Death, Life and Birth
Future Series #5
November 1981 and onwards
“Hey yourself,” Ali said with a smile as she stretched awake.
The sight of his wife stretching out like an elegant cat was enough to start arousing his passion and Starsky leant over and kissed her; she responded with a desire that seemed to match his own.
However, after only a minute, Ali pulled away from her husband with a sigh and said, “We’d better save this for later or we’ll both be late for work.”
Starsky shook his head. “Doesn’t bother me although it would be a new excuse for the Cap; sorry I’m late, my wife wouldn’t let me out of bed.”
He started to chuckle at the thought of Dobey’s response.
Ali giggled as she said, “Don’t you dare tell Harold that! I’d never be able to look him in the eye again!”
They both looked at each other, grinning, and said at the same time, “I love you.”
Starsky gave Ali one more long kiss and then reluctantly dragged himself out of bed. “To be continued later.”
As Ali jumped up and headed towards the shower, she called over her shoulder, “It had better be, Mr Starsky. I’m going to hold you to that promise.”
Starsky’s face lit up with uncontainable joy as he blew her a kiss and then headed to the kitchen to put the coffee on for both of them.
Hutch smiled to himself as he followed a clearly happy Starsky bounding up the steps into the Metro Building. He loved the fact that his friend was enjoying married life so much. Come to think of it, Hutch didn’t think he had ever heard Starsky randomly hum happy tunes so frequently during their work days at any other time in the past nine and a half years, even at Christmas! After the up and down year Starsky had had previously, it was great to see him happily settled with Ali in the two bedroom apartment that they had moved into just over three weeks ago. When the two detectives reached the squad room, they each grabbed cups of coffee and then settled at their desks to look over some files that had been left out for them.
“Hey Hutch? You got one of these?” Starsky asked as he held up a memo.
“Yeah, just seen that. Wonder what’s going on?”
They’d both received a memo asking them to attend a meeting with the Robbery squad at ten a.m. Invitations to meet with other squads usually meant something big was happening that needed a joint task force. The two of them shared wry glances. Joint task forces could be interesting but they could also mean clashes of personality over jurisdiction and procedures, as well as danger to the members of the team if the person leading was incompetent.
They read through their files, made some phone calls and at five to ten stood up without speaking and headed down one floor to the Robbery squad room. When they walked in, they were relieved to see Captain Dobey standing at the front of the room next to a large board that had been wheeled in for the occasion. If their captain was involved, the operation would be run like clockwork and with all the possible angles thought through properly. They considered the board and noted the pictures of the three masked men that were pinned up along with a map of Bay City, which had little red pins stuck into it.
Starsky and Hutch looked around the room with interest. They knew most of the Robbery squad and got on with the majority of them but it was nice to see they weren’t the only detectives there from their own squad. They nodded to Simmons and Babcock, Callaghan and his new rookie, Drew, and grinned at their young friends, Smith and Bailey, who were now partners.
“Thank you all for coming,” Dobey said. “If you’ve been watching the news over the last two months, you will have heard that there have been three bank robberies in recent times, all apparently perpetrated by the same crew; all at branches of Crocker National Bank.”
“Hey, is that the one where you get a plush Spaniel if you open the account? I think I seen the commercials,” Detective Henry from Robbery Squad asked.
“Yes, that’s correct,” Dobey responded. “It has three hundred and nineteen branches, almost half of which are in the Los Angeles, Orange County and San Diego areas and sixteen of which are here in Bay City. Three have been hit, including the robbery which took place yesterday. That leaves thirteen branches, which could be a possible next target.”
“That’s a lot of branches to cover,” somebody commented.
Lieutenant Kilburn from Robbery stepped forward. “That’s why we are now setting up a joint task force to work on anticipating which branch will be hit next and attempt to capture the perpetrators. They appear to be a four man crew; three in the bank and one driver. They were in and out quickly the first two times before anyone had time to react. Yesterday, they shot at a guard injuring him but, fortunately, the injury is not life-threatening. However it’s only a matter of time before someone gets killed on one of these raids.”
Hutch held up his hand and asked, “You don’t think they’ll quit and move onto somewhere else now? They must know that they’ll be being looked for, especially now they’ve hit three times.”
Dobey nodded at the question but it was Kilburn who answered.
“I think they’re getting cocky, probably think they’re invincible. It’s our belief that they’ll probably try to hit at least another two before they move on, make sure they’ve got a nice big score to split before they go into hiding for a while.”
Lots of the detectives exchanged glances.
Dobey spoke again: “From the slick timing of their heists, we believe that they must have a working knowledge of each bank before they hit them. That probably indicates they are watching the banks very closely for a few days before each heist. It may also indicate a current or ex-employee is giving them inside knowledge. We want you to work in two man teams to cover each bank and see if we can spot any suspicious behaviour. Obviously, the executives at the Crocker National Bank are anxious about the situation. Mr Hendrickson is here from the Head Office, which is based in San Francisco. He’s here to fill us in on the general routines of the bank.”
Dobey waved forward a short, stout man in an ill-fitting grey suit. He nodded nervously at everybody before speaking.
“All right lads? And er lasses?”
Hutch was hard pressed not to laugh at the unusual form of address. The man speaking clearly wasn’t American but Hutch couldn’t quite place the accent.
“As Captain Dobey rightly said, Head Office here and back home in Birmingham is in a right mither about these robberies. They want you to catch these guys before someone gets hurt.”
There was a silence and a few confused looks were exchanged.
Starsky looked at Hutch and whispered, “Mither? Don’t think he comes from Birmingham, Alabama. Do we need a translator?”
The officers closest to Starsky sniggered and Hutch dug his partner in the ribs, aware that nothing would be missed by their Captain.
Dobey’s eyes narrowed slightly before he stepped forward and suggested, “Er Mr Hendrickson, perhaps you could fill us in on routines that each branch has in common?”
“Right yar. Each branch has a time-lock vault which is closed towards the end of the banking day. The grabs have all been a few minutes before the vault is due to be closed. We think they must be watching each place coz each branch closes anywhere ‘tween four-thirty and five, depending on their own rules and routines. Each branch usually has one manager, one assistant manager, around six tellers and one security guard on duty per shift.”
“Thank you Mr Hendrickson.”
Dobey waited, while Hendrickson retook his seat, seeming greatly relieved. Clearly public speaking wasn’t something he enjoyed. Once he was settled, Dobey spoke to the assembled group.
“Each team will have one member inside the bank posing as a security guard. The other man will be outside, getting to know the routines of the bank and keeping an eye out for anyone behaving out of the ordinary. A back-up unit will be parked close by, waiting to photograph any suspicious looking customers indicated by the main team. You will keep in touch at all times by radio. We have full co-operation from the Bank. They want these men caught as much as we do. We’ve got three days to collect as much information on ex-employees, and so on, then we will begin the operation.”
“You think they’ll hit again that soon?”
Kilburn answered the question: “There was one month between the first and second hit; three weeks between the second and third. If they speed up again, it could happen in as little as two weeks, or even sooner, and given that they like to case out their targets, we need to be ready and waiting to catch them doing it.”
Dobey said, “The thirteen branches have been divided into two sets according to their location and each set will be investigated either by Robbery here or my teams. Lieutenant Kilburn and I will co-ordinate our efforts. We will meet again at the same time tomorrow morning to share any information that has been uncovered. Dismissed.”
As they had no urgent open cases, Dobey had instructed his team of detectives to spend the day out on patrol doing a crackdown on low level panhandling, pickpocketing and people pushing drugs around schools and parks. He also asked them to consult any of their street informants and find out if anyone had any information on the bank heists and who was pulling them. Just as Starsky and Hutch were about to head out, the phone rang on Starsky’s desk. Starsky finished putting his jacket on and then picked the receiver up and held it to his ear.
“You’ve reached the desk of Detective Starsky. He’s not available at present. How may I assist you?”
“Knock it off, Starsky,” Sergeant Dorman from the front desk answered. “Got a transient who came here to the front desk says he needs to speak to you or Hutch. Name of Kirkland.”
“What does he want to talk to us about?”
“Dunno. He won’t say. Seems kind of upset.”
“What name did ya say?”
“Okay. Send him up.”
“He won’t come up,” Dorman said. “In fact, he’s waiting outside now.”
Starsky frowned. “All right. We’re on our way down.”
Starsky put the phone down and looked at Hutch.
“Do we know a homeless guy called Kirkland?”
“No, I don’t think so,” Hutch replied.
“I don’t recognise the name but he asked for us. Says he needs to tell us something but won’t come upstairs.”
Hutch finished putting his jacket on.
“Well, we were on our way out anyway. We can have a chat with him before we head off.”
They made their way out of the squad room, along the corridor and down the stairs to the front lobby. Sergeant Dorman nodded his head towards the front doors when he saw them so the two detectives headed out of the building. As they walked down the steps, they could see a man hovering uncertainly a few yards along to the right of the entrance. There was something vaguely familiar about him. Both of them felt that they had seen him around many times before but had never had occasion to speak to him.
“Mr Kirkland?” Hutch asked. “What can we do for you?”
“It’s ‘bout ‘Lijah,” the man said so softly they could hardly hear him.
Both detectives took in the pinched look on his face and the red-rimmed eyes. Hutch felt a little ache start in his chest that took him by surprise.
“Something’s happened to him?” Starsky asked gently.
The man sniffed. “Yeah. ‘Lijah. Well, he died last night. He just suddenly dropped. I got the cook at Oscar’s to ring for an ambulance for him but it was too late. He was gone. They said it was his heart.”
Hutch swallowed down a lump in his throat. “We’re sorry to hear that. He was a nice old guy. We were very fond of him.”
Kirkland nodded. “Yes, he was nice. He was my pal. Don’t know what I’m going to do without him.”
Suddenly Starsky realised who he was talking to. “You’re Charles, aren’t you?”
“Yes, that’s right. We only met that one time at Christmas at the Mission. I’m surprised you remember.”
“Well, ‘Lijah mentioned you a couple of times and we’ve seen you hanging out with him.”
“Do you know which hospital they took him to?” Hutch asked.
“Sisters of Mercy, I think,” Charles said.
Hutch nodded. That would make sense. It was a hospital heavily subsidised by charitable donations and people without insurance often got taken there.
“Charles? Do you know his last name? Did ‘Lijah ever talk about any family?” Hutch wanted to know.
Starsky looked at his friend and knew instantly where the conversation was headed. Like Hutch, he reckoned finding ‘Lijah’s family and letting them know of his passing was the least they could do for a man who had somehow managed to worm his way into their affections.
“Don’t know his last name but he did mention one time that he still had a daughter somewhere. He’d lost the rest of his family. I think that was why he was living on the streets.”
“We’ll go the hospital and see if there was anything on ‘Lijah to give a clue as to his full name and then try to find out where his daughter is. Give him a chance to be properly buried if possible.”
Charles wiped his arm across his face.
“Thank you. Will you-will you let me know if…”
Starsky nodded. “Of course, if we find anything out we’ll come and tell you. Will you be around Clancy and Eighth?”
“Yeah. Mostly around there. Thank you.”
Charles nodded at both of them. Before he shuffled away, Hutch pressed a five dollar bill into his hand and patted his shoulder. The two detectives watched him as he walked away. Starsky looked at his partner.
“Straight to the hospital?”
They walked along the line of vehicles until they reached Starsky’s car. As soon as he was settled in his seat, Hutch picked up the radio.
“Dispatch. This is Zebra Three. We’re taking a meal break. Please show us unavailable for an hour.”
Mildred’s voice answered, “That’s an early lunch break even for Starsky!”
Starsky rolled his eyes as he started the engine.
“Everyone’s going to blame me and my stomach now!”
Hutch smirked at him as he depressed the mic button.
“Roger that, Mildred. You know Starsky. He’s always hungry and he gets snappy when he’s hungry so I’ve got to feed him. Out.”
Starsky swatted at his head and Hutch pulled away from him quickly.
“Snappy! You wait till later. If you don’t feed me after the hospital, I’ll show you snappy!”
At the Sisters of Mercy Hospital, the two detectives introduced themselves at the front desk and explained why they’d come. After a few minutes of waiting, they were ushered in to see a Sister Francis who was the administrator for the hospital. She shook their hands and smiled at them.
“I understand you are here about Mr Houseman.”
Starsky responded, “If that’s the heart attack victim who was brought in last night, usually known as ‘Lijah, then yes.”
Sister Francis picked up a brown envelope from her desk and opened it. “The man who was brought in last night had very little on him but we did find an old driving licence and a photograph stuffed in his shoe. That’s where we got his name from. Edgar Elijah Houseman. There’s an address in Santa Barbara but I suspect it’s no longer valid.”
She handed the driving licence over to Starsky who held it out so Hutch could see it too. The picture was from about ten years before but it was still recognisable as ‘Lijah; the little moustache and the slightly turned up corner of the mouth where he was trying not to smile. Sister Francis passed the black and white photograph over. It was a family group; husband, wife, son and daughter.
“We were told he might have a daughter,” Hutch informed the Sister. “This will give us a place to start.” As he placed the licence and photograph carefully in his jacket pocket, he asked, “Can you keep ‘Lijah’s body here until we get hold of some family?”
“Yes, we can keep Mr Houseman for forty-eight hours.”
“What happens if we don’t find any family?” Starsky asked.
“Well, if Mr Houseman’s body is not claimed. He will be cremated by the county coroner’s office and then the ashes will be held for up to two years. As you probably know, Bay City buries any unclaimed ashes in a single pauper’s grave once a year in December so eventually Mr Houseman’s ashes would be dealt with likewise.”
Starsky looked at his partner, picking up on Hutch’s obvious dismay even though not a word was spoken.
Hutch shook his head and spoke to Sister Frances, “If we can’t find a family member, we’ll make the funeral arrangements ourselves.”
Hutch didn’t need to look at his friend to know that he would agree with him in this case. They’d long ago given up telling each other not to get too involved with cases, victims or people they met through their work; some people just got to them and they had learned to live with it.
Sister Frances gave them a beautiful smile and said, “That’s very kind of you both. We’ll wait to hear from you as to what the arrangements are.”
Starsky and Hutch stood up and thanked Sister Frances for her time.
“Not at all. I’m glad to be of help.”
The two of them left the hospital building in silence. They got into the car and then looked at each other.
Hutch spoke first, “I know it’s out of our jurisdiction but do you think Dobey would let us try to trace ‘Lijah’s family today while we’re not really busy?”
“Yeah, I do. If not, we’ll talk him into it. And, before you ask, buddy, I got no problem with running up to Santa Barbara after work tonight to either see the daughter or attempt to track her down from ‘Lijah’s old neighbours.”
“Thanks Starsk.” Hutch was silent for a moment then he said, “I don’t know why I feel so upset. I know it’s stupid, we hardly knew him but…”
Starsky just gave a little shrug. “But we liked him.”
By the time, they tracked down ‘Lijah’s daughter it was late afternoon. They drove to Santa Barbara and arrived in time to catch Melissa Houseman, more commonly known as Missy, just as she was getting home from work. When they told her of her father’s passing, she looked very sad and sighed as she invited them in for a coffee. The three of them sat in her living room, surrounded by photographs of a younger ‘Lijah and his family, while Missy talked about her father and what had happened that made him end up on the streets of Bay City.
Edgar had been a well-respected English teacher at Jefferson High School in Santa Barbara. He had a passion for English and American Literature and had championed programmes to help poor readers attain reading fluency. Missy thought he’d probably left the city, when he walked out on his life, because too many former students and colleagues might have recognised him if he’d hung around. He’d needed the anonymity Bay City could afford him.
Born in 1952, she’d been just eighteen when her father had walked out. She’d just started college and her grandmother had been her only other living relative. Once it had become clear that her father was not going to come back, her grandmother had moved in with her to keep her company and look after the family home in case Edgar ever returned to them. While she’d understood her father’s misery, she had resented the fact he had left her to deal with her own grief by herself but, over time, she had come to realise and understand what had caused her father’s breakdown.
In 1942, aged twenty-two, Elijah had signed up to serve in WW2. He’d served mainly in Asia and not been demobbed until 1946. At this point in her story, Missy went and dug out a box from a drawer and showed them the two medals her father had earned; the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign medal and the Bronze Star. It was clear that she was glad to have these reminders of her father’s bravery.
Missy continued with her tale. Upon Edgar’s return home, he had enrolled in a teacher training programme and eventually found work at Monroe High School. In 1948, he had married her mother, Dorothy, and they had moved into their first home together. He and Dorothy had two children; Martin and Melissa. In 1956, Edgar had moved to Jefferson High School and had stayed there for the rest of his career.
Her brother Martin had been drafted and gone to ‘Nam in 1967 and died in 1968. Edgar and Dorothy were both devastated but they at least had each other to get through this terrible time and, although they’d struggled, they had carried on as best they could for the sake of Melissa, and their surrogate children; a long line of struggling pupils that Edgar had taken under his wing and encouraged to better themselves.
Then in 1971, Dorothy had been killed in a car crash. Missy remembered her father becoming withdrawn after the funeral, starting to act strangely and not going into work. Then one day, Edgar walked out and never came back.
As Missy came to the end of her tale, Hutch could feel sorrow welling up in him. He glanced at his partner and saw Starsky’s expression had turned into ‘the look’; the one that only Hutch could interpret accurately. Only he could see through the shutters that had come down over Starsky’s face. Starsky was now hiding behind a wall that no-one would be able to breach, except Hutch.
It was a rare occurrence. Hutch had seen it twice in all the time he known Starsky. The first time had been when they’d had a case involving an ex-serviceman who had killed four people before turning the gun on himself. The second time had been the day they both saw the abuse that had been meted out to young Guy Mayer by his mother. To the outside world, the wall looked as if it had been built to stop painful emotions getting inside. Whereas Hutch knew it was there to try to stop painful emotions from leaking out. He nudged Starsky’s shoulder discretely to let his friend know that he understood and was feeling the same emotions.
Hutch reached into his jacket pocket and handed the small black and white photo to Missy.
“Your father had this on him.”
As she looked at the photograph, Missy’s eyes filled up with tears. “He still kept us close all this time,” she whispered to herself. She looked up at the two men sat in front of her. “Thank you for caring enough to find me and let me know about my father. I’ll make the funeral arrangements and let you know when the service will be. It’s time to bring Pops back home where he belongs.”
As they drove back to Bay City through the darkening evening, Hutch noticed that Starsky was quiet, processing everything they’d heard. He left him to his thoughts for a good while and then asked quietly, “Starsk. Everything all right, pal? What are you thinking about over there?”
Starsky sighed. “I don’t think I’d realised before how easy it would be to just walk out on your life. Nah, that’s not what I mean. I mean I’ve always wondered how people could check out, ya know? Figured it had to be something pretty big to walk out, leave everyone behind and end up on the streets but…”
Starsky tightened his hands on the steering wheel.
“But. ‘Lijah had coped with so much and then there was that final straw that broke the camel’s back and he couldn’t take anymore. It made me think. I-I’ve been through a lot, Hutch. Losing my Pop. Ma sending me away. ‘Nam. Losing buddies over there and then losing Jackson. And Terry. I managed to keep going each time but, I think, if I lost Ali…or you. Well, that might be the final straw for me, ya know. I could see myself walking out the house and not coming back, just like ‘Lijah.”
Hutch placed his hand on Starsky’s shoulder and squeezed gently.
“Nothing’s going to happen to Ali but, well, if it did, I wouldn’t let you check out.”
Starsky glanced at him, enquiring, “No?”
“No. I wouldn’t let you walk off. You’ve been the glue that’s held me together for years and, not just me, lots of our friends. What makes you think we wouldn’t glue you back together if you started coming apart?”
Starsky gave a small nod. “I guess.”
“And if the glue failed to work, I’d kidnap you and lock you up in my basement until you came to your senses.”
Starsky glanced at Hutch again, this time with a hint of a smile.
“You would, would ya?”
“Yep. Me and Laura would take it in turns to cajole you, or chivvy you, or feed you treats or do whatever it took to get you back to you.”
Starsky smiled and shook his head. “Well, okay then. Thanks buddy.”
Hutch grinned. “No problem.”
“There is one flaw in your plan.”
“What’s that then?”
“You don’t have a basement.”
Hutch waved to Starsky, as he headed away to his home, and then walked up to his own front door. Unexpectedly, it was opened by his wife. As he stepped inside, she wrapped her arms around him and gave him a huge hug.
“What’s this for?”
“Just thought you might need a hug after your day.”
Hutch held onto Laura for a little longer.
“Thanks. It’s just what I need.”
As they parted and Laura led the way into the kitchen, Hutch took hold of his wife’s hand, grateful for her grounding touch.
“Was it very upsetting seeing ‘Lijah’s daughter?”
“Yeah. It was. He was a really interesting guy. It was just so sad to hear everything he’d been through and how he’d ended up on the streets.”
“How did Dave take it?”
Somehow Laura was almost as in tune with his partner as he was.
“He got a bit introspective. Worried about how he’d cope if anything happened to Ali.”
Laura nodded. “Or you.”
“Sit down before you fall down, sweetheart. You look beat.”
Hutch collapsed gratefully onto a chair and poured into a tall glass the beer that Laura had set ready. He took a sip and felt himself start to unwind.
As she took dinner out of the oven where she’d left it keeping warm, Laura said, “Well, I expect you told him we’d be there gluing him back together.”
Hutch smiled at her. “Yep, of course.”
Laura dished up and placed the plate in front of her husband.
“And failing that, I’d help you kidnap him and lock him in the basement until he came to his senses!”
Hutch was startled into laughter. He leapt up from his chair and grabbed his wife around the waist and swung her around before kissing her.
“Have I told you lately how much I love you, Mrs Hutchinson?”
Laura’s eyes twinkled as she looked at him. “Every day, sweetheart, but if you want to tell me again, that’s all right with me!”
Starsky pulled into the parking space outside his apartment and stepped wearily from the car. He locked the door and headed up the steps to the front of the apartment block. As he unlocked his front door, he could hear Ali humming in the kitchen and his face broke into a mischievous smile. He closed the door quietly and crept down the hallway to the kitchen. He waited until Ali had finished stirring the pot steaming on the hob and then said loudly, “Boo!”
Ali shrieked and then shook her head at him. She grabbed a wet dishcloth and advanced on her husband. “David Starsky! You are a fiend!”
Starsky chuckled helplessly, “I know! Good job you love me, right?”
“Hmm. I could go right off you, making me jump like that!”
Starsky gave her his most winning smile and Ali rolled her eyes. She threw the dishcloth back in the sink and held out her arms. “Come here, goofball. How was your trip?”
“All right. Bit sad, finding out about ‘Lijah’s life.”
“Hutch all right?”
“Yeah, bit upset but he’s okay.”
Ali pulled back and carefully looked her husband over. She tapped the side of his head and asked, “What’s going on in there?”
Starsky sighed. “It just got me thinking how I’d cope if anything happened to you. I’m not sure I would be able to keep going.”
Ali hugged him again and said reassuringly, “I’m not planning on going anywhere, love.”
“And if the worst happened to either of us, Laura and Ken wouldn’t let us check out.”
“I know that, too.”
“Good.” Ali saw the little sparkle coming back into her husband’s eyes and knew the brief, out of the ordinary moment of anxiety was passing. “So let’s have dinner…and then maybe we could carry on with our interrupted activity from this morning.”
Starsky grinned. “I bet you never thought you’d hear me say this but I think dinner can wait!”
Angel Burgos knew how to keep his mouth shut. It had been drummed into him early on the streets of San Juan, Puerto Rico, and it was a lesson he had not forgotten. He tried to keep his nose clean for the sake of his mother but when Luis Narvaez said jump, you jumped. It was either that or find yourself face down in a back alley. Even here in Bay City, there were little kingdoms run by their own tyrannical kings with their own set of rules and brand of justice. Cross Luis once; you’d end up with a nasty scar as a reminder not to do so again. Twice? Well, it was unheard of. Or rather unseen. As in never seen again, disappeared, body never found.
So when Tony had slipped him the chit with the message ‘8pm - Bar Paradisio’, Angel had pocketed it and quickly re-arranged his evening. He had also made sure he was at the bar early. No point starting off in Luis’ bad books by being late.
At 8pm precisely Luis walked into the bar, accompanied by Diego, a man who’d been a professional boxer for a few years in the old country, and the Bulldozer. Bulldozer was an Anglo. Nobody knew where Luis had found him and nobody was brave enough to ask. He’d been henchman for Luis for a couple of years now. Standing at well over six feet tall and with a neck that looked like twisted steel wires, it wasn’t likely that he would be going anywhere else soon for who could best such a mountain of a man?
“Hola Angel. Como esta tu madre?” Luis asked congenially.
“Bueno,” Angel said. “Yes, she’s very well, thank you.”
“Good, good. What will you have to drink?”
Angel waved a hand indicating whatever Luis suggested was all right by him. Luis spoke to the man behind the bar and a tray of drinks was quickly arranged.
“Let’s sit,” Luis said, taking a seat at a small table at the back of the room. The Bulldozer and Diego arranged themselves discretely out of ear shot but close enough to act should it be needed.
Angel took a small sip of his margarita and waited for Luis to speak.
“So Angel. I hear that you have found yourself a good job. You’re well settled?”
“Yes, thank you,” Angel answered cautiously.
“That’s good but I trust you will still have time to run errands for me occasionally.”
Angel nodded. “Of course, Luis. I’m always ready should you need me but…”
Luis raised an eyebrow. “But?”
Angel nearly bottled out but, knowing that Luis had a soft spot for his mother, this might be his only chance to plead for a way out of Luis’ clutches.
“I would like to keep this job for my mother’s sake. The pay’s good. I even get medical insurance. It might come in handy as you know Mama sometimes suffers with a bad chest. I’m happy to help you when you need me but if it could be around my job…” Angel’s voice drifted to a stop as he felt Luis’ eyes boring into him.
Suddenly, the older man leaned forward and patted Angel’s shoulder with a smile.
“You must take good care of your Mama. You’re a good boy as always. I have one job coming up soon that I need you for and then, well, maybe I will forget your name and find someone else with your skill set. Okay, amigo?”
It was a better response than Angel had dared hope for. “Gracias, Luis. That’s very kind of you. What’s the job? And when?”
“Next Wednesday. You will have to call in sick but I am sure that will be all right for one who has been an exemplary employee these last few months. I need you to drive a car for some friends of mine. They have a little cash withdrawal planned. They will pay me a cut and I will pay you. Come back here on Sunday at noon and I will introduce you to my friends and they will tell you the plan. Okay?”
“Sure Luis. I’ll be here.” Angel drank enough of his margarita to appear polite. Luis was in a good, generous mood tonight but he had seen the man turn on the spin of a coin. No point in antagonising him if he could help it. He got up slowly. “If that is all, I will get home to Mama.”
Luis pulled a long thin cigar out of his jacket pocket and clipped off the tip.
“Si. You may go. Give Florencia my best.”
Angel nodded and walked away as quickly as he could without running. The evening had been both better and worse than he had hoped for. Hopefully, if Luis kept his word, Angel could concentrate on living a normal legal life from now on but first he had to be involved in something to get there. Driving a car meant something dangerous, likely to involve weapons and police. He just hoped that this crew knew what they were doing and that he would live to see his twenty-third birthday.
Hutch opened his eyes and wondered what had woken him before his alarm clock; then he heard Laura in the bathroom. It sounded like she was being sick. He jumped out of bed and hurried out of the room along to the bathroom door.
“Laura, honey? Are you okay?”
The toilet flushed and a moment later the door was opened. Laura’s face was horribly pale as she looked at her husband.
“I think there must have been something wrong with that curry we had last night.”
Hutch took her hand as he said, “Why don’t you go lie back down. I’ll get you a glass of water.”
“Okay, thanks,” Laura said and slowly walked past him towards their bedroom.
Hutch went downstairs and got a glass of cold water and the thermometer before hurrying back upstairs. Laura was sat up in bed with the pillows piled up behind her. Her colour was a little better.
“Here you are, honey.” Hutch handed Laura the glass. “Do you think you’ve got a temperature? Want me to check?”
“No, I don’t feel so bad now and I don’t think I’ve got a temperature.”
Hutch placed his hand gently against his wife’s forehead and after a few seconds nodded. “You seem normal sort of temperature to me. Can I get you anything else?”
“No, I think I’ll just rest and get up in a while. Lucky I’m not on shift today.”
“You want me to stay home?”
“What on earth for? I’m fine!”
Hutch couldn’t help smiling. Laura would have to be dying before she would ask him to stay home with her. She never took time off if she could possibly help it, partly because of her sense of vocation, partly her stubborn refusal to refuse to admit that anything could slow her down.
“All right but ring me if you need anything.”
“Won’t be necessary and don’t you dare worry about me, Ken Hutchinson. I’ll be fit as a fiddle by the time you come home.”
“All right, Laura Hutchinson,” he said with a smile as he plopped a kiss on her head. “I’ll go get ready for work. Starsk and I’ve got another meeting this morning about the joint task force and we’d better not be late.”
He took himself off to the shower. By the time he came out wrapped in a towel, Laura was fast asleep. He looked at her carefully. Her skin colour definitely looked better than it had so hopefully she would make a quick recovery from whatever hadn’t agreed with her. He got dressed as quickly and as quietly as he could and then headed off to collect Starsky and drive both of them into work.
The joint task force meeting yielded little new information. No word had been heard on the streets as to what gang was pulling the robberies. As they left the briefing, Starsky and Hutch discussed what else they could do to prepare for the assignment next week. They decided that Hutch would pose as a security guard inside the bank and Starsky would keep watch outside. At least, that was what Starsky decided.
“Why don’t you work as the security guard?” Hutch asked. “If we’ve got to use my car because your striped tomato on wheels sticks out, doesn’t it make sense for me to be sat in my own car?”
“Nah. You’ll get bored.”
“Like you won’t!”
“I’ll catch up on my reading.”
Hutch eyed him suspiciously. “What do you know that I don’t know? Is there a pizza place down the street from the bank?”
“No, no pizza place.”
“A Taco Bell?”
Hutch raised his finger. “Starsky?”
“Well, there’s a little café opposite the bank. I figured some of the time I could sit there and drink coffee and still keep an eye on the bank.”
Hutch sighed. “Fine. As long as you bring me a coffee every day at 11.”
“Won’t that look odd?”
“The heists have all been after 4pm. Nobody’s going to know or care.”
“Fine. It’s a deal.”
Laura woke up and stretched. A second later, she was running to the bathroom and heaving what little remained in her stomach into the toilet bowl. She was glad her husband was already out of the house or else he’d be worrying and fussing around her. She’d been on a late shift last night so she’d got to bed late and slept in this morning.
She wiped her face and made her way unsteadily back to the bedroom. Surely she hadn’t got food poisoning from somewhere? The hospital food could be bland but it was usually safe to eat. She often took her own lunch or dinner in from home but, yesterday, she had bought a sandwich from the vending machine. Had she checked the date on it? She couldn’t remember. She decided to go back to bed until the nausea had passed then she’d try to go downstairs for a coffee. The thought of even doing that made her feel like retching.
She sat back carefully and waited for the feeling to pass. Maybe she should go get checked out by her doctor? She couldn’t remember the last time she’d been to see him. It had been sometime since she’d been ill and the break to her leg that she had suffered last year had been dealt with at the hospital so she’d not seen him then. Idly, she wondered if Doctor Fuller was still at her practice or if he’d moved on. As soon as she felt able to, she would ring and find out but for right now she was going to stay put.
Starsky and Hutch decided to go to The Pits after work so they could pay a visit to Huggy. They’d called on him briefly at the start of the week to see if he’d heard anything about the heists on the Bay City grapevine. He hadn’t but he’d said he would keep his ears open and call if he found anything out. That he hadn’t called meant no concrete news but he might have heard some snippet that might tell them something. The Pits wasn’t too busy when they arrived so Huggy was able to join them as they sat at the bar and each sipped on a beer.
“Glad to see you, amigos. How are things in the world of Messiers Starsky and Hutchinson?”
“Good, Hug. You?”
“Looking up, my friends. Met a lovely lady called Bernadette, recently moved to Bay City from New Orleans. She’s on my wave length.”
Starsky smiled at their friend. “That’s great, Huggy. Hope we can meet her real soon.”
Huggy nodded with a smile.
“Sorry to talk shop but have you got anything for us on the crew doing the heists?” Hutch asked.
Huggy grimaced. “It’s been very quiet out there. I think they must run a tight ship but I did hear a couple of things. Heard a rumour that the crew are Puerto Rican, purely visiting our fair city to score a big cash prize and then heading back home. Also heard a conflicting rumour that some home grown talent are planning a robbery soon.”
Hutch frowned. “Both sources reliable?”
“Yeah, kind of. You heard of King Luis?”
“No, who’s that?” Starsky asked.
“Luis Narvaez. Seems he was something important back in Puerto but he had a falling out with some friends and decided to move his organisation here. He has his own little kingdom around the Latin quarter over on the west side of the city. He’s one to watch from what I hear. If something to do with his countrymen is going down, the word is nobody makes a move without his say so.”
“Thanks, Huggy. That gives us something to work with. We may just have to go shake that tree tomorrow. See what falls out.”
“Be careful and watch your step,” Huggy advised. “I’m sick of visiting you two in hospital!”
Starsky snorted. “We’ll be careful, Huggy, but then we always try to be. Just doesn’t always work out.”
As Hutch walked into his house, he called out, “Laura? Are you home?”
There was no response but that wasn’t unusual if his wife had stepped out into the garden to check on something or just to have a little look around their patch and see what was happening. They both liked to take a few minutes each day to survey their little patch of paradise, although there wasn’t much to look at this time of year. He walked through to the living room and saw that the garden doors were open. Laura was just heading back in. She smiled when she saw him and he gave thanks yet again that she was in his life.
She came into the room and closed the doors behind her, making sure the latch was securely tightened. Then she turned to face him and said, “Sweetheart?”
Laura’s face looked very serious as she took his hand and asked, “You know that conversation we had about maybe getting a dog if ever one of us changed jobs or if I dropped some of my hours?”
“Yes?” Hutch’s eyebrows rose a little. “I thought we’d shelved that idea for at least a couple of years. We said it wouldn’t be fair to the dog if neither of us was going to be home most of the day.”
“Yes. Well, in a little while I might be home a bit more.”
“Oh, why’s that? Are they cutting your hours at the hospital?”
“Not exactly but I think I might have to take some time off.”
Hutch felt a moment of anxiety. “Laura? Is there something wrong? Are you ill?”
Laura squeezed his hand reassuringly and gave him a nervous smile. “Not ill. Pregnant.”
Hutch stared at her as if his brain had frozen.
Looking worried, Laura demanded, “Well, say something.”
Hutch shook his head to clear it and then started grinning. “Really? We’re going to have a baby?”
Laura nodded and started to smile with relief at Hutch’s obvious pleasure.
“That’s-that’s fantastic news! I’m so happy,” he at last managed to say before he pulled Laura into a hug and buried his face in her hair. He pulled back and looked at her enquiringly, “You are happy about it too, aren’t you?”
“Yes, you know I am. We talked about it and we both want to have a family.”
Hutch could see there was something bothering his wife. “Laura? What is it? Is there something worrying you?”
“Well. We talked about kids but we didn’t talk about work. Would you think I was an awful person if I went back to work afterwards? It’s just I love my job; I think I’ll miss it.”
Hutch shook his head. “Whatever you want to do is fine with me, honey. We’ll figure it out and make it work.”
Laura breathed a relieved sigh. “You never know, I may decide I want to stay home but at the moment, I’m wondering if I could go back part-time. When I let work know I’m pregnant, I’ll ask about that possibility.”
Hutch nodded. “Now the important question. When is he or she due?”
“Around the second week of June.”
“Next question. Who are we telling first?”
“Well, I want to tell Dad when he comes round for dinner tomorrow but…” Laura grinned at him and raised a questioning eyebrow, “You want to go see Dave and Ali now?”
Hutch nodded excitedly. “I think that’s a very good idea!”
He pulled Laura into his arms and held her tight. “Love you, Laura. I can’t wait to be a daddy.”
“Love you too.”
Hutch tried his best but he just couldn’t keep the grin from his face as they knocked on Ali and Starsky’s door. Laura chuckled.
“You’re hopeless! I thought you wanted to make it a surprise. One look at you and he’s going to know.”
“I can’t help it. I’m happy!” Hutch said, just as his friend opened the door.
“Who’s happy?” Starsky noticed the grin immediately. “Hey! Have you two won the lotto or something? You both look like the cat that got the cream!”
“Something like that,” Laura said. “Is Ali home?”
“Yeah. Come on through.”
Starsky led them through to the living room. Ali looked up from her marking as they entered.
“Hi! This is a nice surprise! To what do we owe the pleasure?”
Hutch put his arm around Laura and said, “You tell them.”
“We’re expecting a baby!”
There was a very brief silence which was instantly broken by Starsky yowling with delight.
“That’s fantastic!” He kissed Laura on the cheek and said, “Congratulations Mac! I couldn’t be happier for you.” As soon as he released her to be hugged by Ali, he grabbed Hutch by the shoulders. “You’re going to be a father, Hutch. I’m so happy for ya, I could bust!”
“Thanks buddy.” Hutch dabbed at his eyes, trying to staunch the flow of happy tears that were about to escape. “I couldn’t be happier if I tried.”
Starsky shook his head as his friend dissolved in front of him. “Come here you big old softy.” As he wrapped Hutch up in an embrace, he said quietly, “I can’t wait to be an uncle and I can’t wait to see you being a daddy. You’re going to be t’riffic at it.”
Dobey had been filled in about their tip from Huggy and had given them permission to pay a visit to Luis with warnings to be very careful and to make sure they didn’t let any information slip about the joint operation starting next week at all the branches that seemed like easy targets. That he’d warned them showed what pressure Dobey was under. He would never normally make a comment like that. He trusted his two best detectives implicitly and they knew it.
Starsky drove them across town to the Bar Paradisio where it was reputed Luis hung out. As they climbed out of the car, both of them noted the couple of young men hanging around, who stopped talking as soon as they approached. They eyed the detectives suspiciously.
“Friendly group,” Starsky remarked under his breath to Hutch.
Hutch flexed his hand as if ready to draw his gun and knew that Starsky had done the same.
Cautiously, they entered through the door of the bar, which seemed dimly lit after the brightness of the day outside. A tall, wall of a man looked up from where he was sat at the bar. He stood up and became even taller. Starsky’s eyes widened at the sight of him.
“State your business,” the wall growled.
Starsky was almost surprised he could string two words together. He didn’t look as if he was employed for his brain.
Hutch smiled disarmingly. “We’d like to have a chat with your boss, Senor Narvaez. Is he around?”
The two of them took out their badges and showed them to the walking mountain, who frowned. “I’ll see if he’s free.”
“You do that,” Starsky said curtly.
As the wall moved towards the back of the bar, Hutch said out the side of his mouth, “Starsk, don’t antagonise him, we don’t want to end up in hospital! Not sure the two of us together could get cuffs on that man!”
“We could take him,” Starsky said with false bravado.
Hutch rolled his eyes. “Let’s not put it to the test. All right?”
The huge man returned and nodded to them. “Senor Narvaez will see you now. Follow me.”
“Thanks. What’s your name?” Hutch asked conversationally.
Hutch gave Starsky with a ‘that figures’ look. Starsky countered with a ‘nah, we could still take him’ thought that had Hutch trying hard not to laugh.
“Gentlemen, que pasa? What can I do for you fine officers of the law?”
The speaker was a well-groomed Hispanic male in his late thirties or early forties. He was well built and yet looked tiny next to his two chosen companions; Bulldozer and a man who looked as if he’d been a boxer in a past life.
“We understand that you are a business man of some importance in this neighbourhood and that nothing happens around here that you don’t know about,” Hutch said, hoping to appeal to Narvaez’s ego.
Narvaez shrugged and puffed on his thin cigar before answering. “I have some respect paid to me as a businessman trying to improve this neighbourhood. That is all.”
Starsky assumed he was supposed to be bad cop (or maybe bolshie cop) as Hutch had clearly started the interview in good cop mode.
He leaned towards Narvaez aggressively. “Let me put it more clearly. We heard nothing happens that you don’t know about whether it’s legal…or not so legal.”
“We’d like to know if you know anything about a Hispanic crew pulling heists on Crocker National Bank?” Starsky asked, without prevarication.
“I’m afraid I can’t help you, Detective,” Narvaez stated.
“Can’t or won’t?” Starsky asked pointedly.
“Can’t,” Narvaez said pleasantly enough. “If I hear anything I would be happy to let you know of it. After all, making sure all the areas of this great city are safe for law-abiding citizens is a desire close to my heart.”
“Is it really?” Starsky sounded unconvinced.
Hutch pulled a card from his pocket and handed it to Narvaez. “Gracias, Senor Narvaez. Apreciamos tu ayuda.”
Narvaez took the card and handed it on to Bulldozer. He nodded at Hutch, dismissing both of the detectives with that gesture. Hutch started to walk out. Starsky hovered for a moment, giving Narvaez a dark look, and then he followed his partner outside.
Once they were out of earshot, Starsky asked, “What do you think?”
“I think he knows more than he’s letting on. He’s smart…and possibly dangerous.”
“Yeah, he kinda gave off that vibe. So what now?”
Hutch shrugged. “Maybe check in with a few other people who owe us? See if we can get a name from someone.”
Starsky nodded in agreement. Then they both got in the car and drove off. As they headed away, Narvaez watched them out of the window and puffed on his cigar. He spoke to the two men standing behind him.
“Find out how much the police know and about those two in particular. And find out who’s encroaching on my territory without having cleared it with me first. I think I might need to have a chat with them…although, it could work to our advantage. I will have to think on it.”
After a long day of tracking down every informant who owed them and pumping them fruitlessly for information, Hutch was glad to head home. He arrived to find a quiet house but that wasn’t unusual. Like him, Laura liked to read when she got the chance and she usually liked peace and quiet to do so. If she was in the garden then she wouldn’t bother putting the radio on until she came inside. Unconcerned by the stillness, he searched for Laura in the garden and then went upstairs. He found his wife in their bedroom, not reading as he had supposed, but still dressed in her uniform and sitting disconsolately on the bed. He realised with consternation that she had been crying.
“Honey? What’s wrong?”
“I-I’m going to be such an awful mother,” Laura wailed. “I don’t even like babies! Why did I decide to have one?”
Hutch struggled to keep from smiling. He sat down on the bed next to his upset wife and took her hand in his. “What brought this on?”
“Molly, one of the nurses in orthopaedics, came round with her new baby. She made me hold it. I didn’t know what to do with it. I couldn’t wait to give it back. All the other nurses were cooing.” Laura shook her head sadly. “I’ve never been a coo-er. I’ve never liked babies. What if I don’t like our baby?”
Hutch shook his head and pulled her close. “There’s nothing wrong with not being a coo-er. I like kids but I’m not a coo-er!”
“But you’re a man. Men are allowed not to coo. Women are supposed to go all soppy when they see babies. I never have. Is it too late to give our baby back?” she wailed again.
“Laura,” Hutch said gently. “I’ve seen you with children. You’re great with them. Cal and Rosie adore you. It doesn’t matter if you don’t go soppy over babies. I’m sure you’ll be a great mother and I’m sure you’ll fall in love with our baby.”
Laura sniffed. “You think so?”
“Absolutely sure. We’ll muddle through the baby bit and then we’ll be in our element.”
Laura sniffed again and buried her face in Hutch’s shoulder. After a few minutes, she pulled back and gave him a watery smile.
“Thank you, sweetheart. You always know the right things to say. I don’t know what’s the matter with me.”
Hutch knew better than to mention hormones. “There’s nothing the matter with you. This is all new to both of us. We’ll work it out. How about I take you out to dinner tonight? Where would you like to go?”
The distraction of a suggested night out worked.
“Really? Yes, please. I don’t mind, wherever.”
“Well, it’s your choice. You say.”
Laura grimaced. “What I really fancy is a large bowl of fries, mayo and ketchup. Can we just go to Huggy’s? I’d like to have a game of darts as well.”
“Your wish is my command. Just us or do you want me to see if Ali and Dave are free?”
“Seeing our friends would be nice. Help me feel like there’s still normal life going on. I’m fed up with everyone talking about babies around me.”
“All right then, I’ll give Starsky and Ali a call.”
“Great. I’ll get changed.”
While Laura got out of her uniform, Hutch called Starsky and asked if he and Ali were free to meet at The Pits. When Starsky said they were available, Hutch said, “Great. Whatever you do, and I can’t stress this enough, do not mention babies!”
As soon as they heard that the funeral for ‘Lijah was going to be in Santa Barbara on the following Friday, Starsky and Hutch went to see Dobey to ask for the day off. At first, he cautioned them that they wouldn’t be able to have the day off if the joint operation was still going on next week. Then Hutch explained why they wanted the day off and, when Dobey looked at the two staunchly obstinate faces in front of him, he agreed. It was clear that they felt a strong need to bid farewell to the homeless man they had known as ‘Lijah and Dobey could recall a time when Hutch had flatly refused to give up ‘Lijah’s name to some Feds in order to protect the old man. In the end, he gave permission willingly rather than have them go AWOL and get themselves into a heap of trouble. It wasn’t often that they made such a request and he felt he owed it to them to allow it.
Once permission had been granted, they headed out to find Charles and let him know. They cruised the alleyways around Clancy and finally spotted Charles and another man sitting on boxes near the back door of a restaurant. Starsky stopped the car and they both got out. The other man with him looked vaguely familiar. He looked at them warily and then nodded.
“Hi Charles, how are you?” Hutch asked.
“Not too bad. You’ve got some news ‘bout ‘Lijah?”
“Yes. We found ‘Lijah’s daughter up in Santa Barbara,” Hutch informed him. “Turns out ‘Lijah was a teacher there.”
Charles smiled. “That doesn’t surprise me. He had a way with words and, well, he helped Monroe here with his reading.”
“So the funeral’s going to be a week Friday at eleven. In Santa Barbara.”
“Oh.” Charles looked disappointed.
Starsky was quick to say, “So we’ll pick you up at a quarter to ten if you’d like to go.”
“Of course,” Hutch said. “You were his best friend for the last few years. It’s only right you should get to pay your respects.”
“Thank you. I’d like that very much.” Monroe gave a slight cough and Charles asked, “Can Monroe come too?”
“Yeah, no problem. Where shall we meet ya?” Starsky said.
“In front of the church on Gordon Street, if that’s convenient?” Charles had a grace and dignity that fitted his name.
Starsky nodded confirmation. As they turned to go, they overheard Charles mutter, “I wish I had a decent suit to wear. How can I pay my respects looking like this?”
Hutch turned back. “We’ll see if we can find something that might fit you…if you like, Charles?”
Charles nodded. “Thank you, Detective Hutchinson. I’d be really grateful if you could. ‘Lijah deserves the best.”
“He does,” Hutch agreed. “See you next Friday, fellas.”
It was Sunday and Angel was at the Bar Paradisio well before noon. He straightened his shirt nervously and then sauntered into the bar trying to look the part of confident get-away driver. Bulldozer was looking out for him and signalled for him to go through to a room in the back. Luis was already there, sitting on a bright yellow leather sofa and holding a drink the colour of a deep blue sapphire in one hand.
“Ah, Angel, my amigo come join me.”
Angel did as he was asked and sat down at the other end of the sofa. Before Luis could engage him in conversation, the door opened and three men came striding into the room. Angel didn’t recognise any of them.
The leader, a dark haired individual with a striking dagger tattoo on his neck, spoke first: “So, we can go ahead despite this other crew we’ve been hearing about? You’re sure, Luis?”
Narvaez nodded. “I’ve found out they plan to hit their last Crocker Bank on Wednesday then they’re returning to the home country to lie low. All attention will be on them. You’ll hit the same day, Hector. The police are watching as many of the banks as they can but they will already have stood down and won’t be expecting it. It’s a win for everybody.”
Hector thought about this for a moment. “What time are the other crew hitting?”
“Three thirty. You hit at four fifty-five. In, out, home free.”
“That’s cutting it awfully close to the safe being locked,” Hector sounded dubious. “And that’s only an hour for word to get to the police units to stand down. What if they’re still there?”
Narvaez shrugged. “I’m sure you’re more than capable of dealing with them. With the weapons you asked me to secure for you, no-one’s going to be stopping you in a hurry.”
Hector frowned but nodded. He turned his attention to Angel.
“So this is the kid that’s going to drive us? He any good?”
Narvaez nodded. “Don’t let his youthfulness deceive you. He’s been one of my best drivers for the last three years. He’ll get you in and out no problem.”
Angel held Hector’s eye with as much calm as he could. He was glad when the man finally looked back to Narvaez.
“Very well. We’ll be ready. Angel here can pick us up from the Almeida next block over. Four o’clock on Wednesday.” He nodded at Narvaez and then his men, who followed his lead and left the room.
Narvaez looked at Angel. He pulled an envelope of money out of his pocket and handed it to him. “You pick them up, wait for them and then you take them to the tunnel under the railway up near the Fifth Street Water Treatment Plant. There will be a van waiting for them. You drop them and head home. Come here Thursday and I’ll give you the rest of your pay.”
“Yes. I’ll be here.”
As Angel left the building and hurried home, he wondered just what he was getting himself into. The three men doing the job looked like heavy hitters and the mention of weapons had made Angel’s stomach churn. He didn’t mind running the odd errand for Luis. He’d run numbers for him when he’d been a youngster. Illegal yes, but not something people died over. He didn’t want to be involved in anything that might get people killed. But what could he do? There was no way out that he could see.
Laura and Ali had just finished their lunch at the Lobster Pot café on the Bay City pier and were nursing a tea and a coffee each. It was one of their new favourite haunts for their monthly Sunday catch-up. It was a particularly nice place to be today. The sky was clear blue, with no clouds in sight, and the sun was shimmering on the sea as the waves crashed underneath them and seabirds wheeled overhead.
Ali broke the companionable since that had descended with a question: “Do you ever get jealous of their relationship?”
She didn’t need to say who their related to. Laura knew she meant their husbands.
“What on earth makes you wonder that?”
“I was just thinking about what they’re going to be doing next week and glad that they have each other to watch their backs,” Ali said. She was careful not to mention details as they were in a public place. “And that led me to thinking about how close they are.”
Laura nodded. “I always worry a little but it helps knowing that they are so close and that they look out for each other.”
“Yeah, it does but don’t think I didn’t notice you sidestepping the question.”
A funny look passed over Laura’s face.
“Come on, girl. Spill.”
Laura gave a deep sigh and then said, “Ninety nine point nine per cent of the time, no.”
“But the point one per cent?”
Laura looked sheepish. “This is going to sound really silly. I know it’s stupid and irrational and I am trying to get over it. But when he’s on the phone to tell Dave something and he stays on chatting and then he laughs. A real belly laugh, you know. I get jealous then. I never make him laugh like that. I mean we have a laugh together, we have fun, we giggle at stupid things but I can’t make him laugh like that.”
Ali nodded. “I can understand how you feel but…have you thought about it the other way round?”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, does Ken make you laugh till you cry?”
Laura smiled. “No, not really. That’s usually your job!”
Ali grinned. “Like when Mindy WitchyNortinson or whatever her name was came to school with that beehive hairdo-”
“- and you said, ‘Where are the bees?’”
“And then you said, ‘Ouch, I think I just got stung by one,’ and everybody was looking around for the bee.”
They were both grinning at each other now.
“Exactly,” Ali said. “See, we’ve got a shared, somewhat stupid, history that just makes us laugh when we recall it. It’s the same for the guys. They’ve been partners for nine years now and we know they got up to all sorts at the academy. That’s a lot of silly pranks and jokes they’ve shared over the years. They’re bound to make each other laugh. We’ve only been with them a second in comparison. A few years on and we’ll all be rolling around, laughing our heads off.”
Laura couldn’t help laughing. “Sometimes, you’re very wise for a complete nut.”
“Thanks, I think.”
“You’re welcome. Well, I suppose it’s time I was making a move. You free on Friday night? Dinner at our place?”
“Sounds good. What should we bring?”
“How about your famous pavlova? Only if you’ve got time.”
Ali nodded. “I think I’ll be able to rustle one up. See you again on Friday. Sounds a perfect end to the week.”
As Ali went to hug Laura, she noticed her eyes had filled with tears.
“Hey, what’s this?”
Laura shook her head. “I have no idea. Blame it on my hormones. This is definitely not like me; weepy over the slightest thing. I hate it!”
Ali smiled gently. “It’ll pass soon and you’ll be back to normal Laura. No nonsense on the outside, complete mush in the middle.”
Laura laughed as they linked arms and walked towards their cars. “Ssh, that’s a state secret. Don’t tell everyone.”
“Ooops, sorry! I forgot.”
On Wednesday morning, Hutch was to be found driving his car on their way to the Crocker National Bank on Lambert Street. Starsky was reading his paper where he sat in the passenger seat. Feeling very uncomfortable, Hutch pulled at the collar of the security guard clothing he was wearing. Even though he’d been wearing this particular uniform for three days now, it still felt very strange and scratchy. And tight. It had been a long time since his uniformed cop days and he didn’t miss it.
“I hope the heist goes down today. I’m fed up with wearing this uniform,” he grumbled.
Starsky nodded. “Yeah, I’m not sure how much coffee I can keep drinking. I just want to get back to our usual routines. Half-drunk cups of coffee, interrupted meals. I’m used to it now.”
Hutch chuckled and looked ahead. They were nearly at the bank and it would be a couple of hours before he could take a coffee break and chat to his partner again.
“Yeah.” Starsky looked over at his partner.
“This weekend. Would you go car shopping with me?”
If he hadn’t already have been sitting, Starsky would have needed a chair. As it was his mouth dropped open in surprise. Then he made an exaggerated show of pinching himself to check he was awake.
Hutch rolled his eyes. “It’s not that strange a request!”
“You have got to be kidding me! Not strange? I’m just wondering if you’re actually an alien in the body of my partner and this is the slip-up that lets me know an alien invasion has begun!” Starsky’s eyebrows were up in the air. “You do know this is a weird, unusual and downright strange request, right?”
Hutch rolled his eyes again and then smiled ruefully. “I guess I have been fighting the inevitable for a while so I deserve that reaction.”
“So what brought on this long overdue change of heart?” Starsky asked, as Hutch parked the car a few yards down the street on the opposite side to the bank.
“Well, I just thought I can’t afford to break down if I have a baby in the car. That would be dangerous and irresponsible.”
Starsky thought about doing a little more teasing but Hutch looked so serious that he relented and instead placed a hand on his shoulder.
“Of course, partner. I’d love to help you choose a safe new car suitable for the great family man you’re gonna be.”
“Thanks buddy. Saturday a good day?”
“Yep, Saturday will be great.”
“Well, I’d better get inside. See you at eleven. Oh and I don’t necessarily need the running commentary today on every person who walks past you.”
“Thought you’d like to know what’s going on outside while you’re stuck inside.”
Hutch opened the car door. “As interesting as your observations are, your constant talking makes it hard to concentrate on my job inside.”
Starsky shrugged. “Noted. But I can’t promise to stop.”
Hutch sighed then looked seriously at his partner.
“Be careful, Gordo.”
“You too, Blintz. See ya.”
Hutch nodded. He left the car, closing the door gently behind him. Starsky slipped across into the driver’s seat. He watched as Hutch walked purposefully down the street and then crossed over to enter the bank, which was just being opened up by the branch manager.
Starsky put his binoculars on the dashboard, folded the newspaper over to the sports section and checked his watch. Right on time, the pretty red-headed and brunette cashiers came up the street and entered the bank. They seemed to be great friends. He’d seen them arriving the past two days and also seen them have lunch at the café while he was there on Tuesday. He was starting to get to know people’s habits. He checked his watch again. It was time for Mr Tracksuit and his dog to appear. Right on cue, a tall man in his fifties came jogging up the street with his dark brown Chesapeake Bay Retriever keeping pace with him.
Starsky picked up his mini mic and spoke into it: “Mr Tracksuit just passed by. The florist is just about to open up. Everything running as normal out here, buddy.”
He didn’t have to hear a response from Hutch to know what his partner was probably saying under his breath. Jones, who was sat in the utility van containing their back-up, spoke from the radio.
“Thanks for the riveting update, Starsky.” The sarcasm was clear in the gruff voice.
Starsky smirked with great satisfaction. Keeping one eye on the bank, he picked up his paper and started reading an article on the Phillies Third Baseman, Mike Schmidt, who had just won the MVP award for the second time in a row. He seemed to remember Jones’ partner, Watts, was a Phillies man. He’d have to talk to him about it later.
It was almost five by the time word came through that the branch at the corner of Grant and Third had been hit but the gang had been successfully captured without anyone being hurt. Jones and Watts told Starsky they’d be glad to get back to the precinct and signed off with him. Starsky decided he’d go in and give Hutch the good news in person. He locked the Torino and crossed the street, entering the bank just as several customers came out. It was nearly closing time. He spotted Hutch over near the lift to the offices on the first floor.
“Hey buddy,” he said quietly, as he came up and stood next to his partner, “You’ll be back out of uniform tomorrow.”
“It’s over? Where’d they hit?”
“Grant and Third.”
“Babcock and Simmons and Rogers and Haynes.”
“How’d it go down?” Hutch asked, with a hint of concern. “Everyone okay?”
“All good, buddy. They’re all in custody. No injuries.”
“Good.” Hutch smiled with relief. “Well, I’ll just help shut up shop and then we can get out of here. Guess we’d better sign in at the station for the debriefing and then how about we stop at Huggy’s for a quick beer before we head home?”
“Sounds good to me.”
Starsky turned to start walking away just as three gunmen came crashing through the front door and started shouting orders at the cashier and the few customers that were left. Starsky just had time to note there were three of them, all men with dark hair and all wearing plastic animal masks that obscured their faces.
“This can’t be happening!” Starsky thought as he froze. “What are the odds of two heist in one day?”
“Everybody down on the floor! Nobody make any sudden moves. Nobody press any alarms. We won’t hurt you as long as you do exactly what we say.”
Angel pulled the car into the kerb. Hector growled, “See you in exactly ten minutes, kid. Hold your nerve and we’ll all be rich.”
Then he and the other two pulled their masks down over the faces, jumped out of the car and ran into the bank. Angel looked around nervously. He had just ten minutes to decide if he was going to stick to the plan or not. For almost three days he had been worrying at this particular bone, trying to think of a way to get out of this situation without putting himself on Hector or Luis’ hit list. If he did the job and all went according to plan, he’d be well paid, sure, and hopefully be free from Luis’ clutches once and for all but he’d lose what little bit of his soul he had left and he’d never be able to look his mother in the face again. On the other hand, if he scrammed, he’d be hunted down as the driver who left his crew at the mercy of the police, angering Hector and Luis; both people no-one in their right mind would want to mess with. What on earth could he do?
“Maria, Madre de Dios, help me,” he prayed.
As he opened his eyes, his glance fell on a grey utility van parked just along the street from the bank. The sort used by the phone or gas company or, in Angel’s brief knowledge of criminal life, the sort used by undercover police. Without a second thought, he leapt out of the car, dashed across the road between vehicles. The drivers blasted their horns at him angrily. Ignoring them, he went up to the back of the van. He could hear the engine was just starting. Angel thumped on the back as hard as he could.
The engine died and the door was opened by a man in a grey suit, who stared at him suspiciously.
“Yeah? What do you want?”
“Are you a cop?”
“No, of course not,” the thin faced man said, seeming flustered, “We’re from the phone company.”
The grey-suited man went to close the door but Angel stubbornly thrust his arm into the opening, forcing the door to stay open. He frowned and bit his lip and then said, “If you’re really from the phone company, I’m sorry for disturbing you, senor, but, if you are from the police, you might want to know I saw three men with masks just going into the bank over there.”
The door was thrown open and the man jumped out, calling back into the truck to his partner, “Watts! Contact control. There’s a robbery going down!”
“What’s your name, kid?”
“Well, Diego, you sure there were three men?”
“And did you notice what weapons they were carrying?”
Angel decided to err on the side of caution. “Not really. I think one had one of those funny shotguns, the ones that look like they’ve been cut in half. The others I’m not sure. It happened really fast.”
“Okay, thanks, kid. You’d better get out of the way.”
“Si senor,” Angel said and quickly dashed back across the street to his car before the detective could think twice about it. He started the engine and pulled out into the line of traffic as calmly and nonchalantly as he could. He would drive straight to Luis and tell him that he had spotted some police arriving and had to abandon Hector’s crew. He’d imply that a silent alarm must have been tripped and the police just happened to be in the area. Luis wouldn’t know any better and Angel would rather live with a lie than have a robbery and possible murder on his hands. Feeling relieved, Angel made his way across the city and prayed that the cops would be able to stop Hector and his friends before anyone got hurt.
Starsky started mentally making notes of the situation and the men holding up the bank. Gunman one was wearing a dog mask; Starsky instantly nicknamed him Rover. Gunman number two, who seemed to be in charge, had a dagger tattoo on his neck and was wearing a clown mask. “Too easy,” Starsky thought. The last gunman was wearing a mask that had a blue face and a white hat. Starsky had no idea what he was supposed to be so he decided to call him Bozo.
Bozo, as he was now known, saw Hutch place his hand on the butt of his gun and swung his sawn-off shotgun towards him and shouted, “Don’t do it! ‘less you got a death wish, amigo. Take the gun out slow and slide it over here. And you, you get on the floor.”
This last comment was directed at Starsky who hesitated briefly and then complied. He exchanged looks with Hutch and they silently agreed Hutch should keep the gunman happy. He heard Hutch sliding his gun across the floor. As he took stock of who was where, he gave thanks that most of the customers were already gone. He could see the men were working quickly to a pre-existing plan.
Three female cashiers were being herded out from behind their desks by Rover. Clown Face had grabbed a man in a suit, who Starsky knew to be the deputy manager, and was forcing him to unlock the door that led to the back of the bank and the vault. To the left of Starsky, an elderly man, a young woman and an older woman were all dropping to their knees and down onto the floor. Starsky was relieved to see that there were no children in the bank. To the right of Hutch, Starsky noticed a heavily pregnant young woman was standing, holding onto a rail that edged the counter that ran along the far wall of the bank.
Starsky’s attention went back to Bozo, who was just picking up Hutch’s gun. He stuffed it in the waistband of his pants and indicated Hutch should lie down. Hutch complied. Bozo took his attention off Hutch and walked towards the pregnant woman.
“You too, senora. Down on the ground.”
Starsky took the opportunity to slide slightly closer to Hutch. His attention was drawn back towards the pregnant woman when he heard her gasp in pain and fear as she tried to kneel and then gave up. Even Starsky, who didn’t know much about pregnant women, could see that she must be nearly due and there was no way she was going to be able to get on the floor without assistance.
“I-I-I’m sorry I can’t get down. I-I’ll just stand here. I won’t move, I promise.”
Looking threatening, Bozo walked closer to the woman and sneered at her. Starsky felt a protective instinct kicking in and knew the same thing was happening to his partner. “Maybe it’s worse for Hutch,” Starsky thought. “He’s probably thinking ‘what if that was Laura?’” He tried to catch Hutch’s eye but his partner was staring at Bozo and beginning to breathe hard. Hutch looked like he was desperate to intervene and might just do it. Starsky stiffened. Under his breath, Starsky muttered, “Not yet, partner, play it cool. She’s okay.”
They both waited on tenterhooks to see what the gunman would do. After a moment he tssked at the trembling woman and then finally said, “Si. You stay right there, little senora. Don’t cause trouble, we won’t trouble you.”
Hutch turned his head to exchange relieved looks with Starsky. They silently assessed the options. It was difficult to know at what point they should do attempt to do something. If Jones and Watts had already left and they were on their own, anything they tried could cause a lot of injuries to the civilians surrounding them. After all, only Starsky had his gun and they were outnumbered with no clear line of sight to the leader. Maybe it was best if they waited and attempted to do something as soon as they left the building? But then they couldn’t just let them get away, could they?
Bozo had stalked back to near the entrance and was keeping an eye on the time. “Three minutes,” he called loudly.
Rover stood in the middle of the atrium his handgun moving restlessly as he watched over the three tellers and the three customers who were all sat on the floor in front of the service counters and to Starsky’s left. Clown Face was out of sight but they could hear him in the distance barking at the Deputy Manager to hurry up. Frustration at their inability to do anything showed on both detectives’ faces but they stayed quiet, playing dumb for now.
Hutch telegraphed to Starsky, asking with his eyes if his partner thought he could take on the man guarding the largest group while he himself tried to take down Bozo. Starsky considered the distance between Hutch and Bozo and frowned at his partner. Hutch raised an eyebrow back and looked into Starsky’s eyes with confidence. “You sure?” Starsky telegraphed. Hutch held his gaze and tipped his head slightly.
Starsky trusted his partner’s judgement implicitly and nodded just enough for Hutch to see and slowly opened out his hands against the floor, revealing six fingers. Hutch nodded and then focussed his full attention, willing the man to move slightly closer to make the next few seconds easier. Bozo paced the floor slowly to the right and then back again. He paused, standing slightly closer to Hutch than he had been and checked his watch. As he went to announce that six minutes had passed, Hutch scrambled to his feet and surged forward to try to knock the masked man off his feet.
Starsky jumped up at the same time, yelling, “Police. Freeze. Drop your weapons!”
Rover swung round and fired at Starsky who responded hitting the man high in the chest. Rover dropped to his knees but he managed to hold onto his gun. There was a scream from one of the women. Starsky heard the sound of a shotgun being fired behind him and a thud but he couldn’t look to see what was going on with his partner. He had to keep his attention fixed on Rover and hope Hutch had dealt with Bozo. “Don’t think even about it!” he growled. In his head, he was wondering what on earth he was supposed to do if Clown Face came to investigate the noise of guns.
Before Rover could attempt to fire at Starsky again, Jones and Watts burst into the bank, guns held ready, yelling at both gunman to drop their weapons. Rover dropped his weapon and Starsky quickly kicked it away from him and rolled the gunman onto his front so he could cuff him. Then he turned in time to see, Watts relieving Bozo off his gun and Jones cuffing him.
“There’s one more in back, the leader, I think,” Starsky warned the other two detectives even as his eyes turned to seek out his partner. “I’ll watch these two. You go get Clown Face. Be careful.”
Starsky didn’t know how he managed to stand there when his partner was down on the floor only twelve feet away but he couldn’t do anything else. Even so it took all his willpower to keep his eyes on the gunman and not rush over to where his partner lay motionless. Every few seconds, he cast anxious glances in his partner’s direction as well as looking to see if Watts and Jones had managed to subdue the third man. Everything happening around him seemed to have slowed down to half speed but the thoughts in his mind seemed to be tumbling over each other at lightning fast speeds.
He had heard people talk about seeing their lives flash before their eyes when facing their own death but what about when you saw someone you were close to facing their end? What happened then? For Starsky it was like watching a slide show; he saw images of indelible moments spread across nine years of partnership and an even longer friendship. Was it over? It couldn’t be. It was too soon. Hutch was going to be a daddy. He had to live to see his kid grow up. He had to be alive to see Starsky have his own family and watch their kids grow up together. They had to go on camping trips together. Hutch was always threatening this activity and Starsky was always swearing he’d never go camping again but, secretly, he couldn’t wait to do just that. Camping with Hutch, camping with their kids, camping with their grandkids.
“Damn it, Hutch, don’t you be dead. We’ve got too much to look forward to. It’s too soon to lose you.”
As if the pregnant lady could hear his thoughts, she smiled at him comfortingly and said, “I’ll see how he’s doing, shall I?” She started to move towards Hutch. In the distance, Starsky could hear sirens approaching and knew that help was at last on the way. Reaching Hutch’s side, the young woman ran her eyes over Hutch’s face and body then looked at Starsky, saying, “I can’t see any blood anywhere. He’s definitely breathing.”
Starsky nodded at her gratefully. Then he heard a groan coming from his partner and relaxed ever so slightly. Thank heaven for the nine lives they both seem to have, just like cats. “Although,” Starsky thought, “we must have nearly used all our lives up by now. Tell you what, partner, you and me gotta have a serious discussion about wearing Kevlar when we go out on these sorts of jobs in the future.”
Watts and Jones came striding through from the back of the bank, pushing Clown Face ahead of them just as several uniformed officers came warily into the building. Starsky quickly handed over the responsibility for the gunmen to other hands and rushed over to assess Hutch, who was just beginning to come round. He thanked the woman still standing watch over his partner and waved a young police officer over to take care of her.
“Hutch? Where are ya hurt?” Starsky’s voice was filled with fear and his hands were trembling as he reached out to hold Hutch’s upper arms.
Hutch sat up slowly and then pulled open his jacket and showed Starsky the bullet mashed into the Kevlar vest he was wearing. “I’m all right. Just knocked the wind out of me and I think I bumped my head when I hit the floor. I must have blacked out for a minute. Thank god Dobey told me I had to wear this thing!”
Starsky felt his eyes filling and tried to smile.
“Hey, partner, you all right?” Hutch was looking at him with concern.
Starsky wiped at his eyes. “Yeah, absolutely fine and mightily relieved I don’t have to tell Mac you’re in the hospital again!”
Starsky’s words were light but the squeeze he gave Hutch’s shoulder told a different story.
Hutch nodded. “Not going anywhere, buddy. And I think we need to have a chat about both of us wearing these things when we answer calls where guns are involved. I want to live long enough to take our kids camping!”
Starsky snorted as he pulled Hutch to his feet. “Camping! I keep telling ya, you can take the kids but I’ll stay home with my creature comforts, thank you very much. Your head all right or do you need to be seen by a doctor?”
Hutch shook his head. “No hospitals! I’m fine, honest. Let’s get out of here and write up our report. Should make interesting reading, especially the parts I missed.”
As they walked past Bozo, Starsky paused and said, “Who were you supposed to be anyway?”
The man shrugged but the policeman next to him spoke up: “He’s a smurf.”
Starsky and Hutch looked at him blankly.
“You know? The Smurfs? It’s a new cartoon that’s out. My kids love it.”
“Never heard of it,” Starsky said, “But I’ll look out for it.”
They passed Watts and Jones and Starsky thanked them for coming to their assistance.
“How come you were still here?” Starsky wanted to know.
“You’re lucky we were!” Jones said. “We were just about to head out when some kid banged on the van door and told us there was a robbery going down.”
“Don’t know. Just some kid named Diego. He probably saved your lives.”
“Well, whoever he was, we’re grateful to him and to you.”
“Glad we could help.”
“Any sign of the getaway driver?” Hutch asked.
“No, we didn’t notice anyone outside. Uniform haven’t said they found anyone. He must have got spooked.”
“Must have. See you back at Metro.”
The detectives nodded to each other and Starsky and Hutch walked outside into the sunshine. As they left the bank behind and crossed over to Hutch’s car, Starsky flung an arm around Hutch’s shoulder briefly and said with feeling, “Glad you’re still here, buddy…and about the vests? I think you’re right. It’s time we were both a bit more careful.”
Angel drove across the city at exactly the legal speed limit. No point getting caught out now by doing something stupid. He pulled the car into a quiet side street and walked the last couple of blocks to Bar Paradisio. Bulldozer frowned at him as he came through the doors and raised an eyebrow questioningly.
“I need to see Luis. It’s urgent,” Angel said.
Bulldozer slowly stood up and then walked through to the back rooms. Angel waited, trying not to look nervous. Bulldozer returned and waved him through. Angel was relieved when the giant man didn’t follow him.
Luis was sat at his desk, looking through a folder which he closed when Angel entered.
“Angel? I didn’t expect to see you today? I assume something went wrong?”
“Si, Luis. Someone must have seen Hector and his friends or maybe someone in the bank set off an alarm. I don’t know! All I know is the police arrived a couple of minutes after we got there. I left before they could investigate the cars parked near the bank. I didn’t know what else to do. I’m sorry Luis. I will give you back the money you paid me.”
Luis stared at him for a long moment and then reached for a short, thin cigar. He lit a match and held it to the clipped end of the cigarillo until it caught. Then he puffed once. Twice. He turned his attention back to Angel but his face had softened slightly.
“You did the right thing, Angel. No point in you being caught as well.” Luis waved a nonchalant hand at him. “Keep the money. You did your part. It’s not your fault if the police turned up. Sometimes these plans work, sometimes they don’t.” He shrugged.
Angel bobbed his head up and down and said, “Thank you, Luis. That’s very generous of you.”
“De nada. You can go. Enjoy your evening and give Florencia my best.” He dismissed the young man with a nod of his head and turned his attention to his papers.
Angel waited until he was well away from the bar before he breathed a sigh of relief and allowed himself a small smile. Hopefully, working for Luis was a thing of the past. He would try very hard to keep out of his way and get on with living a normal life. Maybe when he’d saved a bit more money, he would see if he could persuade his mother to move somewhere a little further away from Luis’ kingdom. For now, he would just keep his head down, work hard and hope for the best. Feeling lighter, Angel started to whistle as he walked the last few yards to his car.
Later in the squad room, having written up their report, both Starsky and Hutch were bemused to find their hands being shaken very hard by Mr Hendrickson.
“Oh lads, I can’t tell you how happy Head Office will be to hear you thwarted the second attempt on our other branch! I can’t believe there were two heists in one day. What are the odds, lads?”
Starsky nodded, knowing he had asked himself exactly the same question earlier.
“Well, Mr Hendrickson, we think the second crew used the other heist as a sort of diversion,” Hutch explained. “Somehow they found out that was going down and used it to their advantage. Or at least we think that was their idea.”
“I see, I see. Call me Fred. And you’re all right Detective Hutchinson? No lasting effects from being knocked out.”
“No, I’m fine, Mr-Fred, thank you for your concern.”
“Well, thank you both again. I can go report back to Birmingham with my mind at ease.”
Dobey escorted Mr Hendrickson out of the squad room. He came back a few minutes later just as both of his detectives were reaching for their jackets. He stood by their desk and glowered at them.
“I realise that you were in a very difficult position but I think your decision to take down the gunmen was reckless. You could have caused injury to the civilians around you and yourselves.”
Starsky started to protest but Dobey interrupted, “That said, it was a very brave thing to do and it worked out well so I’ll say no more about it.”
Both detectives nodded and said, “Thanks.”
Dobey focussed on Hutch. “Glad you obeyed my order, Hutchinson.”
“Me too, sir.”
“Me three, Cap,” Starsky added, earning a frown from Dobey. “I mean it, Cap. Hutch and I have talked about it and, if you’ll approve it, we’re going to requisition two vests to keep in our car for emergencies.”
“Good idea,” Dobey said. “It’s not compulsory yet but it’s coming and not before time in my opinion. Far too many lives it could save for it not to become standard procedure.”
“So you’ll sign the form?” Starsky waved it under the captain’s nose. “Only Bigelow treats Kevlar vests like they’re the crown jewels. He won’t give them out without your signature.”
“Pass it here,” Dobey said. He took the form and signed it. “Now, get out of here, you two. You deserve your evening off.”
Hutch looked around the room and saw that they were alone. “Er Captain. We’re not making this general knowledge quite yet but Laura and I are expecting a baby. This June.”
Dobey blinked and then his face broke into a huge smile. He grabbed Hutch’s hand and shook it vigorously. “I’m thrilled for you, son. There’s no better feeling in the world than being a father. May I tell Edith? We won’t tell the children or anyone else until you say we can. But Edith will be so happy for you and I’d like her to know.”
Hutch smiled with gratitude for Dobey’s excitement and genuine pleasure for him.
“Of course, I think that’s a good idea. Please do tell Edith and we’ll let you know when we’re telling everybody. Laura just wants to wait until she’s a couple more weeks along.”
Dobey hurried into his office and picked up the phone on his desk. As they left the squad room, Hutch heard him say, “Edith, my dear, I have some wonderful news!”
Hutch combed his hair into place and then checked his reflection in the mirror. He stared at himself, acknowledging the sombre colours he was wearing and the reason for it. Today was the day, he and Starsky were going to pay their final respects to ‘Lijah. He still couldn’t believe that he wouldn’t ever see again the familiar bent figure looking through the trash for bottles and cans. ‘Lijah had become a fixture in his life; someone he’d expected to always be around, a bit like the beach or the pier or the park. ‘Lijah just was part of the landscape.
It was strange to know that ‘Lijah had had a whole other life before he came to Bay City. Why this was, Hutch couldn’t say, as he had often wondered about the life stories of the people he came across during his work day, especially the transients. Hutch wondered what had led each one of them to live on the streets. In some cases, it was clear that alcohol or drugs were at the root but, in others, the reasons were hidden behind silent faces that often tried to remain invisible and unknown. Why shouldn’t ‘Lijah have had a past, been a young man with hopes and aspirations? He hadn’t always been an old man. ‘Lijah had kept his story to himself but he hadn’t been unfriendly and, although wary of Hutch and his partner at their first meeting, he had quickly got used to their visits and their little attempts to make his life a bit easier.
He’d begun to look out for them and was always ready to stop for a chat. Now of course, Hutch knew that he had also helped his fellow homeless friends just as he had helped lost students when he’d been a teacher. Hutch felt sad, knowing that ‘Lijah had spent so long away from his family and friends. Maybe he should have done more to find out his past and try to contact a family member before it was too late? He knew it was futile to think such thoughts. He and Starsky did what they could but the homeless community in the back alleys of Bay City was a vast problem. If the city council and the various charities and missions couldn’t solve the problem, what hope did two inner city cops have?
He heard a horn beeping outside and realised that time had gone by and Starsky had arrived to collect him. He hurriedly pulled on his dark grey jacket and headed out to where Starsky sat waiting in his car. When he got in, Starsky started the engine and drove in the direction of St Peter’s church on Gordon Street to pick up Charles and Monroe. Starsky was wearing his best black jeans and his smartest going-to-court jacket.
“Hey, buddy, how are ya?” Starsky asked.
“Fine. The bruise has nearly gone.”
“That’s good but I was wondering more about what’s been going on in your head. I reckon I could hear your thoughts from home. How many times have you berated yourself for not finding out more about ‘Lijah before it was too late? Bet you thought you could have got him reconciled with Missy. Am I right?”
Hutch half sighed, half chuckled. “Yeah, I had a few thoughts along those lines…but I reckon you must have too or you wouldn’t be asking me.”
“Ah,” Starsky sounded flummoxed. “Ya got me. Yeah, I been thinking maybe we should have asked him more questions but I know he wouldn’t have answered. He was probably scared to let anyone get too close after what he’d been through.”
Hutch nodded, agreeing with that little bit of insight. “Yeah, you’re right,” he sighed. “We just have to remember we did our best and we’re taking his friends to say goodbye to him. We’ve done as much as we can under the circumstances, I guess.”
Starsky nodded and the two of them settled into companionable silence.
The service for ‘Lijah was held at Missy’s local church in Santa Barbara. It was where he and his wife had occasionally attended, and where Missy and Martin had been christened. The place was packed. It wasn’t a surprise to Starsky and Hutch now that they knew more about ‘Lijah’s past so they’d been prepared for it to be a full house. Charles and Monroe hadn’t known quite what to expect and were almost overwhelmed but Missy had thought to save them chairs towards one side of the church and they settled in them gratefully.
The minister, who was relatively new to the church, gave a short eulogy from stories Missy had told him and then invited anyone who wanted to speak to come forward. Two colleagues from ‘Lijah’s teaching days stood and gave moving tributes to Edgar’s abilities as a teacher and his caring attitude to his students. One former student also stood up and said how Mr Houseman had encouraged him when many other people had given him up as a lost cause and how grateful he was. There was a tiny pause and then Charles and Monroe stood up together and walked slowly down to the front.
“What we’ve heard today,” Charles said, “doesn’t surprise us. ‘Lijah, as we knew him, was always cleverer than the rest of us but he never made us feel stupid. Just shared his knowledge, the same way he’d buy me a cup of coffee if he was lucky enough to be given money. We shared a lot of wet days and cold nights but we also shared warm meals at the mission, a laugh over the cartoons in the papers we collected, and a friendly chat on nights when we were feeling lonely. He was my best pal and I’ll miss him.”
Charles looked at Monroe and gave him a little nod and a nudge. Monroe turned away from the sea of faces and looked instead at ‘Lijah’s coffin. When he spoke, it was almost too quiet to hear: “Thank you, ‘Lijah, for teaching me to read. I’ll never forget you done that for me. You’re with your wife and your boy now. Be at peace.”
The two men shuffled back to their places as the minister thanked everyone who had spoken and announced the last hymn. Starsky surreptitiously wiped at his eyes and from beside him heard a hard swallow and a sniff. He kept his eyes focussed ahead. Seeing Hutch upset would destroy any chance he had of holding himself together. As the service finished, ‘Lijah’s coffin was carried out of the church to the waiting car to take him to his final resting place, a plot next to his beloved wife and son.
The journey back to Bay City was mostly made in silence, all four men were thinking about ‘Lijah and remembering different things about him. As they got close to where they were going to drop Charles and Monroe, Hutch finally spoke and handed a small card to Charles, “This is my number, Charles. If you ever need anything, please call me.”
Starsky coughed slightly and glanced at Hutch.
“Pal, can you…?”
Hutch reached into the top pocket of Starsky’s suit and extracted the card that Starsky had placed in there earlier. He handed the card over to Monroe, who took it with slightly trembling fingers.
Charles said, “Thank you. That’s very kind of you. ‘Lijah often said how kind you both were and now I’ve seen it for myself. Nobody else would have bothered to tell us when the service was, let alone take us to it. Thank you so much.”
Hutch nodded, slightly embarrassed. “Glad to help.”
Starsky looked in the mirror and caught Monroe’s gaze. He nodded at him and Monroe nodded back. They’d reached the corner of Clancy Street and Starsky pulled the car over. The two men got out and said their farewells. As Starsky pulled away from the kerb and drove the Torino towards Hutch’s home, Hutch placed a hand on his shoulder and left it there.
On a Saturday in April, the Dobeys invited the Starskys and the Hutchinsons to come and share brunch with them as it would be Edith’s birthday the next day. They’d brought her flowers, chocolates and a new vase between them and Edith had looked suitably embarrassed and pleased at all the fuss being made of her. Once they’d eaten, Cal and Rosie went outside to play for a few minutes while the adults finished their coffees, but not before making Starsky and Hutch promise that they’d play ball with them before they went home.
Edith asked Laura if she’d like to come into the kitchen with her and see some baby clothes that she’d put by for her. Before they could leave the room, Starsky looked at Ali enquiringly. She nodded at him and he stood up.
“Before the party breaks up, I wanted to tell ya something. I hope ya don’t mind me horning in on your celebration, Edith, but Ali and I have some good news we wanted to share with all of you. We’re expecting a baby. We just found out.”
There was a general hubbub of congratulatory words and noises as everyone expressed their pleasure and excitement. Hutch wrapped his arm around Starsky’s shoulder and beamed at him.
“That’s great news, Starsk. When’s it due?”
“That’s great. You’re going to be a daddy too. At least with me getting a small head start, you can learn from mistakes. I’m sure I’ll make plenty!”
Hutch noticed Starsky’s grin diminish a little.
“Hey,” he whispered, “What’s up?”
“I’m excited but I’m worried I’ll be no good at being a dad, babe. Pop died when I was so young so I got no role model really…and I ain’t that good with kids. Not like you are.”
Hutch looked at him with open disbelief. He spoke softly but firmly in his partner’s ear, “First, you’re great with kids. Rosie and Cal adore you because, let’s face it, you are just a big kid.”
This drew a snort from Starsky.
“And second of all, you’ve got at least two great role models I can think of. What about your Uncle Al – bringing you up can’t have been a picnic but somehow he managed it.”
This earned another snort from Starsky. “And the other?”
Hutch nodded towards Dobey. “You’re looking at him, right over there.”
Starsky nodded as he looked at his captain, who was kissing his wife’s cheek and telling her how pleased he was. As if he felt their eyes on him, Dobey turned to look at them and walked over to shake Starsky’s hand.
Dobey pulled his handkerchief out of his pocket and wiped his face and neck in a gesture they both knew all too well. As he shoved the cotton square back in his pocket, he spoke quietly, “I think you are both going to be excellent fathers. I know Edith and I aren’t family but if you ever need any advice from us, we’d be happy to help. Especially my lovely wife who is really the brains of this household,” Dobey said, holding his hand out to Edith, who blushed and took it.
Edith offered shyly, “I’ll always be available for babysitting, if you need me.”
Hutch looked at Starsky with a raised eyebrow and Starsky winked back. Suddenly, they both wrapped their arms around Dobey and Edith and hugged them tight.
“Thank you both,” Starsky said and then added, “Auntie Edith, Uncle Harold?”
“How about Grandma Edith, Grandpa Harold?” Hutch suggested.
Edith shook with laughter and Dobey roared, “Let go of me! Both of you! Don’t forget I’m your captain!”
The pair of them stepped back and mock saluted, which made Edith laugh even more.
Starsky said, “I think we’d better go and find Cal and Rosie, Hutch, before the Cap here puts us on report.”
“Good idea,” Dobey said gruffly, but he couldn’t hide the little twinkle in his eye.
Laughing, his surrogate sons went outside to find his children and keep their promise to play ball. Dobey poured himself another cup of coffee and settled back down at the table, still shaking his head. As she passed on her way to the kitchen with Laura and Ali, Edith patted her husband’s shoulder and gave him a peck on the cheek.
It was the beginning of June and the weather was fine; just the right temperature. Not so hot that they felt uncomfortable having to wear an extra layer of clothing to hide their guns. And not so hot that they resented being on duty. It wasn’t quite lazy beach weather yet but it wasn’t far off. Starsky and Hutch had been on early shift and had already dealt with a suspected domestic abuse call and had now stopped for a coffee break when a call came in from dispatch.
“Zebra Three. Switch to Tac Two for Captain Dobey.”
Starsky answered. “Zebra Three switching to Tac Two. Ready to receive, over.”
“Dobey here. Hutchinson. Your wife called. She’s at the hospital.”
Hutch ripped the mic out of Starsky’s hands. “What? What happened?”
“She’s gone into labour.”
“B-But the baby’s not due for another ten days.”
“Sometimes they come early, son.”
Starsky snorted as he heard the amusement in Dobey’s voice. He glanced at his partner, whose face had lost a lot of its colour. He seemed to be paralysed. Starsky eased the radio mic out of his partner’s white-knuckled hand.
“We’re on our way to the hospital, Cap. Show us off duty.”
“Already done,” Dobey said. “Give me an update when you get there, Starsky. Over and out.”
Starsky put the mic down and looked at his partner.
“Hutch? What are you waiting for?”
His partner looked at him with panic. “What do I do?”
Starsky bit back a laugh and said not so gently, “First, you start the engine and then you drive to the hospital. Your baby’s coming and you need to be there.”
“Oh…oh right.” Hutch started the engine and pulled out into the traffic without really looking. A cab blasted its horn at them.
“On second thoughts, pull over and I’ll drive.”
Hutch was now speeding along the street. “What? Why? I’m driving fast enough even by your standards!”
“Yeah, but my car’s made for speed and this isn’t. I’d like for us to get there in one piece, Blintz!”
Starsky paced the floor, watched by Ali who had an amused smile on her face.
“How long’s it going to take?” Starsky demanded.
“It takes as long as it takes,” Ali said with a shrug. “Look, why don’t we go and get a drink from the cafeteria and then come back up. It will probably be a while.”
Starsky looked uncertain and then acquiesced. “All right.”
After an hour, they returned to the waiting area outside the maternity department. Starsky popped to the phones to ring Dobey to say there was no news yet and then came back. He sat and chatted to Ali for a while. Huggy appeared after a bit and the three of them chatted and tried to wait patiently.
Starsky was just getting restless and thinking about jumping up and pacing again when Hutch appeared, following a nurse who had opened the doors for him. In his arms he held a small bundle. Hutch’s smile was about the biggest and brightest Starsky had ever seen it.
“Starsk, Ali, Huggy. I’d like you to meet our son.”
They all came hurrying over and peered down at the tiny wrapped up baby. They could just see his slightly scrunched up face and that he had very fine blond hair on his scalp. Ali kissed Hutch on the cheek and congratulated him.
Huggy said, “Congratulations, compadre. I think fatherhood is going to suit you.”
Starsky peered at the small bundle for a few more seconds, apparently mesmerised, and then whispered, “He’s so small.”
“He sure is,” Hutch said.
Finally tearing his eyes away, Starsky looked up and said, “What’s his name?”
“This is Benjamin David Hutchinson.”
Huggy grinned and said, “Great name, don’t you think so, Starsky, my man?”
As the name sunk in, Starsky swallowed but didn’t say anything. He was so choked up he couldn’t speak for a long while. He just hugged Hutch with one arm, Ali with the other, and grinned.
A few hours later, there was a gentle tapping and Dobey put his head around the door of Laura’s room.
“May I come in?” he whispered.
“Of course, Harold,” Laura answered with a smile. “Hutch has just gone to phone his folks. He’ll be back in a minute.”
Dobey walked over to Laura and kissed her on the cheek. “Congratulations, my dear. I trust you are both well.”
“We’re both very well. Ben’s asleep in the cot there if you want to have a look at him,” Laura suggested.
Dobey went and peered into the cot. “He’s perfect. I remember Cal when he was just born. I remember feeling as if my heart was filled with all the love in the universe and then, at the same time, the realisation of the huge responsibility to love him, keep him safe from harm and bring him up right.”
“And you’ve done a great job,” Hutch stated as he came into the room and heard the end of Dobey’s speech.
The big man flushed and nodded awkwardly. He was saved from further embarrassment by the sound of the baby beginning to stir. Hutch came over and stood by his captain and they both stared at the gradually waking infant.
“Before he needs feeding, would you like to hold him, Harold?” Laura asked.
“Oh no, that’s all right,” Dobey said. He tried for an indifferent tone but it was less than convincing.
Hutch pulled a chair over. “Here, sit down and I’ll get him for you.”
“Well, all right, maybe just for a minute and then I will leave you in peace,” Dobey said. “I’m sure Laura needs her rest.”
He sat quickly in the chair and settled himself in the best position to hold the small bundle he was being offered. He held the baby carefully but confidently with the look of a man who had lovingly held his own children many times.
“Hello, Ben,” He whispered. “Welcome to the world. You’re going to have a very happy life because you’ve got two amazingly kind people as your parents.”
Hutch blinked back tears and looked at his wife. She nodded at him. Hutch turned back to Dobey.
“Sir, we were wondering if you and Edith would do us the honour of being Ben’s godparents.”
Dobey didn’t say anything for a few minutes and when he spoke, his words were thick with emotion, “I think I can speak for Edith when I say it would be our privilege. Thank you very much for asking us.”
Ben started to make louder noises, becoming increasingly demanding and Dobey handed the baby over to Hutch who took him over to the bed to give to Laura. Dobey wiped his damp eyes with a handkerchief and then said, “Well, congratulations to both of you. Have a peaceful evening and enjoy getting to know your new son. I’ll bring Edith to visit tomorrow if I may.”
“That would be lovely,” Laura said.
Hutch walked Dobey out. As they paused just outside the door, Dobey said, “Congratulations again, son.”
“Thank you, sir.”
With a quick pat to Hutch’s back, Dobey nodded goodbye and Hutch went back happily into the room to join Laura and his new son; his family.