The traffic congestion throughout the city
had not eased up. In fact, it seemed to have worsened, perhaps because of the lunch hour rush. Starsky cranked down the windows
of the Torino, and he and Hutch leaned out on their respective sides, opting for gasoline fumes and
the occasional fetid breeze over the sweltering heat inside the vehicle. Dawn chose to sit in the back instead of the center
of the front seat, saying she preferred not to get that close to either of them on a day as hot as this one.
They weren’t a block from the hospital
when Hutch suddenly remembered his tie. Straightening in his seat, he hooked his fingers through the knot and yanked it off,
tossing it onto the backseat beside Dawn.
She commented, “You really don’t
like ties, do you?”
He glanced at her, surprised that he had
been so obvious. Shrugging, he said, “I got myself dragged down some steps once by my neck. It’s the sort of thing
that sticks in your mind.”
Starsky drew his head back into the car and
grinned at Hutch. “It’s good something stuck.”
Hutch frowned. His friend had that ‘I
know something you don’t’ expression on his face. “Starsky, what are you talking about?”
Their forward momentum having been halted
for the moment, Starsky abandoned the wheel and leaned an elbow on the window. With his chin propped on his palm, he inclined
his head to the side to look at Hutch curiously. “Hutch, when you met Becky, was there anything about her that seemed
familiar to you? Anything at all?”
Slowly, Hutch said, “No…”
He shuffled through his memory, but the pills the doctor had given him for his headache were making him fuzzy.
“Seven years ago, bank robbery, that
dopey-looking kravitz thing ya had around your neck…” Starsky waggled his eyebrows, his grin broadening. He was
thoroughly enjoying having one up on his partner.
“It was a cravat, and in seven years,
you still haven’t developed a sense of style,” said Hutch.
Dawn smiled at the dignified manner in which
he defended himself and leaned forward to listen to the conversation. Ken was still trying to figure out what Dave was getting
at, so she said, “This Becky person was there?” She tucked a stray bit of hair back behind Ken’s ear, thinking,
Poor guy, he really did give himself another concussion.
“Becky was the hostage,” said
Starsky, dropping his hand and swiveling to the side in order to include Dawn more fully in the conversation.
“Really?” asked Hutch, bemused.
“I thought the hostage was a little girl…”
“Not that little,” said
Starsky, and both his companions caught the slight edge in his voice. “She was seventeen.”
Hutch’s smile widened. “Which
means that she’s now…”
Starsky interrupted him, his finger up in
a warning manner. “Don’t!”
“I’d like to meet her,”
said Dawn, effectively cutting off her husband, who clearly had no intention of stopping just because Dave told him to. Patting
Ken’s shoulder, ensuring she had his attention, she said, “We should invite her over for dinner.” Then,
as if in response to an afterthought, she turned to Dave and said sweetly, “Oh, and you can come, too.”
Hutch braced himself for an explosion, but
Starsky only snorted as if amused. He looked back and forth between Dawn and Starsky, wondering once again what had happened
that morning to thaw things between them so dramatically.
After a moment, Starsky said, “Dobey’s
assigned a unit to your house, for protection. It’d be better to get you guys to a safe location, but what with the
evacuation from the train derailment and all, the hotels are crammed to the rafters.”
It took Hutch a moment to adjust to the sudden
change in topic. Right. Someone’s been trying to kill me. “I’m sure all this isn’t necessary…”
“How did they know you were going to
be at that courthouse?” asked Starsky. “For that matter, how did they know what car you were driving?” He
knew the obvious answer to these questions, and he knew his partner did as well. Hutch was still somewhat rattled but all
he needed was a moment to get up to speed; for his cop-brain to step to the forefront.
Hutch did not disappoint him. “They
know where I live.” His stomach clenched in sudden anxiety. He turned, reaching back for his wife. “Dawn, you…”
She caught his hand and squeezed it reassuringly,
but her response was firm. “Before you suggest I go and live somewhere else, I will point out that there is nowhere
else for me to go.” He looked as if he wanted to object, but she was not done talking. “As Dave said, the hotels
are full. Even Huggy’s got people crashing on his living room floor. I’m sure between you and the police guarding
our house, I’ll be perfectly safe.”
“It ain’t Dawn they’re
after anyway,” said Starsky. Looking at Hutch’s tense expression, he added, “Dobey sent out some guys to
bring in Harold Malcolm. They wanna rattle him, and see what falls out.”
“I should be there for that…”
said Hutch. He was massaging his temples one-handed as he spoke, stress having caused his headache to resurface with a vengeance.
“No, you’re going home to bed.
I’ll stop by.”
Dropping his hand, Hutch gave his friend
a stern look. “Starsky, it’s Monday.”
“So?” Starsky’s answer
was evasive, and he gave much more attention than was really necessary to the task of easing the car forward half a block.
“So? So nothing!” exclaimed Hutch.
“You know what Monday is. You’ve got your physio appointment at two. You can’t blow it off to sit in on
an interrogation. I’ll have to go.” That last sentence was delivered with an air of smug satisfaction.
Dawn bit her lip, intending to wait and hear
how this turned out before offering her own opinion.
“No, you have to rest,” insisted
Starsky. “Didn’t you hear what that doc said? You can’t afford to go frying any more brain cells than you
Hutch faked an alarmed look. “You’re
right!” He tapped the side of his head, and said, sarcastically, “If I damage this grey matter, I might end up
no smarter than you.”
“You’re a real funny guy, you
know that?” Starsky huffed.
“Meathead,” said Hutch, contentedly.
“Mush for brains,” returned Starsky.
In the back seat of the Torino, Dawn silently rolled her eyes. Men!
In the end, Hutch went home. He had little
choice in the matter, with both the LTD and the Gremlin having been destroyed, and Starsky behind the wheel of the Torino. He did, however, make him promise to go to his physiotherapy appointment,
and if there was any hint of ‘if I can’t go to the precinct, then neither can you’ about this, he never
admitted it. He insisted his motives were only the purest, and that it was for Starsky’s own good.
So it was before Starsky managed to make it to the precinct. He walked in
feeling as if he’d been worked over by an attractive blonde steamroller. His physical therapy sessions were no longer
the ‘rip your lungs out through your chest wall’ ordeal they had once been, but they were still not exactly a
pleasant experience. Twice a week and swimming on Saturdays - when it was all over, staggering home and collapsing into bed
was about as much as he could usually manage.
Today, however, he had other things he wanted
to take care of first.
Despite his determination to head straight
for Captain Dobey’s office, the Detective Support Division ended up being his first stop. This was in large part because
he had decided to try to cover a pressing need to catch his breath by stopping for a chat with Evelyn. As he was leaning on
her desk, attempting to appear charming, she interrupted him and said, “Starsky, you really should talk to Mack about
those Missing Person’s files. I’d hate to see it go to someone who doesn’t care.”
“Who said I was interested in Missing
Persons?” Starsky’s eyebrows drew together in a frown. Had Hutch been blabbing it about? Usually you could
count on him to be more discreet.
Evelyn patted his hand in far too motherly
a fashion. “It’s obvious, darling. You’re the only one on the force currently unassigned, and I saw how
upset you were after talking to Mack the last time. You care.” She paused, and then added, “We all heard about
the review board’s report, too.”
Starsky grimaced, a sour taste in his mouth.
“You should’a been a detective, darlin’.”
“I’m perfectly happy right here,”
she said, smiling. “This station couldn’t function without me.”
“Well, you’re right about that,”
“Go see Mack,” she urged, again.
Perhaps it was because that moment was as
good a time as any to find out if Hutch had been right about this job, or perhaps he simply lacked the energy to argue with
her, but for whatever reason, Starsky found himself shrugging. “Sure,” he said. “Why not?” Pushing
himself upright, he headed for Captain Mack’s office.
The lean Captain turned as Starsky eased
the door open. He had been facing the window, the phone receiver held to his ear with his shoulder, and a sheaf of papers
in his hand. He indicated to Starsky with a sideways jerk of his head that he should take a seat. This motion almost caused
him to drop the phone, and several pages went flying as he grabbed it and settled it back on his shoulder. “No, I’m
Starsky rescued the dropped papers and placed
them on the desk before settling himself into a chair, with his cane over his knees. This physio session had left every muscle
in his body feeling as loose as old knit fabric, stretched past recovery. His progress these days had slowed frustratingly,
the exciting achievements of the first months giving way to barely perceptible incremental improvements.
It was one thing to walk the length of the
room unassisted for the first time. It was another thing entirely to walk it the sixtieth (or six hundredth, he wasn’t
sure) while trying unsuccessfully to keep his feet from crossing the center line. He had run out of jokes about sobriety tests,
and in any case, he was sure his therapist had heard them all before. It was only the promise that he’d someday be able
to throw his cane into the sea, walk away and never look back, that kept him going.
He watched Mack pace the length of the telephone
cord as he talked. “I assure you, Mr. Mayor, we are taking your daughter’s concerns very seriously. I do realize
she finds these letters distressing, but we have had our handwriting experts examine them, and we feel quite confident in
saying that there is no connection to the Bayside Stalker. I realize that… I am well aware… Yes, sir!”
He dropped the phone into its cradle with
a clatter, saying, “Save us all from wanna-be Romeos.” Shaking his head, he seated himself behind his desk. Noticing
Starsky’s inquiring expression, he explained, “Some two-bit Casanova thinks if he sends nude pics of himself to
the mayor’s daughter, she’ll be overcome with desire for him.”
“Well, if you’ve got the pictures,
shouldn’t he be easy to track down?” asked Starsky.
Mack snorted. “The pics all consist
of what he apparently considers his most impressive feature, and it’s not his face.” He reached in his pocket
for a pack of cigarettes. As he shook one out, he asked, “Well, Sergeant Starsky, what can I do for you today?”
Starsky hesitated a moment before speaking.
He still wasn’t convinced this was the right thing to do. Only the really ancient or defective guys …
“Evelyn says you still don’t have anyone on the missing persons’ files.”
“That’s correct.” Mack
lit his cigarette and waited.
There was a hint of challenge in Starsky’s
tone, as he said, “I’m not gonna wear a uniform.”
Mack took his time answering. He leaned back
in his chair and took a long drag on his cigarette, as he assessed the man sitting across from him. He’d heard a fair
bit about Sergeant Dave Starsky, most of it good, some of it not so much. The general consensus seemed to be that he got the
job done, but that he didn’t care for procedure. ‘Insubordinate’ was one of the adjectives used to describe
him. ‘Damned effective’ was another.
His own assessment was that the man could
be trouble if managed clumsily; he would not tolerate tin dictators well, or incompetence.
Mack said, “Sergeant, if you did the
kind of half-assed job on those files that I’ve seen others produce lately, I’d not only insist that you wear
a uniform, but I’d want to see it pressed and starched, and your shoes shined. However, if you somehow miraculously
managed to turn Missing Person’s into an effective model of organizational efficiency,” he paused. “Hell,
I wouldn’t care if you came dressed in a pink tutu every morning!”
Somewhat taken aback by that unexpected response,
Starsky ducked his head and scratched the back of his neck. There was a tentative note in his voice as he asked, “So
I can do what I like?”
“As long as you keep it legal, and
get results, yes,” replied Mack.
He was amused at the sergeant’s mumbled
response. “Dunno if that whole tutu business would be legal…” Starsky’s head came back up, and he
looked Mack in the eye. “I have a few things I need to clear up first, but I don’t mind taking some of the files
home and having a look at them in the meantime.”
The phone rang again just as he finished
speaking. Mack gave him a hasty nod, and picked up the receiver, saying, “Evelyn will show you where they are, and give
you the necessary authorizations to sign,”
Starsky left Mack’s office in a bemused
state of mind, thinking; pink tutus?
Evelyn did indeed know where the files were
kept. She took Starsky to the desk formerly occupied by the retired Sgt. Meriwether. It turned out that his filing approach
had been to simply stuff papers into drawers, apparently without concern toward ever finding them again. When Starsky attempted
to pull open the second drawer, a wad of forms caught in the tracks and jammed it halfway.
He propped a hand on the desk and briefly
squeezed his eyes shut in a combination of frustration and disbelief. Then he had Evelyn go find him a file box so he could
begin emptying everything out of the drawers. His first task would be simply to try to order the cases alphabetically and
see which were salvageable.
Of course, before that he had to get them
out to his car.
Starsky regarded the full box of papers on
the desk with some dismay. It was not that large, perhaps two by one and a half feet square. Cardboard. Printed with that
ubiquitous and unconvincing wood panel pattern, as if the graphic designers had thought office workers would take the contents
more seriously if the container looked as if it had been carved out of the corpse of a station wagon.
How did I get myself into this, wondered Starsky. He still couldn’t quite recall why he had agreed
to take on the Missing Persons’ cases in the first place, except that one thing had sort of led to another.
“Do you need help with that?”
Starsky started. He hadn’t realized
that she was still standing behind him. “No!” The last thing he wanted was to have the pretty policewoman offering
to carry a little box like that for him. He waved a hand at her. “No, you just go back to whatever it was you were doing.
I’m fine.” I’m not a complete cripple, just most of one. He shoved the bitter thought into the
back of his mind, and smiled reassuringly at her.
“Okay,” she said, doubtfully.
“But if you need any help…”
By this point Starsky would have cheerfully
gnawed off a limb before asking for her assistance in carrying the box. Something of this must have carried across in his
demeanor, for she returned his smile a little nervously and went back to her desk by the door without another word.
Starsky looked at the box again.
It occurred to him that this was a challenge
not unlike something he might come up against in a physio session. All he had to do was pick up the box, and convince his
left leg to co-operate long enough to get it out to the car. Strength was not the issue, just coordination. The box was too
big to be carried one-handed, and in any case, that would unbalance him. A two-handed carry would mean he could not rely on
his cane. Keep the toes on your left foot pointed forward, he told himself, no peeking at your feet, and no humiliating
yourself in front of any of the other cops. Especially not the pretty ones.
He carefully balanced his cane on top of
the file box. I can do this, he thought. He briefly rubbed his hands together, took a deep breath, and then stepped
forward and hoisted the box up into the air.
He wobbled a little, but steadied himself
without too much trouble. One step, followed by another, and remember that center line… It was going better
than he had hoped. He soon felt confident enough to pick up his pace a little. As he passed Evelyn’s desk and rounded
the corner into the hallway, he glanced back to give her a cheerful wink.
And ran straight into the proverbial immovable
He heard a familiar voice shout in surprise
as his feet flew out from beneath him. He threw his hands up to catch himself and lost his grip on the box. Papers flew in
every direction as he landed solidly on his rear end.
The now half-empty box lay in his lap. He
shoved it off angrily, and looked up to see Hutch staring down at him with an expression of shock on his face.
There was a frozen moment in which they simply
stared at each other, and then Hutch reached down to help his friend up off the floor, stammering an apology. Starsky ignored
the proffered hand and braced himself against the wall instead. Levering himself back up onto his feet, he said, “You
made me drop ‘em, you can pick ‘em up!”
He could feel his left leg starting to shake,
so he stumped over to the bench against the wall and dropped down onto it. Crossing his arms, he glared at Hutch until the
other man grimaced, and turned away to pick up a handful of papers. His calf muscle was in full spasm by that point. He leaned
forward and was trying to surreptitiously rub the cramp out, when Hutch looked back. He yanked his hand back, but it was too
late. Hutch had seen.
Whatever Hutch had been intending to say
was cut off as a worried expression crossed his face. “Did I hurt you?” he asked.
“You’re supposed to be in bed,”
said Starsky accusingly. “How did you get here?”
“I caught a ride with Harvey when his shift was up,” said Hutch. He gave Starsky another
concerned look, and then bent to scoop up some more papers. “I wanted to see how things turned out with Harold Malcolm,
and then maybe check the impound yard to find out if they have a car they can give me as a loaner.” He righted the box
and dropped the papers into it.
Evelyn squeezed past him in the hall, saying,
“Hutch, dear, I’d give you a hand, but I’ve got to run these files up to Robbery.”
He returned her smile and waved her off.
“Don’t worry about it.”
“I wouldn’t,” said Starsky.
He’d given up on subtlety and had pulled his left leg up across his knee so that he could massage the calf more effectively.
“Wouldn’t what?” asked
Hutch, retrieving Starsky’s cane and placing it on the bench beside him.
“I wouldn’t loan you a car.”
Starsky released his calf and gestured expansively. “Look at your track record lately! You’ve managed to destroy
two cars in less than three days.”
Hutch relaxed. Starsky was clearly getting
over his earlier ill humor. “I have to be able to get around,” he said, reasonably. “What about you? Physio
usually wipes you right out; what are you doing here at the precinct trying to haul boxes around?”
“Not trying,” said Starsky,
firmly. “Succeeding. Until you got in the way, that is.”
Hutch picked up the last of the forms. He
looked at the sheet topmost in his hand. “Hey, this is a missing person’s form!”
Starsky shrugged casually. “Yeah, I
thought I might take a crack at putting them into some kind of order.” He frowned at Hutch. “Stop grinning like
that. Your face might freeze that way, and then you’d be sorry.”
“Starsky! Hutchinson!” The bellow from the end of the hall made
“Cap?” Their heads swiveled in
unison, as two startled pairs of eyes turned his way.
Captain Dobey was standing in the door to
the stairwell, his hands on his hips, and a dark scowl on his face. “What are you doing messing around down here? My
office! Now!” He started to slam the door shut, and then realized that Evelyn was making her way down the stairs behind
him. He stopped and held it open for her. “Excuse me,” he rumbled politely as she passed him.
She was still looking after his disappearing
bulk, puzzled, when Hutch handed her the box. “Here, can you keep an eye on this for now?”