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The Scorpion Is Also a Wedge

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I don’t know who I am any longer. My legal name is Kira Jessica Jansen, but my name at birth was different. It’s been so long, I’m not sure I’d even recognize it. If I could remember, I’m not sure I’d want to go by it anyway. Regardless, things, meaning my life, will change. Maybe, hopefully, even me.

Dave, my former lover, had regained consciousness after suffering multiple gunshot wounds and surviving a cardiac arrest. I’d held off trying to visit him until I knew he was more awake than asleep. Word around Metro was he’d finally arrived at that point. It was time for my first step into my new life.

I stood in front of the main entrance to County Hospital, still undecided whether to go in. Minnie Kaplan decided for me.

“Well, well, if it ain’t Sergeant Jansen,” Minnie said with not-so-subtle mockery.

I wasn’t surprised at the tone of the greeting. Because Minnie practically worshiped Hutch, and Dave even more so, and the three were good friends, she was likely to be aware of what had gone down between me and the partners. I don’t blame Minnie for the animus toward me; I have it for myself as well.

Dave was fighting for his life and in so much pain because of me; what’s worse, he’s still a target. Hutch was hurting, too, just not from the cut I heard he’d suffered. And it was highly probable that they both would suffer more. James Marshall Gunther is one persistent, ruthless bastard.

“Hello, Minnie. How’s David?”

Minnie pushed her black-rimmed glasses up her nose with her middle finger -- I’m positive it was on purpose. After a short delay in answering, she said, “Hangin’ on, Kira. Slowly getting better, though, but my boy is tough, ya know. Neither he nor Hutch go down easy.”

I gave my colleague (I know calling her that is presumptuous) a shy smile. “From what I know of them, that’s true. Well, I guess I should be going in now.”

“Are you sure that’s the right thing to do? I mean…” There was a warning in her voice that made my neck hair stand on end.

“I know what you mean. And yes. I want to see how two very important people to me are doing. I want to see if there’s anything I can do.” I would be doing what I should have done weeks ago -- but hadn’t had the courage. Until now.

“I’m pretty sure you’re not on the visitors list. But if you’re determined, take my advice and step lightly, Kira. Neither Hutch nor Dobey are in a mood to put up with any of your games.”

I couldn’t halt the blush that burned my cheeks. “Thanks for the heads up, Minnie. Nice talking to you.”

“Yeah, sure, the pleasure’s all yours. And you do or say anything to upset my boys, you gonna answer to me.” With that promise, Minnie swept by me, coming close enough to make me shuffle away to avoid contact.

I dismissed the contemptuous dust-off, walked into the hospital, headed for the bank of elevators. As I waited for one to open, I thought about how my life brought me to this catastrophe. It’s time to reveal the secrets that have nearly destroyed David Starsky and Ken Hutchinson, and that are destroying the me that is Kira.

I am James Marshall Gunther’s niece. He took me from my parents when I was three or four, telling me years later they had died in a plane crash. I am only now beginning to doubt the truth of that.

He told me when I was ten that he had chosen me and no other cousins to learn the skills needed to help him build, expand, and keep his empire. I suspect that isn’t the truth. His M.O. is to ensure there are redundancies built in everything he does. He trusts, and even then only so far, only those he’s molded by proxy early on in their lives. If I hadn’t “worked out” as one of his Mata Haris, I’m sure there was another niece or maybe even an adoptee that also got the same education.

Nannies took care of me until I was old enough to be shipped off to boarding schools in Switzerland until college at UCLA. He changed my name so no one could tie me to him without a great deal of difficulty. Lessons in everything from math and languages to acting and the art of seduction. Finally, lessons in keeping secrets, covering one’s tracks, spycraft. All of it was part of my indoctrination to my new identity as his mole, his puppet. On his command, I applied to the Bay City Police Academy, because BC was a growing part of his criminal realm. Maybe fiefdom is a more appropriate word to describe it. Anyway, my acceptance was guaranteed thanks to an instructor on his payroll.

I knew this gig wouldn’t last forever, so I protected myself from the moment I walked into the police academy. I started with saving my generous “allowance” from my uncle, taking care to transfer the money to multiple numbered accounts in multiple banks in Switzerland and the Cayman Islands and investing the interest wisely. Thanks to my financial education, I am quite comfortable. I also began to collect evidence of his illegal activities. I wanted leverage if he ever decided I was a liability. He’d turned me into a scorpion -- embodiment of evil and human sexuality -- and given the life span of the longest lived species was only about twenty-five years, I knew my time was limited.

My “assignments” after graduation, which always came through that disgusting and oily attorney Jonathan Wells who stank of Turkish cigarettes and gag-inducing cologne, were at first simply passing on information. The irony that I was a cop who was a well-paid confidential informant didn’t escape me. For another level of protection -- really self-preservation -- I insisted Wells must communicate with me only by public phones on a predetermined schedule. My contact with Uncle James was largely through letters delivered by his personal messenger service. I’ve kept all of those. We did have clandestine meetings annually in exotic and isolated places all over the world. I can’t count the number of top-notch false passports I have, all thanks to him. But there’s one he doesn’t know about.

Some weeks ago, Wells had a new assignment for me. A “divide and conquer” scenario, he said. Two detectives in my precinct were getting too close to amputating some of the illegitimate tentacles of my uncle’s vast empire and several attempts on their lives had been unsuccessful. Wells had convinced Uncle James to try a different tactic: I was to sow discontent between them. Uncle James had used his substantial influence through third parties to somehow manipulate Captain Dobey, a very savvy, smart, and incorruptible cop, into assigning me to an undercover mission with Starsky and Hutchinson. I was to pit them against each other until they broke, using any means necessary. The projected outcome was there would be a split and any further investigation into McClellan and Clayburn would die along with the partnership. I became a wedge. A cold, angled brick to match my heart.

It had been too easy finding the means. Both detectives were attracted to me and had come on strong. They even competed for me, like two modern-day cavemen.

I hadn’t counted on actually falling in love with both of them and respecting them as cops.

As soon as the elevator door opened on the floor where Dave was, Bill Ellison, a patrolman who has a crush on me, stopped me by placing his hand on my shoulder.

“Hey, Kira,” he said.

I said, “Hi, Bill,” using my seductive yet innocent voice, before he could continue. “Any way I can see Dave? I know visitors are limited when someone’s in step-down but we worked an undercover job together recently and became friends.” I knew I almost had him when his Adam’s apple bobbed from a hard swallow.

“Uh, you’re not on the list, Kira. Really sorry.”

“List? You mean there’s a list of who can visit Dave?”

“Yeah. That’s the way Hutch wants it.”

I needed to see Dave, needed to see he was okay. So I pushed. “Please, Bill, if there’s a window to his room, can I at least look through it? I promise I won’t go in, or even knock.” I paused, took a dramatic breath, then said, “It would mean so much to me.” This time, I gave him the pouty, pleading look.

Bill was putty in my hands. “Okay, Kira, but just a short peek.”

Even though I was pleased I’d get to see Dave, I strangely took no joy in exploiting Bill’s infatuation with me. Was my transformation really underway?

Bill escorted me to the room, then went back to stand guard at the elevators. The window was fairly big, so I was afforded an excellent view of the room, even though I only let half of my body show at the window.

Both Dave and Hutch, who had been back from San Francisco for a couple of days, were there. I felt bile rise into my throat when I realized I was somewhat responsible –- my failure led to his shooting -- for how pale and tired and weak Dave was. His eyes had that doped-up weirdness in them. And he had this goofy smile on his face. Just seeing that made the love I have for him grow. So sweet, exuberant, creative, funny, caring, intuitive, bright. The frog to my scorpion.

Then I realized his goofiness was really happiness and it was all for Hutch. He was concentrating solely on Hutch. Hutch was his world, the center of his universe.

Hutch was in a chair positioned right next to the bed, his back to the window. I could his profile, which was more animated than I’d ever seen. I’d also never before seen the happiness he was showing now. And I realized Dave was his world, the center of his universe.

And they were touching. Hutch, from what I could tell, had his left hand over Dave’s left. In my time with them, I hadn’t seen that at all. At least not the loving touch I was seeing now. I had only seen the touch of anger and warning.

No wonder I hadn’t accomplished my assignment. It was an impossible mission, doomed to fail before it began. I had made them lose their footing for a little while, almost drowning them in the proverbial river. But they were each other’s life preservers and now they were fully and steadfastly on firm ground. Not even an earthquake or the arrival of alien ships could shake them. Not even the mighty James M. Gunther.

Hutch must’ve said something funny because Dave laughed then immediately grimaced and started coughing weakly and painfully. Hutch’s hand left Dave’s to steady his right chest. Dave’s hand soon covered Hutch’s. Together.

I wanted to be a third hand on Dave’s wounds. To help ease his suffering. To touch both of them again.

That laugh/cough had begun to resolve by the time Dave turned his head away from Hutch and looked straight at me. He blinked his eyes several times, no doubt because he thought he might be hallucinating. I smiled, showed my teeth.

His eyes turned dark, like they did when he was mad or upset. Like just before he punched his best friend in the gut. I wanted to see that different dark that told me he wanted to make love. Well, that was never going to happen again.

Hutch noticed, of course, and he turned to look. His face turned from a curious happy to a livid angry in less than a second. That look pierced my soul like a large-caliber bullet.

Hutch was up and out of his chair so fast that it toppled over, making the wimpy little nurse sitting in the corner start and paw at her throat like an anemic kitten. He tripped over a chair leg but didn’t fall. I saw that Dave had reached out for him and said something my lip-reading could not discern.

It took Hutch only a few long strides to leave the room and invade my personal space and tower over me. I was almost speechless, my defenses and training on the verge of melting when I smelled him. God, I love his quiet intensity, compassion, gentleness, intelligence, reserve, caution. The turtle to my scorpion.

No wonder I love them both. Together they gave me everything I needed, wanted, and desired.

“What the hell are you doing here?” Hutch, pink-faced, said through clenched teeth, his fury making me tremble slightly. Then he was yelling at Ellison. “What the hell is your problem, Bill? Does the visitors list mean nothing to you? Or can’t you read?”

I didn’t look back at Bill, though I could imagine the milquetoast cowering and trying to appear invisible.

“Sorry, Hutch, won’t happen again.”

Before Hutch could yell at him again, I said, “It’s not his fault. I told him all I wanted was to see Dave, that I wouldn’t actually go in the room.” I paused for effect. “I only wanted to check on him personally. You know you can’t trust the grapevine at work.”

Hutch’s face sailed right past red to crimson. His lips thinned until they disappeared. After a few furious breaths, he said, “That doesn’t excuse you or Ellison, Kira. And you certainly don’t care about him,” he said with a twitch of his head toward Dave. “If you did, you would’ve stopped responding to my come-ons.”

“That’s not true! I love you both!” I wanted to kick myself for sounding so pathetic and needy and desperate. I wanted to say more, wanted to say how it was well known they’d competed for and dated the same women before, but my new, struggling, infant self managed to keep that unspoken.

Hutch laughed derisively. “I don’t believe you. Now get the hell outta here. We never want to see you again. Ever. And if you come around here again, or anywhere near either one of us after he’s discharged, I’ll take out a restraining order against you.”

Hutch turned his head suddenly to look at Dave. He must’ve seen something out of the corner of his eye. I looked, too.

Dave slowly blinked, tilted his head, raised his eyebrows a notch. I knew it was some sort of communication but I had no idea what it meant.

Hutch did, though. His eyes widened and he had this questioning, doubting, almost exasperated expression. Dave responded with the slightest of nods.

Hutch practically spit fire when he turned back to me and said, “He wants to see you.” He paused, during which I began to feel threatened -- and very stupid for coming. “Against my better judgment.”

He escorted me to the door without putting a hand on me -- very unlike Hutch, but I understood why.

We stopped at the door. As he placed a hand on the knob, he murmured, “No funny business, or I’ll drop-kick you off this planet.” He opened it and I stepped through.

The mousy nurse was back in her corner, waiting to eat her cheese, no doubt. Hutch now walked a little ahead of me. So protective of his partner. Friend. More than a brother. I was so jealous of them both. We stopped about halfway to the bed.

Dave waved me closer. “His throat is still bothering him, so he can’t talk very loud, or very much,” Hutch explained. He stopped me a few feet from the bed.

I opened my mouth but any words I might have said were cut off by Dave’s palm-out hand.

Dave, his expression bland, unreadable, cleared his throat. “You played us, Kira, but you won’t fool us again,” he said in an unemotional, raspy voice. “Don’t know what your endgame was” -- he paused to take a breath -- “but me and Hutch won.”

Without any indication I could see, Hutch scrambled to his bedside and offered him some water. Dave took a swallow from the straw then nodded his thanks and gave Hutch a grateful smile.

“Hutch an’ me never want to see you again. Ever.” No way could I not notice the low growl that had appeared in his voice.

Hutch turned to face me fully on, his body between me and Dave. “You heard the man.” At least he sounded more civil.

So I left without saying another word, without one last look at the two men I love, not even in my peripheral vision. Somehow, I held off the tears until I got in my car, which surprised me that I could even cry, given my early training.

It’s said a leopard can’t change his spots, nor can a scorpion change her character. The leopard’s spots are physical, but character isn’t. It can be changed. I have to believe that. I have to change or live despising myself, and the latter is not an option.

This is the last thing I write as Kira Jessica Jansen, except for signing over ownership of my car to Dave, who’s sure to sell it and donate the money to one of his causes. I’ve sold the house (it was never a home) and Dave and Hutch will receive the proceeds from my attorney after closing. They won’t keep that money, either. Their integrity is another part of them I love.

Regardless, too little, too late.

I’d like to hang on to this one-entry diary to read when I need motivation to keep from backsliding, but it’s too dangerous to keep so I’ll burn it in the flames of the fireplace before I leave Bay City and the two most amazing men I’ve ever known or ever will know.

Epilogue

Harold Dobey was now spending the afternoons at Metro rather than County General, where he continued to do business in the mornings. He hated to leave the hospital because his anxiety level ramped up every time. Starsky was in guarded condition and could wind up in the operating room yet again or suffer some other setback at any moment. And ideally, someone should be there for Hutch if his partner took a turn for the worse. However, he couldn’t afford to get any further behind in his regular duties, and with the additional workload on developing the Gunther case, he had to spend time where those files could be protected.

“Come in,” he half-growled at the knock on his door that disturbed his concentration.

It opened to reveal the mail clerk, whose name escaped Dobey at the moment, pushing a wire cart loaded with two banker’s boxes into his office.

“Captain, these came this morning addressed to you and Detectives Hutchinson and Starsky. Because they don’t have return addresses, I had the bomb squad clear ‘em and forensics check for prints. All clean. Where can I put them?”

Pointing with his pencil to the chairs in front of his desk, he said, “There will do.”

“Yes, sir.” After accomplishing his task, the clerk wheeled the empty cart out of the office and closed the door.

Dobey finished the file he was reading then stood and headed for the box closest to him. In addition to the three names, this box had ONE written in one corner. He opened it carefully, despite the reassurance it had been cleared.

Taped to the inside of the box cover was a business-sized envelope with nothing written on the outside, though a trace amount of fingerprint dust still clung to it. Carefully he removed and opened it.

He snickered when he saw words and letters cut from magazines and newspapers taped to the plain white sheet, like a ransom note or a clue that a serial killer might give to taunt those chasing him. But this was neither.

The materials contained in these two boxes should corroborate the evidence already collected and likely provide new evidence. Authenticity of all documents can be verified by Clarence X. Morrow, Esq., San Diego, CA. This should guarantee the conviction of James Marshall Gunther. This is my way of apologizing for coming between the frog and the turtle.

It finished with an image of a ghost.

 A slow smile of triumph spread across the dark, plump face, followed by a hearty laugh. He yelled, “Martha, get me the DA on the phone now,” loudly enough for his assistant in the next room to hear.

His detective’s intuition, his ability to put bits of seemingly disparate information together to build a hunch, formed a possible hypothesis with some holes to fill and questions to be asked and answered.

On another extension, Dobey dialed the number for the Vice lead.

“Captain Henderson.”

“Jason, Harold. Has Kira Jansen resigned?”

A beat of silence before, “Yeah, Harold. How the hell did you know?”

Dobey grinned at the likelihood that one hole had been filled in. “Just a feeling I had.”

“I think she was more than a little upset with what happened to Starsky. I tried to talk her out of it, but her mind was made up.”

“You’re probably right. So, you free for lunch tomorrow?”

“If you’re buyin’, sure.”

They made arrangements to meet at a Thai restaurant nearby. As he hung up, Dobey smiled at his own recovery taking a giant step forward.

the end
August 2020