won’t lead them straight to the house, thought Hutch. There were a limited number of streets by which to approach the area and all of them were blocked off
due to the evacuation order. He stopped at the first barricade and had a word with the officers on duty. They told him that
a call had just come through, warning them to keep an eye out for Reginald Malcolm, his brother, and Starsky. Somewhat relieved
to hear that Becky was safe, Hutch gave them a description of the car to pass on.
Driving through the empty streets was an
eerie experience for Hutch. It was absolutely silent. The street lamps were still on, but they lit nothing beyond their own
glass globes. The light of dawn had swallowed the shadows and given the streets a washed out appearance.
A white haze on the horizon marked the location
of the train crossing where the emergency crews still struggled to contain the chlorine spill from the ruptured tanker. Gallons
of chlorine continued to gush to the ground with every passing hour, and though the propane fires had finally been contained,
the cloud of chlorine gas still lingered in the warm, languid air.
He went over the phone conversation in his
mind. A momentary smile crossed his face at the recollection of Starsky’s “giant jackrabbit,” but it vanished
quickly as he thought of how Starsky’s voice had sounded. Another person might not have picked it up, but he knew his
partner had been speaking too slowly, too deliberately. He was hurting.
Hutch rubbed his hand across his mouth, his
eyes still on the road. Hang on, buddy.
All he had to do was figure out which road
Starsky was likely to lead Reg down.
Fractured ribs hurt in a way that’s
unlike any other injury. The pain stabs as white hot and sudden as lightning, and then it’s gone almost as quickly.
It can’t be prepared for, it can’t be anticipated. All a person can do is stay very still, and hope that the bright
electric pain doesn’t strike again. The irony of it all is that this pain will literally take your breath away, and
then it will punish you for trying to breathe deeply enough to get it back again. Starsky was far too familiar with the sensation.
This wasn’t the first time he’d broken a rib, or two, or even three. He thought it would be real nice, however,
if this could be the last time.
The car ride was a nightmare. Reg drove,
Starsky sat in the passenger seat with his hands still bound uncomfortably behind him, and Freddy sat in the back, holding
the gun to the back of Starsky’s neck. Every bump and bounce of the vehicle sent another bolt of lightning lancing through
his side, until all he could do was lean forward and try to ride out the storm. He strongly suspected that Reg was deliberately
driving over every pothole and speed bump along the way.
As for Starsky, he was doing his best to
lead them on the most roundabout route to his home that he could devise, in an effort to give Hutch as much time as he could.
Periodically, when he hesitated at an intersection, Reg would elbow him in the side, reminding him most painfully that there
was only so much of this that he would put up with.
However long he tried to put it off, there
did come a time when they found themselves looking at a police roadblock at the end of the road. Reg turned smoothly into
an alley. The houses around them were dark, abandoned. The area of the evacuation had been reduced overnight, but not eliminated
entirely. Starsky’s house was just inside of the zone.
“Look,” said Starsky, “The
entire sector’s been blocked off. They got roadblocks on every street that goes through. I don’t think your plan’s
going to work after all, but hey, if you’re having second thoughts about giving yourself up…” Sparks went off behind his eyes as Reg drove his fist into his side. One of these days I gotta learn when to keep my mouth shut, thought Starsky, as he doubled forward, his forehead
colliding with the dashboard of the tan sedan.
Even if Hutch hadn’t called in a report
on what was going down, surely Becky would have. Every police roadblock would have received a description of both the sedan
and a certain kidnapped - cop-napped? - Detective Sergeant Dave Starsky.
He had no opportunity to figure out how to
use this to his advantage, for at that moment Reg hit the brakes, the car bounced, and Starsky lost the battle with his stomach.
His head dropped between his knees and he started coughing, each spasm sending a blinding bolt of pain through his side. He
was vaguely conscious of Reg shouting, and then before he was quite aware of what had happened, the door on his side had been
opened and he was propelled roughly out onto the road.
He landed on his shoulder, his cheek scraping
the cracked cement. He continued to retch helplessly for several minutes, struggling against the agony. He was aware of the
fishing line cutting deeper into his wrists, but he could not feel his hands.
When he finally lifted his head from the
ground, he found Reg looking down at him with disgust. Starsky spat twice, trying to clear the sour taste from his mouth,
and glared at his captor.
Reg’s mouth twisted as if he was looking
at something particularly repulsive. Then, he shrugged, and said to Freddy, “Stay here and keep an eye on him. I’ll
take care of that roadblock.”
Starsky struggled awkwardly up onto his knees,
ignoring the way the muscles in his chest protested, his gut clenching in a way that had nothing to do with his injuries.
“What are you going to do?”
Reg took the gun from Freddy’s shaking
hands. “Use your imagination,” he said, coldly. He turned away, walking back to the car.
“It’s the death penalty if you
kill a cop!” protested Starsky. Reg ignored him. He climbed into his car, and pulled out of the alley.
Freddy watched the curly-haired cop rock
back onto his heels, pressing his back against the brick wall, trying desperately to push himself up onto his feet. He was
a mess. He had dirt and vomit on the front of his undershirt, and there was blood drying on the side of his face from a cut
above his eye. Freddy had seen people in this shape before, but they all just lay down and cried. This cop kept struggling,
fighting to stand. There was fierce intensity and determination in his gaze when he lifted his head to meet Freddy’s
“You’ve got to help me, kid.
You can’t let it go down like this.” He had his shoulders braced against the bricks now, and the muscles in his
bare legs were tensed. His head rolled to the side, and he examined the distance from where he was standing to the end of
the alley. Freddy couldn’t imagine how he thought he could help the cops at the end of the road, but that was clearly
what he intended to try to do.
Freddy stepped forward, hesitantly. Reg would
probably expect him to keep the cop from going anywhere. “You… you shouldn’t do that; you’ll make
Blue eyes swiveled back to lock onto him
with something approaching disbelief. “So what? It’s not as if he isn’t planning to kill me anyway.”
“There’s, um, w-worse things
than death,” said Freddy, seriously. He shivered. “Ever since Mom left us, he g - gets mad a lot.”
Starsky paused in his struggle to stand.
He’d figured Freddy for about fifteen or sixteen years old, but at this moment he looked and sounded a lot younger.
His expression was pleading as he moved in
front of Starsky and said, “I’m not like him, you know. I didn’t tell him you were in the pawnshop. I didn’t
tell him that girl was under the bed back at the house, neither. I don’t want people to get hurt.”
does he want from me, wondered Starsky.
Absolution? He was not at all in the mood to try to make nice to the brother of
the murdering lunatic who had just spent the last hour turning his ribs into kindling. “Yeah, you’re a real hero,”
he said, sarcastically, pushing himself up the last few feet until he leaned against the wall. He was face to face with the
kid now, but Freddy’s eyes were focused on old memories.
Reg had to be nearly at the barricade by
Starsky’s tone became desperate, trying
to reach the boy, “C’mon, kid. Untie me. Get help. Do something!”
He wanted to shout, to scream, to warn them about Reg, but his damaged ribs were preventing him from drawing a full
lungful of air, and all he could manage was a strangled plea forced through a constricted throat. In this nightmare, he knew the future and was helpless to prevent it from happening.
Freddy didn’t seem to hear him begging.
He continued to speak, but his initial words weren’t directed at Starsky. “I wanted money. I wanted to buy a bus
ticket out of this town. I thought maybe I could find mom… That’s why I was pawning those girls’ things,
but he caught me…” His focus sharpened and again he said, “There’s worse things than death, you know.”
With a hoarse shout of frustration, Starsky
rammed his shoulder into Freddy’s chest, pushing him out of the way but losing his balance at the same time. He landed
on his knees in the dirt, and once more began trying to push himself back up onto his feet. In the distance Reg seemed to
be trading small talk with the police officers manning the roadblock, though he couldn’t make out the voices. His shoulder
scraped against the rough bricks, and he felt the sleeve of his undershirt tear. The end of the alley seemed impossibly far
away, and he couldn’t get his body to cooperate.
Freddy was getting in his way again, and
Starsky snarled, “Worse things than death? I guess that’s what your dad thought when he shot himself in the head
The harsh words had the desired effect. Freddy
staggered backwards, looking as if he’d been punched in the gut. “W - what?”
Starsky straightened, leaning heavily against
the brick wall. “He shot himself, kid. He left a note too. It said, “I’m sorry.” I’ll bet you
know what that’s all about, don’t you?”
Freddy shook his head, backing away.
“Your dad didn’t have the guts
to try and stop him, but you can,” said Starsky, looking away from the boy. His concentration was entirely on forcing
his legs to carry him to the street. “He’s sick.”
Starsky heard Freddy beginning to stammer
out excuses, explaining why Reg was really a good guy after all. Listening to the boy, he couldn’t help but recall the
way Reg had handled Becky’s cat and his whole insane rationalization about dogs and cats, men and women. All this, all this pain and blood and murder, was supposedly because his mom had walked out on him? Frustration
and rage overwhelmed Starsky. He slammed the side of his head into the wall, but the physical pain did little to alleviate
his emotional anguish, as he shouted, “He doesn’t know what it means to care about anything!”
“He’s my brother,” screamed
Freddy. “He loves me!”
“He’s a twisted evil lunatic,
and he’s about to kill two innocent men!” Another bout of coughing stole his words and seized his chest in a vice
grip, but somehow he managed to stay upright and stagger the last few steps to the end of the alley.
Leaning against the corner of the building,
wheezing and trying to keep the encroaching night back from the edges of his perception, Starsky focused his exhausted vision
on the tableau at the end of the road. The tan sedan had been drawn up next to a black and white cruiser, in front of the
orange painted sawhorses that had been placed across the street. His earlier guess that an alert had gone out was confirmed
by the fact that the officer talking to Reg had his partner standing behind the squad car with a shotgun backing him up. He
didn’t know their names. They were from a different precinct.
All of a sudden it seemed very important
that he should know their names.
Reg was leaning out of the window of the
car, talking casually. As Starsky watched, the officer standing by the car holstered his gun and looked back towards his partner,
one hand raised reassuringly. The shotgun came up to rest on the other man’s shoulder as he turned slightly away.
Starsky was still trapped in his nightmare.
Too slow, too late; and there was no way out. He saw Reg’s hand come up, the pistol barely visible. One sharp crack
and the officer standing closest to the car jerked backwards, his body slamming into the side of the vehicle, a trail of red
following his body down to the sidewalk like an exclamation mark. His partner swung around, but Reg’s second bullet
caught him in the shoulder, throwing him to the side so that his shotgun discharged both barrels into the hood of the tan
Reg was out of the car in one smooth motion,
vaulting over the hood of the cruiser. Starsky heard one more shot, and then Reg reappeared with the patrolman’s shotgun
tucked under his arm and a box of shells in his hand.
The sudden sound of gunfire in the silent
streets galvanized Hutch, forcing his foot down hard on the accelerator as he threw his car around a corner. Unconsciously
his mind categorized the shots, two, maybe three shots from a pistol, and a blast from a shotgun. It wasn’t close, but
he thought he could pinpoint the likely location.
Starsky stumbled forward, landing on his
knees in the center of the road. Distantly, he heard someone screaming, and realized with some astonishment that it was him.
His eyes were fixed on the bloody scene. His mind yammered at him about shots fired and officers down and for a brief moment,
he was back in the police parking lot, the bullets tearing into his own body. He barely noticed Reg stalk back up the road.
Reg grabbed a fistful of the front of his
shirt and yanked him up onto his feet. “Shut up!”
His mind snapped back to the present, and
he was abruptly in a killing fury. But there was little he could do with his arms bound and his body damaged beyond endurance.
“You bastard! Why’d ya have to kill them? What did they ever do to you, huh?”
Starsky paused, and then his voice grew very
calm and deliberate. “You know what? I bet you never had a date in high school. I bet the only way you can get a girl
is to kidnap and rape her, because god knows no normal girl would ever want anything to do with a freak like you!”
Reg’s face went red first and then
white. His mouth moved speechlessly, and he was reduced to shouting once more, “Shut up!” He threw Starsky away
from him, and the smaller man hit the ground heavily.
Black spots were flickering in the red haze
that had taken over Starsky’s vision, and he could distantly hear Freddy sobbing. Rage had him fully in its grip. Even
if he had wanted to he couldn’t have stopped himself from ranting now. His hatred found its shape in the hoarse bitter
words. “Your dad knew just what kind of a monster you are. That’s
why he killed himself, isn’t it? He blew his brains out with his pistol, because he couldn’t stand being related
to a creep like you. And you know why your mom took off? It’s because she couldn’t stand your face. She probably
wishes she’d had you drowned at birth!”
It was not until Reg drove his foot into
Starsky’s stomach, the impact forcing the air out of his lungs, that he finally fell silent. He gagged, and coughed,
his face pressed into the cement, lacking even enough energy to raise his head as he heard the shells slide into the chamber
of the shotgun.
He said only one thing more, a single word,
barely voiced and almost a prayer.