Starsky awakened and stretched, pulling back sharply in response to the pain the movement caused with the accustomed morning stiffness. With an almost silent groan, he turned to look at the lump of covers next to him. A tiny wisp of blond hair poked above the blanket. He snaked his hand under the covers to touch the sleep-warmed skin, ghosting a touch from Hutch's shoulder to his hand.
"Starsky..." the lump that was Ken Hutchinson moaned." We don't have to be at work until three. We didn't get to bed until almost one and it isn't even seven, yet. Why are you awake?"
"We've got the second shift for the next two weeks. I like second shift. You know why?" Starsky asked, running his hand back up the path it had just taken, resting it in the warm hollow of Hutch's neck.
"No, I give up. Why?"
"Because we get to sleep late in the morning because we don't have to be at work until three," Starsky replied happily.
"Then why the hell did you wake me up?" Hutch asked, irritation plain in his tone.
"Because there's something else we get to do when we work the late shift."
"We get to fool around if we wake up early, and still have time to go back to sleep before we have to be at work by three," Starsky supplied with a broad smile.
"Why didn't you say so?" Hutch answered as he pulled his partner under the cocoon of covers with a soft laugh.
Starsky followed eagerly, melting into the touch of Hutch's lips against his. Their hands wandered over the angles and planes of their bodies with familiarity, the touches easily inflaming their early morning erections. Starsky straddled his lover and groaned his delight when Hutch wrapped him up in his long arms. The friction and rhythm perfect.
"God, Hutch, you feel so good. I could stay like this forever."
"You must have me confused with some other lover, babe. Your skin is so hot when you first wake up it's like being covered in lava, and I'm going to burn...ummmm, yeah, just like that," Hutch purred.
Starsky pelted Hutch's neck and upper chest with an alternating array of soft kisses and strong sucks intended to inflame. Starsky smiled at his obvious success when, a few seconds later, Hutch arched sharply against him as his climax shook his long frame and bathed the space between their groins with his hot discharge. Starsky tried to slow down and prolong his own completion, but his lover evidently had other plans as Hutch's fingers dug deeply into his ass, pressing him down in the hot sticky fluid, then increased his own movements, drawing out Starsky's release in spite of his intentions otherwise.
Starsky settled against his lover and snuggled his head against Hutch's smooth chest. After several long minutes to calm his breathing, he raised slightly, "See...aren't you glad we're on the second shift?" Starsky asked sleepily as they both drifted off.
The sound of the phone ringing was the next thing that registered. With a groan, he batted at the alarm clock twice before fully realizing the sound was coming from the phone.
"Let me speak to your partner," Dobey's voice demanded.
"Just a minute, Captain. Let me get him awake for you." Starsky nudged the lump next to him. "Hutch…Hutch, wake up. It's for you. It's Dobey."
A hand reached out from under the blankets to grab the phone. "Hutchinson," came the sleepy answer.
"Did you give the deposition in the Stewart case yesterday?" Dobey asked.
"Yes," Hutch answered, struggling to sit up and pushing Starsky slightly off him in the process. "I met with the stenographer at the DA's office about four, maybe a little after. Why?"
"Because they can't find it. I need you to get in here and give it again until they can locate the original. The DA is set to meet with Stewart's attorney tomorrow, first thing. She needs that information to review tonight so she can be prepared."
"What do you mean, they can't find it? It should be on the stenographer's tape. She recorded it while she typed the deposition. Are you saying they can't find that either, and it never got transcribed?" Hutch asked.
"The stenographer who worked yesterday, the one you probably worked with, started her vacation today. There was nothing from you in her in-box or anywhere else. So get your tail in here as quick as you can, so you can give it to someone else before you go on duty."
Hutch groaned loudly as he threw the covers off. "Yes, sir. I'll be there as soon as I get ready."
"Good. The supervisor of that department has her tail in a wringer, trying to explain the screw-up. Evidently, yours isn't the only one MIA. I'm sorry about this, but it's necessary."
"Right...I'll be in as soon as I can." Hutch passed the phone back to Starsky who hung it up without looking at it.
"What's up?" Starsky asked, rubbing a hand over his face to encourage an alertness he was far from feeling.
"Clerical error. My depo from yesterday is in the Twilight Zone, and I've got to go in and give another one ASAP." Hutch tossed back the covers and pushed himself up off the bed. With a smile and a ruffle of Starsky's curls, he added, "You don't have to get up. Stay where you are. I'll see you when you get in. Bring me some of that leftover meatloaf, will ya?"
"Sure. See you later, love you," came Starsky's mumbled reply as he did as Hutch suggested and dug down a little deeper in the warm spot just vacated by his lover.
"Would you like a cup of coffee while you finish reviewing that, Detective?" the secretary asked. "I just made a fresh pot. How do you like it?"
"Black, thanks, that'd be great." Hutch watched as the too-thin woman handed him the cup she had in her hand.
"Here, take mine. I'll pour another cup."
"Thank you." Hutch took a sip of the coffee, closing his eyes in pleasure. It was strong and hot and unusually good for precinct-house brew. He had been in such a hurry to get there, he hadn't taken the time to make coffee at home before leaving. This was just the jump-start he needed after the late hours the previous night and the early morning wake-up. He smiled to himself as he remembered the details of the first wake-up Starsky had given him, and felt a stirring tingle with the memory. The call from Dobey wasn't nearly as pleasant a memory. He quickly finished his coffee and silently hoped the secretary would come back and offer a refill.
As if reading his mind, she poked her head around the corner. With his most charming smile, Hutch held out his cup entreatingly. "Sure, I'll be right back." Hutch watched as she left with his cup. There was something vaguely familiar about her, but he couldn't place it. She was stick-thin with mousy brown hair and dark-rimmed glasses that hid much of her face. She must be new; I don't think I've seen her here before...seems nice enough. He gave her a bright smile as he accepted the refill and went back to reading the transcript of his replacement deposition before signing it into permanent record.
Finishing, he picked up the pen from the desktop, fumbling it slightly in the process. Hutch signed his name and pushed the paper in the file folder it had come out of. The room seemed unusually warm to him, and he wiped at the sweat on his upper lip before he stood. The dizziness was worse once he was standing, and he held fiercely to the table-top to keep from falling.
"Is everything okay, Detective? You don't look too well. Can I help you?" The mousy secretary's voice seemed to be coming from a long distance away, even though her face was very close to his own.
"I don't feel so good...if you could give me a hand to the men's room..." Hutch leaned slightly on her frail shoulder, and he followed her lead out of the small interrogation room.
He wasn't paying too much attention to anything beyond trying to put one foot in front of the other, and he'd walked several yards before he realized they were not in the main hallway of the DA's wing of the municipal building, but the ancillary hallway that ran the length of the back of the building used for deliveries and prisoner transport.
"I just need to get to the john and splash a little cold water on my face... This isn't the way...."
"I called your boss, Captain Dobey. Don't you remember? He said there were two other detectives out with some sort of flu. He said they described it as coming on like a freight train. He was going to call your partner to come pick you up and take you home. You're not to go by the station at all. He didn't want you to expose anyone else."
"That makes sense," Hutch muttered.
"Does your captain always growl when he talks?" the secretary asked.
Hutch laughed weakly at the thought before he answered. "Yeah, that pretty much describes my boss."
"Here's my car. I'm going to drive you to meet your partner. Get in."
Hutch fell heavily into the back seat of the station wagon. His dizziness came in powerful and increasingly incapacitating waves. His head pounded and his ears rung. He closed his eyes; his only thought was how comfortingly cool the upholstery was against the side of his face. Then nothing.
Starsky walked into the squadroom, looking for the blond head of his partner.
"Hey, Arturo, how's it going?" Starsky asked, as he slipped the paper sack with the leftover meatloaf sandwiches in the small refrigerator next to the coffeepot.
"Not bad. I don't want to say the 'q' word then go off shift and leave you with the jinx, so I'll just say it's been a pretty okay day."
"Where's Hutch? Are they carving his depo into stone tablets that it's taking so long?" Starsky asked.
"I don't know. I haven't seen him at all. I knew you guys were on swing shift; I thought he hadn't come in yet."
"Dobey called him in early to redo a depo. I thought he'd've been done long before now."
Dobey opened his door and overheard the last of Starsky's statement. "I thought so, too. Give them a call and see what the hold-up is. I've got a case I want to send you both out on."
"Right," Starsky answered and picked up the phone to cradle it between his shoulder and ear, as he ran his fingers through the Rolodex to get the number for the DA's transcription department.
Starsky knocked on Dobey's door and pushed it open without waiting for an answer. "He isn't there, Captain, and the head of Transcription talked to me like she thought I was on something. She said she never expected Hutch to come in this morning because there was no misplaced dictation. She said the DA's office had picked up the depo Hutch gave last night, late after it was transcribed. What's going on?"
Dobey looked as confused as Starsky felt as the big man reached for his phone. "This is Captain Harold Dobey. Let me speak to Carolyn Richter, please."
Starsky paced in front of Dobey's desk, determined not to let his imagination run away with him. But as each second ticked by, he could feel himself losing the battle.
"Yes, Carolyn, I was looking for one of my men. He was down there this morning to redo a depo. Yes, Detective Hutchinson, that's right. You saw him then?" Dobey looked up to meet Starsky's eyes. "What?" Dobey's eyes cut away and he frowned. "You called me yourself, this morning. You said the depo recording was misplaced and it hadn't been transcribed. You told me to call my man in to redo it so the prosecution team would have time to go over it before the trial tomorrow."
Dobey's face darkened and he stood up behind his desk. "Yes, I'm sure I was awake when I got to work. You called me, lady. Are you saying you didn't?" Dobey reached out a beefy hand and punched the intercom button to allow Starsky to hear both sides of the conversation.
"Yes, I'm saying I didn't. Captain Dobey, I haven't any idea what you're talking about. As I told the other detective who called down here a few minutes ago, I didn't ask for Detective Hutchinson to come to do anything. His depo was checked out by the DA's office last night. There was never anything lost about it. What kind of place do you think I run down here?"
"Ms. Richter, I took the call from you myself, asking that I get Hutchinson in right away," Dobey insisted.
"Well, it wasn't me you talked to."
"Who else would have been there at, say, oh...seven-thirty?"
"No one. This department doesn't open until eight-thirty. Just enough time to check things out to people going to court. Staff occasionally stays late to finish up things, but no one comes in early."
"You're sure?" Dobey looked up to meet Starsky's stare.
"What time did you get in today?" Dobey asked, grabbing a paper and pen.
"Was there anyone there when you got there?"
"No, I was the first one in...except...."
"Except what?" Starsky jumped into the conversation.
"Except for the college student who's been observing. She's doing a paper for her Criminal Justice class, and she's got an observer's pass. There was coffee made when I got in, so I assumed she had made it. She sometimes does."
"Then where does she go?" Starsky asked.
"It depends on what she's observing that day. Sometimes to in-processing, sometimes to court. It depends...why?"
"Because, Ms. Richter, someone professing to be you, called me a little after seven this morning and told me to get my officer in to your office ASAP. That officer is now missing. What is that observer's name?" Dobey bellowed.
"Harriet Walden, but you can't think that--"
"How long has she been observing?" Starsky asked.
"Since the beginning of the semester. That would be about three weeks."
"Do you have a background check on her, clearances and references?" Dobey barked.
"Of course I do. I've been in the district attorney's office for over twelve years. Maybe you should look under your own haystacks for the missing man. He is not here now, and I have no reason to believe he was ever here earlier, since I certainly did not send for him." Ms. Richter's voice was icy.
"I'll get back to you, Ms. Richter," Dobey's voice had also cooled considerably during the last few verbal exchanges. Dobey hung up. "Call and get the file on Ms. Walden. I'll check with the switchboard. I'm pretty sure the call came from an inside line."
Starsky turned and went to his desk. He called Records and got a busy signal, which broke his last thread of control. He slammed the phone down hard enough to crack the instrument, and snatched his jacket off the back of his chair. If anyone gave him any questioning looks as he stormed out, he was too preoccupied to notice.
"Minnie," he almost grabbed the small woman in his relief to see her. "I need some information fast. There was an observer's pass issued to a Harriet Walden for the DA's office. I need to see her background check, please. Right away, it's really important."
"Sure, baby, but why the rush?"
"Hutch is missing. That's the last place he was supposed to be, and this observer person is the only one that doesn't fit in the mix as far as we know."
Minnie went quickly to her desk and sat at the computer. Her fingers flew over the keys for a few seconds then stopped. With a mumbled curse under her breath, she got up and roughly pulled out a file drawer and began searching through folders there. "Aha!" Minnie jerked a thin file free and opened it. "Shit, there isn't anything much here either. I've got her name, social security number, birthdate, and address, any or all of which might be bogus because none of the information here has ever been verified."
"What?" Starsky took the statistics sheet. "They fingerprinted her but never ran the prints? Why the hell not?" Starsky stared open-mouthed at the page.
"Because this is part of the PR from the mayor and commissioner's office. It's their push for a community buy-in to the criminal justice process. There was a big memo sent out about it. They had officers going to the high schools and colleges all over the area...they were asking for this type of stuff. Opening the door for anybody that wanted to sign up for a ride-along."
"Fuck. Let's make a copy of this sheet and see if any of it's real." Starsky let Minnie take the page from his trembling fingers, and he blindly followed her to the Xerox machine in the corner of the office.
"Maybe she's a foxy lady and he took her to lunch, although you couldn't tell from the picture on her driver's license," Minnie offered.
Starsky stopped any further conversation along those lines with a look. "No, Minnie. Wherever he went, it wasn't willingly. We were supposed to start our shift at three. If he'd gone off, he'd've left me a note, or told somebody to let me know. His car is in the garage, and no one in the squadroom has seen him all day."
"Here you go, sweetie. Good luck. If you need anything else, you just call Minnie. You hear? When you do find that beautiful partner of yours, kick his ass once for me for worrying all of us."
"Right, I'll do that." God, I hope I get the chance....
Starsky gunned the Torino toward the 101 Freeway and made good time getting to the address on the driver's license copy from the file. It came as no great surprise to him that it was a warehouse address of self-storage units. Just to be sure, he got out of the car and went into the office. At a cluttered desk sat an elderly Asian man, eating a bowl of noodles while watching an Asian TV station.
"Excuse me," Starsky began, digging his badge out of his jacket pocket as he waited to get the man's attention.
"Yes? May I help you?"
"I wonder if you have any units rented to a Harriet Walden? Here's a copy of the picture from her driver's license. My name is Starsky; I'm a detective with the BCPD."
The old man slowly stood and approached the desk, looking carefully at Starsky's ID, then at the picture of Harriet Walden.
"No, the name is not familiar, and I do not know this woman. I am sorry not to be able to help you."
"Yeah, me, too," Starsky replied as he put his badge away and carefully folded the piece of paper. "Here's my card," he said as he placed one on the counter top. "If you should see this woman, please give me a call."
"I have a feeling it isn't this woman you are truly looking for, is it?" The old man stared into Starsky's eyes as if he could read the writing in his very soul.
"No, sir. But I may need to find her to find my partner. That's the person who's important. "Starsky pulled out his wallet and eased out the photo of himself and Hutch he kept behind his ID. "If you see this man...."
"I will keep my eyes and ears open. One never knows what one can see and hear if one only takes the time. I hope you find your...partner, and that he is safe." The man turned away and resumed his seat, picking up his small bowl and pulling up noodles from the nest of them in the bottom. Starsky put the picture away after a brief glance at the two smiling faces in the pose. The memory of that happy day cut through him like a knife. Please be safe...please let me find you.
Starsky got back into the Torino and headed for the college at which Ms. Walden was allegedly enrolled. "Damn it to hell, Hutch. When is enough, enough? When will we have paid our dues and fate will leave us alone to be happy for a little while? Is that too much to ask? What's it gonna take?" Starsky wiped roughly across his eyes, determined not to consider the moisture there to be anything beyond reaction from the smog outside.
"Zebra Three, I'm holding a patch for you from Captain Dobey. Acknowledge, please."
"This is Zebra Three. Go ahead, Captain; what you got?" Starsky asked, holding his breath against the rise of fear that terrified him.
"I checked with the registrar at Cal State Long Beach. There is no Harriet Walden registered there in Criminal Justice or any other major. She is not now, nor has she ever been, a student there. What did you get from her address?"
"About as much as you got from the university. It's a self-serve warehouse storage facility, and she doesn't rent any space there. The guy had never seen her before." Starsky sighed his deep and bitter disappointment into the back of his hand as he held the microphone. "What now?"
"Now, we put out an all-points since we don't have to worry about scaring off anyone we thought we could sneak up on. I've got Forensics upstairs dusting the deposition rooms for fresh prints. We should be able to pick up Hutchinson's and where he was; maybe hers are there as well. It isn't much, but it's all we've got for now."
"Did anybody look at Hutch's car? Maybe there's something in or around it that might give us a clue."
"Good thought; I'll get Flores right on it," Dobey answered.
"I thought he was going off shift," Starsky said.
"He was; he should be. But when he found out Hutch was missing, he and several other officers stayed."
"Tell them thanks for me until I get back to do it myself."
"I'll do that. And listen...you be alert out there. Don't be so focused on finding Hutch that you let your guard down. If someone wanted to grab Hutch, they'll have a vested interest in you, too. You hear me?"
"Yes, sir. I hear you. I'm gonna do a little more digging, then I'll head back. Zebra Three, out."
"Maybe if I'm real visible, somebody will show a little interest. Might not change anything, but at least we'd be together," Starsky muttered to the streets as the sun set and the streetlights winked on, one by one.
Booze. Booze, not beer or wine; the hard stuff and lots of it. The smell was overpowering and sickeningly sweet. He turned his face to try and get away from it, but it seemed to envelope him in all directions. He tried to move or open his eyes, but nothing seemed willing to work normally. He gave up for a moment and just lay still, trying desperately to ignore the stench of alcohol, accept the darkness, and simply listen.
Hutch could hear the faint ticking of a wall clock and a fainter hum of something electrical. Refrigerator? Air conditioner? Fan? It didn't give him much to go on, but it was a start. He grimly registered the absence of street noise, but noted no birds or barking dogs that would indicate a more rural setting, so he opted to believe he was still in or close to the city. Maybe it's the hum of an A/C and the windows are closed, he reasoned hopefully. Next, he took stock of his body, pointedly ignoring the pounding in his head and the rolling of his stomach. He was lying on something firm, but soft. A bed, he opined, definitely not the floor, even with carpet. He tried to move his hands, but was not entirely surprised to find only a minute movement was possible before he felt the cold, sharp bite of handcuffs. Probably my own, he thought glumly. He moved his legs slightly, but only to straighten them; his ankles were securely bound together with something wide and tight. Duct tape, he guessed. Well, wherever I am, I'm not going anywhere any time soon, he reasoned, his head pounding more fiercely with even so slight an external inventory. With what he surmised to be drug-induced resignation, he stopped trying to process and let the calming darkness claim him once more.
Dobey stood in the front of the room of detectives, writing on the large chalkboard. "What do we know for certain?" he asked aloud as he wrote in one column of the board.
"My partner is missing," Starsky said sharply.
"Right." Dobey wrote "Hutchinson" in the top of the space. "And what do we think we know?"
"That Harriet Walden, if that's even her real name, is somehow involved," Lizzie Thorpe offered.
"That she, or whoever snatched Hutch, wanted to get him alone to be able to do it," Flores added.
"That adds weight to the idea that it may have been this woman. If it had been a man or a group, they could have taken him without insuring he was alone," Dobey finished.
"That they didn't want Starsky," Lizzie put to the group.
"Not necessarily. Maybe if it was the woman alone, she knew she couldn't handle both of them, and she plans to nab Starsky later. Maybe using Hutch as a lure to get him to come willingly," Arturo said, meeting Starsky's eyes.
Starsky held the younger man's gaze a few seconds before looking away, knowing Arturo could easily read how willingly Starsky would go.
"Starsky, any prompts from any of the prison agencies that anyone with a grudge would be coming up for parole consideration or has escaped custody?" Dobey asked.
"Nothing recent. The only one I can remember is Aldred Rawlings, a counterfeiter we put away, got an early out because he'd developed prostate cancer and has only a few months to live. I think the memo said he'd gone to live with his son out of state. He sounded too sick to do anything personally."
"That doesn't mean he doesn't have connections here to do it for him. Check it out, Lizzie," Dobey ordered, adding that name to his column of "possibles."
"Anything from Forensics on the fingerprints in the room where Hutch's fresh prints were found?" Arturo asked.
"They found about thirty different sets on the desk and chairs and doorjambs. They're wading through employees, lawyers, trying to eliminate all the ones we'd expect to find and hoping we have a few good ones that are unexpected," Dobey answered, but kept his eyes fixed on the board. None of the experienced officers needed to be told that the chances of this woman having fingerprints on file anywhere, unless she'd served in the military or had been arrested, was slim.
"What about any current cases? Anyone stand to maybe get a shorter ride if Hutch isn't around to testify against them?" Lizzie asked.
"The only one coming up right now is the Stewart case. That was the one Hutch gave the depo on at the DA's office yesterday. If that was the reason, why wouldn't they have grabbed him yesterday before he gave the depo? All the damning evidence Hutch had is now a part of the permanent record," Dobey said.
"But if the defense had something that would cast any doubt on it, without Hutch to call to the stand, their hole in his deposition would be unchallengeable. It might be all they think they'd need to secure that 'reasonable doubt'," Arturo said. "I say that's as good a place as any to start digging a little."
"I agree," Dobey said as he wrote Arthur Stewart's name in the "possibles" column. "Let's make sure we aren't missing anything more obvious. You or Hutch haven't received any letters or phone calls that you dismissed as pranks, have you?"
"No," Starsky answered flatly, becoming uncomfortable with the amount of time he felt he was wasting sitting there when he could be cruising the streets.
As if reading his mind, Dobey fixed him with a stare. "Then let's get going with what we've got here. Starsky, you hit the streets and shake your snitches and see what you can find out. Lizzie and Arturo, you guys check on the Stewart case and the man recently released from prison. I'll keep after Forensics for anything on prints taken from the DA's office and Hutch's car. After four hours, we'll check in with any progress one way or the other and regroup." Dobey put down his chalk and dusted off his hands. "Four hours, Starsky. I mean it. You check in. No hot-dogging. Don't make me pull you off the streets and chain you to a desk."
Starsky felt his cheeks warm and knew his eyes were blazing at the thinly veiled threat. "Four hours. I'll check in. Hopefully, someone will have something before then."
"Hopefully," Dobey agreed as he reached to slip on his suit jacket and walk to his office, effectively dismissing the group.
Hutch heard the door open and felt the rush of a cool air current wash over his sweaty skin. His captor approached his blind side, but he felt too weak and groggy to try and roll over to get a look. His shoulder was rocked forward, pressing his face down into the mattress, as another hand held his handcuffed arm steady. He waited, barely breathing for whatever opportunity would present itself...then he felt it.
A sharp sting as a needle entered the vein on the inside of his elbow. He stiffened as he recognized with a dreaded clarity of memory the quickly spreading warmth. He tried to lick his dry lips to make the tongue, he felt was covered with cotton, work, but speech failed him. As he felt his head swim, he thought he heard someone moaning out a word...one mournful sound of "Noooooooo," and wondered as the darkness covered him if the cry had been his own.
Starsky stared at the bag of food on the desk in front of him, as he idly traced the beads of condensation forming on the outside of his drink cup. He had taken out the burrito, but it lay congealing in the wrapper, essentially untouched. He'd tried, he really had, but the swallow of Coke he'd taken from the large cup barely made it past the huge lump in his throat. He had no delusion whatsoever about his lack of interest or ability in forcing anything more solid past it.
He looked up at the squadroom doors as they burst open with Arturo's rapid entrance. The Hispanic officer waved a sheet of paper in his hand as he approached Starsky's desk.
"We've got some prints from the coffeemaker. The name Jeanie Walden mean anything to you? She's got a rap sheet for prostitution and shoplifting that goes back for years before racking up a manslaughter conviction that landed her in a state hospital a few years ago."
Starsky took the page Arturo offered. "Jeanie Walden...yeah...that name rings a bell." Starsky picked up the phone and dialed quickly, kicking himself that the last name alone hadn't triggered his memory earlier. He reached for the photocopy of the picture ID and shook his head. If she'd been standing in front of him at that moment, he'd have never guessed it was the same model-beautiful woman of a few years ago.
"R & I, what can I do for you?" Minnie's voice answered.
"Minnie, you ran previous arrests...is Ben Forest still in the slammer?"
"Let me see...ah...yep. He's doing a thirty-year stint. He won't even be eligible for parole until the next century. Why?"
"Jeanie Walden's prints showed up somewhere they shouldn't have. She's got a history with Forest."
"Well, he's still locked up. Doesn't mean he isn't behind it, though."
"I'll find out..." Starsky's voice faded, but the determined promise behind the words was clear.
"I know you will, honey. Keep me posted."
"I will," Starsky replied as he hung up.
Dobey had silently moved to stand at Starsky's elbow. "You think Forest is behind this?" he asked softly.
"I'll be taking a ride in the morning to find out," Starsky answered.
"I'll go with you," Arturo offered.
"That's a good idea. I'll give the warden a call and let his duty officer apprise him of your early morning arrival. There's nothing else we can do tonight. It's after nine; go home, everyone. Eat and get some rest. We'll meet back here at seven in the morning." Dobey gave Starsky's shoulder a squeeze as he turned away to walk into his office and shut it down for the night.
Starsky drove home much more slowly than usual, as if he dreaded his arrival there. Since they'd bought the house, he'd gotten home before Hutch lots of times, but it had never felt like this. He pulled into the driveway, coasting in, and was flooded with so many memories. For a second, the force of it took his breath away.
"Hang on...you can't lose it. That won't help Hutch. You hang on, too, babe. I'm coming I'll find you, I swear!"
Starsky cut the engine but couldn't force himself to move. He sat still as stone for an undetermined length of time before his hands and feet registered the coldness of the night seeping inside the car. Numbness seemed to be the only feeling he could identify as he pulled himself from the car and plodded inside. Numb, he could live with. Thinking and the paralyzing fear it fostered, he could not. He let himself into the dark and quiet house, shedding his jacket and his gun before falling fully dressed into bed.
Cold, his mind registered as he felt his skin raise with goose bumps and a full-body shiver shake his frame. "Starsky, you blanket hog..." He opened his eyes to the dim light in the room and knew he wasn't in his own bed and that Starsky's warmth and the blankets were a long way from here. Wherever here was. His mouth felt like it was full of cotton and tasted like the bottom of a birdcage. He could smell his own sweat and wrinkled his nose in distaste.
Hutch rolled onto his back, wincing at the protest his shoulders gave at the pressure of his body's full weight on top of his arms with his hands cuffed behind him. He craned his neck to take a better look at the room confining him.
There were two walls with windows. The one closest to him showed little promise for escape, since he could clearly see the large nails that held the sash in place. He glanced at the other wall, the window itself too far away to say for sure, but he guessed it to be the same. While he figured he could break the glass to get out, it certainly wouldn't be a swift and silent getaway. There was a dresser against the wall where the entrance door was, and a single nightstand next to his bed.
Hutch rolled off his arms, fighting the prickling and tingles from the return of circulation. He tested the binding on his ankles and found them to be as firmly in place as they had been all the other times he'd awakened. He registered the fact that his head didn't hurt as much as it previously had, but he felt an un-ignorable need to pee.
"Guess I should have passed on that second cup of coffee," he said to the empty room and then heard himself chuckle. He shook his head to try and clear it. The coffee... There was something important about that, but what it was kept skittering away from his brain like a small scrap of paper in a strong gust of wind.
The coffee.... That skinny secretary gave me coffee...drugged coffee! She brought me here, his mind supplied, clearer, though still somewhat sluggish.
"Why the hell do I feel so wasted?" he whispered, feeling his body shiver once again as if when his fuzzy brain finally supplied the answer it would be fear-evoking.
"Hey!" he shouted. "Who are you and what do you want with me?"
Hutch lay and listened intently for evidence that his shout had been heard and that someone was coming.
The door opened almost soundlessly, and a woman entered--the same one who had given him the coffee in the district attorney's office.
"Who are you and what do you want?" Hutch asked, amazed at how strong his voice sounded.
"I'm crushed, " she said bitterly. "After everything we meant to each other...how sad." She stepped closer and let out a hollow laugh.
"What are you talking about? I don't know you!" Hutch answered.
"Oh, yes you do...and in the Biblical sense," she said, laughing once more.
Hutch stared, his eyes searching her features. There was something...a ghosting of familiarity, almost as if he were trying to place a "family resemblance."
"Why am I here, like this? What have I ever done to you?"
Her hand shot out, and Hutch felt his head snap back, tasting the hot and coppery tang of blood.
"What have you ever done?" she screamed in his face. "You gave me back to him! And he and his friends turned me into this!" She struck at her thin chest with both fists. "You were supposed to protect me. You promised me, and you lied! You told him where to find me and they came!"
"Who? Who came?"
"Ben Forest and his goons!" She wrapped her skinny arms around her body. "They came and took me… They pushed me into that little room you were in, but I doubt you even remember, you were so stoned." She leaned her face closer with a sneer. "Then they took me away, back to Ben's fancy place, and he beat me. Beat me over and over, for leaving him. He told me I was his property...bought and paid for, like his fucking car!"
"J-J-Jeanie?" Hutch whispered in frank shock. "I'm sorry...I...I'm sorry. I tried not to. It was all so mixed up between the drugs and the beatings... When I got away and even started to think clearly, I...I wasn't sure...I'm sorry. I couldn't keep them away from you. But when Forest was sentenced, you knew he was going away for a long time. Why didn't you leave then? You could have come to me...the police then, and asked for witness protection. They'd have set you up in a new city. You didn't have to--"
"Yes, I did!" She screamed again, painfully wrenching his head back by a handful of hair. "He left orders. I was business to be dispensed of, like his whole operation. Everything, me included, turned over to one of his lieutenants." Jeanie roughly let go of Hutch's head and took a step back. "I took over his girls in Vegas, but he never left me alone. Even when I got arrested for Malloy's murder, I was sent to a hospital, and they found me there. They took me away, and it started all over again. I had to make it stop." She moved closer with menace. "This is what I did to get out," she hissed, as she slowly unzipped the shapeless housedress she wore and let it slip to the floor.
Hutch couldn't suppress the gasp as he saw her nude body. What was once a winsome and beautifully lithe body was now unhealthy grey skin, hanging from bones that stood out in stark relief.
"I stopped eating...threw up when they forced me. If I was unmarketable, they couldn't make me work for them anymore. Eventually, nobody wanted to fuck this, no matter how sick or twisted they were told it could be." She stooped down to raise her dress and cover herself once more. "Would you?" she asked as she zipped her dress. "They used to get the guys willing to pay the big bucks and make me service them...sometimes three at a time. They'd take pictures and smuggle them in to show Ben during visits. He'd order the positions, demanding very specific activities like he was directing a porno flick, and then wait for the pictures to prove it had happened. If he was happy, they'd leave me alone for a while. If not, they'd hurt me and photograph that so Ben could see I'd been punished. It took a long time, but it finally worked and I was free."
"So if you're away from them now, why not eat and get healthy? Why grab me?"
"Because they hurt me...and you let it happen. When Ben got me back, he didn't want to have anything to do with me. He said he could smell you on me, but that didn't keep him from having one of his boys do it so he could watch. The rougher the better," she said, her eyes filling. "I'm all used up...empty. I can't eat anymore; even when I do, it won't stay down. This is what's left."
"I didn't know...you never came to me...."
"You didn't care!" she shrieked. "You went off like I didn't exist. Your partner helped you kick it, and you went back to your life like nothing had happened. My hell was just beginning."
"You will be before I'm through with you, and I call your partner to come and pick up what's left."
"Don't do this. Please...let me go. Call Starsky and let me go!"
She walked slowly over to the dresser and opened the top drawer. Hutch's heart leaped to his throat as he saw the case she withdrew. He stared at her slender fingers as they took out the syringe and loaded it, then advanced toward him. He tried to kick out with his legs and throw himself off the bed to the floor, but could get no traction and flopped harmlessly on the bed like a beached whale. She laid the syringe down on the nightstand, and he felt her hands reach around his neck, drawing a leather belt around it. She snugged it tight. "Struggle, and it will get tighter and choke you. Lie still, and I'll take it off when I'm done."
Hutch pulled his upper body away, feeling the belt tighten, and heard the air as it drew in and out of his lungs becoming a strident noisy struggle. He felt her knee in his back as she forced him over, roughly grabbing his arm. He fought the increasing blackness of his peripheral vision, his mouth open in a silent scream before he felt the prick of the needle and the spreading warmth of the injected load. Oh, God...noooo.
Arturo paced back and forth across the highly waxed linoleum floor. Thirteen blocked squares up and back. He'd counted them more than once. Starsky sat still and silent in a straight-backed metal chair occupying one side of the interrogation table. The detective's hands rested on top of the table, his long fingers interlaced loosely. He seemed the very picture of calm professionalism. Only Arturo knew the man, and, even if he couldn't see the bobbing of Starsky's leg underneath the table, he swore he could smell the very hate Starsky felt regarding the man they both waited to be escorted into the room. Ben Forest.
On the early morning drive to the prison, Starsky had slowly recounted the tale of Hutch's involvement in yet another rescue of a damsel in distress and how it had gone so wrong. As painful as it was for Starsky to describe, it was also difficult for Arturo to hear about the price Hutch had paid for his noble efforts. Arturo closed his eyes even now at the mental picture Starsky had painted of Hutch in withdrawal. Cold turkey was an ugly thing, and it pained him to associate that experience with his friend and former partner. Hutch is a good man. He should never have been dirtied that way, Arturo thought, feeling his own temper flare. He battled it down fiercely, wondering as he did just how effective he'd be at helping Starsky hold his own.
Ben Forest shuffled through the door the guard held open for him. His step faltered fractionally before he straightened, pulling himself upright to swagger the last few feet and take a seat in the chair opposite Starsky.
"Where's Jeanie Walden?" Starsky said, getting right to it.
"I don't know. It's not easy keeping track of old friends in here. She never answered my last year's Christmas card."
"Where is Jeanie Walden?" Starsky asked again, his voice rising slightly in volume.
"I said I don't know. You should have enough snitches with contacts to working girls to find out for yourself. What are you asking me for?"
"She has something important to me, and I need to find her--now! Whose stable is she in? What part of town?"
"The answer's still the same, kid. She hasn't worked for me in six, maybe eight months now. The way she let herself go, I can't imagine her turning tricks for anybody."
"You didn't arrange to have her do a little bait-and-switch game for you? Is that what you expect me to believe?"
"I don't give a rat's ass what you believe. Jeanie's not working for me. If she's grabbed somebody...wait a minute. That's it, isn't it? Jeanie's grabbed somebody, and you think I made the call?" Forest looked from Starsky to Arturo and back again before folding his arms across his chest and sitting back with a cocky smirk. "She's got your partner... Man, that's rich."
"Who said anything about his partner?" Arturo said, stepping closer to the table.
"You may be with him, kid, but you ain't his partner. He and that blond are tighter than I ever guessed back then. That's probably the biggest mistake I made, thinking I could grab him and it'd go unnoticed long enough for me to get Jeanie back and leave town."
"Yeah, Jeanie has my partner, so you understand how things are. I want him back," Starsky said, his voice the deadly calm of a cobra.
Forest met Starsky's gaze and hesitated, a little of the earlier smugness faltering. "I didn't order the grab. I haven't had anything to do with Jeanie in a very long time. I don't know where she is. Frankly, I'm surprised she's still alive."
"Why?" Starsky snapped.
"Because of the way she looked the last time I saw her. She's sick or something...wasted looking...nothing but skin and bones."
"She's still around. Where would she take him?" Arturo asked.
Forest sat quietly for a few seconds before answering. "Her mother used to live in Riverside. Maybe she went there."
"What's the address?"
"Her mother worked at the Indian school. It's been years; I don't know if she's still there or not, but they ought to have records. She was the school nurse. Uh...Sherwood, no...Sherman, that's it. Sherman Indian School."
"I know where it is," Arturo said. "I did a psychology paper in college and used that school as part of my resource material."
Starsky stood so abruptly his chair almost tipped over. He caught it at the last minute, righting it on four legs. Taking a few steps away, he turned back to Forest. "Thank you."
"Just so you remember whatever shape you find him in that I had nothing to do with it!" Forest replied.
Starsky nodded curtly and followed Arturo out the door, leaving the guard to escort Forest back to his cell.
The drive back to Bay City was a tensely quiet one. Starsky drove with the single-minded purpose of getting back as quickly as possible. If Arturo was hungry and wanted to stop, he wisely didn't suggest it. About sixty miles outside the city, the squawking of the radio disrupted the silence in the car. "Central dispatch to Zebra Three. I have a landline patch to you from Captain Dobey."
"This is Zebra Three, go ahead," Arturo said.
"I've got that information from the Indian School. Irene Walden was the school nurse there for sixteen years. She retired three years ago." Dobey paused. "She died two months ago. We have a last known address, but according to the county records, the house is all closed up, abandoned and in foreclosure."
"What's the address?" Arturo asked, fumbling with pen and paper from his jacket pocket.
"It's 31608 Mailander Street, Sierra Heights. It's off the 60 Freeway, exit Magnolia, follow to Van Buren, go east. Mailander's about six blocks down. It's a dead-end street on your left."
"I'll radio to the sheriff's office to meet you there for back-up," Dobey offered.
"Tell them to stay away from the house. Have them wait for us on Van Buren," Starsky said from behind the wheel, speaking loudly enough for Dobey to hear.
"I'll ask them to meet you at the cross-street. Ten-four. Good luck. Dobey, out."
"Thanks, Captain," Arturo said. "Zebra Three, out." Arturo re-hung the mic on the radio hook and turned to face Starsky.
"You got the address solid?" Starsky asked, weaving in and out of traffic.
"Yeah, off at Magnolia, go east on Van Buren. Mailander's the dead end on the left."
"I hope to God it isn't," Starsky breathed.
"A dead end."
"I need to pee and take a shower," Hutch announced, hating the thickness of his tongue and the way his words came out lightly slurred.
"I agree on the shower part," Jeanie offered.
"I know I stink. Let me up, then."
She rose from the chair, walked to the dresser, and opened the top drawer.
"No--it's too soon. I'm still flying from the last one you gave me," Hutch pleaded.
"Not if you can hold so coherent a conversation," Jeanie replied coldly as she prepared the syringe.
"No, please. Just let me up, I won't try anything," Hutch reasoned as his throat was encased in the all too familiar leather strap.
"I'll go get the bath ready," Jeanie purred in his ear as she loosened the belt.
Helpless tears of anger and frustration stung his eyes, and he turned his face into the sweat-stained pillow.
Arturo rested his head back against the Torino's seat and tried to ignore the incessant nervous drumming of Starsky's fingers on the steering wheel. He was just about to give into the temptation to ask yet again for Starsky to stop the anvil chorus when he heard the approach of an unmistakably heavy-engined car. He turned to see the sheriff's vehicle approaching.
Starsky stopped drumming and exited the car, walking quickly to the cruiser as it slowed then stopped. Starsky provided his ID to the driver and nodded as the deputy in the passenger seat was introduced. Arturo approached and stood at Starsky's side.
"The daughter of the woman who owned the house at the address there..." Starsky indicated the scrap of paper he had passed through the window. "We have reason to believe she has kidnapped a Bay City detective." Starsky swallowed audibly. "My partner. He may not be there, but it's the only lead we've got."
"The county has it listed as unoccupied awaiting foreclosure. Good a place as any to hide, I expect. How do you want to play it?" the sheriff asked, his lined and weathered face squinted against the sun shining at Starsky's back.
"She might recognize my car, so I'll park at the corner out of sight. You pull around on the street behind the house, and I'll walk up to the front."
"Okay, go to channel three on your radio, and I'll tell you when we're in place," the older man offered. "Then you head to the front. We'll come in quiet from the back fence. If you run into trouble, holler; we'll be close enough to hear you."
Starsky nodded and shook the officer's outstretched hand and stepped back as the sheriff threw the powerful county sedan in reverse and pulled back onto the street to go around the block and get into place. Starsky watched as the deputy in the passenger seat took the shotgun down from the rack behind him and checked its readiness.
"God, I hope it doesn't come to that," Starsky said softly and looked up when he felt Arturo's hand pat his shoulder.
"Yo tambien, amigo," Flores whispered as he followed Starsky back to the car.
Hutch was floating. He knew rationally that he wasn't still in the warm water of the bathtub, that it was the solid surface of the bed on which he lay, but he couldn't shake the feeling that his body remained disconnected from gravity.
"At least I smell better," he said, thinking his own voice sort of echoed back at him . Too much, too soon, he thought sadly. She's going to give me too much. She'll OD me before she strings me out again. Hutch consciously chewed on that thought for a moment, feeling that the prospect didn't bother him as much as he somehow believed it should. Maybe I'd be better off...better dead than-- He shut his mind down on the memory of what he'd endured in the room over Huggy's bar, unable to even form the memory. I can't do that again...I can't. I don't have another cold turkey in me. Starsky...I'm sorry. I hope you aren't the one who finds me. Better for you to remember happier times. Hutch let his eyes close, and the ever-present lethargy of the drug carried him away.
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