Frankie was the manager of Crazy Al’s
Discount Emporium. It was an important job, and he had his hands full supervising girls who did not take their work nearly
as seriously as he thought they should. The last person he wanted to deal with today was Anna’s overprotective roommate.
He would have told her to bug off, if it
weren’t for that guy with the cane who had followed her in. Something about that creep made Frankie nervous. It was
the way he stood there and looked at you, almost as if he was looking right through you…
okay, fine. He told Becky that Anna
had come to work on Thursday and left when her shift was over. End of story.
Then the guy with Becky decided to speak
up. “How did she get home?” he asked.
Frankie shrugged elaborately, silently trying
to convey just how much of a waste of time he found this whole conversation. “I dunno. Doesn’t she have a car?”
Becky shook her head. “The insurance
lapsed. It’s been sitting out back of our house for three months now.” A girl silently wandered over to listen
to the conversation. She stood just behind Frankie and wrinkled her nose at Becky, silently asking her, can you believe this guy? Frankie didn’t notice her.
“So, either she took a cab,”
said Starsky, “Or she got a lift. Which is it?”
Frankie had no answer. He scowled. Who did this jerk think he was, anyway?
He jumped when the girl behind him spoke.
“Susie gave Anna and me both rides home on Thursday. I can tell you we dropped Anna off right at her door.”
“About what time would that be?”
“Umm…” The girl considered
the question carefully. “We got off from here around a , so I guess we would have
got to her house around six thirty. She said she’d see us in the morning.”
Frankie shrugged again, annoyed. “She’s
probably found herself a new squeeze and decided to skip town for the weekend.” To Becky, he said, “When you see
her, you tell her I’m docking her pay for Friday, and you can also let her know that she’s one lucky little gal
to still have a job here. And if she don’t turn up on Monday, she can kiss the job goodbye, too.”
Becky spluttered, too outraged at this speech
Starsky regarded the manager with deep dislike.
He was all of 19 years old at the most, with an officious attitude and a terrible shoulder twitch, and no useful information
to speak of. Deciding it was probably best to just ignore the little weasel, he turned to the girl. “Did Anna say anything
about her plans for Friday?”
“Yeah,” she replied, with a guilty
glance at Frankie. “She asked me if I’d cover for her at lunch, so she could skip out and meet up with John. So,
you know, I was really surprised when she didn’t show up, but I figured maybe she was sick or something.”
“Hey!” said Frankie. “You
girls are supposed to take your breaks onthe premises, not off somewheres with
The girl rolled her eyes at him. “Frankie,
you are such a…” She cut herself off and shook her head disbelievingly. “Ain’t you even a little worried
about Anna? You know she wouldn’t just take off without at least telling Becky.”
“I don’t know any such thing,”
snapped Frankie. “And do you wanna tell me who’s covering your cash right now? I’m not paying you to stand
around and gossip!” Turning towards Becky and Starsky, he crossed his arms and asked, “Are we done?”
Becky’s eyebrows drew together angrily.
Taking a deep breath she opened her mouth to tell him just exactly what she thought of him. Unfortunately, Starsky interrupted
her. “We’re done,” he said with a thin smile. Snagging her elbow, he steered her towards the door.
Becky looked up at Starsky and said, “Why
did you stop me? He’s such a jerk!”
Starsky put one finger to his lips, signaling
silence. Then, just as they reached a small knot of people by the door, he commented loudly, “How big do you figure
that rat was, back in the women’s underwear department?”
Several heads turned towards him. Becky blinked,
“You know; that big brown one you saw.
Boy, I tell ya, after that incident with the health inspector last month, I’d have thought they’d have this place
cleaned up by now.” More heads were turning now, and a few people had worried expressions on their faces.
Becky caught on. “Oh, you mean thatrat! I thought you meant the little one we saw down by the canned
goods. If this place weren’t so cheap, I’d never shop here. As it is, you have to disinfect everything you buy.
What kind of rats do you think they are?”
“Norway rats?” suggested Starsky, raising his eyebrows.
“Aren’t those the ones that carry
That last comment from Becky was particularly
effective in light of Bay
brush with just this particular disease a few years back. Starsky had to shake off a momentary chill at the memory and several
people headed immediately for the doors.The others began whispering among themselves
and looking around nervously. Becky struggled to keep a straight face as Starsky held the door open for her. Behind them she
could hear Frankie’s outraged yelp, “Rats! There aren’t any rats in this store!”
Becky managed to hold it together until she
made it into the passenger side of the Torino. Then she laughed
so hard she had to wipe the tears away from her eyes. “Oooh,” she said, “That was just plain evil.”
Starsky chuckled, “Evil, sure, but
also effective. He’ll be trying to squash rat rumors for the next three months.” Pulling away from the curb, he
turned toward Becky’s house. In a more serious tone, he asked, “What time did you get home on Thursday night?”
Becky chewed on her bottom lip, thinking
back. “The shelter’s open until nine on Thursdays. I stayed later because Robin needed help cleaning some of the
cages. We have some really tiny kittens, so I helped with the feeding and tummy massage.”
“Tummy massage?” Starsky was
intrigued. Why would anyone massage a kitten’s stomach?
“When they’re that little, they
can’t eliminate on their own, so you gotta…”
He interrupted her hastily. “Uh, never
mind. Forget I asked.”
“It’s really not as gross as
Becky smiled at his unconvinced tone. “Anyway,
I got home around eleven. I thought she was already in bed, but since her bed hasn’t been slept in, I guess that means
she must have disappeared sometime between and eleven, right?”
“Right.” Starsky glanced over
at her.Teasingly, he said, “Hey, have you ever considered a career in
law enforcement? You’d make a pretty good detective…”
She laughed briefly, and then fell silent.
Becky had never been any good at that thing
called tact. Anna would say that as soon as a thought entered her mind, it exited from her mouth, with no intermediary step
in between. Anna had also been known to refer to her friend as a “conversational pit bull”. So, it was a rare
occasion indeed when Becky found herself hesitant to speak what was on her mind.
However, Dave’s comment about being
a detective had reminded her of the events she had witnessed at the diner that morning. Even though she was well aware of
the fact that she hadn’t known him nearly long enough to question anything he did with his life, the questions that
had occurred to her that morning were now burning a hole in her tongue. Wanting to ask, and knowing that she shouldn’t,
left Becky in a very uncomfortable position.
After a few minutes, Starsky became aware
of the silence in the car. He looked over at her and saw the conflicted expression on her face. He waited, but when it became
clear that she wasn’t going to speak, he asked, “What’s up?”
Grasping the opportunity for all it was worth,
Becky asked, “Why are you resigning?”
Starsky’s smile vanished. “Isn’t
it obvious?” he asked, a sharp movement of his head indicating the cane resting on the seat between them
Becky could almost see the “No Trespassing”
sign manifesting over his head. However, she was a stubborn personality, and not easily diverted from a topic once she had
latched onto it. She answered his question with perfect honesty. “No, it’s not obvious. You didn’t have
any trouble dealing with that guy at breakfast today.”
He waved a hand dismissively. “That
was just dumb luck. If it hadn’t been for that blind alley or if Dan hadn’t been such a lousy excuse for a brother…”
“If it hadn’t been for all that,
you would have thought of something else, right?”
Starsky glanced at her sideways. Her jaw
was set. Wishing fervently that she would drop the topic, but realizing the unlikelihood of that happening any time soon,
he tried to explain things as reasonably as he could. “Becky… I can’t carry a gun anymore. What kind of
cop would I be?”
“Why can’t you carry a gun?”
For a bright girl, she didn’t seem
to see the obvious very well. Marshalling the tattered shreds of his patience, Starsky explained, “I’m left-handed,
but my left hand is no good these days. With the range of movement I’ve got in it right now, I’d be dropping my
gun all over the place. As for my right, well, even if I could learn to shoot half way decent with that hand, most of the
time I’d still need it for my cane.”
“Okay,” said Becky. She was willing
to accept the logic of what he was saying about the gun. What she wasn’t willing to accept was the idea that the gun
issue was enough to leave the police force over, especially when he so clearly didn’t want to quit.
She thought about it briefly and then said,
“I know cops don’t only go around shooting people. They do other things, too, like research stuff. So, why can’t
you just do something else in the police force?”
“I don’t want to do something
else,” he said, stubbornly. He was suddenly reminded of his futile attempt at resigning this morning. What th’heck is this girl doing? Channeling Dobey?
“So, you just want to shoot people?”
asked Becky, deliberately being obtuse.
“No! I just… I want to be the
kind of cop I was before. I was a detective, I had a beat, I did undercover work… and I was good at it.” Starsky stopped abruptly. He could hear something almost approaching a whine in his voice,
and he hated the way it sounded.
Becky looked at the tension in Dave’s
shoulders, and at the way his hands were clenched on the steering wheel. She decided that she’d most likely pushed this
topic as far as it was going to go. It was time for a change of direction. “Okay,” she said, making her tone lighter,
“If you can’t be a police detective anymore, how about becoming a private detective?”
Starsky looked horrified. “No, no way.
Uh-uh. Not in a million years.”
“Some day, kid, I’ll tell you
a story about a guy named Turquet.” Under his breath he muttered darkly, “Man, he was sucha turkey…”
They pulled up to Becky’s house and
as he stopped the car, Starsky said, “See if your next door neighbor is home. Make sure you ask her questions like:
did Anna go anywhere between and eleven,
or did she have any visitors, that sort of thing. Then when you’re done with that, you can try calling all the local
hospitals to see if anyone matching her description has been brought in recently.”
“The hospitals?” Becky looked
alarmed. “I hope she’s not in the hospital!”
a lot better than the morgue, thought
Starsky, but he didn’t say anything aloud. If ending up in the hospital was the worst outcome Becky could imagine for
her friend, then it was probably best to leave it at that.
Becky was feeling more than a little guilty
now, fully aware that she had been picking on Dave with regards to his job. So, she was rather hesitant in asking, “When
will I see you again?”
The humor was back in the glance he gave
her. “How about tomorrow morning: when you walk that dog of yours? Three times and we’ll almost have a tradition.”
She gave him a delighted smile as she climbed
out of the car and waved goodbye. It looked like he wasn’t planning on holding the difficult conversation against her,
and that relieved her immensely.
bruises on Melinda Roberts did match the bruising on the victims of last summer’s Bayside Rapist. Looking over the files,
Hutch noted that none of the earlier victims had been robbed of any of their jewelry or belongings. Their attacker was not
the sort who liked to take trophies, apparently. Melinda’s body, however, had been found without a purse, a wallet,
or even a watch. Either she wasn’t inclined to wear much in the way of accessories, or this time someone had robbed
her. It was either the murderer himself or a witness who came across the body sometime before it was finally reported to the
He visited the Roberts family again, hoping
they might be able to recall something about what Melinda might have been wearing on the night in question. Unfortunately,
the family had not been close. They were sure she had worn necklaces and rings, but they could not recall precisely which
ones she might have been wearing when she died. They looked through her jewelry box, but were not able to identify any missing
items. Melinda had preferred chain bracelets set with semi-precious stones, and to her father’s eyes, they all looked
much the same. Her mother had a vague recollection of a silver watch of some value, but she could not say what brand or manufacturer
it had been.
It was a dead end. Frustrated, Hutch headed
back to the station. He was approaching a quiet intersection, about to proceed through the green light, when a tan sedan suddenly
blew through the red light, right in front of him. It careened past at high speed, less than a foot from the nose of his car.
He stomped on his brakes and abruptly everything seemed to drop into slow motion. On his left, a woman pushing a baby carriage
looked up in horror at the car heading directly towards her. She had no time to react. The front of the sedan clipped the
front wheels of the carriage, throwing it to the side. The motion of the carriage then tossed the woman directly into the
side of the car as it passed. She was knocked to the pavement and the carriage with the baby in it landed a few feet away
in a crumpled heap of bent struts and collapsed fabric.
The sedan itself skidded and went into a
half turn, ending up on the sidewalk on the far side of the road. Hutch immediately pulled forward into the intersection so
that his vehicle closed off the road and sheltered the woman and child. Simultaneous with this action, he got on the radio
to report the accident, and request an ambulance.
Pushing his door open, he swung out of his
car and ran to the victims. The woman had levered herself up into a sitting position and looked dazed. The infant, clearly
visible in the wreckage of its carriage, was crying loudly, much to Hutch’s relief. The screams told him that at least
the child’s lungs were working well, and he could see no obvious injuries. Looking down the road, he observed the man
in the sedan trying to back his vehicle off the high curb of the sidewalk.
For a moment, Hutch was torn. He wanted to
stay and tend to the victims, but he also couldn’t let the perpetrator drive off and turn this into a hit and run. If Starsky was here…
However, Starsky had resigned. He wasn’t
here, and Hutch had to do the job alone. He couldn’t be in two places at once, both tending to the victims and dealing
with the one who had hurt them. He had to choose. Leaving the woman and child for the moment, since neither of them appeared
to be seriously injured, he charged across the pavement towards the car.
His command only inspired the panicked man
in the car to hit the gas, sending his car careening backwards into a telephone pole. He was trying to shift into gear when
Hutch drew his Magnum and sent a round into the front tire. That wasn’t enough to deter the driver, who continued to
try to force his car back onto the road, despite the flapping shreds of his tire.
With a curse, Hutch shot out the back tire
as well, and then positioned himself right at the man’s driver’s side window. “Hands off the wheel!”
He didn’t need to point out the obvious, which was that the next bullet would go through the driver’s head if
he didn’t comply. His stance and expression conveyed that message with perfect clarity.
Terrified at the look in the cop’s
eyes, the man threw his hands up.He was an older man, perhaps in his fifties,
with grey hair and the beefy, bloated build of a college football player gone to seed.Hutch reached forward with one hand and grasped the door handle. Finding it unlocked, he threw open the door. Then
he reached inside the car, hauled the driver out by his collar and tossed him face down onto the concrete. Holstering his
gun, he knelt down and quickly cuffed him, grimacing at the smell of alcohol permeating the vehicle and its former occupant.
The man lay on the ground where Hutch had thrown him, weeping helplessly.
Scrambling to his feet, he ran back to the
woman and child. A few cars had stopped, and people were starting to gather. Most of them stood back, either commenting on
the scene to each other, or staring uncertainly. A heavyset black man was kneeling by the crumpled baby carriage, trying to
free the infant from the twisted metal. Hutch held up his badge as he approached, and said, “How’s the baby?”
“I think she’s mostly fine,”
said the man, as he wrenched a piece of handle loose and gently extricated the infant. “Just real upset, poor little
thing.” He cradled the child against his chest, murmuring to it softly.
Hutch nodded; glad to see that the baby was
in good hands. The mother’s continued silence disturbed him, however. She was still sitting on the street where she
had landed, and she had not yet tried to look for her child, or even ask about it. Hutch knelt in front of her, and quietly
said, “Lady, I’m a police officer. I can help you…”
She looked at him in open confusion, and
whispered quietly, “Hurts…”
He saw that she had her arms wrapped tightly
around her middle. “Can you tell me what hurts?”
She didn’t respond. Reaching out, he
touched her cheek, and found it cold and damp with sweat. She was very still and under her makeup he could see that her lips
had taken on a bluish tinge. His heart sank as he realized that she was going into shock.
Hutch quickly retrieved two blankets from
the trunk of his car. He couldn’t do anything for the possible internal injuries that had caused her condition, but
he could try to make her comfortable until the ambulance arrived. Rolling up one blanket with which to elevate her legs, he
eased her down onto her back, wincing in sympathy at her sob of pain when her midsection straightened. He draped the other
blanket over her, tucking one corner beneath her head to keep it from the harsh surface of the road.
A movement in his peripheral vision caught
his attention and he looked up to see the man with the baby in his arms, standing behind him. He was looking down at the two
of them with a distressed expression.
“How is she?” he asked.
“She needs a hospital,” said
Hutch. In the distance he could hear the sound of sirens. From his position on the concrete by the now semi-conscious woman’s
side, one hand stroking her hair gently, he again asked the man, “How’s the baby?”
The large man jiggled the infant in his arms.
Its cries were slowing, changing from the persistent wail from earlier to a steady exhausted sobbing. “She’s got
a nasty scrape on her leg and she’s gonna have a couple bruises, I think. But that heavy duty stroller there saved her
life.” His face darkened as he glanced over at the cuffed driver, who was now trying to push himself up to a sitting
position against the wheel well. “Man, what kinda asshole…?”
“A drunk asshole,” said Hutch,
“I got a little girl not much bigger’n
this one,” said the man, continuing to soothe the infant. His voice was raw with suppressed emotion.
For a brief moment, Hutch found himself shaken
right to the core. This could so easily have been his own wife and their future child struck down while trying to cross a
road. The woman lying on the ground beside him hadn’t done anything to put herself in danger, and yet danger had found
her. There wasn’t anything anyone could have done to keep her safe.
The two men’s eyes met and Hutch knew
that the stranger standing beside him felt the same terror he did. He’d looked into this particular abyss many times
before, but familiarity with the emotion never made it any easier to bear.
Tearing his gaze away, Hutch gently brushed
a strand of hair off of the woman’s forehead. “It’s okay. You’ll be fine.” He had no idea whether
his words were for her, for the man who held her infant, or for himself. “It’ll be fine.”
dropped Becky off at her house, Starsky drove back to the station. He stopped in at the Detective Support Division on the
first floor, leaning over to smile at Evelyn, now back in her accustomed spot behind the information desk.
“Hey, darlin’, can you tell me
who’s handling the Missing Persons files these days?” Becky could call the hospitals, but Starsky wanted to check
the morgues himself. If Anna was already dead, he thought he might be able to break the news to her more gently than a complete
Evelyn’s answer confused him. “Right
now? No one. Sergeant Meriwether had it last, but he retired a month ago.”
Starsky’s forehead crumpled in bewilderment.
“No one else has been assigned to handle them yet?”
Evelyn gave him a sweet smile. “Captain
Mack’s been looking very hard for a replacement.”
“Huh.” Starsky thought about
this for a moment, and then asked, “Is Captain Mack in his office right now?”
“He is, but be careful, Starsky. He’s
biting everyone’s head off today.”
Captain Mack was very much Dobey’s
opposite. The lean, sharp-faced man behind the desk in the office of the Detective Support Division was perpetually shrouded
in a haze of cigarette smoke. Pushing the door open at the invitation that answered his knock, Starsky caught a lungful of
smoke and coughed.
“Captain Mack? I’m…”
“Detective Sergeant Starsky.”
Mack nodded impatiently. “Yes, I know you. What’s on your mind?”
“I want to know who’s in charge
of Missing Persons these days. I asked Evelyn, but…”
Mack snorted irritably, pushing a hand through
his thinning hair. “I’m sure she told you we’ve got no one right now. Not a blamed soul!” He scowled.
“Don’t talk to me about Missing Persons. I’m up to my ears in gun registration violations and the mayor’s
breathing down my neck because someone’s been mailing obscene letters to his daughter. Not to mention, I’ve got
sixteen open stalking cases, and none of the manpower I need.”
“But…” It was clear to
Starsky that he had hit upon a sore point with the captain. Still, he couldn’t believe that all of those Missing Persons’
files had simply been abandoned for more than a month.
Mack interrupted him again. “It’s
not a crime if an adult decides not to be where someone else thinks they ought to be,” he said. “And that makes
Missing Persons very low priority. We get the cop six months from retirement, who doesn’t want to risk his life on the
street anymore. Or we get the guy on restricted duty who doesn’t want to be working a desk anyway, and can’t wait
to get free of the assignment as soon as his doc will clear him. No one stays long enough to learn how to do the job in anything
but the most half-assed kind of way.”
The captain pushed himself to his feet and
paced restlessly towards the window. “You want to know what kind of filing system we’ve got right now? When a
new case comes in, it goes on the top of the pile, and the case on the bottom gets thrown out.”
Starsky was appalled. “That ain’t
“It’s a numbers game, and whether
we investigate or not, most of the time we win. Ninety percent of those folks are runaway husbands and dissatisfied wives.
They’ll turn up on their own.”
“Some of them might turn up dead!”
Starsky could feel his anger growing at the cynicism in the captain’s voice.
“In which case it goes to homicide.”
Mack was now regarding the sergeant with considerable interest. The outrage in his voice was heartening to hear, but how far
would this young man be willing to go to make things right?
Starsky scowled. “That’s assuming
the body ever gets identified, which it might not be if no one looks for a match in the Missing Persons’ reports.”
He was talking quickly now, and his left hand punctuated his words with sharp gestures. “There might be John and Jane
Does in the morgue right now, whose families did everything they could to try to find them, and you guys let ‘em down!
Are you telling me no one’s even bothering to cross-check the dental records?”
Mack gave him a grim smile. “I don’t
suppose you’re volunteering for the job, Detective?” He watched the sergeant open his mouth as if about to say
something, and then snap it shut again. He was clearly conflicted; wanting to try and fix things, but still unwilling to commit.
Mack couldn’t really blame him. It was a crappy assignment. With a heavy sigh, he dropped back into his chair and reached
for the file he’d been working on. He dismissed Starsky with an abrupt wave of his hand. “Get out of here. I’ve
got work to do.”
Starsky nodded reluctantly, and reached for
the doorknob. As he opened the door, Mack said, quietly and without looking up from his papers, “If you change your
mind, let me know.”
paramedics arrived, along with several black and whites. The woman was taken to hospital, the infant to children’s services,
and the drunk driver was taken to booking. With everyone thus accounted for, Hutch continued on his way back to the precinct.
Pulling into the station garage, he was startled
to spot Starsky’s Torino parked near the front. As he stopped his own car,
he saw his friend making his way across the lot. His head was down and his anger was easy to read in his stiff stride.
Worried, Hutch climbed out of the LTD. “Hey,
hold up a minute, Starsk. Where’s the fire?”
Starsky halted and spun to face Hutch. “You
wanna know what I just found out? We don’t have a Missing Persons division! They never assigned anyone to replace Meriwether
after he retired. All those folks, looking for their loved ones, turning in reports and after a few months what happens? The
file just gets trashed. No one’s looking for anyone. It’s… it’s a crime!”
Hutch gave his friend a surprised glance.
He sounded really worked up, and Hutch knew it wasn’t just over the fact that his new girl wouldn’t be getting
any help from the department in her search for her roommate. It was bigger than that. Starsky had a keen sense of justice,
and he took considerable pride in his job. Discovering that something as unprofessional and unjust as this was going on right
under his nose must have hurt him deeply.
“It’s too bad you’ve already
resigned,” said Hutch, carefully, trying to squash the flicker of hope Starsky’s passionate words had kindled.
Maybe it wasn’t too late for Starsky to reconsider, if he had a good reason to stay with the department. Missing Persons
wouldn’t require him to carry a gun or be certified for the streets.
To Starsky, at that moment, it seemed as
if the entire world was conspiring to shove him in a direction he didn’t want to go. First Dobey, and then Becky, followed
by Mack with the job that only the really ancient or defective guys ever took, and now Hutch was in on it, too. Didn’t
any of them understand? He didn’t want to be that kind of cop!
“I didn’t,” said Starsky,
“I didn’t resign. Dobey wouldn’t
take my resignation. He put me on ice for another six weeks.”
didn’t resign? He walked out of that office this morning and let me think… “Wh-why…?” Hutch stammered.
“Why didn’t I tell you?”
asked Starsky, suddenly furious. “Because of this!” He gestured at Hutch, the hurt in his friend’s eyes
only serving to make him angrier. “Because of you, standing there, looking
like a big kid who’s just been told that maybe his birthday party ain’t gonna be cancelled after all!”
Throwing his cane into the back seat of the
Torino, Starsky climbed in and slammed the door. Without
another glance at Hutch, he started his engine and pulled out, tires squealing.