Starsky was waiting at the door when the Records Bureau opened the next morning. The woman who let him in gestured him to a chair and then proceeded to be very busy making coffee.
"Excuse me," he said after a few minutes, "I need some information—"
"You'll have to wait for Mr. McCaffery," she broke in briskly. "I'm the secretary."
"But if you could just . . . ." His voice dwindled off when he realized that she wasn't paying him any attention. He lit a cigarette and slumped farther down into the plastic chair. There was no ashtray in sight, so he used the cuff of his jeans to dispose of the ashes.
It was nearly fifteen minutes before the door opened again and a short plump man in a yellow-and-brown plaid suit came in. Starsky jumped to his feet. "Mr. McCaffery?" he said.
"Yes. Just a moment, please. I'll have my coffee, Miss Harris." He took the cup she handed him and positioned himself behind the counter. He next spent several minutes carefully arranging paper and sharpened pencils in front of him. Not until the entire counter was aligned to his satisfaction did he look up with a practiced smile. "Yes, sir?"
Starsky, who'd been watching all of the little man's machinations in disbelief, sighed. "I wonder if you could give me some information."
"We always endeavor to be helpful."
"I'm trying to find a record of either a divorce or a marriage for Maura and Rico Gonzalez. Specifically, I'm attempting to track down Maura Gonzalez's maiden name."
McCaffery was nodding as Starsky spoke. "And may I inquire as to why you are seeking this information?"
He took out his wallet and flipped it open. "I'm Arnie Schwartz."
"A private detective?" McCaffery studied the license and then Starsky carefully. "Are you investigating a crime?"
"I'm trying to find someone who may have witnessed a crime, yes."
"I see." McCaffery rubbed his double chin thoughtfully. "What year did the marriage take place?"
"I don't know. The divorce is recent, within the past six months or so. It may not even have been granted yet."
They decided, therefore, to start with the divorce records. It was a path that quickly led nowhere. If, indeed, the Gonzalez's had filed for divorce it had not been within this county.
Starsky received the news with a sigh, but no great sense of surprise.
That would have been too easy. "Well, we better try the marriage licenses, I guess," he said.
"Oh, dear, that does complicate matters, if you have no idea at all when the marriage took place, because all of those files are arranged chronologically by year."
"Oh, dear," Starsky echoed. "Well, why don't we just start with the records beginning five years ago and work our way forward?"
McCaffery nodded, reaching for paper and pencil. "The names again?"
"Gonzalez. Maura and Rico."
"Very good, Mr. Schwartz, if you could come back the day after tomorrow—"
"What? Hey, I need this like now," Starsky said.
"Well, I'm sorry, but we do have other work and—"
Starsky tapped the counter sharply. "Look, could I go through the records myself?"
"That' s not usual . . ."
"This could be a matter of life and death," Starsky said, feeling like a TV hero. And also like an idiot. Except that it was true.
McCaffery pursed his lips. "Well, all right. Come this way." He led Starsky to a small table in the back room and indicated several file drawers. "Maybe what you need is in there."
"Thanks," Starsky said, yanking open the first drawer. McCaffery watched him for a moment and then went about his own supposedly more urgent duties.
Sam Kramer made a quiet, unemotional opening to the defense's case. In it, he characterized Ken Hutchinson as a dedicated, compassionate young police officer, bewildered by the web of accusation in which he had so inexplicably found himself entangled. Hutch listened for a few moments and then picked up the green Spree. Instead of drawing pictures this time though, he carefully printed across the top of the page NOTES ON THE K. WRIGHT MURDER. Pausing to think, he chewed on the end of the pen and watched as McPherson was sworn in and took the stand. The testimony began, but Hutch was only half-aware of it, like a radio talk show going on in the next room.
"Dr. McPherson, what is your official capacity?"
"I serve as a staff psychologist for the Los Angeles Police Department."
"And in that job, what is your primary function?"
"To serve as a . . . well, as a sounding board for the men and women on the force. Being a police officer is not an easy job, never has been, and it's getting harder everyday."
Hutch wrote a neat number one on the left side of the page.
"You advise the officers?"
"I suppose you could say that, yes."
"They come to you with mental problems?"
"With emotional problems. Caused by the stresses of the job."
"I see. Not an easy task, I imagine, dealing with those people."
"Not easy, no. But I find it rewarding."
1. WHO KILLED KIMBERLY WRIGHT?
"I'm sure. Doctor, in your official capacity did you ever have occasion to meet with Mr. Hutchinson?"
"Yes. Ken paid me several visits, a number of visits, over a five-month period."
"What were your impressions of the defendant?"
2. MOTIVES: SEX? MONEY? JEALOUSY?
"I found him to be an intelligent, capable young man."
"Burdened by the stresses you mentioned earlier?"
"To some degree, yes."
3. WITNESSES: MAURA?
"Why did he come to you? Let me rephrase that. Did he come voluntarily or was it at the order of his superior?"
"He same on his own."
4. STARSKY SNATCH RELATED? HOW?
"Ken was going through some difficult times."
"Can you be more specific?"
"He was doubtful that the work he was doing was entirely worthwhile. A not uncommon feeling among police officers, I might add. Also, his partner had recently suffered a near-fatal injury in the line of duty. Ken was . . . very upset by that."
Hutch stared at what he'd written, feeling like there was something to be found there, if only he knew what to look for.
"What form did the defendant's difficulties take?"
"I beg your pardon?"
"How did his problems manifest themselves?"
"In rather traditional ways. Difficulty sleeping. Loss of appetite. Depression. Primarily depression."
"You treated Mr. Hutchinson for these problems?"
"We discussed his feelings in some detail. Frequently that's all that is necessary, someone to listen."
"The prosecution has attempted to portray Kenneth Hutchinson as a cold-blooded killer with a badge. A man so used to violence and death that he thought nothing of murdering a young woman who refused his sexual advances. Does that in any way tally with your own impressions?"
"Absolutely not. Ken is . . . he is actually repelled by violence. That's one reason why he came to me in the first place. He's basically a very gentle young man."
"Not a killer?"
Hutch went back to number three again. WITNESSES: MAURA? He added some more words, writing precisely. THE ONES WHO TOOK STARSK??? Then he underlined the words.
"Doctor McPherson, a few questions. The defense attorney claims that Hutchinson is incapable of random violence. You agree?"
"How many men has he killed in his life?"
"I have no idea."
"He never said?"
"It didn't concern him?"
"Of course it did. But as a police officer he had come to realize that some violence, some death, is almost inevitable."
"I see. Was he cured of his emotional problems when he left your care?"
"I must clarify . . . he was not 'under my care' in the way you mean. He simply visited me to talk about some of the things that were troubling him."
"Very well. We accept your . . . clarification. Was he less troubled by the time you released him from care?"
"It was his decision to stop coming in."
"Did you agree?"
"I felt . . . I felt at the time that he could have been helped by further visits. It wasn't my decision to make, however."
"You felt no compunctions about letting a man with emotional problems operate as an officer of the law and carry a gun?"
"No. He was fully competent."
"Why did he quit coming to see you?"
"He felt . . . well, his partner was coming hack to work and Ken felt capable of dealing with his . . . doubts on his own."
"What was your opinion?"
Hutch was aware of a long pause. He carefully tore off the sheet of paper upon which he'd been writing, folded it, and tucked it into his pocket. His blue gaze, vaguely curious, rested upon McPherson. "My opinion was—and still is—that Ken Hutchinson is a basically moral, gentle man, who went into police work because he saw an opportunity to help those who needed it. A man who had suffered innumerable disillusionments, who had faced death frequently, who had been threatened with the loss of his partner, also a close friend. A sad man."
"And possibly a desperate man. Thank you, Doctor."
Court was adjourned for lunch.
McCaffery went to lunch, but the secretary ate a sandwich at her desk, watching Starsky with flat gray eyes. The search went slowly, but finally Starsky found what he was looking for, a marriage license issued to Rico Gonzalez and Maura Kennedy. He read it swiftly, smiling a little. Miss Harris seemed to sense a threat in his happiness.
"You may not remove any files from this office," she said.
"Don't need to," he mumbled. "I'm done."
He went from there to the drugstore on the corner. Before sitting at the lunch counter, he pulled the phone book from the booth. He ordered a cheeseburger and as he waited for it, his eyes studied the book. There were six Kennedys listed in the San Manuel directory and Starsky jotted down each number and address. When he paid for the cheeseburger, he took his change in dimes.
He ate quickly, then shut himself in the booth and began dialing. It took five calls. "Hello," he said for the fifth time. "May I speak to Maura, please?"
"Maura ain't here," a husky female voice said.
Starsky grinned to himself. "When will she be back?"
"She ain't coming back." The woman hung up.
Starsky left the drugstore and walked back to his car; he walked with a slight swagger in his step. He was beginning to smell success. The address he had was in an area that once would have been known as being on the wrong side of the tracks. It was a description that still fit. The house was a small wooden shack dumped in the middle of a sparse lawn littered with the skeletons of two cars, several bicycles, and the bulk of an old icebox. Starsky picked his way through the junkyard to the door and knocked.
"Yeah?" It was the same husky voice. She came to the door, a skinny woman wrapped in a filthy cotton bathrobe, carrying a glass in one hand.
He flashed the I.D. which she was too drunk to see anyway. "I'm trying to find Maura Kennedy."
She took a gulp of the drink. "What the hell is this, National Maura Kennedy Day?"
"I'm the one who called."
"I want to ask you some questions about Maura."
After a moment she shrugged and stepped aside. "Come in."
The living room smelled of whiskey, stale food, and, faintly, soiled diapers. A restlessly sleeping baby was propped carelessly in an over-stuffed chair.
"My daughter's kid," the woman said. "Bet you'd never think I was a grandmother, wouldya?"
He figured the question was rhetorical. Shifting a pile of un-ironed laundry, he sat down on the sofa. "Maura?"
"My niece. But I brung her up from six months on, after my brother-in-law and his wife was killed. Took her in like she was my own. And what thanks do I get?"
This question she apparently expected an answer to.
"What thanks?" he said right on cue.
"No thanks at all, that's what. She was always a smart-mouthed brat. Giving herself airs. Thinking she was better than the rest of us. Making up stories. Why, one day she done told all the neighbors she was the illegitimate daughter of the Queen of England, if you please." The woman snorted drunkenly.
"Where is Maura now?"
"Who knows? She come running back here after that Spic husband of hers kicked her out, but my husband said she made her own bed, let her lay in it. So she got a room somewheres."
"When was the last time you saw her?"
"Gee, I don't know for sure. Been awhile. I think she left town."
"Did she ever mention a man named Lucas?"
"Mebbe . . . she always had some man or another hanging around. But I don't remember any names."
Starsky glanced around the room and felt a sudden sympathy for the girl Maura trying to escape this place. "If she did leave town, do you have any idea where she might go?"
The woman shook her head and Starsky got to his feet. He scribbled his name and phone number on a piece of paper.
"If you hear from her, will you call me at this number?" He paused before adding, "There'll be something in it for you."
She took the paper and tucked it into the pocket of her robe. "Okay."
"I can let myself out." He cast one look at the whimpering baby and left. Back in the car, he sat for a moment, glad to be out of the filthy, depressing house and away from the woman. He lit a cigarette. So he had a name. Maura Kennedy. A girl who probably left town. Possibly with a man. A man named Lucas? Maybe. Maybe not. Some of his earlier confidence began to seep away.
Sighing, he started the car and pulled away.
They caught up with him in McDonald's when he stopped to have a cup of coffee and mull over his next step. He had just started to eat the hot apple pie when the two men slid into the booth, one next to him and the other across the table. It was a good technique; Hutch and he had used it a lot.
"How's the pie?" one asked casually.
"Depends," Starsky replied.
"How hungry are you?" He took another bite and chewed thoughtfully.
"Let me guess," he said around the bite. "This is a survey of San Manuel's classier eating places and you want my opinion. Right?"
The man next to him was playing with several sugar packets. He looked like a cheap muscle man crammed into as expensive suit. "Wrong. Guess again, Schwartz."
"Gee, you know my name. What can I call you?"
"How about sir?"
"How about turkey?" Starsky finished the pie and swiped crumbs from his face. "Look, this has been fun and we gotta do it again real soon, but I have places to go and things to do, so . . . ." He started to slide out and was not the least bit surprised when the turkey didn't move to let him by. "Yeah?" he said wearily.
"Somebody wants to talk to you."
Starsky picked up one of the sugar packets and twisted it in his fingers. "Well, I'll tell you something. The last time somebody wanted to 'talk' to me, I ended up with four stitches in my head. Conversations like that get a little boring."
"This is just for talk, that's all."
Starsky didn't really have to think about it at all. He was foundering and he knew it. There wasn't much he could tell anybody. On the other hand, he stood to maybe learn something that might help. "Okay," he said cheerfully. "Where's this talk supposed to come down?"
A very large black car was parked behind the building. It didn't look like whoever was inside just dropped in for a quarter-pounder with cheese. The turkey opened the back door and Starsky got in. A slender, grey-haired man in a pale green suit sat there, smoking a thin black cigar. "Mr. Schwartz, I assume?"
Starsky nodded. "Yeah. How come everybody knows my name and I don't know who any of you are?"
"My name is Owen Wright."
This was no big surprise. "Kimberly was your daughter."
"Yes. So maybe you can understand why I'm anxious to know why a cheap detective named Arnie Schwartz is snooping around the case." Wright exhaled a grey cloud toward Starsky.
Starsky pulled the cigarette pack from his pocket, took one out, and lit it with deliberation. "Maybe I just like to snoop."
"Word is you don't think Hutchinson did it."
"I know he didn't."
"How do you happen to know that?"
Starsky almost told him the truth—I know it because Hutch is my partner and I know him even better than I know myself and he isn't a killer. But he didn't say any of that; instead, he just struck an Arnie Schwartz pose and blew smoke across the car toward Wright. "Let's just say I know it," he mumbled.
"Well, you're wrong."
"Who are you working for?"
Starsky grinned. "I may be a cheap detective, Wright, but I know the rules just as good as the three-hundred-dollar a day boys. One of the real big rules is don't tell who your client is."
Wright tapped the seat impatiently. "What is he paying you?"
Starsky didn't even bother to answer that.
"I'll double it." Wright waited. "Triple it, if you get off the case and leave town right now."
"Triple?" Starsky said thoughtfully.
"In cash, right now."
Again, he was tempted toward honesty. Tempted to say that there was no way Wright could pay him enough to equal what he was getting from his "client." Money couldn't buy a partner. Or a friend like Hutch. Starsky rolled the car window down and flicked the cigarette out. "Sorry, Wright," he said. "There's another rule. Don't get bought off."
"I'm disappointed, Mr. Schwartz. You don't look stupid."
"Sorry about that."
Wright's face changed subtly. "Try to see this from my point of view, won't you, please?"
"Okay," Starsky said agreeably.
"My daughter . . . my only child is dead. Killed violently just at a time when her life was beginning." He was silent for a moment, staring at his cigar. "We lost another child, you know."
"My wife never recovered from that. If we could only have known what happened to her . . . . With Kimberly, at least, we do know. Can't you begin to understand that I only want to have it all behind us as quickly as possible? Otherwise, my wife . . . . The man who did it is on trial. Let justice run its course. Why go around trying to . . . to upset the apple cart?"
"Is that what I'm doing?" Funny, Starsky mused, and here I thought I was just foundering. But I was upsetting the apple carts of an important man like Owen Wright. Funny. "If Hutchinson is as guilty as you seem to think he is, then what harm can I do by asking a few questions?"
"What's the point?"
"Maybe to amuse myself."
"Let my daughter rest in peace," Wright said tightly.
"Even if an innocent man has to pay?"
There was a pause. Wright's cigar had gone out and he fumbled for a silver lighter. "Hutchinson is guilty," he said mechanically, as if he'd learned the words by rote. His eyes turned icy. "Get off the case, Schwartz. I'm breaking one of my rules by giving you a warning. There'll only be one. Leave it alone."
The turkey standing just outside opened the door and Starsky got out. He nodded at Wright and walked away, the skin on his spine prickling a little, as he waited to see if maybe the bit about the warning had just been a bluff. Maybe a sudden shot would blow him apart. Who knew what the punishment for upsetting apple carts was in San Manuel?
But nothing happened. He reached his car and got in, slamming and locking the door. So. Now they were chomping at his heels from two directions. Whoever it was that had split his head and Owen Wright himself. Terrific. And all he had to do was find Maura Kennedy. Because maybe she knew something, Of course, maybe she didn't. He shook his head wearily. Poor Arnie Schwartz. It began to look like he was swimming out of his league.
Two days went by and it began to look like Arnie Schwartz should have chosen some other line of work. Detection did not seem to be his forte. Starsky had tried everything he could think of to find Maura Kennedy and he had nothing to show for it. He began to think that she—or maybe he himself—was floating somewhere in the twilight zone. Neither had he come any closer to finding out who "Lucas" might be. As desperation began to set in, he even spent half a day trying to find Rico Gonzalez, thinking he might know where his ex-wife was. He did manage to trace Gonzalez to his last job as a vacuum cleaner repairman, but nobody in the hot, noisy factory seemed to know where the man was now.
By the end of the second day Starsky felt totally exhausted, drained, near the point of OD-ing on black coffee and cigarettes. It was late afternoon when he got back to the motel room, spread his wrecked body on the bed, and stared dumbly at the ceiling.
"Oh, hell, Hutch," he said aloud. "I don't know what to do next. What an ass. Look, everybody, come watch Captain Marvel fall flat on his face. I had to play hero, right? Screw everybody else, 'cause David Michael Starsky is gonna come in and single-handedly save his partner. Oh, yeah!"
He sighed. Hell, I need . . . what do I need? To talk to Hutch. Yeah, that's what I need. He got up, washed his face, and drove out to Diablo, stopping on the way for a fast pizza and arriving just in time for visiting hours.
Hutch smiled as he took his chair. "Hi," he said.
There was a pause. Hutch stared at him, the smile fading slowly. "Hey," he said softly. "What's wrong?"
Starsky rubbed his eyes, which felt like they were full of sand. "Hutch," he said, "I . . . goddamn. I'm falling all over myself. Captain Marvel is taking a nosedive. Nothing's happening. For two days I've been running all over trying to get something to go on, some little thing I can get a grip on and there's nothing." He spread his hands helplessly. "There's not a goddamned thing."
"You look beat, man."
"Beat?" Starsky laughed a little. "Shit, I don't know if I'm coming or going." It was suddenly hard to breathe and he took a gasping gulp of air. "I showed up and told everybody I was gonna do it. Hutch is my partner, I said, and I'll take care of this, I'll get him out. I thought, I really thought that it would all just fall into my lap like it used to for us. Or, I mean, it didn't exactly fall into our laps, but it worked. Somehow it always worked, you know?"
"I know," Hutch said quietly.
"And Christ, I've been trying, harder than I ever tried on anything, but every lead I get just goes nowhere. I can't make it happen." He seemed to run out of breath completely.
"Hey," Hutch said again. "You're going to get it, buddy."
"Stop believing in me!" The words came out as a hoarse shout and Starsky looked around the room quickly. "Please," he said more softly.
"No." Although Hutch spoke softly as well, his voice rang with such intensity that it startled Starsky. "No," Hutch repeated. "I will not stop believing in you. That would be like losing faith in myself."
"But what if I can't do it?" Naked anguish cut through Starsky's words like a blade.
Hutch smiled. "Then I guess you'll just have to bust me out, sweetheart," he said, giving a poor imitation of Starsky-as-Bogart.
After a moment, Starsky returned the smile. "Hell," he muttered. "All this time I thought I was supposed to be the funnyman in this relationship."
"You ready to talk now?" Hutch asked.
"Okay, good." He paused. "I think I came up with something."
Starsky's gaze sharpened. "Yeah? What?"
"It may not be worth much. Nothing, maybe, but . . . do you think it's at all possible that the jerks who snatched you might've seen something?"
"Wong and Rossi?" Starsky thought about it for a moment; funny, since finding out that Hutch was alive, he'd almost forgotten all about those two.
"Wong and Rossi?" Hutch repeated. "You must be kidding. They sound like a vaudeville team."
"Oh, yeah, they're a million laughs all right."
Hutch was quiet for a moment. "You haven't said much about what happened to you."
Starsky shrugged. "Later, man. Some night real soon we'll get totally drunk and tell each other stories."
"Sounds good to me."
"Me, too. Sounds goddamned wonderful, if you want the truth." Starsky glanced at the clock and grimaced. "Damn. It always goes so fast."
"So whattaya think?"
"About Wong and Rossi?" He nodded slowly. "You might have something there. Yeah. Hell, I knew that once we could get the old Hutchinson grey matter working, everything would start to fall into place."
They were silent briefly. Hutch sighed. "I'm going on the stand in the morning."
"Is that Kramer's idea?"
"Yes. I guess he doesn't know what else to do. So far . . . well, let's just say the defense case hasn't exactly set the world on fire. He wants me to get up there and look innocent."
"You are innocent."
"Ahh, well, babe, that's reality. What goes on in the courtroom has very little to do with reality. I sit there and listen to these people talk about me and about my life and I wonder . . . whatever happened to me? I don't recognize myself anymore."
Starsky nodded, remembering his own thoughts that night on the Hong Kong street, when he didn't even recognize his own reflection in the window. "I know who you are," he said a little awkwardly. "Do you want me to come to court tomorrow?" He didn't really want to—he wanted to keep hacking away at the undergrowth surrounding this case, but he made the offer.
"Hell, no. You better get out there and beat the bushes for that frigging song and dance team."
"Okay. I'll be thinking of you."
"I know that."
It was time to go.
"Okay," Starsky said. No matter how many times it happened, he hurt every time he had to walk away and leave his partner in this place.
"Hey," Hutch said.
In the act of hanging up, he paused. "Yeah, buddy?"
"You watch out, huh? You have this unsettling habit of disappearing."
"Gottcha." Starsky turned and walked away quickly.
Hutch was awake for a long time that night. Part of the reason for his sleeplessness was the fact that he was nervous about going on the stand the next day. Not for the first time, he wondered if Sam Kramer was right in insisting that he must testify. But it had been decided and there was nothing he could do about it now.
Besides, there was something else nagging at him. Starsky. His partner, usually so confident, damned cocky in fact, had looked like hell earlier. And Hutch knew why: Starsky was scared. That simple fact scared Hutch more than anything else. He didn't like being scared. It made him angry at himself and it even made him angry at Starsky. And that was dumb. It wasn't as if Starsky was deliberately betraying him. He was trying his best.
Hutch slammed one fist into his pillow. Now he was really mad at himself. What the hell was he thinking of? His partner was putting his neck right on the line and just because he hadn't yet performed any miracles, no rabbits pulled out of a hat, Hutch was ready to start doubting him. Jesus. He didn't deserve a friend like Starsk.
He punched the pillow again. Now that was really stupid; he could just imagine what Starsky would say to that. His partner would lean back and crinkle up his eyes in a disgusted grin. "Shit, Hutch," he'd say, "for somebody who's supposed to be so damned smart, you're a real ass, you know?" True, Hutch thought. They deserved each other. They were stuck with each other.
He smiled a little into the darkness. Sometime he'd tell Starsky about his late night doubts. Maybe on that infamous night of total drunkenness they'd talked about. It might seem funny by then. Or, at least, it might serve as a sort of confessional, wherein Starsky could confer forgiveness.
Hutch squeezed his eyes closed and tried to go to sleep.
Cousin Abraham might not have moved since the last time Staarsky visited him. He sat on the same camp stool and watched with no surprise as Starsky walked along the dock toward him. "Howdy-do," he said.
"Hi," Starsky said, crouching next to him.
"They be biting today, if you're interested."
Abraham studied him for a moment and then grinned toothlessly. "You don't look like no typhoon to me, boy."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
The old man chuckled. "I been hearin' about you. Folks say that this boy Arnie Schwartz been stirring things up around town. Something like a storm blowing in." He tapped his pipe against the side of the stool lightly. "Frankly, I'm a mite amazed to find you still all in one piece." He glanced at the bandages. "Though it do appear you have been a trifle disturbed."
"Just a trifle. It's nice to hear that I've been noticed."
"That you have been." He began stuffing tobacco into the pipe. "I don't figger you came by just to pass the time of day with me."
"No. I wanted to ask you something."
"I 'm listening."
"You ever hear anything about a couple of guys named Rossi and Wong?"
Abraham's lips tightened on the pipe stem. "Thought you was interested in the Wright girl's murder. Why for you asking me 'bout them?''
"You do know them, then?"
Starsky stared out over the water, watching a small sailing skiff make its way past. "Because maybe they saw something the night of the murder. Something that might help me track down the killer. So I can get my partner out of jail."
"You brings to mind a puppy dog I once had," Abraham said mildly. "Sixty or seventy years ago down in 'bama. Dingy little mutt, he was. Name of General Grant. I mean to tell you, boy, let that dog git something in his mouth and no amount of persuasion could get him to get him to let go. He'd worry a bone or a stick plumb to death. You like him. You got this thing in your mouth and you ain't inclined to let go."
"I can't let go," Starsky said fiercely.
"Yeah, I knows that," Abraham said with a sigh. "Jest like poor old General Grant. He died 'cause he wouldn't let go of a rope. A wagon wheel ran him over. Cut him right in half. And when we found the danged mutt, he still had that rope clenched tight between his teeth."
"Rossi and Wong?" Starsky insisted softly.
"They ain't much liked around here. Very mean. They involved in a dirty business."
"I know all about their business. But that's not what I'm interested in. I only want to talk to them."
Abraham cleared his throat and spit. "They both a good deal like the vampire bat. Don't think they ever comes out in the daylight. Best time to see them, assuming any good Christian would want to, is at night. They're usually prowling around somewhere." Abraham studied Starsky and grinned again, showing toothless gums. "Or any good Israelite, either."
"Have they been around lately, do you know?"
"Seems like I heard they been in town the last couple of days." Abraham paused. "Assuming you finds them, you won't let on where you heard? They have been known to deal harsh with folks who cross them."
"I won't say a word." He took a bill from his pocket and tucked it into Abraham's tackle box. "Buy yourself a drink. And thanks." Starsky started away.
"Hey, boy," Abraham called.
He paused. "Yeah?"
"You keep old General Grant in mind, hear?"
"I will." Starsky waved a quick farewell.
Back in the car, he deliberated. Since there didn't seem to be much he could do about finding Wong and Rossi until nightfall, he decided to go over to the courthouse. Maybe he could at least offer a little moral support to Hutch.
He slipped into the last row of seats, sitting next to a reporter who was busily scribbling notes into a steno pad. Hutch was already on the stand. He looked pale, but calm, wearing slacks and a plaid sport jacket that had once been carefully tailored to fit, but now seemed to hang on his thin frame. His knees were pressed together and his hands rested on the arms of the chair.
Sam Kramer paced in the front of the room. "What happened next, Ken?"
"We got into the car." Hutch's voice was soft, but clear. "I was driving. We started down the hill and then I realized that the car had no brakes."
"And so you hit the barricade?"
"What else do you remember?"
"Nothing." He glanced toward the jury box and repeated, "Nothing."
As his gaze moved hack toward Kramer, he saw Starsky sitting in the back and some of the stiffness seemed to leave his body. Starsky gave him a smile.
Before Kramer could ask the next question, Starsky felt a tap on his shoulder. He turned around and a large man in a brown uniform gestured at him. Starsky got to his feet and followed the man into the hall. He could feel Hutch's gaze on him as he left. They stopped just outside.
"Yeah?" Starsky said neutrally.
"I'm Sheriff Collins."
"Yeah?" he said again.
"You wouldn't be Arnie Schwartz, would you?"
"As a matter of fact, I am. Why?"
"Call it professional curiosity. Mind if I take a look at your license? I understand you've been flashing it around town the last few days."
Slowly Starsky pulled out the wallet; it seemed unbelievable that the man didn't recognize him, but he was so busy playing macho lawman and lording it over the insignificant private eye that he wasn't paying any attention to Starsky at all, not really. "No law against the business of detecting in San Manuel, I hope?"
Collins leaned forward a little and carefully studied the license. "Nope. We are kinda down on troublemakers, though."
Starsky flipped the wallet closed and put it away. "Have I been making trouble?"
Collins smiled, making Starsky think of a mako shark on the prowl.
"If you had been, we would've met before now. Let's just say I've been made aware of your activities."
"Okay," Starsky said cheerfully. "We'll just say that."
"People get the impression you're trying to stir up the Wright case. This town would rather put the whole thing behind us and forget it."
"I didn't think a case was over until the guilty party was convicted."
"Well, see, that's just about to happen in that courtroom."
"I don't happen to think that Hutchinson is guilty."
"No?" Collins wasn't smiling now; his tanned face was hard. "I happen to think my men did a bang-up job on this investigation."
Starsky looked at him through the dark glasses. Oh, yeah? he thought. Well, I happen to think that your men couldn't find their pricks in a pay toilet. He didn't say that, of course. "I'm sure," was his mild response.
"We wouldn't be too happy if some stranger same to town and started trying to fault our police. Why not just let justice take its course?"
"Even if justice San Manuel style runs right over an innocent man?"
"The question doesn't arise. Hutchinson is guilty."
Starsky leaned against the wall, hoping to hell he looked more relaxed than he felt. "Everybody keeps saying that, but I ain't convinced yet. My mother always said I was too stubborn for my own good."
Collins took off his hat, straightened the brim carefully, and put it back on. "Let's hope she wasn't right." He nodded pleasantly and walked toward the door.
Starsky stood there for a moment. His first instinct was to cut out as quickly as possible, but he knew that first he had to let Hutch know that everything was cool. Just as he started back into the courtroom, the crowd began to flow out, adjourning for lunch. He pushed his way through until he reached the defense table. There, he rested one hand on Hutch's shoulder. Touch was a rare commodity these days. "Hi."
Hutch looked up in obvious relief. "Everything okay?"
"Yeah. He was just rattling his sabers."
"Jesus. I figured he was measuring you for the cuffs."
"Not quite. Only because he hasn't thought of a reason yet. Look, buddy, I gotta go. Lots to do before tonight."
"What happens tonight?"
Starsky didn't want to go into detail. He might be getting himself in too deep, but there was no sense in having Hutch worry about that now. "The plot's gonna thicken, babe." He lowered the dark glasses to look at Hutch. "I got a feeling."
"That little itch I get on the back of my neck when a case is about to break. So hang in there." He squeezed Hutch's shoulder and they exchanged a brief smile. Starsky pushed the glasses back up on his nose, nodded once to Kramer, and walked out.
Kramer picked up his briefcase. "Ken, has anybody ever told you that he's a little crazy?"
Hutch smiled again. "A little crazy? Sam, he's a total maniac. The man should be confined to a padded cell somewhere."
Kramer snorted and shook his head as they went for lunch.
He looked at himself in the motel room mirror and gave a grunt of self-satisfaction. A fast visit to the local army surplus store had provided him with a couple of items to complete the image he felt was appropriate for his nightime sojourn to the waterfront.
His own thoroughly disreputable Levis were topped with a heavy plaid work shirt and a worn black sweater. He pulled a black watch cap over his curls and added the ever-present dark glasses. He figured he could pass as a crewman off one of the ships in the harbor. This could get confusing, he thought, shoving a couple of cheap cigars into his pocket. Who was he now anyway? Starsky posing as a sailor? Or Dave Starsky posing as Arnie Schwartz posing as a sailor? He grinned. Oh, well, what the hell?
Even eliminating the Whistling Parrot from his plans left him with a dozen or so bars to choose from. He tossed a mental coin and went into a place with no name at all, just a rather faded purple neon sign that flashed the self-explanatory word BAR into the night every other second. He swaggered in and took a place at the bar. "Whiskey."
The glass was dirty. He gulped the cheap liquor and felt it burn his gullet all the way down. Actually, it made him feel kind of good. So he gulped again. By then he figured it was safe to case the joint a little. He swiveled around casually studied the crowd.
It was a little disappointing that no one came over and introduced himself as either Wong or Rossi. He finished the whiskey and ordered another.
"Just get in?" a voice said from his left.
He turned. "Yeah. How'd you guess?"
She smiled, sweeping a lock of platinum hair from in front of her eyes. "You got the face, honey. Sort of a lean and hungry look. Like a man on the prowl."
Illo Bearded Starsky with cap & scary sunglasses
"You're a great judge of character."
"Sure. I work as a shrink in my spare time."
He smiled. "Have a drink?"
They sat in silence while both their glasses were re-filled. The woman was older than he'd first thought, probably in her forties. Her make-up looked like it had been put on many hours ago; it was beginning to crack around the edges. She sipped at her drink with ladylike care. "My name's Monique."
"Arnie," he said, not ready to cope with a third name. Someone turned the jukebox up and conversation waned for a moment.
"Hey," Starsky said when the sound dimmed a little.
"I've been trying to find a friend of mine, a guy named Rossi."
"Yeah. You know him?"
She had turned wary. Her face seemed to have closed. "I know a lot of people."
"How about Rossi? You know him?"
She swiveled away from him and slid from the stool. "Look, baby, I can't make no money talking."
He grabbed her by the arm and turned her toward him again. "Wait." He took a bill from his pocket, carefully folded it, and tucked it into the front of her dress. "That buy a little conversation?"
She glanced down at the money. "A little."
"My name won't be brought up?"
"I forgot it already," he promised.
"It might not be the same guy. Could be a lot of guys named Rossi running around."
"I'll give it a shot."
She fingered the errant lock of hair. "There's a guy named Rossi hangs out around Joe's down at the corner."
She watched as he paid for the drinks. "You a cop?"
"Me?" He smiled brightly. "No, ma'am, not me. I got too much class for that kind of work."
Joe's was not much different from the place he'd just left. Before going in Starsky stood in the alley and pulled his shirttail out, arranging his face in a properly drunken expression. He staggered in through the door and fell twice before finally getting himself onto a stool. "Whiskey! " he shouted.
He sat there for fifteen minutes, downing two more drinks and making a general pest of himself. Then he slid from the stool, making his way out the door and into the alley. He sensed that someone followed him, but forced himself not to turn and look.
Slipping one hand into his pocket, he fingered the gun. A fairly worthless weapon in most circumstances, but used with a little discretion, it might prove effective. He fell to his knees once, got up and walked a few more steps, then slumped to the ground and lay motionless. His hand felt sweaty on the gun as he tried to keep his breathing steady. Timing, his Uncle Moishe the comedian used to say, was everything. Moving a little early would render his gun harmless as a toy; delay beyond a certain point might mean his veins would be filled with the knockout drugs again and he would wake up on the way to hell.
The footsteps approached slowly as Starsky stayed perfectly still. He could sense two men standing over him.
"So?" one voice said. "Whattaya think?"
Someone bent close and Starsky moved. The hand with the gun jabbed upwards, the barrel pressing against the man's neck. Starsky's other hand grabbed a fistful of hair and pulled backwards. "If you or your friend make a move," he whispered tightly, "he's gonna be short one business partner and you . . . well, you're gonna be dead." He tightened his hold on the man's hair. "Believe me when I say I won't have any hesitation in blowing you away."
"Hey, man," his prisoner protested. "We were only trying to help. Saw you fall down and figured you might be sick or something."
"Oh, yeah," Starsky said getting to his feet carefully and pulling Rossi with him. "Oh, yeah. Wong and Rossi, the two great humanitarians."
They looked a little startled.
"I think you've got us confused with two other guys," Wong said with a twitching smile, his eyes on the gun at Rossi's neck.
"I don't think so."
"Look," Rossi said, "this is all some crazy misunderstanding. Why don't we just—"
"Shove it, Rossi. I got no time to dance with you. You know and I know all about your dirty little business. I've already been on one cruise, compliments of Wong and Rossi Associates. I've got no intention of taking another."
"I'm sorry," Rossi began.
"Forget that for right now. Maybe later we can talk about that. Right now, I want to talk about something else." He saw Wong's left foot slide a little toward him. Before either of them could react, he pulled his hand out of Rossi's hair and gave him a sharp karate chop to the right side. The sound of bone cracking filled the air and Rossi bent over in sudden agony. Starsky entangled his fingers in the man's hair again and jerked him upright.
"Tell Wong to hold tight," he said softly. "Or we can work our way through your ribs one by one."
Rossi waved a hand and gave an anguished grunt in Wong's direction.
Starsky nodded in satisfaction. "Okay, I think we understand each other now. I want to talk about the Kimberly Wright murder."
"Hey, we didn't have anything to do with that," Rossi said between his teeth.
"I know that." Starsky's hand was beginning to cramp around the small gun. "You didn't kill her, but you were around when it happened."
"How do you know that?" Wong asked.
"'Cause you snatched me that night not far from where the murder took place. I want to know what you saw that night. Everything."
"That was a long time ago," Rossi said.
"I know. A long time. And a good friend of mine has been in jail ever since. I know he didn't kill the broad and I want you to give me something so I can prove it. You must have something and I want it. Cooperate and I may not kill you."
"We didn't see nothing, man, I mean . . ."
Starsky raised his knee a little so that it pressed lightly into Rossi's side. The man groaned. "You better think harder. I saw a guy once who had a broken rib and it pierced his lung. You think about it. There was a car crash just down the road."
"Yeah . . . yeah," Rossi said eagerly. "You remember that, don't you, Lin? We saw the car against the barricade."
"I remember," Wong agreed. "But there wasn't anything else . . . ."
"There better be." Starsky's voice was soft, almost caressing.
There was a silence. For three minutes, Wong and Rossi stared at one another, both obviously thinking desperately. Starsky just waited.
"Well," Rossi said finally, "there was another car."
"Good," Starsky crooned. "Tell me about it."
Rossi closed his eyes. "It was . . . dark . . . green, I think."
"Yeah, dark green, that's right, Tony."
Rossi opened his eyes and stared at him as one might stare at a madman. A madman with a loaded gun. "Come on! Whattaya expect?"
"I expect an answer."
"Nevada," Wong said suddenly. "They were Nevada plates."
"Good. Now we've got a dark green car with Nevada plates."
Wong moved a half inch and Starsky's knee poked into Rossi's side. Rossi made a sound halfway between a groan and a scream.
"You better tell him one more time," Starsky warned.
"Lin, for chrissake . . . he's killing me."
Wong stopped. Starsky's knee relaxed. Rossi took several deep breaths. "I hope you don't expect us to come up with the number?"
"That would be nice."
"Look, man, this was a long time ago. It was dark. We didn't care."
"You saw a car accident and you didn't care?"
"We were working." Rossi didn't seem to find anything funny in that remark. "Besides, we saw the other car stopped and we figured they'd help."
"They? How many people were in the green car?"
"Two, I think. Two men."
Wong, who had been staring at the ground, looked up suddenly. "No numbers," he said flatly. "There were no numbers on the plate."
"What?" Starsky waited.
"It was letters, not numbers. A name, like."
"Vanity plates?" Starsky shifted his hold on Rossi a little. The man was quiet, staring at his partner. "What name?"
Thirty seconds passed. "It was . . . L . . . something. Lucas. That's it. L-U-C-A-S."
Starsky expelled his breath in a long sigh. "A dark green car, Nevada plates, Lucas. Two men. Anything else?"
They shook their heads simultaneously.
"No, man," Rossi said. "That's it. Really."
Starsky figured that it probably was. "Okay. Now there's just one more little thing."
"What?" Wong asked.
"You better take this act somewhere else. Somewhere a long way from here. Because if I ever hear about you operating again, I'll personally come back and break more than just a rib. Got that?"
"We got it," Rossi said.
"Fine. I suggest, Wong, that you better get him to a doctor."
"But for now, Wong, disappear. When you're gone, I'll release Rossi."
Wong hesitated a moment, but Rossi felt Starsky's knee twitch and he waved him away. Wong moved quickly out of the alley. After he had turned the corner, Starsky released his hold on Rossi, who nearly caved in, but then started lurching after his partner, groaning a little with each step.
Starsky kept the gun in his hand as he walked back to the car. Checking the back seat carefully, he slid behind the wheel and locked the doors.
The whiskey glow he'd felt earlier was gone and now he was chilled and very tired. Time to go back to the motel and bed.
Before he could sleep, though, there were two things he had to do.
First of all, he placed a call to the Nevada authorities, passing himself off as representing L.A. Homicide, and requested information on the Nevada plates. That garnered him a whole name—Lucas Mahoney—and an address in Vegas.
All that information carefully recorded in his notebook, he next took a sheet of motel stationery and scribbled a fast note that he could drop off at Dobey's motel on his way out of town early the next morning. When the note was sealed in an envelope, Starsky dropped onto the bed and fell asleep fully dressed.
They had a meeting the next morning over coffee and pastry Kramer had brought. Hutch picked at the icing on a roll. "So? Did I do myself any good yesterday?"
Kramer finished one roll and reached for another. "Well, you didn't do any harm."
"Today is what really counts."
"Yeah. And I suppose the courtroom will be packed so everybody can see Phipps tear me apart. I feel like the main event in the Coliseum."
Kramer glanced at him sharply. "You just stay cool."
"Oh, yeah. Cool is my watchword."
Dobey came in, looking determinedly cheerful. "Morning, everyone."
Kramer smiled, while Hutch only grunted and took a gulp of coffee.
"Here," Dobey said handing him an envelope. "This was shoved under my door this morning."
Hutch turned the envelope over and saw his name scrawled across the front in Starsky's unmistakable style. He ripped it open. "Dear Hutch," he read quickly to himself, "Following a hot tip to Vegas. Back as soon as possible. Give the bastards hell on the stand today. We gottem, boy. Love, Starsk." He folded the note and slipped it back into the envelope, then put it into his pocket. "Gone to Vegas," he said in answer to Dobey's questioning glance.
"Come on, Ken, time to go."
He took a deep breath and stood. "Think this will go on all day?"
"It might, Ken. You'll be fine." They walked out of the room in single file.
Phipps smiled. "All right, Mr. Hutchinson, since the defense has brought up the subject of your job, let's talk about that a little."
"Do you like being a police officer?"
Hutch could feel small drops of sweat forming on his palms, but he did not allow himself to wipe them off. "Sometimes."
"And sometimes not?"
"I don't know anybody that likes their job every minute of every day."
"You may be right. What parts do you like?"
"What? Well . . . I like it when we make a good clean bust."
"You mean when you arrest somebody?"
"Yes. When we track down somebody who deserves to be caught and we catch him. That's a good feeling."
"Anything else you like besides arresting people?"
Hutch wondered how two people could be talking about the same thing and it could come out sounding so different. "Making a good clean bust." That made him feel good, just to say the words. They'd made a lot of them, gotten a lot of animals off the street. That was good, wasn't it? Then why, when Phipps said, "What else do you like besides arresting people?", why did that come off sounding tarnished, almost dirty?
"Would you like me to repeat the question?"
"Uh . . . yes."
"I said, what else do you like besides arresting people?"
Hutch sighed. "We help a lot of people."
"You mean you want me to be specific?"
Hutch rubbed the bridge of his nose. "There was a girl kidnapped one time. We saved her."
"Commendable, I'm sure." Phipps shuffled through some papers, read something and nodded to himself. "Did you make what you call a 'good clean bust' on the kidnappers?"
Hutch glanced at Phipps, who obviously already knew the answer to the question he was asking. "No. They were killed."
"I'm sorry, Mr. Hutchinson, I don't think the court could hear you. Speak up, please."
"No, we did not arrest them," he said loudly and distinctly. "They were killed during pursuit."
"Were you pursuing them?"
"No. My partner was."
"Oh, yes. The elusive Mr. Starsky." There was a pause. "Any other cases you'd like to mention?"
"This is absurd," Hutch exploded. "To try and give examples—"
"Your Honor, would you please instruct the defendant to confine himself to answering my questions?"
"Yes, Ma'am." Hutch wiped his palms on his trousers and leaned forward in the chair a little. As he moved, he could hear the envelope in his pocket crackle. The noise was reassuring.
"This isn't the first time you've been accused of murder, is it?"
"Very well, I withdraw the question."
Hutch moistened his lips with the tip of his tongue.
"How many people have you killed in the line of duty?"
"I don't know."
"I said, I don't know."
"Lost track, have you?"
"Would it make you feel better if I cut a notch in my gun for everybody who died?" Hutch asked bitterly. "I'm a cop. People die. It happens."
"Yes, Mr. Hutchinson, we know. However, let's get back to the point for a moment."
"Is there a point?"
Phipps glanced at the judge, but apparently decided to let it pass. "What don't you like about your job?"
"I don't like killing people," Hutch said.
"But it happens. What else?"
"I don't like hassling with people who don't know or care very much what we're up against out there on the street."
"How do you feel about your gun?"
Hutch looked at him blankly. "What do you mean?"
"Shall I repeat the question?"
"I understood what you said, but I don't understand why you said it."
"I said it because I want to know how you feel about your gun."
"That's like asking a carpenter how he feels about his hammer."
"To the best of my knowledge, most carpenters don't kill people with their hammers. Also, they rarely take their hammers with them on what is supposed to be a vacation. Why did you have your gun with you that night?"
"I don't know. I just did."
Phipps glanced toward the jury and then looked at Hutch again. "You don' t know?"
"That's what I said. I'm just . . . I'm just used to wearing it."
"And using it, apparently." Phipps consulted his papers again. "Let's change the subject for a moment."
"You claim not to have any idea what happened after the car hit the barricade ."
"That's right. I was unconscious."
"No idea who killed Kimberly Wright?"
"Or what happened to the other girl?"
"Or where Starsky went?"
There was a slight pause. "No. I was unconscious."
"You have no explanation at all for what happened?"
"Only that I didn't kill her. Someone came and took my gun and shot her."
"You keep saying that."
"Because it's true, damnit!" Hutch was tired. He slumped back against the chair and wiped his hands dry again. Ahh, Starsk, he thought, you know how much I hate being in court. His hand slipped into his pocket for a moment and he touched the note. Starsky was out there cracking the case. Soon now, it would be all over. Hutch took a deep breath and looked up, his gaze clear, as he waited for the next question.
Starsky wondered why they'd never made another trip to Las Vegas. They'd always planned to. But something always seemed to come up and their big weekend never materialized. So now he was back, but nothing was the way he'd planned. For one thing, he was alone. He was also tired and hungry. He got a motel room downtown and tried a shower instead of a nap. Didn't help much. Next he went over to the cafe for a heavy dose of caffeine. As he ate and gulped coffee, he studied a map of the city.
A wall of heat hit him as he emerged from the building and walked across the parking lot to his car. The small gun in his pocket pressed against his side. He felt as if he were running on pure adrenalin. By the time this whole thing is wrapped up, he thought as he got into the car, I'm gonna need three days sleep.
The houses on the street weren't expensive, but most of them were well kept. Several children played soccer in the middle of the street. Starsky parked about half a block from the house he was interested in and settled back to watch. For an hour nothing happened. It was just another stake-out, like so many he'd been on. Except that it wouldn't have been any fun to practice his card tricks when Hutch wasn't around to get annoyed. Besides, he didn't have any cards. He slouched in the seat, staring at the house and wondering how things were going in court.
Poor Hutch, Starsky thought. He hates going to court even worse than I do. And that's kinda funny, him being so . . . smooth and all. You'd think he could handle a simple thing like court. But put him on the stand and he starts to stumble over his words. Starsky remembered an article he'd read somewhere—Reader's Digest?—about people sending thoughts to one another over long distances. Hang in there, babe, he transmitted. Hang in there, cause we're gonna beat the bastards. We're gonna wipe 'em out.
When another thirty minutes had passed with no sign of activity around the house, Starsky got out of the car and walked casually up the sidewalk. He went to the front door and knocked, waited a moment, and then knocked again. There was no answer. He glanced up and down the street before strolling around the corner of the house to the back door. Not unexpectedly, it was locked. He gripped the knob, braced himself against the flimsy frame, and pushed. The latch gave and he was in.
The house was empty. Not just temporarily vacated, as if the occupants had just gone out to do a little shopping or to work for the day. No, this house had been abandoned. It was hard to know how he could be so sure of that. The place was full of furniture and all the accouterments of daily life. There were even clean dishes in the Rubbermaid drainer. But he was certain that Lucas or whoever else had been living here was gone. It was discouraging. Starsky wandered through the silent rooms a couple of times, trying to see if maybe the departed had left a clue. Like maybe a roadmap with their route and destination clearly marked. Or something. But there wasn't anything.
Well, almost nothing. He peered into the wastebasket in the bedroom and found something. Nothing that would be any help in finding Lucas, but at least it was confirmation, if he needed it, that he was on the right track. He reached down and pulled up a crumpled photo. It was a black-and-white snapshot of Maura Kennedy and himself, dressed in pirate hats, grinning drunkenly at the camera. He stared at himself in the photo.
Or was it him at all? He didn't feel like the same man any more. Too much had happened. And he knew that even if things turned out okay—when things turned out okay, he amended quickly—even then, he'd never be able to go back to what he had been.
"I'm tired," he whispered to the empty room. "So damned tired." And it wasn't the kind of weariness that could be cured by three days or three weeks sleep, either. This went too deep. His life could never be the same again. It was a very frightening thought. What would he do?
He shrugged it off. Not now. Later. Time enough to deal with all that later. The only important thing right now was to get Hutch out of jail. Then he could think about the future. They would think about it together. After all, they could always don sequined masks and make porno flicks. He smiled humorlessly.
He tore the picture in half, shoving the part with Maura on it into his pocket and dropping the rest back into the wastebasket, then made one more tour of the house. Nothing else. He went out through the back door and saw a woman watching him from the next lawn. After pretending to lock the door, he strolled over. She was wearing a halter top and shorts that showed her stretch marks and there was a garden trowel in one hand.
"Afternoon," Starsky said.
"Hello. Are you going to buy the house?"
"Is it for sale?"
She shrugged. "Don't know. I just figured."
"When did they leave?"
"The Mahoneys? Two days ago. I saw them putting suitcases and stuff in the car, so I figured they were moving out. She said they moved around a lot, because of his job."
"Any idea where they were going?"
"No." She looked at him again. "I guess you're not interested in the house."
"Actually, I'm more interested in the people."
"I didn't know them very well," she said quickly. "Just to say hello and good-bye to mostly."
"I see." They stood there for a moment, both looking at the empty house as if there was some message in its very structure that would enlighten them, if only they could decipher it.
"Nothing you can tell me at all?" he asked.
"She once said something about San Francisco."
"That's all, really. She was quiet-like, you know? Dreamy. I sort of got the idea she was scared of him."
"More like intimidated, maybe. You know what I mean?"
"Are they in trouble?"
"I just want to talk to her is all. Okay, thanks." He nodded good-bye.
Starsky got behind the wheel of the car and sat there. So here he was again. Nowhere. He wondered if there was any mention in the Guinness Book of World Records for detectives foundering on cases. Or ex-cops going down for the third time.
"Shit," he said, starting the car. He felt like he'd been dog-paddling for at least five years. That should rate at least a footnote.
He could sit in the motel room and look down on all the people gathered around the pool. Everybody already had a tan, but they were all soaking up more sun like a parched man soaked up water. Idly, he rated the figures of the females and discovered a couple of sevens, but none higher. A mediocre collection, at best. Well, he decided after a few minutes, enough fun and cheap thrills. Time to get back to work. Fine. The only problem was, he didn't know what the hell to do next. Well, it was said that citizens in trouble could always turn to the local police. It was worth a shot.
The desk sergeant studied Arnie Schwartz's I.D. with well-concealed curiosity. It looked like the man didn't care at all that he was in the presence of a real live private eye from Los Angeles. In fact, he even looked a little bored. He tossed the wallet back across the desk. "So?"
"I need some information about a guy named Lucas Mahoney."
"Uh-huh. What for?"
It was easy to see why this guy was on the desk; he obviously had a quick grasp of any situation. "Because I want some answers. In relation to a murder case I'm investigating."
"Right. As in dead."
It took a few more minutes before he was directed to the desk of one Sergeant Galenta, who sat behind a desk piled high with files. Galenta almost glanced up as Starsky sat down. "Yeah?"
He didn't bother to pull out the I.D. again.
"My name is Schwartz," he said laconically. "What can you tell me about Lucas Mahoney?"
Galenta rummaged through the papers on the desk and Starsky thought hopefully that he was going to emerge with a plump file that would give him all kinds of facts about Mahoney, including even his current address. In a minute Galenta straightened, a half-eaten doughnut clutched in his fist. Starsky sighed.
"Mahoney?" Galenta mumbled around a bite of doughnut.
"That's what I said."
"I know him."
It must be the sun in Vegas, Starsky decided. Fried their brains. He stopped being Arnie Schwartz for a moment and reverted to Sergeant Dave Starsky. "Listen, Galenta," he said tightly, "I'm trying to find out who murdered a young woman. If I don't find out, then an innocent man is going to take the fall. That innocent man happens to be a very, very good friend of mine and I have no intention of letting him rot in jail. Tell me about Mahoney." He sat back, glaring at Galenta.
The detective looked at him and the shifting of mental gears could be read in the man's black eyes.
"Okay, Schwartz," he said, reaching into a drawer. This time, he emerged with a file folder. "Mahoney. A small-time punk. Mostly fraud and bunco. Spent some time in Q on a rape charge. Paroled."
"Anything to connect him with a man named Owen Wright?"
"Wright?" Galenta was quiet for a moment and Starsky decided that maybe the man wasn't as dumb as he'd thought. "This have something to do with the murder of Wright's daughter? The one they nabbed the cop for?"
Galenta was still looking at the file, not at Starsky. "I talked to him—Hutchinson—a couple of times on the phone, back when he was on the force. He seemed like an all right guy."
"He is an all right guy."
"This is a bum rap?"
"I hear his partner disappeared. They find him yet?" Now Galenta was staring at Starsky.
Starsky stared right back at him. "No."
Galenta only nodded. "I can't find Wright's name in here anywhere," he said finally. "But I know Mahoney has a lot of ties in California."
"I went to a local address from the DMV but he was gone."
"Yeah? Doesn't surprise me. We've been keeping an eye on him and he gets itchy."
"Rumor has it he went to Frisco. That make sense?"
Galenta nodded again. "Yeah. He's done some work there for a man named Leroux. Jerome Leroux," he repeated, as Starsky pulled out his notebook and wrote it down. "A shady lawyer. He has an office in the Kelly Building."
"Okay. The name Maura Kennedy mean anything? Or Maura Gonzalez?"
"No. Should it?"
"She's living with him, I think."
"Could be." Galenta closed the file and shoved it back into the desk. "Afraid that's all I have that might help."
"I appreciate it." He put the notebook away and got to his feet wearily. It took a lot of effort just to stand. "So long."
"Hey, Schwartz," Galenta said.
"Good luck. Hope you get Hutchinson off."
"I will." Starsky smiled and left.
The next thing he did was call Dobey. "Get me all you can on a Leroux, Jerome in San Francisco," he ordered. "And fast."
"All right. What's his connection?"
"Damned if I know. Just something I'm checking on. How'd it go today?"
There was a pause. "All right."
"Just all right?"
"Hutch did his best. Phipps was pretty rough on him."
"Damnit. Okay, look, I gotta figure my next move. When do you think you can get back to me on Leroux?"
"Hell, Starsky, I don't know. I'll get it."
"Well, look, I'll call you then, okay?" They hung up a few minutes later and Starsky wandered over to the window. The only ones left in the pool now were a couple of kids playing some obscure game with a balloon and a water pistol. The last thing he felt like doing was climbing back into the car and driving to San Francisco, but he didn't seem to have much choice. Hell. He walked back to the bed and stretched out. A nap first. God, he thought, I'm getting sick of motel rooms. Sick of everything. He started to make a mental list of all the misfortunes he was getting tired of, but he only got as far as lumpy mattresses before he was asleep.
Hutch walked down the hall to take the phone call. "Hello?" he said tentatively.
"Hi, it's me. Arnie Schwartz."
Obviously Starsky had been warned about the bugged phone. "Hi, Arnie."
"How's it going, boy?"
There was a pause. "All over?"
"Closing statements tomorrow." Hutch leaned against the wall. "Kramer's real optimistic."
"Yeah. Except for all those times he keeps mentioning possible grounds for appeal. That makes me a little nervous."
"How's it going on your end?"
"Hey, great. I know who did it. Details later."
"You know, really?"
"Yeah. I'm going to Frisco. Think my man is there."
Hutch gave a short laugh. "Tell Fisherman's Wharf hello for me, huh?" Starsky didn't say anything; he didn't laugh either. "Buddy, they're gonna convict me. I know it. I can read that jury and they're gonna find me guilty unless something happens real soon."
"I'm doing my . . . I'm trying . . . it's about to break, Hutch, really."
Hutch slapped the wall repeatedly with his open palm. "Well, something better break. But what if it doesn't? What then? And don't you start feeding me any crap about appeals. I get enough of that from Dobey and Kramer."
"I don't think I can take jail much longer." He shook his head. "I can't."
"I know it's rough, Hutch."
"Rough?" He felt like laughing again. "I'll kill myself." He hadn't planned to say that; the words just came out and there was nothing he could do about it. There was a silence on the line that went on so long he thought they'd been disconnected. "Hey?" he said. "You there?"
"Thought you hung up on me."
"I hafta hit the road."
"Yeah, all right. Thanks for calling."
"Hutch . . . ?"
He closed his eyes and rubbed the back of his neck with one hand. "All right. I shouldn't have said that. I'm sorry."
"Sorry for thinking it or just sorry for saying it to me?"
"Both, I guess. Mostly sorry for saying it."
Starsky took a deep breath. "There's an old joke my Uncle Moishe used to tell me. I can't remember anything but the punch line. Something like, if you kill yourself, I'll never speak to you again."
"I never heard that joke."
"Yeah, well, Uncle Moishe was into ethnic humor."
"Hutch, I'm going after the guy. He's a killer. I got nothing but one shitty little gun like my grandmother might use. I got no partner to back me up. I got nothing, you understand?"
"I don't need something else to worry about. Something that might distract me. I mean, I could get my frigging brains blown out because I'm worrying about that stupid crack of yours."
Hutch's head was pounding. "I'm sorry." He paused, then realized that Starsky was waiting for him to say something else. "I won't do anything," he said softly. "I promise."
"Okay. I hafta go, buddy. I'll be in touch."
"Uh-huh." Hutch hung up.
Starsky sat still long enough to smoke two cigarettes, wishing that Hutch was standing there so that he could haul off and smash him one. He deserved it. Talking about killing himself. Goddamn.
What would happen if he failed and he couldn't bring this off? Then, if anything happened to Hutch, it would he his fault and his alone. He remembered reading about somebody who once broke out of a Mexican jail in a helicopter. Maybe they could try that. Not that he had a helicopter or even any idea about how to go about getting one. But that seemed a minor inconvenience. He could rent one. Then he could swoop down over the yard at Diablo and neatly pluck Hutch to safety. They could fly off to someplace they'd never he found. That sounded like a good idea. Starsky slammed to his feet. God, he thought. I'm getting punchy. Stupid idea. But he didn't discard the idea completely; he just sort of filed it in the back of his mind.
Since he hadn't had time to unpack anything, all he had to do was throw the suitcase in the back seat and take off. He kept the radio playing loudly so he wouldn't fall asleep.