"Hey, isn't that Fleet Feet?" Hutch asked, voice rising with hope as Starsky pulled down a street known for cheap bars and black-market sidewalk vendors. They were four hours into their Wednesday shift and had concurred that they'd never seen their district's well of information quite so dry.
"About damn time," Starsky muttered, catching sight of the young, flashily dressed Puerto Rican who'd earned his nickname by outrunning police bent on breaking his purse-snatching habit. "I was thinking we'd have to put you on the curb with a 'Will Strip for Info' sign before we'd get anywhere."
Hutch burst into laughter. "If you even think--. Starsk, he's spotted us. What the--?"
"Why the hell would Fleet Feet run from us? I'm slowing down."
Hutch jumped out of the Torino just as it slowed within reason and waved a hand in the direction that the snitch ran, his other hand gesturing toward a side alley. Starsky nodded. "Go!"
Starsky watched Hutch take off at breakneck speed, weaving expertly through the clusters of people. Then he slammed his foot down on the accelerator and roared in the direction of the side alley that would lead to the back end of another shady space between two of the bars. Hutch was a master at "steering" his prey to a specified location where Starsky could cut them off. It was a technique they'd perfected over the years.
Sure enough, Starsky had just sealed off the exit of the "designated" alley when Fleet Feet rounded the corner, Hutch in hot pursuit, and raced blindly toward him. Fortunately, the ex-purse-snatcher put on the brakes, because Starsky had no intention of backing out. He hopped out of the car, leaving the door open, and folded his arms over his chest as Fleet Feet instinctively raised his hands to the sky.
"I ain't done nothing!" the young man shouted, swinging frantic looks at the two detectives who had him pinned in the alley. "Been clean ever since the day you--"
"Ever since the day we caught you. Yes, Fleet Feet, you say that every time we try to start a conversation," Starsky said, grinning at Hutch, who stood tall, shoulders barely moving as he breathed, while Fleet Feet's chest heaved.
"Except he usually doesn't try to break the world's sprint record before he gets down to business," Hutch commented. "What was that all about?"
Fleet Feet glared at them and straightened his purple polyester jacket. "I needed exercise."
"Oh, really? Wish we'd'a known. Hutch coulda chased you much farther, couldn't you, partner?"
"Of course. I'm not even breaking a sweat."
Fleet Feet grimaced. Shoving his hands in his pockets, he tapped one foot restlessly on the pavement. "All right, all right, tough guys. So what's new? Whaddaya want with me?"
Starsky tapped his forehead and looked with exaggerated wide eyes at Hutch. "Hey, ya know somethin'? Doesn't our friend here usually hang out around Chandler?"
"Hey!" Fleet Feet's voice rose to a near squeal. "I told you already; I'm clean. I sweep floors for Mr. Luiz in his grocery mart on Eighth--"
"That's funny, Starsk. I wonder why your mentioning Chandler made Fleet Feet think he needs some sort of alibi?"
"Good question, Hutch. Here's another one for you. How in the world was our favorite purse collector able to resist such a designer article as the one sitting in the front seat of that unlocked car?"
"Go you one better. He works for Mr. Luiz, right? Well, it's nearly noon, and he's out roaming the streets? You think Mr. Luiz lets him keep banker's hours?"
Starsky nodded with dire solemnity. "I'm starting to think these questions could lead to some pretty heavy stuff going down for Fleet Feet unless he decides to play nice."
"Look, I don't know nothing 'bout a car on Chandler yesterday, all right? So lemme go. I called in sick today to spend the day with my aunt. She broke her leg and she needs some help 'round the house."
"Such a stand-up guy, isn't he, Starsky? You think we should let him go?"
"Nah. Not until he tells me how he knows the car was on Chandler. We didn't say the car was on Chandler."
"Or that the car was there yesterday," Hutch added, smiling.
"You just said--" Fleet Feet screeched. He frowned and scratched beneath the shaggy bangs on his forehead. "I read about it in the paper this morning."
Starsky laughed, but Hutch merely shook his head and said, "Nice try, amigo, but it won't wash. You're forgetting we have memories of things that happened before you were born. Last I recall, you were bragging about making it to twenty-three without the benefit of reading. You join a literacy group in the last year?"
Fleet Feet looked totally dejected. He glanced quickly between the detectives and obviously decided that flight wasn't a possibility. Nearly whimpering, he hung his head and bounced nervously on the soles of his feet. "Okay, look, I'll lay it out for you, but you gotta play square with me. I know what you wanna hear, but the guy I'm gonna tell you about is hanging with some muscle who'd do a helluva lot more than break my legs if they even thought that I know something to flap my lips about."
"Fair enough," Hutch said. "We're all ears."
Starsky nodded politely at a girl who strolled past, eyeing him from sneakers to curls, but his own eyes were full of the sunlight beaming on Hutch's windswept hair and the blond's lounging grace. Hutch leaned against the driver's side door and made humorous facial expressions in counterpoint to Captain Dobey's barking over the mic. Finally, Hutch cleared his throat.
"Fleet Feet's a reliable source, Captain. If he says this guy was driving the Mercedes when it pulled onto Chandler, I'm willing to make book on it. He's never once handed us bogus info. Yeah, that's LeRon Markus, black, age twenty-seven, six-foot-two, around 185. We want an APB out on him as soon as possible. Thanks." Hutch reached in the open window and re-cradled the mic.
"This is the place," Starsky announced, peering over the rim of his shades at a building painted in an unassuming cream with chartreuse tinted windows. "Prism Palace. Not your average watering hole. I didn't know the Green Parrot had a competitor, did you?"
"Sure, Starsky." Hutch shot a brief glance heavenward. "You know me and my cruising habits."
Starsky laughed at the heavy sarcasm. "This must be the Parrot's classier cousin."
"If you're that enamored with the décor, we could always make this our daily lunch stop," Hutch teased.
Starsky grinned, loving the sparkle that danced in Hutch's smile. "You kiddin' me? I'd have to fight over you every day."
Much to their mutual surprise, the bar doubled in the daytime as a fairly sedate restaurant, though clearly catering to gay clientele, judging from the same-sex couples who populated the cozy tables for two. Starsky and Hutch sat down casually at one such table, and Hutch busied himself glancing through the colorful lunch menu.
When a waiter appeared at the table, Starsky ordered a round of soft drinks in deference to their on-duty status and asked for one Marcel Blue. The waiter sauntered away and Starsky fidgeted. "These are uncomfortable seats."
"I'd say their purpose at night is to force people to get up and mingle and dance," Hutch mused, shoving the menu away with a frown of distaste. "This place serves your kind of food, partner."
"Your drinks, gentlemen," the waiter said loftily, depositing two tall glass goblets on coasters bearing the bar's insignia. "And I'm afraid Mr. Blue isn't here today, which is odd to say the least. He's always here on Wednesdays to have lunch with Rudi."
"Rudi?" Starsky asked, sipping the coke.
"Our manager. They're quite good friends."
"I think we'd like to talk to Rudi, then," Hutch said in the no-nonsense manner that few people ever challenged.
"I'll see what I can do," the waiter replied and whisked the tray under his arm.
Starsky looked around, ever alert and instinctively checking surroundings, before he grabbed the discarded menu. After a cursory glance through it, he looked up and made a smacking sound with his lips. "Menu looks pretty good to me. I could go for one of those Sante Fe burgers about now--"
A hand on Starsky's shoulder nearly sent his hand into his over-shirt for his gun. He resisted the impulse and forced himself to relax and look casually up at an ash-blond, well-dressed man in shades of gray and black, a fetching mixture of denim and leather that showed off his sculpted physique to perfection.
Starsky was grateful when the hand moved and the stranger, presumably Rudi, leaned over to slide a chair from one of the nearby tables. He effectively situated the chair between the detectives, and his slow-motion descent into the seat emphasized the second-skin nature of his jeans.
"You wanted to talk to me? Same here. I want to know why you're so interested in Marcel Blue."
Hutch folded his hands on the table in a "no-threat" gesture. "Simple really. We were told he could help us locate a mutual acquaintance of ours. Our business is with him, not with Marcel."
Starsky decided instantly that Rudi was not destined to be a friend. The man's charcoal eyes were undressing Hutch from the shirt down. Faster than a blink, Rudi's hand had cupped Hutch's cheek as if it had a standing invitation.
"You," Rudi extended the word to three syllables, "have to be the most ravishing man I've ever seen. I could get by happily for weeks with just the memory of you and my own imagination. Unfortunately..." He dropped his hand with equal speed. "...you and your friend here both reek of cops, and I'd rather go without cock for a month than have anything to do with your species. Still, I have to say, what a crime on the part of genetics to put a mouth like that on a straight man." Rudi lifted his hand again, the thin fingers reaching for Hutch's lips.
Starsky had had enough. Before the manager's fingers met their goal, Starsky slapped his own hand around Rudi's wrist with the force of a handcuff and slammed the man's arm down on the table. Rudi jumped in the chair and partially whirled, but Hutch took his chin in an equally tough grip and twisted the startled face back in his direction.
"Let me spell a few things out for you, Rudi. Looks like you run a fairly tight ship. It's managed to escape our attention, and this is our territory, which means you must have done a remarkable job keeping brawls at a minimum and the drugs out. My partner and I don't get our kicks hassling gay establishments. We're homicide detectives primarily, and putting a thorn in your side isn't in our job description."
"But," Starsky piped up, tightening his grip on Rudi's wrist, "it wouldn't be good for business if Vice started snooping around for any hint of the sex trade. So why don't you change your mind about law enforcement, and we'll keep our good opinion of your business practices, and everyone goes home happy."
"A-all right," Rudi mouthed awkwardly. Hutch released his chin, and Starsky eased the punishment on the man's wrist. "Truth is, I don't know where Marcel is today. He's a singer in a jazz club. Used to be GW's but new ownership renamed it 'Sax and Strings.' You know the place?"
Starsky and Hutch exchanged a smile. "Yeah," Starsky answered. "We know the place."
"He has a furnished place a few streets down from the club. Belfair Apartments, 6B. But I've called both places and can't get a hold of him. He hasn't missed a lunch date with me in months. He--he's not in some kind of trouble?"
"No, we don't have reason to think he is. As I said, our business isn't really with him. We were told he could help us locate LeRon Markus. Has Marcel ever mentioned him?"
Rudi nodded. "He grew up with LeRon. He, LeRon, and this white guy whose name I can't remember--they were like the three musketeers until their late teens. People in their neighborhood called them 'the Oreo Club'--a miraculous friendship in that day and time. I don't know where LeRon hangs out, but Marcel would."
"D'you have reason to believe Marcel's in trouble?" Starsky asked, the electricity of instinct making his palms itch each time Rudi's face darkened with obvious concern at the mention of his friend's name.
Rudi hesitated and then emitted a half-sigh, half-grunt. "Until a couple years ago, Marcel and LeRon shared a nasty habit. Heroin. As much as I like to think I'm responsible for Marcel kicking it, I think the truth is he turned to gambling as a substitute. So many addicts do, you know? It's just another form of addiction, and you don't make lifelong, watch-your-back pals in the gambling world."
"Yes." Hutch offered audibly heartfelt agreement. "And LeRon? Does he share the gambling bug?"
"No. As far as I know, LeRon's never managed to break away from the heroin. I gather he doesn't have time for a second addiction."
"We were told LeRon is hanging with a heavy crowd. Do you know anything about that?"
Rudi shook his head at Hutch's question, and, after a brief silence, seemingly aware that he should provide more information, he ran a hand through his hair and mumbled, "I don't know much about LeRon. Marcel's his pal. Not me. I do know that Marcel hasn't talked about him as much lately." He frowned, face pensive. "They aren't lovers," he said wistfully, packing a paragraph of meaning into the sound. "LeRon's straight as far as sex is concerned; I know that much."
So you aren't Marcel's lover either, but you want to be. Starsky felt his dislike for the bar manager begin to fade. "Look, we'll keep an eye out for Marcel, and if we're able to track him down, we'll let him know you'd like to hear from him."
Rudi thanked Starsky with his eyes and a tight smile. "I'm sorry we got off to a bad start, Detective--"
"Starsky. David Starsky."
"And does Tough-and-Beautiful have a name?" Rudi swung his smile over to a reddening Hutch.
"Hutchinson. Call me Hutch."
"No hard feelings about the anti-cop jazz, okay? You two don't seem like a lot of your brothers-in-arms, and God knows, I'm sick of being stereotyped just because of my lifestyle. You...you know...won't put this place on the map in a negative kind of way?"
Hutch smiled. "Starsky and I don't give any bar trouble unless people start getting hurt or we get the sense that more crime is going on than anything else. You keep the place clean, we won't have reason to bother you. If Vice starts poking around on their own, there's not much we can do about it, but we won't give them a roadmap."
"I'm startin' to share Rudi's unease," Starsky commented an hour later. They'd found no hint of Marcel. Standing side-by-side on the curb outside the Belfair Apartments, each braced his hips against the Torino's passenger side. He gently elbowed Hutch's arm. "'Course, I already share his great taste in men."
"Men?" Hutch's eyebrows couldn't have climbed any higher.
"Man, to be precise, Mr. Literal. Jeez, try to pay you a compliment and look what I get."
"Glad you've taken it in stride," Hutch laughed. "I thought you were going to break his arm. His wrist'll be sore for a week."
"He's lucky I didn't." Starsky shot him a quick apologetic glance. "Guess I got a little carried away."
Hutch inched closer until their sides touched with the slightest pressure. "My hero."
"Yeah, yeah," Starsky grumped, squinting in the sun at Hutch's profile. "You're a big boy; you can take care of yourself. I know that, but--"
"True, but I'm not complaining about your instinct to intervene. I'd have reacted just as strongly to some guy putting a move on you."
"Don't worry about appearances," Hutch murmured discreetly, and Starsky smiled at his partner's bull's eye instinct. "You came across as a frustrated cop determined to get information and 'looking out' for his partner."
Starsky scuffed the toe of his sneaker against the edge of the sidewalk and rested his palms against the car door so that his left pinky lined up perfectly but with the merest contact against Hutch's right. His smile broadened when Hutch briefly twined the two pinkies together. A fleeting movement that wouldn't have been noticeable to anyone walking by, but that meant the world under the circumstances.
"So," Starsky said, getting back to business. "You have any fresh ideas? Full autopsy report's still not in; Forensics is working on the car; the APB has netted us zero. We have a couple hours before we're due at the Danbecks'--"
"God, I wish we could spare him the search."
"Only way we have a shot at pinpointing what her movements would have been while she was here in the city, Hutch. Besides, you heard Danbeck say he'd tear the house off its foundation if that would help us figure out what happened to her." His mind replayed images of a big Texan car dealer, who had died avenging his wife. "You know who Danbeck reminds me of?"
"Zack," Hutch finished for him. "Minus the vigilante impulse. Right. As for ideas, I'd say our next bet is to track LeRon through his fixes--" Hutch snapped his fingers. "The Angel! It's been a long time since we last tapped into her mental database, but maybe…"
Starsky slapped him on the back. "Let's swing by Huggy's and see if he can make us an appointment. I'm starving anyway."
"You could've had a Sante Fe burger at the Prism Palace," Hutch snorted. Starsky glared at him.
"Rudi's an okay guy, but that doesn't mean I wanted to give him any longer to drool over you."
Though Starsky soothed his appetite at Huggy's, the rest of the shift was a mixture of frustration and painful surprise. Huggy found locating The Angel wasn't as easy as usual and could only promise to call as soon as he could make a connection. The Bear wasn't familiar with either LeRon Markus or Marcel Blue and hadn't heard a whisper on the street related to the body in the Mercedes.
The formal autopsy report revealed that Michelle Danbeck had been six weeks pregnant and Starsky and Hutch, when forced to break the news to her husband, worried that they'd face the ultimate irony of a forty-year-old cardiologist dropping with a massive coronary. The search provided nothing of help. Mrs. Danbeck's daily planner only listed the name of a fashionable, expensive boutique and a hair appointment that she'd been unable to keep due to her untimely demise. They found nothing to indicate what might have filled the morning hours prior to her death.
By the time they logged out, they had to drive straight to Jameson for their seven o'clock class and were grateful that they'd thrown notebooks and their class texts into the Torino's back seat just in case. Both men were tired, burdened by the tragedy of their profession, and in need of a hot meal and even hotter shower, but they talked animatedly about the course and sought comfort in the few moments alone and off-duty, even in the confines of the car and restricted to unobtrusive caresses and suggestive eye contact.
Starsky tried to hide his developing case of nerves about his first college class session. He lost himself in Hutch's nearness and the brush of fingertips against his upper arm and thigh while Hutch talked to him in that 'only when we're alone' voice.
Finding the classroom posed little difficulty and they arrived at Wetherby Hall, Room 124 with five minutes to spare. The door was invitingly open, and Starsky, striving for his take-what-comes expression, peered inside. One sweeping look and he backed into the hall, grabbing Hutch's elbow and jerking the blond over to the side of the door with him.
"What the--?" Hutch eyed Starsky with mild alarm on his face.
"They've all got briefcases," Starsky whispered through clenched teeth.
Hutch smiled and shook his head, gentle amusement replacing the alarm. "Come on, buddy, you're not going to be put off by what they use to carry their books--"
"Did you know looking like a junior prosecutor in the DA's office was required for the class?"
"I'd say this class is probably home to more aspiring defense attorneys than anything else." The amused smile threatened to evolve into laughter, but Hutch's face turned stern instead. "Starsk, I guarantee you that no one in that room has seen half of what you've seen, done a quarter of what you've done in your life. You'll be teaching them a thing or two. Ready?"
Surveying their surroundings, Starsky deemed the hallway safe for him to lean closer and say under his breath, "You're one in a million, Blondie. If I survive the next two-and-a-half hours, I'll make ya real happy when we get back to my place." He stood tall and clutched his notebook and "Antigone" text with renewed confidence, and the smile that he carried into the classroom was genuine.
Starsky had to stifle a headshake as he examined the room closely. Instead of rows of desks, a massive round table that could easily sit twenty dominated the room. The prerequisite chalkboard took up one wall, but there was no accompanying 'professor's desk' or lecture podium. About fifteen people had already taken seats at the table; some were nibbling on snacks. That drew Starsky to the table immediately, his stomach rumbling at the sight of several trays containing an array of cookies, trail mix, and chips.
"Soda or fruit juice?"
Starsky turned to the voice and felt an instant sweep of relief that Hutch was right--at least one other thirty-something student shared the class. The man holding an ice-filled cup wore an engaging smile, blue jeans with patches depicting a summer's backpacking tour through Europe, and Moccasins that matched his suede shirt and seemed a natural blend with his shoulder-length brown hair. "Soda or fruit juice?" the man repeated.
Starsky started and chuckled, realizing that he'd been sizing up the fellow student like the subject of a stakeout, cataloguing details for future use. He mentally shrugged out of cop mode. "Soda, thanks."
Laughing as he poured the carbonated beverage, the self-appointed host mused aloud, "Guess you're probably not the trailmix type, either, then."
Starsky shook his head and jerked a thumb over his shoulder at Hutch, who was already in conversation with a young man on his other side. "Nah, but my partner'll be glad to see it. I'm all for the cookies, myself."
"You must be Detective Starsky. First name David, right?"
"I may be a Lit geek, but I do read the newspapers on occasion, and I have a memory for faces," the man answered, handing over the soda with a grin. "Plus, I have the benefit of the class roster to back up my guess. I'm Garner. Nice to have you and Detective Hutchinson on board with us."
"Gar--Dr. Manning?" Starsky nearly dropped the soda before he had a chance to even sip it.
"Garner, please. The dean's the only person who calls me Dr. Manning, and only when I refuse to wear a suit to colloquia." He looked down at his watch and scanned the room. "We're still missing a couple folks, but it's just about time for liftoff."
"Wasn't expecting to be fed," Starsky laughed, hoping he concealed his sudden discomfort at the thought of being measured academically once a week by a peer in age.
Garner nodded and pulled one of the cookie trays within Starsky's reach. "Looks like a nursery school snack time, doesn't it? I've learned from numerous semesters of teaching evening discussion classes that drops in blood sugar aren't conducive to thought-provoking debate."
"Debate?" Starsky swallowed the mouthful of cookie a bit prematurely and fiercely repressed his instinct to choke and sputter. Garner must not have noticed his alarm, because the professor merely smiled again.
"Yes, this is an upper level discussion course. I won't be boring you all senseless with my horrible lecturing voice, for which you should thank me. Believe me, if I launched into a lengthy monologue, it would take more than cookies and soda to keep you awake." Garner looked away and Starsky followed his gaze as two people entered the room. One of the newcomers couldn't have been younger than fifty and she had a ratty book-bag slung over her shoulder. Her age obviously didn't hold her back; she chatted amiably with the young girl at her side.
"She's--" Starsky fell silent, wondering if he should be probing Garner for details about fellow students. He needn't have worried. Garner's perception was acute enough to interpret his aborted comment.
"Bet you thought you'd be the oldest student? That's Angela Carter. The young lady with her is her daughter, Camille. Camille's a junior in the English Department, but Angela is pursuing a degree in Biology. They're a fascinating mother-daughter team. Each semester they take a class together. Last semester, Camille attended one of her mother's science courses to fulfill her lab requirement."
For some reason he couldn't even explain to himself, Starsky felt his chest expand and his shoulders grow considerably lighter. Garner favored him with a parting smile and moved to his own seat. Starsky sat down and tapped Hutch's foot lightly.
Hutch turned and gave him the bright, best friend grin that could still heat Starsky's blood more than some of the blond's more sultry expressions. "Enjoying the refreshments?"
"I think this is gonna be okay, Hutch," Starsky whispered back and popped the rest of the cookie into his mouth. Movement in the corner of his eye caught his attention, and he looked down the table as their professor rose to his feet and cleared his throat.
"Good evening, everybody. I know a few of you from the English Department, but some of you are brand new faces, so in a minute I'm going to ask everyone to give a brief introductory speech. I'll start. I'm Garner Manning, but I don't want you to consider me your professor in the strictest sense of the word. Through the Great Books method, our texts will be teaching all of us. I'm here to take care of the housekeeping duties, mediate the discussion, and stir the pot when the debate slows. I'm going to take center stage for a few minutes to discuss the syllabus and the objectives of the class, and then I'd like to move right into dissecting 'Antigone.' First things first, though, I'd like to make a special introduction."
Manning nodded across the table, and Starsky turned his head again as the man Hutch had been conversing with earlier stood.
"This is Nathan Rowell," Manning said. "He's sitting in on the class as a fun break from his postdoctoral research. During his senior year at Jameson, he suffered through a stint as my research assistant--"
"Come on, Garner, I wouldn't call it suffering," Nathan laughed easily, though Starsky noted that his face showed signs of disliking the spotlight. He was as tall as Hutch and twice as lanky.
Garner waved a hand at him. "The man's too generous, people. He put up with my eclectic and patently weird tastes in music, and that alone makes him worthy of sainthood. Dr. Rowell is following the wise principle that man can't live by scholarship alone--don't let it slip 'round the department that I said that or they'll drum up a way of revoking my tenure--and he has a novel fresh out in the bookstores. Take it from me, it's a killer read and speaks to a finely tuned social conscience that isn't moralistic or self-important. I consider it of a quality to serve as supplemental reading for this course, but Nate said he wouldn't let me use the class to pad the book's sales."
"Now who's too generous?" Nathan shot back, smiling, and sat down again.
"Shaddup, St. Nathaniel; take advantage of some free publicity."
Starsky joined in the laughter that rumbled around the table. When the laughter died, Manning held up a piece of paper and waved it in the air.
"All right, back to Legal Issues in Western Literature. Yank out your syllabus if you brought it with you. While you look for it, here's a secret for you: I'm not a lawyer. My field of expertise is comparative literature. Now, before you think you deserve your money back, let me tell you why that's a good thing. This class isn't supposed to be part of your future law school education if you're headed in that direction. I don't want you to show off how much you already know about habeas whatever and modus whatnot. What we want to do in here is pick the minds of some brilliant writers and thinkers, and come to terms with how we feel as lay people about the concept of law and all its corollaries--justice, ethics, conscience, law enforcement, and government. Anyone want to run yet? Be my guest. Once we crack the book on 'Antigone,' you're officially my prisoners."
More laughter broke out and Starsky kicked back in his chair. He could hack this, after all. Manning was no stuffed-shirt legal eagle waiting to pronounce judgment.
"Did anyone not receive a syllabus in the mail? I know it's not standard practice to expect you to begin reading prior to the first class session, but with a once-a-week class, I really need to jumpstart text debate on the first night. Level with me. If anyone hasn't had a chance to read 'Antigone,' now's when I need to know."
No one raised their hand and Garner heaved a sigh of relief. "Ah, damn, that's good. I stink at Plan Bs. Okay, let's run down the nuts and bolts of the course, and then get to the fun stuff."
Starsky took advantage of briefcase openings, papers shuffling, and other background noises to whisper to Hutch. "Remind me why I was nervous?"
A late-middle-aged man sporting the newest Brooks Brothers' fashion adjusted the napkin in his lap and savored the last sip of the excellent Bordeaux. His dining companion had just exited the restaurant with perfect timing as usual because his next appointment had arrived.
A younger man with considerably less fashion sense sat down at the table and waved away the waiter who descended immediately. "Was that who I think? Was he--?"
The older man set down the wine glass and steepled his fingers under his chin. "Yes, you are correct both in identifying the gentleman and assuming that he was with me. We're old friends."
"You're--? Then with all due respect, Mr. Chandler, if you're old friends with...I mean, why the hell're you so worried about damage control? Can't you play it from inside the police force?"
"No. I've maintained my friendship with him because he knows nothing about this part of my life. He's a straight arrow, with principles; you have to understand. Now, tell me where we stand."
"I think we've got the lid down, sir. Marcel lit out for Vegas the minute we paid up, and we're going to contract somebody there to take care of him. Won't even be traced back here, much less to the situation with LeRon and the Danbeck woman."
"And what about our friend, LeRon? Am I correct that I should be holding you responsible for hiring him?"
"Sir, I... Look, it's a rule on the street that if you supply a junkie's fixes, you own his soul. He followed through like he was supposed to with the Courtney woman, how was I supposed to know that he'd--?"
"Obviously, he reserved some of his soul for his own use! He should have been eliminated after Courtney. Candace Courtney was the possible leak. The Danbeck woman was no threat; she should not have been killed."
"Sir! She could've identified the operation--"
"No! At best, she could have pointed to the boutique, but we're well insulated from that tiny corner of our operation. You need to learn to identify what poses danger and what doesn't. I repeat, what has been done about LeRon?"
"Live by the sword; die by the sword," the younger man quoted inaccurately. "By the time he's found, there won't be any indication that he didn't administer his own horse for the final space ride. His habit is well known on the street."
"And what of Starsky and Hutchinson?"
"They'll be spinning their wheels far, far away from you, sir. Can't get anywhere if they keep running into dead ends. Eventually, they'll be pulled off the case and--"
"That's well and good, but if they start getting even close enough for my hound to sniff them, you remember the leniency I'm showing you about Mr. Markus, and you make sure you repay me for that kindness."
"Y-yes, s-sir, Mr. Chandler."
Starsky stole another look at the clock above the chalkboard--8:30. He didn't need to be reminded now why he'd been nervous. The first thirty minutes of the class had been devoted to what Garner called "housekeeping," but the last hour had focused on what Sophocles intended to say about law and justice in his own time, and Starsky found himself tongue-tied and unable to break into the debate. Hutch had contributed several remarks on the classical concept of "hubris" and seemed at home in the high-speed discussion.
As disappointed as he was in his own performance, Starsky had to marvel at their professor. Manning appeared to know just which three sentences thrown in here and there could steer the students into a direction that generated fifteen minutes of non-stop conversation. He could also insert background information without appearing to be anything more than another participant in the debate. Starsky wondered if this kind of teaching wasn't actually harder than lecturing from a podium.
At that moment, the chatter dwindled and Manning sat forward, reaching for a handful of trail mix. "All right, I have to say I'm impressed. We've covered Sophocles, Plato, and Aristotle. There's certainly intrinsic value in understanding the impact 'Antigone' would have had on the ancient world, but I'd like to take the next hour and consider what Sophocles has to say to us here in 1980 Bay City. How timeless is Sophocles' work? What parallels exist between his world and ours? What issues are we still dealing with as a society? Anyone care to kick-start that discussion?"
Silence filled the room for perhaps a minute. Then, the young woman with a unique cluster of raven braids--Janet?--tapped her pen on the table and said, "I think 'Antigone' is a stern warning for us to adhere to the separation of church and state. Even today, there are attempts by the government to restrict the practices of certain non-mainstream religious societies."
"How exactly are you suggesting we improve as a society?" Angela Carter asked. "I think freedom of belief is one of our country's greatest assets. Prejudice is out there, sure, but our government's laws are designed to protect religious freedom."
"Then why are certain groups forced to practice in secret?" Janet countered. "Because once they earn the title 'cult,' they are subject to closer scrutiny and persecution by the mainstream, be it government officials or law enforcement." She threw a sharp look across the table, and Starsky wished Manning hadn't requested "introductory speeches."
"Law enforcement has nothing to do with 'freedom of belief' and 'religious practice'," Starsky said firmly, surprised when all eyes turned his way. "There's a big difference between freedom to believe or worship whatever you want, and using that belief to commit crime."
"That's the whole point, though," the young man beside Janet spoke up. "What's considered a crime in man's eyes might not be considered a crime in the belief-structure of a particular religious group. In today's society, if church and state are separate, what right does the government have to determine what's a 'crime' when connected with religious practice?"
"Do you really want to live in a society that allows people to rape, murder, kidnap, and commit human sacrifice because they're simply following their view of spirituality?" Starsky shook his head. "I don't. I'd say government always has a right to protect the innocent."
"I agree with David," Camille said. "What good is the freedom to practice religion if someone's dangerous practices take away someone else's basic rights?"
"Such as?" Janet asked.
"Life, liberty, pursuit of happiness, to name a few," Hutch answered quickly. "The right to walk around without fear of being used as the sacrificial lamb in someone's ceremony."
"But that's the age old problem of conflicting rights if you take that argument too far," another student said. "Like with censorship. Freedom of speech and press are sacred, right? But someone could argue that what one person says or writes takes away their right to 'pursuit of happiness'."
"The difference is the restriction of free will," Hutch argued. "Someone can choose what they read or listen to. If a person has a problem with a belief being expressed, he or she can always--in this country, at least--find a way to avoid it. If a cult is committing bodily harm as a ritual, its victims have no choice in the matter."
Starsky said, "The point I get out of 'Antigone' is that she broke the law because the afterlife and her duty to her brother meant more to her than Thebes. Granted, I don't think Creon's law was fair or even good sense, but the point is, what should happen to a person who breaks the law even for so-called right reasons?" He felt warm inside when several people around the table nodded.
"Exactly!" Camille agreed. "I think the main point is that the punishment didn't fit the crime. Antigone burying Polynices posed no threat. It was certainly not an act that deserved the death penalty."
"I disagree," said the boy beside her, who'd introduced himself as Jeff. "What Antigone did was an act of treason. Thebes had just repelled a massive attack. The place would have been in chaos if Creon hadn't exerted control. What she did could have started a civil war."
"Oh, I suppose you'd have sanctioned the government summarily stringing up the war protestors during Vietnam?" Janet asked, back to pen tapping. "Some people believe they were committing treason."
Jeff looked uncomfortable. "N-no. Peaceful assembly and protest are part of our country's tradition. But even things that seem right can have negative consequences. The protesters impacted government policy, and soldiers ended up dying in Vietnam because of it."
"Catch-22," Starsky said. "That's the…what'd you say, Garner? Timeless? Yeah, the timeless thing. Nothin' good ever comes out of keeping people from doing the right thing, but you can't have law and order if you don't have consequences for breaking the law. That's as true today as it was back then. Camille's right, though. The consequences have to match the 'crime.' Creon was determined to break Antigone any way he had to. That's not justice; that's revenge."
Starsky noticed that Hutch visibly flinched, but he couldn't spare a thought for the reason because Janet's flashing dark eyes had pinned him once more from across the table.
"That's an interesting viewpoint for someone with the power behind a badge and gun," Janet commented. "What consequences do you ever face for operating 'above' the law?"
Funny, she doesn't pick on Hutch. "Above the law? The only cops who think they're 'above the law' usually end up losing their badges."
"So you've never used your badge to bend the rules? Not even once?" Janet persisted, and Starsky wished she'd just cease with the pen tapping.
"Wait a minute," Hutch spoke sharply, but Garner held up a hand.
"You don't have to answer that, David. Defending your arguments logically and thoroughly is appreciated, but Socratic discussion does not need to include personal questions about your life outside this classroom."
Starsky smiled and included Janet in the smile. "That's okay. I've had to answer tougher questions under oath. She's got a point, and it's relevant. Yeah, I've been known to get creative with regulations--for good cause. Usually to keep somebody breathing, if you want the truth. Do I think I'm above the law? Hell, no. Antigone didn't get away with what she did even though she was Creon's niece, and my badge doesn't keep me from facing consequences. And if Hutch or I ever did break the law, Internal Affairs would shred us and then throw us to the mercy of civil law. Cops don't get the benefit of 'innocent until proven guilty.' We gotta work under a higher standard than you do as an ordinary citizen every day of the week."
Camille held up the nearest tray of cookies. "Well said, David. I'm sure this isn't what you normally associate with 'policemen's barbecue,' right?"
Laughter broke out and even Janet joined in. She tucked her pen in her jacket pocket and grabbed a cookie off the tray Camille held. "Thanks for answering my question."
Starsky nodded. "Sure, anytime."
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