The bang of the front door flying open brought
her out of sleep so quickly Becky was sitting up in bed before her brain had a chance to consciously realize what her body
was doing. The room spun as vertigo hit with a vengeance. She had to stop where
she was for a moment and wait for the static to clear from her vision.
As she was sitting on the edge of her bed,
shaking her head, she heard Monster’s staccato bark suddenly cut off. He uttered a strange sobbing whine she’d
never heard before and then he fell silent, though she could still hear his nails scrabbling on the wooden floors. Another
door slammed, and the sound of his whimpering resumed suddenly, this time from outside in the backyard.
She was up on her feet with her hand on the
bedroom door when she heard Dave say loudly, “She’s not here!”
Another voice said, “Check the house!”
She heard footsteps moving hesitantly down
the hall as Dave spoke quickly, “I told ya, Becky’s not here. She’s at a friend’s house. She said
I could stay here, because my place is still inside the evacuation zone. Look, if you wanna leave a message...” A solid
sounding thump made Becky wince. Dave abruptly fell silent, and she wondered if he had been hurt.
Backing away from the door, Becky took a
quick look around the room. The footsteps in the hall were very close now, pausing at the bathroom door. She glanced at the
window on the far wall, but it was closed and, in any case, the screen had a tendency to stick. She didn’t want to get
caught trying to pry it open. The closet seemed too obvious a place to try to hide.
Feeling as if she was caught in some dreadful
parody of hide and seek, Becky slid under her bed. She collided with a small warm body and her questing hand identified the
sharp shoulder blades and thin fur of the elderly calico cat. Pressing herself against the far wall, she pulled the cat close
against her chest. The animal quivered, and she ran her hand down its back until it relaxed fractionally, resigned to being
held for the moment.
The door to her bedroom opened, and light
fanned across the floor, causing the old cat’s eyes to reflect yellow in the shadows under the bed. Becky held her breath
as the overhead light came on, and a pair of sneakered feet appeared in the doorway. Rubber soles, scuffed, the right lace
trailing. Dust motes stirred up caught the light, and she tried not to shiver. The feet stepped forward into the room, then
stopped. She heard springs creak and the edge of the bed sank as the sneakers’ owner braced a hand and knelt down. She
shrank back as a shadowed face appeared in the gap between the mattress and the floor. She couldn’t see his features,
but she could hear his quick shallow breathing. She thought he might be trembling.
In a strange way, it felt as if his terror
mirrored her own; hunter and hunted, the boundaries blurring.
He spoke no word and neither did she. He
pushed himself back up onto his feet with a quick abrupt movement and then turned and walked out of the room, switching off
the light at he left. To Becky’s astonished disbelief, she heard him say, “He… he’s right, there’s
no one else here.”
relaxed fractionally at the realization that Becky had found somewhere in the house to hide. Good girl, he thought. Moving slowly, so as not to startle the man with the gun, he gingerly rubbed his chin.
The area of impact was beginning to transition from numbness to a throbbing pain. He rotated his jaw experimentally, and was
relieved to discover that the butt of the pistol had done no serious damage.
It still hurt, though.
“I told ya she wasn’t here,”
he said to Reg, but the man ignored him.
Freddy came back into the living room, and
his brother handed him the pistol again. Starsky watched as the barrel resumed its shaky bounce in the boy’s nervous
hands. It was unlikely he could hit anything with it except by accident and, once upon a time, he would have felt quite confident
knocking it out of his hands.
Even these days, he might have been willing
to try it, except for Reg’s presence in the room. The man was a monster, over six feet tall and built like the proverbial
brick shithouse. At his best he wouldn’t have wanted to take odds on a straight fight against that guy, and now? He
decided he’d better wait, hang loose, and see how things played out. These guys didn’t know who he was. There
was a chance they didn’t even know yet that they were wanted men. Perhaps he could talk his way out of this.
He just wished he had his pants on. There
was something uniquely unsettling about having to negotiate with armed men while wearing nothing but his shorts and undershirt.
The orange cat wandered into the room, looked
at the three men, and jumped up onto the sofa bed next to Starsky, landing with a small chirp. It was the overly friendly
one he’d met the first time he’d visited Becky. Starsky remembered her calling it ‘Toast’. For some
reason he could not yet identify, he found himself hoping that the name was not prophetic.
Reg looked down at the cat. “Do you
know why I didn’t kill the dog?” he asked. His tone was light, almost conversational.
“Because you’re just a humanitarian
at heart,” suggested Starsky. He could still hear Monster outside in the backyard, crying in pain from the effects of
the pepper spray.
Reg reached down and casually rubbed the
cat’s ears. Toast responded by purring and arching his back, rubbing the side of his face affectionately on the man’s
hand. Starsky remembered Becky’s lecture on cats and their scent glands, but decided this was most definitely not the
time to bring it up.
“Dogs are loyal,” Reg said. “A
dog will love you no matter what you do to it. Dogs never leave. Dogs understand what family means, and a dog will give his
life to protect his family. Cats, on the other hand…”
There was something in his voice that put
Starsky on instant alert. Glancing up at Freddy, he discovered that the teenager was no longer looking at him. His eyes were
fixed on his brother, and he had stopped trembling. Starsky read both horrified fascination and a kind of eager anticipation
in his expression.
Reg stroked the cat down the length of its
body, so that it arched its back against his large hand. “Cats are like women,” said Reg. “They only love
themselves. They have no loyalty, no sense of family. They’re only interested in what you can do for them. They’ll
go to whoever offers them the best time.”
A chill raised the small hairs on the back
of Starsky’s neck. Reg’s hand traveled up to the back of Toast’s neck, scratching and exploring. Toast sat
and tilted his head back, purring trustingly, as the large hand wrapped itself around his throat.
“I’ve never had much use for
“Don’t…” warned Starsky.
He leaned forward on the edge of the bed, bracing his legs under him, silently begging his left leg to cooperate with him,
just this once.
Reg met his eyes and smiled slowly, his expression
communicating something dangerously feral. His hand suddenly tightened on the cat’s neck. Starsky lunged upwards, striking
at the man’s wrist. Reg instinctively jerked back, loosening his grip on the animal. Starsky’s fingers sank into
the loose furry skin of its back, and he yanked it out of Reg’s grasp. Toast yowled as he was flung backwards, bouncing
off a table, and skidding across the floor.
Starsky followed this maneuver with a quick
roundhouse blow to the man’s face. He had only the briefest moment’s satisfaction as his blow landed solidly,
snapping Reg’s head to the side. The other man recovered faster than he had expected and his meaty fist slammed into
the side of Starsky’s face with devastating force.
His feet flew out from under him, his back
hitting the edge of the bed as he slid down to the floor. His vision briefly grayed out. Before he could figure out how to
right himself, a foot landed on his shoulder, forcing him down onto the ground. He found himself pinned, staring up at Reg
as his left ear rang. As if from a great distance, he could hear the larger man saying calmly, “You really shouldn’t
have done that.”
Starsky tensed, but Reg only turned to his
brother and said, “Check his pants. See if he’s got a wallet or something. I want to know who we’ve got
“I’m a cop,” said Starsky
from his awkward position on the floor, knowing full well that Freddy would find the badge in his pocket in a moment. “Detective
Sergeant Dave Starsky… an’ I might remind you that assaulting a police officer is a federal offence.” He
was proud of how steady his voice sounded, despite the tightness in his chest and the distressing sensation of his lungs struggling
for air under the weight of Reg’s heel.
He heard Freddy say, “Here,”
and he tilted his head back to see him pass his badge to Reg. A moment later it hit the floor next to his cheek.
“You think this impresses me?”
asked Reg, a hint of anger making its way into his voice for the first time. He removed his foot from Starsky’s shoulder,
and knelt down beside him. Grabbing a handful of curly hair, he pulled him roughly up off the floor and sat him down again
on the side of the sofa bed.
Reg smiled with genuine pleasure at the tears
that appeared involuntarily in the corners of the man’s eyes as he squinted at the sudden pain in his scalp. He stared
down at Starsky for several long minutes, and when he finally spoke again, all of the anger had vanished. His tone was now
soft, almost gentle. “I’ve never killed a pig before.” Reg released Starsky’s hair and smoothed his
hand down the back of his head in the same affectionate manner he’d caressed the cat.
Looking into the man’s cold dead eyes,
Starsky had a moment of sudden clarity. Reg liked pain, but more than that, he liked fear. He got off on fear. There was no
question anymore of pretending that he didn’t know what was going down. He wouldn’t be talking his way out of
“Nah,” said Starsky, with deadly
calm. “You just like killing the little girls, because they’re the only ones who can’t see what a big joke
With those words, he lowered his head and
drove it into the larger man’s midsection with as much desperate force as he could manage. Reg staggered backwards,
and for a moment, Starsky entertained a brief hope that he might have a chance, but the giant quickly straightened and the
follow up blows had little noticeable effect. Before he knew quite how it had happened Starsky was bouncing face down onto
the bed, a knee landing solidly in his lower back. He bucked, struggling futilely as his arms were wrenched behind his back.
Something sharp, wire, or fishing line perhaps, was wrapped around his wrists. He got in a lucky shot with one foot and heard
the larger man grunt. A moment later he was rewarded with another stunning clout to the side of his head.
This time when his vision cleared, he found
himself closely examining the weave of the blanket. He could taste blood in his mouth, and an exploratory tongue informed
him that he’d split his lip. That’s right, Starsky, go ahead and aggravate
the crazy man.
Still, it was better than trying to placate
him, or in any way give him the idea that he wanted to play nice. The look in Reg’s eyes when he’d grabbed him
by the hair had convinced Starsky that the man was capable of doing much worse than simply pounding on him. Under no circumstances
could he afford to show fear.
He felt a hand grab the back of his collar,
hauling him up off the bed, and as he schooled his features into a mask of contempt, he thought of Becky, hiding somewhere
in the back of the house. Hang on, kid. Don’t listen to this crap.
Becky buried her face in her arms, trying
to shut out the noises from the other room. Two cats now pressed themselves against, the old calico and the orange male. She
hoped fat Annapurna and the grey kitten were safely outside with Monster. The dog had finally stopped crying,
and now settled into a steady rhythmic bark, demanding to be let back in. She wondered if the noise would wake Mrs. Green. She prayed that the old woman would call the police, and not decide to come over and
check for herself.
She could hear Dave making softly pained
sounds every time they hit him, and she felt the tears burning her eyes as each stifled grunt seemed to knife through her
heart. Why were they doing this? She hadn’t recognized the man who had chosen
for whatever reason not to reveal her hiding place but, from what they’d said, they had clearly come looking for her.
For what reason, though, she couldn’t imagine.
Gradually, she became aware of something
digging into her hip. She reached down slowly, trying to maintain perfect silence. A board creaked, causing her to freeze
in panic, but no one in the other room seemed to notice. After a moment her fingers closed around something small and metallic.
Bringing her hand back up to her face, she found herself holding one of Anna’s necklaces. It was a small silver pendant
of a moon and sun, both faces combined, their expression a strangely somber smile.
She clutched the necklace in her hand, her
grip tightening as she heard Dave yelp once, cutting the sound short as if determined not to give his tormentor any satisfaction.
The edges of the pendant cut into her palm, the minor pain a welcome distraction. She wondered how it had happened to end
up under her bed, and the thought crossed her mind that this might be some sort of communication from Anna’s spirit.
In a barely voiced whisper, Becky said, “Anna,
you died. If this is a message, it’s not a very reassuring one.”
tried to control his breathing so as not to further aggravate the rib he strongly suspected of having been cracked. He felt
sick to his stomach. If he hits me again, I think I’ll puke on his shoes. That’ll
show the bastard.
He was seated once more on the edge of the
sofa bed, his hands securely bound behind him. Freddy was leaning against the wall next to the door, still holding the gun,
and looking as if he might pass out from a massive case of nerves at any moment. Reg rubbed his bruised knuckles, and eyed
“I only really wanted Officer Hutchinson,”
he said, his tone reasonable once more. “He got a good look at my Freddy here, and you know a man’s got to protect
Reg paced forward a few steps until he was
standing directly in front of Starsky. He sounded almost admiring as he said, “I never met anyone so hard to kill. I
figured I’d use the girl to draw Hutchinson
out on the off chance that blowing up his car didn’t work. Some tasks just seem to require the hands on touch.”
Starsky carefully tilted his head back, so
that his gaze took in both brothers. “You know, there’s no point in killing Hutch now. Everyone in the police
department knows who you are. There’s APBs out on both you guys. Your father…”
“Our father said nothing!” snapped
Reg. He swiveled on his heel and took the gun back from Freddy.
Starsky, observing both men, realized that
Reg knew at least some of what had gone down that afternoon, while Freddy still had no idea his father was dead. He filed
that bit of information away as potentially useful.
Reg sat down next to Starsky and smiled pleasantly,
the pistol looking almost as small as a toy in his large hand. “I hate leaving a task undone. So here’s what you
are going to do. You’re going to call your friend up on that phone there, and you’re going to tell him that you
want to meet him.”
Starsky’s first impulse was to tell
Reg that there was no way in hell he was doing any such thing, but it occurred to him that if he refused, there was nothing
to stop Reg from simply killing him and going after Hutch anyway. Then there was the additional factor that this provided
him with a way to get both the Malcolm brothers out of the house and away from Becky.
“You got a place in mind?” he
asked, his tone not nearly as casual as Reg’s.
Reg thought about it for a moment. “I
think your place will do just fine. You said it’s inside the evacuation zone, after all. Should be nice and quiet.”
“Fine.” Starsky hunched his shoulders.
“Are you gonna untie me?” His hands had stopped throbbing and were now numb. He didn’t want to think about
what the bindings were doing to his circulation. For that matter, he didn’t want to imagine what the beating he’d
received had done to the careful work the surgeons had performed on his insides. Don’t
they say that things heal stronger than they were before? Perhaps that’s just bones…
A hand roughly grasped his bruised chin forcing
him to face the larger man. “I am not stupid,” said Reg. “So don’t act as if I am. You believe this
is going to give you a chance to escape somehow. I don’t think I need to remind you that if you attempt to tip him off
in any way, I’ll kill you right here and now.” He turned to his brother and snapped his fingers. “Freddy.
Reg held the handset of the phone while Freddy
dialed the number Starsky told him. When it rang, Reg pressed the phone to his ear. He was sitting close, the pistol pressed
firmly into Starsky’s sore ribs. Three rings, and then they both heard Hutch’s sleepy, “H’lo?”
on the other end.
“Hey, Ken,” said Starsky. You gotta know it’s bad if I’m calling you by your first name.
There was a barely perceptible pause on the
other end, and then Hutch said warily, “Dave. What’s up?” I understand.
You’re in trouble, and you can’t speak freely.
Goal one accomplished. “I think I’ve
got some info for you on that case we were discussing yesterday. I want you to meet me at my place, one hour.” We only discussed one case yesterday. You know what it was.
“Okay,” another brief pause.
“Did you sleep well?” He was still fishing for information.
Starsky paused, trying to think of a way
in which he could communicate more of the situation without being obvious about it. There was no way to tell him about Becky
without tipping off Reg. He was grateful Hutch was awake enough to know better than to ask about her. “Nope. I’ve
been having nightmares of giant jackrabbits chasing me all night long.” The pistol jabbed painfully into his side, and
he winced, closing his eyes. “Anyway, I got to go. I’ll see you, okay?” Be
“One hour. I’ll be there.”
I’ve got your back.
Freddy took the phone and hung it up. Starsky
had almost no time to brace himself before Reg landed another blow in his side, which laid him out on the bed, gasping for
breath. He was certain he had heard the rib crack that time and the sharp pain caused him to roll onto his side, his knees
pulling into his chest and the line cutting into his wrists as his shoulders curled forward. He choked on bile, struggling
to maintain his silence, thinking of Becky listening somewhere nearby.
“You told him!” snapped Reg.
“I don’t know how you did it, but somehow you told him!” He stepped back off the bed, and Starsky heard
the hammer cocked back on the pistol.
It was hard to speak with a fire burning
in his midsection and his lungs as constricted as they were, but Starsky knew it was critical. “You need me,”
he wheezed, forcing the words past the tightness in his chest and throat. Heartened somewhat by the fact that he still hadn’t
been shot, he pried one eye open and tried to focus on the man with the gun. “You don’t -” He paused, and
focused on simply breathing for a long minute. “- know where -” More air. “- I live.”
He prayed it wouldn’t occur to either
of his attackers to check out the driver’s license in his wallet, and then closed his eyes again as he heard the hammer
being eased down. A second later, he was hauled upright, and Reg’s unpleasant face was swimming in his vision once more.
His stomach lurched unpleasantly.
“You could just tell me the address,”
“An’ if I don’t, then what?”
asked Starsky, slowly regaining his breath. “You’ll kill me? Either way you’re gonna kill me. What have
I got to lose?” He paused, trying not to flinch at the look in the other man’s eyes. It was getting harder all
the time to maintain this fiction that he wasn’t afraid. “I’ll show you. I’ll take you right there,
and you can’t kill me until we get there.”
He braced himself for another blow, but instead
a slow smile crept across Reg’s face. He turned to Freddy and said, “Can you believe this guy? Beaten, and under
the gun, and he’s still trying to bargain with me.” To Starsky, he said, “You really are a piece of work.
I’m almost sorry to have to kill you.”
The admiration was worse than the anger.
Starsky couldn’t quite repress a shiver, but fortunately Reg’s back was turned. He looked at Freddy again, and
thought to himself that the boy was showing some of the classic symptoms of a victim of abuse; his eyes locked on his brother,
flinching every time he came within touching distance. At the same time, there had been a hint of something almost yearning
in his eyes, both when he’d watched Reg handling the cat, and when he’d watched Starsky beaten.
Starsky had few illusions, therefore, that
Freddy would be of much use to him. He might occasionally try to sabotage his brother’s recreational activities, but
it was unlikely he would ever stand up to him directly.
Further to the issue of standing up, Reg
had just jammed the gun into his ribs again and ordered him up onto his feet. Starsky gave it his best shot, only to discover
that his left leg had checked out completely, and his right was none too happy either. Despite the pain he felt as his body
hit the floor once more, he was grimly amused. Reg sounded deeply aggravated, and Starsky was currently in a mood to appreciate
anything that inconvenienced the larger man. Buddy, he thought, curse all you like. These dogs just ain’t gonna run.
waited until she heard the car pull out onto the road, before she slid out from under the bed. The scene in the living room
halted her in her tracks briefly. There was blood on the sheets of the sofa bed. His
blood. She squeezed her fist tightly around Anna’s necklace and forced herself to pick up the phone. Before she
could cry, before even letting Monster back into the house, she needed to call the police.