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Conflict Of Interest

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The walk from his yoga class that morning had given John enough time to relive Harold’s abduction three months ago. Reese chided himself for wasting time in the session and upped his pace. When he reached the library he was almost running. John took that first step and grasped his gun, then caught himself.

Finch was fine.

Safe in his perch.

Home.

In three months, Harold had not made any attempts to go out in the field. Reese hadn’t even once suggested it. The stairs to the library allowed Reese to calm himself. Each step let him remember that Finch was safe. Harold and Bear would be waiting for him at the top with a new assignment.

Repeating to himself, ‘Finch is fine, Finch is Fine,’ John reached their floor and steadied his breathing. Damn it, Reese should be over this by now. Each time he panicked put him one step closer to slipping in front of Finch. If Harold even suspected he was being coddled he would rebel like a seventeen year old whose father was chaperoning a dance. Get it together John.

Reese shook his body all over, loosened his joints and emptied his mind. With cockiness he wasn’t feeling, John sauntered into the room.

Finch looked up and stood. He stiffly hobbled over to the cracked board and taped an NYPD staff photo of a curly headed smiling man in his late 50’s or early 60’s. Salt and pepper hair ran riot around the blue cap. Most of his Dress Blues were obscured by a myriad of commendations and medals.

Harold limped back to his chair to find John leaning against a bookcase leafing through a book with Bear at his feet. Seating himself, Finch said, “Mister Reese, we have a new number.”

John closed the book with a pop and replaced it. He sat down across from Harold. “Yeah, you gonna tell me or do we play 20 questions?”

Ignoring the tone, Finch handed over a dossier about six inches thick. “A decorated police Captain in Brooklyn. Bensonhurst to be exact: David Michael Starsky.”

“Starsky? Why does that name sound familiar?”

Finch passed over a copy of a 1980 New York Times with the headline "Gunther Gets the Gavel".
“I did say decorated, Mr Reese."

Reese skimmed the article recounting Starsky’s role in the case. He looked up. “James Gunther? He was a hair’s breadth from president, right? That was a huge case in ’79. Massive conspiracy. Major crime organization.” Reese continued to read through the file. “Finch, it will take a week to sort through who wants Starsky dead. Any indication he’s dirty?”

“Absolutely none. In fact, when Starsky joined the Brooklyn precinct after a sterling career in L.A., he was instrumental in cleaning house. The 68th is known as a squeaky clean precinct, largely due to Starsky’s leadership. Kenneth Richard Hutchinson.” Finch passed over a picture of a balding blond in his 60’s with a goatee along with another six inch thick dossier. “His partner in Bay City, California, is now serving his second term as a New York City Councilman. Before that he was a liaison to the Department. He received his Master’s in psychiatry and finished his law degree in California before moving here with Starsky in ’89 to take care of Rachel Starsky. She is now deceased, but at the time she was in failing health and the family asked her oldest son to look after her. So as not to make an elderly woman move from her home of forty years Lieutenant Starsky and Attorney Ken Hutchinson moved to New York.”

John’s brow creased. “Partner? What kind of partner moves cross country to help his ex-partner take care of his mother?”

Finch pierced Reese with a frank stare, over his glasses. "Life partners Mr. Reese. Is that going to be a problem?”

“What? That Starsky’s gay? Why would it be a problem?”

Standing again, Finch made his way over to a bookcase. With his back to Reese he said, “I am aware of your work for the Agency, Mr. Reese. I can hardly infer a tolerance for alternative lifestyles.” Harold turned and once again made eye contact with John. “from a history of luring closeted, scared gay men into an affair only to later blackmail them.”

Indignation fueled Reese to sit up. “Now hold on. I volunteered for those assignments in order to assure myself that those men were treated right. You have no idea about the agent who was asked to run those honey trap missions. He was a serious homophobe and treated them with contempt.”

John sighed and rubbed his left hand over his face. “Sure I received information from them, just like I gathered intel from the wives and daughters of powerful men.” Reese looked directly at Finch. “But I never blackmailed them by threatening to expose their orientation. If their lives were in danger because they decided to pass sensitive information, classified information to their bed partners, that was on them.”

Taken aback by John’s ire, Harold backtracked. “I did not mean to offend you…”

“Those operations were being run with unusual cruelty." John’s face was set, his jaw clenched. “It was sloppy. Stanton knew I was Bi and asked me to intervene. She was a hard woman and a fierce agent but she tried to keep all missions clean.”

Reese stood, “I might have lost my way, but not then. When I started to cross too many lines I stopped getting involved in honey trap ops. You should know me better than that.” He walked stiffly over to the kitchen.

Slowly, Finch followed Reese, “John. Honestly. I never thought you were homophobic or cruel. But you have to understand with your military background and work in these ‘honey traps,’ I had to be open to the possibility.”

Reese spun around. “What? That if a number came up that was gay I was going to refuse?” John lowered his voice. “Why didn’t you just ask?”

Finch raised his hands in a placating manner. “At the first opportunity which is now, I did ask.”

Harold set his arms at his side and took a step forward with eyes downcast. “I would never want to put you in a situation where you were uncomfortable.”

John crossed his arms, fully aware of the defensive posture. “Locked in the trunk of a car on fire, that’s uncomfortable. You were willing to work with an armed homophobe?”

Harold sighed, “From your background I could infer many different scenarios. One being a dislike for gay men. Another…” He faltered.

Not liking where this was going, Reese said. “Just say it Finch.”

“Time and time again your superiors asked you to do things in the name of protecting your country that you would normally deem distasteful.” Harold stepped back and turned. “If the honey pot operations were something of that nature, I would hesitate to put you in a situation that could bring up unpleasant memories.”

Reese followed Finch back into the computer room. “Unpleasant memories?”

Finch sat in his chair. The older man seemed to be agitated and hesitant. Finally, Harold looked up and stared at the wall not making eye contact with John who stood behind him about six feet. “If your participation was not voluntary, I would consider it to be no less than institutionally sanctioned rape, Mr. Reese.”

The word and its implications hung in the air between them. John didn’t know what to say. Harold knew what he had done on many missions. Most people would think he deserved any unpleasantness thrown his way. Before Reese could formulate a response, Finch sighed and began typing. “As I said, I would never want you to be uncomfortable with a number.”

Reese pulled his chair next to Finch. “It wasn’t like that: a couple of discreet dates, pillow talk, nothing more, nothing damaging. I hated the necessity of it but, unsecured intel was available. We needed the information and we had to use any assets we could find.”

Now it was John’s turn to hesitate as he said. “But, thanks.”

“I hardly see a reason for gratitude.”

“Not just about, well trying to protect me I guess.” Reese ran his left hand over his face and sighed. “For not even blinking when I said I was Bi.” He looked at the side of Harold’s face. “Most people, most men take a step back after hearing that.”

Oddly, Finch snorted. “I’m hardly going to be disgusted by you, Mr. Reese. And the absurdity of the thought that you would overpower and ravage me doesn’t bear to be entertained.” In a soft voice Harold continued. “I learned long ago that you would never willingly hurt me, John.”

The use of his first name by Finch had been popping up increasingly. The implied trust in Harold’s statement combined with the familiarity of first names left them both fidgeting.

Finally, Finch keyed in some information and the monitors displayed Starsky’s file as well as several articles. “Captain Starsky and Ken Hutchinson were in the academy together in 1969. They were partners on the job from ‘72 until ‘82 when Hutchinson passed the bar and hung up his shingle in the city of Los Angeles.”

“Finch, between the cases in LA and the cases in New York from both partners, we have 44 years of criminals not counting personal grievances, gay bashers and apparently a long string of ex-girlfriends and wives. By the time we track down who might be after Starsky he’ll be a year in the ground.” Reese said as he lifted and slammed the file down.

Finch continued typing. “That’s why you are going to shadow him. We cannot predict who might be after him so we must simply protect him at all times.”

John leaned back with a smirk. “Simply? I might be highly trained and damn good at my job, but I do need to sleep.”

Finch leaned forward and grabbed a slim file, handing it to Reese “As I said, we must simply protect him; you during the day as Detective John Rodgers, and I monitoring at night in the house across the street while you rest.”

Fear gripped John’s heart. What did Finch mean he would be across the street? “And what are you going to do if something happens? Waking me could take precious seconds. You can’t get across the street in time and even if you did poking them in the eye could be difficult at night.”

Harold raised an eyebrow. “Cute, Mr. Reese. Actually Detective Fusco will be joining me since he won the chance to attend a special conference for two weeks.”

How odd was it that knowing Lionel would be there actually settled John’s nerves? “Really? Why not Carter?"

“Detective Carter has a son who would like to see his Mother since his father passed, as you know. Detective Fusco will be able to spend the day with his son for several hours for two weeks with his ex-wife's permission. Also, if we close this case before the two weeks are over, the Detective will have some extra time on his hands."

“You seem to have thought of everything: As usual. What’s my background?”

 

 

 

 

~*~*~

Chapter One

A garden bursting with flowers and shrubs accosted Starsky’s paper boy as Reese peered out his own front window across the street. Starsky was greeting the neighbor’s kids and packing his car. Captain Starsky lived on the north side of Bensonhurst. His cute little yellow two-story sat along a canal with ducks swimming by. The front door opened abruptly to present a harassed looking balding blond. That must be Ken Hutchinson, thought John. It probably would have been a better idea to let Fusco tail the Councilman. After all, most homicides were a family affair.

Trying to get a better feel for their number’s ‘partner’, Reese looked him over: Tall, about John’s height, used to be pale blond. Nothing stood out. Reese noticed Starsky ran over to his housemate. The brunet looked slightly panicked. The reason for his concern became apparent when he helped Hutchinson down the stairs. Hutchinson had a severe limp and carried a cane. Even the small steps off the porch seemed too much for him. Like a certain recluse Reese knew, Hutchinson did not use the ramp.

The blond shooed away his concerned friend’s arm and limped painfully to the candy apple red Shelby Mustang with white racing stripes. That car screamed mid-life crisis. Hutchinson opened the passenger side and awkwardly maneuvered into the muscle car. Starsky went to the driver’s side looking apologetic.

“Must be the Captain’s car.” Fusco moved behind Reese to admire the vehicle. “Man that’s a beaut. I’d hate to be unable to really let her rip cause my legs don’t work. Hutchinson must be jealous.”

Reese stepped away from the window and surveyed his own temporary housemate. Fusco would be sleeping during the day and had his own bedroom upstairs across the hall from Reese. “Hutchinson strikes me as more practical than that. The tan Volvo wagon in the drive looks more his style.”

Fusco scoffed. “That clunker? It must be over 15 years old.”

John moved closer to Lionel, crowding him. “But in perfect working condition.” Reese decided to see if he could make Fusco squirm. “I’m sure there are other sacrifices Starsky has to make having a lover who’s unable to maneuver. I imagine their sex life has taken a turn for the unimaginative: Can’t really get those long legs over your shoulders when dealing with an injured partner. Hutchinson probably can’t thrust well when he’s the top. I’m sure they make do with a hand job here and there. Maybe the car’s a conciliation prize from Hutchinson.”

Fusco grunted and sat down on the couch with his own newspaper.

Movement from the kitchen caught John’s eye. “Morning, Finch.”

Harold looked startled but did not speak. He clinched his mouth into a line and scurried to the bathroom. Reese, concerned, started to follow Finch who had his own en suite bathroom on the first floor and shouldn’t need to use the half bath when Fusco piped up. “You better get going. Roll call starts at eight.”

With a sigh John gathered his gun belt and adjusted his uniform. Reese had been in blues before, but the extra 15 pounds of gear still took getting used to. After one last look towards the closed bathroom door, Reese turned and stared at Fusco. “I don’t care if you’re asleep or not. Watch out for Harold.”

“Yeah he makes that so easy. Go.” Lionel waved his hand dismissively. “Serve and Protect.”

Glaring, Reese exited the house wishing once again that they could have brought Bear with them and drove away.

In the half bath, Harold finished drying his red face. How dare Reese pass judgment? What did he know about living with a disability? Finch looked up into the mirror and grimaced. Didn’t matter. With or without the limp Harold was no prize: geeky, insular, awkward, paranoid, and old. Well, let’s just say Grace was an anomaly and leave it at that. Add to this attractive package a fused spine and a bum leg. Harold knew his limits but that didn’t mean Reese had a right to give his input on those who have managed to make do.

Captain Starsky was probably grateful Hutchinson was alive. If Finch was correct about the history, Hutchinson was suffering the effects of aging with a compression injury from 1977. He had been pinned under his car for over a day after it rolled off a cliff. Saving his left leg was a miracle in itself.

20 years later, the blond had developed blood clots near the area of impact. Emergency surgery had saved his life but left a large portion of the calf muscle damaged. The Attorney limped but otherwise hadn’t let the near death experience slow him down. A few years after the procedure, Ken Hutchinson ran for office.

Finch took solace in the fact that a sound mind was far more reliable than a sound body. Life had its compensations. For some.

No use wallowing in self pity.

Harold heard the front door close and sighed. Facing the Detective was easier than facing Reese right now. With reluctance, Finch opened the bathroom door and stepped out. He entered the living room to see Lionel reading. Finch cleared his throat. “Detective, Mr. Reese will be back around six pm if nothing comes up. I hope you’ll be awake to greet him.”

Fusco shrugged. “Sure. No problem. You gonna nap?”

“No. I have a meeting in town. I won’t be back until after lunch. There are supplies in the fridge and cabinets. Please help yourself. I will make arrangements for our supper.”

Lionel sat up, paper crumpled in his lap. “Wait a minute. Where you headed? Reese ain’t gonna like that you just strolled out the door.”

Finch bristled. “Mr. Reese has his job and whether he likes it or not, he is my employee. Not the other way around, Detective.”

“Sure, sure, he’s mister reasonable when it comes to you these days.” Lionel shook his head and raised a hand. “So, after he smashes my face in for letting you out in the big bad world alone, what do I tell him?”

Harold opened the coat closet and gathered his bags. “I should be back before he returns and you should be asleep. He won’t call you and if he does, simply don’t answer it.” With his hand on the door knob, Finch explained. “I will be checking in from time to time anyway. I have my phone if he needs anything.” Harold opened the door and limped out. “Good day, Detective.”

The sound of the front door closing shut felt like a gun cocking to Fusco: a very big gun belonging to a badass that hated Lionel anyways. “Great. Instead of sugarplum fairies dancing in my head, I’m gonna see my life flash before my eyes.” Fusco threw his paper down on the floor with a huff.