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Disclaimer: This story is written for entertainment purposes only.  No profit is being made from it.  No infringement on anyone’s copyright(s) is intended.

 

Safe in My Home

 

By Sue David and Valerie Wells

© 11/2001

 

The phone was ringing as Rachel Starsky opened the front door.  Turning to shut it behind her, she heard it ring again and she called for her oldest son.  “Davy?”  When it rang another time and her son still didn’t answer, she rushed toward the kitchen.  Rachel was just getting back from shopping for something special to fix for Nicky’s birthday dinner and her mind was racing in a dozen directions.  Why she bothered to try fixing a nice meal, she didn’t know.  Nicky never ate much, and since his father died, her oldest son never had any appetite.  Maybe a nice birthday cake.  Davy likes cake.

 

She wondered where her son could be.  He should have been home from school for well over an hour.  Setting the grocery bags down on the kitchen counter, Rachel scooped up the telephone receiver as it sounded for the fifth time, cradling it between her shoulder and her ear as she said, “Hello?”

 

The voice on the other end said, “Is this Mrs. Rachel Starsky?”

 

Her heart beat a little faster.  This did not sound good.  “Yes, this is she.”

 

“Mrs. Starsky, this is Ann Levy.  I’m a nurse in the County General Emergency Room.”

 

Rachel gasped as she dropped her purse and keys on the floor.  “What’s happened?”

 

“Your son, David, was brought here about an hour ago.  He’s been injured and you need to come down here.”

 

This was not the kind of news a recently widowed mother wanted to hear.  “Is he all right?”

 

“Please, just come down to County and the doctor can explain everything to you.”

 

“I’ll be there as soon as I can get a taxi.  Thank you.”  She hung up the phone.  First, she called for the cab while she shoved the cold food into the refrigerator.   Next, she dialed her cousin Sarah’s number.  When Sarah answered, Rachel said, “Sarah, this is Rachel.  Can you please keep Nicky for a while longer?”

 

“Of course.  Is everything all right?”   Sarah heard the distress in Rachel’s voice.

 

“Well, I don’t know.  The County Emergency Room just called.  Davy’s been hurt and they really wouldn’t tell me anything.  I have to go.”

 

“Sure, sure, go.  You call me when you know something.  You want I should feed him dinner?”

 

“That’d be terrific.  Thanks, I’ll call.”  Rachel hung up and rushed out to the sidewalk to await her taxi.  Climbing into the back and giving the man her destination, Rachel’s thoughts were erratic.  The recent memory of her husband, bleeding to death on the sidewalk outside their home, was crowding its way into her mind. 

 

When she reached the hospital, Rachel rushed inside to the reception desk. 

 

“I’m Rachel Starsky.  My son, Davy, uh, David is here.”

 

The woman checked for her and called back into the treatment area for someone to come out for the boy’s mother. She was escorted into a treatment room where her son lay unconscious on a gurney.

 

The nurse told her, “Dr. Humphries will be in to speak with you shortly, ma’am.”

 

Looking down at Davy, Rachel started to tremble.  He looked terrible.  His right cheek had a bloody gash across it, his right leg was propped up on a pillow, and a bag of ice was resting on the obviously broken ankle, his dark curls were matted with blood, and the rest of him looked to be one giant bruise.  She gently picked up his left hand and looked at his damaged, swollen knuckles.  Whatever else had happened, David had been in a fight.

 

The doctor walked in behind her and cleared his throat so he wouldn’t startle her. When she turned to look at him, he introduced himself.  “Mrs. Starsky, I’m Dr. Humphries.  I’ve been treating your son.  Won’t you please sit down?”

 

“Yes, thank you.”  Rachel sat in the chair he scooted over next to the gurney for her.  “Is Davy going to be all right?  Why is he unconscious?”

 

“One thing at a time, okay?”  Dr. Humphries pulled over one of those circular, rotating stools doctors used and he sat next to her.  He had an x-ray in his hand and he held it up to the light for her to see.  “Your son has a broken ankle.”  The doctor pointed to the break on the film. 

 

“Oh, dear,” Rachel sighed.

 

“He’s unconscious because he sustained a blow to the head.  No fractures, but he has a nasty lump and a cut under his hair on the right side.”

 

“What happened?”

 

“From what we can gather, first, he was in a fight with a rough gang of young hoodlums who operate near here.  I suspect they hit his ankle with a baseball bat.”

 

Rachel gasped at that revelation.  “My poor boy!”  What was her son doing all the way over here, so far from his own neighborhood she had to take a taxi?  Suddenly, she realized she didn’t know what her son was doing anymore since his father died.

 

“That cut on his cheek may have been caused by brass knuckles, or some large rings.  He has a hairline fracture in that cheekbone and the cut is going to need stitches.  I’ll be careful, but it will probably leave a small scar.”

 

“Is that all?”  Rachel’s head was reeling.

 

“I’m afraid not.  He has some bruised ribs and he was pushed in front of a car.  Whoever did this, didn’t intend for him to make it.  Fortunately, the man wasn’t going very fast.  He brought David to the hospital.”

 

Rachel felt faint.  “How did you know his name?”

 

“When he first came in, we were able to bring him around a little.  Between passing out and vomiting, he was able to give us his name.  We got your name and number from the emergency card in his wallet.”

 

After Michael Starsky died, Rachel had insisted on that card.  She demanded two things from her children in case of emergency.  They always had to keep identification with them and they were expected to wear clean underwear in case of an accident. 

 

“Are you all right, Mrs. Starsky?”  

 

She hated being so upset.  Before Mike’s death, she was stronger.  Now, she couldn’t help thinking she was going to lose David also.  Nodding that she was fine and gathering her composure, Rachel said, “I’m sorry, Dr. Humphries.  You see, my husband, Mike, was a police officer.  He was shot to death about six months ago. I just couldn’t bear to lose Davy also.”

 

“I’m sorry to hear that, but David’s going to be all right, Mrs. Starsky.  I know it’s frightening.  I’m going to set that ankle now, then stitch his face and clean up the rest of his injuries.  He’ll have to stay here for a few days, I’m afraid.”

 

“When will he wake up?”  She didn’t like seeing her normally energetic son lying so still.

 

“I would guess within the next several hours.  Try not to worry.   By the time he wakes up, we’ll be all finished and he’ll be settled in a room upstairs.  Now, with your permission, I’ll get started.”

 

“Yes, please.  Can I stay with him?” She didn’t want to leave her son’s side.

 

“I think you’d better go out to the waiting room.  The stitching may be unpleasant.”

 

“Doctor, I appreciate your concern, but you need to understand something.  Davy held my husband in his arms while he bled to death.  I’m not going to leave him in case he wakes up before you think he will.  If Davy could watch that, a few stitches won’t bother me.”

 

The doctor allowed her to stay and she watched him with as much detachment as she could muster.  David never flinched, never woke.  She wound up having to call her cousin back to ask her to keep Nicky overnight so she could stay with David at the hospital.  She was not going to allow her son to wake up in a strange place without his mother.  Rachel was forced to admit to herself that her little boy, just turned thirteen in March, was streetwise and hardened far beyond his years.  He had gotten that way in the half year since his father’s murder. 

 

David started hanging out with some older boys shortly before Mike’s death.  One boy in particular seemed to have undue influence over her son – Vincent “Vinnie” Martino.  At nineteen, Vinnie was six years older than David and Rachel did not find him to be a suitable companion.  She tried to talk some sense into her son, but he wouldn’t listen to her.  The young man had appeared in their neighborhood a short time before Mike’s death and Rachel was convinced he was up to something illegal. He was the leader of a street gang in their neighborhood, the Warriors.  To her dismay, David began spending more time with Vinnie after his father died and he was in the process of joining the gang. 

 

Rachel was at her wit’s end with David.  They fought frequently.  Though usually polite and respectful of his mother, David stubbornly refused to listen to her about the street gang.  She had been a cop’s wife and she knew all about the tough bunch she was afraid would drag her son into a life of crime.  He had already been caught shoplifting once and he was brought home drunk one night. 

 

The next morning, Rachel was staring out the hospital room window when she heard a moan from her son’s bed.  She hurried back to his side and stroked his hair while speaking to him softly.

 

“Davy, it’s Mom, sweetheart.  Wake up for me now.”  She continued to stroke his hair, being careful to avoid the place the doctor had to shave so he could stitch the cut under his hair.

 

David slowly opened his eyes and focused on his mother.  He recognized her.  “Ma?” 

 

“Hi.  How’re you feeling, honey?” she asked as she smiled at him.

 

“Terrific.  How do I look?”  David’s head was pounding, his face hurt, his ankle throbbed, and just about every other part of his body was sore.  He moaned a little.

 

“I’ve seen you prettier, Davy.” 

 

“How long have I been here?”

 

“About eighteen hours.  Now, son, I want you to tell me what you were doing all the way down here.”  Rachel was determined to find out what he had been doing before the other gang got to him.

 

“Ah, it’s stupid, Ma.  I’m sorry.”  David closed his eyes

 

Rachel cajoled.  “Please tell me.  Davy?”

 

David opened his eyes again with a lengthy, angst-filled, teenaged sigh.  “Really, it’s nothin’, Ma.  If you must know, though – one of the kids at school told me County is where they bring all the hurt cops.  I’m sorry.  I just wanted to see it.”

 

“Why, son?” 

 

“Dunno.  Pop died on the street with me.  They didn’t bring him here.  I’m sorry.”

 

“Davy, the doctor said you were attacked by a gang.  Why would a gang be interested in you?  Does it have anything to do with Vinnie and that gang of boys you’ve joined?”  Rachel wasn’t naïve.  She just wanted to hear his explanation.

 

That made her son angry.  “No, Ma.  Look, just stay out of it.  I know what I’m doin’.”

 

She sighed and patted his hand when he looked away from her.  “I can see that, dear.”  Now was not the time for a lecture.  That would come later, after she decided what to do with him.

 

“I wanna go home.  I don’t like it here.”  When he pouted, David looked like a little boy again and his mother felt sorry for him.

 

“Sorry, sweetheart.  You have to stay here for a few days.  I’m going over to the school this afternoon to get your assignments.  I don’t want you to fall behind with only a week left in the school year.”

 

“Terrific.  Can’t even get outta that.”  She could see he was going to pout for a while.

 

“You know, yesterday was Nicky’s birthday.  I have to go pick him up from Aunt Sarah’s and at least take him out for lunch.  They won’t let him in here, he’s too young.”

 

“Tell Nicky happy birthday for me, huh, Ma?  Tell him I love him.”

 

“I will, sweetheart.  Be back later.”   She kissed her son on the head and left the room.  Rachel’s heart was pounding.  Her oldest son was in trouble.  She was afraid if she didn’t do something soon, worse things would happen to him.  Thinking aloud as she headed into the elevator she quietly said, “Oh, God, Mike.  Help me figure out how to help him.”

 

~*~*~*~

 

September 1978....

 

“Starsky, will you please sit somewhere?  Keep limping around on that ankle and you’re gonna do more damage.”  Hutch steered their suspect into a chair next to Starsky’s side of the desk and went to retrieve an intake form.

 

“Yeah, yeah.  Nothing I haven’t been through before, you know.” Starsky grumpily dropped into his chair across from Hutch.   He had already limped his way back and forth to the vending machines while Hutch was bringing the suspect up from a holding cell. 

 

Chasing the lanky young man, Starsky had twisted his ankle again.  He did that fairly frequently and Hutch was always curious about it.  They’d known each other for years and he’d never gotten Starsky to explain to him why that ankle was so weak.  He knew it had to be from a previous injury and Hutch guessed it must have happened in Vietnam.  His partner refused to discuss much of what happened to him there, so that would explain his attitude whenever the subject was raised. 

 

“Good, now sit still and interview him, I’m going to go down to get you some ice for it.”  He started to leave as Starsky opened his mouth to protest.  Hutch put up his finger and gave him “the look,” instantly silencing him.  Interviewing their suspect would take his mind off of the throbbing ankle while he waited for the ice he knew he needed.

 

“First name,” he said curtly.

 

“Carmen,” his suspect replied.  Starsky raised an eyebrow at him and then typed the response.

 

“Last name.”

 

“Jones.” 

 

Starsky sighed and said, “All right, wise guy, what’s your real name?”

 

“That is my name.”  He sat up a little straighter and added, “My mama was a big Dorothy Danridge fan.”

 

“Really.” Starsky continued.  “Date of Birth.”

 

“January 15, 1955.”

 

He continued to ask questions and fill in the blanks on the form.  Hutch returned with the ice a few minutes later and Starsky finished the interview.  Once they had Mr. Jones returned to lockup, they left to take Starsky’s car to Merle’s.  The Torino’s brakes needed service.  After Starsky almost wrapped the Torino around a telephone poll during the car chase portion of their encounter with Carmen Jones, Hutch told him he wasn’t going anywhere else but to Merle’s in the tomato rocket. 

 

The garage was busy.  They got out of the car and walked toward where a pair of legs stuck out from underneath a black El Camino.  Starsky kicked one of the shoes and said, “That you under there, Merle?”

 

Merle’s muffled voice responded, “Who wants to know?”

 

“Now, come on, Merle.  You mean you don’t recognize this turkey’s voice?”  Hutch laughed as he answered, ignoring Starsky’s glare.

 

“That you, Starkinson?” 

 

“Yeah, it’s us.  Come on out from under there,” Starsky answered

 

Merle scooted out from under the car and put a hand up for Starsky’s help getting off the ground.  “What you two need from the Earl today?”

 

Hutch answered, “The Torino needs a brake job.  Do you have time today?”

 

“I don’t, but my new mechanic does.”

 

“I don’t know, Merle.  I want you to do it.”  Starsky didn’t like to let just anyone touch his baby. 

 

“I ain’t gonna let nobody hurt your tomato.”  Merle knew why Starsky was hesitant.  He yelled for the other mechanic.  “Vinnie!  Get on out here.”

 

The other man came out from behind a car inside one of the repair bays.  Walking toward them wiping his face on a shop rag, Vinnie finally lifted his head up to look at the men standing with his boss and he stopped in his tracks about ten feet from them.  He didn’t know the blond, but he could never mistake the identity of the dark-haired one.  The man’s resemblance to his long-deceased father was eerie.

 

Starsky was talking to Hutch and he didn’t notice Vinnie at first.  He looked toward him when he heard his name.

 

Vinnie said, “Davy Starsky.”

 

“Vinnie?  Vinnie Martino?”  Starsky was shocked.  He hadn’t thought about Vinnie in a long time.  He was surprised he had recognized him.

 

Vinnie gave an ear-to-ear grin and lunged forward to grab Starsky in a rib-crushing hug. He stepped back and slapped him on the shoulder, leaving his hand on Starsky's arm. "I'll be damned. Davy Starsky. What the hell are you doin' out here and how are you, man? How many years has it been? You're the spittin' image of your old man, I'd'a known ya anywhere."

 

Starsky, looking a bit stunned, said, "I moved out here when I was 13. Been here ever since. What are YOU doing here?"

 

"Got tired of snow, man," Vinnie said. "Came out a coupla months ago." He looked curiously at Hutch.

 

"Sorry," Starsky said, flushing. "This is Ken Hutchinson. My partner."

 

"Partner?" Vinnie asked, offering Hutch his hand. Hutch took it, forcing a smile for Starsky's sake, but something about Vinnie made his hackles rise and he didn't know what it was.

 

"We're cops," Starsky said. "Detectives. Metro division."

 

Vinnie was momentarily taken aback, but he recovered quickly. "For real? Just like your old man again. He'd be proud of ya, Davy."

 

"I hope so," Starsky muttered, almost too low to be heard. Hutch put a hand on his arm for a brief second.

 

"Me, I never finished high school," Vinnie said with a grin.

 

"You never finished junior high," Starsky said, recovering, with a teasing tone.

 

Vinnie shrugged. "True enough, Davy. So here I am, a grease monkey, just like MY old man. Wherever he is."

 

"Ain't no such thing as a 'grease monkey' at the Earl's!" Merle objected loudly. "This here is a customizing shop and we are all artistes!"

 

Vinnie grinned and hooked a thumb at Merle. "Okay, okay. Keep your shorts on. Figger of speech is all. So where's this car o' yours?"

 

Starsky indicated the Torino and Vinnie gave a low whistle. He walked over to it and all around it, peering inside, crouching down to look underneath, running a reverent hand across the hood.

 

"This is real nice, Davy. Real nice. Custom paint job?"

 

Starsky nodded. "Sure is."

 

"Man, this beats the hell outta that beat-up Schwinn you had back in the neighborhood, huh?" Vinnie peered over the roof of the car to grin at Starsky.

 

Starsky grinned back. "Absolutely."

 

"You done good for yourself, Davy-boy," Vinnie said. "What's the problem with her?"

 

"Brakes."

 

"Okay, okay. We can fix that," Vinnie said. "Whattya say, Merle? I can probably get that done by tomorrow afternoon if the boss man'll let me get started right away."

 

Merle frowned at Vinnie, but finally shrugged. "Always wants a rush job," he grumbled, including Starsky in his glare. "But, yeah, we'll have 'er done tomorrow."

 

"Thanks, guys," Starsky said.

 

"And when you come back for her," Vinnie said, "maybe me and you and your partner there can all go out for a beer and relive the glory days, huh, Davy?"

 

"Sure," Starsky said. "We got a friend owns a place called The Pits."

 

Vinnie chuckled. "The Pits? Is it as bad as it sounds?"

 

"Nah, it's a great place. We'll show ya tomorrow."

 

"Okay, Davy." Vinnie waved as they walked away.

 

"So, who was that?" Hutch asked later as they were having a beer at Starsky's place.

 

"Vinnie? Kid from the neighborhood. Back east."

 

"I figured that much out by myself," Hutch said dryly.

 

Starsky flushed slightly. "He usedta run with a gang of kids called themselves the Warriors. I was a lot younger than they were, but they let me hang around some, after my dad died."

 

"A gang as in criminals or a gang as in a group of friends?" Hutch asked pointedly.

 

Starsky's flush deepened. "A gang as in a gang," he said. "They were into some rough stuff, but I was just a kid and it all looked pretty glamorous to me. They did some shoplifting, some joyriding in other people's cars, got into some rumbles with other gangs. It coulda all gone bad pretty easy, but my mom figured out what was goin' on after I was in a fight with a rival gang called the Nomads when I was out by myself and wound up in the hospital. She sent me out here to live with Aunt Rose and Uncle Al."

 

"So that was the catalyst," Hutch said, almost to himself.

 

Starsky nodded. "I went a little nuts after Pop died," he said. "I told ya all this before. Suddenly, I was the man of the house, or I thought I was, and I just couldn't handle it. These guys had cars and money and I looked up to 'em. Pop woulda beat the hell out of me if he'd still been there to do it. But Ma – I guess I was too much for her."

 

"So if this Vinnie was in that gang, why do you want to be so friendly with him?"

 

Starsky gave another shrug. "It's just a coupla beers, Hutch. Relive old times. That was a long time ago, and we've grown up, y'know? I ain't suggestin' we take him to raise. I'd just like to hear how some of the folks from the neighborhood are doin'."

 

~*~*~*~

 

The next day Starsky and Hutch showed up at Merle's, as planned, around 6, when the "artiste" was closing up shop for the day. The Torino was parked outside the service area, waxed and polished within an inch of its life. Starsky grinned and hurried over to it.  Thankfully, his ankle was already better.

 

Vinnie came out of the shop and leaned against the doorway, grinning back at him. "She's all set to go," he said.

 

"Thanks for cleaning her up," Starsky said.

 

Vinnie shrugged casually. "Least I could do for an old friend, Davy. Wanna take her for a test run, make sure you're happy with the work?"

 

"Yeah." Starsky caught the keys Vinnie tossed to him and got in. "Comin', Hutch?"

 

Hutch shook his head. "Go on. But just around the block, okay? Don't take off for two hours down the highway."

 

"I won't." Starsky started the engine and backed out with a wave.

 

"So you're his partner," Vinnie said as soon as Starsky was out of hearing.

 

"That's right."

 

"For how long?"

 

"Seven years," Hutch answered.

 

"You two good friends?" Vinnie began cleaning his hands with some goopy stuff out of a plastic container.

 

"Best friends," Hutch said.

 

Vinnie looked at him sideways. "You don't like me, do you?"

 

"I don't know you," Hutch said.

 

Vinnie gave a half grin, with only one corner of his mouth. "But you don't like me anyway. What'd Davy tell ya? I was one of the big kids? In a gang? Bad news?"

 

Hutch lifted one shoulder noncommittally.

 

"It's all true, you know," Vinnie said, wiping his hands. "I was a wild kid. Davy didn't have no business hangin' around us, especially not at his age. But he looked up to us, and most of us weren't real used to gettin' looked up to. Me, especially. Just before he left – to come out here, I guess, but I didn't know that then – he was out lookin' for us one night and this other gang kicked the crap outta him. He was in the hospital for a week or somethin' and lemme tell ya, I was scared. His mom wouldn't lemme see him and wouldn't tell me how he was, and then, a little while later, he was just gone." Vinnie tossed the rag aside and turned to face Hutch. "I kinda thought of Davy as a little brother, but he prob'ly didn't know that. I was rough on him, bossin' him around, cuffin' him and stuff. I'm glad he got away. If he'd'a stayed in the neighborhood, he mighta wound up like me."

 

"A mechanic?"

 

Vinnie shook his head. "Nah. I might as well tell ya, you can find out anyway since you're a cop. I been in prison a coupla times. Armed robbery, assault. Stupid stuff. I'm tryin' to go straight now, man. Got me a job, somethin' I'm good at. New place, new faces. I won't be hangin' around after Davy, though. He don't need my kind messin' up his life. I'm real proud of him, becomin' a cop. Bet he's good at it, too."

 

"He is."

 

Vinnie nodded. "Just this one time, catch up on each other's lives, and I won't bother you none no more. Okay?"

 

Hutch considered that, looking Vinnie over and not trying to hide it. "Okay."

 

The three of them spent a couple of hours at The Pits, with Vinnie and Starsky laughing about their exploits and making it sound as if shoplifting and stealing cars were just youthful high jinks. Hutch had no delusions about Starsky's childhood. He'd known his partner had grown up in a rough neighborhood and had done some things he wasn't proud of in order to survive. He'd known that was why Rachel had sent him to California, hoping her sister and brother-in-law, childless and better off financially than she was, could set the boy straight. And they had.

 

But Vinnie's sudden reappearance disturbed Hutch and frightened him a little, too. He just couldn't put his finger on WHY.  Vinnie was right – he didn’t like him.  His protective instincts were rarely wrong where Starsky was concerned, so he would be keeping a wary eye on Vinnie.

 

Resisting the almost overpowering urge to remark on some of the tales the other two men were telling required most of his concentration.  He wouldn’t hurt his partner’s feelings for anything.  If Starsky wanted to spend a couple of hours indulging in a whitewashed trip down memory lane with his former acquaintance, Hutch would politely endure it, making sure to stay within close proximity. 

 

“Hey, Hutch, you know your pally here has quite a way with a baseball bat,” Vinnie said with a smirk.  Suddenly, Starsky looked uncomfortable, stiffening his posture.

 

“Uh-huh,” Hutch answered, waiting to see what was next.  He had the distinct feeling they were not talking about Little League.

 

Starsky shifted in his seat and said, “Aw, Hutch doesn’t want to hear ‘bout that, Vinnie.  ‘Sides, it’s getting late and we have to work tomorrow.”

 

Hutch’s curiosity increased a notch.  Vinnie wasn’t finished and he could see the color beginning to creep into his partner’s cheeks.  “Sure he does, Davy.  Whatsa matta?  You don’t want Blondie here knowin’ ‘bout your humble tough guy beginnings?”

 

Trying to laugh it off, Starsky said, “Yeah, right.  He knows already.  Come on, Hutch, we’d better hit it.”

 

The look on Vinnie’s face went from mischievous to determined, but Hutch could tell Starsky couldn’t see the change.  The flash in those dark eyes was aimed right at the blond detective and it seemed to be screaming at Hutch, do you know what kind of man your partner almost was? 

 

Starsky was half out of his seat when Vinnie said, “Last one, boys, then you can go back to your boring, good-guy lives.  I swear.”  He held up his hand in pledge and Starsky sat down again.

 

“See, after Davy got roughed up by the Nomads, he came home banged up and lookin’ like he’d got drug behind a car.  Good for the image.”  Vinnie swigged his beer and then continued, “Back in those days, his ma was a looker, Hutch.  He ever tell you that?”

 

Hutch disliked this story already.  “No, that’s not the way Starsky usually talks about his mother.”  Hutch was getting angry and trying to send a message to the man across from him to back off now.  Vinnie had told him earlier that Mrs. Starsky wouldn’t let him see his partner after he was hurt.  Was he lying then, or is he lying now?  He could tell Vinnie knew what he wanted, but he could also see he had no intention of complying.  Starsky remained silent.

 

“Well, she was.  While he was laid up, one of Joe Durniak’s lieutenants had started hanging around the house.  Tryin’ to put the moves on Davy’s ma.”  Vinnie could see how angry Starsky was becoming, but he pressed on regardless. “Let’s just say Davy and his baseball bat didn’t take kindly to the man’s advances.”  Vinnie’s laugh sent a shiver through Hutch.  He was enjoying telling this story at Starsky’s expense. 

 

“Vinnie.... ” Starsky attempted to interrupt, but the other man was laughing and waving him off like he couldn’t stop.

 

“So Davy comes hobbling down onto the front stoop with his ankle in a cast and a baseball bat in his hands, see?  We lived right down the street and I looked out the window when I heard the ruckus.  See, his ma had already told this goon she wasn’t interested and to leave her alone.  Davy started bustin’ up the porch rail and the lights out front, all the while backin’ this giant goombah down the front steps with a look of murder in his eyes.  Tells this guy he’d better get the hell away from them.  Says he’s the man o’the house now and goombah’d have to deal with him if he ever came around there again.”  Vinnie was hooting with laughter now, slapping his palm on the tabletop, clearly enjoying Starsky’s discomfort.

 

Hutch looked over at him, but Starsky wouldn’t meet his eyes.

 

Vinnie calmed himself a little. “Wasn’t too long after that, Davy disappeared.  Durniak’s guy disappeared, too.  What do ya figure?”

 

That was it, evening finished.  “I figure my partner said we’re tired and it’s time to go.  Come on, Starsk.”  Hutch touched the other man on his elbow and started him moving out of his seat again.

 

“See you around, Davy?”  Vinnie said, swirling the last of his beer around the bottom of his glass.

 

“Yeah, see ya,”  Starsky answered as Hutch steered him toward the door.

 

After they were out of sight, Vinnie held up the glass and said aloud, “Sooner than you think, Davy.”  He downed the rest, slammed the glass down on the tabletop and left.

 

When they were in the Torino, headed away from The Pits, Hutch started, “Starsk....”

 

“Leave it, Hutch.”  Starsky’s expression was hardened, Hutch could see that much in the dim light of the car.  Realizing that sounded harsh, Starsky softened his tone and said, “Please.”

 

“Sure, buddy.” Now Hutch had another reason for concern.  He hadn’t needed to know much about that time in Starsky’s life before this night.  Now, every instinct he had was telling him he’d better find out about it.

 

After he drove Hutch home, Starsky went back to his own apartment. What he hoped would be a reasonably pleasant evening with someone from his childhood had turned embarrassing.  He didn’t understand his feelings for Vinnie.  The man was crude.  His life had been rough and Starsky could see in him how his own life might have turned out, if his mother hadn’t intervened.   He felt sorry for Vinnie and he hoped the man hadn’t changed Hutch’s opinion of him.  His partner knew life had been tough for him after his dad died, but he had never told him too many details.  Maybe it was time to let him in on this part of his past.  Telling Hutch wouldn’t change anything, but it might help Starsky to feel a little more at peace about things.

 

Hutch walked around his apartment watering and speaking to each of the plants in his jungle.  Tending them helped him to think clearly and refocus his mind.  He knew Starsky was carrying around some heavy memories from the time surrounding his dad’s death.  As much as he hated to pry, he knew his best friend needed to talk.  As soon as he could break into the discussion, he would try to get Starsky going in that direction.

 

Hutch was just turning off the lights when his phone rang.  “Hello.”

 

“Hey, it’s me.”  Starsky sounded a little depressed.

 

“You all right, Gordo?” 

 

“Yeah.  I was just sitting here thinking about Vinnie.”

 

“Oh.  Feel like talking about it?”

 

“Uh-huh.  Not now, though.  You feel like getting an early start tomorrow?  I was hoping we could go somewhere for breakfast and talk.”

 

“Sure thing, buddy.  Is six-thirty too early for you?”

 

Starsky laughed.  “Is that a rhetorical question?  Yeah, that’s too early, but it’s a good time.  I’ll come get you.”

 

Hutch smiled at the phone and said, “I’ll be ready.  Get a good night’s sleep.”

 

“Yeah. ‘Night.”  The quiet clicking of the phone as Starsky hung up was a sad sound.  Hutch sighed and turned out the lights.

 

Sitting in the coffee shop booth the next morning, Hutch noticed that his usually energetic partner seemed subdued.  They ordered their breakfast and sat quietly drinking coffee for several minutes while Starsky worked up to what he wanted to discuss.

 

Starsky broke the silence at last.  “That baseball bat thing was the final straw, you know.”

 

Hutch made a face at the extra-thick coffee and reached for the honey bottle.  “What happened?”

 

“Like Vinnie said, I had just gotten home from the hospital.  I think it had been a few days.”

 

Briefly interrupting, Hutch put a finger up in the air and said, “Yeah, I want to hear about that, too.  Keep going, but don’t let me forget.”

 

Smiling wryly at his overprotective partner, Starsky said, “Is there ANY chance you would forget?”

 

Blushing, Hutch replied, “No.  Probably not.”

 

“As I was saying, I had just been home a few days.  Stubborn as all hell.  I was supposed to be resting.  The doc said no walking.  Guess who immediately blew off that instruction?  Ma was really mad.”

 

“I’ll bet.”

 

The waitress brought them their breakfast and scurried off to retrieve the Tabasco Sauce Starsky requested.  He paused a minute to eat a piece of bacon and then continued.

 

“I guess while I was in the hospital, one of the guys in Joe Durniak’s family started hanging around the house.  Pop had been gone about six months then.  Ma wasn’t interested in this guy and she had told him so.  More than once.   A couple of nights before the baseball bat, I heard her talking to him.  I got out of bed and started down the stairs, but she got rid of him before I got there.”

 

“Were they arguing?”  Hutch reached across the table and snagged a piece of Starsky’s bacon.  Starsky was glad he did.  He’d ordered extra so Hutch could steal some without depriving him.

 

“Not that night.  Ma was definite, though.  I could hear that in her voice.  I tried to ask her about it, but she wouldn’t talk.  A couple of nights later, he was back at the house.  This time, when I heard the bell, I came down the stairs where I could hear what was happening.”

 

“Walking on the ankle, again.”

 

“Yeah.  So, I can see through the curtains in the window on the door.  This guy just kept saying a woman alone needed a man around to take care of her.  Ma said she was doing fine.  Then she tried telling him she wasn’t ready for dating and that even if she were, she couldn’t go out with someone outside the faith.  That didn’t set well.  He started getting pushy – saying stuff like that he knew I was a handful and that he could take care of me.  He said if she wouldn’t go out with him, something might happen to her hot headed kid.”

 

Hutch put a bite of scrambled egg in his mouth and paused, his eyebrows rising.  He swallowed and said, “That would have been you, I suppose.”

 

“Give the man a gold star.  Well, he had Ma backed up against the wall outside. He was real big and intimidating and Ma was trying to get him to go away.  I guess I just snapped.”

 

“Imagine.” 

 

“Really.  Well, I went into the hall closet.  My baseball bat was in there.  Then I flung the front door open and went after the guy.”  He laughed at the memory, a dry, self-deprecatory sounding laugh. “Here I was, bruised, stitches in my head, and in a cast.  I was just a scrawny little kid, Hutch.  Didn’t even have a chest hair yet.  I never did find out what the guy did for Durniak, but for all I know he was a leg breaker.”

 

“Geez, Starsk.  You’re lucky the guy didn’t finish you off right then and there.”  Hutch could picture the young, skinny kid, fire in his eyes, baseball bat cocked over his shoulder.

 

“I’ve thought about it a lot over the years.  I think maybe he was afraid of Durniak getting wind of it if he hurt Mike Starsky’s kid.  I was pretty deadly with that thing.  Next time we’re back there, check out the iron railing around the porch.  Unless they finally replaced it, the thing is still dented all to hell.  The guy spooked and he split.”

 

Starsky stopped talking and started eating.  Letting his words sink in for a few minutes. 

 

“So, that was why your mom sent you to your Aunt Rose and Uncle Al?”

 

“Ultimately, yeah.  I never really talked to her about it.  Guess I was too mad.  From what I’ve learned over the years, she went to Joe and told him about what happened.  I think she was afraid I’d get hurt, or that the guy would come after me.  Joe must have given her the money so she could send me out here.  I was outta there two days later.”

 

“She did the right thing, Starsk,” Hutch said as he stuck his fork into Starsky’s hash browns.  “You could have been hurt worse.  Speaking of which, now tell me about this tangle you had with the Nomads.”

 

“Oh, yeah.  Hm.  I knew you wouldn’t forget.”  He wiped his hands on his napkin and pushed away his half eaten breakfast. 

 

“I found out from some kids at school that County Hospital was where they took the cops hurt on the job in our area.  Pop died on the sidewalk near our house.  He never made it to the hospital.  I don’t know why I had to see it, but I did.  The hospital wasn’t in our turf and I was alone.”

 

Hutch never realized that when Starsky had said he hung around with a rough crowd of boys, that he meant a street gang.  He always thought he meant just some boys who were into some trouble.  “Were you carrying a weapon?”

 

“Nah.  I wasn’t all the way in the gang yet.  They were gonna give me a switchblade when I passed the initiation period.  Such an honor, huh?  And here I thought I became a man when I had my Bar Mitzvah.”  Starsky’s voice was full of irony about that.  Though he was still grieving the loss of his father, he had followed through with his studies and had his Bar Mitzvah on schedule in April that year, just a few short months after Michael Starsky bled to death in his arms.  Hutch always felt sad when he thought about the twelve year old child his partner had been, having that burden permanently imprinted on his soul.

 

Reaching across the table to pat his partner on the arm, Hutch asked, “So what did they do to you when they caught you in their turf?” 

 

“Oh, they beat the crap out of me.  I don’t remember it very well.  They were serious though.” He pointed up to a tiny scar on his right cheek.  The scar was so faint it was barely visible, blending into the tiny laugh lines around his eyes.  “One of ‘em had on brass knuckles.  I had to have some stitches.  Then he put his hand up in his curls, playing with them a little.  These silver hairs up in here grow out of where they stitched up my busted head.  Oh, and the ankle never healed right.  Guess I shouldn’t have walked on it after all.  That’s probably why I twist it so easily.  When they were done hitting me, they threw me out in front of a moving car.  The guy was able to stop, though, and he took me to County.”

 

Starsky stopped talking and got that look on his face like he was finished.  He also looked a little embarrassed.

 

“You know, you were just a kid, Starsk.  None of that stuff makes any difference to me.  Except the parts about you getting hurt and that turkey threatening you and your mom.  You knew how to piss off the bad guys before you were out of short pants, Gordo.”

 

Starsky laughed at that.  “Yeah.  Thanks, Hutch.”

 

“For what?”

 

“Well, you know, it’s not like I wanted to keep all this stuff from you.  I just didn’t want you to think....”

 

“Aw, buddy, nothing you did as a kid makes me feel any differently about you.  Knowing actually makes me prouder of you.  Despite that entire trauma, you pulled yourself out of the frying pan.  Your mom, Rose, and Al did the right thing by you.  They saved your life, but they couldn’t have done it without you being strong enough to let them help.”

 

“I know.  Listening to Vinnie last night, though, I almost feel guilty.  I had somebody to help me.  I got out of the frying pan all right, and I found my way to a better life.  Most of those guys, Vinnie included, jumped out of the pan and into the flames.  Why me?  What makes me worth getting out like that and not them?”

 

Hutch could see his partner was going to be in a fret about this for a while.  He knew there wasn’t much he could do but lend his support.  “You’re a good person, Starsk.  You deserved to find your way here.  I’m sure glad you did.”  He reached over and stole the last piece of bacon off of Starsky’s plate.  “Who else would let me eat off of his plate like you do?”

 

“Nobody.  I sure feel sorry for Vinnie, though.”

 

“Well, don’t let that get to you.  Vinnie’s a grown man, Starsky.  He makes his own choices, just like you do.”

 

“You really didn’t like him, did you?”

 

“Something still very dark about the guy, buddy.  Let’s just say he’s on my radar.”

 

“Maybe he just needs someone to believe in him, Hutch.  You know what a wild kid I still was even after ‘Nam and the Academy.  I had you, though.”

 

“Just keep your perspective, Gordo.  Sometimes you put your heart out there for people who don’t deserve it.  I’m not planning to interfere, but you know I won’t let him hurt you.”

 

“Fair enough.  Just give the guy a chance, huh?  Don’t be too quick to write him off as a bad seed.  For me?” 

 

Starsky looked at Hutch, clearly conveying his need to give his old friend a hand.  He thought he could help Vinnie build a better life in California and he wanted Hutch’s support.  Hutch was his best friend and his approval was important to Starsky. 

 

Nodding Hutch said, “You got it.  Just be careful.”

 

As the detectives were finishing their breakfast and heading off to start their shift, Vinnie Martino was on the phone to New York. 

 

“Yo, it’s Vinnie.” 

 

“Did you make a connection yet?”  the other man asked.

 

“Yep.  Got a job at his uncle’s garage workin’ with a guy who calls himself ‘Merle the Earl’, if you can believe that.  I knew I’d run into him sooner or later, but I got tired of waiting.  I bled his brake lines almost dry the other day.  That brought him in for repairs.”

 

“You might’ve killed him, ya moron!”  A flash of anger on the other end of the line made Vinnie wince.  In the underworld, every shark knew there was always a bigger shark out there.

 

“I know what I’m doin’, boss. I only bled enough off to scare him into comin’ in to the garage.”

 

“Yeah, yeah, okay.  How’d the reunion go?”

 

“Pretty good.  I recognized him right away.  It’s spooky how much he looks like his old man.  We had a few beers together.  His partner’s gonna be a problem, though.”

 

Sounding displeased, the other man said, “What kinda problem?”

 

“The interfering kind.  He’s a shrewd one.  Doesn’t trust me.”

 

“You think he knows something?”

 

“Nah.  He’s just good at what he does.  Davy is too, but you could tell he feels sorry for me.  I’ll work that angle.”

 

“What about the partner then?”

 

“Let me worry about the big blond.  I won’t let him get in my way when it comes down to it.  I’m good at what I do, too.”

 

“Keep in touch.”  The other man hung up the phone. 

 

Vinnie hung up and picked up the file folder he had been leafing through that morning.  The folder contained surveillance information and photos of two Bay City detectives.  He pulled out the small notebook he always carried and jotted down the address for Venice Place.

 

It was a quiet morning for Starsky and Hutch on their beat, but both of them felt a tension in the air and from the people they met. Neither one could put their finger on it.

 

"It's not just me," Starsky said. It wasn't a question.

 

"Nope." Hutch rubbed his eyes. "Something's going to blow. What say we have lunch at Huggy's? Maybe he can help us out."

 

"Good idea." Starsky turned at the next corner and headed for The Pits.

 

The place was hopping as usual for lunchtime, but the minute Huggy spotted them, he made his way over to them. "I'm surprised it took you guys this long to get to me," he said. "Noticed anything odd out there?" He gestured toward the door with his head.

 

"Yeah," Starsky said. "What's goin' on, anyway? Everybody's wound up tighter than a drum."

 

Huggy gave a shrug. "I'm not sure yet. I'm trying to find out. That's part of what's strange, if you get my drift. Nobody's talkin' about why they're so uptight. But they all are."

 

"If you don't know – " Starsky began. He cocked a quizzical eyebrow at his bartender friend. "Maybe nobody does."

 

"Oh, they know," Huggy said. "I'll find out, prob'ly before the day's over. I can make an educated guess."

 

"Really. What?"

 

"There's some kinda new action goin' on. Maybe a new player's entered the territory."

 

"Drugs?" Hutch asked.

 

Huggy pursed his lips. "That'd be my guess. But you didn't hear nothin' from me."

 

"You'd think a new supplier – "

 

Huggy shook his head, stopping Hutch mid-sentence. "You know better'n that, Hutch. A new supplier's good news for the users, but the OLD suppliers ain't gonna be too thrilled, if you know what I mean."

 

"What kind you think it is?" Starsky asked.

 

Huggy shook his head again. "Can't say. My guess is somethin' heavy, though. Horse. Coke. Tell you what. I ain't seen Dinger for three or four days."

 

Dinger was a street junkie, small time, but a habitual user. Sometimes he was good for some information, and Starsky and Hutch usually left him alone. They'd tried, when they first took over the beat, to roust him and get him into treatment, but he always went back to the habit. They'd finally given up. He never caused trouble, and in fact, held down a job washing dishes at a mom-and-pop diner. But when Dinger disappeared for several days at a time, it meant he'd gone on a bender.

 

"He can't afford that much horse," Hutch objected.

 

"Less'n somebody's undercuttin' the competition by offerin' discount rates," Huggy said.

 

Starsky and Hutch exchanged a glance. That made sense. Move in, undersell the competition, knock the other guy out of business, and then when you were the only game in town, jack the prices back up again.

 

"That could get ugly," Starsky said.

 

"You know it. And you wonder why everybody's so uptight?" Huggy grimaced. "I'm only guessin' all this, mind you, but I’ve been on the streets a long time, fellas, and all the signs are there."

 

"The minute you hear somethin' – " Starsky said.

 

"I'll let you know," Huggy finished for him. "Don't worry."

 

Starsky had a nightmare that night, one he used to have regularly when he was a child, but hadn't had since ‘Nam. That had provided new fodder for nightmares for years, finally chasing the old one away. But it came back on this night.

 

He was almost 13 years old. The boys he'd been running around with for the last few months had slipped a note into his locker at school. Meet us at Garfield Park right after practice. It's important.

 

He didn't know what was up, but he wanted so badly to belong and maybe this was a sign he was close to making it. They wanted him to meet them, instead of his having to just hang around and hope they'd let him stay. Right after school he headed for the park, not far from his neighborhood. Close enough to walk.

 

When he got there, Vinnie and Butch, two of the older boys and the acknowledged leaders, were hanging around the picnic tables smoking a joint. Two or three of the other boys were there, too, hanging back at the edges of the park, nervously keeping watch. No sign of the rest of the 20 or so members of the gang.

 

"Hey, ya, Davy," Vinnie said, friendly for him. "Wanna drag?"

 

Davy shook his head. "Nah. Gives me a headache," he lied, afraid to tell the truth, that his ma would tan his hide if she smelled marijuana on him. He'd gotten a tanning or two already, just from hanging around other people who smoked it. He'd never dared try it himself.

 

Vinnie shrugged and passed the joint to Butch. "We got a job for ya, Davy," he said.

 

"Yeah? What's that?"

 

"Me and Butch here are broke," Vinnie said. "But we're outta smokes, see. We want ya t' lift us a coupla packs from the newsstand. Guy knows us and won't let us near the place, but he wouldn't suspect a little kid."

 

Davy bristled a bit at the "little kid" and he also knew what his ma would say about stealing. But he also couldn't say "no." So he forced his conscience down and obediently trotted away to the newsstand. It was busy this time of day, people heading home from work, wanting their evening paper. The proprietor, an elderly Italian man who barely spoke English, was busy. Davy was short for his age and managed to squeeze through the customers. The cigarettes were next to the cash register, with the candy bars and gum. It was easy enough to grab a couple of packs of Kools, stuff them inside his t-shirt, and run. He had to pass his own house on the way back unless he ducked down a convenient alley, so he did that, but was frozen in his tracks by the sounds of gunfire and squealing tires.

 

He slithered back to the opening to the street and peered around the corner of the building. People had come out on their porches and some were standing around a still figure on the sidewalk. One of those people was his dad's partner. His heart in his throat, and forgetting all about Vinnie and Butch, Davy ran as hard as he could and skidded to a stop, unbelieving.

 

His father lay on the sidewalk, a spreading red stain on the front of his policeman's uniform. His eyes were closed and his breathing sounded funny.

 

His dad's partner caught sight of him and stepped between him and his father, grabbing his shoulders and turning him away. "Davy, go home. Go home right now. You shouldn't be here."

 

"Pop," Davy said, softly, his voice cracking. "Pop!" He jerked away from the cop and threw himself to his knees at his father's side. "Pop?" He was almost afraid to touch him, and the distant sounds of ambulance sirens didn't even really register until much later. But he reached out a shaking hand and touched his father's cheek. At his touch, Mike Starsky's eyes opened. They wouldn't focus, but there was dazed recognition in them.

 

"Davy," his dad said, his voice sounding strange and bubbling. A little blood leaked out of the corner of his mouth, and Davy wiped it away, almost blinded by tears. He was only twelve, but he knew what he was seeing.

 

"Daddy," he said, not even realizing he'd lapsed into using the name for his father that he'd abandoned when he started school. "Daddy, please. Don't die, please."

 

Mike Starsky tried to raise his hand to touch his son's face, but he couldn't do it. Davy caught hold of that hand in both of his own. "My ... rings," he said with obvious effort.

 

"Your rings?" Davy didn't understand.

 

"Take 'em," his dad said. "The rings, Davy."

 

Suddenly Davy understood. His father had always worn two rings on the pinky of his left hand. He never took them off. He'd told Davy once that they were family heirlooms and someday Davy would get them, as the eldest. The tears that had blinded him now flowed freely down his cheeks. "Daddy, I can't – "

 

"Take 'em, Davy," his dad said, his voice so weak it was barely audible. "Please, son. Wear 'em. Never, ever take 'em off ... promise."

 

Sobbing now, Davy obeyed. He took his father's rings off and put them on his own left hand. They were too big for any but his middle finger. His dad watched, his eyes going more and more hazy.

 

"Love ... you," Mike said. "My boy ... take care of your ... " His eyes drifted shut and he stopped breathing.

 

Starsky awoke with a jerk, fresh tears drying on his face and his heart aching. He'd never forgotten, but he hadn't dreamed about his father's death for years. Somehow, he'd pushed it aside and tried never to think about it if he could help it. He had never told his mother or Nick the whole story. His mom knew he'd been at the scene, but she didn't push him to tell her what had happened. She'd never said a word about the rings, either. As Davy grew, the rings fit better, until sometime around his 18th or 19th birthday, he'd moved them to his pinky, where his father had worn them. And he never took them off, as his father had said.

 

He touched them now, reverently. His father hadn't left much. Some life insurance. His pension. A few family possessions. Most of the Starsky family valuables had been lost in the Holocaust, but Mike Starsky's mother had managed to salvage some silver and some family photos. God knew how, when all they brought with them to America was contained in their suitcases.

 

But the rings and the legacy of his father's honest name were the two things Starsky would never give up. Mike Starsky had been buried with full honors by the NYPD, killed in the line of duty. For a while, Starsky really had gone a little crazy and had gotten even deeper in with Vinnie and his crowd. But his mother had sent him to California, just in time, and with distance and his aunt and uncle's constant attention, he'd finally remembered where he'd come from. And he'd made up his mind that Mike Starsky would never have a reason to be ashamed of his oldest boy.

 

Hutch knew that Starsky had been there when his father died, but he'd never told him the whole story, either. Maybe it was time he did. Without thinking, he reached over and picked up the phone.

 

It took several rings, but finally Hutch answered, groggy, "H'lo?"

 

"Me," Starsky said.

 

"Starsk? What's wrong?" Hutch was suddenly wide-awake.

 

"Nothin'." Starsky sighed. "Everything. I had a dream. About my dad's death."

 

At his end, Hutch was more than a little puzzled, but he could hear a note of pain in his partner's voice that he didn't like at all. "Tell me."

 

Starsky did, haltingly, his voice shaking and the tears coming to his eyes again as he talked. Hutch listened in complete silence until he was finished.

 

"Is that how it really happened?"

 

"Yeah." Starsky used a corner of sheet to wipe his eyes; grateful Hutch couldn't see his tears, though he knew his partner knew him well enough to hear the tears in his voice. "Just like that."

 

"Aw, babe." Hutch was silent for a moment. "Want me to come over?"

 

"No," Starsky said. "No sense in that."

 

"I will, if you need me. What're partners for?"

 

Starsky smiled a little. "Thanks, buddy, really, but I'll be okay. I guess I – just needed to hear your voice. Needed to tell ya."

 

"Seeing Vinnie brought it all back?"

 

"Maybe." Starsky drew a deep breath and forced himself to calm down.  "Sorry I woke you up."

 

"It's okay," Hutch said gently. "Sure you don't want me to come?"

 

"Yeah. See ya in the mornin', okay?"

 

"Okay." Hutch listened as Starsky hung up, but he didn't immediately go back to sleep. He lay on his back, staring up at the ceiling in the dark, and wondering, not for the first time, how his partner had turned into the gentle, caring, decent man he was with all that trauma in his childhood.

 

When Hutch picked him up for work the next morning, he could tell Starsky hadn’t slept after they hung up the phone.  The dark circles under his eyes and the tired posture as he leaned against the door betrayed him.  His heart ached for everything his best friend had been through.  “You okay this morning, buddy?”

 

“Yeah, I’m fine.  Couldn’t get back to sleep, though.”  He punctuated that remark with a yawn.

 

“I would have come,”  Hutch said as he gave Starsky’s shoulder a squeeze.

 

“I know.  I appreciate it.  Really.  I’ll be fine.”

 

“You want to talk about it anymore?”

 

Starsky shook his head and said, “Later, maybe.  I feel kinda like I need to just dive in today.”

 

“Whatever you want, buddy.”  Hutch picked up the radio mike to log them on duty and then he pulled his beater Hutchmobile into traffic.  Starsky had bought him this car after his previous Hutchmobile was totaled by Roy Slater pushing him off a canyon road.   Starsky thought this car was even drabber – an unreliable, light-colored LTD that was partially primer paint. 

 

After they drove through a burger joint for a quick breakfast for Starsky and juice for Hutch, they cruised their beat for an hour.  Everything seemed quiet.  They were on their way to the precinct when Denny “DJ” Teller, one of their street stoolies, flagged them over to the curb.

 

“What’s playing, DJ?”  Starsky asked.

 

DJ leaned against the LTD, lighting a cigarette.  He had a tendency to put everything into radio pop chart or music terms.  “What about some info on the new hit on the top of the charts?” he asked.

 

“Top ten?”

 

“Number One.”

 

Hutch leaned over so DJ could see his face. “Spin it.”

 

“Heavy royalties, man.”  DJ shook his head and rubbed his thumb against his finger in a gesture most people took to mean considerable money.

 

Hutch knew the man was going to put whatever money they paid him in his veins, but DJ was another person they had stopped trying to rehab.  He didn’t want it and he was a valuable snitch when it came to the drug trade. “How ‘bout $20 now plus residuals if we stay at the top of the chart?” 

 

DJ nodded agreement with the terms.  “Don’t got a name yet, boys, but there’s a new agent in town.”

 

Starsky interjected, “We know that much, DJ.  You got anything with a stronger beat?”

 

“Yeah, guy’s just a single, but he represents a heavy band.  East coast group, outta the Big Apple.”

 

Hutch asked, “When did this new solo artist start climbing the charts out here?”

 

“Coupla months ago.  Took him awhile to find some fans, you dig?”

 

Starsky said, “We hear ya.  Anything else?”

 

“Just that this guy’s music is pure, sweet, and cheap.  He’s flooding the market with it.  Pretty soon, every other label in town’s gonna be outta business. Oh, and word is, his recording studio’s over on the south side somewhere.”

 

Hutch nodded at him. “Thanks, DJ.  You call us if the tune changes.”

 

“Right on.” 

 

He stepped back from the car and watched as the cops drove away from the curb.   Starsky had known DJ since his time in the Army.  The man really was a radio disk jockey before they went overseas, but DJ had dropped so much acid, he went on a permanent trip.  This was Starsky’s week for meeting old friends.  Hutch knew all about DJ.  He glanced over at his partner casually.  Over the years they had known each other, Starsky hadn’t opened up much about his tour in Vietnam.  The nightmares Hutch had seen him suffer were enough to convince him it had been terrible for the young Starsky, barely out of high school.   Yet another reason to marvel that his partner was a healthy, generally happy person.

 

“What do ya make of that?”  Starsky asked him, breaking the silence.

 

“Just what you made.  An east coast drug cartel. Trying to muscle its way here.  They sent a forward operative two months ago or so.  At least it’s a little more than what Huggy had for us yesterday.”

 

“Yeah.” 

 

When they reached their desks at the precinct, Starsky had a message waiting for him.  Vinnie wanted to meet for dinner again at the Grub and Suds on Palm and 15th. 

 

“You gonna go, Starsk?” Hutch asked, concerned.  He still didn’t trust Vinnie.  The fact that the man was from the east coast, New York even, and he had been in California for two months matched DJ’s description of the new drug operative.  He knew it was a stretch, but his instincts told him not to discount the idea.

 

“Guess so.  You don’t have to, though.  I know you don’t like him.”

 

Hutch sighed. “Starsk, it’s not that I don’t like him.  I didn’t say that.  What I said is that I don’t trust him.  I’d rather go along, if it’s okay with you.”

 

Starsky bristled a little at the implication that he couldn’t handle an old running buddy alone.  “I’d rather go alone.”

 

“Okay, okay.  I just worry about him dredging up more unpleasant memories for you.”

 

“I know.  Try not to worry, huh?  I feel bad for the guy.  He’s probably homesick.  God knows I was when I moved out here.”

 

“You were thirteen, buddy.  He’s a grown man.”  Hutch sighed, knowing he wasn’t going to get anywhere with his sensitive partner when he had switched into underdog-defender mode. “All right.  You’re probably right.”  He rifled his drawer and said, “We’re out of expense vouchers.  I’ll be right back.”  Hutch left the squad room to get the blank forms.  When he returned a few minutes later, Starsky was sitting perfectly still, looking a million miles away – or at least three thousand miles and twenty-two years away – from Hutch.   Starsky sat staring at his hands, both of them open, palms down and hovering a few inches above the desk.  He was looking at them like they weren’t his.

 

“Starsk?”  Hutch said in a low voice as he reached over and touched the left hand.

 

Starsky looked up at him, momentarily startled. “Sorry, did you say something?”

 

“Where’d you go?” 

 

“I was just thinking how much my hands look like my pop’s.  You ever compare your hands with your dad’s, Hutch?”  Both Hutch and his father had large, strong, powerfully built hands with long fingers.  Richard Hutchinson’s were a little bigger than his son’s but they did look remarkably alike. 

 

“Guess I did, when I was a teenager.”  Hutch wasn’t sure where this was going.

 

“My hands look just like his.”  Starsky reached over to his left hand with his right and lovingly rubbed the rings on his pinky.  His hands were starting to shake slightly when he looked up at Hutch, pain deep in his eyes and he said, “Sometimes, I think I can still see his blood on them.”

 

“Aw, buddy, don’t.  Dwelling on things like that will just pull your heart apart.”

 

His voice still sounded distant and quiet, lost in another time.  “Yeah.  I know.  Sometimes, though, I can’t help wondering.  What if I’d been there a few minutes earlier?  Would I have seen the shooters?  Could I have stopped it?”

 

“Starsky, you were just a boy.  You might have been hit yourself.”  Something about his partner’s recollection of the shooting had been bothering him and he finally remembered what it was.  In a sudden shift of gears, Hutch said, “Joe Durniak.”

 

“What?”  Starsky asked, snapping out of his reverie.

 

“Something you said last night.  When we were with Durniak, right after the introductions, he said something about your dad’s death.  He said some ‘wiseguys’ shot him down one night.  Nighttime, Starsk.  What do you make of that?”  Starsky had told Hutch the hit happened in the late afternoon.

 

Starsky shrugged. “Nothin’ really.  First, Durniak was an old man remembering one hit out of a whole career of violence.  Second, I was supposed to be on my way home from basketball practice, but it ran a little long.   My pop would make sure he was around to meet me at the gym after practices because around four-thirty, five o’clock in New York, in January, the sun was down and it was practically dark.  He didn’t want me to walk home by myself.  Only, I missed him at the gym and went to the park instead.  Then, I went to the newsstand like I told you.  By the time the shooting started, it was dark.  Guess that’s what Joe meant. Anyway, doesn’t matter.”

 

“No, I was just wondering.” Hutch had a keen mind for details, just like his partner.  Starsky’s quick wit and intelligent insight did nothing for him where his father’s death was concerned, though.  No cop instincts seemed to have sway on those memories.  The only thing there was the pain and grief of a little boy crying over a father he shouldn’t have had to watch bleed to death in his arms on a cold street.  Hutch shuddered involuntarily as he put the thoughts aside for a while. 

 

Hutch said nothing more, instead he turned to work on writing the information DJ had given them into his book and then he filled out an expense voucher for the $20.  While he did those things, he fished around in his head for something to say that would get him out of Starsky’s sight for an hour.  He’d say he needed to go to the bank.  Starsky hated going to the bank and he’d let him go without offering to come along. 

 

“I’ll bring back lunch.  Roberto’s okay?”  Hutch said as he stood and picked up his jacket.

 

“Yeah, what are you gonna eat?”  Starsky knew Hutch was trying to make him feel better and he chuckled at the thought.  Just like a Jewish mother, trying to comfort me with food.

 

“I’ll find something.  Be back in an hour.”  He left Starsky to continue with their paperwork.  They’d hit the streets again in the afternoon.

 

Hutch didn’t have to go to the bank.  Instead, he drove straight to Merle’s.  He asked Vinnie to come out to the car and talk to him for a few minutes.  The man complied.

 

“What’s going on, Hutchinson?  Where’s your partner?”  Vinnie looked into the car as he approached.  No Starsky inside.

 

“This conversation is between you and me, Vinnie.”

 

Vinnie wiped his hands on a shop towel as he looked the tall blond in the eye.  “What’s it about?”

 

“My partner.  And you.  Listen up good.  I don’t know why you’re here really and to be honest, I don’t give a damn.  I just want you to know I’m watching you.  I don’t trust you and this is the most important part, you hurt him and you’re gonna have to deal with me.”

 

Vinnie cocked a wise guy grin and said, “Well, well, well.  Davy not big enough to take care of himself, Mom?”

 

That did nothing for the Viking temper.  He grabbed Vinnie and pinned him up against the car.  “Don’t pull any of that bullshit with me, Vinnie. We both know what’s going on here.  I can’t prove a thing.  Yet.  My partner can take care of himself just fine, especially when he knows he needs to.  For some unknown reason, he feels sympathy for you.”

 

Vinnie did his best not to look frightened by the sudden flash of blond rage.  The menacing detective holding him against the car was plenty intimidating and the only thing keeping the smaller man’s fear in check was his anger at having Hutch see through him so easily. 

 

Ranting back at Hutch, Vinnie hissed out a speech that the blond let run on long enough to get some valuable insight.  “Unknown, huh?  Couldn’t be he feels a little guilty about turning tail and running when things got heavy – leaving his buddies behind to fight, and scrap on the street while he built his new life here.  Couldn’t be maybe he wonders if he woulda gone to prison with the rest of us, or died in the street like Tony, Johnny, or Sal.  Maybe his big shot dead cop father woulda rolled over in his grave if he knew old Davy was dealin’ drugs or liftin’ stereos to eke out a living.  Couldn’t be none of that causing him to feel sorry for me.  He can’t see anything for his own guilt.”  Vinnie realized, suddenly, that he might have said too much and he stopped.

 

Hutch’s fists were clenched and he wanted nothing better than to hit the slimy man, but he resisted the urge.  Lowering his voice to its most menacing level and boring his eyes through Vinnie’s skull, Hutch said, “I just want you to know where we stand, slime.  He’s my best friend and I make watching his back part of my mission in life.  Never mess with a man’s partner.   You want to see him, fine.  Just be sure you don’t do anything either one of us will regret.  Are we clear?”

 

Vinnie was trembling a little from both anger and fear.  “Crystal.”

 

Hutch released his coveralls and the man started to stagger away.  He spun around, pointed at Hutch and threatened, “You just make sure somebody’s watching your back, asshole.”  Then he stormed off to return to work before Merle missed him.  He had made it a point to get a close look at Hutch’s car.

 

After their shift, Hutch dropped Starsky off at his place so he could change and get the Torino before heading for the restaurant.  As Starsky shut the door, Hutch said through the open window, “Call me when you get home, okay?”

 

Smiling, Starsky saluted him and said, “Sir, Sergeant Starsky reporting as ordered by twenty one hundred hours, sir.” 

 

Starsky had called and told Vinnie he needed to be home by nine.   He had promised Hutch, since his sleep was so interrupted the previous evening.  They were going to need to be sharp the next day and Starsky was already tired.  They planned to hit the streets roaming through some of the most dangerous parts of their turf to dig up information on the new drug operative and neither one of them could afford to be anything but rested.

 

Hutch chuckled at him and waved, yelling as he pulled away, “Dirtball.”  He drove straight home.  Tonight, Quiche Loraine was the special at Chez Helene’s and he knew there would be a serving set aside for him.  The three things he couldn’t resist from the restaurant in his building were fresh baked bread, French Onion Soup, and Quiche Loraine.  Starsky had teased him about it until he tried it.

 

He carried his food up to the apartment, sorting through his mail as he went.  The stack of mail contained a few bills, a trust fund statement from his accountant, a letter from his sister, and yet another invitation to join Columbia House Record Club.  That last item annoyed him.  If you ever bought anything from Columbia House, and he had once, they never let you go.  Hutch settled down at the table to enjoy his food and the letter from Karen.  The trust fund could wait.  His accountant was probably just letting him know the funds he didn’t want had grown richer.  Hutch was unaware that Vinnie was waiting downstairs to perform a modification to the LTD.

 

When Starsky didn’t call at nine, Hutch was annoyed.  He figured Vinnie must have kept him later than he planned.  He also hoped Vinnie had the good sense to keep his mouth shut about their “meeting” that afternoon. 

 

By the time eleven o’clock rolled around without a phone call, Hutch was pacing and working himself into a fret.   Vinnie might have hurt Starsky somehow – possibly in retaliation for Hutch’s little tirade.  His partner might be wide open to him, feeling like he was.  When he didn’t get an answer at Starsky’s, or when he tried to get a patch through on the police radio, he decided to go to the Grub and Suds to see if Starsky was still there.

 

Palm Avenue was a long street and 15th crossed it at the bottom of a steep incline.  Hutch had crested the hill and was heading down Palm when he realized he was picking up speed.  He put his foot on the brake and the pedal went straight to the floorboard.  His sense of déjà vu from the time Starsky’s brake lines were cut made him break out into a cold sweat.  Fortunately, the street was not crowded with daytime commuters.  He did his best to weave in and out of the cars that were there.  Hutch knew if he could keep the car under control long enough to head up the other side of Palm, he’d be able to stop it safely.  Unfortunately, the eleven thirty number forty-one bus had other plans.  The light at Palm and 15th was red for him and the bus was lumbering into the intersection.  Hutch had no choice but to cut his wheels and pray for the best.  The car went up on two wheels and he thought it was going to flip, but he managed to get all four wheels on the ground as he righted the car’s trajectory and started up the hill.  His speed was beginning to drop when the LTD hit a pothole.  Hutch was unable to keep hold of the wheel and he careened through a construction sight a block up from the Grub and Suds.  The car plowed into a large mound of dirt and Hutch was flung into the windshield.  He fell slumped against the steering wheel and was still, the horn blaring. 

 

The crash was loud enough for patrons inside the small neighborhood restaurant to hear it.  Some went out to the sidewalk to see what had happened.

 

“That sounded bad,” Starsky remarked, finishing the last of his coffee.  He noticed that Vinnie had an odd smile on his face.

 

“Hm, yeah.  Wonder what that was about.”  He knew Starsky was anxious to leave.  The man had been trying for nearly two hours.  Vinnie had no idea it would take this long for Starsky’s partner to come looking for him.  He’d hoped Hutch would make it this far in the doctored LTD and it sounded like his plan had worked.  Now, all he needed to do was keep Starsky for a few more minutes. 

 

When he heard the sound of approaching sirens, he said, “Well, guess we’d better call it a night, Davy.  Don’t know about you, but I’m a working man.”

 

Starsky did his best not to glare at him.  He’d been trying since nine o’clock to explain he had to go home so he could rest for work the next day.  Not wanting to hurt Vinnie’s feelings, he had stayed. 

 

Both men tossed some money on the table for a tip and rose to leave.  Vinnie told Starsky he’d call him in a few days and he started up the hill toward his car in the opposite direction from what he hoped was Hutchinson’s last ride.  Starsky started to walk down 15th to where the Torino was parked, but a combination of his desire as a cop to see if anyone needed help at the accident, and a nagging hair-rising-on-the-back-of-his-neck sensation caused him to shift directions and head up the hill toward the wreck instead.  He saw that there were already a couple of black-and-whites on the scene.  The blaring horn in the wrecked car suddenly stopped and he could hear the sounds of a paramedic unit coming down Palm.  As he got a little closer, he realized with a powerful sense of dread that he was looking at the back of Hutch’s car.  The dirt covered car had Hutch’s license plate on it. 

 

“Oh, my God!  Hutch!”  Starsky ran for the driver’s side of the car. He yanked his badge out of his pocket and showed it to the nearest uniformed officer, who didn't know him.

 

The officer glanced at it, but still put a hand on his arm to stop him. "Careful," he said. "We don't know how bad he's hurt."

 

Starsky nodded and swallowed hard at the sight of the blood trickling down Hutch's face. His partner's eyes were closed; he was out cold. The paramedics were examining him and preparing a backboard and cervical collar for him.

 

"Don't move him," one of them said to Starsky.

 

Starsky didn't move him, but he gently touched his shoulder and knelt next to the open car door. "Hutch? Can you hear me?"

 

There was no response, which scared Starsky. He shouldn't have been out this long. The paramedics shooed him away and fixed the collar to Hutch, easing him out of the car and onto the backboard. As they were strapping him down, his eyes finally opened, glazed and confused, but open. He reached up to pull at the cervical collar, but Starsky grabbed his hands.

 

"No, buddy. Don't fight. Let them take care of you. You were in a car wreck, remember?"

 

Hutch turned his eyes toward Starsky, still dazed, but he at least recognized him. "Starsk?"

 

"Yeah. Don't fight, huh? You hit your head. Remember?"

 

Hutch blinked once or twice and finally said, "The brakes. The brakes went out." Then he winced. "My head hurts."

 

"I'll bet it does," Starsky said gently, more alarmed than he wanted to let on at the amount of blood soaking into Hutch's hair.

 

"We have to go," the paramedic said. “Memorial.”

 

Starsky nodded. "I'll be right behind you," he said to Hutch. "You're gonna be okay."

 

Vinnie had approached the scene and watched all this from a short distance away, keeping his face sober, but inside he was thinking it was too bad the blond had survived. He still had hopes that he'd been seriously hurt, though. The blood was an encouraging sign.

 

After the ambulance left, Starsky turned to head back to his car. He'd forgotten all about Vinnie until he caught sight of him.

 

"How's he doing?" Vinnie asked with feigned concern.

 

"I don't know," Starsky said. "I'm goin' to the hospital."

 

"Want me to come with you?" Vinnie asked, amazed at the sight of Starsky's pale face and haunted eyes. He must really care about the guy.

 

"Suit yourself," Starsky said, his mind clearly elsewhere. He broke into a run, too fast for Vinnie to keep up with him, and as soon as he got into the car, he had the motor running and was gone.

 

Vinnie shook his head. He'd just go home and get to bed. He'd find out tomorrow how badly the blond was damaged. In the meantime, he'd done enough for one day.

 

Starsky ran into the emergency room at full speed. He stopped at the desk. "I'm here for Ken Hutchinson," he said. "I'm his partner." He already had his badge in his hand.

 

"He's still being treated," the nurse said. "Have a seat, and we'll let you know."

 

"I wanna be with him," Starsky demanded.

 

"We'll come and get you when you can see him," she said. "Sit down now."

 

A few minutes later, the doctor came in. "I've sent him up to X-ray," he told Starsky. "But I don't think he's badly hurt. Just a bump on the head, maybe a concussion. He badly bruised his chest from hitting the steering wheel, and that will cause him some pain. I'll advise against any strenuous activity for at least a week."

 

"What about all that blood?"

 

"My guess is his head hit the windshield," the doctor said. "We're going to take some stitches, and he's going to have a hell of a headache, but he'll be all right. He was pretty stunned, though."

 

Starsky let out a long breath. "Thank God."

 

"I'd like to keep him overnight, but he won't hear of it," the doctor added with a slight grin. "I'll let him go home on one condition."

 

"What's that?"

 

"Somebody has to stay with him and wake him up every couple of hours," the doctor said.

 

"I can do that," Starsky said. "We usually take care of each other when one of us is hurt."

 

"And when you wake him up, ask him questions, to see if he's alert. What day is it, when's his birthday, does he remember what happened. Will you do that, too?"

 

"Yeah."

 

"If he acts confused or if he has trouble waking up, bring him back in immediately."

 

"I will."

 

The doctor nodded. "We'll be done with him in an hour or so."

 

Starsky went to the phone to call Dobey and explain what had happened. "Hutch ain't gonna be able to work tomorrow," he finished.

 

"And you want the day off, too, I suppose, so you can look after him."

 

"Can I?"

 

Dobey sighed. "All right. But you better be back the next day. I'll take Hutch off the roster for the week."

 

"Thanks, Cap'n."

 

A nurse finally came to get Starsky to tell him Hutch was ready to go. She led him back to the treatment area, where Hutch was sitting on a bed. One eye was already turning black, and a large white bandage sat at an angle across his head. He looked miserable.

 

The doctor was giving him instructions. "No aspirin," he said. "You could have bleeding inside the skull. If the headaches are too bad, we'll prescribe something else."

 

Hutch nodded and winced at the movement.

 

"Stay in bed tomorrow and sleep as much as you can," the doctor went on. "Drink as much liquid as you can stand to, because you lost some blood."

 

"Okay."

 

"You can wash your hair tomorrow if you're careful, but replace the bandage afterward and don't get the stitches wet again. We'll take them out in a week or ten days."

 

Hutch looked even more miserable at that. He hated having dirty hair.

 

"If you have double vision or throw up more than a couple of times, get your behind back in here immediately. Got all that?"

 

"I do," Starsky said.

 

The doctor patted Hutch's shoulder. "Go on. Get out of here."

 

Starsky put his arm around Hutch and helped him out to the car. He'd refused the wheelchair, but he was clearly dizzy and in a lot of pain and it took several minutes to get as far as the car, even though Starsky had left it as close to the door as he could. He got Hutch into the passenger seat, put his seat belt on him – concerned that Hutch didn't protest – and hurried around to his side. Hutch lay his head back against the headrest with a sigh. Starsky drove as carefully as he could, but he could see the turns and the movement weren't helping Hutch any. By the time they reached the apartment, Hutch's fair skin was almost green. Starsky got him up the stairs as quickly as possible and into the bathroom without even asking.

 

It was just in time. Hutch sank to his knees and threw up, moaning in between bouts because it made both his head and his chest hurt even more. Starsky wet a washcloth in cold water and mopped his partner's face, got him a glass of ice water, and helped him to bed once Hutch indicated he was over the nausea.

 

"God, I feel awful," Hutch said, wincing as he lay down.

 

"I know," Starsky said. He took the empty glass Hutch had drained back to the kitchen and refilled it. Hutch drank more slowly this time and lay back with a sigh. "Gonna sleep in your clothes, babe?" Starsky asked as he put the glass on the nightstand.

 

Hutch groaned. "I can't get back up."

 

"I'll do it," Starsky said. "Okay?"

 

Hutch started to nod, groaned, and settled for "uh-huh."

 

Starsky got Hutch's shoes and socks and jeans off and decided to leave his t-shirt. He straightened the covers and checked the bandage to make sure the gash in Hutch's head wasn't still bleeding. "I'll be right out there," he said, indicating the living area. "I'm gonna have to wake you up every couple of hours. Doctor's orders. But if you need anything, you holler. 'kay?"

 

"Yeah. Thanks, buddy."

 

Starsky took Hutch's little wind-up alarm clock out to the couch with him and set it for two hours. He was exhausted; both from the worry and stress he'd just been through and from spending so many hours with Vinnie. He still didn't think Hutch was looking at Vinnie with an open mind, but he saw more clearly now that he and Vinnie had nothing in common anymore but the fact that they'd grown up in the same neighborhood. Vinnie wasn't someone he wanted in his life any longer. He couldn't help feeling a little sorry for the way Vinnie's life had turned out, but he realized a lot of that was Vinnie's own fault.

 

He never noticed he'd fallen asleep until the alarm went off, making his heart leap in his chest. He almost fell off the couch in his haste to turn it off and he was confused for a moment as to where he was. He got up and tiptoed in to Hutch, who was out like a light. He hated to wake him, but he had to.

 

"Hutch?" He gently touched his partner's shoulder. "Come on, Hutch, wake up."

 

Hutch moaned and stirred but didn't awaken.

 

"Hutch, come on," Starsky said again, louder this time, and patted his cheek. "You gotta wake up."

 

Finally, Hutch's eyes opened. He was so groggy he could hardly focus.  "Starsk? Whatcha want?"

 

"Remember? Doc said I gotta wake you up every coupla hours. What day is it?"

 

Hutch blinked and stared at him for a moment. "Wednesday. No, Thursday. Hell, I don't know. What time is it?"

 

"It's two in the morning."

 

"Then it's Thursday."

 

"You remember what happened?"

 

"Brakes went out on my car," Hutch said around a yawn. "Aw, hell. My car. Bet they towed it."

 

"They did. Worry about that later. Where are we?"

 

"I'm in bed," Hutch said, a little sharply. "And until a few minutes ago, I was asleep."

 

Starsky grinned. If Hutch was bitching, he was okay. "All right. Go back to sleep, Blintz. See ya in a coupla hours."

 

"I can't wait," Hutch grumbled.

 

Starsky set the alarm again but this time when it went off it rang a long time before he came out of it enough to turn it off. The reason he knew it had gone off a long time is that Hutch was already awake and very unhappy about it when he went in there.

 

"Thought you'd never turn that damned clock off," he groused.

 

"How ya feel?"

 

"Like hell," Hutch said. In the dim light that came from the bathroom, Starsky could see how dark the circles were under his eyes, and the left eye was swollen and bruised. There were lines of pain around his eyes and mouth, and Starsky gently pushed a lock of hair off his face. Hutch winced away from the touch.

 

"God, buddy, I'm sorry. Can I get you anything?"

 

"I'd kill for an aspirin," Hutch said.

 

Damn. The one thing he can't have.  "Doc said no aspirin, babe," Starsky said gently. "Water? Juice? Somethin' to eat?"

 

"No," Hutch said, making a face. "I don't want anything to eat. Not unless you want to watch me puke again."

 

"Not really," Starsky said, his eyes twinkling a little. "How 'bout some ice? Might help your headache."

 

"Sure. And a glass of water. Please."

 

Starsky went to the kitchen and fixed an ice bag and a glass of ice water for Hutch, bringing them back and holding Hutch up with an arm around his back so he could drink. He could see that Hutch was trying to be Nordic and stoic about the pain, but he hadn't been the man's partner all these years without learning to see through that. He carefully laid the ice bag over the bump on Hutch's head. "Any better?"

 

"Yeah, thanks." Hutch shifted uncomfortably, but the pain in his chest was too much to allow him much freedom of movement.

 

Starsky had to swallow a lump in his throat at seeing Hutch in so much pain. "What coulda gone wrong with your brakes, buddy?"

 

"I don't know." Hutch reached up to steady the ice bag and tried to sit up a little. Starsky helped by stuffing an extra pillow behind him. "They just weren't there. Pedal went straight to the floor when I tried them."

 

"I'll have Merle have a look at 'em for you," Starsky said. "Seems odd."

 

"Reminded me of the time that goon cut your brake lines, remember that?"

 

Starsky did, and he stared at Hutch. "S'pose somebody cut yours?"

 

Hutch looked at him, a little color draining from his face.  “If someone cut them, they did it here.  The brakes were fine the rest of the day.”

 

“So whoever did it knows where you live.  Terrific.” 

 

Hutch was looking a little green again and his eyes were losing focus.  Starsky noticed his change in expression. “Hey, Blintz.  You okay?”  he said as he reached over and lightly shook Hutch’s arm. 

 

“Huh?  Yeah, sorry.  I’m just tired.”

 

“That was a sudden shift, buddy.  You’re not planning on dropping out on me are you?”

 

Hutch grunted.  “Uh-uh.  I just can’t keep my eyes open.  Sorry.”

 

Starsky smiled at him and helped Hutch to lie down again.  He managed to position the ice just right so Hutch didn’t have to hold it and he watched for a few minutes as his friend slid into a deep sleep.  Starsky thought it was at least a good sign that Hutch had woken up and had a coherent conversation with him, however brief.

 

The content of that conversation stayed with Starsky as he went back into the living room to set the alarm for six.  He decided to call the crime lab team in the morning and ask them to bring Hutch’s car in for inspection.  In addition to worrying about Hutch’s banged up cranium and sore chest, Starsky was now concerned that someone had messed with the car and was trying to kill his partner.  Hutch would be down for a few days at least and Starsky planned to get to the bottom of what had happened to him that night as quickly as possible.  He fell asleep with thoughts of what he would do if his suspicions proved true.

 

Hutch’s wake-up checks continued to be positive.  He felt terrible, but he was lucid.  Both detectives anxiously awaited the results of the tests on the car.  Starsky managed to get some soup into his partner for lunch, though he had to bring it to him in bed.  Hutch said his chest felt like an elephant was sitting on it, prompting an anxious call to the man’s doctor to be sure Hutch didn’t need to be seen. 

 

“Thanks, Doc...No, he ate some soup...Yeah....”  While Starsky spoke with the doctor, Hutch attempted to roll his eyes in exasperation.  That was a mistake.  The room started to spin and Hutch sank back on the bed, grateful his partner was distracted at the moment.

 

“I will.  Thanks again.”  Starsky hung up the phone. 

 

“Can I have some aspirin now, nurse?”  Hutch asked sarcastically.

 

“Nope.  You can have Tylenol, though.  Doc’s gonna call you something stronger in tomorrow if you need it, as long as things keep going all right.”

 

Starsky ran out for some Tylenol and more liquids for Hutch.  When he got back to the apartment, Hutch was sitting up in the living room waiting for him.  He was still in the same t-shirt from the previous night and it had a little dried blood on it.  Hutch had also slipped into a pair of pajama bottoms and Starsky wondered how he bent down enough to retrieve them from his dresser.  Lucky he didn’t pass out from that maneuver.

 

“What are you doing out of bed?” 

 

“Crime lab called.”

 

Starsky didn’t have to ask.  “Car was tampered with then.”

 

“Yep.  Jenson said the lines weren’t cut, but the brake fluid had been drained.”

 

Whistling softly between his teeth, Starsky said, “They must have done it right out here on the street.  Maybe someone saw something.”

 

“Probably not.  I parked around the block, all the street parking was taken.  We can ask around, but I wouldn’t count on it.”  Hutch paused a moment, then added, “Starsk, you still haven’t told me about your dinner with Vinnie last night.”

 

“What?”

 

“Your dinner, how’d it go?”

 

“How did you get to my dinner from your brake lines?”  Starsky was wondering if Hutch might be a little confused and it scared him.  He was so focused on his friend’s physical status, he missed the obvious connection.

 

“Look, I know you probably don’t want to hear this, but what if Vinnie had something to do with my car?”

 

Starsky was momentarily speechless.  “Vinnie?  Why?”

 

Hutch’s blush was visible even around his bandage and his black eye.  “He knows I don’t trust him.”

 

“How does he know that?”  Starsky asked.

 

“I might have stopped over at Merle’s and told him so,” Hutch said.  Then he smiled that smile that made him resemble a small boy caught doing something forbidden.

 

Starsky knew how Hutch could be if he believed there was a remote chance his partner might be hurt.  Figuring out what caused Hutch to go down and speak with Vinnie didn’t require much thought.  Still, he wasn’t sure he liked it.  Allowing his displeasure to show in his voice, he said,  “You know, Hutchinson, I’m a big boy.  I can handle the likes of Vinnie all by myself.”  With that, he stormed into the kitchen to put away the groceries. 

 

Forgetting his current situation, Hutch tried to stand quickly and follow Starsky into the kitchen to explain himself.  He only got half to his feet, when the pain in his chest made him see sparks.  He gasped audibly and fell back onto the couch in a slump with one hand on his chest and the other clutching the furniture as he tried to get his breathing back under control.

 

Hearing the noise, Starsky spun around in time to see Hutch fall. He raced back to his side.  “Hutch!  You all right?”  The sight of his partner holding his chest with his eyes shut in clear agony instantly undid Starsky’s brief anger with him.

 

At first, Hutch didn’t answer, he just wheezed.  Finally, about the time Starsky was threatening an ambulance, he released his hold on the couch and put his hand on the frantic man’s shoulder. “No, I’m all right.”  He paused and breathed hard for a few moments while Starsky waited for him to speak again.  “Just tried to stand up too fast.  Gimme a minute.”

 

Starsky rubbed his back and waited until Hutch seemed okay again.  He sat back, looking up into pain-filled eyes. “You sure you’re okay?  I don’t like this,” he said.

 

“I swear.  Just banged up, nothing permanent.” Hutch smiled wanly, barely convincing.

 

Starsky said, “I’m sorry, buddy.  I know you were just looking out for me, but I don’t understand why you think it might be him.”

 

“Just adds up, in a weird way.  Think about it.   First, the guy shows up outta nowhere, just in time to fix YOUR brakes, I might add.  Next, we start hearing about some new east coast players moving into the district.  Then, you get invited to dinner with the guy.”

 

Starsky interrupted by saying, “And he shows up late.”

 

“He did?”

 

“Yeah.  Almost twenty minutes.  I was going to go ahead and order dinner and then split if he didn’t show by the time I was done.  And he wouldn’t let me go, Hutch.  I kept tryin’, but he kept talking and coming up with reasons for me to stay.  You suppose he knew you’d come looking for me?  He did know I was supposed to be home by nine.”

 

“He picked that restaurant, too.  I’m starting to wonder about him saying he’d been a mechanic for years since he got out of the joint.  What if he didn’t mean an ‘auto’ mechanic?”

 

Starsky said, “A hit man?”

 

“Maybe.  Could be not full time, but sometimes.”  This conversation was making Hutch worry even more about his partner.  Furrowing his brow with the thought caused him to wince a little.  He continued, “Starsk, I don’t want you spending any more time with this guy.  I’ve got a bad feeling he just tried to kill me.” 

 

That wince reminded Starsky to get his partner some Tylenol.  He stood, motioning for Hutch to stay put, and went into the kitchen for a glass of juice and the medication.  He kept talking.  “I’m not saying I totally buy into this, Blondie.  If you’re right, though, we gotta find out why.  That’s gonna mean I have to spend some time with him.”

 

Hutch accepted the pills and the juice gratefully.  “No way, not without me around to watch your back.  I have a feeling I’m going to be laid up a few days here.”

 

“Dobey said I’m back on the roster tomorrow.  I’ll just do a little quiet poking around and see what I can find.”

 

“But you’re not going anywhere alone with Vinnie.”  Hutch was determined to get agreement from his partner on this issue.

 

“All right, but I’m not real wild about leaving you here unprotected either.”

 

“I’m fine.  I’ve still got my gun.”

 

Starsky laughed at him. “You can barely lift that glass.  No way you’re gonna be able to handle that cannon for a few days.  No, I’ll get a black-and-white to hang around when I’m at work.”  Hutch started to protest, but Starsky did his best imitation of the Hutchinson Finger intimidation maneuver and the blond swallowed his protest.  “Just on the street, Blintz.  You can stay up here alone and get your beauty sleep.”

 

Hutch had to laugh at that.  He changed the subject again.  “Starsk, you know what I want more than anything right this minute?”

 

“Lemme guess... a loaf of bread, a bottle of wine, and Farrah Fawcett.”  Starsky chuckled at his own joke.

 

“Not even close. I want that bath the doc said I could have today.  Can you help me up and get the tub full?  Maybe a soak will help the pain in my chest and my back.”

 

“You got it.  I’ll start the water.  Be right back for you.”  Starsky scooted into the bathroom and started filling the tub with warm water.  He got everything down where Hutch could reach it and then he went back to retrieve the patient. 

 

The battered detective took Starsky’s extended hand and slowly stood up from the couch.  Starsky followed him into the steamy bathroom and Hutch said, “I think I’m okay from here.”

 

“Nothin’ doing, buddy.  You’re as wobbly as a newborn kitten.  I’m not gonna leave you in here to fall and bust your head open again just to save your Viking dignity.  Let me help you.  Once you’re settled in the tub, I promise to leave you alone.”

 

Hutch was secretly glad for the helping hand.  He couldn’t have pulled off his t-shirt without Starsky’s help and getting the pajama bottoms off proved more difficult than pulling them on had been.  Getting them out of his dresser had nearly caused him to pass out, and he was glad Starsky hadn’t asked him about how he’d done it.

 

"Good God, buddy!" Starsky exclaimed when he got the t-shirt off and saw the dinner-plate sized bruise spreading out over Hutch's chest.

 

Hutch glanced down at it. He hadn't seen it himself before now, though he'd known it hurt like the devil. "Must be where I hit the steering wheel," he said.

 

"Man, that must hurt," Starsky said sympathetically.

 

"Yeah," Hutch said, shrugging. "Not as bad as my head," he added with a slight grin. "You gonna help me get in the tub or not?"

 

While Hutch soaked in the almost-too-warm water, Starsky puttered around straightening and talking to him through the partially open door.  Hutch knew he was just making sure he didn’t pass out and sink beneath the water and he chuckled to himself about his worrywart partner.

 

He called through the door, “You know I’m too tall to drown in here, don’t ya?”

 

“Really,” came the exasperated reply.  “Well, you won’t mind if I don’t want to test that theory, I’m sure.”

 

“I swear, buddy.  The worst thing that could happen is I’d turn into a prune.”

 

Starsky decided to ignore that last remark.  “You need me to water your jungle for ya?”

 

“Thanks.  Not the greenhouse plants, though, and everybody on the inside but Moses.  He got watered yesterday.”

 

Hutch really was a terrible joke teller.  Starsky had thrown a pillow at him when he announced that he had named his newest plant, a Wandering Jew, Moses. “Okay, no water for the Levite.”

 

Even though it hurt like hell to do it, Hutch carefully washed his hair.  “I’m rinsing my hair now, so if I don’t answer you, please don’t send in the Coast Guard, okay?”

 

“Yeah, yeah.”  Starsky proceeded through the apartment, watering all of the plants that weren’t official greenhouse residents.

 

Hutch had resurfaced.  “Hey.  You ever think about the fact that the instructions on a bottle of shampoo are like an infinite loop?”

 

Starsky poked his head in the door and said, “How do you figure?”  When he didn’t get a protest, he proceeded into the bathroom and sat down on the closed toilet lid.  He noticed that the blood that had been matted in Hutch’s hair had tinted the bathwater red.  He swallowed hard.  That was a lot of blood.

 

Hutch saw him looking at the water and knew why his eyes had that pained expression, but he went on lightly, "They always say Shampoo, Rinse, Repeat."

 

Even Starsky had to admit the humor in that one.  He laughed and said, “Yeah, kind of like what we do.  Find a crime, solve the crime, repeat.  At least when we’re lucky.”

 

Hutch smiled at him, glad he’d managed to lighten the mood a little.  “Sure feels good to get my hair clean.”

 

“Hope you enjoyed it, because you’re not allowed again for a week to ten days.”

 

“No way, buddy.  I’m washing it every day.”

 

“Doc said not to get the stitches wet.”

 

“Starsky, you could maybe get away with that. Your hair is dark at least.  Mine is practically transparent.  I’ll look like a skeezeball inside of two days.  Nope, I’ll just be careful.”

 

Trying to reason with him, Starsky said, “You could get your wound infected.”

 

“Then I’ll get a massive brain infection and I’ll die.”

 

Starsky glared at him.  “That’s not funny.”

 

“At least I’ll die with clean hair.  You can bury me in my dress blues and everyone will say,  ‘It’s too bad he’s gone, but don’t his hair look shiny’?” Hutch quipped with a grin.

 

"That's even less funny."

 

Hutch sighed. Even in the worst of circumstances, they could usually joke around. This time it wasn't working. "Okay, I give up. Want to help me out of this nasty water?"

 

"Yeah." Starsky got him out, dried off, and helped him dress in clean pajamas. Hutch was certain he could dress himself, but he knew it did Starsky good to help him, so he let him. Once he was all settled on the couch, Starsky got him another glass of orange juice and started working on getting a meal together. Hutch tried to read the paper, but it made his head hurt. And he was already so sleepy he didn't know how he was going to stay awake long enough to eat the meal he could smell cooking. At least the smell of food didn't make him feel sick today.

 

Starsky brought him a tray and Hutch managed to get most of it down, but he was yawning openly by the time he was full.

 

"Tired, buddy?"

 

"Beat," Hutch said. "It's pretty early to go to bed, Starsk, but I think I'm gonna have to."

 

Starsky grinned at him, the gentle kind of smile he reserved for when they were alone. "Okay. I'll tuck you in." He helped Hutch get to bed, made a great show of tucking him in – which made them both laugh – and turned out the light. Hutch was sound asleep almost as soon as his head touched the pillow.

 

The doctor had said it wasn't necessary to wake him up during the night if he'd seemed alert and coherent during the day, so Starsky made himself comfortable and went to sleep pretty early himself.

 

Hutch was still sleeping when Starsky got up to go to work the next morning, but his color was good, he didn't have a fever, and he'd curled up on his side as he normally slept, so Starsky let him be and sneaked out quietly. He had some snooping to do today, and he wanted to get started. He could always call later or drop by at lunchtime to make sure Hutch was okay and didn't need anything.

 

He waved at the black-and-white parked in the street and stopped to say good morning. "I don't want anybody going up there and buggin' him," he told them. "Nobody but me and maybe Huggy Bear. You guys know Huggy?"

 

One shook his head, but the other nodded. "I've eaten at The Pits a couple of times," he said.

 

"Huggy might bring him something to eat, so it's okay to let him in, but nobody else, okay?"

 

Both nodded.

 

Starsky spent his morning going through files, trying to figure out if any of their past busts made a specialty out of "fixing" brakes. He came up empty, as he was afraid he would, leaving Vinnie as the next most likely suspect. He sighed, rubbed his eyes, and picked up the phone to call the NYPD.

 

"This is Detective David Starsky of the Bay City PD in California," he said to the person who answered. "Could I speak to someone in your records department, please?"

 

He had to wait a few minutes, and finally a harassed-sounding woman answered.  He identified himself again. "I need whatever you've got on Vincent Martino, age 40 or thereabouts, black over brown."

 

"It'll take a while," the woman said, and she sounded so much like Collins in Bay City’s R&I that Starsky grinned to himself.

 

"I understand," he said. "We have reason to believe he attempted to murder one of our officers."

 

"I'll get it to you as quickly as possible," she said, sounding more awake. Starsky thought that would do it. Police officers always took it personally when someone tried to harm one of their own, even if they didn't know the officer in question.

 

"Thanks." He gave her the Bay City phone number and his extension, and settled in to wait.

 

Hutch slept soundly until after ten a.m. When he woke up, his head still hurt, but his chest felt better and he was able to get up and make his own coffee and some toast for breakfast. He was also able to read the paper without feeling like his brains were going to explode through his eyes.

 

He'd also waved at the officers guarding the place when he went out to get the paper. He felt silly having them there, but on the other hand, with no idea who might have tried to harm him, maybe it was a good idea. He didn't like Starsky being at work without him, but Starsky had said he was going to work at his desk today and wouldn't be in any danger.

 

Why does that sound like famous last words?  Hutch thought, then wished he hadn't. He went back in and read the paper, and finally called Starsky.

 

"Starsky," his partner said, answering on the first ring.

 

"Me," Hutch said.

 

"Checkin' up on me, buddy?" There was a slight chuckle in Starsky's voice.

 

"Somebody's got to keep an eye on you."

 

"I'm not the one with a clonked noggin," Starsky said. "You bein' good?"

 

"Yes, Mom," Hutch said. "What are you finding out?"

 

"Nothin' yet," Starsky said. "I've put a call in to the NYPD to check on Vinnie's record."

 

Hutch drew a long sigh of relief. He knew Starsky wasn't convinced Vinnie was up to something, but the fact that he'd called New York meant he was at least willing to consider the possibility. That was progress. "Good. Let me know what you find out, huh?"

 

"Sure. And I'm gonna call Huggy to bring your lunch. I don't want to leave in case they call back," Starsky said.

 

"Will my babysitters let him in?" Hutch inquired.

 

Starsky laughed. "Yeah. I told 'em to."

 

"Oh, so you had this planned before you even left this morning?"

 

There was a brief silence, then an embarrassed, "Well, yeah."

 

"It's okay," Hutch said. "See you tonight, huh?"

 

"Yup," Starsky said.

 

Hutch hung up and found himself at loose ends. He didn't feel well enough to do anything, but he was tired of lying around doing nothing, too. He couldn't help Starsky – then he thought maybe he could. Discreetly, of course. If he was wrong, Starsky didn't need to know. He picked up the phone and made a call to New York of his own.

 

"Hello?"

 

"Rachel? It's Hutch."

 

"Is David all right?" Her voice was tight with tension.

 

"He's fine."

 

"Thank God," she said, but he could hear puzzlement in her voice. He knew she was wondering why he'd called.

 

"Rachel, I'd like to ask you some questions. If you don't want to answer them, I understand, but I want you to know I wouldn't ask them if I didn't think it was important."

 

She was silent for a few moments, then she said, "And I'll bet you don't want Davy to know you talked to me."

 

"Yeah."

 

Another silence. Finally, "What are your questions, dear?"

 

"Do you remember a boy called Vinnie Martino?"

 

She was silent even longer this time. At last, she said, "Yes. I wish I didn't."

 

"Why?"

 

She sighed. "Vinnie was the leader of a street gang. Davy spent too much time with them, in spite of everything Mike and I could do. After Mike died, I couldn't do anything with him. He finally got into a fight with another gang who hated Vinnie's gang and that's when I decided to send him to Rose and Al."

 

Hutch knew this much from what Starsky had told him. "Do you know anything else about Vinnie?"

 

"Why?" she asked.

 

"He's here," Hutch said. "In Bay City."

 

She gave a sharp gasp. "What's he doing out there?"

 

"That's what I'm trying to find out," Hutch said.

 

"Does Davy know?"

 

"Yeah. They had dinner together the other night, and Vinnie worked on David's car for him last week."

 

"Oh, God," she said. "I don't want Davy around that man. He's – he's not fit to be around Davy."

 

"I feel the same way," Hutch said. "I need to know anything you know about Vinnie, Rachel. Anything and everything."

 

"It's been a long time since I saw him," she said. "He grew up in the neighborhood and he was always kind of – oh, what's the word I want? – a bad boy. He got into trouble at school and he ran wild. His mother was alone, and she wasn't very interested in disciplining him."

 

"How about after he grew up? Who'd he hang around with?"

 

"He's a few years older than Davy," she said. "And he got into some very serious trouble after Davy left here, when Vinnie was old enough to be charged as an adult."

 

"What kind of trouble?" Hutch asked.

 

She sighed. "Don't tell Davy I told you this."

 

"I won't, if it won't put him in danger," Hutch said.

 

"Vinnie was mixed up with Joe Durniak," she said reluctantly. "I don't know how. I think maybe he was just doing their dirty work, running their errands. I tried not to know what was going on. I had Nicky to worry about."

 

"I understand," Hutch said gently.

 

"I saw them together a few times. Vinnie and Joey. Joey would sometimes pick Vinnie up in his car and bring him back a couple of hours later. Vinnie's mother only lived a couple doors down from me and he stayed there until – " She stopped.

 

"Until what?"

 

"Until he went to prison the first time," Rachel said, even more reluctantly. "He was charged with armed robbery. He shot – he shot a pregnant woman. She didn't die," she added hastily. "She didn't even lose her baby. But it was a close call, and Vinnie went to prison. That was about two years after Davy went to California."

 

"Rachel," Hutch said very slowly, "I've never asked you this, and I wouldn't now, but I have to know. David's safety may depend on it. Remember when Joe was out here, when he was going to testify before the grand jury?"

 

"Yes."

 

"He told David that he wasn't going to like some of the things he was going to tell that grand jury," Hutch said. "And David told me that Joe had paid for Mike's funeral. What exactly was his connection to your family?"

 

There was a long silence this time, and Hutch thought he heard a stifled sob. Finally, Rachel said, "Joey and Mike had been friends when they were kids. I think Joey was one of the first friends Mike made when he moved to America.  It was hard for Mike, knowing what Joey had become. I don't know what he was going to tell the grand jury. But the reason Joey paid for the funeral was that he and Mike were old friends. In spite of the fact they were on opposite sides of the law all their adult lives, they were friends. Joey told me it was – " Her voice shook, and he definitely heard a sob this time. "He said it was the last thing he could do for Mike. He gave me some money for the boys, and he paid for Davy's ticket to California. He had a good heart, Ken, even if he was a criminal."

 

"I never doubted it," Hutch said. "Thanks, Rachel."

 

After Hutch hung up, Rachel sat next to the phone and thought about his questions.  That Vinnie was not just in California, but in Bay City, concerned her.  She reached for her address and phone list to call Hutch back, but changed her mind.  The tone of his voice told her he was concerned.  He didn’t need his partner’s mother nagging him to keep an eye out for her son.  Don’t be a nudge, Rachel.

 

Rachel hoped Vinnie’s sudden appearance near her son didn’t signal a resumption of the search for something her husband was working on when he died.  She knew Mike had some evidence on an important, local individual.  However, even she didn’t know what that evidence was and she assumed that it died with him. She decided to make some tea to accompany her contemplation. 

 

The day Mike Starsky died held some mysteries that still remained in her mind.  Where was Davy when Mike swung by to meet him after practice?  Every weekday, their habit was to walk home together after school or sports events.  Mike and his partner had arranged their schedule to permit them to be in the right spot at the right time.  They hadn’t missed a single day since the beginning of that school year.  Rachel remembered that Davy was practicing for his Bar Mitzvah.  Mike told her they talked a lot about that and about what it meant to become a man.  Her oldest son had hung on his father’s every word, enjoying the companionship as much as the older man.  Why wasn’t he where he was supposed to be?  Although she had asked him about it, Davy never offered her an explanation.  She decided not to borrow trouble and to be thankful he wasn’t there.  He might have been killed, too.

 

The Starsky home was broken into four times in the first two years after her husband’s death.  Once before Davy moved to California, once right after and two more times about six months apart.  Each time the place was ransacked, but nothing was taken.  She feared that whatever her husband was working on had been hidden in the house somewhere.  A police investigation never yielded anything.  Her own searching produced nothing out of the ordinary and when the break-ins stopped, she assumed the perpetrators had found what they wanted, or accepted that Mike Starsky took those secrets to his grave.

 

Davy was with his father when he died.  He refused to talk about it, despite his mother’s best efforts.  That pain was something he had locked in his heart, only allowing it out for the frequent nightmares he had of those terrible moments. 

 

On a whim, Rachel picked up the phone and called Rose in California.  They chitchatted about things like the weather for a few minutes when Rose said, “Rachel, what’s wrong?  I’m glad you called, but you didn’t call to chat about the weather.”

 

“You know me too well.  Have you seen Davy recently?”

 

“Not in a couple of weeks, is something wrong?”

 

“No.  It’s just, well, I was thinking about some things that happened around the time he moved out there with you... about Mike’s death, you know.”

 

“What’s got you thinking about all of that?”

 

Rachel didn’t want to betray Hutch’s confidence.  Rose might let it slip to Davy and she had promised Hutch.  “After Mike died, Davy had this… nightmare a lot.”

 

“I know, he had it here, too.”  Memories of Davy waking the household with his screams flooded her mind.

 

“Did he ever talk about it?”

 

“Not really.  He would yell in his sleep, cry, mutter words about his dad and blood.  We tried to get him to talk, but he would claim he couldn’t remember the dream.”

 

“Do you think he still has that dream?” Rachel hoped her son had escaped that traumatic part of his past.

 

“I wouldn’t know, of course.  We just don’t talk about Mike or that time. I can tell you he wasn’t having it anymore after he came back from Vietnam.   He still had nightmares, but when I asked him once, he said they were different ones.” 

 

“Oh.  I was just wondering.”

 

“Did something happen?  There must be a reason why this is coming up in your mind now.”

 

Rachel took a deep breath and said, “Please don’t tell Davy I called about this. I just got to thinking about him, what he went through, the nightmares, the break-ins….”

 

That intrigued Rose.  “Break-ins?”

 

“Yeah, the house was ransacked a few times after Mike died.  I’m sure I told you.”

 

Rose was silent for a moment, lost in her own contemplation.  “Rachel, I never told you this, because I didn’t want you to worry, but we were broken into back then, too.  Right after Davy moved here.”

 

Rachel was stunned.  “That’s odd.  Just once?”

 

“No, several times.  The police never could figure out what was happening.  The funny thing is, they never stole anything.”

 

“Thanks, Rose.”

 

“But I didn’t really give you any answers.  I’m sorry I couldn’t help.”

 

“You did help.  Listen, I have to go.  Thanks for everything.”

 

“You’re welcome. I love you.”

 

“I love you and Al, too.  Talk to you soon.”  Rachel hung up the phone and immediately called Hutch at home.  She knew he was probably there if her son wasn’t with him in the middle of a workday.

 

“Hello?”

 

“Ken, it’s Rachel.”

 

“Did you remember something?” 

 

“Not exactly.  I just thought you should know something.  After Mike died, our home was broken into several times.”

 

“Right after he died?”  Hutch was already curious.

 

“Yes.  Then again right after Davy moved out there.  A couple of other times, too.”

 

Four break-ins?  “What did they take?”

 

She took a deep breath and answered, “That’s just it.  They never took anything.  I just spoke with Davy’s Aunt Rose a few minutes ago.  Don’t worry, I didn’t let on that we talked.”

 

“Thanks.”

 

“You’re welcome, dear.  Rose said their home was broken into also.  Right after Davy moved in and a few other times, too.  Isn’t that strange?”

 

“Very.  Nothing taken?”

 

“No.  I don’t know if it means anything.  I assumed whoever did it here was looking for something Mike was working on and they either found it or gave up on it.  He supposedly had some evidence on a local bigwig, but I don’t know anything else about that.”

 

“Thanks a lot, Rachel.  This might help.”

 

“Ken... you don’t think Davy’s in any danger, do you?”

 

Hutch paused.  He didn’t want to scare his best friend’s mother, but he was plenty worried about that.  He decided to be evasive.  “Try not to worry.  You know he always says I hover too much.” 

 

“He also says you are usually right, although he might not admit that to you,” she said with a twinkle in her eyes.

 

Hutch laughed softly.  That sounded like Starsky.  “Was it June of 1956 when you sent David out here?"

 

“That’s right. Be careful, Ken.  I don’t trust that Vinnie.” 

 

“You know I’ll watch out for him. Thanks again, Rachel.”

 

Knowing her son had a partner who would lay down his life for him was immeasurably comforting to Rachel.  She worried about them both, though.  Rachel knew that more would come of these developments.  She said a prayer for both her own son and her honorary, blond son. 

 

Hutch placed a call down to the station.  He asked Minnie Kaplan to quietly see if she could dig up records on a series of break-ins at Starsky’s Aunt Rose’s home in the summer of 1956.  Although he didn’t like the idea of keeping this impromptu investigation from Starsky, he also wanted to have something real to say to him about it before he mentioned anything.  His head was pounding again and his pacing worry about his desk-bound partner had reactivated every hurt muscle in his body.  Hutch decided to take a nap before Huggy arrived with his lunch.

 

Starsky sat reviewing his notes on Vinnie’s New York police record – armed robbery, assault with a deadly weapon, attempted murder, second degree manslaughter – not a pretty list.  The information also stated he was a known mob associate.  He had been under investigation for drug running a few times, but the NYPD had not made anything stick.

 

The last part of the report made Starsky turn white.  Vinnie Martino was suspected in the mysterious deaths of one Brooklyn businessman, and a police officer.  The NYPD thought he might be a hit man.  The two men had both died in car crashes under suspicious circumstances.  Each man’s brakes had failed.  The businessman wound up in the water and drowned, while the cop had careened into a glass-fronted office building.  Off duty, the man drove a convertible and he had been julienned by the breaking glass.  He bled out before the paramedics arrived on the scene.  Oh, my God.  Hutch.

 

Starsky nervously dialed Hutch’s number after he looked at his watch.  Only two o’clock.  Maybe Huggy is there.  The phone rang several times before Huggy answered.

 

“Blondie’s pad, what it is?” 

 

Starsky sighed his relief.  Huggy was with Hutch and he sounded upbeat. 

 

“Hey, Hug.  Where’s the man?”

 

“He’s having a little commune with nature out in the greenhouse.”

 

“He okay?”

 

“Yeah.  He overextended himself a bit.  He tried to water some of those hanging plants and ‘bout killed his chest.  He’s just restin’ now.”

 

Starsky noticed a blinking phone line on his extension. One of the other officers waved at him to pick it up, so he put Huggy on hold.

 

“Starsky.”  He was dismayed to find out the caller was one of the uniforms sent to guard Venice Place.

 

“Sergeant Starsky, this is Tony Rand.  I think we may have some trouble over here.”

 

“What’s going on?”

 

“Maybe nothing, but there’s this dark blue sedan that’s cruised past here five or six times in the last hour.  Your friend Huggy Bear’s been here about that long.  Could be somebody followed him.  Just thought it might be something.”

 

“Thanks, Rand.  I’ll be right there.  Stay sharp.”

 

“Roger.”

 

Starsky pushed the other line button and said, “Listen up, Hug.  This might not be anything, but the guys in the black-and-white spotted a car that looks like it might be casing Hutch’s place.  I want you to get Hutch’s gun for him and stay inside until I get there, okay?”

 

“You got it.”  They hung up and Starsky rushed out of the station on his way to Venice Place.  He prayed Rand was just being overly cautious and he promised himself to thank the younger officer for his diligence. 

 

He used the light and siren until he was a couple of blocks away from Hutch's, then turned both off. He slowed down to normal cruising speed and picked up the radio microphone. "Zebra Three to Baker Nine."

 

"Baker Nine," Rand answered.

 

"Starsky. That car still around?"

 

"Yeah," Rand answered. "It's been by a couple more times since I talked to you. California plates, BYB 209."

 

"I'll be there in a minute," Starsky said. "I'm going to cruise a little, myself."

 

"Roger."

 

Starsky knew Rand would recognize his car. He passed the black-and-white without glancing at it except from the corner of his eye. Rand and his partner looked in his direction, but neither one waved or showed any recognition. Starsky drove just a little slower than the flow of traffic, keeping his eyes peeled for the sedan. It didn't take long to spot. He saw it just as he was coming around the block and turning down Ocean again. The sedan was moving slowly, and the driver – what he could make out of him through the tinted windows – was apparently studying the buildings on Hutch's side of the street very, very carefully. Starsky lifted the microphone. "This is Zebra Three to Baker Nine. Let's move."

 

Instantly the lights and siren on the black-and-white came on and the cruiser pulled out suddenly, blocking the sedan. Starsky hit the gas and skidded deliberately sideways to block the sedan's escape from behind. Rand and Donley were out of their car, guns drawn and pointed at the sedan, as Starsky flung himself out of the Torino and toward the driver's door, his own gun in hand. He yanked the door open. "Get out," he snapped.

 

The driver, pale and trembling, obeyed. But as soon as he was partway out of the car, Starsky had him by the jacket and jerked him toward the hood, slamming him facedown across it and kicking his feet wide apart. Knowing the uniforms had him covered, he put his own gun away and patted the guy down, finding a loaded .38 in his waistband. Pulling the guy's right arm up behind him hard enough to hurt, he leaned over and hissed in his ear, "Got a permit to carry, pal?"

 

"N-no," the guy said.

 

"Then what the hell are ya doin' packing heat?" Starsky demanded.

 

The guy didn't answer. He was trembling.

 

Rand, still covering the man with his gun, came forward and took the .38 from Starsky.

 

"Start talkin'," Starsky ordered, flipping the man over and slamming him against the car again.

 

"I-I don't know what you-you want," the man said.

 

"What the hell are you doin'?" Starsky shouted, his face only inches from the man's. "Why are you cruisin' this neighborhood, packing a goddamn gun?"

 

Donley shifted uneasily – he didn't know Starsky – but Rand shot him a look and he didn't say anything. He glanced upward and saw both Hutch and Huggy at the window, watching.

 

"Answer me!" Starsky demanded, both his hands tangled in the man's jacket front.

 

"I'm lookin' for somebody," the man said, his voice shaking so hard it was difficult to understand him.

 

"WHO?" Starsky bellowed.

 

"I don't know his name. Big blond guy. He's supposed to live around here but I can't remember the address," the man spat out, terrified. "I been there once and I thought I'd know it when I saw it but I didn't."

 

"Why are you looking for him?" Starsky bent even closer, so close to the man that he could see his eyes dilate.

 

The man tried to pull his head back, away from Starsky, but there was nowhere to go. Starsky had him bent backward over the hood of his car and had his whole weight leaning on the man.

 

"I don't hear you answering me," Starsky spat.

 

"I'm – supposed to – to – " The man was shaking so hard now his teeth were chattering.

 

"Supposed to WHAT?"

 

"Beat him up," the man finally said.

 

"Oh, really." Starsky slammed his hand against the hood so close to the man's ear that he recoiled. "Lemme tell you somethin', asshole. First, I don't think you're half the badass you think you are, and I doubt you could beat OFF, much less beat up somebody. But that big blond guy is my partner and my best friend and I got a news flash for you, you slimy shit." Starsky leaned even closer and growled, "NEVER mess with a man's partner!"

 

The man cringed away, but there was puzzlement in his eyes. "Your partner? But – ain't you a cop?"

 

"That's right," Starsky said. "Wanna see my badge? In a place where the sun don't shine?"

 

"But – " The man shook his head. "This guy – the one I'm lookin' for – he ain't a cop, mister."

 

Starsky froze. "Whattya talkin' about?"

 

"He ain't a cop. He's a numbers runner. He stole some money from Louie and Louie sent me to beat him up." The man was almost in tears. "You can ask Louie. You know Louie, doncha? I ain't lookin' to beat up no cop, honest to God I ain't."

 

Starsky stood up, dragging the man with him. He knew Louie. He and Hutch had busted Louie a dozen times, but somehow the slime ball kept getting away with his numbers racket. Part of the reason was, Louie wasn't a big-timer, just a street punk trying to make a name for himself. Another part of the reason was that Louie picked people like this loser to work for him and it was hardly worth the trouble busting the operation up. "I do know Louie," Starsky said in a deadly quiet voice. "I can call him and check."

 

"Go ahead," the man pleaded. "My name's Gus. Ask him where he sent Gus. Please."

 

Starsky motioned to Rand to hang onto Gus for him and went back to his car. Pulling his notebook out of his pocket, he paged through it for a moment before lifting the mike. "Control, patch me through to 555-8890."

 

"Roger." There was a brief silence, then the sound of ringing.

 

Finally a voice said, "Yeah?"

 

"This is Starsky. Gimme Louie."

 

"Starsky who?"

 

"He'll know."

 

A moment later, Louie came on. "What can I do for you, Sergeant?" Louie asked, sounding almost as scared as the punk Rand was still guarding.

 

"You know a guy named Gus?" Starsky said without preliminaries.

 

"Maybe," Louie said cautiously.

 

"No maybe about it. Yes or no?"

 

Louie sighed. "Yes."

 

"Where is he?"

 

Louie sighed again. "Working. I sent him on an ... errand."

 

"To do what, Louie? I ain't got time to play games and I ain't interested in messin' up your action. I just gotta know."

 

"He's supposed to be having a word with a client," Louie said, giving in. "A man named Tomlinson who isn't a very honest employee."

 

"Where's this dishonest employee live?" Starsky demanded.

 

"On Ocean. In an apartment over a Chinese take-out place."

 

Starsky glanced over at Gus, who looked like he might faint from relief. There was a Chinese take-out a block from Hutch's, on the same side of the street. "Okay, Louie. Thanks. And by the way, Gus ain't gonna complete his assignment."

 

"Somehow, I thought you'd say that," Louie said. He hung up.

 

Starsky replaced the mike and went back to Rand and Gus. "Book him," he said. "I'll take over guard duty till you get back."

 

"What's the charge?" Rand asked, barely suppressing a grin.

 

Starsky considered. "Illegal possession of a firearm," he said at last. "That oughta hold him tonight, anyway."

 

Rand gave a mock salute. "Yes, sir. Be back as soon as we can."

 

"Take your time," Starsky said. "I'll hold the fort." He moved his car, called for a tow for the sedan, then took the steps to Hutch's apartment two at a time. Hutch himself opened the door for him. "You okay?" Starsky asked.

 

"I'm fine," Hutch said, his eyes dancing. "But I should think your friend down there would need to change his armor."

 

Starsky was blank for a moment until he recognized the reference to "Monty Python and The Holy Grail." He laughed. "Bet he didn't want to go in the cart, either."

 

"I'm sure he didn't," Hutch said. "Feel like a beer?"

 

"Yeah, but I'm still on duty. Got a Dr. Pepper?"

 

"I'll get it." Huggy went to the kitchen and came back with a can of soda for Starsky.

 

Starsky sank down on a chair across from where Hutch had sat on the couch. "Damn," he said. "That scared me to death."

 

"Me, too," Hutch admitted. "We're getting paranoid."

 

"You oughta be," Huggy pointed out. "Coulda been whoever tried to get ya before, y'know. Don't go relaxin' yet."

 

Starsky and Hutch exchanged a glance. "He's right," Starsky said. "In fact, you and me need to do some talkin', partner. I found out some stuff today about Vinnie."

 

"So did I," Hutch said, realizing as soon as he said it that he’d have to admit his phone calls to Rachel Starsky.  He smiled sheepishly and added, “W-well....”

 

“I’m listening,”  Starsky said, folding his arms across his chest and glaring at the guilty blond.  Huggy chuckled softly and suddenly became interested in the condensation on the side of his soda can when Starsky glared at him.

 

“No, no, buddy.  You go first.”  Hutch attempted deflection, knowing it wouldn’t work.

 

“Nice try.  You were supposed to be resting.  What’d you do?”

 

“I, um... I called your mom.”

 

“My – you called Ma?” 

 

“Yeah.  I asked her not to tell you.  I just wanted to know if she remembered Vinnie.”

 

“Somehow, I knew you weren’t lookin’ for a recipe this time.  What did she say?”  Starsky’s curiosity quickly overrode his irritation.  He and his mother rarely discussed the dark days in the months around his dad’s murder.   Maybe Hutch had some new information for him.

 

Hutch began to recount what he had learned from Mrs. Starsky.  “She remembered him.  Didn’t trust him.”  Starsky listened intently, his focus occasionally wandering back to that time.  His mother’s information was right in line with what he had learned of Vinnie’s official police record.  She wouldn’t have known about the suspected hits, though, and he wasn’t surprised when Hutch’s description of the conversation didn’t include that.

 

“I can’t believe I couldn’t see what a slug Vinnie was back then.  When I think about how much I wanted him to let me hang around and all.... ”  Starsky’s voice trailed off as he sank deeper into his guilty feelings.

 

Huggy spoke up, “You was just a pipsqueak, Starsk.  Everybody wants to fit in when they’re kids.”

 

Hutch added, “Huggy’s right, buddy.  Now, you’re seeing all of this through a man’s eyes.   Then, you were just a kid and you were hurting.”

 

The phone rang and interrupted their conversation.  Hutch sat forward on the couch to reach for it, and the sudden movement caused him to wince and freeze in mid-motion.  Starsky shot him a concerned glance as he answered for him.  He watched as Hutch slowly sat back, rubbing his chest and trying to catch his breath.

 

“Hello,” Starsky said without identifying himself.

 

“That you, Starsky?”  Minnie’s voice asked cheerfully.

 

“Yeah.  Uh, Hutch’s busy wishing he hadn’t tried to sit up so fast.  What can I do for ya?”

 

“Tell him I hope he feels better, huh?”

 

“I will.”

 

“I’ve got some information for him.  Just have him call me when he’s up to it, okay?”  Poor Minnie wasn’t expecting Starsky to answer and she didn’t want to blow it when Hutch had asked her to do the checking quietly.

 

Starsky said, “Hang on a minute, Minnie.”  Hutch turned even whiter when he heard Minnie’s name.  He hadn’t gotten to that part of the story yet.  Starsky put his hand over the receiver and said, “Perhaps you left something out?”

 

“I just didn’t get to it yet.  Gimme the phone, huh?  I’ll tell you about it when I’m done.”

 

Starsky handed over the phone and Hutch said, “Man, you’re fast, Minnie.  You already have something?”

 

“Yeah, well you got lucky this time.  We were just boxing some old records up to go to off site storage.  I found your information in one of the boxes and made copies for you.  Not much to go on, I’m afraid.  Want to hear it?”

 

“Shoot,” Hutch instructed as he settled down to listen.

 

“Well, there were a total of four reports spanning parts of 1956 and early 1957.  The home was broken into and each time nothing was reported missing, but the house was ransacked.  The last report says the folks had a teenager living with them, identified as David Michael Starsky.  Says he had no record, but the investigating officer thought maybe it was some kind of vandalism directed at Curly.  I found some hand scribbled notes in the margins and on the back of the report.  Sort of looks like the officer was jotting down information while he talked on the phone.”

 

Hutch looked at Starsky who was watching him with such intensity, he wondered what was going on inside the curly head.  Huggy was quietly sipping his soda, also staring at Hutch.  “What did the notes say?”

 

Minnie read the disjointed notes, “These might not all make sense, but here goes, school fights, angry, dad a cop – murdered last year, baseball bat.  The last one is funny. Almost looks like he wrote it down and passed it to someone else to see.  Maybe his partner? That one just says ‘Little League’ and has three question marks underneath it.”

 

“Thanks, Minnie.  Oh, the investigating officer, any chance he’s still around?”  Hutch knew the man would have been a beat cop at the time and he might not be retired yet.

 

“I’m afraid not, Hutch.  Um, the officer was John Blaine.  His partner back then was Gary Dodson and he died about ten years ago.  Heart attack.”  Minnie knew everyone who had ever been anyone at the Metro division of the Bay City PD.  Her quick mind and eye for detail rarely missed anything and every piece of information she came across was filed in her memory for some future use. 

 

“Oh, too bad.  Okay.  Thanks again. What you don’t know just ain’t worth knowing,” he said with obvious admiration. 

 

“Anytime, Hutch.”  Minnie blushed as she hung up the phone.  Her favorite detective team always remembered to be appreciative and that made her feel valued.

 

After they hung up, Hutch sat still for a minute, contemplating how to explain all of this to his partner.  Starsky wasn’t interested in waiting long enough for him to work out the details in his mind, though, and even Huggy was fidgeting within the first thirty seconds. 

 

“Don’t think it to death, Blondie, let us in on it,” Starsky ordered.

 

Hutch explained why he had called Minnie and told the other two men what she had said. 

 

“Little League?”  Huggy asked.

 

“Yeah,” Starsky said.  “See, my Uncle Al told Blaine about how I’d used a baseball bat to chase a guy off back before I moved out here.  Then, I used one out here to threaten some kids who were thinking they’d beat up the new guy with the funny accent.”

 

Huggy smiled at him.  “You tellin’ me you were an angry kid?  I don’t believe it.”

 

Starsky looked pained. “Damn straight, I was angry,” he snapped.  “First, my dad bleeds to death in my arms, then I get into some trouble at home, and the next thing I know, they put me on a one-way trip to California.”

 

Huggy looked a little stricken.  “I’m sorry, man.  I didn’t mean to.... ”

 

Starsky’s expression changed to one of forgiveness and he said, “Sorry, Hug.  All this stuff is just bringing back some painful memories.”

 

Hutch reached over and patted Starsky on the arm as he continued.  “I had forgotten about the house being broken into like that.  John Blaine had moved right next door.  After he came and took the report on the last break-in, he kinda took an interest in me.  Put me in Pony League.  I was fourteen by then and he and Uncle Al decided maybe I needed someplace to take my anger.  Maybe playin’ a little ball might help me rediscover what a baseball bat was for.  Worked, too.”

 

“Starsk, your mom said her house was broken into also.  What do you think someone was looking for?”  Hutch asked.

 

“I don’t know, but I’m not liking the way all this is clicking together.”  Starsky explained all about the information he’d found on Vinnie. When he talked about the two deaths from cars with failed brakes, Huggy and Hutch both whistled softly through their teeth.

 

“Y’all better be careful’a this dude.  I’m gonna head back down to my place... see if anyone’s heard anything about him.”  Huggy left just as Rand was about to knock on the door. 

 

“We’re back, Sergeant,” he said through the open door. 

 

“Terrific.  I’ve got some things to do.  Keep an eye on him, will ya?”

 

“You bet.”  Rand turned and headed back down the stairs, barely hearing the protest going on in the apartment.

 

“No way, Starsk.  I don’t want you out cruisin’ around without me watching your back.”

 

“I’m not gonna cruise around.  I’m gonna run home for a minute, then I’m going back down to Metro to pick up those reports.  After that, I might go out to Rose and Al’s.”

 

Hutch restated his earlier admonishment.  “You’re not going anywhere near Vinnie without me.”  Hutch could be just as stubborn as Starsky.

 

“I can’t promise that, Hutch.  I’ll do my best.”

 

“That’s not good enough!” Hutch raised his voice and immediately wished he hadn’t. His head hurt worse and the intake of more air into his lungs made his chest pain flare again.

 

“I won’t go anywhere alone with him.  I won’t leave my car anywhere he can get to it, and I’ll let you know every time I change locations.  Okay?”  Starsky knew that if Hutch didn’t like it, he’d follow him, even if he had to take a cab or rent a car.  “You need some rest and I have to work another day this week.  I’ll try to stay away from him until you go back on with me.”

 

Hutch nodded.  “I don’t like it.  Stay away from Merle’s, okay?”

 

Starsky was already almost out the door.  “Sleep and quit trying to play invalid detective.  I’m on it.”

 

~*~*~*~

 

Vinnie had heard through the grapevine that Hutch was recuperating at home.  His informant explained that Starsky would most likely be sticking pretty close to Hutch while he was healing.  That gave him the time he needed to get over to Starsky’s place and search.  He called the boss in New York to tell him.

 

“Yeah, the guy survived it.  Damn cop’s tough,”  Vinnie said with an evil chuckle.

 

“What’sa matter with you, Vinnie?  Why don’t you just shoot ‘em.  Lots less random, don’t you think?”  The man admired Vinnie’s success rate, but would have preferred more direct methods. 

 

“That lacks style.  Besides, much easier to make things look like an accident this way.  He coulda crashed anywhere, and probably woulda died if he didn’t have a guardian angel.  Lucky bastard has nine lives, just like his partner.  He’s outta commission for a few days, though.  That oughta give me enough time to find it.”

 

“You figure out exactly what it is yet?”

 

“Naw, but I will.  Davy was the last one to talk to Mike Starsky alive.  Even his partner didn’t get to say anything to him.  I know... I was there.”

 

After Vinnie and his pals sent Starsky off on his shoplifting errand, Vinnie had left and headed for the neighborhood.  He wanted to be there when it happened – the hit he had helped to set up all those years ago.  Vinnie Martino had sold Mike Starsky’s life for fifty dollars and no one had ever known.  If Joe Durniak had ever figured it out, Vinnie knew he’d be encased in the concrete of a Brooklyn building, not running around still looking for the information for which Mike Starsky died.  That information was still important to the man on the other end of the phone.

 

“Just see that you do.” The man hung up abruptly.

 

Vinnie flipped the phone off as he hung up, then he left for Starsky’s place.

 

~*~*~*~

 

Starsky wanted to run home and see if he could find an old box of photos.  When his aunt and uncle’s home had been vandalized, Starsky took pictures.  They were some of his first efforts as a photographer.  Maybe he and Hutch could look at the photos and see if they held any clues. He was looking through his mail as he opened the door, so he didn’t notice the state of the apartment at first.  He took several steps into the living room and noticed from his peripheral vision that something wasn’t right.  When he finally looked up, he saw that the room was a mess.  Someone had ransacked his place.  He didn’t even have time to draw his gun as a precaution before someone hit him on the back of the head and he crumpled into darkness.

 

Vinnie stood over the fallen detective, a malicious smirk on his face.  He kicked the still body once in the side to be sure he was unconscious and was satisfied at seeing no reaction.  Not knowing how long Starsky would be out, and unwilling to risk detection at this point, he finished taking apart the now broken picture frame he had used as a blunt instrument.  The glass had broken and he reached into it with his gloved hand, pulling out the picture of Starsky with his dad in his police uniform.  Turning it over and searching behind it yielded nothing of value.  Vinnie tossed the picture and the broken frame on top of the unconscious man and he quietly left the apartment.

 

Hutch had fallen asleep on the couch.  An hour after Starsky left, he was awakened by the jangling phone.  “Hello?”

 

“Hutch,” Huggy said, “is Starsky there?”

 

Sitting up was painful, especially when he did it too fast, but Hutch was alert now, glad he hadn’t taken any of the pain pills Huggy picked up for him and had brought with his lunch. 

 

“No,” he said as he looked at the clock.  “He left here a little over an hour ago.  Said he was going to his place and he was supposed to call me when he left there.”

 

“Where was he goin’ next?  I already tried his place.”

 

“What’s up?”

 

“Dinger’s here.  Wants to meet.”

 

“Hang on a minute.  I’ll get them to patch me through to him.  Call you right back.”

 

Hutch waited impatiently on hold until the dispatch operator told him they were unable to get an answer from Zebra-3.  Damn.  Hutch stiffly went to his desk and retrieved his phone book. 

 

“Hello,” Starsky’s Aunt Rose’s voice answered warmly.

 

“Hi, Rose, this is Ken Hutchinson.”

 

“Ken?  Is David all right?”

 

Damn.  I really need to work on that.  “Yes, I’m sorry, Rose.  Didn’t mean to scare you.  I’m just looking for your nephew.  Is he there?”

 

“No, should he be?  Where are you?”

 

“I’m a little under the weather so I stayed home today.  He said he might stop by.  If he does, will you have him call me, please?  It’s important.”

 

“Sure, Ken.”

 

Hutch dialed Huggy.  “I’m going to his place.  I’ll let you know.”

 

“You ain’t supposed to be goin’ nowhere, I’ll go.”

 

“No.  Might be dangerous.  I don’t have a car anyway. I’ll ask the guys in the squad car to take me.  I’ll call you.”  Hutch hung up before Huggy could protest further. 

 

Hutch found his stiff muscles and aching head interfered with his speed in dressing, but he managed to pull on some clothes and get his gun.  He never thought about how heavy the Magnum was, but today, the big gun felt like the cannon Starsky always said it was.

 

He locked up behind himself and lurched down the stairs to the street, each step causing a throb of pain in his head.  Rand looked up when he saw him and he turned to his partner.  “Watching out for these two is never dull,” he said dryly.

 

Donley smirked and asked, “Now what?”

 

Hutch opened the back of the cruiser and climbed in, saying, “Take me to Starsky’s, I think he might be in trouble.”

 

Rand nodded, but added, “You okay?  You probably should stay here.  We’ll call for another unit.”

 

“Nothing doing.  Hit it.  Oh, and roll down the window back here, huh?  Creepy knowing I can’t get out of here.”

 

Donley laughed as his partner lowered the power window and pulled into traffic.   He reached for the microphone, but Hutch told him to hold off on that.  “Don’t.  Dobey’s already gonna kill me, if you call in, he’ll just order me back.  We’ll be there in a few minutes.”

 

“Okay, Hutch.  Just remember, you outrank us and you gave the orders.”

 

“I’ll take the flak.” Hutch gave Rand the address and sat back for the ride.

 

Hutch wasn’t feeling well, and the back seat of a speeding squad car was not the most comfortable place to ride when nauseous.  He fought against motion sickness and he put his sunglasses on, hoping that would help the headache.  He forgot all about that when they pulled onto Starsky’s street and he saw the Torino parked in its usual spot.  His partner was just supposed to be running a quick errand at home.

 

“There’s his car,” Rand remarked.  “You sure he didn’t just go home for a while?”

 

“Positive.” Hutch noticed the look exchanged between Rand and Donley, just before the window next to him rolled up again as the squad car came to a stop.  “Hey, what’re you doing?” he demanded.

 

“We’re going in first.  If he’s really in trouble, you’re in no shape to go first.”

 

“Let me out of here!”  The anger did nothing to improve Hutch’s color or his pain.

 

“Only if you swear we go first,” Rand said as his partner got out and stood a moment next to Hutch’s door, waiting for the signal to open it.

 

“All right, we’re wasting time.  Let me out!”  Rand nodded and started up toward the stairs, gun drawn.  Donley waited a beat, until his partner was on the stairs and then opened the back door before he ran to catch up to him.  He knew Hutch would have no choice but to bring up the rear.

 

Hutch was fuming, but he made his way as quickly as he could to the bottom of the stairs.  He got there just in time to hear Rand say, “Aw, shit,” as he watched Donley disappear into Starsky’s open door.

 

“Starsky!”  Hutch shouted as he did his best to hasten up the stairs.  He was breathing hard and seeing sparks by the time he reached the doorway. 

 

Through the sparks, Hutch could see that Rand was bent over his motionless partner, patting him on the cheek and calling his name.  He also saw Donley sweeping the place to be sure the intruder was gone.  The apartment was a mess, but Hutch paid no attention to that.  He went to Starsky’s side and knelt slowly just as he was beginning to stir in response to Rand.

 

The low groan pulled at Hutch’s fear. “Starsk?  Buddy?  Open your eyes.” 

 

He looked Starsky over and noticed the picture lying on him, along with bits of broken  frame and tiny pieces of glass in his hair. He and Rand turned him over carefully and Starsky winced, putting his hand to his side.  Hutch started pulling his shirt up to see what was hurting him.  A large bruise was forming there.

 

“Owwww,” Starsky said as he blinked his eyes open and he looked up at his partner.  “Hutch?”

 

“Call an ambulance,” Hutch ordered.

 

“No!” Starsky said as he reached out and grabbed onto Rand’s arm before he could stand.

 

“Starsk,” Hutch started.

 

“Naw, just help me up, okay?”  Starsky said, panting.  He reached up for Hutch, then dropped his hand and held the other one up for Rand. “Not you.  What the hell are you doing here?  What happened?” 

 

Rand pulled him up to a sitting position as the dark-haired detective said, “Owwww,” again.

 

“You okay?”  Hutch asked nervously.

 

Donley called the all clear from the other room. 

 

“I’ll call it in,” Rand said, rising to leave the partners while he called Metro for another unit and the crime lab team.

 

Hutch sat down hard, flinching.  “You get the number of the truck that hit you?”

 

“Course not,” Starsky answered as he rubbed his side and shook his head to clear it better.  “You’re not supposed to be up. Why are you here?”

 

“You’re welcome,” was Hutch’s response.  "I'm here because Huggy called looking for you. Dinger wants to meet with us. After I talked to Huggy, I called Rose and she said you hadn't been there. What would you have done, genius?"

 

"The same thing you did," Starsky admitted sheepishly.

 

"Right. So what happened?"

 

Starsky struggled to his feet, swaying a little. He rubbed his eyes and reached for his head, but yanked his hand back. "Terrific," he grumbled, leaning over and gingerly brushing bits of broken glass out of his curls. "I don't know what happened," he answered when that job was done. He sat down next to Hutch on the couch. "I came in, didn't notice at first that the place was trashed, and by the time I did, it was too late. Somebody whacked me on the noggin and next thing I knew you guys were here."

 

"What's with the bruise on your side?" Hutch asked, concerned, when Starsky rubbed at it again.

 

"Maybe the bum kicked me for good measure. I don't know."

 

"Broken ribs?" Hutch gently felt Starsky's side.

 

"No," Starsky said, allowing Hutch to examine him. "Just a bruise. He must not've kicked hard enough to break nothin'."

 

"Let me look at your head," Hutch demanded as Rand came back from using the phone.

 

Starsky sighed and agreed. Hutch parted the thick hair and looked closely at the goose egg on his partner's head. There was no break in the skin of his scalp. It didn't seem to be much more than a bump.

 

"I guess you'll live," Hutch said at last.

 

"Thanks, Doc," Starsky said with a grin.

 

"Feel up to the meet with Dinger?"

 

"I never feel like meeting up with Dinger," Starsky said. "But he just might have something for us."

 

Knowing the crime lab team would take at least an hour to examine the apartment, Starsky called Huggy and asked him to tell Dinger they'd see him in a couple of hours. The team didn't find much except one thumbprint on the picture frame.

 

"We'll compare it to yours," one of the men said to Starsky. "Then we'll run it through the files and see if we can come up with a match."

 

"Start with Vinnie Martino," Starsky said glumly. "I got a bad feeling."

 

"Sure thing," the officer said. "You look like hell," he added. "Both of you."

 

"Thanks," Starsky said sourly. "We'll manage. Get crackin', huh?"

 

"Okay, okay." The officer and his team gathered up their things and left.

 

Rand and Donley had waited while this was going on. Now Rand shifted his weight uncertainly back and forth. "Uh, Starsky?"

 

"What?" Starsky asked wearily, downing a couple of aspirin that he'd finally had time to get from the bathroom.

 

"We're supposed to be guarding Hutchinson," Rand said. "If you and him are going to go to Huggy's, shouldn't we go along?"

 

"Dinger's gonna love that," Hutch said.

 

"Really," Starsky said. To Rand, he said, "No. You can't go along. Go back to Hutch's place and wait for us. After we see Dinger, we're going to my Aunt Rose's. She'll probably ask us to supper. If we ain't back by the time you finish your shift, go home."

 

"Starsky – " Rand took a deep breath. Both detectives did outrank him, after all. "Dobey's gonna kill us if we do that."

 

"I'll take responsibility."

 

"He'll still kill us."

 

"No, he won't. He don't have to know."

 

"You want us to fib to the captain?" Rand asked, wide-eyed.

 

"No, he wants you to keep your mouth shut!" Hutch said impatiently. "Just go park outside my place. If Dobey contacts you, you say everything's fine. When your relief arrives, tell them the same thing. Is that so difficult?"

 

Rand and Donley exchanged a very unhappy glance. Finally, Rand sighed. "Okay. But if something happens to you guys – "

 

"Nothing's going to happen. We're going to Huggy's, then we're going to Aunt Rose's. We'll be fine. If it'll make you feel better, we'll call you when we leave Huggy's and when we get to Rose's." Starsky reached for his jacket, making it plain the conversation was over. "Now, git!"

 

When the officers were gone, Hutch grinned. "Dobey is gonna kill them. Or us."

 

Starsky gave a shrug. "Won't be the first time. Or the last. Come on."

 

Huggy's was slow this afternoon, with only a couple of the die-hard drunks holding up the bar when they came in. Huggy himself was playing pinball, but when the detectives came in, he stared at Hutch in dismay. "What the hell're you doin' here, Hutch?"

 

"Long story," Hutch said. "Where's Dinger?"

 

"The john," Huggy said. "Man, oh, man, I wouldn't wanna meet either one of you guys in a dark alley right now. You're scary."

 

"We love you, too," Starsky said, taking a seat in a booth. Hutch joined him.

 

Dinger emerged and spotted them. He slunk over to the booth and sat down across from them. "I hear tell you're lookin' for some dirt on a new dealer," he said in a low voice.

 

"You know of any?" Hutch asked.

 

Dinger nodded. "Blew into town a coupla weeks ago. Had local connections, too. Good shit, man. Hardly cut. And they ain't askin' much for it, neither. Suspicious, y'know?"

 

"We know. Gotta name?"

 

Dinger shook his head. "Ain't his real name. Nobody uses a real name, y'know. Said to call him 'Trigger.' How’s that to make ya nervous?"

 

Starsky's face drained of color.

 

"Starsk?" Hutch turned to him with a worried look and put a hand on his arm.

 

Starsky swallowed, wet his lips, and shook his head. "I'm okay. I know who 'Trigger' is."

 

Dinger lit a cigarette. "Thought you would."

 

"Why?" Hutch turned on Dinger.

 

Dinger lifted his hands in surrender. "Hey, easy, man. I just mean this cat's been asking a lotta questions 'bout you two. Mostly him," he added, indicating Starsky. "Wants to know what he drives and where he hangs out. Stuff like that."

 

"Did you tell him?" Hutch said, narrowing his eyes dangerously.

 

"Hell, no, Hutch. Do I look that stupid? I like you guys. But there's plenty o' folks out there," he jerked his head toward the street door, "who don't like ya, and he got it somewhere. Been braggin' he's gonna 'take back the street from that Brooklyn punk.' His exact words."

 

Hutch glanced at Starsky. His partner's color was almost back to normal, but he looked sick. "Do you know what he means by that?"

 

Dinger shook his head. "Sorry, no. I figured he had some kinda spite against Starsky and figured he'd get even somehow. I got hold o' Huggy soon's as I figured it was safe so's I could tell ya."

 

"Thanks, Dinger," Starsky said. He reached into his pocket and produced a ten. "That hold ya?"

 

"Sure, Starsk. Thanks." Dinger pocketed the money and rose. But before he went, he turned back. "Starsky? Be careful, huh? This guy really gives me the creeps."

 

Starsky nodded. "We will."

 

Dinger gave a mock salute and strolled out.

 

"Who's Trigger?" Hutch demanded.

 

"It's what we called Vinnie's little brother," Starsky said. "The kid had a real thing about Roy Rogers – remember the old westerns?"

 

Hutch nodded. “Wasn’t that the horse’s name, though?”

 

"Yeah, go figure.  Guy’s real name's – " Starsky frowned and thought about it. "Tony? Tommy? I don't remember. Something like that. But this kid – and he's a lot younger than Vinnie – he always wore a white cowboy shirt, just like Roy. He was a good kid. I hate to think he's turned into a pusher."

 

Hutch couldn't think of anything comforting to say, so he settled for a squeeze of Starsky's shoulder.

 

They headed for Rose's house, calling Rand and Donley on the way to let them know where they'd be. Rose was just starting supper when they arrived. She kissed Starsky, patted Hutch's cheek, and got them coffee.

 

"Davy, you don't come over near as often as you ought to," she scolded gently. "I miss seeing you."   Resisting the urge to demand why Hutch had a shiner and stitches in his head, and why Starsky looked a little bleary and sick to his stomach required considerable effort.  Both detectives had said nothing about it and Rose was content to wait and see if they would. 

 

"Sorry," he said with a crooked grin. "I'll try to do better."

 

"I know something's up," she said with a searching look at her nephew. "Ken called here earlier looking for you, and though he tried to pretend he wasn't worried, I could hear it in his voice. What's going on?"

 

"She always could read me like a book," Starsky said to Hutch, who grinned.

 

"Well?" she demanded.

 

Starsky filled her in, giving her a sanitized version of his suspicions about Vinnie. She leaned back and watched his face while he talked, and it was clear from her expression that she knew he was holding back. "I was just wondering if there's anything you can think of that they'd be looking for," he finished. "Ma's place was burgled, so was yours, and now they've been to mine. They must think one of us has something important."

 

Rose nodded. "I agree. But I'm sorry, I don't know what it could be."

 

"But why would they wait all these years?" Starsky asked. "I can understand ransacking Ma's place and yours right after Pop died, if they thought he had some evidence or something against them, but why now? It's been twenty years!"

 

"I can't imagine." Rose frowned. "Your dad didn't have anything valuable on him when he died, did he?"

 

Starsky shook his head. "He told me..." His voice shook, just a little, but he regained control and finished, "He told me to take his rings." He held up his left hand. "That's all. I didn't want to, but he made me."

 

Hutch laid a hand on his arm. Starsky glanced at him with gratitude.

 

"Your dad always wore those rings," Rose said gently. "He probably wanted you to have them to pass on to your own son someday."

 

Starsky nodded. "They couldn't want those. So what do they want?  We didn't find nothin' that coulda been evidence or anything when we went through his stuff after the funeral."

 

Rose sighed. "Maybe there isn't anything. Maybe these people just think there is."

 

Hutch sat quietly while Starsky followed his aunt into the kitchen and kept her company as she made them a pot of coffee.  His mind was working out a puzzle and Starsky could see that on his face when they returned to the room.  “Hey, Blondie, what are you workin’ on in there?” he said as he reached up and tapped Hutch’s forehead lightly.

 

“Rose, did Starsky’s dad ever come out here for a visit?” he asked.

 

“Once.  Davy and Nicky came to spend a few weeks with me the summer before Mike died.  Davy was about twelve.  Rachel and Mike came out with them.  Rachel said it was the longest time they’d had together on vacation since their honeymoon,” she recalled with a sad chuckle.  “They drove out and left the boys here while they went up to San Francisco.  I think they drove back from there.  Al had a cross-country business trip and he drove the kids home when it was time for school to start.”

 

“You remember me talkin’ about Uncle Elmo’s, Hutch.  Nicky and me spent a lot of time over there that summer.  He let us play with the trains for hours if we wanted.”

 

Hutch nodded.  “How could I forget?  That was a pretty big trip in those days.”

 

“Sure was,” Rose replied.  “Mike had a lot of vacation time on the books.  He had been working on something big and he told Al it was about to get bigger.  Said he wanted the family to have some time together before he couldn’t do it.  Kind of prophetic, in a way.”

 

Starsky blanched at that remark a little.  “So maybe whoever did the break-ins thought Pop left something here?”

 

Hutch shook his head and said, “I don’t think so, Starsk.  I think they were looking for you to have something. That’s why they broke in here after you moved out to Bay City.  They must have thought whatever it was came here with you.”

 

Sighing, Starsky said, “But that just takes us right back to the rings.  They’re the only thing I had of the old man’s back then.  Ma wouldn’t let me have his gun ‘til I was older.”

 

“I’m sure that wouldn’t be it, anyway.  Think, Starsk.  I know it was a really long time ago, but do you remember your dad telling you about something he had?  Maybe he was keeping in the house?  Evidence.”

 

“Nothing.” 

 

Thinking this might be a good segue to bring up their injuries, Rose said, “You know, neither one of you boys has explained why you’re both looking like what the cat dragged in.”

 

Both men laughed, and Starsky said, “Sorry.  I can’t believe you waited this long to ask.”

 

“I figured you’d get around to it,” Rose replied with a soft giggle.  “You’re both walking around, so I guess it isn’t anything too serious.”

 

Hutch pointed at his black eye and said, “Well, I tried to drive my car through a big pile of construction dirt.  The dirt won.” 

 

“And you, David?  You’re doing pretty well, but you’re not fooling me.”

 

Starsky thought he was doing a good job hiding his pounding head and throbbing side.  “How’d you know?”

 

Hutch laughed at him. “You’re kidding, Starsk.”

 

“Listen to your partner.  You’re stiff and sore, every time the light hits you in the face you wince, and you have a little glass in your hair in the back.”

 

Starsky reached up behind his head and gingerly tried to get the rest of the glass out of his hair.  He put the pieces down on the saucer next to his coffee cup. “You should have been a detective.”  He leaned over and let her look at his head.  “Did I get it all this time?”  She nodded and he continued, “‘S’nothin’ to worry about.  We got it under control.”

 

“That’s right, Rose.” Hutch added his agreement in support.

 

Rose knew better than to ask too many questions when her nephew and his partner were being tight-lipped.  She smiled and let them move on to other things. When they were ready to leave, Starsky excused himself to “check out the plumbing.”  That left Rose alone with Hutch for a few minutes.

 

“You two really all right, dear?” she asked.  “You wouldn’t let anything happen to either one of you, would you?”

 

“Don’t worry, Rose.  We’re bruised, but not broken.  I’ll keep an eye on him.”

 

“You keep an eye on yourself, too.  That pile of construction dirt didn’t have anything to do with all of this stuff coming up about David’s past, did it?”

 

Hutch marveled at the woman’s keen sense of awareness, despite their efforts to leave her a little in the dark. He thought he owed it to her to be straight with her.  “I hope not.”

 

When they were back in the car, Starsky said, “Let’s go back over to your place.  We probably should give Rand and Donley a break.  Maybe Dobey hasn’t found out yet.”

 

“Sounds good.  You know he has, though.”

 

They checked in with the uniforms before they went up the stairs at Venice Place.  Both officers were grateful for their safe return and Rand said, “Dobey didn’t check in, maybe it’s cool.”

 

~*~*~*~

 

Vinnie was disgusted that he’d found nothing at Starsky’s place.  Whatever information Starsky had, if he even knew anything, must be in his head.  He met his brother for a drink at a dive bar down near the docks and they discussed what to do next.

 

“I ransacked his place pretty good, Trigger.  Didn’t find a thing.  You get anything today?” he asked his little brother. 

 

The younger man sitting across the booth from him no longer wore white cowboy shirts, but the nickname still followed him.  “Yeah, I made a couple of good connections, sold about $15,000 worth’a horse to some pimp over on 33rd, and I found out the blond cop’s off duty for a few days after that little accident you caused. They got a squad car staked out over at his place.”

 

“I knew that, jackass.  Good job on the sales, though.  You got a gift, kid.”

 

“Quit callin’ me kid.  I’m thirty-three.”

 

“Yeah, okay.”

 

“What you gonna do next?  He’s not gonna wait for that evidence forever, you know.  If the cop’s got it, you have to find it.”

 

“We know it ain’t at his place, and after all this time, it ain’t out at his aunt’s house either.  I’m guessing it has to be back at his mom’s, and I think I know how to get it.”

 

“How?” 

 

“I’m gonna get Starsky to find it.  I have to go back to New York.  Then, I’m gonna get Starsky out there, but first, I need you to make sure Blondie can’t go with him.  This’ll work better if Starsky doesn’t have anybody out there to help him. You know for sure which apartment’s Hutchinson’s?”

 

“Yeah.  Venice Place, top left.”

 

“Great.  How’s your pitching arm?"

 

~*~*~*~

 

Starsky’s head was still hurting and Hutch looked exhausted.  “You need to rest, Blondie.  Stretch out on the couch and I’ll bring you a beer.  You need any aspirin or anything?  It’s been a couple of days, probably okay now.”

 

Hutch sat down on the couch and put his head back, closing his eyes.  “Yeah, that’d be great.  Thanks. Why don’t you take some, too.” He laughed softly.  “Always seems kind of odd to drink a beer with an aspirin chaser.  You sure you’re okay?”

 

“I’m fine.  Just a little sore.”

 

When they were both relaxing in the living room, Starsky sat and stared at the two rings on his left hand.  “Hutch, it can’t be these that whoever it is wants, can it? They’re not really worth anything.”  He took them off and looked at them.  They should be unremarkable to anyone but him.  “Why do you suppose he said to never take them off?”

 

“I don’t know, buddy.  Can I see them?”  Hutch asked, putting out a hand.

 

“Sure.”

 

Hutch sat up straighter and examined the rings closely.  They were well worn.  He looked inside and found an inscription in each one.  “Hey, what’s this?” he asked.

 

“What?”

 

“There’s something engraved in both of these rings.”  He got up and went out to the greenhouse where the dimming light was better.  “Hm.”

 

One of the inscriptions was a number, “250343.”  The other engraving was Hebrew.

 

“Do you know what this means?” he asked Starsky who was now standing behind him, straining to get a better look. 

 

“No.  I can’t read any Hebrew other than what I learned for my Bar Mitzvah.  I’m even pretty rusty at that.”

 

“What about the number?”

 

“I don’t know.  I guess I never really thought about it.  Maybe it’s a jeweler’s mark, like a serial number. That ring’s pretty old.”

 

“Where did your dad get these rings?  Do you know?”

 

“Ma said the gold one belonged to my uncle David.  He gave the silver one to my dad on his Bar Mitzvah day to remember him by.  I was named after him, you know.  He died on Kristalnacht in Germany, and his wife sent the gold ring to my dad in the States. I guess he wanted Pop to have it.”

 

“Why didn’t he move here with your dad and the rest of the family?”

 

Starsky dropped his eyes and walked over to sit at the small table with Hutch’s chess set.  He and Hutch didn’t talk much about his extended family and it was always hard on Starsky when they did.  “He was a lot older than my dad and was already grown by the time they moved here.  The family had all moved to Germany and my uncle married a German girl.  After the wedding, she wanted to stay close to her family.  I think her dad was a rabbi and he convinced them to stay, even when they could see what was happening.  Bad decision in retrospect, since they all died either on Kristalnacht or at Auschwitz. Only the Starskys who moved here before that time survived.”

 

Hutch sat down across from Starsky and looked at him with support in his eyes.  “Hindsight is always twenty-twenty.  How old was your dad when they moved here?”

 

“He was fourteen.  They got out with only what they could carry in suitcases.  If they’d waited much longer, they’d have never made it.  Hey, I woulda never been born.” That thought sent an eerie shiver up Starsky’s spine.

 

“There but for the grace of God, buddy.”

 

“Really.”

 

Hutch was about to hand the rings back when a thought struck him.  “What a minute.  In Europe, they write their dates differently than we do.  Did your dad still do that, even here?”

 

“I don’t know.  Different how?” Starsky asked.

 

“They put the day of the month first.  If it’s a date, 250343 would be your birth date.”

 

“Damn.  I never thought of that, but you’re right.  They do that and I’ll bet that’s it.  Why would he engrave that there?  Guess I’ll never know.”

 

They sat in silence for a few moments.  Then Starsky said, “You rest awhile, you look totally wiped.  I’m gonna call Rabbi Freedman and ask him what the Hebrew means.  Who knows?  Maybe it’s a clue.”

 

Starsky stood up and waited for Hutch to follow him.  “Come on, Blondie.  Go lie down for a while.  You never give yourself enough time to heal.”

 

“Nag, nag, nag,” Hutch retorted, but he followed instructions and headed for his bed to take a nap.

 

After calling information for the Rabbi’s office number, he dialed it as he sat down on the couch, knowing he was probably going to run into interference from the synagogue’s secretary.  He took a deep breath when she answered the phone.

 

“Good evening, Mrs. Meyerson.  This is David Starsky, I need to speak with Rabbi Freedman.”

 

“Rabbi’s very busy this evening, young man.  I’ll take a message.” Mrs. Meyerson always sounded angry, even when she was smiling.

 

“I’m sure he is, ma’am, but this is pretty important.  Could you please ask him to take the call?” he asked, doing his best to sound cheerful, yet direct.

 

“Young man, I just told you….”

 

“Please, ma’am. This is police business.  Urgent.” That wasn’t exactly a lie.

 

“Oh,” she said with a disdainful note and a weary sigh, “hold the line.”

 

Starsky sat nervously clicking the silver ring against the phone while he waited.  Within a few minutes, his Rabbi’s friendly voice said, “David, it’s Isaac.”

 

“Good evening, Rabbi.  Thanks for taking the call.  Mrs. Meyerson explained that you were busy.”

 

“Nonsense, David.  She’s a good gatekeeper, Mrs. Meyerson.  Now, what seems to be the trouble?  Are you all right?”

 

“Yes, Rabbi. I’m hoping you can help me with something, though. If I spelled out the Hebrew letters for you, could you tell me what two words say and what they mean?”

 

“Yes, certainly, but Mrs. Meyerson said this was police business.  You weren’t disobeying a commandment to get past my gatekeeper, were you?” he teased good-naturedly.

 

“No, no, this is police business.  The Hebrew may be a clue to some evidence.  We don’t know, and I’m a little, um, rusty.”

 

The rabbi’s warm laughter from the other end of the line eased Starsky’s mind.  Isaac Freedman was a kindly man of almost seventy and he had a talent for making people relax.  “Oh, don’t take me too seriously, son.  I have a pencil.  Spell out the letters.”

 

Starsky read off the letters and the rabbi copied them. “Okay, just a minute, David.  Yes, the words say Batooach Beveyty.  This means ‘Safe in my home’. Does that make sense to you?”

 

“No, but I appreciate it.  Thanks a lot,” Starsky replied honestly.

 

“My pleasure.  Now, when am I going to see you, my friend?  You haven’t been to temple in a long time.”

 

Starsky flinched.  He knew that sort of admonishment would be coming.  He hadn’t been to temple in over six months.  Every time he thought he’d make it, their work schedule interfered and the few times he could have gone, he wasn’t in the mood.  “I’m sorry.  I’ll try to get there soon.  You know how it is.  We never know what our schedule is going to be like.”

 

“I know, David.  Take care and come when you can.  God watches over you, son.  He knows you’re busy.  Be sure and say your prayers once in a while, huh?  Humor an old man.”

 

“I do, and I will.  Thank you.”

 

“You’re welcome.”

 

Starsky hung the phone up softly and slid both of his rings back onto his pinky. He sat in contemplation for a while and didn’t realize he’d said aloud, “What does it mean, Pop?” 

 

He listened carefully and heard by his gentle snoring that Hutch had fallen asleep.  He made a quick call to Dobey, who thankfully did not seem to have heard about them ditching their guards for a while.

 

“I was wondering when you were going to let me in on what happened over at your place today.  Is everything all right?”

 

“Yeah, I think so, Cap.  Whoever it was surprised me.  Somehow all this stuff is linked.  I haven’t figured out how... yet.”

 

“You saying you think Hutch’s accident, your break-in, and those other crimes back from when you were a kid are connected?” Dobey sounded like he was finding that hard to accept.

 

“I know it sounds out there, Cap, but that’s what my gut tells me.  I think I have enough to work this like a case, if that’s okay with you.  I think it’s even hooked up somehow with this new drug dealer, and that guy I knew back in New York.”

 

Starsky’s instincts were rarely wrong.  “What about your dad, Starsky?  You think it has something to do with him, too?”

 

“I don’t know, but maybe.”

 

Dobey thought about it a minute and said, “All right.  Keep me posted.  How’s your partner?”

 

“He’s much better today.  I think he’ll be ready to come back to work tomorrow.”

 

“I heard he was still a little wobbly this afternoon when you and he ditched your cover.”

 

Oops.  He knows.  “Yeah, well, he’s resting, Cap.  You know it’s not Rand and Donley’s fault.  We ordered ‘em to come back over here.”

 

“I’ll be talking to them when they get back to the station.  Their backups, Gentry and Hollings, just relieved them. I authorized a black-and-white to look out for Hutchinson.  You see to it that he stays put so they can do their jobs.”

 

“Okay, Cap.  I think I’ll be staying with Hutch until we figure this all out.  I don’t want him here by himself.  It’s bad enough I have no idea what these guys could want with me after so long, but I’m not taking chances with my partner.”

 

“Watch yourself,” Dobey ordered.

 

“I will.  Thanks, Cap.”  Starsky hung up the phone.

 

He was still sitting with the phone on his lap, thinking about the intricacies of this case, when it rang.  He grabbed it quickly, before it woke Hutch.  He didn’t recognize the muffled voice on the other end of the phone.

 

“Hello?”

 

“Hutchinson?”

 

“No, this is Starsky.  Who is this?”

 

“I need to talk to you.  I have some info for you about what happened to your partner.”

 

Starsky was intrigued. “Well, spill it.”

 

“Uh-uh.  Meet me at Charlie’s on Euclid in half an hour.  I’ll be in the back booth, wearing a Yankees ball cap.”  The phone went dead before Starsky could say anything else.  He stood and went to check on Hutch.  Finding his partner still sleeping, he decided he’d go check out this informant by himself.  The sun was down now, but he left off the lights in the hope that Hutch would stay asleep until he returned and could make them some dinner. He stopped downstairs to tell the uniforms he was leaving.

 

Starsky hadn’t been gone more than five minutes, when a dark pickup truck drove by Venice Place.  The uniforms noticed it, but didn’t really think much of it, until they saw a tarp thrown back and a figure in dark clothes and a ski mask stand up in the back of it.  Before they had time to react, the man cocked his arm and lobbed something into one of Hutch’s front windows.

 

“Shit!” Gentry said as the man dropped back into the bed of the truck and it sped away.

 

Hollings got out of the car and took several running steps toward Hutch’s place as Gentry started the squad car when an explosion blasted out Hutch’s front windows, raining glass, plaster, and wood down on the officer, even out in the middle of the street. He dropped to the ground, covering his head to protect it from the flaming bits of debris.

 

Gentry decided not to chase the pickup; he figured he’d better stay to help.  He picked up the radio to call it in. “Baker 8 to Control.  We have an explosion and fire at 1027 ½ Ocean.  Send backup, fire, and an ambulance.” 

 

“Roger, Baker 8.”  The dispatchers always sounded so calm. 

 

Gentry didn’t feel calm, his heart was racing as he continued, “Looked like a hand grenade, Dispatch.  Suspect vehicle is a black, full sized pickup truck with no plates. Suspect is in the back, dressed all in black.  Last seen one minute ago turning off Ocean onto Sunset and heading toward the beach.  I’m going in to assist.”

 

Starsky had his radio on when he heard the calls.  He slammed the brakes on, nearly causing the car behind him to crawl into his back seat.  Spinning the big car around in the middle of the street, he raced back toward his partner’s apartment, muttering, “A setup, dammit!”

 

It only took him a few minutes to get back to Hutch's place, but there were already two fire engines and an ambulance in the street when he got there, plus Gentry and Hollings' squad car and another squad. Starsky flung himself out of the car and aimed for Hutch's door but was stopped by Gentry.

 

"He's okay," Gentry said urgently, holding him back. "The firefighters got him out. He's in the ambulance, but he's okay."

 

Starsky jerked loose and headed for the ambulance. Hutch was in the back, coughing, his face blackened from soot, but otherwise he seemed all right. Starsky dove into the ambulance and grabbed his partner's arm. "How bad is it?" he demanded of the paramedic who was monitoring the oxygen mask over Hutch's face and taking his blood pressure at the same time.

 

"Very mild smoke inhalation," she said calmly. She knew both of them and made no effort to evict Starsky from the ambulance. "He'll be fine in a day or two. The explosion was in the living room area and the impact knocked him out of bed, in the direction away from the fire. He got out to the landing on his own, and by then, the firemen had arrived and got him out."

 

"You really okay, Blintz?" Starsky asked.

 

Hutch nodded and coughed again, but gave Starsky's hand a reassuring squeeze.

 

"He's going to have a hell of a headache," Annette said, finishing with the blood pressure cuff and taking some notes on a clipboard. "I understand he already had one of those."

 

Hutch closed his eyes eloquently and Starsky grinned a little. "'Fraid so."

 

She shook her head. "You two are a couple of disasters waiting to happen. You oughta drive an ambulance instead of that flashy red car, Dave. That way you'd have it handy for all the times you need it."

 

Hutch chuckled, which brought on another coughing fit, but it wasn't as bad as before and he soon got it under control. Starsky gave him a dirty look.

 

Annette took the oxygen mask away and peered closely at Hutch. "How do you feel?"

 

"Lousy," he answered.

 

"Good. Go home with Dave. If you have any problems, have him bring you into the hospital."

 

Starsky got out of the ambulance and helped Hutch out, and they stood there for a few minutes watching the firefighters put out the blaze. Hutch shook his head. "There goes all my stuff."

 

"Not all of it," said the nearest firefighter. "Most of the damage is confined to the living room."

 

"Better your stuff than you," Starsky said shortly.

 

Hutch nodded. "I couldn't agree more, partner."

 

"Come on," Starsky said, a little more gently. "Let's go back to my place and get some sleep, huh?"

 

"Good idea." Hutch waited until they had driven a few blocks before he said, "So why weren't you there? If you'd been sleeping on the couch – "

 

"I got a call," Starsky said. "Some whippo who said he had some information on your little run-in with the construction dirt."

 

"And you went without me?" Hutch snapped, making himself cough again.

 

"Yes, I did," Starsky said. "You were asleep. He wanted me to meet him at Charlie's and it's always packed this time of night. Figured it was safe enough."

 

"Dammit, Starsky," Hutch said. "We can't go off alone at a time like this!"

 

"Don't get your panties in such a knot, you'll cough yourself into a fit," Starsky said. "It was stupid, I agree with ya. Okay? I won't do that again. Seems to have been a ploy to get me outta the place so they could get at you." He shook his head disgustedly to hide his fright at how close they'd come to succeeding.

 

"Or so they could get at you," Hutch pointed out.

 

Starsky nodded. "We won't leave each other's sight after this, until we get these guys."

 

Starsky insisted on Hutch taking the bed at his place, since he was starting to get that "hell of a headache" that Annette had predicted and it was too soon for him to take more aspirin. Starsky made himself a nest on the couch, but he couldn't sleep. He lay there in the dark, listening to Hutch toss and turn in the other room, racking his brain for what "safe in my home" could have meant to his father and why his own birth date should be engraved on rings his dad had had since before his birth.

 

He was still contemplating that puzzle when the phone rang. He pounced on it to keep it from waking Hutch. "Yeah?"

 

"Hiya, Davy," said Vinnie's voice.

 

"Vinnie? What do you want? It's the middle of the night," Starsky said crossly. He was in no mood to reminisce.

 

"Not where I'm at, it ain't," Vinnie said.

 

"What the hell are you talking about?" Starsky peered at his watch. It was a little after 4 a.m.

 

"I'm in New York, Davy," Vinnie said. "I got your mom here with me. She'll stay healthy on one condition."

 

Starsky's heart froze in his chest. For a moment, he couldn't breathe or speak. But he didn't doubt for one second that Vinnie was telling him the truth.

 

"Davy? Cat got your tongue?" Vinnie gave an evil chuckle. He knew quite well what sort of reaction Starsky was having at his end of the line.

 

"What do you want, Vinnie?" Starsky said when he could speak and it was his level, "don't mess with me" voice that came out. After the first moment of panic, his cop instincts had kicked in without his even realizing it.

 

"Easy, Davy. I want you. Here. As fast as you can get here. And that better be fast, 'cause my patience ain't gonna last very long."

 

"Why? What are you doing?"

 

"You got something I want," Vinnie said. "That's all you need to know right now. You get your ass back to Brooklyn by nightfall and meet me at your mom's house. If you don't, she's dead. It's that simple, Davy. Simple enough even for a lousy cop to understand." He hung up.

 

Starsky sat, stunned, his heart hammering in his chest, for several moments before he managed to get hold of himself. The first thing to do was try to call his mom and make sure Vinnie wasn't lying. It was after seven a.m. in New York. She'd be awake. He dialed and let the phone ring twenty times before he gave up.

 

Maybe she'd run down to the market for something for her breakfast. He waited almost half an hour, plenty of time for her to get back. The market was only a block away. He let it ring another twenty times. No answer.

 

He went straight to the bedroom and shook Hutch's shoulder.

 

"Hmm?" Hutch mumbled in his sleep, but when he turned over and looked up at Starsky's face, even in the dim light that spilled in from the street, he recognized panic there and that woke him all the way. He sat bolt upright. "Starsk? What happened?"

 

"Vinnie's got my mom," Starsky said, his voice shaking. "In New York. He says he's gonna – he's gonna k-kill her unless I'm there by tonight." In spite of his best effort, tears filled his eyes and he broke down. Hutch instinctively pulled him close and held on tight. "My God," Starsky said at last, his voice muffled both by his emotion and Hutch's embrace. "What'm I gonna do?"

 

"We're gonna go get her back," Hutch said, his voice calm and resolved. He gently pushed Starsky away enough so he could look at his face. "We're gonna go get her back," he repeated.

 

Hutch took care of calling Dobey and the airport. He pulled himself together and ignored his own injuries to spare Starsky from having to deal with details. Dobey called the NYPD and asked them to send an officer to Rachel Starsky's home.

 

Starsky waited, his heart in his throat, for Dobey to call back. When the phone rang, Hutch took the call, shaking his head at Starsky. No way was he going to let Starsky hear the news until he knew what Starsky would hear.

 

"Hutchinson."

 

"She's not there, Hutch," Dobey said. "And the place is trashed."

 

Hutch closed his eyes briefly. That was what they were afraid of. "Get a missing persons out on her."

 

When Starsky heard that, he made a sound deep in his throat that almost broke Hutch's heart. He reached out and put a comforting hand on Starsky's shoulder and squeezed.

 

"I'll need a description," Dobey said, his voice filled with sympathy.

 

"About five-four, dark curly hair with some gray in it, blue eyes, weight – " Hutch raised his eyebrows at Starsky.

 

"One-forty," Starsky said, his voice choked with emotion.

 

Hutch repeated that.

 

"Okay. I'll tell them. Description on Martino?"

 

"He's in their files," Hutch said. "He's probably well known to them."

 

Starsky called his brother to tell him what was going on while Hutch packed for both of them, glad  they both kept some clothes at each other's homes, since his own place was inaccessible.

 

"Nicky, don't do nothin' till I get there," Starsky was saying, barely keeping his voice steady. "We'll be there in a few hours. The cops are on it. Let us take care of it."

 

Of course, Hutch couldn't hear what Nick was saying, but he could see by Starsky's face that talking to Nick was only upsetting him more. He was trying to be strong for his little brother while his own heart was aching.

 

"Nicky, come on. Take it easy, huh? Me and Hutch'll get her back. I promise."

 

Hutch slipped his arm around Starsky's shoulders and Starsky leaned against him slightly, borrowing strength, while he listened to whatever Nick was saying.

 

"It'll be okay," Starsky said gently. "Vinnie ain't gonna hurt her. He wants somethin' from me and he ain't gonna hurt Ma. She's his insurance policy. You take it easy and we'll be there by tonight. Yeah, I'll call ya when I get there. Hang on, Nicky, okay? I love ya." He hung up and looked at Hutch, his eyes moist. "God," he said, shaking his head.

 

Hutch called the taxi to take them to the airport. Starsky was in a state of shock, obeying when Hutch told him what to do, but asking few questions and moving in a daze.

 

Once they were in the air, Hutch, hating the need for it, realized he had to yank him out of that daze. "Buddy, we got a job to do when we get there," he said. "Can you do it? Can you pull out of it? You gotta be a cop, Starsky, not your mother's son. If you can't do it, you have to tell me now."

 

Starsky had been staring blindly out the window, but at Hutch's words, spoken almost sharply, he turned his head. "I can do it," he said, and his voice was level and deadly.

 

Hutch nodded. He'd seen the spark in Starsky's eyes, the one that appeared whenever they were going into a dangerous situation. "Okay. Dobey's arranging with the NYPD to grant us professional courtesy. We're supposed to let them know as soon as we get there and they'll be ready to provide backup and support."

 

"If Vinnie suspects we got backup – "

 

"He won't," Hutch said. "We go in alone. They're going to be on standby. But we're not having a private party here, Starsk. Never again."

 

Starsky wet his lips. "Right."

 

The flight was uneventful, and when they had picked up their baggage, Hutch called the NYPD. "This is Sergeant Kenneth Hutchinson of the Bay City PD," he told the person who answered the phone. "I need to speak to Lieutenant Harris." They had to wait several minutes while someone located Harris.

 

"Harris."

 

Hutch identified himself again. "Any word on Mrs. Starsky?"

 

"No, I'm sorry," Harris said. "We've got the word on the street. We're doing everything we can. Where are you and Starsky?"

 

"The airport," Hutch said. "We just arrived."

 

"I'll send a car."

 

Starsky had his head next to Hutch's listening in, and at that, he said, "No. We'll take a taxi."

 

Harris, on the other end, sighed. "Is that Starsky? We know what we're doing and we're in charge here, Sergeant."

 

"It's his mother," Hutch said evenly. "And he just might know Vinnie Martino better than you do. He grew up with him."

 

"Martino's mixed up in organized crime," Harris said. "He's not working alone. We don't know all of his cohorts, but we know enough to know better than to let a couple of visiting cops handle this alone. I'm sending a car. We'll bring you in and brief you and then we'll decide what we – not you – are going to do."

 

"Okay," Hutch said, making a sign to Starsky to be quiet. "We're at TWA's terminal."

 

"Roger," Harris said.

 

Hutch hung up. "Let's get a taxi," he said to Starsky. "We'll be gone before he gets here, but this means we're going it alone."

 

Starsky nodded. "As usual, partner."

 

It wasn't easy to get a taxi but they finally succeeded and Starsky gave his mother's address. Traffic was a mess at this time of day, during the afternoon rush, but once they were out of the downtown area and on their way to Brooklyn, it eased up somewhat. The driver pulled up in front of Mrs. Starsky’s home. "Here ya go," he said.

 

"Thanks," Hutch said, paying him. Starsky was staring at the house. Hutch gave him a gentle nudge to get him moving, and they walked up the sidewalk as the taxi drove away. Starsky automatically veered left and reached under a large rock in front of the porch to retrieve the extra key. He led the way to the front door. Hutch couldn’t help stealing a glance at the porch rail, noting that it was still dented in places, just like Starsky had said it might be.  Starsky’s hands shook as he put the key in the lock and got the door open, and reached inside to flip the light switch. Both of them drew in sudden, shocked breaths.

 

Though they had expected a mess, they'd had no idea how bad it would be. The living room was completely trashed. The couch had been cut open and its stuffing was all over the floor. So had the easy chair. Pictures were torn from their frames, drawers were pulled out and emptied, even the carpeting had been torn up. Starsky walked like a zombie through the house, with Hutch following silently behind him, and every room was the same. Someone had searched the place, and searched it thoroughly.

 

In Rachel's bedroom, there were drops of blood spattered on the sheets of the unmade bed. Starsky made a sound like a wounded animal, dropped to his knees and cried. Hutch stroked his hair and forced his own tears back. He had to be strong for Starsky.

 

Finally, Starsky rose and sat on his mother's bed. "My God," was all he said.

 

Hutch sat next to him and put his arm around him. "Whatever they were looking for, they must not have found it," he said. "Otherwise, they wouldn't have taken Rachel."

 

Starsky nodded, dazed, a bleak look of terror in his eyes. "But what the hell could it be?"

 

"That's what we have to find out, buddy," Hutch said.  “We’d better call the station again.  If Martino shows up here and sees a squad car that could be bad for your mom.  You know they’ll come here since we ditched them at the airport.”

 

“You’re right.” Starsky reached for the phone, but Hutch put a hand on his arm.

 

“Why don’t you go make some coffee?  I’ll talk to Harris.”

 

Starsky nodded and left for the kitchen. 

 

When Hutch got Harris on the phone, the man was furious.  “What the hell do you two cowboys think you’re doing?  My man called and said you weren’t at the airport.  He’s on his way to Mrs. Starsky’s right now and you two have some explaining to do!”

 

“Call him off, Harris.  Vinnie said he’d meet Starsky here at nightfall.  We don’t need the neighborhood crawling with cops, he might hurt her.”

 

“Hold the phone,” Harris grumbled as he put Hutch on hold.  When he returned, his humor was no better.

 

“He’s not coming, but don’t think you’re going this alone, Hutchinson.  I told your captain we’d give you professional courtesy, but I don’t have to extend any jurisdiction to you.”

 

“Look, Harris, last time I checked, a man didn’t need the PD’s permission to go to his mother’s home.  We know what we’re doing – we’re good, seasoned detectives, not a couple of rookies.  We’re here, and we’re not going anywhere until we’ve met with Vinnie.”

 

“That’s a crime scene, you know.  Don’t mess it up.”

 

“Get off it, Harris.  Your people have already been here and gone.”  Hutch knew the crime lab team had already dusted for prints and gathered their evidence.

 

Harris was perturbed that nothing seemed to be getting through to the Bay City detective.  He also wasn’t about to budge on the need for the visiting cops to have backup on this case.  “I’m gonna send an unmarked car to the neighborhood.  They’ll  keep back a few streets, but be there if you need them.  What about Starsky?  I know how I’d be feeling if it were my mom.” 

 

“My partner is my responsibility, Harris.  It’s handled.” Hutch understood that Harris was concerned Starsky might go over the edge and get himself or someone else hurt, but that didn’t stop his instinct to step in and defend his partner.

 

“See that you do.  Call me when the meet has gone down.”  Harris hung up without waiting for Hutch to respond.

 

Hutch’s back was to the door.  Starsky was standing in the doorway, watching him do what was necessary.  “So I’m your responsibility, huh?  He warn you to keep me in line?”

 

Hutch hung up the phone and turned to face Starsky.  He replied, “No more than I’m yours, buddy, and yeah... something like that.”

 

Starsky smiled wryly and said, “Thanks.  Can’t make coffee, they smashed the pot.  The only thing Ma has in the fridge is milk, grapefruit juice, and a bottle of Manishevitz that’s probably left over from Passover. Any of that appeal?”

 

Hutch laughed. “Um, not really,” he answered as the laughter brought on a mild coughing fit.  The dry airplane air had done little to help his cough.  “Let’s get a start looking while we wait for Vinnie.  Should be dark in an hour.  Chances are, he already knows we’re here anyway."

 

“Where to start?  I just don’t know....” Starsky stopped mid sentence.  He had been twisting the rings on his finger when he was struck with a thought. He went a little pale, causing Hutch to become concerned.

 

“Starsk?” Hutch said as he walked closer to his friend.

 

“Oh, my God.  Oh, my God!” Starsky said as he pulled the rings off of his finger.

 

“What’s wrong?” Hutch put a hand on Starsky’s shoulder.

 

“The rings, Hutch!  Dammit, I can’t believe I didn’t think of this before.  They’re a clue!”

 

“How?”

 

“Don’t you see?  Safe in my home!  Whatever it is that Pop hid – it is here in this house.  We have to find it.”

 

They both had assumed the engraving was a platitude – an old Hebrew saying with which Starsky was unfamiliar.  Once they had the translation, neither of them thought it could mean something to anyone other than Mike Starsky.  That it was a clue never entered either of their minds. Both of them headed in different directions to look for whatever it was. 

 

After searching for about half an hour, they both heard a metallic tapping noise on the alley door’s glass.  At this point, why Vinnie would knock rather than just barging in escaped them.  Whatever the reason, Hutch pulled the Magnum and stood back in the dining room doorway while Starsky went into the kitchen and stood beside the door.  He could see it was Vinnie through the crack at the edge of the curtains.  The man had tapped on the glass with the muzzle of his gun. 

 

Starsky drew his weapon and said, “Toss the piece, Vinnie.”

 

Vinnie sighed on the back stoop. “You’ve got to be kidding, Davy.”  He tucked it into the waistband of his pants at his back and put his hands up slightly.  “That’s the best you get, now open this door.”

 

Starsky opened it and stood back, but he didn’t reholster his gun.  Vinnie stepped into the room and said, “Put it away, Davy.  Neither one of us is an amateur.  You know if anything happens to me, my people will kill her.”

 

Reluctantly, Starsky obeyed, but Hutch stood ready, Python held firmly pointed at Vinnie.  His head still pounded and he was in no mood for the thug.  “Mind your manners, Martino,” he warned.

 

“Hutchinson,” Vinnie said, sounding both surprised and disappointed.  “You just don’t die, do ya?”

 

Starsky took one step toward him, anger flashing dangerously in his eyes, but Vinnie stopped him by putting up a hand and saying, “I wouldn’t.  Remember mama.”

 

The evil gleam in Vinnie’s eyes was almost enough to cause Starsky to lose it.  He managed to get himself under control, taking a few steps back toward his partner for fortitude.  With steely indignation, he said, “What the hell do you think is here, Vinnie?”

 

Vinnie stared at him for a long, incredulous moment.  “You really don’t know, do you, Davy?  So much you don’t know.”  He stopped himself from revealing too much.  Starsky probably could be driven to kill him where he stood.

 

“All of this has to do with your dad, Davy.  He left something important behind.  Evidence.  You find it.  I’ll call you in a few hours and you’d better have it.”  He started to back toward the door.

 

Hutch said, “You wanna give us a clue?”

 

Laughing, Vinnie said, “After all this time, Blondie, don’t you think we’d already have it if we knew?  Don’t mess with me.  Find it, or she dies.”  He successfully exited this time.

 

Starsky was shaking with rage as he kicked the back door shut.  Having his mother’s life depend on him finding an unknown something that others had failed to find for more than two decades was making him furious.  After spending a few minutes getting him to calm down from his anger and focus on the task, Hutch called Harris back and caught him up on Vinnie’s visit.  He was glad to see his marginal cooperation brought the lieutenant to grant them temporary jurisdiction. 

 

Having nothing else to go on, the two men assumed they were looking for papers or photographs of something.  Starsky looked at all of the ransacked picture frames and photo albums while Hutch looked through the books.  They turned over furniture, took the artwork down and even tapped on the walls looking for a panel or something unusual. Two hours disappeared with frightening rapidity.

 

“Nothin’!” Starsky snapped, kicking an already broken lamp. 

 

They both stood silent for a few moments, desperately thinking of what to do next.  Looking toward each other, they both said, “Basement!” at the same time.

 

Starsky led the way to the basement door, located at the back of the kitchen.  He handed Hutch a flashlight his mother kept near the door.  After he pulled the string on the bare bulb light fixture at the top of the stairs, he ran down the wooden steps.  Hutch was close behind him, but he was slowing down some – feeling the effects of his recent injuries. He was out of breath by the time he reached the bottom.

 

Looking back at Hutch, Starsky said, “Sit down on the steps a minute, Hutch.  You’re not lookin’ so good.”

 

Hutch shook his head and replied, “No time for that,” between taking deep, cough inducing breaths.

 

The basement had been thoroughly trashed, just like the rest of the house.  The stored items from forty years of living in the same place were scattered haphazardly through the dark rooms.  Starsky found boxes of school papers from both of the Starsky boys, baseball cards, old kitchen things – including a percolator, clothing, and other household items.  He found one promising box of things belonging to his dad, but it yielded nothing of interest.

 

Hutch turned back toward the stairs and tripped over a box he didn’t see behind him.  The trip sent him sprawling and his flashlight went flying, clattering down onto the bottom step.

 

After laughing at himself, Hutch accepted a hand up from his friend, accompanied by his admonishment that they had enough people who wanted to hurt them, without doing it to themselves.  “I hear ya,” Hutch said as he sat down on the bottom step and retrieved the flashlight.  He furrowed his brow, deep in thought.  Hutch took the end of the flashlight and thumped it on the wooden step on which he sat.  He moved off the step and did it again.  The sound was hollow.

 

The stairs down from the kitchen ended on a cement support system at the last few steps.

Hutch looked up at Starsky, and said, “Think there’s a crowbar down here?”

 

Starsky nodded and went into the back room where he found some of his dad’s tools.  He returned with a crowbar and a hammer.  The two men got to work prying up the bottom step.  When they finally yanked it free, they both stared wide-eyed at a small, combination safe tucked underneath. 

 

“Pay dirt,” Hutch muttered.

 

“Safe?  It meant there was a safe in the house?” Starsky said, rubbing his mouth and chin with his hand.  “Good thing you’re a klutz, Blintz.  We’d have never found this.”

 

“Very funny.  We still need a combination, or a stick of dynamite.”

 

They both thought about it for a minute, then Starsky moved toward the safe and tried a number.  He opened it on the first try, to Hutch’s amazement.

 

Starsky explained, as if it were the simplest thing he’d ever done.  “The other ring, Hutch.  My birthday.  I tried 25 right, 3 left, 43 right.”

 

Inside the safe, they found a number of interesting things.  Some papers from when the Starsky family immigrated from Europe, a few pictures of people from the old country, his and Nicky’s original birth certificates, his parent’s marriage papers from the local synagogue and city hall, two hundred dollars, a few pieces of old jewelry, and a brown envelope. 

 

“This must be it,” Hutch said when Starsky handed it to him.  “Want me to open it?”

 

Starsky nodded, and watched while Hutch opened the envelope and extracted some papers and photographs.  They both climbed up to the kitchen, where the light was better. 

 

Hutch handed the photographs to Starsky.  They were black and white surveillance pictures.  “That’s Joe Durniak, handing what looks like a pile of cash to this guy in the suit.  He looks sort of familiar.” Starsky continued to look at the pictures. They were all similar, photos of the same man with Durniak, taken at different times.  “What are the papers?”

 

“These are stakeout and case notes.  This your dad’s handwriting?” Hutch handed the papers to his partner.  Starsky stood reading the notes for a few minutes.  “Damn, Hutch.  Yeah, these are his.  This must be what they want.”

 

He skimmed the notes and came up with a name.  That name brought instant recognition. 

“My God, Hutch.  This is Senator Mark Florenz.  Course, he wasn’t a senator back then.  He was a city councilman.  Looks like he was taking bribes from Durniak to look the other way.  This is it all right. Something like this could... wait a minute.  Ma told me a few months ago that he was running for president next time.  He’s from the neighborhood and she thought it was cool that someone from here could maybe go to the White House.”

 

“Starsk, this information could send the guy to jail, not to mention ruining his political career.  He’d probably do anything to get his hands on it.”

 

“Including killing a couple of cops – and one cop’s mother,” Starsky said grimly.

 

They needed to think.  Obviously, this buried treasure couldn’t be turned over to Vinnie.  Starsky sat down heavily at the kitchen table.  He looked up at Hutch, his eyes wet.  “Hutch, this is probably what my dad died for.  We can’t... but, Ma....”

 

“I know, I know. We’ll think of something.  Let me see those papers.”  Hutch took the papers back from Starsky.  He reached for his friend and gave his hand a supportive squeeze before he let him go.

 

“Hutch, I think we’d better put half of these pictures and the notes back in the safe and cover it up again.  They haven’t found it in all this time, they won’t now.  Next, we call Dobey and tell him what we found so someone out there knows what happened.  Just in case....”

 

Nodding his agreement, Hutch said, “Good thinking.”  He leaned over and looked at Starsky’s watch.  “Vinnie should be calling soon.  Any ideas where he might be holding your mom?”

 

“Maybe.  I might know where we could find out, anyway.  I still got a few connections.  Better call Nicky, too.”

 

Starsky went to the kitchen phone and called his brother.  He didn’t tell him what he’d found, afraid Nick would try to give it to Vinnie.  They discussed where the two detectives could get some leads.  Nick agreed to come to the house with an unmarked police escort to wait for Vinnie’s call.  He’d get a number from Vinnie where they could reach him.  Nick was going to leave his car on the street near their mom’s house, with a key under the driver’s mat and the door unlocked.  That way, the detectives could slip back to get it and they’d have transportation.

 

When he hung up, Starsky said, “There’s a bar a few blocks from here.  Nicky says a guy I used to run with has been hanging out there for the past fifteen years.  Let’s go see if he’s there.”

 

“What about when Vinnie calls?  You think he’d hurt your mom or Nick if we’re gone?”

 

“No.  He knows he won’t get what he wants that way.  Nicky’s gonna ask to talk to her.  He’ll let us know later if she’s okay.”

 

Hutch talked to Dobey.  He wasn’t happy that they were trying to go it on their own, but he was glad they’d let him know what was happening.  Hutch read some of Mike Starsky’s notes to Dobey, hoping he’d understand what they were doing.  After replacing some of the photos in the safe as they had planned, the two men left the house for a neighborhood dive called Top Hat.

 

There wasn't much to recommend the Top Hat. It sure wouldn't make a list of "places you must visit while in New York." Hutch made a face at the sight of a wino or junkie or whatever he was passed out, leaning against the front of the place. Inside, it wasn't much better. The floor was worn to bare concrete in places, the tables were scuffed and scratched, and there was an unpleasant, nauseating odor in the air.

 

Starsky gave him a sympathetic look. "Ain't the best neighborhood in the borough," he said under his breath. Hutch nodded in agreement, but just then Starsky caught sight of his old friend, blearily holding up one end of the bar and nursing a draught beer. "There he is," he said, speeding up to take the empty stool next to him. "Pete. Hey, Pete, remember me? Davy."

 

Pete blinked a couple of times, rubbed his eyes, and peered at Starsky. "Mike?" he asked, his eyes clouded with confusion.

 

"No, Davy," Starsky said gently and patiently. "Mike's son."

 

Pete's face suddenly blossomed into a delighted grin and he grabbed Starsky and gave him a rib-crushing hug – the same thing Vinnie had done when they met at Merle’s.  He even had tears in his eyes. "I'll be damned. Davy Starsky! How the hell are ya? What're ya doin' here?" Gesturing to the bored bartender, Pete called out, "Give Davy and his friend a coupla drinks on me, willya, Stan?"

 

"Coffee," Starsky said. "For all three of us. Please."

 

Stan raised an eyebrow, gave a shrug, and moved to the coffeepot to make a fresh batch.

 

"Pete, this is Hutch," Starsky said. "My partner. We're cops out in Bay City."

 

"I'll be damned," Pete said again, peering at Hutch this time. "How ya doin', Hutch?"

 

Hutch nodded, shook the offered hand, and leaned against the wall. The rest of the stools were occupied, though most of the tables were empty.

 

"Pete, I got a problem," Starsky said, dropping his voice. "Nicky said you might be able to help me with it."

 

"Sure, Davy. Whatsa matter?"

 

It was on the tip of Hutch's tongue to suggest his partner wait to ask questions until Pete was marginally more sober, but he figured Starsky knew what he was doing and kept his mouth shut instead.

 

"Remember Vinnie?" Starsky asked.

 

Pete nodded and made a disgusted face. "Punk's what he is. Runnin' with Daggett and his bunch these days."

 

"Daggett?" Starsky shot Hutch a look. "You sure about that?"

 

"Oh, yeah. Stupid wop. Braggin' about it to anybody that'll listen. Gonna be six feet under 'fore he goes gray."

 

"Daggett used to be one of Durniak's boys," Starsky explained to Hutch.

 

Stan placed three cups of coffee and a handful of paper packets of creamer and sugar on the bar in front of them. Starsky pulled a five out of his pocket and handed it to Stan with a request to keep their cups full for a while. Stan nodded and moved away.

 

"Not anymore. Joey’s dead and Daggett's on his own now, and he's into some dirty business," Pete said. "Vinnie thinks he's in the big time now."

 

"You heard about any big deal Daggett's got goin' down?" Starsky asked, shoving one of the cups toward Pete, who gazed down at it as if he'd never seen coffee before. "Drink it, Petey. I need ya sober, man."

 

Pete met Starsky's eyes for a moment, then nodded and took a sip of the coffee. He made a face, but doggedly kept drinking between comments. "Yeah, I hear he's expanding to the west coast," he said. "Don't know what he's doin', but I'm guessin' drugs got somethin' to do with it."

 

Starsky glanced at Hutch. "The new dealer with the great connections," he said, and Hutch nodded.

 

"Sounds like it," he answered.

 

"Know where Daggett hangs out?" Starsky asked. "Or where he might hide somethin' he really, really wanted to keep a secret?"

 

Pete thought about that, sipping the coffee. He reached into his pocket for a cigarette, but the pack was empty. Starsky signaled to Stan and bought another pack and handed it over to Pete, who gave a weak grin of thanks before opening it up and lighting one. Starsky didn't hurry him, and Hutch forced his own impatience down. This was his partner's show.

 

Finally, Pete said, "I ain't sure o' my facts, Davy, but I'm guessin' if Daggett's got somethin' to hide, he'd keep it in his legit business. Remember that crappy apartment house around the corner from the junior high?"

 

Starsky nodded.

 

"Daggett owns it."

 

Starsky glanced at Hutch again. "It's worth a try."

 

~*~*~*~

 

Starsky was the one who called Harris this time and told him which apartment house Pete had been talking about. Harris was even more unhappy than Dobey had been, but he grudgingly agreed to send plainclothes backup to meet them there.

 

"Which apartment?" Harris asked.

 

"Don't know," Starsky said. "We'll find out when we get there."

 

"Sergeant – " Harris began, but Starsky broke the connection.

 

"Come on, partner," he said to Hutch. He slipped a twenty to Pete, who tried to wave it away, but Starsky insisted and finally Pete gave in. Starsky gave him a pat on the shoulder and led the way out to Nick's car.  "That's where I went to school," Starsky said as they passed the junior high. "At least, till Ma shipped me out to Aunt Rose and Uncle Al." He glanced at it. "Didn't look much better then."

 

The school was run down, a stark contrast to the modern building where Hutch had attended junior high. This one, an old red brick, three-story building, had bars across the ground floor windows and the one door Hutch could see, graffiti all over the wall, and a cracked asphalt playground area with grass growing up through the cracks.

 

"Doesn't look very inviting," Hutch said gently.

 

"No kidding," Starsky said. "It's a wonder I didn't get into worse trouble than I did, the kinda kids I had around me in those days."

 

Hutch said nothing, but he put his arm across the back of the seat so he could rest a hand on his partner's shoulder. They finished the trip in silence, and Starsky pulled the car into the curb down the block from the apartment building.

 

"That's it," he said to Hutch.

 

Hutch gazed up at the six-story building. "How do you intend to figure out which apartment it is?"

 

Starsky looked up, too. "Instinct," he said. "It's all we got right now."

 

Hutch took a deep breath. "Then let's go."

 

Inside the building, Starsky prowled the hallways and stairwells until he came upon a boy of about 10. "Hey," he said to the kid, who was sitting on a landing sorting baseball cards. "Got a DiMaggio?"

 

The kid looked up at him with a frown. "A who?"

 

Starsky grinned his ingratiating, "just folks" grin that he saved for kids. "Little before your time, I guess. I have an original Mickey Mantle card. No kidding."

 

The kid thawed out some. "Really? Man, that's worth a bundle."

 

"Don't I know it," Starsky said. "I guard it with my life, man." He knelt so he could look at the kid's cards. "Tell ya what, pal. I'd hang onto that one," he pointed at one, but the light was dim in the stairwell and Hutch couldn't see what he was pointing at, "and these two. Don't trade 'em off to nobody."

 

The kid frowned again. "Man, those guys suck."

 

Starsky grinned again. "Trust me. Things'll turn around for 'em."

 

The kid thought about that for a moment, then scooped the cards up and put them in his shirt pocket.

 

Starsky pulled his mother's photo out of his own pocket. "I'm lookin' for somebody, but I can't remember which apartment she lives in," he said. "You seen this lady?" He handed the photo to the boy.

 

The kid took the photo and studied it. "Yeah, early this morning. Fifth floor. Don't know which apartment, but she came in with Vinnie and he's 5-D."

 

"You know Vinnie, huh?" Starsky asked, keeping the grin with an effort. "Him and me grew up together."

 

"He's a creep," the kid said.

 

"I know, but I need to see this lady," Starsky said. "Thanks, pal." He offered his hand, and the kid shook it a little unwillingly.

 

"How'd you do that?" Hutch asked when they were out of earshot.

 

"I grew up in this neighborhood," Starsky said. "Kids always know what's goin' on, as much as their parents wish they didn't."

 

The fifth floor hallways were deserted, though they could hear TVs going in a couple of apartments. In another, a baby cried and cried, uncomforted. Starsky went grimly on until they spotted 5-D. He glanced at Hutch and pulled his gun, taking up a position on one side of the door. Hutch took the other and he was next to the wall. He peeked out the window to see if there was any backup down in the street. Two cars he immediately recognized as unmarked police vehicles were parked in front of the building. They weren't going to be much help down there, but he and Starsky had gone into this knowing they were basically on their own.

 

Starsky lifted his eyebrows in a silent "ready?" and Hutch nodded once. He used his gun barrel to tap on the door. "Open up!" he yelled. "Police!"

 

There was a shot from inside the apartment and Starsky fell, with a spreading spot of blood on his shirt. Hutch didn't hesitate. He kicked the door open and landed inside in a crouch, gun aimed at the man who stood there. He squeezed off a shot, dropping the man. Hutch quickly disarmed him and stuck the man's gun in his jacket pocket and ran through the apartment until he found Rachel, bound and gagged, in a back bedroom. He pulled the gag off first. "Are you okay?"

 

She nodded, her eyes filling with tears of gratitude, and Hutch could hear the sounds of the other officers arriving.

 

"We're back here!" he bellowed. "I'm Hutchinson! That's Starsky in the hall!"

 

"Gotcha," came a reassuring voice. "Is Mrs. Starsky hurt?"

 

"No," Hutch answered, untying her bonds. "Check my partner!"

 

"Where's Davy?" Rachel demanded, her voice hoarse and terrified.

 

"Easy, Rachel," Hutch said gently. "He's been hit, but the bullet went through the wall first and I don't think he's hurt badly." He prayed that was the truth as he helped her up and led her back through the apartment.

 

Two officers were with Starsky in the hall, and the spot of blood had grown until it had soaked the whole right side of his shirt and jacket. Rachel gasped and jerked away from Hutch so she could go to him.

 

"Davy? Davy, speak to me, baby!"

 

Starsky was out cold, his face a frightening pasty color.

 

Hutch knelt, too, and pulled the shirt back so he could look at the wound. It looked like a flesh wound, but he wasn't about to take a chance. "Call an ambulance for him," he instructed the nearest officer. "We'll follow."

 

"Already called," the officer said. And sure enough, Hutch could hear a siren in the distance growing steadily closer. It stopped in the street and the paramedics arrived carrying a stretcher.

 

Hutch gently pulled Rachel to her feet. "Come on," he said. "We've got Nick's car."

 

She was sobbing and half hysterical, but somehow he got her down the stairs and out to the street.  She pulled herself together enough to tell him how to get to the hospital the paramedics had said they were taking Starsky to. He was as frightened as she was, but he couldn't afford to give in to it now.

 

They arrived at the hospital only moments behind the ambulance, but it was a busy place, and they had to wait for almost two hours before someone came to find them.

 

"Mrs. Starsky?"

 

Hutch helped her to her feet. She was trembling and too pale. "I'm Mrs. Starsky," she said.

 

"It was just a flesh wound," the doctor told her. "The bullet bounced off his rib and there's going to be a nasty bruise and quite a bit of discomfort for a while, but he's not seriously injured. He also bumped his head when he fell, but there doesn't seem to be any concussion. We'll be releasing him in about a half hour."

 

"Thank God," she said, tears of relief, this time, springing to her eyes.

 

The doctor patted her arm and left the room.

 

Rachel turned to Hutch, who gathered her in his arms and held her while she cried.  He spoke quietly to her, reassuring her Starsky was fine.  He knew his partner would be upset that she’d seen him hurt that way.  Hutch wanted to shield her from it, but she was a mother and her child was hurt.  Starsky might be in his thirties, but he was still Rachel’s baby. 

 

Nick walked back into the waiting room with three cups of bad cafeteria coffee.  Hutch had called him and he caught a cab to the hospital.  When he saw his mother crying in Hutch’s arms, his heart nearly stopped.  Fortunately, Hutch saw him and, reading the hurt in his eyes, knew immediately how it must look.

 

“He’s fine, Nick,” he said quickly, before the younger Starsky had a meltdown.

 

“Shit, I thought he was dead,” he said as he set the coffee cups down and fell into one of the uncomfortable chairs.

 

Rachel looked down at her youngest son.  “Nicholas Starsky! What a thing to say.”

 

Nick apologized.  “Sorry, Ma.  I just got scared when I saw ya cryin’ like that.”

 

Hutch led Rachel back to the chairs and helped her sit next to her other son.  When Nick first arrived at the hospital, the two men had heated words in the waiting area.  They’d gotten loud enough to draw a threatening glare from the intimidating admissions clerk.  He was a large man, built like a bar bouncer, with a nametag that read, “Junior.”  Though Nick Starsky was relieved to see his mother safe, he went after Hutch almost immediately, demanding to know where he was “when my brother was getting shot again.”  Nick had never forgiven Hutch for Starsky’s shooting in the Italian restaurant.

 

Hutch had fired back that he was busy rescuing their mother and that neither one of them had x-ray vision.  Rachel had threatened to have hospital security toss them both out if they didn’t stop.  They had settled down for her sake. 

 

A nurse interrupted Hutch’s thoughts by coming out to say they could go back and see Starsky.

 

“Nick,” Hutch said, “Will you look after your mother now?  I need to see him.”

 

“I’m going with you,” Rachel said as she started to stand. 

 

“Please, just give me a few minutes with him, okay?  That’ll give you a chance to calm down some more.  You don’t want him to see how upset you’ve been, do you?  You know it’ll only worry him.”

 

Hutch had her there.  She agreed to stay with Nick.  He walked away from them, feeling the barely contained resentment washing toward him from his partner’s brother.

 

“You sure you don’t need to be checked out, Ma?” Nick asked.

 

“I told you and Ken both, they didn’t hurt me.  Don’t fuss.”  Rachel patted him on the hand reassuringly. “Now, I’m going to the little girls room to wash my face. Ken’s right, I don’t want David to see me like this.  You stay here and wait for me, okay?” 

 

“Sure, Ma.”

 

~*~*~*~

 

Hutch poked his head around the curtain and caught his partner silently trying to sit up by himself, his eyes scrunched shut in a wave of pain. 

 

“Hey, hey, hey... what do you think you’re doing?” he asked as he stepped up beside his partner and put a hand behind his back.

 

Starsky opened his eyes, and put a hand out for Hutch, who took it and eased him to a sitting position.  Starsky held his right arm close to his side and he was still pale.  Hutch looked into his eyes, content that his friend was focusing, probably too well based on the level of pain he wore on his face.  The bullet had hit him near where he’d been kicked back in his apartment, so the area was already sore. Hutch could see purple bruising spreading out from underneath the thick gauze he had wrapped around his abdomen.

 

“You all right?”

 

“Forget about that, how’s Ma?”

 

When he regained consciousness, the treatment team had told Starsky his mother was fine. He wasn’t prepared to believe it until he saw her or he heard it from Hutch.  “She’s just fine.  Not hurt at all.”

 

Starsky sighed with relief.  “But the blood?” He was worried about the blood spatters found in Rachel’s room. 

 

“Not her blood, buddy.  When they grabbed her, she hit Vinnie in the face with a hardback book.  She said his nose was gushing.”

 

Starsky laughed, then gasped and grimaced, squeaking out, “Atta girl, Ma.”

 

Hutch rubbed circles on his back and talked to him, reassuring him about his mother and explaining what went down after Starsky was shot.  He was so relieved Starsky wasn’t hurt badly, he’d forgotten about his own lingering injuries.  Starsky looked up at the now fading black eye on his best friend’s face and shook his head. “We’re quite a pair.”

 

“As always, buddy.”

 

They looked at each other and chuckled nervously.  Starsky said, “Since when did the criminals get smart enough to shoot beside the door?  Hope that doesn’t become a pattern.”

 

Hutch replied, “That guy must’ve watched some cop shows.  Is nothing sacred?”

 

“Really,” Starsky quipped.  Then his voice became serious. “Okay. Vinnie wasn’t there.  We’ve gotta get Ma outta here.  Hand me my pants, will ya?”  Starsky swung his legs over the edge of the gurney.

 

“They didn’t cut ‘em off this time?”

 

“Nope.  I came to before they got the chance.” Starsky snorted.  “The nurse said I was combative and uncooperative.”

 

“No...you?” Hutch smiled.  He looked around and found his friend’s clothes.  While they were discussing what they’d do next, a nurse came in with Starsky’s discharge instructions.  She tried to talk to Starsky, but he was studiously ignoring her while he dressed. 

 

In exasperation, she turned to Hutch.  “You his partner?” When Hutch nodded at her, she said, “Good, I’ll tell you then.” She shoved two prescription bottles into his hands. “One’s an antibiotic, the other’s for pain.  His rib was cracked, but not broken. Still, no strenuous activity for a while.  Follow up with his regular doc next week.  Stitches can come out in ten days.”

 

She pushed a clipboard under Starsky’s nose and handed him a pen. After he’d signed it, she turned to leave, saying over her shoulder as she went, “See if you can’t make it back out of our city without bleeding on it anymore, huh?” 

 

The plan was to take Rachel home to rest and pick up some things.  They’d get Nick to take her out of town for the duration the next day.  After that was done, they’d get some sleep.  Lieutenant Harris had promised them another unmarked car in the front and the back to watch the Starsky home.  In the afternoon, they’d go down to the station to file their statements about the shooting and Rachel’s rescue.

 

An orderly appeared with a wheelchair for Starsky.  The beginnings of his protest were squelched by a glare from his best friend.  They wheeled the sullen man out to the waiting area.

 

Nick stood up and quickly went to his brother’s side. 

 

“Nicky,” Starsky said, accepting a hug from the younger man with a grimace. “Easy, I’m winged here.”

 

“Yeah, uh....” Nick stood up and ruffled his brother’s hair gently. “I’m just glad you’re okay.”

 

Rachel kissed him on the cheek and said, “I was so worried, Davy.  You sure you’re all right, now?”

 

“Yeah, Ma.  C’mon, let’s get moving.  I want to get you home. ‘S late.”

 

Starsky and his small entourage left the hospital and returned to Rachel’s place.  While Nick parked the car, Hutch helped his partner up the stairs, Rachel right behind them.  She wasn’t prepared for what she saw when they entered her home.

 

The kidnappers had chloroformed her and carried her out the back unconscious.  She had no idea the house had been trashed.

 

“Oh, my,” she said, putting a hand up to cover her mouth.  She walked into her living room and looked around at the disaster that was once a neat, welcoming place to sit. 

 

“I’m sorry, Ma.  We’ll clean it up.”

 

“Nonsense, David,” she said as she turned to face her son.  “Ken, get him to lie down on the couch before he falls down. I’ll make us some tea.” She used her exit to homey duties as cover for the tears that were coming to her eyes.  Rachel did not want her boys to see her cry.  Hutch straightened out the ripped couch cushions as best he could, shoving the stuffing back in and making a place for Starsky to rest.

 

Fortunately, the men had not broken her teakettle.  Soon, she returned to the room with tea for all four of them, content to see her oldest son resting on the couch, her youngest hanging her pictures back on the walls, and her extra son helping him. She smiled at them. 

 

“Drink it while it’s hot, boys.”

 

The detectives explained that they had found some important evidence, but they refused to share what it was.  Hutch had kept the envelope on his person the entire time.  Even Nick hadn’t seen its contents.  Both cops believed it would be safer for Rachel not to know, and neither one of them trusted Nick with the information.  They explained their plan to get Mrs. Starsky out of town.  She didn’t like it, but she agreed, seeing how important it was to both men.  In the morning, Nick would take her to her elderly aunt’s farmhouse in Pennsylvania.  They would both be all right there until they got word it was safe to return.  After they were done with their planning, Rachel asked to be left alone with her oldest son.  The other two men excused themselves, Nick going off to pack some things for his mother, Hutch retreating to the kitchen to call Captain Dobey with an update.

 

“What is it, Ma?” Starsky asked.  His eyes were tired from the painkillers he’d been given at the hospital.

 

“I need to talk to you, sweetheart.  About when your father died.” She sat down on the couch, facing Starsky, so she could see his eyes.

 

“Pop had some pretty important people mad at him, you must’ve known that.” Starsky was sure none of the information they’d thought appropriate to share would come as much of a surprise to his mother.

 

“I knew.  He never said who it was, but I knew.  Be careful, son.  Your father wouldn’t want you to get... hurt.  Especially over something dead and buried more than twenty years ago.”

 

Starsky was pensive.  He didn’t want to reveal too much, but he also wanted his mother to understand.  “Ma, Hutch and me... we might be able to nail Pop’s killers as part of this deal.”

 

Rachel Starsky let a tear slip down her cheek.  Starsky reached up and brushed it away with his thumb.  “Don’t cry, Ma, please?”

 

Thinking back to that terrible early evening when her husband died, Rachel got a far away look on her face.  She took Starsky’s hand.  “David, when your father was killed, he was dead before I got there.  I never got to say goodbye.  There you were, so young and afraid.  Your eyes were like saucers and you were so quiet.  You just sat  there, holding onto him, crying in silence.  You didn’t used to cry that way.  Do you remember?” Rachel didn’t really intend for him to answer her.  She had closed her eyes as she relived the most painful memory of her life.  “I’ll bet you still cry like that.”

 

“Ma....”

 

“Sh. Let me finish. Do you remember how you went to your room and wouldn’t come out?  You wouldn’t even change out of the bloody clothes you were wearing until your Uncle Sam got you dressed for the funeral.  A cop’s funeral, David.  Tonight, I saw you hurt.  Lying unconscious and bloody in a dirty tenement hallway.  You weren’t moving and I... my mind went back to... your dad.   I couldn’t stand it if I lost you.  Please don’t get hurt. Tonight, I saw myself at another cop’s funeral.” That sight had brought terror to a mother’s heart.  She hoped her son understood what she was trying to tell him.

 

“Don’t worry.  Hutch’s there f’me.  I’m not hurt bad and we’ll be okay.  We’ll have this thing wrapped up in no time.  You’ll see.”

 

Rachel opened her eyes again and looked down at her son, wishing she shared his confidence.  She had never tried to sway him against becoming a policeman like his father.  Despite her pride in him, sometimes she wished she had.  She knew that her son’s future was decided that night, when a young boy watched his father die in his arms.

 

Sighing, she smiled at him and said, “I hate Aunt Ruth’s place.  Smells like cows.  See that it doesn’t take too long, okay?”

 

Starsky knew what she was trying to say.  He wished he could make her feel better, but he’d settle for having her safe from what was likely to become a more dangerous case in the next few days – even if Aunt Ruth’s place did smell like cows.

 

~*~*~*~

 

At a dark warehouse several miles from the Starsky home, Vinnie Martino stood facing Dagget and some of his lieutenants.  Dagget angrily smacked him in the back of the head, causing the usually cocky Vinnie to flinch and cower.

 

“You arrogant bastard.  What d’ya mean you took the old lady over to your place?  Didn’t you think he’d come lookin’ for her there?  Huh?”  The large man backhanded Vinnie on the side of the face this time.

 

“Look, boss, Starsky don’t know his head from a hole in the ground.  He don’t even live here no more and his stupid partner ain’t never lived here.  I figured they wouldn’t know where to look and nobody in that building asks any questions.” As Dagget raised his fist, Vinnie cowered again and dropped to his knees.

 

The angry man kicked Vinnie’s shoulder, sending him sprawling.  “They got her back!”

 

“I’m sorry, I know, boss....”

 

“Shut up!” Dagget spat at Vinnie.  He crossed the room to a battered table, scooping up a pile of surveillance photos Vinnie had taken of the two detectives back in California.  He tossed them onto the ground in front of Vinnie.

 

“Florenz don’t want no more screwups.  He wants that evidence. Starsky and his partner have probably already found it.”

 

“We ain’t even sure there is any evidence, boss!  ‘S been a lotta years.” Vinnie struggled to sit up, afraid to climb all the way to his feet.

 

“Florenz don’t care about that.  He had that man’s father whacked, you idiot.  He don’t want his avenging cop son comin’ in here and bringing him down.”

 

Dagget paced around the room a while, punching his right fist into his left hand.  The man wore a gold ring on every finger of his right hand. They had made the punches and slaps he’d delivered to Vinnie almost as painful as if he’d been wearing brass knuckles. 

 

“All right.  Maybe you’re right and there ain’t no evidence.  I’m done dickin’ around with this. Tomorrow, you arrange a meet.  Get ‘em to come down to the warehouse.  Evidence, or no, Florenz wants Curly dead, that’s for sure.  Says he reminds him too much of the old man.  Spittin’ image.  Creepy.  Either he’s found the evidence already, or it ain’t never gonna be found.  You get rid of him, and his interfering partner.  Then, torch the old lady’s place.  Waste anybody that gets in your way.”

 

“But, boss.” Vinnie was slime, but he didn’t like the idea of killing Mrs. Starsky if he didn’t have to do it.  “Rachel Starsky is a civilian.  She ain’t involved in any of this....”

 

“You kidnapped her, for God’s sake!”

 

“Yeah, but I wasn’t really gonna hurt her.  Just grabbed her to scare Davy into turning over the goods.”

 

“She was married to a cop and she raised another one.  That makes her involved enough.  If she gets in your way, kill her.  You got any questions?”

 

“Yeah, how do I get ‘em down here?”

 

“Tell him you know who killed his old man – who arranged the hit.”

 

“He’ll never go for that, Davy’s too smart.”

 

“Yeah, he will.  He’s one’a the good guys, the moron.  Findin’ out who did his old man’ll be irresistible.  Make it happen or it’s the last time you’ll fail a mission.”  Dagget snapped his fingers and jerked his head toward the door.  He and his henchmen left the bleeding, dazed thug alone in the room.  Vinnie smiled at the thought of telling David Starsky that Dagget was the man who had pulled the trigger on his dad and that he’d been the one to set him up for the hit.  He wanted that painful thought to be the last thing Starsky ever knew. 

 

~*~*~*~

 

Early the next morning, Nick and Rachel left in his car, with Rachel ordering her older son to keep her informed of what was going on.

 

"Sure, Ma. I will. Have a safe trip, and kiss Aunt Ruth for me."

 

Nick gave a snort of laughter, and even Rachel giggled. "You wouldn't kiss her yourself," she said tartly. "What's she going to think if I kiss her for you?"

 

"Aw, Ma, I was just a kid then," Starsky said, blushing to the roots of his hair. Hutch gave him a  speculative look. He sensed a story here, which he would pry out of his partner later.

 

As she started to get into the car, Rachel said, "I'm sure I've forgotten something," and started to get back out, but Starsky gently nudged her back in.

 

"It's only for a few days," he said, kissing her cheek. "We work fast. See you later. Love you. Goodbye."

 

Rachel gave in and waved as Nick drove away, and Starsky heaved a big sigh of relief.

 

"Maybe I can concentrate on the case now," he said to Hutch.

 

"Maybe you can tell me about Aunt Ruth now," Hutch said with a wicked grin.

 

The color began to creep up Starsky's face again. "I was only nine."

 

"And?"

 

Starsky muttered something extremely impolite under his breath and moved back to the front steps, where he sank down. "I can see I ain't gonna get away with not tellin' ya."

 

"Nope."

 

He sighed. "You have to understand that Aunt Ruth only came to this country when I was nine. I'd never seen her or a picture of her. All that stuff got lost in the war.  She was one of Ma’s only surviving relatives from the old country."

 

Hutch nodded.

 

"Well, she looks just like Elsa Lancaster, the actress who was in 'Bride of Frankenstein,'" Starsky said, looking up when Hutch gave a snicker. "She does," he added defensively. "Or enough like her to freak out a nine-year-old kid. She had all this black, black hair with streaks of white in it. I'd only seen the movie a coupla weeks before I met Aunt Ruth – "

 

Hutch began to see where this was going and struggled vainly to control his laughter.

 

Starsky frowned fiercely. "She's got this kind of booming, deep voice and the thickest accent you ever heard. So when we met her ship, and she got off, it kinda scared me when she swooped down on me and said 'Give us a kiss, Davy!' And I screamed and ran all the way back to the car."

 

By now, Hutch had tears in his eyes from laughing. And even though Starsky was glaring at him, Hutch could see his mouth twitching, too.

 

"What really made it embarrassing," Starsky went on, "was that Nicky, barely five years old, wasn't a bit scared of her. He crowed about that for weeks, jumping out at me from behind chairs and doors hollering 'give us a kiss, Davy' until I wanted to wring his scrawny neck. Aunt Ruth stayed with us for a couple of months before she moved to Pennsylvania to live with Aunt Sophie and Uncle Sol and I got over bein' scared of her, but nobody ever let me forget that."

 

Hutch had to sit down on the step beside his partner to catch his breath and wipe his eyes. "I can just see it," he said when he could talk.

 

Starsky finally relented and grinned. "Poor Aunt Ruth. Ma explained to her, in Yiddish, what had been wrong with me, and she always spoiled me and Nicky rotten with presents and homemade cookies and stuff. She's terrific."

 

"Far better than you deserved, I'm sure," Hutch said.

 

"You got that right," Starsky said, rising and holding out a hand to help Hutch up. "Let's get busy, huh?"

 

~*~*~*~

 

Starsky and Hutch had conceived a plan late the night before, while Rachel and Nick were sleeping. As soon as the two were safely gone, they went through the items in Mike Starsky's safe, choosing a handful of things to hide elsewhere in the house. They knew that Vinnie's boss – whoever he was – knew that something was hidden in the house somewhere and they wanted him to find enough to convince him, maybe, that he'd found it all.

 

They put a few of the photographs into a manila envelope and taped it to the underside of a drawer in the heavy buffet that had stood against the dining room wall since before Starsky was born. It was far too heavy for anyone to move alone, and for some reason had not been disturbed when the house had been searched before. They also had an appointment early in the afternoon of the day Nick and Rachel left to meet with the district attorney to put the rest of the photographs and evidence in his safekeeping and to get the wheels in motion to investigate Senator Florenz.

 

"Damn," Hutch said, examining the buffet. "What the hell is this made of? Concrete?"

 

Starsky grinned. "Good solid oak, buddy. My dad built this as a wedding present for Ma. Me and Nicky used to use it for a battleship or a rocket or a train to rob when we were kids. We climbed all over it and played on top of it and it's just as solid as it was when Pop and his partner dragged it up here from the basement."

 

"I can't imagine carrying this up stairs," Hutch said. "They must've been bigger and stronger than we are, pal."

 

"I thought Pop was ten feet tall and bulletproof when I was a kid," Starsky said, a little sadly. Hutch briefly clasped his shoulder.

 

Tom Harrald, the district attorney, was astonished with what they laid on his desk.

 

"My God," he said, over and over again. "I can't believe this. My God."

 

"We told you we had something hot," Starsky said.

 

"I never imagined.... " Harrald said. "Senator Florenz is one of the most popular senators in the state! He's a real contender for the Democratic nomination for president!"

 

"Do you want this guy in the White House?" Hutch asked point blank.

 

Harrald shook his head. "No, and neither will anyone else when this gets out. But it's going to take some doing, boys. He's a powerful man."

 

"We understand that," Starsky said. "But it's gotta be done."

 

Harrald stared at the top photo a moment longer. It showed Durniak handing Florenz a thick envelope, while Florenz slipped him a thinner one in exchange. He shook his head. "Bribery. Consorting with a known mob boss. I have to call the governor's office."

 

"You do that," Starsky said. "We have a little more digging to do. We'll keep in touch."

 

Harrald nodded. "You'll be at your mother's?"

 

"Yeah. You've got my number."

 

"Where to now?" Hutch asked as they came back out into the sunlight.

 

"Bobby," Starsky said without hesitation. "My dad's partner. He's due to retire in about a year, I think. He had to know what was going on. Bobby and Pop were as thick as me and you are and there ain't no way Pop woulda kept this secret from him."

 

"You know where to find him?" Hutch asked.

 

Starsky nodded. "Oh, yeah. Bobby and his wife still send Ma a Christmas card every year, and she sends them a Hanukkah card," he added with a twinkle in his eyes. "He's at the 17th precinct, working in the supply room."

 

"Like Bigelow?" Hutch was astonished. He knew from Starsky's stories about his dad and his partner that the two men had been decorated officers in the NYPD. To be sent to pasture in the supply room hardly seemed a fitting reward for brave service.

 

Starsky nodded. "Like Bigelow," he confirmed. "But don't feel too bad for him. He requested desk duty after Pop died. Didn't feel safe on the streets anymore. Didn't trust anybody else to watch his back." He flagged a cab down and directed the driver to the 17th.

 

But when they got there, the desk sergeant told them Lt. Whitney was off duty.

 

"Damn," Starsky said to Hutch. "I guess we should've called first."

 

"Care to leave him a message?" the sergeant asked.

 

"Do you know where he lives?" Hutch asked.

 

Starsky nodded. "Yeah. But in case we miss him – " He accepted a pad and pen from the desk sergeant and scribbled a note. He signed his full name and the sergeant whistled.

 

"You're Mike Starsky's Davy?"

 

"Yeah," Starsky said, his eyebrows rising. "You knew my dad?"

 

"Sure did. I was just a rookie then, but he was a legend around here. Still is. I'm Roy Carpenter. Pleased to meet ya." The sergeant offered his hand, and Starsky shook it with a smile and introduced Hutch.

 

"If I miss Bobby, you give him that note, will ya, and tell him I'm at Ma's. He's got the number."

 

"Sure thing, Davy."

 

"Guess we might as well go back to Ma's," Starsky said. "See if something comes through from the D.A.  We can catch up to Bobby later."

 

They didn't hear from the D.A. that afternoon and just as it was getting dark, the phone rang. Starsky was nearest and he pounced on it.

 

"Davy?"

 

It was Vinnie. Starsky motioned frantically to Hutch, who ran into the kitchen and very gently picked up the extension to listen in. "Yeah, Vinnie. What's your scam now?"

 

"No scam, Davy. I got information you're gonna be real interested in. I know who killed your old man."

 

Starsky's heart momentarily froze in his chest. "I don't believe you," he said, trying to sound confident.

 

"Bullshit. You know it's the truth. And I'm willin' to tell ya the whole story. But you gotta meet me, tonight. Nine o'clock. I ain't tellin' ya nothin' on the phone."

 

"Where?" Starsky barked.

 

Vinnie gave him an address. "And don't bring the cavalry," he ordered. "Just you and that white bread partner o' yours. No one else. Or you don't get nothin' from me."

 

Starsky hung up and sat there, staring into space, until Hutch sat on the arm of his chair and gently nudged him. "Starsk? You think he's tellin' the truth?"

 

Slowly, he nodded. "Yeah, I do. I've been suspecting Vinnie knew more about Pop's murder than he let on. Just a hunch. Looks like maybe I was right."

 

Hutch reached across Starsky and picked up the receiver, but Starsky stopped him.

 

"What are you doing?"

 

"Calling Harris," Hutch said. "We're not going in there alone. Vinnie's got something up his sleeve. You know he does."

 

"Vinnie can't see 'em."

 

Hutch nodded, spoke briefly to Harris and made sure he understood how important it was for the backups to stay out of sight, and hung up. "Now, we wait, I guess."

 

Starsky called a cab at 8:30 and had the driver drop them off a block away from the address Vinnie had given him. It was in the warehouse district and deserted at this time of night.

 

"I don't like this," Hutch hissed.

 

"I don't, either," Starsky said. "I think that was the general idea."

 

They pulled their guns and checked to make sure they had extra ammo. As they approached the dark warehouse, they skirted the exterior and got the lay of the land. It wasn't promising. It was a large warehouse, with several entrances and a whole row of windows on the ground level. But the windows were blacked out and there was no way to guess how many people might be in there waiting for them.

 

They met back up at the front entrance and looked at each other. With a shrug, Starsky opened the door, which was already ajar. He kept his gun at the ready. "Vinnie?"

 

Hutch melted into the shadows behind some boxes so he could cover his partner. There was no answer to Starsky's call, and it was so dark in the warehouse that Hutch could barely even pick out Starsky. He saw Starsky move forward another cautious step and heard him draw breath to call again, when some instinct warned him. "Starsky!" he shouted, and Starsky instantly dropped to the ground and rolled behind a stack of cartons less than a heartbeat before several shots blasted through the air where he'd been standing.

 

Hutch returned fire, having to guess which way to shoot by the direction from which he'd heard the shots. When the echoes died, there was only silence.

 

"Hutch?"

 

"Right here," Hutch answered, ducking behind the boxes to join him and reload his weapon. "You think he's alone?"

 

"Don't know," Starsky said. "That was only one gun, but that doesn't mean there aren't reinforcements here someplace."

 

"What do you want to do?"

 

"Draw him out," Starsky said in that even tone that always made the hair on the back of Hutch's neck rise. It meant he was through messing around and he was going to take action, even if it was suicidally dangerous.

 

"Starsky – "

 

But Starsky rose, moving silently, and stepped out from behind the boxes. He turned to look at Hutch, and though Hutch couldn't see his face clearly, he definitely got the message. Get ready. Here it comes.

 

"Vinnie, you cowardly bastard!" Starsky yelled. "Come out and face me, you two-bit punk!" He dropped and slithered back behind the boxes as more shots rang out, from the same direction as before. "Just what I thought," Starsky whispered. "He's alone."

 

"You can't be sure of that."

 

"Yeah, I can. Don't ask me how I know. I just do." Starsky beckoned and started crawling, military style, on his belly across the floor toward the other side of the warehouse, ignoring the pain in his side. Hutch followed, finding it awkward to crawl with his gun in his hand, but putting it in the holster just wasn't an option at this point.

 

They had almost made it all the way across the warehouse to where a forklift was parked next to a stack of crates when Starsky bumped into a stack of cardboard boxes and knocked them down. Instantly the gunfire started again and Hutch felt a bullet whiz by uncomfortably close to his ear. Both he and Starsky returned fire and heard a squeal of pain.

 

"Got him!" Starsky scrambled to his feet and ran toward the sound, Hutch right behind him, and they found Vinnie behind the crates, clutching his right arm. Blood was flowing over his hand and soaking his shirtsleeve. Starsky kicked the gun away, toward Hutch. "You alone, Vinnie?"

 

"Yeah."

 

Vinnie didn't even try to resist as Starsky yanked him to his feet and glared at him. "That was a lousy trick, you bastard. Gimme your cuffs, Hutch."

 

"Wait! Davy, you gotta understand." Vinnie winced and pulled his right arm closer to his body.

 

"Understand what?" Starsky opened the cuffs and slapped them against one hand over and over again.

 

"I really do know who iced your old man," Vinnie said. "Can't we make a deal?"

 

Starsky glanced at Hutch. The light was better here, but Hutch wouldn't have needed to see his partner clearly to interpret that look. He gave an almost-imperceptible nod. Starsky turned back to Vinnie. "Maybe. Depends on what ya got."

 

Vinnie threw an appealing look at Hutch, who returned it icily. This was Starsky's show. Vinnie sighed. "Look, it was Daggett. Remember him?"

 

Starsky jerked his head once in the affirmative, his jaw tightening. "What'd Daggett have against Pop?"

 

"Your dad had evidence against Florenz," Vinnie said. "Good evidence. Woulda stood up in any court. And Florenz wanted it, but he knew he couldn't get it as long as Mike was breathin'. So he got Daggett to do him. He went to Joey Durniak first, but Joey tossed him out of his office and damn near put a contract out on him for even suggesting it."

 

Starsky glanced at Hutch again. "Keep talkin'. How do you know all this?"

 

Vinnie swallowed hard and sweat broke out on his face. "Daggett paid me to set it up."

 

"WHAT?" Starsky grabbed a handful of Vinnie's shirt and dragged him half off his feet. Hutch leaped forward and latched onto Starsky's arm.

 

"Easy, partner."

 

Vinnie was trembling. "I was just a kid, Davy, you gotta understand! He gave me fifty bucks, man. That was a fortune to me."

 

"What did you do?" Starsky spat the words at him.

 

"I got you outta the way and I told Daggett where Mike'd be." Vinnie was almost sobbing. "I didn't know you'd see it happen, Davy, honest, I didn't! You weren't s'posed to be there. You weren't s'posed to be anywhere near there!"

 

Starsky shoved Vinnie away from him. His hand shook a little as he slapped the cuffs on Vinnie, taking no care to be gentle with his wounded arm. Vinnie let out a little cry of pain as Starsky jerked that arm behind him to put the cuffs on. "You ain't gettin' no deal out of me, scum," Starsky said, his voice cold and quiet. "You set my dad up for a hit."

 

"Davy, listen!" Vinnie tried to twist around to look at Starsky, but couldn't because of the way Starsky had his arms pinned. "I can help you get to Daggett and maybe Florenz, too. But if you bust me now, they won't trust me. I know how they operate."

 

Behind him, Hutch’s quiet voice said, “Starsk.  He may have a point there.”

 

They were interrupted by the sounds of the backup units arriving behind them.  When the uniformed officers found them, Lieutenant Harris accompanied them.  He strolled up to the squirming, handcuffed Vinnie.

 

“Well, boys, what have we here?  Vincent Martino.  Vinnie.  Naughty, naughty.  You were shooting at these two fine officers.  And them visitors from another city.”

 

“Shove it, Harris!”

 

“Nice.  Very nice.  Gentlemen, congratulations.”

 

Hutch said, “Just one complication.  Vinnie here says he can help us get to the men who killed Starsky’s dad.  He says he can help us catch the boss, too.”

 

“That right, Vinnie?” Harris asked.

 

“Yeah, but not if you bust me.  If you haul me in, they’ll know.  They’ll never trust me.”

 

Vinnie had been handed over to a couple of uniforms and Starsky and Hutch were both staring at Harris expectantly.  Starsky said, “Lieutenant, my pop was one of your precinct’s finest.  He died for the information this slime ball has been looking for all of these years.”

 

Hutch said, “We have a chance to nail the guy who pulled the trigger.  This scum here has already admitted to setting it up and we believe him.”

 

Harris thought about it for a moment.  Then, he told them, “All right.  We’ll take this sterling specimen of humanity out of the district to get this gunshot wound treated.  I’ll call the D.A. and see what’s what.”

 

Starsky and Hutch nodded their thanks.  Harris got on the portable radio he was carrying and started to give the orders that would make it all happen.  They were all trailing out of the warehouse when his radio beeped.

 

“Harris.”

 

“Lieutenant, the units staking out Mrs. Starsky’s place reported someone broke in there a short while ago and then left.”

 

“Beautiful.”  Harris keyed the radio off and said, “Boys, if you want to go see if your evidence was retrieved, we’ll take care of Vinnie.  I’ll call you there to let you know what’s up next.” 

 

“Great, thanks,” Starsky said as he reached up to wipe his sweaty brow.  He wasn’t feeling well, but he hadn’t given any thought to why.

 

“Starsky,” Harris said, “are you all right?  I thought you were recovering from a gunshot wound.  Aren’t you supposed to be taking it easy?”

 

“I’m fine, just a little hot in here.”

 

“Uh-huh.  Well, get some rest.  I’ll call you later.”

 

Hot?  Hutch thought.  He had on a jacket and was still cold.  Hutch steered his partner out of the warehouse, suddenly realizing that the likelihood of them catching a taxi in this neighborhood, this late in the evening, was almost nonexistent.  One of the unmarked cars gave the two men a ride back to Mrs. Starsky’s home. 

 

Although they had left a light on in the front room, all the lights were off now.  They entered the home cautiously, turning on lights and ensuring that the watching cops were correct, whoever had broken in earlier was gone.  When they were certain, they went to the buffet.  As they had hoped, leaving one drawer slightly open had drawn the hoped for attention.  The drawers were all pulled out and spilled onto the floor.  The evidence was missing.

 

“Bingo,” Starsky said.

 

“Well, they have it now.  Who’s they, though?” Hutch asked.  He walked into the kitchen to get the teakettle going. 

 

“My money’s on Vinnie.  He knew we’d be outta the house.  He probably planned to kill us and then he’d have all the time he needed to toss the place.  Just in case, he sent his boys over to Ma’s while he had us occupied.  He’s still tryin’ to get the goods for Dagget....” Starsky stopped abruptly, grabbing on to the back of a dining room chair for support, and sucking in a short gasp as the color started to drain from his face.

 

“What?”

 

When Starsky didn’t answer him, he came back to the dining room, finding Starsky breathing heavily and clutching a chair. “Hey!”  Starsky had moved his right hand to his side, and Hutch had to pull it away to take a look.

 

“You seem to be leaking a little, buddy,” Hutch said. “You all right?”

 

Starsky nodded, but he let Hutch help him down into a chair and look at his wound.  Hutch thought it looked all right and the bleeding was minimal.  After Starsky got his breathing under control, he said, “Damn.  Guess that crawl-through-the-trenches maneuver was a little too much, huh?”

 

“Maybe.  Just breathe easy.  You need me to get your pain pills?”

 

“No.  I’m not gonna take anything to put me out of it.  Not now.”

 

“Starsk....”

 

“No.  Not open for discussion.”

 

“Okay, okay.  Take it easy for a while, though, will ya?  You gonna be okay?”

 

“Yeah, go make your tea.”

 

Starsky’s mind raced through thoughts about what might happen next.  He wasn’t sure how to feel about knowing who had killed his father.  Knowing he had been lured out of the way did little to assuage his long-standing sense of guilt that things might have happened differently if he had been there. How was he supposed to explain all of this to his mother?   His thoughts were interrupted by the sound of the kettle whistling.  He heard Hutch pouring the water.

 

“Hutch?”

 

“What?”

 

“I shoulda been where I was supposed to be.”

 

Hutch came back from the kitchen with two cups of tea.  Setting one in front of his partner, he said, “Starsky, you were just a little boy.”

 

“Practically a man.”

 

Hutch sat down in a chair beside him and scooted it close enough to put an arm around his friend’s shoulders.  “No, you were a little boy.  Just twelve years old.  That’s not practically anything.  Like I said before, you see all of this differently now.  You’re grown.”

 

Starsky shook his head and closed his eyes.  The image of his father bleeding to death in his arms seemed to be all he could see.  “They weren’t supposed to burn me.  If I’d been there, maybe....”

 

“If you’d been there, Dagget would have killed you.  If he didn’t, he just would’ve waited for another chance.  Your dad was a marked man.  Nothing you did, or didn’t do, would have changed that.”

 

~*~*~*~

 

After Vinnie’s superficial gunshot wound was treated, he met with Lieutenant Harris, who had managed to get the District Attorney to meet him to discuss the situation, despite the lateness of the hour.  Tom Harrald was as anxious to get the men involved in this decades old conspiracy safely behind bars as Harris was.  He agreed to recommend reduced charges for Vinnie in return for his assistance capturing Dagget, and for testimony against Florenz.   Harrald said he’d consider dropping the charges for Mrs. Starsky’s kidnapping, and the attempt on Starsky and Hutchinson’s lives at the warehouse, if Vinnie gave him enough names to make sure all of the dirty government officials he could get his hands on would pay for their crimes.

 

“What about what went down in California?” Vinnie was smart enough to know he could still be extradited and put away for two attempts on Hutch’s life, and possibly breaking and entering and assault on a police officer – if they could prove he was the one who had broken into Starsky’s home.

 

“I can’t promise what the DA in another state is gonna do, Vinnie.  You know that.  You should consider yourself lucky you’ll be off the hook for most of what went down out here.  We’re not even going to discuss accessory to the murder of a New York City police officer.  You know there’s no statute of limitations on a murder, don’t you, Vinnie?  I suggest you start cooperating, before I start drawing up the charges for your arraignment.”

 

Harris put a hand up to interrupt the flow of the conversation.  He leaned over the table, glaring at Vinnie, and said, “Let me make one thing crystal clear, Martino.  If you do ANYTHING to tip off anyone involved in this mess, or if you or your goons do ANYTHING to harm Starsky or Hutchinson, your ass is mine.  I don’t care what kind of deal you think you’re striking here.  All bets will be off, you got that?”

 

Vinnie nodded, swallowing nervously.

 

“That goes for Starsky’s mom and his brother, too.  No funny business.  Not even the hint of any.  Bad enough you fingered one of New York’s finest for a hit.  Don’t tempt me to find a way to throw you in the slammer in the deepest, darkest, most foul hole I can find.”

 

“Yeah, yeah, I get it!” Vinnie snapped.  Seeing his point was taken, Harris sat back, and gestured to the DA to continue the negotiation.

 

Starsky had been resting for three hours when the phone finally rang.  Harris laid out the plan for catching Dagget and Starsky listened with interest.  He hung up the phone, leaving his hand resting on it for a few moments, staring at it.

 

“Starsk?”

 

“Never in a million years, Hutch.”

 

Hutch knew what he meant.  In all the years that had passed since his partner watched his father die, Starsky had never dared to imagine he’d ever find out what really happened.  Now, he not only knew, he was being given the chance to bring the men who killed him to justice.  The feeling was almost more than he could bear.  Hutch could see the play of emotions across Starsky’s face. 

 

“I know, buddy.”  Hutch exchanged a supportive look with Starsky.  “What, where, and when?”

 

“Vinnie’s already been turned loose to collect the evidence from his goons.  He’s going over to Dagget’s bolthole in about an hour – with a wire.  They don’t want to wait till tomorrow. ‘Fraid that’ll look too pat.”  Starsky went to the front window and peeked out at the street with a chuckle.  “You suppose the unmarked officers, Vinnie’s goons, and Dagget’s bunch know they’re all out there watching this place?”

 

“Probably not.  Sure is a lot of attention for a harmless older lady and her home.”

 

“Really. I’m surprised there’s anywhere out there left to park with all of the late model, dark color sedans on the street.”

 

“How’re we gonna get to the meet without being made?  Vinnie and Dagget have got guys covering the back, too.  I checked out the dining room window before I took a nap.”

 

Hutch shrugged and thought for a few moments.  “I’ve got it.”  He explained his idea and they put it into action.

 

Twenty minutes later, a cab pulled up in front of the Starsky home and honked.  Hutch opened the front door and helped his injured partner out onto the stoop while he turned to lock the door.  He threw Starsky’s left arm over his shoulder and put his right arm around Starsky’s waist, pushing back the jacket he wore just enough to reveal a spreading dark stain on the front of his shirt.  They stumbled down the stairs together to the waiting taxi.  The cabbie had seen them and he had gotten out to open the door for the two men.  Just as they reached the cab, Starsky groaned and collapsed against Hutch.  Between Hutch and the cabbie, they got Starsky loaded onto the back seat of the taxi, and Hutch started screaming for him to hurry and get them to the hospital.  The taxi sped off, and two of the dark colored sedans pulled out to follow.

 

When they reached County, Hutch threw some money at the driver with a clipped, “Keep the change.”  He helped his now semi-conscious, staggering partner out of the cab and into the Emergency Room.  They kept it up until they were well out of sight of the doors, and then Starsky suddenly revived and he pointed the way to the stairs that led down to underground parking. 

 

Even though he’d been faking being so out of it, Starsky still painfully felt every jolt as they ran down the stairs to the waiting car.  They barreled out of the stairwell and met Harris standing next to a dark blue cargo van.

 

“What if they go in and check?” Harris asked as he gave Starsky a hand up into the van.  He knew it was a sham, but Starsky’s appearance did have him a little worried.

 

“They won’t.  Even if they do, it’s a madhouse in there tonight.  Must be a full moon.”

 

Hutch added, “A guy could get lost in the paperwork shuffle for hours in there.  It’ll all be over before they figure out they’ve been had.”

 

Harris directed the driver to leave the parking garage at a casual pace.  They headed for the condemned office building where Dagget and his gang were waiting for Vinnie.  Another man was in the back of the van, setting up the equipment.  He was introduced to the two visiting detectives as “Tap.”

 

“Tap’s the best wire man on Earth, gentleman.  You are in the presence of a master.”

 

“Ah, get outta here, Lieutenant,” the embarrassed man said.  He shook hands with Starsky and Hutch. “I hear we’re gonna bust some’a the guys who murdered your old man, Starsky.  You can trust me.  If they say it, I’ll get it on tape.”

 

“Fair enough, Tap.  Thanks.”

 

Starsky looked at Hutch anxiously,  silently communicating his need to speak with the lieutenant about the bust.

 

Hutch lifted his eyebrows, thinking, Ask him.

 

Starsky shook his head slightly.

 

Hutch jerked his head toward Harris, You won’t get if you don’t ask.

 

Harris said, “What’s with the big, silent confab, boys?  Do I have ring around the collar or something?”

 

Starsky and Hutch both laughed at the reference.  “No,” Starsky said. “I just... Well, I was hoping, maybe....”

 

“You were hoping I’d let you make the arrest?”

 

Harris was good.  Hutch smiled at him appreciatively.  “Something like that,” he said.

 

Starsky looked so hopeful.  Harris studied his face for a moment.  Then, he turned to Hutch.  “He’s your partner.  Can he handle it?”

 

A flash of anger rose in Starsky.  “I’m right here, why don’t you ask me?”

 

“Starsky,” Harris said, turning to face him, “if this were my old man’s killer, I’m not sure I could handle it.  Can you make this bust without losin’ it?”

 

“Yes.” Starsky offered no more words aimed to convince the other officer – just one simple truth from his heart.  He knew he could do it.  Starsky would do nothing to jeopardize the situation.  He wanted justice.

 

When Harris looked back over at him, Hutch nodded his concurrence.

 

“All right.  When the time comes, you put on the cuffs.  Hutchinson, you keep a tight rein on him.  I know you think you can, Starsky, but nobody’s gonna be surprised if you lose your objectivity in the end.”

 

“Fair enough.  You can trust Blondie here.  He’s sort of a Starsky temper expert.”

 

“Damn straight,” Hutch said.  The slight smile he offered was meant to convey his belief and trust in his partner.

 

The meeting didn’t start on the hour.  Harris thought it would look too staged that way.  At ten minutes past, Vinnie came strolling up the sidewalk, smoking a cigarette. He disappeared into the building and the attending officers held their collective breath.  If this worked, the results would bring down an infamous hit man – and bring them within one step of closing the books on the twenty-two year old murder of one of their own.

 

After the door shut behind him, they heard Vinnie say, “Yo, Dagget.”

 

“Yo, Vinnie.” The other man’s voice sounded wary – slightly distant.

 

“We got it, Dagget.” Vinnie held out the envelope for Dagget to take.  The other man casually lit a cigarette, then took the envelope and started to inspect the contents. 

 

“Nice, Vinnie.  Very nice.”

 

In the van, the tape recorder was going.  All of the men inside were nervously listening.

 

“What if he tips him?” Hutch asked.

 

“Believe me, he wouldn’t dare,” Harris answered.

 

Inside the office building, two of Dagget’s men stepped in front of the closed door, behind Vinnie. 

 

“You didn’t torch the place.”

 

“N-no, Dom.  We found the evidence, so we figured why take the risk’a getting caught.”

 

“We found the evidence?”

 

“Well, my boys did.  While I had those two idiot cops tied up over at the warehouse.”

 

“You didn’t kill them either, did you?”

 

“No.  I couldn’t.  They had my numba.  Place was crawlin’ with pigs. I was real lucky to get outta there without getting busted.”

 

Dagget walked toward Vinnie with a threatening glare.  “Did you?”

 

Vinnie was sweating and squirming, “What’re ya talkin’, did I?  I got back to my hideout, met the boys, got the stuff there and came to meet ya.”

 

“Sure took your time. ‘S been hours, Vinnie.”

 

“I hadda be real careful, ‘case I was followed, you dig?”

 

The men in the van held their breath again, praying Dagget was going to buy it, so they could get the information on Mike Starsky’s murder.  They already had him admitting, on tape, that he’d ordered the death of Starsky and Hutch, and the arson destruction of Mrs. Starsky’s home.

 

“You look at what was in this envelope, Vinnie?”

 

“What’re ya kiddin’?  Course I did!  I been lookin’ for that practically since the day it happened.”

 

“Yeah, I know, Vinnie.  Florenz and I ordered ya to do just that.”

 

Dagget circled around behind Vinnie and said, “Did you know, now that I have these pictures, you did me a big favor.  The senator will be... appropriately grateful.  He always has been.  But this presents me with a problem.”

 

Swallowing hard enough to be picked up by the wire, Vinnie said, “What’s that, Dom?”

 

Tap looked at Harris.  “Maybe you better call it.  Sounds like your stoolie is in trouble.”

 

Harris shook his head.  “No.  Give it a while longer.  I want to hear him say it.”

 

Dagget continued, “Now that Joey Durniak is dead, and Florenz sure as hell ain’t gonna talk about a hit he ordered, you are the only one left that can really finger me.  Did ya know that, Vinnie?  Huh?”

 

Starsky’s eyes flashed at that comment, but Harris put up a hand as if to say, “Just a little longer.” 

 

“Aw, come on, Dom.  I ain’t told nobody the truth about Mike Starsky’s murder in all these years.  Why would I now?”

 

The men in the van heard a sound through the speakers that Starsky recognized as the distinctive snick of a switchblade being opened.  “Because you’re a weasel, Vinnie.  Killin’ that cop was one’a the highlights of my career, but I can’t have you around knowin’ about it.”

 

“That’s it, let’s go!” Harris said.  Hutch slid open the van door and the three men jumped out onto the street. 

 

As they headed up the stairs into the building, Starsky heard a small army of other officers running down the sidewalk to join them.  Harris was in the lead, followed by Hutch, who was determined his partner wasn’t going in before he did.  He shot an anxious glance over his shoulder, wishing he could tell if the wetness on Starsky’s shirt was from the job they did making it look like Starsky needed a ride to the hospital, or if it could be that his wound was really leaking again.

 

Harris stood to one side of the door they knew the criminals were behind and Hutch to the other.  Starsky stood on the top step, praying the desperate men didn’t try the same stunt that had gotten him tagged the other night.  Not while his partner was so vulnerable.

 

Hutch banged on the door with the Magnum and Harris shouted, “Police, open up!”

 

After some swearing, they heard glass shattering, as the men broke the window to the fire escape.  Uniforms were already out there – they had nowhere to go.

 

Through the door, the men in the hall heard, “Police, freeze!”

 

Hutch kicked the door open and he and Harris went into the room, guns sweeping it.  Starsky ran behind them, just in time to see Vinnie fall to the ground.  Dagget’s switchblade slid neatly out of his chest as he fell.  One of the uniforms checked him, shaking his head to tell them there was no need for an ambulance.

 

Dagget and Starsky looked at each other.  Starsky’s resemblance to his father was striking and for a heart stopping moment, Hutch feared Dagget might throw that knife at his partner.

 

“Drop it, Dagget!” he shouted.  When Dagget didn’t comply, Hutch warned again, “Drop it now, or I’ll shoot!”

 

Dagget let the knife drop to the floor and raised his hands.  Harris turned and passed a pair of handcuffs to Starsky, who quietly accepted them and holstered his weapon.  Never breaking eye contact with Dagget, Starsky stalked toward him like a jaguar ready to pounce.  The heat from his stare was enough to make even Hutch flinch.  He glared at Dagget with such silent, fiery intensity, the other man finally looked away from his smoldering gaze.  Starsky reached Dagget, and spun him roughly around.  Then, he shoved the much larger man toward the wall and hissed, “What’d you kill him for?”

 

Dagget smiled an evil smile.  “I’m already goin’ down for your old man.  No way a piece ‘a shit like Vinnie was gonna live after bringin’ me down.”

 

“Assume the position.  Spread ‘em,” Starsky ordered as he kicked Dagget’s feet farther apart and frisked him.

 

In a calm, measured, but ultra menacing tone, Starsky read the charges and read his prisoner his rights. 

 

“Dominick 'The Dagger' Dagget.  You are under arrest for the murder of New York City police officer Michael Aaron Starsky in January 1956.  Other charges will be read to you at the station.  You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law....”

 

Daggett listened, impassive, until Starsky finished and spun him back around to hand him over to the nearest New York officer. Then he sneered, "You can't prove nothin'."

 

"Wanna bet?" Harris grabbed his arm and started toward the door. "We just taped your conversation with Vinnie. He was wired. We've got proof, all right. And wait till we tell you all the other things we have proof of. You're going down for a good long time."

 

Daggett paled a little, but didn't lose much of his bravado.

 

Starsky and Hutch went along to the precinct for the questioning. Losing Vinnie as a witness was a blow, Harris told them privately while Dagget was being processed in, but the tape and Mrs. Starsky's testimony about being kidnapped by Vinnie would help repair some of that damage.

 

In the interrogation room, Dagget leaned back in the chair and in spite of the handcuffs and the situation, seemed quite at home.

 

Tap had brought the tape and played it for the hit man. Dagget pretended he had no interest in it, but his jaw clenched when he heard his own voice saying the damning words, "Killin' that cop was one a' the highlights of my career...."

 

"You see," Harris said, leaning forward in a friendly manner, "we got ya cold." Dagget gave a shrug. "So, whattya want from me? A tearful confession? You don't look like no priest to me."

 

"What we want," Harris said, "is Senator Florenz."

 

Dagget shook his head. "Don't know him."

 

"Bullshit!" Starsky half rose, but Hutch yanked him back down into his seat and kept a hand on his arm.

 

"As my colleague said," Harris remarked with a grin, "that's bullshit. You work for the man. We've got evidence – Mike Starsky's evidence, including photos – that Florenz and Durniak had regular meetings."

 

"You've got photos?" Dagget's bravado slipped, just a little.

 

"You think we left them all at Mrs. Starsky's for you to find?" Harris shook his head. "You don't have a very high opinion of our intelligence, Mr. Dagget. We planted those," he tapped the envelope, "for you to find. We kept the best ones for ourselves, of course."

 

Dagget began to sweat.

 

"So unless you want to take the fall for a paid hit on a cop all by yourself, you'd better consider cooperating. Vinnie's dead. And unless we can get Florenz as the money man, it's all yours, Dom." Harris leaned back, lit a cigarette, and casually took a sip of his coffee. Starsky and Hutch remained silent, though Hutch could feel his partner's arm trembling under his hand.

 

It took several minutes of that silence, with Dagget's eyes going from the envelope to Starsky's face to Harris' and back, before he said, "He'll kill me."

 

"Maybe," Harris said. "But I doubt it. He'd have to get his own hands dirty and that he ain't about to do. What's it gonna be, Dom?"

 

"I want a deal."

 

Harris shrugged. "We can probably work something out. Say, life with parole instead of life without it?"

 

"That ain't good enough."

 

“You’re just lucky you pulled some of this shit out here instead of in California, scum.  We’ve got the death penalty back in place out there!” Hutch growled.

 

Harris suddenly dropped his casual act and threw himself forward on the table to glare directly into Dagget's eyes. "That's the best you can hope for, Dagget. No matter what happens. Have you forgotten the California charges? Attempted murder of a police officer? Dealing heroin? Shall I go on?"

 

"You can't prove – " Dagget stopped at the dangerous light he saw in Starsky's eyes.

 

"Yes, we can," Starsky said. "Vinnie sang like a little canary and we got a signed affidavit."

 

"Vinnie's dead."

 

"He wasn't when he signed the affidavit," Harris said.

 

Dagget looked from one to the other of them for a few more moments. "Okay," he said at last. "I'll help ya get Florenz."

 

Harris reached over for the phone and set it in front of him. "Set up a meet. We're gonna wire ya, like we did Vinnie, and you'd better pull this off, Dom, or your ass is forfeit. Here's what you're gonna say."

 

Dagget listened to Harris' instructions and finally swallowed and nodded. He picked up the phone and dialed. Tap had already set up equipment to record the call and the officers gathered around the recorder on the other side of the room to listen. "Mark? It's Dom."

 

Through the speakers, turned low so Florenz wouldn't hear them in the background, the senator's voice snarled, "I told you not to call me here unless it was an emergency!"

 

"I know," Dagget said, his whole attitude changed from what the officers had seen. Now he was a cringing, whining lackey. "But it is an emergency."

 

"Well, what is it?" Florenz sounded impatient.

 

"Vinnie's dead, Mark."

 

"What!"

 

"He's dead."

 

"What the hell happened?"

 

"Not on the phone." Dagget managed to inject just the right note of caution and distress into his voice. "Meet me. I'll tell you the whole story in person."

 

Florenz sighed. "Okay, okay. When?"

 

"Now, man. The heat is on, you dig?"

 

"Where?"

 

"My place. I think it's still safe."

 

"All right. Twenty minutes."

 

Dagget hung up and looked at Harris.

 

"That was just fine, Dom," Harris said with a big grin. "Tap, you wanna take care of wiring our fine friend here?"

 

"Sure, Lieutenant. Come on, Dom." Tap took the criminal's arm and left the room, followed closely by the uniformed guard.

 

"Won't be long now," Harris said to Starsky. "You want the bust on Florenz, too? I'd be happy to give it to ya."

 

"Yeah," Starsky said grimly. "I want it."

 

Starsky and Hutch went ahead to hide out in Dagget's offices. He had a large walk-in closet with a false back wall so he could have his bodyguards always nearby but out of sight. Harris and a couple of his uniformed officers hid in the next room with Tap downstairs in a van with the recording equipment. Dagget sat at his desk, the envelope with the photos inside in front of him.

 

Florenz was a few minutes later than he'd said he would be. But when he walked in, he was furious. "What the hell happened to Vinnie?" he demanded without even greeting Dagget.

 

"I sent him after those cops from Bay City, Mike's boy and his partner, just like you told me to," Dagget said.

 

"And what happened?"

 

"They killed him. He blew it, tried to take 'em both down by himself, and they got him."

 

"Dammit!" Florenz slammed his hand onto the desk and threw himself into a chair. "So we still don't have the evidence."

 

"Yeah, we do," Dagget said. He pushed the envelope across the desk to Florenz.

 

"Right there. It was at the old lady's house all along, just like we thought. Me and some of the boys found it after Vinnie didn't come back."

 

Florenz eagerly pounced on the envelope and opened it, drawing out the half dozen photographs and going over them carefully. He let out a breath. "Finally. Now nobody can ever finger me with Joe Durniak. I thought this was all taken care of years ago when Durniak died and no evidence was found.  Now to find out Mike Starsky really had hidden evidence – "

 

"Kinda wasted our time killin' him, didn't we, since he had this stuff?"

 

Florenz raised his head and glared at Dagget. "'We' didn't kill him, Dom. You did."

 

"On your orders," Dagget said. "Why should I care if Mike Starsky had pictures of you with Joey? No skin off my nose. I ain't got a political career to think of."

 

"But I do," Florenz said, narrowing his eyes. "And now that I have the evidence against me, I don't need you any more. I can't have you running to the cops telling them I had you kill Mike Starsky. They might believe you."

 

"You did have me kill him," Dagget said, outwardly calm, though Starsky, peering through a peephole at him, could see a fine sheen of sweat on his forehead.

 

"And you had me send Vinnie after his son."

 

"Vinnie failed."

 

"I didn't."

 

"No. You didn't. But you didn't get that brat kid of his and you didn't get the evidence back for over 20 years!"

 

"But I did get it," Dagget said. "So you wanted me to kill Davy even then? When he was just a kid? Why?"

 

"He looks too much like his father," Florenz said, his voice shaking with anger. "Damned punk. Mike Starsky could've ruined my life and I didn't want any reminders of him around. I told you, kill the old man and kill the kid, too. But you didn't do it." Suddenly Florenz pulled a gun from his suit jacket pocket. "Now it's your turn."

 

Without waiting for Harris' signal, Starsky and Hutch burst through the closet and drew down on Florenz. "Freeze!" Starsky commanded him.

 

Florenz started to raise the gun toward Starsky, but the glittering fury in Hutch's eyes and the size of the gun he was pointing at him, holding it almost in his ear, changed his mind. He dropped the gun. Hutch gestured to Starsky, who yanked his cuffs out and threw the senator over Dagget's desk.

 

By then, Harris and the other officers were in the room, re-cuffing Dagget. In a few moments, it was over.

 

It was almost dawn before Starsky and Hutch finished giving depositions and got back to the house and could go to bed. Both were wound up but also exhausted, and it was late in the morning before either of them stirred. Starsky was up first.

 

He had a call to make.

 

"Hi, Aunt Ruth. It's Davy."

 

"Davy! Are you all right? What happened?"

 

"It's all over," he said. "Will you put Ma on, please?"

 

Hutch walked into the kitchen, yawning, just as Rachel came to the phone.

 

Starsky nodded a "good morning," gestured at the coffee pot they’d dredged up from the basement, and said, "Ma? We got 'em. We got 'em all. With enough evidence to put 'em away."

 

Rachel gasped and he could hear the tears in her voice. "Are you all right, baby?"

 

"Yeah. We are. It's safe to come home now. We even cleaned up the house," he added with an attempt at a light tone.

 

Hutch glanced around at the still-trashed room and raised his eyebrows at his partner, who gave a shrug and a half-grin and clearly communicated, We'll clean it up before she gets back.

 

"Are you sure you're all right, Davy?"

 

"Yeah, Ma. Really. I'll tell ya all about it when you and Nicky get home."

 

They spent the afternoon cleaning up the house and resting up, and the next morning, when Rachel and Nick returned, Starsky told his mother and brother the whole story, every detail, from what had happened when he was a child to what had happened in Bay City. Rachel listened with tears in her eyes most of the time, her hand clasped in her son's, but she didn't stop him or interrupt until he was finished.

 

"My God," she said, putting her arms around him and pulling his head down onto her shoulder. "My God, Davy. What a burden for you to carry. I never realized...."

 

"Ma, it wasn't your fault," he said, kissing her cheek. "And you did the best thing for me you could possibly have done when you sent me to live with Rose and Al.  If I'd stayed here, I mighta become what Vinnie was. Instead," he sat up straight and glanced at Hutch, "I tried to become a man Pop woulda been proud of."

 

"You didn't 'try'," she said gently, stroking his curls. "You did it. Mike would say so himself if he could."

 

~*~*~*~

 

It was quiet in the cemetery, with only the sound of an occasional bird twittering as the rays of the setting sun slanted through the trees. Hutch hung back as Starsky, carrying a fistful of flowers and wearing a yarmulke, approached the stone bearing the name "Starsky."

 

Starsky knelt in the grass and laid the flowers on the base of the stone. "Hiya, Pop. It's me, Davy."

 

Hutch's eyes burned as he watched. Starsky had insisted he come along, though he wouldn't let his mother or brother accompany him. This was the first time he'd been to his father's grave since the funeral and he'd told Hutch he wasn't sure how it would affect him. He didn't want his mother or Nick to see him if he broke down. Hutch was oddly touched by that – Starsky didn't mind if Hutch saw him break down.

 

Starsky simply knelt there in silence for several minutes, looking at the headstone. "Michael Aaron Starsky, 1920-1956" was all that was there. "You and me're about the same age now, Pop," Starsky said softly. "That was too young to die. You never got to see me or Nicky grow up. You missed our graduations and everything. But Ma done her best, Pop, she really did."

 

So far, Starsky's voice was steady. Hutch drew a little closer, to be nearby in case Starsky needed him.

 

Starsky bowed his head and chanted something under his breath, so softly Hutch couldn't catch more than a word here and there. It sounded like Hebrew and, realizing it must be a prayer, Hutch bowed his head, too, and closed his eyes. It didn't matter whether he understood the words. He understood the feeling behind the words.  When Starsky lifted his head again, Hutch saw him reach out and place a small stone on the grave marker.

 

"I got him for ya, Pop," Starsky said when he finished the prayer. "I got the man who pulled the trigger and I got the man who paid him to do it. Me and Hutch did it together, Pop. Remember how you told me a man's partner is the most important person in his life? You were right, Pop. You were right."

 

Now, Starsky's voice was shaking and though his back was toward Hutch, he knew there were tears in Starsky's eyes.

 

"I miss ya, Pop. God, you'd never realize how bad I miss ya. Every day. I have so many things I want to tell you. I wish you could see me now. I hope you'd be proud of me. I tried to grow up good. It wasn't easy." Starsky drew a deep, shuddering breath and Hutch saw him reach up and wipe a tear away. Without thinking, he knelt next to Starsky and put an arm around him. Starsky didn't look at him, but he didn't shrug him off, either.

 

"I gotta go, Pop. I just wanted to tell ya ... " He paused, reached out and gently traced the letters that spelled "Starsky" on the stone. " ... I love you. I'm trying to live up to the name you gave me." He rose, with Hutch gently steadying him, and finally met Hutch's eyes. They were wet, but he was back in control. "Let's go."

 

~*~*~*~

 

The detectives had received a phone call from Lieutenant Bob Whitney, asking them to meet him down at the station prior to the senator’s arraignment.  He said he had some important information for them.  Now that the senator, Dagget, and most of their henchmen were in the lockup, Starsky was hoping Whitney had more damning evidence against them.

 

Whitney invited the other two men to join him in an interrogation room where they could have some privacy.  Over coffee, the lieutenant explained the purpose of his phone call.

 

“Davy, when you left me that message, I didn’t know what to say to you.  After all of this time, how could I help?  Now, seeing you sitting there... damn if you don’t look just like him.  He was about your age, you know....”

 

Starsky cut him off by saying, “I know.  Everyone says that.”

 

“Sorry, Davy.  I just... well, it’s been a long time.”

 

“I know.  Is there anything you can tell us that will help the case?”

 

Bobby looked at the floor for a moment.  “I don’t know how to tell you all of this.  David, your dad was working alone on that case.  I know you probably don’t remember any of this, but about a month before he died, I was shot at a break in.  They assigned your pop to do the surveillance while I was laid up.”

 

Starsky shook his head and said, “I don’t remember, Bobby.  I’m sorry.”

 

“Listen, um, our captain assigned him to the case.  Some stuff that was happening with building contracts, liquor licenses, and such clued the department in that a local political bigwig had to have been taking bribes from one of the families.  They didn’t know which boss it was and they weren’t sure which politician, either.  While I was out, your pop gathered a lot of evidence.  He wouldn’t tell me much – said he had to make sure before he went and popped off about it.  That day he died was my first back on duty.  We were gonna stop by your house so he could show me what he had.  Mike said he was just about ready to take it to the captain.” Bobby stopped and suddenly looked uncomfortable. 

 

“What is it?  Go on,” Starsky said.

 

“Maybe I shouldn’t.  I just thought... You never heard the details of what happened.  Do you want to know?   ‘S not like it makes any difference now.”

 

Hutch said, “Good point, Starsk.  You sure you want to hear this part?”

 

Starsky nodded. “I’m going to put all of this to bed, Hutch.  If I’m gonna do that, I have to know everything.  Thanks, Bobby, but go ahead.”

 

“We looked for you at the gym, but you weren’t there.  Mike said we should just head over to your place and maybe we’d catch up to you on the way.  We had just crossed the street to go over to your house when we heard ‘em.  They came barreling around the corner in a black, ‘49 Packard with dark windows.  I never really saw ‘em good.  The shooter had on a ski mask and it was gettin’ pretty dark.  They rounded the corner and headed our way.  I was standing in front of your pop.  He yelled for me to get down and I guess I didn’t move fast enough to suit him.  He pushed me to the ground and tried to draw his gun.  The whole thing was too fast, though. So fast.   Mike never even got his gun out of its holster.”

 

Hutch glanced at Starsky, making sure he was handling all of this information all right. Starsky nodded at him, but his mouth was tight and he had that intensity in his gaze that set suspects on edge.  Hutch picked his hand up off the table a short way and made a brief, understated “keep cool” movement with it. 

 

Bobby paused to drink some coffee, the cup shaking in his nervous hands.  “I could hear someone in the car yelling something like ‘where’s the kid’ and the shooter shouts back, ‘dunno, but I ain’t killin’ no kid’ right before I heard the car door slam.  I’ll never forget it.  By this time, I was up off the ground with my gun in my hand.  I ran into the street and took a couple’a shots at ‘em.  Then I ran back to Mike.  He had three slugs in his chest and there was so much blood I knew he’d never make it to the hospital.  People started comin’ out of their houses and the next thing I knew, you were there, Davy.  You shoulda never seen that.”

 

“But I did see it, Bobby.” Starsky took a deep breath.  The shooting was long ago, but reliving it through Lieutenant Whitney’s eyes made the pain and the memories fresh.  Starsky absentmindedly touched the rings that linked him to his dad.  “Did they ever find the car?”

 

“Yeah, they found it a few days later, abandoned.  Naturally, the car was stolen and it had been wiped clean.  Two slugs from my gun were embedded in it.”

 

Hutch had remained quiet, but he had some questions of his own.  “Bobby, why did the investigation stop?”

 

“Stop?  What makes you think it stopped?”  Bobby’s tone was defensive and he regretted it.  “I’m sorry, it’s just... Look at your partner sittin’ there, Hutchinson.”  Hutch looked at him with slight confusion. “Just do it, really look at him.”

 

Hutch looked at Starsky, trying to figure out where this was going. “Okay, I’m looking.”

 

“Now put yourself in my shoes for just a minute.  Imagine Davy just got gunned down in front of you, protecting your ass, by the way.  Nothin’ you could do.  Wouldn’t you go to the ends of the Earth, do whatever it took to find the guys who blew him away?”

 

Hutch got a chill thinking about it and it showed.  Starsky kept his face from revealing anything about how he felt but, under the table, he moved his foot closer to his partner until he touched Hutch’s shoe.  The look he gave Hutch was full of promises and reassurance, this ain’t me we’re talkin’ about, and that’s not gonna happen.  I’m fine.  You’re fine.

 

“Yeah, Bobby, I would do that.  So what happened?” Hutch asked, after he was able to turn his eyes away from the mental image of his partner being  gunned down in front of him.

 

“Nothing.  I investigated, followed every lead, tried to find out what Mike had, searched the house, and I drew a big blank.  The neighborhood was sealed up tight.  Durniak was bristlin’ because some other goons had killed Mike. He may have suspected Dagget, but didn’t have enough to go after him.  For some reason, Joey always had respect for Mike.  Nobody was talkin’.  Whoever it was being bribed, they got real careful.  After about six months, they pulled me off and the case just died.  I tried to follow up on my own, but it was just impossible without support from the department.  The other partners they assigned to me hated me and thought I was dangerous.  Eventually, I got hurt again and I requested to move in off the streets.  Guess I knew I’d never want another partner again.”

 

They continued to discuss the case and what had happened with Bobby for a while.  When they were talked out, the men stood and shook hands.  The lieutenant wished them well and told Starsky to be careful.  Before walking out of the room, Bobby tugged on Hutch’s arm and asked to see him alone for a minute. 

 

Starsky went to see Lieutenant Harris while Hutch listened to Bobby again.  “I can see you two are tight partners, just like me and Mike were.  You take real good care of Davy for me.  You only get lucky enough to have a partner like Mike once in a lifetime.  If Davy’s half the man his old man was....”

 

“He is, that and much more.  He’s my best friend, Bobby.  Keepin’ an eye on him is part of what I do.”

 

~*~*~*~

 

After the arraignment, Harris pulled Starsky and Hutch aside in the courtroom.  He said, “I hear there’s a throng of reporters outside.  You up to facing them, or do you want us to get you out another way?”

 

“Don’t know what we have to say to ‘em, but it’s okay,” Starsky answered. 

 

“They know we can’t say anything about the case, but I think they’d like the chance to talk to you.”

 

Hutch said, “You don’t have to do this, Starsk.”

 

“Naw, I’d rather talk to ‘em.  They might try and bug Ma or Nicky if we don’t.  Anything for a sensational story, right?”

 

They walked out of the courtroom, Lieutenant Harris in the lead.  He stepped out of the building onto the steps with Starsky and Hutch right behind him.  Cameras whirred and flashbulbs flashed.  Dealing with reporters was not high on either detective’s “things I like to do” list. 

 

Harris put a hand up to shush the crowd of reporters. “I’d like to make a statement.  As you know, we are not able to answer questions about the arraignment, or the case against the accused.  Detectives David Starsky and Ken Hutchinson behind me are available to answer general questions.”

 

The reporters started shouting questions again and Harris put up his hands.  “Wait, before I turn the visiting officers over to you, I have something to say.  The events for which the suspects stand accused took place a long time ago.  The case has been unsolved for many years.  Detectives Starsky and Hutchinson provided the final pieces needed to solve this crime.  In cooperation with the NYPD, these two officers provided invaluable information.  Their investigatory skills and good old fashioned detective work helped to break this case open and the NYPD is in their debt.”

 

Starsky and Hutch looked at each other, sharing the same thoughts.  For Lieutenant Harris to give them credit in a public forum, even though they deserved it, took them completely by surprise.  Hutch nodded at Starsky.  They both knew he was the one the reporters wanted to interview.  Starsky stepped forward and started fielding their questions.

 

The rapid-fire questions were confusing, but Starsky pointed at a reporter near the front of the pack and she asked, “Detective Starsky, how did you know the Senator was involved in these illegal activities?”

 

“No comment,” he answered.  The reporter who had just asked the question looked exasperated, almost like she hoped he would accidentally give her some information he shouldn’t give.

 

Starsky listened to the succession of questions, glancing from face to face, hoping to hear one worth answering. 

 

“Detective Starsky, when did you first suspect....”

 

“Detective Starsky, will you and your partner be back to testify....”

 

“Detective Starsky, did Senator Florenz make any statements when....”

 

“Detective Starsky, how does it feel to solve your father’s murder?”

 

Hutch knew that was the question when his partner’s stance changed.  Starsky turned to pick out the speaker.  He pointed at a young woman near the middle of the pack and asked her to repeat her question.

 

“Kelly Johnson, New York Times,” she said.  “How does it feel to solve your father’s murder?”

 

Starsky paused and reached into his pocket to retrieve his wallet.  The reporters stared at him intently as he opened it and withdrew a picture.  He held up the well-worn black and white photo of his eight-year-old self, standing next to his father in uniform.  They looked happy together and his resemblance to his dad caused a slight murmur in the front of the crowd from the people with the best view.  The television camera crews from the local news programs zoomed in on the photo. 

 

“My father, Michael Starsky, was a New York City police officer. Twenty-two years ago, he was gunned down on the street, the victim of a paid hit.  Finally, the men responsible for his death are coming to justice.  How does it feel?  It doesn’t bring him back.  That’s how it feels, but I hope he’s resting easier now.”  Starsky put the picture back and turned away from the reporters.  That was all he intended to or wanted to say. 

 

Harris and some uniformed officers pushed their way through the crowd to get Starsky and Hutch into a waiting car.  The driver took them straight to the airport, where Rachel and Nick Starsky were waiting to say goodbye.

 

“Did you talk to Captain Dobey this morning, Davy?”

 

“Yes, Ma.  Everything’s fine out there.” Starsky smiled at his mother. 

 

“I mean, did they find....”

 

“Yes, Ma.  They caught the guy who threw that grenade into Hutch’s place.  Busted him last night on a hot tip.”  She worried too much.

 

Rachel feared that her son and his partner were just going back into the same dangerous situation that brought them into this case.  With Vinnie dead, and the other men behind bars, if the Bay City police had apprehended the man who tried to kill Hutch, she could relax – at least for this case.

 

Hutch hugged his extra mother and smiled at her.  “Don’t worry, Mom.  Davy isn’t walking back from the frying pan into the fire.”

 

“I worry about you, too, Ken.”  She patted him gently on the cheek, pausing to touch the faded bruising on his eye. 

 

“Yeah, well, he’ll keep an eye on me and I’ll look out for him, okay?”

 

Nick gave his brother a hug and promised he’d be out to visit him soon.  After the detectives left to board the plane, Nick tried to get his mother to come with him. 

 

“Not yet, son,” she said with a patient smile as she walked closer to the glass, looking out at the plane that would carry her oldest son back to his life in California.

 

“Why, Ma? They’re on their way.  Let’s go.” Nick didn’t understand the point of standing around to watch a plane until it was gone.

 

Rachel turned toward him and said, “Nicky, be patient.  Mothers always stand and look out the window.”

 

“You do that when I leave your place?” he asked.

 

“Of course, I do.  Moms are funny that way.”  She turned back toward the window and resolutely stood there until the plane was gone. 

 

~*~*~*~

 

“You okay, Starsk?” Hutch asked after they were in the air.

 

“Yeah, I’m all right.  You?”

 

“Couldn’t be better.  I was proud of you with those reporters today.  You always say you hate it, but you do just fine.”

 

“Maybe.”

 

“You know, you didn’t really answer the question, Starsk.”

 

“What question?”

 

“The one that reporter asked.  How does it feel?”

 

“Feels pretty good, Hutch.  They didn’t need to know that, but it feels really good.  But, Hutch, this case almost killed you.  That wouldn’t have made it worth it.”

 

“We made it, partner.  Me and thee.  We both got a little dinged up on the way, but we made it, Gordo.”

 

Starsky smiled at his best friend.  “Yeah, we did. Thanks, Hutch.”

 

They knew they’d have to return to New York to testify.  A paperwork monster and the associated investigation into the events that happened in Bay City also awaited them, but even that couldn’t put a damper on their good spirits.  Hutch could see and feel the tension of the past few weeks leaving his partner.  Solving the mystery of Mike Starsky’s murder and finally bringing that chapter of Starsky’s life to a close made everything worth it to Hutch.   

 

The End

 

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