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Disclaimer:  This is a work of fiction written solely for the enjoyment of fellow fans.  No infringement on anyone's copyright is intended.  No profit is being made from this story.

 

This story is part two in a series and is the sequel to Bad Penny.

 

Threads:  Loose Ends

Written by Valerie Wells and Sue David

© January 2002

 

Lionel Rigger was bored.  He refused to watch the Western Starsky had tuned in on the television set, despite Starsky’s endorsement that in this one, the Indians won.  Being cooped up for the past week in a small, run down hotel had been difficult.  Starsky and Hutch had the man under their constant protection after they were forced to reveal his name in open court as the informant who had tipped them to Judge McClellan’s illegal activities.  Starsky had just admonished Rigger to stay away from the window... again.  Hutch was off to the grocery store to pick up something for them to eat.

 

When he heard Hutch’s car in the street below, Starsky looked out the window and told Rigger the food was there.  He wasn’t expecting what happened next.  Hutch had just rolled up the driver side window and shut the door.  As he crossed to the middle of the street, the nondescript Ford exploded into a ball of flame, throwing the detective into the air and tumbling him to the asphalt.

 

Starsky felt a rush of adrenaline as he watched in horror as Hutch was flung to the ground.  He spun around, striding quickly toward Lionel.  He guided Lionel to sit on the bed and said, “Stay put, right where you are!”  Starsky dashed out of the room, down the stairs, and into the street.  Lionel rose and crept toward the window to watch the action.

 

Hutch lay face down on the street, eyes open, but vacant.  Starsky knelt in front of him, never noticing Soldier, a hit man, who had just blown up Hutch’s car and was now watching from the sidelines.  As soon as he was certain Starsky was occupied, Soldier headed up the hotel stairs.

 

Starsky called to his partner. “Hey! Hey!” he said as he slapped the ground in front of the unresponsive man.  “Hey!” 

 

Unable to bring Hutch around this way, Starsky scooted behind him and gently turned him onto his lap, saying, “Come on, Hutch, come on.”  He rubbed Hutch’s hair, and cupped his face, terrified at the open eyes coupled with a lack of responsiveness.  “You okay?  Hey, come on, now, it’s me, huh? Huh?”

 

Hutch’s eyes blinked and took on some recognition.  “Yeah,” he answered weakly.

 

“Yeah?  You sure?” Starsky asked, still frantically assessing his partner’s condition.

 

“Yeah, I guess so, I guess so....” Hutch said. 

 

Starsky tried to slow his breathing, embracing his friend to assure himself everything would be all right.  He and Hutch both looked over at the burning wreck that was once Hutch’s vehicle.

 

“‘S My car,” Hutch said as he tried to rise.

 

Starsky pulled at him and replied, “Come here, forget your car.”

 

“My car!” Full realization had just hit Hutch.  His car was a total loss.

 

An exasperated Starsky pulled him down into his lap again and replied, “Your car’s all right for crying out loud, you’re lucky you’re here!”

 

While he helped Hutch continue to recover his senses and got the man to his feet, Soldier made his way into Lionel’s room.  When Soldier opened the door, Lionel turned and looked at the hit man, fear displayed on his face as he registered Soldier’s intent.

 

Soldier smiled malevolently and said, “Hello, pigeon, let’s see if you can fly.”

 

A single gunshot wound to the chest, fired from a gun with a silencer, sent Lionel crashing through the window to the street below, dead before he hit the ground.  Soldier quietly slipped down the stairs and out the back door to the alley behind the hotel.  He escaped undetected.

 

When they heard the crash, Starsky and Hutch looked up to see the answer to Soldier’s question.  Lionel Rigger couldn’t fly. The two detectives rushed over to the fallen man.  Starsky slipped in the broken glass on the street, letting go of his hold on his shaky partner.  Hutch sank to the ground and landed hard on his hip.  The two men looked at what had happened to the man they’d sworn to keep safe.  They knew he was dead before they turned him onto his back, but the bloody evidence was now seared into both of their minds.  After they looked at each other in stricken silence for a few moments, Hutch put a hand up over his eyes.  His heart sank, his head throbbed, and his body felt like it had been dragged under a truck. He fought waves of dizziness, unwilling to tell Starsky that his vision was cloudy.  They had enough to worry about with their witness lying dead next to them.  The sound of sirens in the distance snapped Hutch out of it.

 

“I’ll call Dobey,” Hutch said as he tried to rise.  The street was spinning in his vision and he sank back to the ground, shaking his head to clear it.

 

“You stay with Lionel,” Starsky ordered.  “I’ll call.  Do you need an ambulance?”

 

“No, just get someone here for Lionel.”

 

Starsky got up and headed into the hotel to call the captain.  At least he had some privacy – everyone inside the hotel had streamed out onto the street, including the desk clerk.  He heard the squad cars and a fire engine as they screamed onto the small street, their sirens winding down to silence.  The sound of their activity played in the background of Starsky’s hearing until Captain Dobey picked up on the other end of the line.

 

“Cap, Starsky,” he said, the tension clear in his voice.

 

“Starsky, what’s going on?” Dobey knew something was wrong.

 

“They got to him, Cap. Lionel’s dead,” Starsky said flatly.

 

“WHAT?  What happened?  Where are you?” Dobey asked in a rush.

 

“I made a mistake, Cap. Oh, God. I....” Starsky stopped, unsure of how to explain what was rushing through his head.

 

“Starsky?” Dobey inquired.

 

“Cap, they got to Hutch, first, and....”

 

“Is he dead?” the captain interrupted.

 

The thought chilled Starsky.  “No, he’s okay.  They blew up his car in the middle of the street.  I... Dammit!” he exclaimed as he slammed his fist onto the desk next to the phone. “It was a rookie mistake, Cap!  Dammit!”

 

“Starsky, calm down. You’re not making much sense.  Take a breath and tell me what happened.”  Dobey’s voice was firm, bringing Starsky back to some sense of equilibrium.

 

“Sorry, Cap.  I’m guessing the guy who got Lionel rigged Hutch’s car.  We’re gonna need a crime lab team to investigate it.  When Hutch stepped away from the car, the thing blew sky high.  He went flying, Cap.  I... he was lying in the street, and defenseless.  I told Lionel to stay put and ran down to check on Hutch.   While I was bringing him around, someone got up into the hotel and shot Rigger.  I’m sorry, Cap. Dear God, what have I done?”

 

“Stop that, Dave.  You go out there and take care of the scene.  I’m headed down there now.”  Dobey was worried about the guilt trip he could see his detective starting. 

 

“All right, Cap.” He tried to hang up, but heard the captain bellow his name. 

 

“Starsky!” 

 

“Yeah, Cap?” he said as he put the phone back to his ear.

 

“Don’t talk to anyone outside of the department.  The media may show up there.  You got that?”

 

“Yeah, okay.”

 

Starsky hung up the phone and looked out the door.  His partner had removed his jacket and covered Rigger’s face with it.  He was doing his best, along with some uniforms, to get the people back away from the area.  As Starsky stepped out, Hutch looked up at him, then up at the broken window, conveying the message that he wanted Starsky to go up and have a look at the room.  Starsky nodded and went back inside the hotel and up the stairs.

 

The room looked just like he’d left it.  The only difference was the broken out window.  He stepped over to it and looked down at the street.  He could hear more squad cars coming.  Starsky closed his eyes and tucked his chin, slumping his shoulders dejectedly. 

 

“I’m sorry, Lionel.  I let you down, buddy,” he whispered to the empty room.  He turned around to return to help his partner with the scene.

 

~*~*~*~

 

Later that day, Starsky and Hutch were both interviewed by Internal Affairs.  An investigation would be conducted into both their actions.  Hutch was quickly excused. He was not the one who had abandoned their charge.  Refusing to allow the blond detective to remain with his partner, the investigating officers forced Starsky to stay in the room with them alone.  Hutch went out and paced the hall while they spoke with Starsky.  He was relieved when Captain Dobey started walking down the hall toward him fifteen minutes later.

 

“Cap, can you get in there with him?  Simonetti refused to let me stay,” Hutch said angrily as he punched his left palm with his right fist.  Somehow, Hutch always managed to say the Internal Affairs officer’s name like it was a dirty word.

 

“Settle down, Hutch.  They just called me.  Why don’t you go downstairs and get some coffee?” Dobey suggested.

 

Hutch gave him his best “you’re kidding” look and resumed his pacing.  Captain Dobey sighed and asked, “How’s your head?” 

 

“I’m fine, Cap.  Get in there, huh?  Don’t let them railroad Starsky for looking after his partner.”  Hutch looked as miserable as Dobey could remember him ever looking.  The captain nodded and took a few steps toward the door, but it opened before he reached it.

A subdued looking Starsky stepped through it, barely meeting Dobey’s eyes before he stepped aside for the older man to enter.

 

After the door shut behind Dobey, Starsky sighed and dropped his shoulders.  “How you feeling, Hutch?” he asked, trying to deflect the attention from himself.

 

Hutch’s answering laugh had no humor in it.  “Me?  I’m fine, but you look like I should be hustling you out the door on the way to Bolivia, or maybe I should offer you a cigarette and a blindfold.”  He patted Starsky’s shoulder.

 

“I can’t tell what they’re going to decide.  They said they had to talk to Dobey first.”

 

One of the uniforms was walking toward them when he said, “Sorry to hear about your snitch, guys.”

 

Hutch whirled around on the man, his eyes displaying his anger.  “Lionel Rigger wasn’t just a ‘snitch’, Dodson.  He was a friend.  He had a wife and a little girl and we promised them....”  Starsky stopped his tirade by putting a hand on Hutch’s arm.

 

Dodson looked contrite when he said, “Sorry, Hutchinson.  I didn’t mean anything by it.”

 

Starsky answered for his seething partner.  “We know, it’s just a little raw.”

 

The other officer shook his head and walked away from them.  Starsky and Hutch held each other’s gaze for a few moments before Starsky said, “You don’t have anything to feel bad about, Hutch.  I’m the one that let Lionel down.  You’re in the clear.”

 

“I don’t feel that way about it, Starsk.  I’d have done the same thing you did.”

 

The door opened again and Dobey came into the hall alone.  He told them both he wanted to see them in his office.  The lump in Starsky’s throat became a rock that fell straight to his gut.  He nodded, tight lipped, and turned away from the other two men.  Hutch sighed and fell in behind his partner.  Hutch had already made up his mind that if Starsky took the fall, he would go down with him.  His despair over what had happened was eating away at him.  Ken Hutchinson knew in his heart that he’d had enough. 

 

The two men sat in the chairs in Dobey’s office.  Their boss closed the door and sat behind his desk.  “The investigation will take a few days to officially close, but unofficially, they will not be bringing any disciplinary actions against either of you.”

 

Starsky said, “That’s just dandy for Hutch, Cap, but I left that man to die.”

 

“Now, wait a minute, Starsky.  The system is the problem here, not you,” Hutch said in Starsky’s defense.

 

“Both of you can it and listen for a minute!”  When Dobey could see that he had their attention, he continued,  “Starsky, Simonetti says you should have stayed in the room with Lionel, but that under the circumstances, your actions were understandable... if not completely justified.”

 

Starsky said, “But, Cap....”

 

“Look, Hutch was lying in the middle of the street.  He could have been killed by a car coming around that corner too fast, if not by the person who obviously set off the explosives.  What about that?  Do you have any idea who could have done it?”

 

“None,” Hutch said.  Then he snapped his fingers and said, “Wait a minute!  A guy was under his car parked next to mine at the grocery store.  Could have been him.”

 

Dobey nodded.  “You see his face?”

 

“Course not.  Look, Cap, I’m glad we’re okay with I.A. on this, but this whole situation stinks.  We should never have had to put Lionel out there.”

 

Starsky shook his head.  “That’s just not the way it works, Hutch.  We knew it could happen.  We had it all planned and it fell apart.  I don’t care what I.A. says, I feel responsible.”

 

Hutch heard his partner and took what he said to heart.  In his mind, they were responsible.  The bitter feeling that police work had turned him into something he no longer wanted to be was chipping away at his sense of who he was.  Hutch thought, if this is why I became a cop, what the hell am I doing?  He looked over at Starsky, seeing the same pain on his face.  In that moment, all he wanted was for that pain to stop being a part of their daily existence.  If this was all there was, he didn’t want any part of it anymore.  Over the past year, he had become increasingly cynical and jaded about his job.  He was tired of that spilling over into his soul.  The only problem he had even thinking about walking away from it was what to tell Starsky – who was the only reason he was still on the job.

 

“I know, Starsky, but sometimes your best just isn’t enough,” Dobey said.  “I know you feel terrible... hell, I do, too.  What went down, did.  I’ve already talked to Mardean.  Why don’t you go on home.  Start on the investigation in the morning.”

 

Both detectives stood up and Hutch said, “We gotta go see Huggy, Cap.  Tell him how sorry we are.”

 

Dobey nodded as they left his office. He was worried about the defeated stance he saw in both of his officers.  The circumstances of this case were bad.  His instincts were telling him that they might be too much for Starsky and Hutch to take and he said a silent prayer that he wasn’t about to lose his best detective team.

 

~*~*~*~

 

Huggy refused to listen to their lame attempts at apology for what had happened to Lionel, and Hutch couldn't say he blamed him. But the hardest thing to take was the little girl.

 

"You’re the policemen, aren't you?" she said, clinging to "Uncle" Huggy. "The ones who made my daddy go away. I thought you were his friends."

 

The pain that crossed Starsky's face echoed the one in Hutch's heart. Starsky's eyes misted over, and as Huggy walked away, carrying the child, Hutch forced out the words, "So did we, sweetheart..." but they sounded stupid, even to his own ears, and neither Huggy nor Jamie acknowledged that he'd spoken. Starsky blinked rapidly, staring down at the sand, and didn't look up until after Huggy was out of sight.

 

"My God," was all he said, but his voice shook.

 

Hutch swallowed the lump in his own throat. He reached out to touch Starsky's arm, but Starsky stepped away, shaking his head miserably. "Come on," Hutch said. "We might as well go home."

 

They made the drive in complete silence, the traffic on the police radio the only sound until Starsky reached over and savagely snapped it off. That was against regs, but Hutch didn't comment. He couldn't stand to listen to it, either.

 

"You comin' up?" Hutch asked when Starsky stopped in front of Venice Place and didn't shut the car off.

 

Starsky shook his head without speaking.

 

"Might help to talk it out," Hutch offered softly.

 

Starsky drew a long breath and looked over at him, finally. "Ya think?" he said bitterly. "I don't. A man's dead. Ain't nothin' we can say, either of us, to change that. Just like Huggy said."

 

"Huggy's angry and in pain," Hutch said, again feeling the words were stupid.

 

"He's got a right," Starsky said, turning his head away again. "Go on. I need to think. Maybe I'll go to a movie or somethin'."

 

Hutch sighed and opened the car door. "Give me a call later?"

 

"Sure." Starsky pulled away the moment Hutch was out and had shut the door, and Hutch climbed the stairs to his apartment, feeling worse than he ever had.

 

A lot of people had died because of them in the years they'd been cops, Hutch thought, sinking onto his couch and throwing his head back. Too many. The bad guys, he didn't worry too much about. Part of the deal, couldn't be helped, and largely due to their own choices. But what about the good guys? What about Terry and Gillian? Janice Drew? Or people like Roxy, who might be alive if he and Starsky hadn't screwed up?

 

And now Jamie Rigger would grow up without her daddy because this time he and Starsky had royally fucked up. There was no other way to look at it. Lionel had tried to do the right thing. Sure, he'd made bad choices of his own, but he'd tried to make up for them. And they'd promised to protect him, to get him out.

 

He'd become a cop to help people, not to ruin their lives. So what was he doing here?

 

Feeling too restless to sit still, in spite of bone-deep weariness, Hutch rose and slammed out of his apartment, heading for the beach. Maybe a walk would clear his head.

 

The beach was deserted; it was early in the season and too cool yet, for any but the most dedicated surfers to be out, and even they only came out in the early morning. With the rays of the afternoon sun making his eyes sting – at least, that's what he blamed the stinging on – Hutch walked along, hands in pockets, eyes down. He accidentally kicked a pinwheel lying on the sand and squatted to pick it up. He remembered the pinwheel Lionel had with him the day they met.  Idly watching it spin in the breeze, he thought about the look in Jamie's eyes as Huggy had carried her away. He could still hear the accusation in Huggy's voice when he called them "users." Is that what they'd become? Or had they been users all along? Was the bust more important than the human lives they touched – and sometimes destroyed – every day?

 

He closed his eyes and could still see Lionel falling out of that window, see the blood on his t-shirt after he and Starsky had turned him over. Lionel had trusted them with his life and they'd let him down. They'd let Mardean and Jamie down. They'd let everybody down.

 

Hutch stuck the pinwheel into the sand and rose, pulling his badge out of his pocket. He looked down at it, reflecting the rays of the sun off its shining surface. The sight of it sickened him. No, what it stood for sickened him. He raised his head and looked out over the water, the waves crashing into the beach, inexorably eating away at the shoreline. That's what this badge was doing to him. Eating away at his humanity. He couldn't stand it any longer. He walked toward the water and drew back to throw.

 

And then he heard Starsky's voice. He stopped and turned and Starsky was walking toward him, his face grave, his hands in his pockets.

 

"Hey.  Pollutin' the ocean?" Starsky asked, not looking at him. "Against the

 law."

 

"Thought you were going to the movies."

 

"Changed my mind." Starsky gazed out at the water, squinting against the glare.

 

"What was that you were sayin’?”

 

“About what?”

 

“Somethin’ about... something being against the law?"

 

"Ah, pollution," Starsky said. "Definite violation."

 

"Well, partner," Hutch said, turning his badge over in his hands, "the way I see it, this old badge has polluted me just about enough."

 

"Really," Starsky answered, pulling his own ID from his pocket and taking the badge out of the leather case.

 

Hutch watched him, dumbfounded, knowing what was in his mind. It was one thing for him to feel bitter and angry and ready to quit. But for Starsky – why, that badge, being a cop, was his whole life ....

 

Starsky met his eyes for the first time and his were dark with sorrow. "Mind if I join you?"

 

Without another word exchanged, and in perfect sync, as always, the two men took a couple of running steps and pitched their badges into the crashing waves.

 

~*~*~*~

 

Her father had left for work half an hour earlier, hardly speaking, the worry lines in his forehead more pronounced than ever. Sighing, Allison May stirred her coffee and sipped it without really tasting it as she looked through the newspaper. She knew her father's past had come back to haunt them, she knew he was in terrible danger, but he wouldn't tell her anything. She'd had to guess what little she did know. What she didn't know was how she could help him.

 

And then her eyes fell on a photo on page four. Two policemen, coming out of the courthouse. And one of them was achingly familiar. She turned the newspaper toward the window to get a better look at the photo and read the caption beneath: "Detectives David Starsky and Kenneth Hutchinson leave court after the McClellan hearing."

 

Davy, after all these years! And he was a police detective.  Maybe Davy could help them, but Allison hadn’t seen David Starsky in twenty-one years.  The slim possibility existed that this man wasn’t even the same Starsky she knew all those years ago.  Even if it was the same person, she had no way of knowing if she could trust him.  She’d have to find a way to arrange a meeting without her old friend knowing what was happening.

 

~*~*~*~

 

After finishing breakfast, Starsky tried to convince Hutch it would be a good idea to go to the movies in the afternoon.  He saw it as free and easy, while Hutch saw it as the sign of two men about to be broke from unemployment.  After agreeing to answer an ad Hutch discovered that sounded a little too good to be true, they’d left the small diner... and immediately stepped into a chase between armed, fleeing suspects on a motorcycle and a black-and-white unit.  The uniforms had to deal with the smashed car they’d left behind them when the former detectives “helped” apprehend the suspects.  Returning to the Torino, they discovered a dirty yellow convertible double-parked behind Starsky’s car. 

 

An attractive brunette approached them after they started trying to push the little sports car out of the way.  A brief discussion with her, reassuring her they didn’t plan to steal her car, led to Allison’s arranged meeting.  She had seen Starsky and he had seen her.  Hutch didn’t know what to make of it when Starsky told him he was thinking about ghosts.  Something about the young woman they’d just met was bothering Starsky and he couldn’t quite decide what it was.

 

Allison followed the two men throughout the day.  She was surprised that they didn’t notice her following them, but they didn’t.  When they settled down for a while in a bar called The Pits, she thought that was a stroke of good fortune.  Allison slipped inside after they had enough time to get a table.   Her plan came together beautifully when Hutch approached her and she wound up spending the afternoon with him and Starsky.   The most challenging part of the day had been dodging the affections of the two men who were falling all over themselves trying to get to know her.  None of them noticed the two men tailing Starsky and Hutch, which both amazed and amused the two thugs.

 

Over the next couple of days, the three of them spent more time together, including an evening listening to the Boston Symphony play a Brahms concert.  Looking through a photo album in Allison’s home after the concert, Starsky realized why Allison looked so familiar to him.  He figured out that she was really Laura Anderson, a girl he grew up with –  who supposedly died in a car accident twenty-one years in the past.

 

By the time Starsky guessed her true identity, Allison knew the two men were no longer cops.  She tried to explain what had happened and that she didn’t care that they weren’t on the force anymore.   She told them she knew she had no right to ask for their help.

 

“My father is in terrible trouble, David, he’s in terrible trouble... and... I can’t help him. Maybe you and Hutch can,” she said, her eyes pleading with them for help.  Naturally, the former cops were unable to resist.  The next day, they started following her father, having no idea where their actions would lead. 

 

~*~*~*~

 

“I’m tellin’ you they don’t have a clue we’re tailing them,” Alex said to a disbelieving Soldier. “They quit bein’ cops and suddenly they have shit for brains.”

 

His cohort confirmed it.  “We’ve been on their tails all over Bay City and they ain’t seen us once.  Why don’t we just pop ‘em?”

 

Soldier said, “In time.  For now, we do what we’re told.  Keep on them and report what they’re doing.”

 

“You’re the boss.”  The two men left to pick up the trail on their charges.  They found it hard to believe.  Maybe when Starsky and Hutch turned in their guns and badges they had also turned in their edge and their caution.

 

~*~*~*~

 

The burnout and frustration they had felt before they quit the force had robbed Starsky and Hutch of their ability to see any good in police work.  When they resigned, they both slid into a psychological state of limbo – unable to work as cops anymore, but floating without purpose while they looked for something else.  Where once they had been cautious and aware of their surroundings, now they failed to notice that they were being tailed. 

 

The two former detectives wanted to help Allison’s father.  To that end, they began a quiet investigation of the records he seemed to be selling.  Following Thomas May and looking at those records revealed that the object of the information he was illegally passing off was the names of financially troubled FHA loan holders.  Despite a warning from two FBI agents to stay away from Thomas May, they continued.  Getting caught in a roar of gunfire in a parking garage with Allison was their first inkling that anyone other than the FBI was interested in their activities.

 

They convinced Huggy Bear to go undercover for them and approach some of the people whose names appeared on one of the lists they had obtained.  His operation gleaned the name of a mortgage company that had representatives canvassing the troubled homeowners for new loans.  Right after that, things began to unravel. 

 

First, Thomas May set Starsky and Hutch up for a fall at a local steam room.  He told them he had information and wanted to meet them there, but the two thugs who were following Starsky and Hutch showed up instead.  When they tried to go back to Allison’s house to speak with her father, the FBI agents picked them up again.  Just as they returned, true to their current string of luck, the borrowed truck they were driving was towed away before they could stop it.  The events of the early morning distracted them from their quest to find out why May had sent them into the lion’s den.  By the time they were ready to get back on track, they received a chilling phone call to go see Mr. May.

 

May’s death hit both men hard.  While they did their best to help Allison pull it together, both of them were sickened by the nightmarish twists their lives were taking, and by the thought that ineptitude or refusal to heed warnings on their part had resulted in Thomas May’s murder.   Hutch said they had gone about working on the case “...with all the finesse of a wrecking ball.” 

 

Both men knew they’d stirred up the hornet’s nest Lionel Rigger’s widow had mentioned, but they still didn’t know how serious it was going to become.  A rich, powerful man – overlord of crime overlords – had fingered them for death.  He was the man responsible for Soldier and for the other men who had tried to kill Starsky and Hutch more than once since they became involved with Lionel.  When the overlord’s assistant asked him if he should give Soldier the order to “strike” in the matter of the two former police officers, the old man’s chilling reply was “To kill.  Tell him to kill.”

 

 

~*~*~*~

 

Marty bummed a cigarette from Alex.  The two men sat smoking and drinking coffee at Soldier’s kitchen table.  They were discussing what to do about two pesky former cops.

 

“I got the order to waste ‘em,” Soldier said. 

 

Alex bristled.  We can handle that, Soldier.”

 

“Not so far.  You morons missed them with the car, you missed them in the parking garage, and you let them get the drop on you in the steam room.  This time, no screw-ups.  The old man wants them gone and I’m here to make sure it happens.”

 

The phone rang, interrupting Marty’s pending protest.  “Yeah?” Soldier answered.  He paused and listened for a few moments.  “Is he in the courthouse today?  On my way.” He hung up and said, “I’m going down to take care of McClellan.  When that’s done, we’ll finish the rest of our business.”

 

“What do we do?” Marty asked.

 

Soldier issued instructions while he took off his red t-shirt, stuffing it into a duffle bag, and replacing it with a button up shirt, tie, and blazer. “While I’m down at the courthouse, you get over to Hutchinson’s place and grab Allison May.  She’s staying there.  Take her to the old amusement park, you know where.  Some of the guys will meet you and I’ll be along after the judge is toast.  You take her there, then split.”

 

“Why can’t we stay and finish it?” Alex hissed.

 

“Because the old man said he wants you on another assignment.  Those two troublemakers will be dead, and I’m gonna handle it.  You just do like you’re told.”

 

The two men nodded in agreement.  That should be an easy task.  Alex had been frustrated by this entire assignment.  First, they were told to run Starsky and Hutch down with their car, then they were told to back off again.  Next, they were given the order to shoot them, but they missed and they were given a red light again.  He and his partner were both glad the old man had decided to finish matters.

 

Alex said, “So, we use the girl for bait.  You gonna finish her, too?”

 

“No witnesses.  After Starsky and Hutchinson are dead, we kill the girl.  Killing Hutchinson is going to be a pleasure.  I wanted to pop him when I blasted his tacky car and got to Rigger, but the old man said not to yet.  The other men can take Starsky, but the blond is mine. Leave them a note at Hutchinson’s.  ‘If you want to see the girl alive again...’ and the address. You got all of that?”

 

“Yeah, we got it.  We ain’t really morons, you know,” Marty replied in anger.

 

“I suggest you zip it and prove you’re not by doin’ your job.  The old man don’t take kindly to mistakes.  You could ask Judge McClellan about that, but then again, he’ll be dead within half an hour.”

 

Alex and Marty gulped, looking at each other for reassurance that they could do the job.  They watched Soldier load his gun and secure the silencer to the end of it.  He slipped it into his jacket pocket.  The two men followed him out and they separated to complete their missions.

 

~*~*~*~

 

Incredibly, the pieces of what happened to Lionel and to Allison’s father were beginning to fit together in a way that made it appear that the two deaths were linked.  The common denominator was federal judge Ray McClellan.  Just when the ex-cops thought they had enough to nail the judge, the man was shot to death in the men’s washroom at the courthouse.

 

As if the judge’s assassination hadn’t been a big enough blow, Soldier and his cohorts had kidnapped Allison.  Starsky and Hutch went to the amusement park to rescue her, knowing the object of the game was probably to kill all three of them.

 

The entire ordeal was over in minutes.  Starsky’s quick thinking gave Hutch a chance to dive for their guns.  Hutch had no time to think about what had happened until the echoes of their gunfire died.  Seeing Starsky and Allison crash through a plate glass window did nothing for his heart rate.  In truth, despite the danger, he was glad he’d had something to concentrate on right after the sound of breaking glass, keeping him from dwelling on the possibility that his partner and their friend may have been sliced to ribbons.

 

When it was all over, Hutch walked back toward his partner, lightly touching him in relief and gratitude that he was unharmed.  He looked Allison over and saw that she was terrified, but also unhurt.  Then he quietly said, “We kept our promise, Mardean.  Least your husband can rest a little easier.”

 

Hutch had gotten Soldier.  He and Starsky were both glad they were able to keep their promise to Mardean, but sorry they had to kill to defend themselves.  Bringing Soldier and his goons to justice would have given them the opportunity to get the answers to a lot of questions.  Two private citizens had just thwarted a kidnapping and escaped certain death – but at the cost of four lives.  They had some explaining to do.  The paperwork involved in any shooting when they were cops was bad enough.  Now that they were off the force, things were more complicated.

 

A hearing was held on the matter and the shooting was ruled justified.  After the hearing, Starsky, Hutch, and Deputy District Attorney Clayburn were stopped on the courthouse steps by a crowd of reporters.  They had no idea who would see the coverage or that it would run outside of Bay City.  The old man was watching and he was not amused.  The two men were thinking of rejoining the police force, and Clayburn was standing there glowing about it – knowing he was shining on the reporters, his life of crime still carefully concealed.

 

The results of their actions pleased Captain Dobey.  They had shaken up a lot of people.  He wanted them to rejoin the force right away, but they thought it might be easier to do their remaining “nosing around” without a badge.  Starsky said that they wanted to figure out who was “powerful enough to corrupt a federal judge.”

 

The pieces were beginning to come together.  Starsky and Hutch believed that the people responsible for Judge McClellan’s murder had to have a connection in the DA’s office.  Their hunch was that it might be Clayburn.  He was the one who knew all of the details about the McClellan case and it was right after they went to him with more evidence that the judge was killed.   Two days of research had revealed some interesting things.  The two men had attended the same university and had been close friends for at least the past ten years.  Not only did they belong to the same exclusive gentlemen’s club, Clayburn was the head of the committee to elect Ray McClellan as a judge.  That they were closely tied was indisputable.  After getting this valuable information from Huggy at a movie theater, Starsky’s offhand remark about the time as the movie started gave Hutch a brilliant idea.  They confirmed his theory with Deputy Sheriff Fred Oates and took the information to Captain Dobey.

 

“Clayburn?” Captain Dobey exclaimed.

 

“Your friend and ours,” Starsky replied.

 

“Whoever it was he talked to at 1:45, Captain, it was not Deputy Sheriff Fred Oates,” Hutch continued. 

 

Starsky added, “I’ll tell you who it was, it was the man in charge, it was Mr. Big.  All he had to hear from the DA was that we had enough information to bury McClellan.  Once he heard that, it only took him twenty-five minutes to shut McClellan’s mouth, and....”

 

Hutch interjected, “Twenty-five minutes... report, decision, action, touchdown. That’s a hell of a team, Captain.”

 

“And Clayburn called the plays,” Dobey said. 

 

Starsky and Hutch headed for the DA’s office to see if they could head Clayburn off before he could blow town.  They were worried that he’d heard through the grapevine that they were onto him, and they were right.  He was on his way to the airport for a flight to Brazil.  He was unaware as he rushed to the airport that the old man had already arranged for him to be killed. Although Soldier had been eliminated, another operative, Karen, was sent to make sure that the loose end named Clayburn never made it out of California alive.  The old man didn’t like loose ends.

 

Karen killed Deputy DA Clayburn in the airport terminal and Starsky and Hutch arrested her.  She wasn’t in custody long.  She was bailed out and found dead in her apartment two days later, from a single gunshot wound to the head.  Execution style.

 

The mayor’s office was pleased with the way Starsky and Hutch had handled the McClellan case.  Despite their status as private citizens, they had cracked a powerful organization.  The corruption they uncovered all the way from a federal judge through the FBI and the District Attorney’s office made it a high profile case.   Starsky and Hutch were invited back on the force and publicly presented with their shields by the mayor. 

 

Later that evening, sitting with Allison at The Pits over a celebratory dinner, they discussed everything that had happened to them. “What are you going to do now, Allison?” Hutch asked. 

 

“I think I’m going to Florida for a while.  I want to visit my aunt and the FBI told me that’s where she lives.  Now that my dad is gone and I don’t need to hide anymore, I want her to know I’m alive.”

 

“We’ll be sorry to see you go,” Starsky said.

 

Allison smiled and put a hand on each of their arms.  “I know. I’ll miss you guys, too.  I might come back someday.”

 

Huggy sat down at the table with them and said, “So how does it feel to emerge victorious or whatever the mayor said?”

 

“Yeah,” Allison said.  “What did you mean back outside the mayor’s office, David?  You acted like you weren’t sure you’d won.”

 

The two newly reinstated detectives looked at each other.  They held a brief, non-verbal conversation and Starsky tipped his head at Hutch, cueing him to explain. 

 

“We’re kind of glad you’re going to get away from here for a while, Allison.  Don’t get me wrong, but maybe it’s for the best.  We managed to topple some heavyweights this time and Starsk and I think it may not really be over.  Some dangerous people may still be out there and if they are, we may be in their crosshairs.”

 

Huggy looked at them incredulously.  “You’re joking.”

 

“I wish we were, Hug,” Starsky replied. “We’re going to be working on other cases, but we’re not really done with this one.  I have a feeling there’s still some loose ends here and we don’t want Allison to be one of them.”

 

Allison didn’t like the sound of that.  “Are you two really in any danger?”

 

“Always,” Hutch replied.  “But we’re careful.  We’ll keep an eye on the storm clouds.”

 

~*~*~*~

 

James Marshall Gunther sat alone at the desk, going through the files and making notations as he did so. He was not a happy man. In just a few months, the work of years had been undone, and all of it had been undone by the same two police officers.

 

A couple of years previously, his jewel smuggling organization had been brought down thanks to Vanessa Hutchinson's unspeakable idiocy in going to her ex-husband to hide a gem she wanted, foolishly, to keep for herself. That had annoyed him, but if that had been the end of the detectives' interference in his activities, he might have been willing to overlook it.

 

But now his federal judge and the assistant D.A. had both fallen due to these detectives. True, he had given the orders to eliminate them both. But the reason for the judge's elimination had been that the two officers were too close to proving that the judge was, well, less than ethical. And that might eventually have led to their finding a connection with Gunther Industries.  Clayburn was killed for similar reasons, along with being cocky and careless.  James Marshall Gunther liked cocky and careless as much as he liked loose ends.

Those same officers had done irreparable damage to his scheme to mine the rich fields of FHA homeowners who were behind on payments. The operation couldn't be salvaged, though so far their investigation had not reached him personally. He'd seen to that, anyway. There was no way it could be connected to him. But just to be safe ... He lifted his telephone receiver.

 

"Bates, I need you."

 

Bates bustled in a few minutes later, wearing his inevitable pin-striped, three piece suit and carrying his briefcase. "What can I do for you, sir?"

 

"Some of our operatives must be eliminated," Gunther said without explaining his reasoning. Bates did not need to know his reasons. Gunther pushed a list of names across the desk to Bates. "See to it."

 

Bates, who would never learn when to keep his mouth shut, looked down at the list. "All of these?" he said, making no effort to hide his dismay. "But these are some of our key men."

 

Gunther simply stared at him and Bates reddened slightly.

 

"Yes, sir. I'll see to it."

 

"So that none of them are warned by the deaths of the others," Gunther said, "see to it that they're all eliminated on the same day. The same time, if possible."

 

Bates, in the act of turning away to begin arranging the operatives' deaths, stopped and turned back. "Sir, that will require –" He looked at the list again. "– six separate soldiers."

 

"I'm perfectly aware of that, Mr. Bates," Gunther said. "Are you trying to tell me we don't possess six assassins among our far-flung network?" He raised his eyebrows. Sometimes Bates' slow mental processes irritated him enough to find an assassin to take care of HIM.

 

"Of course we do, sir," Bates said. "Actually, last time I counted, we had ten."

 

Gunther suppressed a sigh. "Keep Alex and Marty available. I have other work for them to do."

 

Bates scribbled something on his slip of paper and left the room. Gunther looked back down at the files in front of him.  Those two police officers weren't going to bother him much longer. He picked up his pen and underlined their names in the file. David Starsky and Kenneth Hutchinson. It was long past time for them to put their affairs in order. He smiled a little. Too bad someone couldn't warn them about that...

~*~*~*~

 

After Allison left, Starsky and Hutch returned to police work and they tried to put the circumstances that led to Lionel’s death behind them.  Knowing that they brought down the people responsible helped, but something about the case and all of its intricacies wore on them both.  Though they worked their cases as hard as they did before they quit and rejoined the force, something wasn’t clicking.  About two months after their return, the two detectives worked a case involving serial murders of women working at a local dance hall.  They were assigned to work with Kira, a fellow undercover officer.

 

Both Starsky and Hutch were attracted to Kira and they both became involved with her.  The case was stressful enough, without the added strain of competition and betrayal brought into play with the female officer.  Going into what would turn out to be their last night on the case, the two men were so angry at each other, they barely spoke unless the communication involved the case.  That early May night, when the killer pulled the pin out of a hand grenade in the middle of the dance hall, Starsky and Hutch went into motion as a team – without the necessity of giving their movements any thought.  Fortunately, the resulting explosion only caused property damage and some minor injuries.  As they worked to wrap up the scene, the two men kept stealing glances at each other, trying to make sure that the other one was really uninjured. 

 

Hauling their suspect in and filing the paperwork took time.  The detectives hadn’t driven together that day and when Hutch disappeared for a while to another part of the station, he returned to find that Starsky had finished typing their report and left it in the middle of Hutch’s desk.  Hutch knew he was gone for the night and he hung his head a little and sighed.  They needed to talk.

 

The next day, they had the chance.  Hutch had risen early and wandered aimlessly around his apartment for half an hour.  He was furious with himself for his part in the partnership’s problems.  Hutch knew his actions with Kira were a mistake and he hoped he could make it up to Starsky.  He decided that he’d had enough of the blue funk he’d wandered around in for the past couple of weeks.  That funk was almost an extension of his black mood before the days of Lionel, Soldier, and Allison, and he kicked himself for being sullen and hard to please.  If he was going to apologize to Starsky, he was going to mean that things would change.  Nothing was more important to him than his best friend.  Deciding that he’d start fresh that day, he changed into sweats and went for a run for the first time in months.  His time was terrible, but it felt fantastic.  He shook off the cloud around him and was lighter in his heart when he turned the corner to his street and saw the Torino parked there.

 

Starsky had also risen early.  He was worried about what Hutch was thinking.  Leaving the station the previous evening without saying goodnight to his partner after everything that had happened was weighing heavily on him.  He drove to Hutch’s and let himself in when there was no answer.  Hutch had been a little closer to the blast, and even though he seemed fine, anything could happen.  Finding the apartment empty with Hutch’s car on the street was unusual.  Starsky knew his partner had all but given up running and his regular morning activities.

 

Starsky looked around the apartment and decided that maybe Hutch had just gone down to the corner market.  He went in and made a pot of coffee, intending to have a long talk with his friend before they went to the station.  Hearing Hutch’s footsteps coming up the stairs a few minutes later made his heart beat a little faster.  Starsky wanted to work out their differences and he was nervous about how the discussion would go.

 

Hutch stopped just inside the door and stared at Starsky.  “You speaking to me, partner?” he asked.

 

Starsky answered, “Yeah.  Grab a shower.  I put up some coffee.  It’ll be done by the time you get out.  Then we’ll talk.”

 

Hutch nodded his agreement and headed for the bathroom.  He was glad Starsky was there and he didn’t seem as angry as he had been.  Hutch’s heart was also beating a little faster, wondering what his friend would have to say. 

 

After he showered and got ready for work, Hutch joined Starsky at the kitchen table.  His partner had made some toast and poured the coffee.  Hutch sat down and took a deep breath.  “Starsk,” he said, “I’m sorry.  I don’t know what to say to you.  I don’t know how to explain myself.”

 

“I just have one question, Hutch,” Starsky said softly.  “Why?”

 

They sat together and hashed out what had happened between them and Kira.  She was suddenly of little importance.  Both of them wanted to mend fences and they both had things they wanted to say to explain their behavior.  As they worked through their thoughts and feelings, they warmed up to each other again.  Forgiveness was the first thing on both of their minds, both of them asking for it, both of them offering it.  When they had to leave or be late for duty, they decided to continue their talk after work.  In addition to that plan, the thing they most agreed on was that they needed to get back at Kira and put her behind them.  They both wanted her to know they were wise to her game.  The opportunity to do that presented itself sooner than they thought it would.

 

That day, they both received word that they were supposed to meet Kira at Huggy’s bar.  They decided to play a trick on her.  They would show up dressed alike, and pretend not to know why they were each there.  To add to the effect, they agreed they wouldn’t let Huggy in on their secret.  That night, after Kira refused them both and they walked away from her together, they went to Starsky’s place to unwind and finish their morning conversation.

 

They had the next day off, so they decided it would be best if Hutch crashed at Starsky’s and they got a little trashed.  They sat on the living room floor deep in conversation as they put away their second pitcher of margaritas. 

 

“I’ve decided to get back to my old routine, Starsk,” Hutch said as he held out his glass for more of the frozen concoction.  “Too bad that means you have to give me back my blender.”  He chuckled at that last bit, pulling his glass back and licking off the little bit of margarita Starsky had sloshed over onto his hand.

 

“I’m sure you don’t mean the blender that provided this delicious pitcher of adult slushies.  No way, Blondie.  You gave me this thing when you kicked your black strap roof tar and butterfly knees morning drinks.  Get a new one.”

 

He lifted his own glass in a toasting gesture, squelching Hutch’s protest.  “To us, partner.  Together again and ridin’ herd on our beat.  Let the criminals beware.”

 

“Here, here,” Hutch agreed, clinking his glass against Starsky’s. 

 

Starsky started to giggle and said, “Keep movin’, movin’, movin’… though they’re disapprovin’, keep those doggies movin’, Rawhide!”

 

Hutch surprised Starsky by interrupting with, “Don’t try to understand ‘em, just rope, throw, and brand ‘em… soon we’ll be livin’ high and wide.…”

 

“Hey!  You watched Rawhide?”

 

“Yup,” Hutch said in his best cowboy drawl.  That resulted in another fit of giggles on both their parts. 

 

When they started singing and talking in cowboy speak, they both knew they’d reached their alcohol limit for the evening.  Starsky drained his glass, set it on the coffee table and collapsed onto his back on the floor, between the couch and the table.  He put his feet on the floor and his knees in the air.  “Hutch,” he said, the giggles completely gone from his voice.

 

Even in a semi-plastered haze, Hutch knew when his partner turned serious.

 

“What’s wrong?” he asked.  Hutch finished his drink, and then climbed over Starsky to stretch out on the couch.  He positioned himself opposite from Starsky so he could lean against the sofa arm and keep an eye on his partner’s face.

 

Starsky continued, “I’m glad we worked it out, buddy.”

 

“I am, too,” Hutch replied.

 

Starsky sat and thought about how he should say what he had on his mind.  “No, I’m really, really glad, Hutch.”

 

Hutch looked over at his friend.  Starsky had a strange look on his face and it sent a shiver through Hutch.  He wasn’t sure he wanted to hear what all of this was about, but he needed to hear it.  “Starsk, are you okay?”

 

“Yeah, I’m fine.  It’s just… I really don’t know how to say this, buddy.  I guess everything that’s happened over the past few months just sorta spooked me.  You know, with Lionel dying and that whole case… I got to thinking about a lot of things.  Then, when we were fighting over Kira, I –”

 

Hutch interrupted him, “That’s over, buddy.  Never gonna happen again.  You believe me, don’t you?”

 

“‘Course I believe you, dummy.  That ain’t what this is about.”

 

Hutch smiled.  He knew Starsky was over being angry with him if he was teasing him and calling him names.  He reached a hand out and rested it on Starsky’s knee.  “Then, what, Gordo?” he asked.

 

“I just hope nothin’ ever happens to me when we’re mad.”

 

“What are you talking about?” Hutch asked.

 

“Well, either one of us, man.  I just would hate for us to be havin’ a fight or all mad at each other and something happens.  That’s all.”

 

Hutch didn’t like how this topic was making him feel.  He patted Starsky’s knee and said, “Hey, you mean like… one of us getting killed?”

 

“Could happen anytime, partner.  Almost did last night.”

 

Hutch thought about that for a moment.  When he saw Starsky smoothly catch the live grenade and toss it away from him, Hutch was terrified that he was going to lose his best friend.  If Starsky’s reflexes had been just a little slower, they might both be dead.

 

“I know that, Starsk, but it’s best not to dwell on it.  Come on… we’re supposed to be havin’ a good time.  Don’t worry about stuff like that right now.”

 

Starsky sat up a little and leaned on his elbows.  He fixed Hutch with a purposeful look. “I want you to make me a promise, then, and I’ll stop worrying about it.”

 

“What promise?”

 

“If anything ever happens like that, promise me you wouldn’t blame yourself.  No matter what.”

 

“Starsk.…”

 

“No, I’m serious, Hutch.  Promise me you wouldn’t, even if it happened so fast I couldn’t say goodbye.  Promise me you’d remember how I… how I felt about you.”

 

Hutch took a deep breath.  “You’re scaring me a little here, Gordo.  You taking up reading fortunes or something?  Is there something you’re not telling me?  Something you know that I don’t?”  Although it wasn’t unheard of for Starsky to get pensive and turn a conversation down a deeply philosophical path, this time he sounded like he’d had a premonition.  Starsky could tell he’d made Hutch nervous by his string of rapid-fire questions.  He answered each question just as rapidly.

 

“Slow down, Blintz.  No, I haven’t.  No, there isn’t.  No, I don’t.  I just, well, I just had a feeling I needed to tell you that.  Nothin’ deeper.”

 

Hutch could accept that.  “I’ll promise if you promise the same thing.  AND if you promise to tell me if you know something’s going to happen.  Deal?”

 

“Yeah, that’s a deal.  Thanks, Hutch.”  Starsky smiled and reclined on the floor again.  He was content, but Hutch was more than a little worried.  Starsky was often intuitive and now Hutch was concerned that his need to tell Hutch such a troublesome thing might be based on some precognitive notion.  He decided he’d be keeping an extra wary eye on his partner.

 

~*~*~*~

 

Three days later, Starsky swung the car into a taco stand without signaling or warning Hutch what he was about to do. Hutch grabbed the door handle to steady himself.

 

"What the hell was that?" Hutch demanded.

 

"I'm starvin'," Starsky said plaintively. "I didn't get any supper last night because of that crummy stakeout and I didn't get any breakfast this morning because you wouldn't wait –"

 

"We were already a half hour late when you finally bothered to show up at my place," Hutch said. "We didn't have time for breakfast."

 

"We coulda gotten a bagel or something once we went out on patrol," Starsky said. "But then there was that 2-11 at the gas station and the pickpocket on Marshall and the domestic at Safeway, and –"

 

Hutch sighed. "Fine. Okay. Get some greasy, artery-clogging food and ruin your appetite for decent food later."

 

"It won't ruin my appetite," Starsky promised. "I could eat a stalled ox."

 

Hutch closed his eyes. "Please don't."

 

Starsky got out of the car and had made it almost halfway to the window to order when the radio called for all units to answer a call for an armed robbery a couple blocks away.

 

"Code One," the dispatcher warned. "All units, approach Code One."

 

"Come on, Starsk," Hutch called out the window. "Don't pretend you didn't hear that."

 

Starsky stopped walking, said something rude, and came back. "I'm gonna waste away and die," he grumbled, getting back in the car and spinning the tires unnecessarily as he sped toward the call, no lights, no siren, as ordered.

 

Hutch smothered a smile. "I'll make a deal with you," he said.

 

"What's that?" Starsky asked, never taking his eyes from the road as he swore under his breath and swiveled the wheel to avoid a slow-moving VW Bug in front of him. Without lights or siren, the other cars weren't making a path for them.

 

"They're going to start painting the office next week," Hutch said. "Let's dig out the old Ping Pong stuff and play a tournament. If I win, you take me out to a three-course meal, my choice of restaurant. If you do, I'll take you out. Anywhere you want."

 

Starsky grinned as he skidded to a stop around the corner from the address and reached for his gun. "Deal."

 

The call had been to a freestanding office building housing an insurance office and a savings and loan. From the outside, all looked peaceful and quiet. There were only a few cars in the shared parking lot, and no sign of any trouble. A glassed entryway led into the building's lobby, from which the doors leading to the two separate offices opened. There was no way to see in to spot where the crime might be taking place or how many perpetrators there were – one of the most dangerous situations for police officers.

 

Hutch slithered around the perimeter of the building to check out the back. Starsky took the front. Both of them tried to peer inside to see what was going on before entering and to kill a little time to give their backup time to arrive.

 

Hutch could hear voices arguing. He couldn't understand more than a few words here and there, but he got the idea someone was demanding payment for something. That didn't sound like an armed robbery to him. Extortion? Protection racket? He moved in a little further and clearly heard the words, "Mr. Gunther is going to be very unhappy about this."

 

A second voice answered, trembling, "Look, Jeff, I can't help what happened. I've been trying to rebuild, like he wanted, but all the publicity –"

 

"I don't give a goddamn about publicity!" the first voice hissed. That voice went on, but Hutch, strain as he might, couldn't make out the words. Either the man had lowered his voice, or perhaps they'd shut a door or moved away from the area. Hutch ducked to avoid being seen through the windows and scurried back to the front.

 

"There's at least two," he whispered to Starsky. "I don't think it's an armed robbery. They know each other. Sounds like one of them screwed up something and the other one was sent to straighten him out."

 

"Terrific," Starsky said. "What do you wanna do?"

 

A car pulled up in the parking lot and two men got out. Neither one glanced at the Torino, parked around the corner, or toward Starsky and Hutch, who were clearly visible to them.

 

"What do we do?" Hutch's heart was beating hard in his chest and he could tell by the pinched look of Starsky's eyes that he was just as scared. No backup had arrived yet and now there were two more to deal with.

 

"Where the hell is the backup?" Starsky said angrily. "We can't go in there like this –" He broke off at the sound of automatic gunfire and both men hit the dirt. A moment later, the two men ran out toward the car in the lot. With barely a glance at each other, Starsky and Hutch ran out, shouting "Freeze" and aiming their guns at the men. One of the men squeezed off a shot, which went wide, barely missing Hutch, and the other brought his gun up to fire, only to be hit in the shoulder by a shot from Starsky. The man fell, losing his grip on his gun, and Starsky swung his gun to aim at the second man, but Hutch had already returned fire and dropped the man dead on the ground.

 

The backup chose that moment to arrive, sirens and lights going in total disregard of the orders given earlier.

 

"Where the FUCK have you guys BEEN?" Starsky bellowed at them as he was cuffing the surviving gunman. "Get your asses inside. There're two more."

 

Hutch went with them and Starsky was just calling for a paddy wagon and an ambulance when two more units arrived. He handed his prisoner over to the first unit so they could ride with him to the hospital when the ambulance arrived and then he beckoned the second pair of officers to follow him inside.

 

But Hutch and the two uniformed officers had already dealt with the men inside. Both were cuffed, though the office itself was a wreck.

 

"You okay, partner?" Starsky asked Hutch.

 

"Yeah. You?"

 

"Yeah." Starsky put his gun away and wiped the sweat from his forehead. It didn't matter how hot or cold the weather was, shootouts always made him break out in a clammy sweat.

 

Hutch came closer and lowered his voice. "This was no armed robbery, buddy."

 

"Nope," Starsky agreed. "A hit?"

 

"I'd say so. Botched." Hutch watched as the uniformed officers ushered the prisoners out and he turned to look around the room. It was filled with filing cabinets and several had been overturned, their contents scattered. He picked up a few of the files and started looking through them. Starsky followed suit. It wasn't long before both men raised their eyes to look at each other, stunned.

 

~*~*~*~

 

Gunther was going over his notes again, preparing for the monthly board meeting, when there was a tap at his office door. "Come in," he said without looking up.

 

"Sir," Thomas said, his voice tight.

 

Then Gunther did look up, and Thomas was holding a silver tray with a single sheet of paper, folded, on it. By the expression in Thomas' eyes – he was too well trained for anything to show on his face – it wasn't good news. Gunther accepted the piece of paper. "Thank you, Thomas," he said, and Thomas gave a nod and left the room. Gunther unfolded the paper and read the message on it. Though inside he was in a rage, on the outside the only sign was a slight tightening of the muscles of his jaw.

 

Again. Those two officers had struck again. And this time, they had been the cause of the downfall of his entire West Coast operation. The time had come.

 

At his board meeting the next day, Gunther had everyone’s undivided attention as he walked toward the front of the room and spoke.  “The only report that I am at all concerned with is that we have eliminated now and forever the two individuals who are almost single handedly responsible for the massive damage inflicted on this organization.”  His malevolent stare chilled his audience as he made the unmistakable proclamation.   “Now and forever, gentlemen," Gunther said, standing in front of a photograph of Starsky and Hutchinson that had been taken at the time they were in the midst of destroying his FHA scam. “Now and forever, gone.”  He gazed down the table and in every pair of eyes he saw fear. Whether that fear was of him or of the decision he had just announced to pay for a hit on two well-known police officers didn't matter.

 

Starsky and Hutchinson must die.

 

~*~*~*~


"I don't know how you two do it," Dobey said a few days later, trying to sound grouchy and failing. "You answer a simple armed robbery call and break a case wide open that the Organized Crimes Unit has been trying to crack for over a year."

 

Starsky grinned, but Hutch forced himself to remain cool and aloof. "All in a day's work, Captain," Hutch said.

 

The files – and the bogus savings and loan – had turned out to be a cover for an organized crime syndicate that was responsible for bringing enormous quantities of drugs into the Bay City ports by ship, with the drugs concealed among the legitimate cargo. The savings and loan was owned and operated by the shipping firm, which dealt in a legitimate import/export business, and the shipping firm was owned, in turn, by a holding company that oversaw a variety of concerns – some legitimate, most illegal. With the files from the savings and loan office, the Organized Crimes Unit had the last link in a chain they'd been forging for months and it looked like they'd be able to take the whole organization down. So many indictments had been issued since the day of the "armed robbery" that the front page of the Bay City Chronicle had been devoted to stories on the indictments three days in a row.

 

"Get out of here," Dobey said in response to Hutch's remark. "I have a meeting with the commissioner."

 

The detectives rose and went out into the squad room, or what had been their squad room until the painting crew had arrived that morning. The desks had been pushed into the middle of the room and covered with tarps. The filing cabinets were buried under more tarps. One painter was hard at work while another had set up shop against the wall and was unpacking his lunch.

 

"How're we supposed to work when we can't get to our desks or the phones or the files?" Starsky inquired of his partner.

 

"Guess we can't," Hutch said with a grin. "Now might be a good time for that Ping Pong tournament."

 

Starsky returned the grin and peered under tarps until he found his desk. He pawed in the bottom drawer until he found the net and the paddles. Hutch helped him push a couple of desks together to make a makeshift table and set up the net.

 

"Choose your weapon," Starsky said, offering the two paddles. Hutch picked one and the battle was on. "Just to make this a real contest," Starsky suggested, "let's play Country Music Title Trivia at the same time."

 

Both of them lost track of the time as the battle raged.

 

"If I Had to Do it All Over Again, I’d Do it All Over You," Starsky said, hitting the ball.

"Oh, yeah? Don't Cry Down My Back, Baby, You'll Rust My Spurs," Hutch said, whacking the ball back toward Starsky.

 

They'd play in silence for a few minutes and then one of them would think of – or make up – another title to call out, forcing the other one to come up with one, too. They went on this way for so long that Dobey finally emerged from his office and stood there, trying to talk to them, but losing his train of thought in the hypnotic sight of the ball bouncing back and forth.

 

Finally, Hutch lost the last point.

 

"Game, set and match, sucker!" Starsk crowed. He dumped his paddle onto their captain and bounded out the door. Hutch did the same. They argued companionably all the way down to the police garage about who had cheated and who had actually won and what they were going to have for the three-course dinner that had been riding on the game.

 

As they approached the car, Starsky reached in his pocket for his keys. Hutch waited impatiently on the passenger side.

 

"Come on, hurry up," Hutch said.

 

Starsky usually didn't lock the car, especially in the police garage, but he had a new stereo amp in the backseat he'd just picked up earlier in the day and he didn't want anyone to steal it. The driver’s side door lock had been sticking for over a week and Starsky made a mental note to take care of it.  He was concentrating on getting the key in the lock when he heard a scraping sound from down the row of parked squad cars.

 

"Starsky! Get down!" Hutch cried out, and there was more fear in his voice than Starsky had ever heard there before.

 

Starsky let go of the keys, leaving them in the lock, and reached for his gun, turning just in time to see a squad car coming toward them and the man in the passenger seat aiming a semi-automatic weapon at him. There was no time to run for cover. He heard the sounds of the gun firing and of breaking glass and felt the burning, twisting pain as the bullets entered him, throwing him against the car.

 

"Hu...tch," he tried to call out as his legs gave way and he slid to the ground. Somewhere far away he heard his partner call his name. As he went down, he wondered if this was what it felt like to die.

 

Then everything went black.

 

To be continued....

 

Take me to part three in the series – Research

 

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