The trials themselves never took very long.
It was the waiting beforehand that always seemed to last forever. Many arresting officers simply didn’t bother to show
up for the cases they felt were least important, particularly the traffic violators.
It was common knowledge in Bay City that speeding tickets should always be pled in front of a judge, because if the officer failed
to show, you got off scot free. Your chances were also fairly good in cases involving jaywalking, noise violations, and any
other general public nuisance citations. Though Hutch always tried to be present for his scheduled court appearances, he couldn’t
help but sympathize with the cops who skipped theirs. As far as he could tell the benches in this building had been designed
to be as uncomfortable as humanly possible.
Correction, he told himself, that should be as uncomfortable as inhumanly possible. Perhaps the
idea behind the design had been that if a person had any reason to be waiting around in the courthouse, then clearly he was
guilty of something, and ought to be punished.
Seeing that his case was still a fair distance
down the docket, Hutch left to buy himself a newspaper from the vendor in front of the building. It was hot, and as he waited
for the man to finish serving the customer in front of him, he slipped his suit jacket off and folded it neatly over his arm.
A number of cars were pulling into the parking lot, one of which was a tan sedan. He stared at it for a moment, and then gave
himself a mental shake. Just because one such car had shoved him in front of a train didn’t mean that all cars of that
description were automatically suspect. How many tan sedans did Bay City have, after all?
And wasn’t it a tan sedan that had
injured the Kaminski woman?
Hutch chose the Bay City Sun, having already read the Gazette. Wandering slowly back inside,
trying to delay his return to the courtroom as long as possible, he briefly glanced through an article on the military coup
underway in Turkey, and then flipped to the real estate section and continued his perusal of the houses available for sale.
The market was tight. Apartments were easy
enough to find, but houses were another matter entirely. The problem was, idealistic notions of creating a Hutchinson clan aside, there really wasn’t enough room at Venice Place. A bedroom with more than a folding wall dividing
it from the rest of the living space would be a start. It would also be nice to have another bedroom for the child. Actual
doors, rather than the uncompromisingly open-concept design of his current home, would be useful as well. Dawn would probably
appreciate doors. He’d have to remind Starsky to knock before walking through any that were closed.
In other words, it was time to move out of
the bachelor pad and into a place with a more traditional layout. Assuming he could find any that he could afford on a cop’s
salary, that weren’t either rat or roach infested, or in a crummy part of town.
He circled two listings that looked as if
they might be worth checking out.
Hutch had almost completed the crossword
puzzle by the time his case came up and the prosecutor was ready to call him to the stand. No one looked at all excited by
the case, not even Harold Malcolm’s lawyer. The questions were straightforward, and the facts were not in dispute. The
only issue was whether there were any aggravating factors that might influence sentencing.
The outcome of the trial was therefore entirely
predictable; an eighteen month suspension of Mr. Malcolm’s driver’s license and mandatory attendance at an alcohol
counseling program. He was a nervous older man, who pled family troubles while declining to elaborate on what exactly the
cause of the relational stress might be. He swore he was not usually the sort of man to go on a bender, and as it was his
first recorded offence, the judge was inclined to be lenient.
The few Kaminski family members who had shown
up to observe the trial were not happy, but there was little they could do other than gather in a knot on the courthouse steps
and complain loudly to each other. Hutch gave them a wide berth as he exited the building. He sympathized with their outrage,
but he had no desire to be drawn into conversation with any of them.
He was blithely unaware of the fact that
the Kaminskis were also studiously avoiding him. The combined events of last Friday had left him with a spectacular set of
bruises. His left eye still sported an unmistakable squint, and the colors on that side of his face now ranged from deep purple
through a sickly yellowish green.
If Hutch had wanted to stroll unarmed through
the nastiest slum in town today, he could have done so with impunity, with his face as his passport. If there had been any
small children around, there was little doubt that he could have made them cry simply by smiling at them. Hutch, however,
had been half asleep when he’d showered and shaved that morning, and since neither Starsky nor Dawn had seen fit to
mention it to him since, he’d entirely forgotten about it. He had other things on his mind.
The ambient noise increased as Malcolm exited
the doors with his lawyer at his side. He paused, looking dazed as one of the more elderly Kaminskis began berating him, her
words punctuated with emphatic jabs of her umbrella. Hutch, observing this, smirked. It was his conviction, based on painful
personal experience, that umbrellas in the hands of senior citizens should be listed as lethal weapons.
Malcolm ducked his head, and dashed down
the broad steps, past the Kaminskis, toward a car, which had just pulled up to the front of the building.
It was a tan sedan. The driver was not visible.
Hutch pressed his lips together thoughtfully.
This was clearly the car that had been involved in the drunk driving incident. The dent was still visible on the back fender,
from where Malcolm had attempted to drive it through a telephone pole in his panic to get away from the scene. The tires Hutch
had shot out had been replaced, but otherwise it was the same vehicle.
The giant at the funeral had been driving
a tan sedan. The car that had pushed him in front of the train had been reported to be a tan sedan. Could any or all of these
be the same vehicle? He trotted the rest of the way down the steps, trying to see the license plate before the car could leave.
It occurred to him, as he maneuvered himself
around a pair of lawyers talking in the center of the sidewalk, that perhaps this latest attempt on his life had nothing whatsoever
to do with the Bayside Strangler case. It could have been nothing more than a misguided attempt to keep him from testifying,
by pushing him in front of a train. He shook his head doubtfully. It wasn’t a very convincing theory. Drunk drivers,
especially first time offenders, never got anything resembling a significant sentence, no matter how tough the judge was.
Thin, Hutchinson, really thin.
On the other hand, it would be nice to think
that now that the trial was over and done with, he could stop looking over his shoulder, wondering if someone was going to
try to kill him again. Driving to the courthouse had been an unnerving experience, with the uncomfortable thought that a mysterious
tan sedan might be stalking him, ever present in the back of his mind. Not to mention
Dawn’s reaction if I ever trashed her car.
There. The license plate number was clearly
visible as the sedan pulled away from the curb. Repeating it under his breath to himself, he patted his pockets, searching
for a pen. No luck. He shook out his newspaper, but the pen he’d used to circle likely housing prospects was gone. He
had to have dropped it at some point, perhaps when he’d risen to testify.
Re-folding the paper and tucking it under
his arm along with his jacket, he headed quickly for the parking lot, quite certain that there would be a pen somewhere in
his wife’s car. He wanted to get that number down before he forgot it. Starsky might then be able to tell him whether
it was the same car he’d seen at the funeral. Tying it to the train derailment might be a bit more difficult, and really,
there was no solid link at all to the Bayside Strangler. But it was still worth looking into. No doubt there were many tan
sedans in the city, but it did seem odd that this particular description of car kept turning up with such regularity in recent
It was a simple matter to hop over the short
black iron railing surrounding the parking lot and work his way between the cars to Dawn’s little green Gremlin. As
Hutch searched his pockets for the keys, he couldn’t help mourning the loss of his old LTD. Yes, Dawn’s car was
newer and cleaner, and the locks all worked consistently, but it was also not much larger than a go-cart and it inevitably
left a painful crick in his back whenever he drove it. Not to mention that the other officers at the precinct could be cruel.
“Hey, Hutchinson! Don’t you think it would be faster just to tuck it under
your arm and walk home?”
Hutch sighed, propped one elbow on the roof
of the compact car and turned to face the speaker. Case in point.
Detective Sergeant Brown was leaning out
of the window of his own car, paused in the entrance to the lot, one long arm draped over the door. He grinned at Hutch’s
expression. His partner, Wadley, leaned across from the passenger seat and said, “You just know a man’s secure
in his masculinity when he’s comfortable driving a car like that.”
“It’s my wife’s car, thank
you,” said Hutch, with forced patience. “Now, unless either of you has a pen you’d care to lend me, I’m
done with this conversation.” Having found his car keys, he tossed them meaningfully in the palm of his hand, clearly
indicating his desire to move on.
Brown sniggered. “You’ll get
your Boy Scout preparedness badge revoked if you aren’t careful, Hutchinson.” He carelessly flipped a ballpoint
pen towards Hutch, as he pulled his unmarked car forward.
The pen hit the cement and rolled under the
rear fender of the Gremlin. Shrugging, Hutch unlocked the door and pocketed the car keys, before ducking down to look under
The blinking red light of the timer near
the gas tank caught his attention first. He barely registered the neat bundle of dynamite at all, because by the time his
brain had sorted out that bit of information, his body was already in motion. He could never be certain afterward whether
he actually shouted the word or not, but it was the only thing in his mind as he vaulted over the hood of the car next to
him and dropped to the ground on the other side.
The concussive force of the blast hit him
like a tidal wave, throwing him against the wheels of the car behind him, liquid heat washing over his back, lifting his shirt
and burning his skin. The windows of every car around him exploded outward and he threw his arms over his head, trying to
shield himself from the falling glass.
The silence that followed was all encompassing.
Every sound ceased, street noises, voices, even the birds. The universe held its breath for a beat. Then abruptly life, motion
and color returned. A siren began to wail, a dog started to howl, and he heard screams and shouts from the sidewalk.
Hutch pushed himself up onto his knees, gingerly
brushing the granular glass fragments out of his hair. A piece from a side view mirror snagged in his palm and he pulled it
out, barely noticing the thin line of red that welled up where the glass had been. He stood, and took in the sight of the
blackened smoking wreck that had once been the small green Gremlin. His newspaper fluttered on the ground nearby, turning
black, flames consuming it as he watched. His suit jacket was nowhere in sight.
Frustration and rage hit at once with enough
force to stagger him. He’d been thrown off a catwalk, and shoved in front of a train, and now they had blown up his
wife’s car. He threw his head back and roared, “Enough already!”
slammed his foot almost through the floorboards of his car when the bomb went off. Both he and Wadley instinctively ducked,
but they were far enough away that their car only bounced a few times in the aftermath of the explosion.
They piled out on either side of the vehicle,
Brown’s lean build and long legs easily outdistancing the stockier Wadley in the dash to the site of the explosion.
“It’s Hutchinson’s car,” said Wadley. Brown shot him a sideways glance.
Once again his partner had managed to state the blatantly obvious. Hutchinson himself was standing a few feet away looking
a little singed around the edges, but essentially uninjured. As Brown approached, the other man swung around to face him.
For a moment, the cold anger in his expression rocked Brown back on his heels, then the focus in the blue eyes sharpened and
he relaxed, seeming to realize that he was looking at a fellow officer.
“Hey, man, are you okay?” asked
“Yeah,” said Wadley, “We’re
sorry we twigged you on the car. It didn’t deserve to die like that.”
“No car deserves to die like that,”
said Brown to his partner, his gaze remaining on Hutchinson. He was worried that the man still hadn’t spoken, though he thought he’d heard him shout earlier. Hasn’t he just been in the hospital with a concussion from the train accident?
However, Hutchinson simply blinked at him bemusedly a few times and then said, “I
think I should thank you for saving my life.”
Brown nodded, ignoring Wadley’s confused
‘huh?’ “Let me guess,” he said, “The bomb was under the car, so when you bent down to get the
pen, you saw it in time to get out of the way.”
Hutch returned the nod. “You got it.”
Brushing some more glass off his sleeve, he said, “I might have a lead, but I need to use your radio.”
“Sure, man, no problem,” said
Wadley. Crowds were starting to gather in the entrance to the lot and he strode forward waving his arms enthusiastically at
them. “Back off! Clear a path! How do you think the fire department’s gonna get through if you’re all standing
in the way?”
Brown watched his partner march off to take
charge of crowd control. Satisfied that he had things well in hand, he inclined his head towards Hutchinson. “C’mon, our car’s over here.”
“I lost the plate number again,”
Hutch explained, as they walked back to the car. He seemed to think this statement ought to mean something. Brown waited,
figuring that the man would eventually have to say something else. He was correct, but Hutchinson’s next pronouncement did little to clarify matters for him.
“But it’s all right,” said
Hutch, sounding almost satisfied. “Because they’ll have it in the report I filed in the Malcolm case. Starsky
won’t yell at me this time.” He paused and frowned, worriedly. “Dawn’s going to be mad, though. She
loved that car.”
“Okay, you’re talking to yourself,
man,” said Brown. “I haven’t a clue what you’re on about. Are you sure you didn’t hit that head
of yours again?” Despite his joking tone, he was seriously worried that the man might be walking around with a concussion.
He sounded more than a little disconnected from things. Also, Sergeant Starsky wasn’t on active duty as far as he knew,
so why would Hutchinson bring him up in connection with a case?
Hutch patted him on the shoulder in a reassuring
manner. “Don’t worry about it.” He ducked inside the unmarked car and thumbed the radio on. “Hutchinson, here. Patch me through to Records, will you?”
Brown wandered a few feet away from the car,
as there was no reason he should be listening in on another cop’s call. However, there was no way he could miss it when
Hutchinson suddenly shouted, “What? She’s where?”
When he turned back, Hutchinson had dropped the handset and buried both of his hands in his hair.
He appeared far more unsettled now than he had at any point since the explosion. He looked up at Brown, white-faced. “I
- I need a ride. My… my w - wife. She’s at - at Memorial hospital.” He stopped, apparently incapable of
None was necessary. Brown simply nodded and
said, “Sure, don’t worry about it. I’ll just give Wadley the head’s up before we go.”
As he climbed in on the driver’s side
and started the car, he looked over at the distraught detective and said, “Man, this ain’t your day, is it?”
“It started well,” Hutch said,
before he turned away to gaze blankly out the window.