When the phone on his desk rang, Starsky punched the lighted button and picked up the receiver. “Cold Case Division. Lieutenant Starsky speaking. How can I help you?”
“My, aren’t we formal?” Starsky’s oldest friend chortled.
“Hey, Huggy, how’s it hangin’?”
“Long and loose, Starsky. How ‘bout yourself?”
“He’d better not!” Hutch piped up from across the desks. “I’ve got a really nice meal planned for tonight and if he pisses me off, I’ll have to think twice about fixing it.”
Starsky gave Hutch a smile he knew his partner would feel all the way down to his toes, before responding into the phone. “Whatcha got for us, Hug?”
“Put me on speaker, will ya? This is somerthin’ you both need to hear.”
Starsky did as requested. “Done.”
“An old friend of yours is in town.” Huggy Bear’s voice had dropped all its cheeriness and that fact was not lost on Starsky or his partner.
Starsky replied in a similar tone. “We’re listening.”
Starsky couldn’t have described all the emotions those two words immediately caused him to feel - pain, for the loss of something he’d wanted to believe in; hurt, for the way she’d left him; sorrow, for the way Hutch had had to pick up the pieces of David Starsky, yet again. But here it was, almost five years later, and the single word that probably fit best was… emptiness. He’d quit thinking about her a long time ago and didn’t particularly want to start again today.
Hutch caught his eye and silently sent support.
Huggy didn’t wait for a response. “My source tells me she’s askin’ around about you, Starsky. And it didn’t take her long to find out you gave up women, went into the closet, came out a couple years later, and are now shacked up.”
Hutch chuckled, and it sounded only a little bit forced. “You’ve got such a way with words, Huggy.”
“Ain’t that the truth, Blondie?” Huggy didn’t attempt to lighten his tone of voice. “But, listen, she ain’t alone when she’s askin’.”
Starsky’s stomach clenched. “Her father?”
“Naw, man. From the things she let slip to my source, I get the idea he’s out of the picture.” Huggy allowed a pause to lengthen. “If you know what I mean.”
Starsky exchanged a significant look with Hutch. “We got it.”
“There are a couple of dudes with her,” Huggy went on, “who look like they’re recent graduates of the Hard Case Acting School. Mexican Branch, from the descriptions.”
“Any idea where she’s staying?” Hutch asked.
“Not a clue,” Huggy answered. “I got a bad vibe when I heard the news and just wanted to give you both a heads up.”
“Thanks, Hug,” Starsky said. “See if you can find out anything else about her, and tell us at dinner.”
“Hey! I was going to cook!” Hutch was obviously trying to lighten the mood.
Starsky hoped his partner was joking. “Whatever it is, it’ll keep. Right?”
Hutch backed off with grace. “Of course it will.”
“Good.” Starsky gave his attention back to the phone. “We’ll see you later, Hug.”
“Thanks for the call,” Hutch added.
“Watch your backs, fellas.” Huggy disconnected.
Starsky looked across the desks. “Five years… and she shows up. My address and phone number have changed, but she doesn’t come to the precinct and try to contact me directly. Instead, she’s askin’ questions around town. What am I supposed to think?”
Hutch got up and poured himself and Starsky a cup of coffee, emptying the pot. He turned the machine off, put both mugs on Starsky’s desk, and dragged his chair around. He sat close, and put an arm around Starsky’s shoulders. After they’d both taken a swallow, Hutch broke the silence. “What are you thinking?”
“Not sure,” Starsky admitted. “Why’d she come back? Why now? What does she want?”
“Maybe. Could be, I guess.” Starsky thought about it while he drank stale coffee, then shook his head. “Nope. That doesn’t feel right. I don’t think she’d ask for, or even want forgiveness. She wouldn’t think she needed it.”
“That sounds like what my impression of her was. So, she’s found out we’re a couple. Officially. With the department’s approval. What can she do?”
“If she came with a support team, she wants something. But, until we know what that is, there’s nothin’ we can do.”
“Except, as Huggy says, watch our backs.”
“Yeah.” Starsky put his old, cold coffee aside and tried to concentrate on the file he’d been reading when Huggy called. As Hutch got up and moved back to his side of the desks, Starsky looked up. “What were you plannin’ on for dinner, anyway?”
Hutch smiled the coy, shit-eating grin Starsky adored. “Guess you’ll just have to wait and find out after we know why Rosey Malone’s in town.”
Starsky returned the smile, more than willing, now, to play along with his partner’s attempt to lighten the atmosphere. “I can do that. You never disappoint, Hutchinson, so I’ll put my anticipation on hold and wait, patiently.”
“‘Patiently’ isn’t in your vocabulary, Starsk, but I appreciate the sentiment.”
That evening, they were only three blocks from the precinct when Starsky realized cars around the Torino were beginning to crowd in. “We may be in a squeeze play, Hutch.”
Hutch checked his side mirror and all lanes. “At least three.”
“And no license plates.”
At that moment, the car in front of the Torino, a black Cadillac, stopped for no discernable reason and Starsky was barely able to avoid a rear-end collision. When the vehicles on either side came to screeching halts, too, and the one behind slammed into the rear bumper, Starsky’s intuition was proved correct.
With barely enough room to open his door, Starsky drew his gun and jumped out. From the corner of his eye, he saw Hutch do the same on the passenger’s side.
Unfortunately, Starsky had nowhere to go. The blue Datsun next to him had its right front fender against the Torino’s left front wheel well. Somebody ran up behind him and jammed what felt like the muzzle of a gun in his back, as traffic came to a stop and horns began to blow. Motorists started yelling at each other.
It was almost dark and people were undoubtedly confused about what was happening. Starsky, however, had no doubt.
Rosey Malone stepped out of the left rear door of the Cadillac, a look on her face that Starsky had never seen before. It appeared to be a mixture of contempt, anger, and lust. “Don’t do anything foolish, Dave. Too many innocent bystanders around. If you shoot me, or one of my men, folks are going to get hurt.” She took one step forward. “And you wouldn’t want that to happen.”
Starsky spared a glance toward his partner and saw that Hutch was surrounded by bad guys, too, all holding guns. One was just ripping the Python out of his right hand.
As Starsky hesitated, the man behind him reached over his shoulder and grabbed the Beretta.
Rosey nodded in apparent satisfaction before motioning toward the men around Hutch. “¡Mátalo!” ("Kill him!")
The thug to Hutch’s right pushed the muzzle of his weapon into Hutch’s side and pulled the trigger.
“HUUUUTCHHHHHHHHHHH.” Starsky tried to leap onto the hood of the Torino but was yanked back and struck on the head. Hard. As blackness came down, he heard Rosey’s voice. His Spanish wasn’t very good but he got the gist.
“¡Mételo en el coche! No estamos muy lejos de la comisaría y en un minuto habrá un enjambre de policías. ¡Vamos!” ("Shove him in the car! We’re not very far from the precinct and cops are going to be swarming in a minute. Let’s go!")
Starsky tried to shake off the blow. However, being thrown onto the floor of the Datsun - his head forcefully impacting what felt like the door handle on the far side - then being covered with a heavy blanket, were too much. His last thought was the echo of his own voice yelling his partner’s name.
Hutch regained consciousness in considerable pain but with his memory intact. Rosey Malone had stopped them on their way to the Pits, and one of her gang had shot him. Thankfully, Dobey had insisted - ever since the case of the scoutmaster - that he and Starsky wear their Kevlar vests whenever they were outside the precinct or their own house. Death threats, due to their out-of-the-closet same-sex-couple status, had been few but were taken seriously.
His side hurt abominably - the point blank impact had probably broken a rib or two - but he threw off the hands of the medic who was securing a blood pressure cuff around his arm. “Leave me alone!” He tried to sit up but restraining hands held him down.
“Easy, Hutch. It’s me, Babcock. Simmons is here, too. We got word about what was happening and hotfooted it over.” Babcock kept a hand on his shoulder while the paramedic moved his right arm and loosened the Velcro straps on the side of the vest.
The movement and release of that pressure caused Hutch to gasp, which didn’t do a thing to ease the agony in his side. He grabbed Babcock’s arm. “She’s got Starsky!”
“Who?” Simmons asked, hanging over his partner’s shoulder.
“Rosey Malone.” Hutch sucked in a shallow breath. “You might remember her, she’s a former lover of Starsky’s. Her file’s in our office. She stopped us in a black Cadillac, no license plate. There are at least three other cars involved. One’s an old blue Datsun and another’s a green Chevy Malibu. No plates on any of them. I didn’t get the make of the car behind us.”
Simmons was taking notes. “How many men?”
“Rosey had a driver and one other guy in her car. There were three around me when I got shot, and the same number around Starsky.”
“They took him?” Babcock asked.
Hutch nodded while the medic called out readings to his buddy who was on the radio, in contact with the hospital. He paid them no mind, his focus was on Babcock and Simmons. “I assume that’s what happened. As I went down, the guy behind Starsky cold-cocked him. I heard Rosey tell them, in Spanish, to throw him in the Datsun. Then they all jumped in their vehicles, and took off. One of the bystanders must have called you guys.”
The paramedic interrupted, all tense and officious. “We have to get you to Memorial, sir. There’s no telling what that bullet did, inside.”
Hutch tried, again, to sit up. “No hospital!”
“Hutch…” Simmons squatted down next to Babcock. “Listen to me. You’ve been shot like this before, so you know you could have broken or splintered ribs. Let these guys take you in and find out what kind of damage that bullet did. If it’s nothing a little tape can’t manage, you’ll be on your feet in no time.”
“With your compromised lungs,” Babcock added, “a puncture isn’t something you need.”
While the medic packed up his equipment and his partner readied the gurney, Simmons moved aside. “After we get APBs out on the cars and Rosey Malone, we’ll be right behind you.”
Hutch knew all of them were right - he needed help if he was going to chase Rosey to Mexico and get his partner back. “Call Dobey. Tell him…” he tried not to scream when the medics lifted him.
“We know,” Babcock said. “He heard about this when we did, and will probably beat you to the hospital. Take it easy and we’ll see you there.”
Starsky woke up, pretending he hadn’t. He had a headache that threatened to put him under again but he fought it, and listened. The rumble of a powerful engine and road noise, plus the vibration of a moving vehicle told him he was being transported. But it wasn’t in the Datsun. He was stretched out on what might have been a bed or couch. His wrists were handcuffed in front of him - probably with his own cuffs, which was humiliating - but he couldn’t feel anything around his ankles. He’d at least be able to run!
Voices weren’t muffled so nobody cared if he heard what was said. But, since what was being said was in Spanish, he wasn’t learning very much. Except that he needed to improve his Spanish. Rosey’s voice was definitely in command, the others were saying lots of ‘Si, Senorita’s.’ Starsky figured they were probably heading south on I-5, toward Mexico. Since there was nothing he could do about the situation at the moment, he concentrated on controlling the pain in his head.
Dobey paced. Babcock leaned against the wall next to the Emergency Room’s double doors.
Simmons came around the corner at a run and skidded to a stop beside his partner. “They found the cars!”
Dobey turned to them. “Where?”
“In the parking lot of a bowling alley, downtown,” Simmons replied. “Looks like they’ve been abandoned.”
Huggy rushed through the outside doors and hurried in their direction.
“Did anybody see where they went?” Dobey demanded. “What vehicles they got into?”
Before Simmons could say anything, Huggy reached them. “I can answer that, Captain.” He took a pad of paper out of his pocket. “A cousin of mine runs that bowling alley and he called me a few minutes ago.” His expression turned rueful but he continued, quickly. “It seems Arnie’s been lettin’ some people keep their great big motorhome, and a bunch of cars in his parking lot for the past week.”
Dobey sputtered. “Overnight? That’s ille --”
Huggy cut him off. “He knew it was illegal, Captain, but the money they were paying made him look the other way.”
“So, why did he call you?” Dobey was, apparently, in no mood to put up with Huggy’s cousins’ shenanigans.
“He saw ‘em, Cap’n. Four cars came screamin’ into his parking lot a little while ago and guys poured out. They carried a body into the RV, piled in after it, and took off. Arnie called me right away.” He put a hand on Dobey’s elbow and steered him toward the seating area. Babcock and Simmons followed. Staying clear of the other anxious people waiting for word on their injured friends or relatives, they all sat in a corner of the large space.
“I’d heard about the snatch, and Hutch gettin’ shot,” Huggy went on, “and was headed for the door, when Anita yelled at me, holding the phone out. Arnie told me what he’d seen and I got here as soon as I could.”
“Was it a Winnebago? Bounder? One of the others?” Simmons asked.
“Did he get a license plate?” Babcock added.
“You bet! I’ve got all that information right here.” Huggy looked down at his cheat sheet.
Simmons grabbed it, instead. “I’ll call this in. If she’s headed back to Mexico, or anywhere else in that thing, Highway Patrol will find it!” He dashed away.
Huggy turned to Dobey. “How’s Hutch? He was wearin’ his vest, right?”
Dobey nodded, but it was a tired gesture. “He was. The bullet was fired at point blank range, though, and it possibly broke a couple of ribs. Didn’t penetrate, thank God!”
“He’ll be all right?” Huggy asked.
Before the question could be answered, Hutch burst through the double doors, buttoning his shirt. “Where is he?”
The voices had drifted away toward the back of the vehicle and it sounded like a poker game was in progress. So Starsky cracked his eyes open. He was lying on a long couch on the left side of a luxurious RV. Beyond his feet was the driver, a broad-shouldered, dark-haired man. Illuminated green and white exit signs and light poles flashed by the windows too quickly for him to read. Not that he needed to.
Rosey was sitting, looking relaxed, in a barrel chair across from Starsky, watching him closely. He couldn’t shake the impression that he was a mongoose about to be swallowed by a cobra.
The pounding in his head had lessened a bit but his vision was a little blurry. Concussion. Swell. Despite how bad he felt, he knew Hutch must be feeling worse. Shot at point blank range. Even with a vest…. When Rosey spoke, he knew she must have read his mind.
“Give it up, Dave.” Her tone held no emotion. “Your lover is dead.”
Okay, keep her talking. “Why, Rosey? What the hell do you think you’re going to accomplish by killing Hutch?… And kidnapping me?”
“I want you to suffer.” She paused, plainly enjoying things. “All the way to my home in Mexico. And when I finally end that suffering, I want you to have no illusions about why I made it happen. No man fucks me, and then turns to another man!”
“I loved you, Rosey Malone. I wanted to spend the rest of my life with you!”
“What a liar you are.” Her sneer was textbook. “As soon as I was out of the picture, you went back to your homo partner!”
“Over a year, Rosey. Almost two. And, why would you care anyway? You left me! You decided your future was with Dear Ol’ Dad. And you left! Probably never looked back!”
“There, you’re wrong. I knew I’d made a mistake almost right away. But, once we got to Mexico, it was too late to change things. My father ran my life! He controlled every moment. There was nothing I could do.”
Starsky didn’t really want to know but, in order to keep her talking, he had to ask. “So, what happened?”
“I killed him.”
“I killed him!” she repeated. “I worked my wiles on a few of his trusted hirelings and waited for the right moment. When it happened, I made it look like one of his competitors had taken him out. I inherited his empire. And you had better believe, by that time, I knew exactly how to run it.”
She leaned back in her chair, crossed her ankles and laced her fingers. “I solidified my hold on his organization and, since no one had caught my eye in all the years I’d been down there, I decided I’d been in love with you after all. Therefore, I figured it was time to look you up again. Reignite all your lust, and invite you to join me in my new enterprise. I’m very wealthy, Dave. We’d never want for anything!”
She sat up straight and drilled him with a look that chilled Starsky’s blood. “But, what do I find when I get up here? You and Hutch have not only been promoted, you’re lovers! At first, I couldn’t believe it. But then, thinking about it, I realized you’d been butt fucking him all the time we were together!”
“That’s not true, Rosey. Hutch and I had always loved each other. He was closer to me than my own brother! But, after Gunther… You knew about that, right?”
When she nodded, curtly, he went on. “After Gunther, we realized our feelings had deepened. We discovered that we were in love with each other.”
“It’s not, actually. It’s the most beautiful relationship I’ve ever known.”
“Well, beautiful or not, it’s over!” She stood up, raising a hand to the overhead to keep her balance. “He’s dead, and I’m the one that had him killed. You’re going to have to live with that, Davey, for as long as I choose to keep you alive!” She strode toward the back of the RV. “And you’re going to be fucking me from now on!”
Starsky closed his eyes. Hutch…
Hutch was nearly ready to admit he should have stayed in the hospital. His insides felt as if every jolt of Dobey’s Crown Vic’s wheels was tearing him apart. Still, they’d heard from the Highway Patrol that the RV had been spotted just south of Carlsbad and they were in hot pursuit.
The silence had grown too heavy to bear and Starsky needed to get his captor talking again. He opened his eyes and looked at Rosey, who had returned to her chair. “How do you plan on getting me across the border?” Struggling to keep his head from falling off his shoulders, he swung his legs off the couch and sat up. “They frown on kidnapping, you know. Our captain will have the border shut down, and every vehicle searched.”
Wanting her to think his headache was worse than it was, he put his cuffed hands to his temples and dropped his eyes to the connecting links. “We have a friend who knew you were in town. Lots of people saw what happened, even though it was getting dark. I’m sure they described you pretty well because you’re a memorable woman.” He looked up at her, again. “There’s probably a warrant out for your arrest right now.”
Her smile was ugly. “You wish we’d be stopped but we won’t. I have more people bought and paid for on both sides of the border than you’d probably believe. We’ll hardly even have to slow down.” She put patently false concern into her voice. “How’s your head?”
“Good! Your headache is only the beginning.”
Dobey’s Crown Vic was at the point of a wedge of vehicles headed south. Traffic moved aside, like the Red Sea parting, because lights flashed and sirens wailed. If Hutch hadn’t been hurting so badly, it would have been an E-Ticket thrill ride. Hang on, Starsk, we’re coming.
Rosey got up, crossed to the couch, scooted Starsky’s hips to the side a little, and sat down. With a look that said ‘reminiscence,’ she ran her fingers into his hair. “You really were a wonderful lover, Dave. Why would you want to waste your talents on a man?”
“Because he understands me better than anyone I’ve ever known. And he loves me for who I am. Not who others might want me to be.”
“Bullshit! He probably only loves your tight little ass.”
Starsky sighed. “Think whatever you want, Rosey. My words sure aren’t going to change your mind.”
“When we get home…” She grabbed a handful of curls at the back of his neck and tugged, painfully. “If you can show me the romance and fire I remember, I could decide too keep you around. Maybe it won’t be love, but it could be fun.”
Her hand dropped to his chest and he knew, by the change in her expression, she had felt the vest. Lurching to her feet, she reached for her gun.
The driver’s shout interrupted whatever she was about to say or do. “Boss! We got cops behind us! Lots of ‘em!”
Starsky didn’t wait for what might happen next. He jumped up and shoulder-tackled Rosey, carrying her into the space next to the driver, the front entrance of the motorhome.
The driver hit the brakes and began to maneuver toward the side of the freeway.
Shoving Rosey into the stairwell, Starsky grabbed the steering wheel and yanked it hard toward himself.
The vehicle careened across traffic. Starsky was sure chaos was occurring behind them. As Rosey clambered to her feet, reaching for her gun, Starsky threw himself at her again and, when their bodies impacted the door, it popped open. They tumbled out.
Thankfully, the RV had almost come to a stop and the landing on the ground wasn’t too bad. Starsky threw his cuffed wrists over Rosey’s head and down over her shoulders, hugging her tightly against himself, and rolling both of them away from the vehicle. He tried desperately to keep her from drawing the gun.
Sirens wailed, tires screeched, and dust and gravel flew as Starsky kept himself and a screaming, spitting Rosey rolling. He closed his eyes and tried to get the two of them as far away from the RV, and the gang of thugs, as possible.
Running footsteps, followed by a hand on his shoulder, made Starsky stop and open his eyes.
Rosey’s face, a few inches away, was a study in fury. “Get off me, you pervert!”
All the pent up emotions of the day dissolved and Starsky chuckled. “Gladly!”
He raised his arms over her head and slumped onto his back.
Uniformed hands reached down and grabbed her, dragging her to her feet as she continued to vent her displeasure.
More, gentler, hands lifted Starsky to his.
Focusing, Hutch’s eyes were the first things he saw, right in front of his own. Worry was leaving them, to be replaced by relief, and love.
“You okay?” Hutch asked, quietly.
Starsky leaned his forehead against his partner’s chest. “I am now.”
Dobey walked up, huffing from the exertion, but a look of satisfaction on his stern features. “Sure glad we got to you before Tijuana!”
Starsky straightened and half-turned. “Me, too, Cap. Thanks.”
Hutch dug a key out of his own pocket and released Starsky’s bound wrists.
“You can thank Huggy Bear,” Dobey responded. “Him and his cousin, Arnie.” Apparently not wanting to give in to emotions, the big man turned away to oversee the gathering up of all the kidnappers.
Starsky turned back to Hutch. “Are you okay?” He put a hand to his partner’s flushed cheek. “God, Hutch, it was like watching Moo-Moo shoot you all over again!”
“I’m sorry, Starsk. But at least you should have remembered I was wearing a vest this time.” He took Starsky’s hand and started toward Dobey’s Crown Vic. Suddenly, his knees buckled.
Starsky grabbed his shoulders and followed him down, cradling the blond head with his hand. “Take it easy, Hutch. You’re hurtin’ and so am I. If it’s all the same to you, I’d kinda like to ride back to town in an ambulance. My head’s killin’ me!”
“I think I could be talked into that, partner.”
It was nearly midnight. The last doctor, nurse and intern had left. Dobey was satisfied that any more reports could wait until morning, after Starsky and Hutch had been released. As long as no complications developed, for either of them, overnight, of course.
Starsky got up and moved around the foot of Hutch’s bed to the left side. His partner was already holding the sheet and blanket up for him. Starsky crawled in and, careful not to jostle Hutch’s painful ribs, snuggled. “No hanky-panky tonight, Hutch.”
Hutch probably thought about laughing but must have decided it would hurt too much. Instead, he tightened his grip around Starsky. “No?”
Starsky shook his head against the bandage-wrapped chest. “No. I’d like to just hold you. Make myself believe that a couple of cracked ribs is all the payment you had to make. It’ll take a little while, but you’ll heal. You’re not dead, like she planned.”
Starsky blew out a breath and nestled closer.
“Did she explain anything?” Hutch asked.
“Everything. But it was so twisted, it made me realize I never knew her. I thought I did, but…”
“‘Hell hath no fury,’ right?”
Starsky nodded, feeling sleep draw closer. “Probably somethin’ like that.” A thought occurred to him and he leaned up on his elbow. “Can we have that dinner you planned tomorrow night?”
Hutch drew him back into the embrace. “I don’t see why not.”
“Terrific! We’ll pretend today never happened.”
“If you can do that, you’re a better man than I am, Gunga Din.”
Starsky tried to lean up again but Hutch tightened his hold. “Kipling, right? I seem to hear Cary Grant saying that line.”
“We’ll get the video from the library. It’s a good one!”
Starsky relaxed in Hutch’s arms. Rosey Malone and her gang were in custody. His partner wasn’t too badly damaged, and Dobey had told them the Torino only had a dented rear bumper. All would be right with the world again, very soon.