knife from Snake’s stiff fingers. “I think your part of the show is over now.”
Dobey stood up and yanked Zucker out of the booth.
An officer was there immediately. He frisked the jail breaker, finding another gun and a switchblade and handing them to a waiting officer. Then he pulled The Snake’s hands behind his back and cuffed him.
“Wha’…? How’d you…? I didn’t… you couldn’t…” Zucker babbled.
“We could,” Dobey crowed. “And we did.”
I hadn’t heard them move but, suddenly, Starsky and Hutch were on either side of me, their arms around my narrow shoulders, reaching onto each others’.
“You knew we’d never let you down, right Hug?” Starsky was still in sultry redhead mode.
“You always throw the best party in town, Mr. Bear,” Hutch added, melodiously.
“Get ‘em all outta here!” Dobey roared. “Cleary!”
An officer stepped forward and I thought he was going to salute but, at the last moment, he managed not to. He smiled, instead. “Sir.”
“Book ‘em, fast! Then bring all your guys back and help us celebrate!”
“Yes, sir!” Cleary took charge of the now-cuffed Stanley Zucker. “Mr. Zucker, in case you have not been informed as of yet, you are under arrest. Come along and we’ll read all of you your rights on the way to Metro.”
A dozen uniforms gathered up the six gang members and hustled them out. Two more officers collected all the guns and knives.
Babbling ensued. That’s all I could call it. My staff knew Starsky and Hutch of course. Dobey and Minnie had been in before, too. But no one had ever seen any of them dressed like they were tonight. My guys ‘n’ gals crowded around them.
Raoul gave me a sly smile and took his piece of cutlery back to the kitchen. Probably realizing he still had a sumptuous meal to prepare, he dragged a couple of his prep staff with him.
Anita and Diane cut Minnie from the herd. “That ‘stache looks better on you than it ever did on Starsky,” Diane observed.
Starsky tossed her a ‘Ramon is offended’ look.
Hutch threw an arm over Starsky’s shoulders and turned him toward Wayne and the rest of the kitchen help who were circling around, beginning to fling sarcastic, ribald remarks that I won’t repeat.
I will allow that Starsky’s generous bosom and Hutch’s missing lip rug got most of the comments. Each was easily caught and flung back though. My buddies gave as good as they got.
Dobey moved away from the commotion and seated himself regally at a center table, waiting calmly, I assumed, for things to quiet down.
Minnie, smiling happily, joined him.
Anita, Diane and Wayne made the rounds, keeping everyone’s glass filled.
I backed off and watched all my friends proudly. Starsky had understood what I was trying to tell him and then he, and the entire department it seems, had concocted this brilliant rescue. Not to mention the arrest of the penultimate escapee.
‘Delilah’ looked over and caught my eye. His lopsided grin widened into his full fledged beautiful smile and he nodded.
‘Shirley Temple,’ too, was looking at me. His intense blue eyes flashed and his radiant smile seemed to double the illumination in the room.
I don’t believe I had ever felt quite so blessed. And on Christmas Eve, too.
The thought occurred to me that I’d invite Minnie to go with me and, after I closed up in the wee hours of tomorrow morning, we’d find a church that was open early, or still open late, and just sit for a while.
Coming through darkness
Makes simple things shine brighter
Like the love of friends