Trial by Fire
Beauty and the Beast/Starsky & Hutch crossover
There was a scent of coming rain in the breeze that ruffled Catherine’s hair as she sat in a wicker chair on the terrace staring in dismay at the file folder on her lap. She’d read the file three times already; twice in the office, once over her solitary evening meal, and still she couldn’t believe it. Tom Gunther, the man she’d almost married, would have married but for the attack and Vincent, implicated in an organized crime syndicate that reached all the way to the west coast and, apparently, had some branches in other countries as well.
What would Dad have said if he’d known?
“You could do a lot worse than Tom Gunther,” he’d told her in his office the afternoon before her life had changed forever. She’d smiled, avoided the implications of the remark as if she thought her father was teasing her. He often did -- had, rather -- but she knew, deep down, that he was anxious for his little girl to “make a good match.” Marry well, marry rich, and continue to live the socialite lifestyle she’d been brought up in. Tom Gunther, rich, powerful, with half the city eager to be in his good graces, was a perfect candidate in Charles Chandler’s eyes.
But Catherine, even before the attack that had changed her life, had known there was some indefinable spark missing and was unwilling to settle for a life married to a man she did not love, and who did not love her. She was a trophy to him, a beautiful debutante with old money and an old name. She’d fallen into a pattern of dating him, of appearing on his arm at the many functions he attended. If not for the attack -- and more significantly, meeting Vincent -- she might well have been persuaded to make the relationship permanent. She shuddered now. If she had...
A familiar sound made her raise her head with a smile as Vincent appeared at the far end of the terrace. She closed the file and rose to meet him with a hug.
“What troubles you?” he asked immediately. He always knew.
“A case,” she answered, never even considering not sharing her disquiet with him. “Someone I used to know has been indicted.” She paused momentarily, then raised her eyes to meet his. “Tom Gunther.”
Vincent’s eyes shifted. He knew the name well. “Does it trouble you more that he is involved or that he is in danger?”
She smiled. “What troubles me,” she answered, adopting his cadence, as she seemed to when they were together, “is that I might have married him if not for meeting you.”
A slight flush stained the golden skin -- like it always did when she made a personal remark to him. “You ... loved him?”
“Heavens, no,” she said, laughing. “Not in the least. But I was different then, Vincent. And Dad,” she paused; speaking of her father still stung in spite of the time that had passed since his death, “thought he was a good catch.”
Vincent’s eyes crinkled a little at the corners. “And you...did not?”
“He was,” she said, “if that’s what I’d been interested in. And I was, marginally, I suppose. He’s rich and powerful and important to people who judge by those things. But he’s also arrogant and shallow and very, very annoying.” She smiled at him. “I guess I’m really counting my blessings.”
This time, Vincent smiled -- something he didn’t often do. “I also count mine,” he said quietly. “Will you have to assist in the prosecution?”
“‘Fraid so,” she said, leading the way back to the wicker furniture and waving Vincent to a seat on the other chair. “I’d rather not, but Joe insisted I’d know who to call and what to ask better than anyone else would.” She sighed and brushed a strand of hair away from her eyes. “I’ve already done some digging today and it just gets uglier, the deeper I go.”
“What have you found?” Vincent was always interested in her work and he made a wonderful sounding board when she needed to talk something out. He’d read so extensively that he could make intelligent observations and ask good questions and help her get to the heart of the things that puzzled or disturbed her.
“The very first thing I discovered is that Tom’s uncle James is in prison for arranging an attempted murder on a couple of police detectives in California a few years ago,” she said, shaking her head. “They had apparently been doing some damage to his organization -- Tom’s uncle’s organization -- for three or four years without even knowing they were doing it. He had one of them shot in the police parking garage, of all places, and apparently he almost died.”
“But he survived?”
She nodded. “Yes, and his partner found the proof to pin it on Tom’s uncle and finish ruining his organization out there. But it looks like they didn’t know about all the branches and now the police in California and the police here are discovering the links. Tom’s money apparently doesn’t all come from his real estate holdings,” she finished with a sardonic tone in her voice.
“Perhaps these detectives could help you build your case,” Vincent suggested.
She nodded again. “I hope so. I left a message for them today to call me. I’m especially interested in talking to the partner who proved the case against Tom’s uncle. He had to do it all alone, since his partner was in a coma, and he did such a good job that James Gunther will die in prison for his crimes.”
“Yet he missed the connection with Tom?”
Catherine pursed her lips. “Yes, but it was pretty well hidden,” she said. “Not the fact that they were related, I suppose, but Tom has a lot of legitimate business concerns to filter the money through and make it all look legal.”
“Will you be able to do this, Catherine?” Vincent asked gently. “Considering what you had with him before?”
She smiled at him and patted his arm. “Yes. Don’t worry.”
She arrived at the office early the next morning. It was going to be a lot of work, getting this case ready for trial. Joe himself was going to argue in court, but she’d have to be there, too, and their case had to be airtight. She’d spent two hours in the file room with Edie before even taking a break for coffee, and when she got back to her desk, there was a note on it. The detective in California had called.
She picked up the phone and dialed.
“Hello, this is Catherine Chandler in the New York City District Attorney’s office,” she said. “Thank you for returning my call.”
There was a pause before Hutchinson said, “My partner and I are more than willing to do whatever it takes to get anybody that got away before.” There was a grim note in his voice.
“I realize it’s been several years,” she said. “But I hoped that you’d still have notes or evidence or something that would help us build our case at this end.”
“It’s been almost nine years,” he said, and the steel in his voice intensified. “James Gunther almost killed my partner. I’m not going to forget that. Ever.”
Catherine was a little taken aback. “I see,” she said lamely. “Then you’d be willing to come to New York to testify at the trial?”
“Yes.” There was another pause, and Hutchinson said, his voice relaxing marginally, “I’m sorry if I sound vindictive, Miss Chandler, but it was a close call. Starsky almost died. He had months of physical therapy and a painful, slow recovery. They didn’t think he’d ever be able to come back to active duty, and being a cop is important to him. And he’s important to me.”
At her end, Catherine smiled. “You must be close friends.” She understood that. What if something happened to Vincent? Even the thought frightened her.
“Yeah. So, what do you need from us?” Hutchinson’s voice became businesslike.
“Anything you have on James Gunther’s organization, any possible connections with New York, anything at all that might help us connect the two in a courtroom.”
She could hear the sound of paper shuffling and a moment later, Hutchinson said, “He had extensive real estate holdings, most of which were legitimate, unfortunately. We couldn’t touch those. There’s an office building in Manhattan.”
“There is? What’s the address?” She picked up a pencil and wrote down the address he read to her. She was familiar with the building -- there was a coffee shop on the lower level that she and Edie liked for quick lunches. But Tom had never indicated a connection with it. “Anything else?”
“Some of his less legitimate business took place in New York,” Hutchinson said. “Hang on. Starsk, hand me that other folder.” There was a pause and he said, “Here we go. He did some jewel smuggling from Europe and some of his operatives have New York addresses. We got most of them, but a few got away. I can send you the names.”
“Can you fax them? We’re kind of under the gun here.”
“Yeah, no problem. What’s your fax number?”
She told him, and added, “Did you ever find any connections with Tom Gunther in your investigation?”
“I don’t remember that name. Starsk?” he said, turning from the phone. “Do you remember the name Tom Gunther from the trial?”
A second voice answered, “Tom? No, don’t think so.”
“Sorry,” Hutchinson said to her. “I know we’re pulling some pieces together that point toward him now, but we didn’t have any of that at the time.”
In the background, she heard the second man say, “Hey, don’t forget the boat.”
“It’s a ship, Starsk, not a boat,” Hutchinson said with a note of impatience in his voice. “But he’s right,” he added to Catherine. “There was a ship berthed in New York that belonged to Gunther, called ‘Dandy Lion.’ Two words, not like the weed.”
“It’s a flower,” the second man said, and Catherine grinned.
“It’s a weed,” Hutchinson shot back. “Anyway,” he said into the phone, “the Dandy Lion was part of his legitimate import/export business and we couldn’t prove he’d done anything illegal with it, so it might still be there and it might still be in use.”
“I’ll look into that,” she said. “That could be important. I know Tom’s business has a shipping division.”
“That’s all I can think of right now,” Hutchinson said. “I can send you copies of the files and my notes from the investigation, and you can probably get a trial transcript from our D.A.”
“It’s already on the way, I hope,” she said. “I may need to come out there and talk to you in person, and anyone else that could help.”
After work, Catherine met Vincent at the threshold in her sub-basement to tell him what she’d found that day. She described the conversation with Detective Hutchinson, especially the part about his partner’s shooting.
“Nine years,” Vincent said, shaking his head. “And still he can’t forgive.”
“I can’t say I blame him,” Catherine said. “I read the report he faxed to me today. Detective Starsky was shot three times by an automatic weapon at close range. They almost lost him twice. Once in the operating room and once in ICU. The second time, they almost didn’t get him back. Do you know they’ve been partners for 15 years?”
Vincent leaned back against the wall and his eyes were thoughtful. “A long time.”
“He said his partner was ‘important to him,’” she said.
“As he should be,” Vincent said. “They depend on one another for their safety.”
“Yes, but I think it’s more than that,” she said. “I think they’re friends, too, and would be friends even if they didn’t work together. I don’t know why I think so, but there was something in his voice.”
Vincent’s eyes crinkled. “You felt a connection between them.”
“Will you have to travel to California?”
“I might,” she said. “Joe’s really anxious about this one. We have to get a conviction or we’re going to look very, very bad. Tom’s a prominent man.”
Vincent nodded. “And Joe wants no one to think perhaps you didn’t try hard enough due to your history with Tom, also?”
Catherine sighed. “I doubt if he wants it to look like I tried too hard, either.”
Starsky and Hutch waited at the gate, Starsky impatient and Hutch trying not to be. The plane had landed 20 minutes earlier, but they still hadn’t let the passengers disembark. At last, however, people started coming through the gate.
“D’you know what she looks like?” Starsky said. “I mean, how’re we gonna find her?”
“We’ll find her,” Hutch said. “Would you please stand still? Just for 30 seconds?”
Starsky very deliberately folded his arms and planted his feet, but the look he gave Hutch was long-suffering. Hutch hid his smile and kept his eyes on the passengers.
Finally, a woman with golden brown hair in an expensively simple dress and trenchcoat appeared.
“That’s her,” Hutch said, starting forward to meet her.
“How do you know?”
“I don’t,” Hutch said. “I’m guessing.” He waved and called to her, “Are you Catherine Chandler?”
“Yes.” She moved in their direction with a smile. “Detective Hutchinson?”
“Hutch, please. And this is my partner, David Starsky.”
“Dave,” Starsky said, taking her bag and giving her his best ear to ear grin.
Catherine kept her composure outwardly, but inside she wanted to laugh. They were overdoing the charm bit, and she suspected this was a routine -- “Let’s see which one of us she likes best.” She was willing to play the game if it would break the ice. She needed all the help she could get from these two police officers, and the sooner they were comfortable with each other, the better. “My friends call me Cathy,” she said, surrendering the bag and returning Starsky’s smile.
“Do you have any other luggage?” Hutch asked.
“Yes, one more bag.”
“Let’s go get it for you,” Starsky said, offering his arm.
This time she couldn’t hide her smile. She liked them. That was going to help, too.
After they retrieved her other suitcase, which Hutch carried, the men led her outside to a red Torino with a wide white stripe on it. She grinned. “Whose car is this?”
“His,” Hutch said. “I wouldn’t be caught dead with a car like that. And it’s ancient. I don’t know how he keeps the damn thing running.”
“Don’t start in on my car,” Starsky warned, though his eyes were twinkling and Catherine could see that this was a long-standing joke. “And who the hell are you to talk about ancient cars? The serial number on yours is 1.”
“Har, har,” Hutch shot back, opening the trunk with a key he pulled from his jeans pocket and putting Catherine’s bag in. He held out his hand for the one Starsky was carrying and added it before closing the trunk lid.
“I figured we’d stop at the precinct first, unless you’re too tired,” Starsky said as he opened the door and let her slide across the seat.
“Not at all,” she said. “I’m anxious to get started.”
“Good.” Starsky got in and had the car started by the time Hutch slid in on the other side. “We’ve pulled all the files, including the ones from the cases where we were steppin’ on the old boy’s toes without knowing it --”
“You make him sound like a naughty kid,” Hutch said, and there was a note of grim rage in his voice that almost frightened Catherine.
“I know he’s not,” Starsky answered. “But he’s where he can’t hurt us anymore.”
Hutch turned his head away to look at the window, and as Catherine glanced at him, she saw his throat move as he swallowed. It made her own heart ache a little, realizing how deeply the pain went. If she’d known him better, she would have touched his arm to comfort him.
Starsky was under no such restraint. He put his arm behind Catherine and gave Hutch’s shoulder a swift, hard squeeze. “I’ll shut up, Blintz,” he said, and the words, though lightly said, carried an undercurrent that Catherine felt but couldn’t name.
“You’re okay now, aren’t you?” she asked, very, very gently.
“Oh, yeah,” Starsky said and gave her a brilliant grin. It lit up his whole face and made his eyes, blue like Vincent’s but a slightly different shade, dance. “I’m right as rain, thanks to the blond Blintz over there. What a bully.”
“I made him go to physical therapy,” Hutch put in, turning his head toward her again and rejoining the conversation. “I made him do his exercises. I wouldn’t put up with his whining.”
Catherine smiled at him, and he smiled back. “You sound merciless.”
“He had to be,” Starsky said cheerfully. “I was a great big baby about it.”
“He’s a great big baby about everything,” Hutch commented, eyes twinkling.
Starsky made a face at him, then said to Catherine, “So, are you married?”
“No,” Catherine said, laughing. “But I am, uh, involved with someone.”
“That sounds ominous,” Starsky teased. “Is he married?”
“No,” she said, shaking her head.
“He’s a mob boss,” Starsky guessed.
Catherine burst out laughing so hard it made tears come to her eyes. “Wrong again.”
“Damn.” Starsky pretended to think very hard. “Is he better looking than I am?”
“It’s okay,” she said to Hutch. To Starsky, she said, “I think so. No offense.”
Now Hutch was laughing. “There you go, Starsk. I told you, your so-called charm is not irresistible.”
Starsky grinned. “Maybe she just lacks couth.”
“Maybe you do,” Hutch retorted.
“What the hell, maybe we all do,” Catherine said, making both of them laugh. “Now, can we pretend this conversation never happened?”
Far away, in the Tunnels, Vincent was reading -- re-reading -- one of his favorite books. Father poked his head into the chamber. “Vincent? Is everything all right?”
Vincent raised his head and smiled. “Yes. She’s well. Even this far away...” he trailed off, shaking his head. “What a wondrous thing, to still feel her emotions when she is on another coast. But I do. And she’s fine. I think...” He paused again and his gaze became distant. “I think she’s laughing.”
Father sank down in a chair, stunned. He had known for some time, of course, that Vincent could tell what Catherine was feeling, but to be as specific as that, when she was thousands of miles away, amazed him.
“Your empathic connection with Catherine never ceases to astonish me,” Father said, reaching over to lay his hand over his son’s. “Perhaps I’ve never said so in so many words, Vincent, but I may have been wrong to counsel you to avoid a relationship with her. I think...” He paused, and looked away as if embarrassed. “I think perhaps it has been good for both of you.”
Vincent didn’t know what to say. Father had softened much toward Catherine in the last year, especially since her own father had died. He had tried, in a distant sort of way, to be a substitute father to her since then. But Vincent had had no idea Father had come so far as to admit the relationship was good for them. “Thank you, Father,” he said at last. “That means more than you know.”
Father’s eyes came back to him and he smiled. “I’m not going to stop worrying.”
Vincent chuckled. “I would not expect you to.”
“Heavens,” Catherine said, seated at the long table in the homicide squad room and looking at the extensive paperwork Hutch had produced for the Gunther case. “This could take a week to go through.”
“I wanted to be sure,” Hutch said, and that grim note was back in his voice. Catherine saw Starsky’s eyes flicker toward his partner and the two men exchanged a silent but significant look.
“We’ll help you sort through it,” Starsky said. “We haven’t forgotten the high points.”
“But what about your other work?”
“This is our other work for now,” Starsky said. “Our captain told us this is top priority. We don’t do much else but investigation these days, anyway, no more street patrols and breaking up bar fights. Not since --” he broke off with another glance at Hutch. “And with us so close to completely closing down the whole Gunther organization, if we can nail your pal Tom, too, Dobey told us to drop everything else but this.”
“I wouldn’t call Tom my ‘pal,’” she said, smiling to take the sting from the words. “I haven’t even spoken to him in more than a year.”
Starsky looked uncomfortable and Hutch had withdrawn into himself somehow.
“What?” she demanded. “If we’re going to work on this case together, Dave, we have to share all the information we both have.”
“We, uh, we saw the newspaper stories about...about your, um...”
“‘Gunther’s girlfriend missing’?” she asked, quoting the headline that had appeared on page one of the New York Sun the day after she disappeared.
“That was annoying,” she said. “Gunther’s girlfriend. Not ‘Catherine Chandler.’ Not even ‘Charles Chandler’s daughter.’ But ‘Gunther’s girlfriend.’ I was put out.” She grinned, and after a moment, Starsky did, too.
“It, uh, it looked like you had a, well, a bad time,” he said.
She shrugged. “It wasn’t anything like yours,” she said. “In fact, it changed my life. Brought me up short and made me think about what’s important and what isn’t. In a way, I have those guys to thank for Vin...” She stopped short.
She glanced from one to the other. She had learned to trust her heart and her instincts when it came to who she could trust, thanks to Vincent and the people in his world. She felt she could trust these two men. “Vincent. The man I told you about.”
“The mob boss?” Starsky said with a wink.
She laughed and nodded. “I would never have met him if it hadn’t been for the attack. And now I can’t imagine not knowing him.” Her voice and eyes had softened as she spoke of Vincent, and both Starsky and Hutch noticed. They exchanged another look over her head.
“I think,” Hutch said, his voice gentle, almost musical, “that Vincent is a very lucky man.”
Starsky drove her to her hotel a couple of hours later, after they’d all tired of talking over the case. He offered to come back for her later, to take her to dinner so that she wouldn’t be alone in a strange city. She’d accepted gratefully; the prospect of a room service dinner or eating alone in a restaurant didn’t appeal to her at all.
She sank down wearily on the bed, too tired for the moment to even think about showering and changing. It had been a long day, at the end of a long week of working night and day on this case, sometimes to the point of excluding a visit with Vincent. He had respected her need to devote time to the case and had not come unless summoned. She missed him dreadfully.
She was going to have to stay in Bay City for a week, at least, another week in which she wouldn’t be able to see him or touch him. And when she returned home, she was going to be so busy preparing the case for trial, which would begin within the month, that she wouldn’t have much time for him then, either. The thought was unutterably depressing.
Catherine reached for her suitcase. There was one thing she could do. She could write to him. He cherished notes and letters from her as she cherished the rare notes from him. She would mail it to Peter’s, and he would take it or send it to Vincent for her.
Dearest Vincent, she wrote,
I arrived safely, as I’m sure you know by now. The two detectives I told you about met me at the airport and are looking after me. I think you would like them. Remember how I told you I thought they would be friends even if they didn’t work together? There’s something about them. They seem to talk without words. It’s extraordinary.
I miss you so much. It’s necessary, what I’m doing, but I hate being so far away, unable to call or hear your voice.
She smiled down at the letter before sealing and addressing it. To the rest of the world, she was “Cathy.” Vincent was the only person who always, without fail, addressed her as “Catherine.” He made the name almost a caress.
Starsky returned a few hours later, long enough that Catherine had taken both a nap and a shower and felt immeasurably better. She smiled when she opened the door and saw him standing there in a tie and jacket, but still wearing the jeans and sneakers he’d had on earlier.
“You like Italian?” he said without preamble.
“Yes, I do,” she said.
He offered an arm, and she took it. He took her to a very small, very quiet Italian restaurant where he was obviously known. The waitress greeted him by name and he introduced her to Catherine as “Teresa.”
After she’d taken their orders, he told Catherine, “Hutch won’t come here, but the food’s terrific.”
“Why won’t Hutch come here?” she asked.
“Bad memories,” Starsky said. “I got shot here years ago.”
Catherine took a sharp breath.
He gave a shrug. “Some time I’ll tell you about it. But Hutch won’t come here anymore. He says I’m the superstitious one, but really, he is. He’s got a thing about karma or something.”
“It doesn’t bother you to come here?”
He shook his head. “Nope. Like I said, the food’s terrific.”
“How many times have you been shot?” Catherine asked in horror, then felt her cheeks burn. What a question.
He grinned this time. “I lost count. Ran outta fingers and toes.”
Obviously he wanted to play it down. So Catherine went along. “Why didn’t Hutch come? Not just because of the restaurant?”
“He had a date,” Starsky said. “Hey, your boyfriend ain’t gonna be mad you had dinner with me, is he? Wouldn’t want a hassle when we come east for the trial.”
Catherine chuckled. That was the first time anyone had ever called Vincent her “boyfriend.” “No,” she said. “He’s not the jealous type.”
“Is it real serious?”
She took a sip from the wine Teresa had brought and nodded. “Yes. Very. What about you?”
“What about me?”
“Are you involved with someone?”
He shook his head and a look of sadness passed across his face and was gone so quickly she almost missed it.
“I’m sorry,” she said gently. “Was that too personal a question?”
“No,” he said, recovering quickly and producing another smile.. “I’ve been pretty nosy with you. Guess I’m just havin’ a dry spell.”
Teresa returned with their food, which was, as Starsky had said, “terrific.” Catherine hadn’t realized how hungry she was until she started to eat.
“What’d I tell ya?” Starsky said, grinning as he watched her attack her dinner.
“You were right,” she said, pausing to take another sip of wine. “It’s wonderful.”
He looked pleased and went back to his own meal. They didn’t talk much until they had finished and Teresa had taken their empty plates. Then he leaned back in his chair. “You got any questions I could answer?”
“About the case?” she asked, and he nodded.
“Hutch really hates talkin’ about it,” he said. “Even now. That’s part of why I wanted to take you to dinner without him. I thought you an’ me could get the ugly stuff talked about without him havin’ to listen to it. That okay?”
“I noticed how much it disturbs him,” she said. “Is it going to be too difficult for him to testify?”
Starsky shook his head. “No. He knows he’s gotta do that, and if it’ll damage Gunther -- either one of them -- he’ll do it. But that’s official business. It’s when it’s not official that it hurts him to talk about it. So, what do you wanna know?”
“Everything,” she said.
Starsky nodded and looked thoughtful. “Okay, I’ll start at the beginning. We didn’t know it, but we’d been steppin’ on his toes for a couple of years. We’d busted a string of his operatives but we didn’t put it all together. We didn’t know they were connected to each other or to him. We knew about him, of course. He was a well-known tycoon type, almost like a Howard Hughes. But he kept his illegal activities so well concealed that he hadn’t come up on the radar.”
“So he wasn’t under suspicion?”
“Nope. Man, did we feel stupid when we realized the extent of his so-called business,” Starsky said, shaking his head. “He had fingers in every goddamn crime you could think of, from prostitution to jewel heists to drugs.”
“And he hired someone to kill you.”
Starsky nodded again. “To kill us both. They just got to me first.”
“His hired goons were dressed as cops and they were in a squad in the police garage, layin’ in wait for us,” Starsky said. “We came out and went to my car, and they pulled out and drove by and sprayed us with an automatic.”
Catherine was horrified. Her face must have shown it. She couldn’t speak.
“Hutch was saved because he was on the other side of the car,” Starsky went on. “He yelled at me to get down, but I was stupid and reached for my gun first. I took three slugs,” he pointed at his torso in three different spots, one of them disturbingly close to his heart. “They thought I was gonna die, even Hutch did. And he went after whoever’d done it. Got him, too,” he said with quiet pride.
She knew the rest, from the trial transcripts and the police reports. She realized now, in some deep place within her heart, what it had cost Hutch to pursue this case professionally and to write those reports -- at least a dozen of them arrests he himself had made -- when during much of that time his partner had been lying near death in a hospital room. Her eyes misted over at the thought.
“Hey,” Starsky said softly, “it’s okay now. See? I’m fine. Hutch is fine. Don’t go gettin’ all soapy on me.”
She laughed through the tears. “I wouldn’t dream of it. I was just thinking ... how difficult this must have been for him.”
Starsky nodded soberly. “It was. God.” He paused and shook his head. “I don’t know if I could’ve done it, if it’d been the other way around.”
“I think you could have,” she said quietly. “For his sake, as he did it for yours.”
“Maybe so,” Starsky said, but he didn’t sound convinced. “I’m a lot more volatile than Hutch is. He’s ... he can be cold and ...”
“Implacable?” she suggested.
He nodded. “Yeah. When he has to be. Me, I get crazy and break stuff.” He grinned, but it lacked some of the verve it had had earlier. His eyes were still clouded with the memory of what his partner had gone through during that time.
She leaned forward so she could touch his hand. “I understand,” she said. “More than you know. I understand.”
He looked at her thoughtfully for a moment before replying. “I think you do,” he said at last.
The restaurant was emptying out and it was getting late. When Catherine couldn’t control her yawn, Starsky rose and extended a hand.
“I’d better get you back to your hotel,” he said. “Plenty of time to work on this tomorrow. I can see you’re wiped out.”
“I am tired,” she admitted. “It’s not the company.”
“‘Course not,” he said and grinned, this time with no shadow in his eyes. “I knew that.”
She laughed and let him help her on with her light jacket and took his arm as they went out to his car. “Tell me honestly,” she said, waiting as he unlocked the door for her, “why you drive a 10 year old car that looks like a refugee from some old TV show.”
He chuckled and held the door for her. “Because it drives Hutch crazy,” he said. “He pretends he hates this car, especially the paint job. And honest, I’m probably a little long in the tooth for it. But I love this car and I’ll keep drivin’ her till she just won’t go no more.”
The police radio was on and Catherine, familiar with the hum of traffic on a scanner from her work with the D.A.’s office, could ignore it. But something alerted Starsky to a particular call and he raised the volume.
“All units in the vicinity of Brentwood Place and Magee,” the dispatcher repeated. “Report of a rape and home invasion at 2545 Brentwood Place. Assailant fled on foot and is described as a white male, blond over blue, six-one, 180 pounds, early 20s ...”
Starsky glanced at her.
“Go ahead,” she said. “I’ve had experience with these things in my work. Maybe I can help.”
He nodded, hit the siren and reached under the seat for a flashing red light which he slapped onto the roof before speeding up. He screeched to a halt in front of a house. Every light was blazing and a black-and-white was already parked in the driveway. The front door was open. Starsky scrambled out of the car and trotted toward the house without waiting for Catherine. She clambered out and followed him.
In the kitchen, a woman about Catherine’s age was seated at the kitchen table, her nightclothes torn and bloody, holding a wet washcloth to a cut above her eye and sobbing her heart out. Without thought, Catherine hurried to her side and knelt next to her, putting an arm around her and making low, soothing remarks that meant nothing but seemed to calm the woman somewhat. The two uniformed officers both looked awkward and relieved when she and Starsky came in.
Starsky pulled a notebook and pen from his jacket pocket. “Starsky,” he said to the two officers, both of whom nodded as if they recognized his name. “What’ve ya got?”
“Uh, we just got here,” one of them said nervously.
Starsky sighed. “Okay.” He turned to the woman, knelt also, and gently said, “Can you tell me what happened?”
She was still crying too hard to talk, but Catherine rubbed her back and stroked her hair, tangled and matted and stiff with blood from another wound on the side of her head, and finally she said, “It was my ex. He ... he ...” She raised her eyes to Catherine with a helpless, hunted look.
“It’s okay,” Catherine said gently. “This is Dave, and I’m Cathy. Tell us. We want to help you.”
She tried to smile and took a deep breath. “The divorce is final next week. He’s been calling, and coming over, and trying to get me to come back to him, but ...” She shook her head. “I won’t do it. Never.”
“You’re sure it was him?” Starsky asked, making a few notes.
“What’s his name?”
“Jim,” she said. “Jim Collins.”
Starsky nodded and turned to the officers. “Get that on the air. Now.”
They both left in a hurry.
“What’s your name?” Catherine asked the woman.
“Denise,” she said.
“You’re going to have to go to the hospital,” Catherine said, still gently rubbing her back. “So they can collect evidence.”
Fresh tears welled up in Denise’s eyes, but she nodded. “I know.”
Catherine looked up at Starsky, who rose and went in search of a telephone.
By the time the ambulance arrived, Denise had calmed down and mostly stopped crying. One of the paramedics was a woman, who took one look at the situation and took over for Catherine. Just before she left, Denise gripped Catherine’s hand. “Thank you.”
Catherine smiled through her own tears and gave Denise a quick hug. “You’re going to be okay,” she said. “I promise.”
Denise did smile this time, and climbed into the ambulance.
“I gotta go in and write up a report,” Starsky said. “I’ll drop you by the hotel on the way.”
Catherine nodded and got into the car, wearily leaning her head back against the seat.
“You okay?” he asked before starting the car.
“Yeah,” she said. “Long day. Too much excitement.”
“You’d make a good social worker,” Starsky commented as he backed the car out and turned toward her hotel.
“I can help more right where I’m at,” she said.
“I s’pose,” he answered. When he pulled up in front of the hotel, he asked if she wanted him to walk her in.
“No, you’ve got that report to write,” she said, smiling. “But thanks. See you tomorrow?”
He nodded. “You bet. ‘Night.”
“Vincent?” Eric paused in the doorway of Vincent’s chamber, not seeing Vincent because he was kneeling on the far side, rearranging some books.
“In here, Eric,” Vincent answered, rising and smiling down at the child.
“Got a letter for you,” Eric said, holding it out.
“Thank you,” Vincent said, recognizing the handwriting on the envelope at once. From Catherine.
“Where’s Catherine?” Eric asked, trying very hard to look as if he didn’t also know who the letter was from.
“She’s in California,” Vincent said, holding the envelope so Eric could see the postmark. “She’s working on a case.”
“That’s a long ways,” Eric said.
“Yes, it is,” Vincent said, suppressing a sigh. “A very long way.”
“When will she be back?”
“I don’t know,” Vincent said. “Soon, I hope.”
“D’you miss her?”
“Very much,” Vincent said, unable to keep the longing out of his voice.
Eric looked up at him gravely, his eyes almost luminous behind his thick glasses. “Me, too.”
Vincent rested his hand on the child’s hair. “That will mean a lot to her.”
Eric impulsively threw his arms around Vincent’s waist and gave him a hug. “If you get lonesome,” he said, his voice muffled in the front of Vincent’s vest, “let me know and I’ll come talk to you.”
Vincent patted the child’s back. “Thank you, Eric. I will.”
Eric let go and scampered away, and Vincent sat down at his desk to open the letter. He read it, hearing her voice in his mind saying the written words, and smiled.
Catherine had spent several days, accompanied by Starsky or Hutch or sometimes both of them, interviewing everyone who could give her information on the James Gunther case and some who could connect the elder with his nephew. By the time the weekend arrived, she had enough information, together with what she’d already gathered in New York, to build a formidable case against Tom. She should have been happy, but she wasn’t. It disturbed her even more, now that she had hard evidence, to think how close she’d come to marrying the man. How her father had liked and trusted him. How many people still did.
“It’s never easy, is it?” Hutch said quietly on Friday afternoon as she organized her notes at the squad room table.
She shook her head. “No. Even when you know what you’re going to find -- and I did, more or less -- it’s still ...” She shrugged. “How did he fool so many people?”
“Did he fool them?” Hutch asked. “Or did they just not want to see the truth?”
She raised her head and stared at him. “That sounds like something Vincent would say. And you’re right. I think I knew, long before I broke up with him, that he couldn’t really be trusted.”
“Power and greed, together, do strange things to people,” Hutch said. “It blinds them. It’s a frightening thing.”
She nodded. “You sound as if you know.”
“I do,” he said. “I’ve seen it.”
“I guess you have.”
Starsky came in, singing something Catherine vaguely recognized as a Jim Croce song, and plopped down in the chair next to Hutch, so close their shoulders were touching. She smiled at the sight. In the last week, she’d grown accustomed to their closeness, their unconscious need to touch and be touched, their silent communications. As they’d spent time together, she’d learned about some of the close calls they’d had, and she understood that need to reassure themselves that the other was near and well.
“You’re all set,” Starsky announced. “Got your tickets for the 10 a.m flight tomorrow. You’ll be home before you know it.”
“I’ll miss you two, though,” she said, smiling at him.
“Aw, shucks,” Starsky said, pretending to be embarrassed, but the twinkling in his eyes gave him away. “We’ll be there next month. Don’t you worry. Will we get to meet Mr. Wonderful while we’re there?”
“I doubt it,” Catherine said, keeping her eyes on the files she was stacking. “He’s kind of busy, and we’ll be pretty busy, too, with the trial.”
“They don’t have trials at night,” Hutch said, “and we’d like to take the two of you out to dinner.”
Catherine was stabbed by a deep longing to do just that -- go out to dinner with Vincent and introduce him to friends, like other people did. She carefully schooled her eyes and looked up at Hutch. “That’s sweet of you. I’ll ask him and let you know.”
The plane had been late, and Catherine was tired from the week’s work and constant motion to gather evidence, but the moment she was back at her own apartment, she rushed to the basement threshold to see Vincent. She knew he’d be there waiting, though she hadn’t been able to get word to him when she’d be home. The bond would let him know she was near.
And she wasn’t disappointed. As she stepped through the light that flowed down from above and into the comforting shadows of their usual meeting place, she saw him, and rushed to him, throwing her arms around him.
“I’ve missed you so,” she said into his shoulder, holding him tight and feeling his arms go around her, trembling a little.
“I’ve missed you, also,” he said, resting his cheek against the top of her head.
“Is everyone all right? I hated being so far away.” She released her hold enough to tip her head back and look up at him.
“Everyone’s fine,” he said reassuringly. “Eric has learned to swim underwater, and he is very anxious to show off. Jamie and Mouse had a quarrel but have made up. Father beat Samantha at chess yesterday and has been in a fine mood ever since,” his eyes twinkled, “and William is planning a very special meal for tomorrow night in honor of your homecoming. Can you join us?”
She smiled at him. “I’d love to.”
He returned the smile with that closed-mouth softening of his eyes that meant he was pleased and leaned back comfortably against the wall. “Was your journey successful?”
She nodded and made herself comfortable beside him. “I think so. I have a whole briefcase full of information in my apartment, and I think we’re going to win.”
“How does that make you feel?”
Her brow creased as she considered that. “I don’t know,” she said at last, with a sigh. “It’s my job to win. And he has to be punished and stopped, but...”
“But you think of the man you thought he was,” Vincent supplied, “and it disturbs you to be the instrument of his downfall.”
“Yes,” she breathed, looking up into those blue, blue eyes. “Exactly.”
“What about the police officers whose help you sought? Are they anxious to travel so far to bring this man to justice?”
“Oh, yes,” she said. “It’s going to be very, very difficult for Hutch -- he’s the partner who wasn’t injured. He had to watch his friend bleeding on the ground and dying in a hospital room, but somehow he found the courage and the strength to track down James Gunther, and to do it as a police officer instead of a grieving friend.”
Vincent shook his head, his eyes full of wonder. “He must love the other officer as a brother.”
“Even more than that, I think,” Catherine said. “They’re an astonishing pair, Vincent. I wish you could meet them --” She broke off as she remembered Hutch’s invitation to take them to dinner.
“What?” Vincent said, picking up on her feelings instantly. “Tell me what troubles you.”
She didn’t want to. She knew it would only emphasize how separate and apart their life was from the lives others had. And that was something they didn’t often talk about because it was painful. For both of them. But she also knew she couldn’t hide her feelings from Vincent. “It’s not important,” she said, hoping to gently turn him to another topic.
“If it’s important to you,” he said gravely, “then it is important.”
She sighed and slipped her arms around his waist so she could rest her head against his chest and feel the steady beat of his heart. “Hutch said he and Dave would like to take us to dinner while they’re in New York,” she said softly.
“You told them about me?” There was no accusation in his voice. In fact, he sounded vaguely ... pleased.
“Only your name and that I love you,” she said, not meeting his eyes, but tightening her grip on him. His arm tightened around her shoulders in response.
He was silent for a moment, then he said, “And what did you tell Hutch about dinner?”
She looked up this time. “I said you had a very busy schedule and I would have to let him know later.”
Vincent nodded. “When they come, if he asks again, tell him I appreciate the invitation and that I regret I cannot accept.” He drew a breath. “It will be the truth.”
“I shouldn’t have told you...”
“No,” he interrupted. “You should feel free to tell me anything. I accept my ... limitations. I’m only sorry that you have to accept them, too.”
“I’m not,” she said firmly, reaching up to touch his cheek. “I’m only sorry you can’t meet Dave and Hutch. You’d like them. And they’d like you. I think you’d enjoy their company.”
“Then you’ll have to tell me about them,” he said, striving for a cheerful note, “and I will meet them, through your words.”
She smiled. “Dave is the one who was shot,” she began, drawing away so she wouldn’t crowd him. She knew her nearness both comforted and disturbed him. “He’s got dark curly hair and blue eyes and tries so hard to joke about almost dying. Hutch is blond with blue eyes and even nine years later, the thought of how close he came to losing Dave makes his eyes dark with worry and pain.” She glanced up at Vincent. “They’re very dedicated. Dave worked for months to recover and pass the physicals so he could go back to active duty, even though he would have been eligible to retire on a disability pension, or be assigned to desk duty, which would be safer.”
“Safety is not what he wants?”
She shook her head. “I understand how he feels, a little,” she said. “He had something to prove.”
“That he was strong enough to come back.”
“Yes. And he has a ... calling to be out there, helping people.”
“And his friend Hutch?”
“His calling is to protect Dave,” she said. “If Dave insists on being out on the streets, then Hutch will be there, too, even though it terrifies him to think of what could happen.”
Vincent’s gaze shifted to the darkness of the tunnels beyond and there was an expression of awe in them. “Such friends,” he said quietly, and gave his head a slight shake. “They sound like the friends in Kipling’s Thousandth Man.”
She drew in her breath. “Yes. Like them. I can’t describe them half so well as Kipling, but you’ve hit on it exactly, Vincent.”
He focused on her again. “That’s a rare and precious gift,” he said. “I think they must be aware of it, also.”
“Yes,” she said, reaching for his hand and lacing their fingers together. She couldn’t help herself. “I think they are, especially since Dave was so gravely injured. Perhaps Hutch realizes it in a deeper place than Dave does, but somehow I doubt that.”
The trial would start in less than two days, and Catherine paced in the airport terminal, knowing she needed a break from the preparation and glad to be able to meet Dave and Hutch’s plane, but her mind wouldn’t rest. She was going over and over the pre-trial preparation in her mind, desperately looking for holes she might have left in the prosecution’s case, terrified that some oversight of hers would cause them to lose the case. She was so absorbed she never noticed the announcement that the plane had landed or that passengers were coming through the gate until a hand on her shoulder caused her instinct to kick in. She grabbed the hand and was a breath away from a defensive attack when Dave said, “Whoa, Cathy. It’s us.”
She froze and looked up into his eyes. “Oh, Dave, I’m so sorry, I --” She broke off with an embarrassed laugh.
He grinned and put a friendly arm around her shoulders. “I guess you know how to take care of yourself. But it’s not necessary, honest. We’ll behave.”
She laughed again, less embarrassed. “I am sorry. I was miles away.”
Hutch hadn’t said a word yet, but when she looked up at him, he smiled. “Don’t relax too much around this guy,” he said, indicating his partner. “I wouldn’t trust him if I were you.”
The awkward moment passed by the time they had retrieved the detectives’ bags and found their way to Catherine’s car. “We’ve put you up in the Ramada,” she said to Hutch, who was in the passenger seat. Dave had taken the back seat so he could “stretch out.” “It’s only a couple of blocks from the courthouse and I’ll come and get you on Monday morning.”
“How long ya think the trial’ll last?” Dave asked.
She shrugged helplessly. “I don’t know. At least a week, maybe two. They’ve asked for two continuances so far, but the judge refused to allow a third.”
“Is Tom on the streets?”
Catherine nodded and glanced into the rear-view mirror at him. “Yeah. His lawyer made a lot of fuss about how he’s got family in New York and he’s lived here all his life, so he’s not a flight risk. The bail was high but he’s got the money.”
“I would’ve thought the court would freeze his assets,” Hutch said. “That’s what they did to Gunther.”
“Holding companies, Swiss accounts,” Catherine said, shaking her head. “He’s still got plenty of money, though they did freeze the assets connected to the shipping division and the ...” She paused.
“What?” Hutch was instantly alert.
She glanced in the mirror again. “A division of Gunther Industries that Tom runs -- ran -- on this coast,” she said reluctantly. “Under a slightly different name. But that was the final piece of the puzzle that connected him to his uncle in California. Both names on the board of directors. In fact,” she paused again, “James Gunther is still on that board of directors and still votes.”
Hutch’s lips tightened angrily and Starsky reached forward to give his shoulder a brief squeeze. “We can’t force the man to quit the board, Hutch,” he said. “Not until we’ve forced the whole organization out of existence, anyway.”
“That explains where Gunther’s getting his money,” Hutch said, his voice trembling with the effort he was making to keep calm.
“Money?” Catherine asked.
“He’s living in high style in prison,” Hutch said, not looking at her. “Got his own TV set, whatever he wants. Plenty of money rolling into his prisoner’s account so he doesn’t have to worry about the dollar a week he makes working in the prison laundry.”
“Hutch,” Starsky said quietly, and Hutch bit his lower lip and visibly took himself back under control.
Catherine was comfortable enough with them both now that she reached over and grasped Hutch’s hand. His curled around hers warmly. “I know how you feel,” she said, glancing over at him. “But he is in prison. No matter how many creature comforts he has, he doesn’t have his freedom and never will. And nothing can take the place of that.”
He gave her hand a squeeze. “I know, it’s just ...”
“I understand,” she said urgently. “I can’t tell you how, but I do. Really.”
Hutch smiled. It wasn’t very convincing, but it was a smile. “Thanks.”
She pulled up in front of their hotel and the two men got their bags out of the trunk. “My turn to take you to dinner tonight,” she said to them before getting back into the car.
“What about Vincent?” Hutch asked. “We wanted to take you both out.”
“He’s busy tonight,” she said. “Maybe another night.”
Hutch nodded and waved as she drove away.
After they’d checked in and settled into their room, Starsky flopped on his bed and kicked off his shoes. “You notice something odd about Cathy?” he asked his partner.
“Odd? In what way?”
“The way she reacts when either of us mentions that guy Vincent,” Starsky said. “Something’s wrong. You don’t s’pose he’s mean to her or something, do you? She sure was ready to take me out when I startled her at the airport.”
“Starsk, she’s been attacked. Less than two years ago. You saw the photos in those newspaper clippings.” Hutch sat down on his own bed. “She’s bound to have a heightened sense of danger after that.Violence isn’t a regular part of her life, like it is ours. An experience like that had to have made her more nervous about her safety than she’d be otherwise.”
“I guess,” Starsky said, but he didn’t sound convinced. “That still doesn’t explain the way she shuts down when he comes up. Like there’s some secret she’s afraid we’ll figure out.”
Hutch opened his mouth to disagree, and found he couldn’t. He’d noticed it, too, a sort of furtiveness about her when Vincent was mentioned. “You may be right,” he said. “Could be he’s married, though she doesn’t strike me as the type to have an affair with a married man.”
“She said he wasn’t, back home,” Starsky pointed out.
“That’s right, she did.” Hutch paused and thought about that. “She could’ve been lying.”
“I don’t think so,” Starsky said.
“Then what do you think it is?” Hutch inquired.
Starsky shook his head, his eyes troubled. “I don’t know. I keep comin’ back to maybe he’s mean to her. That bugs me. She’s a nice lady and I hate to think ... ” He gave a helpless shrug of his shoulders.
“It’s not really any of our business,” Hutch said gently, knowing how strongly Starsky felt about this particular topic.
“I know,” he answered. “Cop instinct, maybe. Something just ain’t right.”
At dinner, Catherine tried hard to be cheerful and chatty, in spite of her lingering preoccupation with the trial. She might’ve known she wouldn’t be able to hide anything from Hutch, who was so perceptive.
“Okay, Cathy,” he said at last. “Something’s bugging you. What is it? Can we help?”
She laughed, realizing she was caught. “No, honestly. I’m just nervous about the trial. I get like this with the big cases. It’s all I can think about. I apologize.”
“We’re just as anxious as you are to nail the guy,” Hutch said. “Would it help to talk about it? What’s worrying you?”
She shook her head. “It’s nothing you can help with. I worry about my trial notes, whether I’ve covered everything, if I forgot to include something in the brief. Joe’s been over them. I’ve been over them. The D.A.’s been over them. They’re fine, but I still worry.” She gave a shrug and smiled.
“Then let us take your mind off of it,” Starsky said. “Tell us more about Vincent.”
Subtle as a train wreck, Hutch thought disgustedly, but he tried not to let it show on his face.
“What do you want to know?” Cathy seemed calm enough.
“What does he do for a living?” Starsky asked.
“He’s a teacher,” Cathy said. “English literature.” It’s not a lie, she comforted herself. Vincent was in charge of that portion of the education of the children Below.
“Where does he teach?” Starsky persisted.
“He’s a private tutor,” she said. That, too, was true, even if it wasn’t the whole truth.
“What do you guys like to do for fun?” Hutch put in, seeing that something about Vincent’s occupation seemed to make Cathy uncomfortable.
“Concerts in the park,” she said. “Walks, talks.” She smiled. “I can tell him anything at all and never worry about his reaction.”
Hutch exchanged a look with Starsky. That doesn’t sound like a guy who’s mean to his girl, he telegraphed to his partner.
No, but there’s still something odd about this guy, Starsky telegraphed back.
Catherine watched this with amusement, not knowing what they were saying to each other, but quite aware that a silent conversation was going on. “Okay, you two,” she said, laughing. “Quit talking without talking. I never learned to read minds.”
Both men flushed and looked embarrassed.
“Sorry, Cathy,” Starsky said. “We don’t always realize it when we’re doing that.”
“I noticed,” she said, still amused. “So can you tell me what you were saying?”
Starsky flushed even more.
“What is it? You’re as red as a beet,” Catherine said.
The men exchanged another look.
“There you go again,” Catherine said.
Starsky cleared his throat and shifted in his chair. “You know, we’re cops.”
“No. Really?” Catherine grinned.
Starsky shifted again. “If there’s anything you’re frightened of ... or you want to talk about, or ...” He stopped and looked at Hutch for help.
“Maybe we’re hypersensitive,” Hutch said, “but we sort of got the impression that ... uh, that ...”
“You’re stuttering, Blintz.”
“I know that!” Hutch glared at his partner.
“Just spit it out, why don’t you?” Catherine suggested. “I can’t wait.”
Now Hutch was flushing as much as Starsky, and on his fairer skin, it stood out more. “We wondered why you’re so uncomfortable talking about Vincent,” he blurted. “We thought maybe he was, uh, well, abusive.”
Catherine burst out laughing, so hard she had to wipe her eyes and it was several seconds before she could speak. When she could, she said, “Oh, my. You’re so far off the mark you wouldn’t believe it. Vincent? Abusive? To me? If you knew him, you’d realize how ludicrous that is. He’d die for me without a second thought. He really would.”
“Then why do you freeze up when you talk about him?” Starsky demanded.
Catherine considered how much it would be safe to say. Finally, she said, “It’s ... complicated. Part of it is my background. Talking about someone I love so much is, well --”
“Ill bred,” said Hutch, understanding.
“Yes,” she said, nodding at him. “Not polite at all. And part of it is that Vincent has had ... difficulties in his past. I can’t go into it without his permission, but he’s had to endure a lot of heartache all his life, and because of that I guess I feel ... protective of him.”
Starsky and Hutch exchanged another look. We know that feeling.
This time Catherine didn’t ask what they were communicating silently. She thought she could guess.
“Okay,” Hutch said, smiling and patting her hand. “We just wanted you to know that if you needed a couple of friends, we were available.”
“Thank you,” Catherine said, and she meant it.
After dinner, which Catherine insisted on paying for and said would be picked up by the city, the three of them walked back out to her car. “I can give you some ideas of things to do tomorrow,” she said, unlocking the car. “You don’t want to sit in your hotel room all day waiting for Monday morning, I’m sure.”
“I’m from Brooklyn,” Starsky said. “I know the city. We’ll be fine. You don’t have to feel like you gotta babysit us.” He grinned.
She smiled back. “I didn’t think I did, Dave. You seem like big boys who can take care of yourselves. But I was wondering if you’d like to see a play. It’s about as far Off-Broadway as you can get, but it was written by a friend of mine and I’m going to it tomorrow night.”
“We’d love to,” Hutch answered for both of them before Starsky could object to “artsy stuff” as he was sure to do. “What kind of a play?”
“A comedy,” she said. “He’s really a very good playwright, my friend. This is the third play he’s had produced, and I’m sure it’s just a matter of time until he is on Broadway. Shall I pick you up about six for dinner, and then we’ll make it to the theater in time for the curtain?”
“Terrific,” Hutch said. “Only we’re buying tomorrow night.”
“Okay, if you insist,” she said.
The next night, after dinner and after the play, which Starsky had probably enjoyed even more than Hutch or Catherine had, the three of them took a walk so Catherine could point out some of the sights. But they began talking about the upcoming trial, and before any of them realized it, they’d moved out of the safe neighborhood into a much more seedy one.
Hutch suddenly hissed under his breath, “Starsk.”
Starsky, without another word from his partner, cocked his head a little to the left and nodded. “I hear it.”
“Hear what?” Catherine asked, but before she could say any more, they’d been grabbed and dragged into a nearby empty storefront, all of them, and tossed unceremoniously onto the floor. Starsky and Hutch both fell so limply that Catherine realized they must have been knocked out. It was so dark she could hardly see, but Catherine recognized the sound of a pistol hammer being cocked back.
“Seems a shame,” remarked a man, who was little more than a shadow in the darkness.
“Yeah? What does?” asked another.
“Killin’ off a pretty lady like that,” the first one said. “Even if she is the law.”
“Hey, we got our orders,” the second one said.
Catherine’s mind was working frantically. She had only heard two, but there had to be at least three, to have overpowered all of them, and possibly more. She still had her purse -- it was a clutch and she’d had it stuffed into her overcoat pocket -- and her gun was inside. If she could just get to it ...
“I know,” the first man replied. “But I say maybe we oughta off the two pigs first and have a little fun with Miss D.A. before we do her.”
“Can it, both of ya,” snarled a third voice. “Get the two pigs tied up. I’ll see to Chandler.”
One of the shadows grabbed her roughly and hauled her to her feet. He reached into her coat pocket and took her little purse, hurling it across the room. “Think I don’t know you carry a gun in there, Cathy?” he said softly, and with a start, she recognized Tom’s voice. It was harder and hoarser than she remembered it, but it was his.
“Tom, please, what are you doing? You’ll only make it worse ...” she began, but he backhanded her in the mouth, cutting off the words.
“It can’t get worse,” he hissed. “Don’t you understand that?”
He might have planned to say more, but Starsky suddenly yanked his gun free and fired a shot which grazed Tom’s shoulder and made him let go of Catherine with a cry of pain. At that, Hutch began grappling with the man who had started tying him up, and for a few moments, there was so much noise and confusion that there was no time for questions or explanations.
Just as Starsky and Hutch had overpowered all three men and cuffed them together, Catherine heard the unmistakeable sounds of Vincent’s approach. Starsky raised his head and said, “What the hell ...?” just as Vincent broke through the cellar door and appeared in the far room. His angry roar rose and his hand drew back to strike, aimed at Starsky.
Catherine threw herself between them. “No, Vincent! It’s all right now!”
Vincent froze mid-stride, his roar cut off as he realized she was safe and that these must be the two detectives she’d told him about. His hood had fallen back and he was exposed. His eyes darted from Starsky to Hutch to Catherine, the knowledge of what he’d done plainly expressed in his eyes.
Starsky’s arms came around her shoulders, his hands shaking, and he whispered, “What the hell is that?”
Catherine watched Vincent’s eyes. He was himself again, back in control, and terrified besides. She took Starsky’s arm and drew him with her, reaching out to snag Hutch on the way, and pulled them both toward Vincent. The three men, in the front of the store, couldn’t have helped hearing Vincent, but so far hadn’t seen him. “Dave, Hutch, this is Vincent,” she said, aware of how lame and strange it sounded to introduce them under these circumstances and in these conditions.
Starsky was still trembling, shaken to his core, but Hutch, after a moment’s blank stare, stammered, “H-hello, Vincent. Cathy’s to-told us a lot a-about you.”
Vincent’s eyes moved to hers and she sent the strongest “you can trust them” message she could through the bond and in her look. He wet his lips and his innate good manners came to the surface. “She has told me much about you, as well,” he said, but not offering his hand, which had only a moment before been poised to strike. Instead, he inclined his head.
Starsky pulled himself together, though his voice shook, and said, “You’re Vincent?”
Vincent nodded once.
“I don’t understand,” Starsky said, a little plaintively, and Catherine smiled reassuringly at him.
“It’s a long story,” she said. “One I promise I’ll tell you later. But right now --” She could hear sirens and knew the gunfire had drawn police attention. “Vincent, go. We’ll be all right. I’ll come to you later.”
“No,” Vincent said. “I’ll come to you on the balcony. And bring your friends. We’ll talk then.”
She nodded and he vanished, back the way he had come.
Before the New York officers could arrive, she turned to Starsky and Hutch. “Vincent was never here,” she said urgently. “Please. Promise me. Only us.”
Hutch understood and nodded, and when Starsky raised an eyebrow, Hutch gave him a look and he nodded, too. “Okay,” Starsky said. “But I can’t wait to hear this one.”
After the officers had taken statements and exchanged their cuffs for Starsky’s and Hutch’s and given the detectives’ cuffs back, they took the prisoners away, and Catherine led the two men back to where she’d parked her car. Both of them were silent for several blocks, and finally, Catherine said, “I’m sorry I couldn’t tell you about Vincent. I mean, who he is. But it’s vital to his safety that I keep certain secrets.”
“Where does he live?” Starsky asked, sounding only slightly less freaked than he had earlier. “I mean ...” He stopped.
“That’s part of the secret,” Catherine said. “I’ll let him decide how much he feels safe having you know. He doesn’t ... live among others in the city, but he belongs to a tight-knit community of people who love him and take care of him and he takes care of them.”
“How?” Starsky demanded. “I thought he was gonna lay me open for a minute there!”
“Starsk,” Hutch said quietly. “Let her talk.”
“You’re partly right,” Catherine said. “He would only harm another person if someone he loved was in mortal danger. He’s normally the kindest, gentlest man I’ve ever known.”
“Man?” Starsky said. “But he doesn’t look like --” At a look from Hutch, he shut his mouth.
“Vincent’s origins are not known to us,” Catherine said, consciously aligning herself with the Tunnel community. “He was a foundling, taken into the community I spoke of as a newborn infant. His father -- the man who adopted him -- says his physiology is different from yours and mine. But in all the ways that count, he is human.”
“Can he have sex?” Starsky blurted.
“Oh, for God’s sake,” Hutch said disgustedly. “What kind of a question is that? You pervert.”
“I don’t know,” Catherine answered Starsky honestly.
“You don’t know?” Hutch demanded, ignoring the wounded look Starsky gave him as he said it.
She shook her head as she pulled into her building’s parking garage. “We, uh, haven’t.”
Starsky glanced at Hutch and once again, Catherine could tell there was a silent conversation going on.
“He won’t tell me why,” she said, parking the car. “But I think he’s a little afraid, and really, we haven’t quite come to that sort of relationship yet anyway, so I don’t push it. Please don’t ask him that,” she added to Starsky.
“Show some class for a change, Gordo,” Hutch said, getting out of the car.
“Ha, ha,” Starsky retorted.
They returned to a thoughtful silence as they rode the elevator up to Catherine’s floor. She led the way to her door and let them in, leaving the lights off except for the small lamp she usually left on for herself. Vincent was more comfortable with darkness and she had learned to be.
Starsky and Hutch followed her through the apartment to the terrace, where Vincent was already waiting. She went to him and gave him a tight hug and could feel his trembling. She looked up at him with a reassuring smile. “They’re good men,” she said softly, so softly only he would hear her.
“I know,” he returned, just as softly.
She turned and put her arm through his. Starsky and Hutch were still waiting by the terrace door. “Shall we sit?”
The detectives came closer and perched on the edges of the wrought iron furniture at the edge of the terrace. She sat in another, and Vincent, after a moment’s hesitation, sat down, too.
No one spoke for several minutes. Catherine could see that Starsky was trying to look at anything except Vincent and Hutch, though more discreet about it, was behaving much the same way. Vincent was used to this reaction, she knew, but that didn’t make it any less painful, so when she glanced at him she was surprised to see a glint of humor in his eyes.
“Gentlemen,” he said finally, “I don’t bite.”
Starsky’s eyes almost bugged out if his head and Catherine tried, unsuccessfully, to smother a laugh. That earned her a dirty look from Starsky.
Hutch cleared his throat. “Uh, Cathy told us that, uh, you live in a community she can’t, um, talk about.”
Vincent inclined his head. “That is true. I’m afraid I can’t tell you anything other than we try to take care of each other there, and secrecy is our only safety. Without them, I would have nowhere to go.”
“How can a whole community exist that nobody knows about?” Starsky asked, finally looking straight at Vincent.
“That is part of the secret,” Vincent said. “We harm no one and take nothing that is not ours to take, and in fact, we provide sanctuary to many who would have none otherwise.”
Vincent shook his head. “No, we don’t allow criminals to hide among us. I’m speaking of people who have no family except us. People who don’t ‘fit’ in your world. Children who have no parents. We shelter such people, give them a home and a family and a reason to live.”
“They’ve also provided temporary shelter to those who have needed it,” Catherine put in. “When my father died, I needed a place to heal, and they provided that for me.”
Vincent briefly touched her hand, remembering that time, and she smiled at him.
“How did you meet, then?” Hutch asked. He, too, looked directly at Vincent. Both men seemed to be getting used to him a little at a time.
“Vincent saved my life,” Catherine said. “When I was attacked two years ago, the men who did it dumped me in the park to die. But Vincent found me, took me to his home, and took care of me. If it had not been for him and Father, I would have died.”
Hutch picked up on the fact that she did not mean her own father. “Father?”
“My father,” Vincent said. “The man who adopted me and raised me. He is father to all in our world, and everyone refers to him by that name.”
Starsky and Hutch glanced at each other, and Catherine could see unease in both pairs of eyes. . “That sounds a bit ... biblical,” Hutch said cautiously.
“It’s not a cult, if that’s what you’re thinking,” Catherine said, meaning it to be light-hearted, but both men gave such starts that she wondered what nerve she’d touched.
“It isn’t?” Starsky asked.
“No, it isn’t,” Vincent said. “There is no one religion in our community. Each follows his own conscience. We have several belief systems represented and some who have no particular faith, yet all are free to practice their own faith if and when they choose to.”
Starsky and Hutch fell silent and Catherine wondered what they were thinking. Vincent, with that empathic sense of others’ feelings, studied their faces in that silence.
“You are still afraid,” Vincent said at last, very softly. “Please, ask whatever you wish. I will answer, if I can.”
Hutch wet his lips and glanced at Starsky. “Back there. A little while ago. You, uh, well --”
“Roared,” Starsky said.
Vincent inclined his head again, gravely. “Yes. I can’t explain. I don’t know the answer you seek. When someone I ... love ... is in danger, I protect that person. It is upsetting for me, as well, when I ... am in the grip of the Other. It is as if I am watching myself from a distance and I cannot control it until the danger is past. I am not proud of that.”
“Have you ever killed anyone?” Hutch sounded like he was interrogating someone instead of having a conversation.
Vincent dropped his eyes. Catherine knew how difficult it was for him to live with that knowledge. After many moment of silence, Vincent said in a very low voice, “Yes. In defense of my friends, I have.”
“But only when those friends were in mortal danger,” Catherine put in. “Haven’t you ever killed someone to save someone else?”
Starsky and Hutch glanced at each other again. “Yeah,” Starsky said. “Several times.”
“But we’re cops,” Hutch said.
“And I am the guardian of those I protect in my world,” Vincent said. “By the laws of this world, not the same, I know.”
“Dave, Hutch,” Catherine said, leaning forward. “I know this is difficult. But I trust you, and Vincent trusts you, with the secret that means his life. I didn’t ask for your promise to keep the secret. Should I?”
The men glanced at each other again for several moments. Neither said a word aloud, but after a long pause, Starsky turned back to Catherine and Vincent.
“You don’t have to ask for a promise, Cathy,” he said. “We’ll keep your secret.”
The front page of the next day’s New York Times told of the attack on Catherine and the two detectives who had flown in from California to testify at Tom Gunther’s trial. With the extra charges of attack with a deadly weapon and the D.A.’s threat to add tampering with witnesses on top of that, Gunther’s lawyer advised him to take the deal the D.A. offered: Plead guilty to racketeering, money-laundering and extortion, and the other charges would be dropped. It would mean a long prison term and the forfeiture of all his business assets, but he could retain his personal assets and spare the state the expense of a trial. Gunther agreed.
With no need to testify, Starsky and Hutch had no reason to stay in New York. Catherine took them to the airport on Wednesday morning, after the details had been ironed out between her office and Gunther’s attorney. They were waiting for their boarding call when Starsky suddenly said, “I guess we won’t be seeing you again, now that this is over.”
“I guess not,” Catherine answered.
“It’s been ... interesting,” Hutch said, smiling at her.
“It has, indeed,” she agreed, chuckling. “I’m glad,” she added, putting her hand on Hutch’s arm, “that neither of you will have to testify. I know it would have been difficult.”
“Part of the job,” Hutch said.
“Yes, but still difficult,” she answered. “Especially for you.”
Hutch gave a noncommital shrug, but Starsky said, “I’m just as glad it worked out this way. The scum still winds up in the joint, but we don’t have to dig up any bodies to stick him there.”
Their boarding call came over the loudspeaker, and all three rose. Impulsively, Catherine stood on tiptoe to kiss first Hutch’s cheek, then Starsky’s. “I’ll miss you both,” she said. “It was good working with you.”
“You, too,” Starsky said. “Tell Vincent we said good-bye.”
“Well, come on, Blintz. You gonna stand there lookin’ stupid all day?” Starsky said to his partner.
Hutch chuckled. “I’m not the one who looks stupid,” he retorted. “Good-bye, Cathy. Take care.” He gave her a quick hug and followed Starsky up the ramp.
Late that night, Vincent came to the balcony, where Catherine was reading a book and drinking peppermint tea. She got him a mug, too, which he accepted -- a rare thing -- and she put her book aside.
“So, justice has been served,” Vincent said.
She nodded. “Yes. Now, maybe, those two can sleep soundly at night. They’ve carried their burden for nine years. That’s long enough.”
Vincent sipped his tea thoughtfully and silently for a few moments. “Normally,” he said at last, “letting strangers from Above see me would be a terrible mistake, one that Father would lecture about for weeks, and a danger to our world.”
“Yet, this time, though your friends were startled and upset, I did not feel that it was a disaster.”
“It isn’t,” Catherine said. “Somehow, I feel that they understand on some deep level.”
He nodded. “I think they do. Our secret is safe, Catherine. You trusted your heart. Now, trust theirs.”