His second day in Diablo.
He woke even before the shrill alarm and slipped out of the bunk. Before Garcia was awake, Hutch had washed, shaved, and dressed. He stood by the bars, waiting to be released for breakfast.
Garcia stirred and sat up. "Shit, man," he mumbled. "You a real" early bird, ain't ya?"
"Never saw nobody so hot to get the slop they feed us."
Hutch shook his head. "It's not the food. I just want out."
"Cabin fever, huh? Well, you'll get used to it."
They kept telling him that, but he knew that it wasn't true. He would never get used to being caged up. He jiggled the bars restlessly. Behind him, Garcia snickered, farted, and rose to greet the new day.
Powdered scrambled eggs. Bacon that was either half-raw or burnt to charcoal. Cold toast and warm orange juice. Coffee. He took only coffee and toast, but he ate very slowly, so the meal would last as long as possible and he could put off going back to the cell. If he were an ordinary prisoner, he could have gone to the day room or the exercise yard, but for "his own good" he was restricted to his cell. He didn't even eat in the central dining hall. As a concession to the fact that he was supposed to be in protective custody, he was fed, along with ten others under similar restrictions, in a smaller room next to the hall.
A message reached him while he was still eating that his lawyer was waiting to see him. He quickly finished and was taken to the special room set aside for attorney visits. Sam Kramer was there, his by-now-familiar bulging briefcase on the table. "How's it going, Ken?" he asked.
Hutch shrugged and sat down.
"I thought you'd want to know that a trial date has been set. A month from today. However, I can get a postponement if we need it."
"Why? Won't make any difference."
Kramer glanced at him sharply. "When I took this case, Harold told me you were a fighter. But you're acting more like a man who just wants to give up."
Hutch looked at him for a moment. "I'm a realist," he said.
"Maybe you think you deserve to be punished."
"What the hell does that mean? You think I killed her, is that what you' re saying?"
"We're talking about what you think, not what I think."
"I . . . did . . . not . . . kill . . . Kimberly Wright."
"Okay. But guilt is a funny thing. Sometimes people think that although they're innocent of a specific crime, they might well deserve punishment for other acts they committed and didn't get caught at."
"Crap. You a lawyer or a shrink?"
Kramer shuffled some notes. "I had a long conversation with Dr. McPherson on the phone last night."
Hutch tensed. "Why?"
"Harold suggested it. Just thought it might help me understand you a little better."
"What I talked about with him was private," Hutch said tightly.
"Of course. He didn't violate any confidences. He did say that if you wanted to see him, he'd be glad to come here."
Kramer nodded. "Fine. You do know that your visits to him are a matter of record and can be used by the prosecution?"
"You mean they're going to try and make it look like I'm a killer because I went to see McPherson?"
"We don't know what they might do yet, Ken."
Hutch was quiet for a moment. "Any word?"
Kramer shook his head. "He seems to have disappeared from the face of the earth."
"Nobody just disappears."
"Nonsense," Kramer said briskly. "People disappear all the time. You know that as well as I do."
"He'll turn up, Ken." Kramer began shoving things back into his case.
"What are we doing?"
"My investigator is in the field, asking questions. The usual routine. You just hang tough and if you think of anything that might help, call me."
"They treating you okay?"
Kramer left and the guard took Hutch back to his cell.
Garcia had a transistor radio. He kept it tuned to a Spanish music station, but in a mood of fleeting generosity, he gave Hutch permission to listen to whatever he wanted when he was alone in the cell.
After Garcia had departed for the dayroom, Hutch fiddled with the dial for a while and finally located a powerful Los Angeles station. The tinny voice of a newscaster filled the small cell.
". . . and the manhunt continues today for suspended L.A. Detective David Starsky, wanted for questioning in the murder of Kimberly Wright, daughter of businessman Owen Wright. The search for Starsky has been expanded to four western states. Meanwhile, former Detective Kenneth Hutchinson has been indicted on murder charges in the shooting of Miss Wright. He is being held in the Diablo Correctional Facility awaiting trial. On the energy front—"
Hutch switched the radio off.
Visiting hours: six to eight P.M., Monday through Thursday. Saturday and Sunday, two to five.
The guard came to the cell where Garcia sat hunched over the radio and Hutch sat staring at the wall. "Hutchinson, you're wanted in the visitor's room."
"Huh?" He looked around slowly. "Who is it?"
"Man, he didn't send a calling card back. I don't know who the hell it is. You coming or not?"
The visitor's room. A long, brightly-lit place, divided down the middle by a pane of unbreakable glass. Each cubicle had a phone on both sides of the glass. You talked, but you didn't touch.
Hutch walked in and went to the seventeenth cubicle. Dobey sat on the other side of the glass. They each picked up the phone. "Captain."
"Thanks for coming."
"There's been a development," Dobey said bluntly.
Hutch tightened his grip on the phone. "What?"
Dobey reached into his pocket and took out a watch. He held it up against the glass. "You recognize this?"
Hutch reached for it. His fingers collided with the glass. "Yeah. Yeah. Is it engraved on the back?"
"Yes. Apparently they didn't have time to scratch it out." Dobey turned the watch around and Hutch saw the name David Starsky engraved in script on the back.
"He bought it in . . . ah, Atascadero. When we stopped for lunch. Paid a fortune for it. Where'd you find it?"
"The San Manuel cops took it off a couple of punks they arrested for rolling drunks."
Hutch was still staring at the watch. "What's their story?"
Dobey snorted. "They claim some guy approached them and offered to sell it at a good price. Said he needed some ready cash because he had to get out of town in a hurry."
"And of course those dumb cops believe that?"
"Who knows? They admit the guys are punks, but this explanation fits their theory so nicely, I think they want to believe it." Dobey put the watch away.
"What happens to it now?"
"It's evidence. I have to get it back to them."
"Can he get it back after?"
"Good. He was really crazy about that stupid watch." As Hutch realized what he'd said, a stricken 1ook crossed his face. "He is crazy about it," he corrected, but it was too late. The damage was done.
"Hutch, I've got to get back to L.A."
"Oh. Yeah, sure."
"But I'll be back for the trial. Or before that, if you need me."
"Okay." Dobey was his last link to what had been and when he was gone, Hutch would be totally engulfed by this new life. He would be alone.
He held onto the phone and watched as Dobey left the room. After a moment he hung up slowly and went back to his cell.
The next day they told him he had a phone call. The guard didn't know who it was. Hutch followed him to the phone opposite the day room. A large sign hung over the phone. ALL CALLS MAY BE MONITORED. "May be" was something of an understatement. All calls were routinely recorded. Most of the time, the tapes were given a quick listen and then erased. No one would be stupid enough to say anything he didn't want overheard. The most common result of the taping process was the reprimanding of the inmates for the excessive use of profanity on the phone.
Hutch leaned against the wall and lifted the receiver. "Hello?" he said tentatively, wondering if maybe . . . . "Hello?"
"Ken? It's Dad."
"Hi, son. How're you doing?"
He stared across the hall into the day room, watching a ping-pong game in progress. "I . . . I'm okay, Dad. I didn't . . . well, I wasn't expecting you to call."
"I don't know." The air conditioning wasn't working right in the hall and sweat began to trickle down Hutch's face. "I guess in here you kind of forget that there's anybody out there."
"Your Captain Dobey has been in touch with us right along."
"He didn't tell me that." The ping-pong ball flew off the table and rolled out into the hall. Hutch lightly kicked it back. The game reminded him of something, but he couldn't think what.
"Dobey is a good man," his father said.
"Yeah. Dad, I didn't do this thing."
"You don't have to say that, Ken. We all know it."
"Nobody believes me." His voice cracked a little.
Don't cry down my hack, baby, you might rust my spurs.
"Everybody who knows you does."
"Do you want me to fly out there, son? I was all set to come, but Dobey said maybe I should check first."
Someday the phone won't ring, darling, and you'll know it's me.
"Don't come, Dad. There's nothing you can do here. Stay home."
"Well, it's up to you. But I'm coming for the trial, for sure."
The beer that made Milwaukee famous made a fool out of me.
"We'll see, Dad, okay? How's Mom?"
There was a pause on the other end of the line. "Fine. Maybe next time, she'll get on the phone, but . . . she just couldn't quite yet."
"Yeah, I understand, it's okay."
"Is there anything you need? Money or anything? We want so much to help."
"There's nothing. They give me everything. Dad . . . ."
I'd rather have a bottle in front of me than a frontal lobotomy.
"Did he tell you that Starsky is missing?"
"Yes. Has there been any word?"
He rested his forehead against the wall. "No, not yet. Everybody thinks he ran out."
"That can't be, Ken. Your mother and I . . . we know that Dave would never do that to you. He cares too much."
"I know." Furious at himself, Hutch tried to hold back the tears that threatened. He wouldn't burden his parents with that. "He wouldn't, I know. Oh, damn . . . I'm sorry, Dad . . . I . . . ."
"It's okay, Ken. Crying is no sin."
"Yeah . . . I better go, Dad."
"Okay. We love you."
"I love you all, too. Bye."
The connection was broken.
There was a dream he kept having.
It was always the same. He was standing at one end of a long, dark corridor and at the other end he could see his partner. There was blood on Hutch's face and he was crawling toward Starsky, crawling and crawling, but never seeming to get any closer. "Help me, Starsk," he kept saying. "Please . . . you promised . . . help me."
But Starsky just stood there watching and did nothing at all to help his partner until finally Hutch stopped crawling, stopped begging, and Starsky knew that he was dead. Somehow, then, he was beside the body, holding Hutch in his arms, crying, and pleading with him not to die.
He kept having that same dream.
Every time he woke up, he was sick to his stomach, throwing up in a bucket that sat beside the cot. The gentle rolling motion of the boat, combined with the aftereffects of whatever drug had been pumped into his arm, kept his body in a state of constant turmoil. He was helpless. He would roll to the side of the bed, vomit, and then sleep again. Dream again.
The door opened and a giant came in. He was so big that he seemed to fill every corner of the small cabin. "I brung you some food," he said cheerfully, setting a tray on the foot of the bed.
Starsky leaned forward, lifted the tray with both hands, and threw it against the wall. "l . . . want . . . out," he said thickly. "Lemme outa here. Where's Hutch?"
The giant seemed bewildered. "There ain't no more food," he gently reprimanded. "You'll just have to wait until dinner now." With that he left, not bothering to clean up the mess.
Starsky got to his feet and staggered to the door. It was locked.
He used the primitive toilet and went back to the cot. His head still pounded, but he felt a little less sick.
He wished he knew where the hell he was and what was going on. He tried to think about it, but everything was a blur in his mind. After a time, bits and pieces of memory same through, like photographs slowly developing in his head. A car. Something going wrong. And then Hutch, hurt, and bleeding, and needing help. The dream came back and he shivered suddenly, wrapping both arms around himself in an effort to get warm.
"Hutch?" he whispered. "Oh god, Hutch, I can't help you. I can't even help myself."
It was the same huge man who brought the next tray. Again Starsky heaved it against the wall. "Lemme out!" he shouted. "I gotta help him."
"Hey, you shouldn't oughta keep doing that. And besides, you can't go nowhere. We're out in the ocean, way far out. Two days from land."
Starsky blinked twice. "What?" he said, but the man was gone.
In the middle of the ocean? That had never even occurred to Starsky. He knew he was on board a boat of some kind, but he'd assumed that it was moored at the dock. He curled on his side in the cot, gathering strength. When the chance came for him to make his move, he wanted to be ready. Then he'd get back, swim if he had to, find Hutch, get everything together again.
Realizing that no one was going to clean up the food he threw and that it was a long time between trays, Starsky decided to give up that particular form of protest and he accepted the third tray. Besides, he figured, if I'm going to have to swim the goddamned ocean to get back, I better eat.
The man looked pleased when Starsky started to eat the thick fish stew and crusty bread. Instead of leaving the cabin immediately, he sat down and pulled a comic book from his pocket. For all the man's size, his face held a strangely blank expression.
"Good story?" Starsky asked casually, dipping the bread into the soup in an effort to soften it.
"Yeah," the giant said. "Spiderman. I like Spiderman." He watched Starsky eat. "My name is Frankie. Who are you?"
"David." He chewed thoughtfully; the soup was terrible, so bad that he figured it had to be healthful. "Can you tell me what's going on here, Frankie?"
"What do you mean?"
"Why am I here?"
Frankie's face wrinkled in consideration of the question. After a moment, it cleared. "'Cause they brung you."
"Who brought me?"
Something in the urgency of his tone seemed to frighten Frankie. "I ain't supposed to talk about that. Eat, David, that's all. Just eat."
So he ate.
When he was finished, Frankie picked up the tray and headed for the door. "Frankie?"
"What?" he said with obvious reluctance.
"Who can I talk to?"
"Mebbe the captain. If he wants to talk to you."
"Tell him I want to see him. Will you do that for me, Frankie?"
"Sure." He gave a cheerfully stupid grin and left.
Starsky leaned against the wall, staring at the door, and waited.
It didn't take long. The door opened again and another man came in. He was dark-skinned, with straight black hair, and weary eyes. He leaned against the door and surveyed Starsky with a hint of amusement. "Frankie said you wanted to see me." There was a faint and indistinguishable accent in his voice.
"You the captain?"
"Yeah. Menzetta. Frankie said your name is David."
Starsky nodded slowly. "Starsky. Actually, Detective David Starsky, L.A.P.D." He watched Menzetta's face and saw the amusement replaced by shock.
"They brought a cop? Holy Jesus." He shook his head. "Christ."
"Who brought me here? And why?"
It didn't take Menzetta long to recover his composure. "Who and why? The why is simple. Because I paid them to. Who? I only know them as Rossi and Wong."
"Why did you pay them to bring me?"
Menzetta shook his head. "Let me make it clear. I didn't pay them to bring you; I paid them to bring a warm body. Any body. You just happened to be it this time." He seemed to realize that Starsky still didn't understand what was going on. "I have a big turnover on my crew. Wong and Rossi serve as sort of an . . . employment service."
"They kidnap men for your crew," Starsky said flatly.
"I never asked. They deliver and I pay." Menzetta's eyes sharpened suddenly. "Starsky?" he said. "You're the one . . . ."
"Never mind. Look, we've been carrying you for three days now. Time you started earning your keep. There's clothes in that cupboard. Change and report to the first mate."
"If I don't?"
"We don't carry dead weight," Menzetta said coldly, "and it's a long swim back to shore. I think you'll work." He left.
After nearly five minutes, Starsky got up from the cot and changed into the work pants and shirt he found in the cupboard, as well as a pair of beat-up tennis shoes. The pants were a little snug, but otherwise acceptable and even preferable to his own stinking, filthy garments.
This, he decided, was a game. Let's pretend, it was called. Make believe that this whole crazy thing was just another assignment. He was certainly used to undercover role-playing. So he would go with it for a while. At least until . . . well, until he could figure out what the hell to do.
There was only one rule in this game. He would not, could not, allow himself to wonder what had happened to Hutch. He shoved to the back of his mind the last memory of his partner, lying bleeding in the wrecked car. Waiting for him to bring help. Bleeding. Maybe . . . dying.
No. Savagely he tied the tennis shoes. No. If he thought about that very long, it would screw him up. So he wouldn't think about it at all.
It was a shock when he stepped out onto the deck and realized that he was indeed in the middle of the ocean and that the vessel he was on looked like a very small, grimy, barely seaworthy ship. A few sullen-looking men worked at various points along the deck, under the watchful eyes of a husky black man. Starsky walked over to him. "You the first mate?"
"Menzetta told me to report."
"King is my name." His deep voice had the lilt of the islands in it. "You know anything about engines?"
"No." He knew how to tune his car, but maybe ignorance was the safest course.
"Hell. Why can't I ever get a mechanic? Okay, you're a painter. Grab a paint scraper and get busy."
Starsky did as he was ordered. As the long, grueling day passed, he kept his eyes and ears open and his mouth closed. Gathering data. Doing what he had done so many times before. He pushed the scraper along the deck, removing layers of dried paint, and listened to the conversation of the other men.
He pretended that there was some way everything he learned was going to help him get out of this.
The days all ran together in their sameness and Starsky lost track of how long he had been on the boat. The troublesome engine gave out at one point and, lacking a good mechanic, they drifted for several days, until finally King managed to coax the machinery into action again. Starsky spent hour after hour scraping and painting, or in the galley, or just standing watch.
There were thirteen in the crew, plus Menzetta and King. He was never quite sure how many of the men were there voluntarily and how many had been "drafted" like himself. For a little while, he toyed with the idea of a mutiny, but it didn't take him long to realize that he would stand alone in any such action. Even those men who seemed to have come on board unwillingly at first had apparently decided that life on shore had little to offer. They were, it appeared, content. That option eliminated, Starsky developed an alternative plan. Sooner or later, he knew, this floating disaster area would have to dock somewhere and when that happened, he would get off, even if it meant swimming.
He chafed bitterly under the self-imposed waiting period. It went against his nature. Dave Starsky was a man who thrived on action—hit the streets, chase down a snitch, hustle, move, move, move. That was the way they broke cases. But he knew that any aggressive action here wouldn't do a damn thing to help and it might even hurt. So he waited.
Frankie had turned into his biggest fan. The huge, gentle man seemed to greatly enjoy Starsky's company. He would read his omnipresent comic books and listen to Starsky talk. Often he would come out and pass the long hours of the midnight-to-eight deckwatch with Starsky.
One night he came out carrying a large mug of coffee which he handed to Starsky.
"Thanks," Starsky said, scratching at his emerging beard. There were some communal razors floating around the crew, but he had no inclination to use them. Besides, Hutch would get a good laugh out of seeing his partner with a beard.
Frankie sat down next to him. "Gonna storm, David," he pronounced cheerfully.
"Yep." He raised his head and sniffed the air. "Wind has the smell of a storm. I been a sailor for a long time. I know."
"I guess you do."
"You like the BLUE LADY better now, David?"
Starsky shook his head.
"She's a good boat," Frankie said sincerely.
"Are you really happy here?"
"Oh, yeah. This is the best place I was ever at. Why don't you like her, David?"
He took a gulp of the cooling coffee and stared out over the water, wondering just what the hell he was supposed to be looking at. "I want to go home, Frankie."
Frankie was obviously bewildered. "This is home."
"Not to me." He didn't bother to tell Frankie how much he hated it—the dampness that seeped into his bones and would not be banished, the constant motion, the unchanging view.
There was a silence. Starsky finished the coffee and set the empty mug on the deck. Frankie pulled a comic book out of his pocket, but he didn't open it to read. Instead, he twisted the book between his massive hands. "I guess maybe you feel kinda lonely, huh?"
"Yes." God, yes. That was the worst part. At night, alone in his closet of a cabin, he talked to himself, composing a report on his day, and pretending that someone was listening.
"I know about lonely. When my Momma took me to the orphanage and left me, I felt real lonely for a long time." He realized suddenly that he was wrinkling the pages of Spiderman's adventures and he smoothed the cheap paper lovingly. "She always meant to come back, I think, but I guess something happened so she couldn't." He looked at Starsky. "Don't you think?"
"Cause no Momma would go off and just leave her little kid. Would she?"
The wind was picking up as they talked and the stars were slowly vanishing behind a curtain of blackness. Frankie read two pages before he spoke again. "Can I ask you something, David?"
He seemed embarrassed by what he wanted to say. "I heard the captain tell Mr. King that you used to be a cop. Is that true?"
"I am a cop."
"I don't like cops. They're mean. Sometimes they hit me. You ain't mean, David, so how can you be a cop?"
"There are good cops, Frankie."
But Frankie only shook his head; it seemed beyond his comprehension that his friend David could actually be part of a group he'd always viewed as an enemy.
"Can I ask you something now?" Starsky said.
"When the hell do we get somewhere?"
"Huh? Oh, you mean, when we gonna dock?"
"Pretty soon." Frankie pushed his bulk up and patted Starsky on the back. "Pretty soon, David," he repeated reassuringly. He ambled off and disappeared into the darkness.
Starsky leaned back against the dinghy and stared at the water. Although it was still warm, he felt, as always, chilly and damp. The choppy sea was making the boat, and consequently his stomach, roll and lurch.
"Hey, Hutch," he said softly, "what would an old sea scout like you do now? What I need is some advice, buddy mine. Just a hint, man. Put your goddamned college-educated brain to some use. See, it's like this. We're a team. And, by god, we're the best damn team on the streets. You know that and I know it and I guess a lot of other people know it, too. Especially the skells we bust. I guess when two guys work together for such a long time, they get into certain habits. Like depending on each other a lot. Maybe I got so I depended too much on you. I mean . . . hell, I was a cop before we were partners. And I was a good cop, too. But not so good as I was . . . as I am with you. Hell, why am I sitting here talking to myself? Must be going crazy. Except that it's so goddamned strange not to be able to turn around and say 'what now, buddy?' What happened to you, Hutch?"
Starsky shut up. That kind of thinking was against the rules of this game. Hutch was all right and pretty soon they'd be a team again. It would all work out. Soon. He pulled on the ragtag windbreaker against the increasing spray that showered the deck and resumed his restless pacing.
It was twenty-four hours before the storm that Frankie had predicted struck. Starsky, not on watch that night, was lying awake in his cot, vaguely aware that the sound of the wind and the swell of the waves were steadily increasing. He tried to ignore the ominous sounds by pulling the grimy sheet up around his neck and closing his eyes.
A sudden fury of water and wind tossed the boat from side to side and Starsky was flung from the cot onto the floor. For a moment he stayed where he landed, hoping that the churning motion of the boat would ease. When it didn't, he pushed himself up and grabbed his windbreaker.
The strong wind left white streaks of foam down the backs of the waves that he could see silhouetted against the night sky. He gripped the railing and tried to move along the deck. He heard the roaring crescendo of an approaching wave and suddenly the boat was caught in the crest and hurled forward, white water boiling up all around. Out of the water and the blackness, the slicker-clad figure of King appeared. "What the hell are you doing out here?" he shouted into Starsky's face.
"I don't know," he yelled back, getting a mouthful of water.
"Get down below before you go over the side." He shoved Starsky back toward the steps.
Starsky slid part way down, recovered his balance, and went on into the galley. Most of the crew members were sitting around the long table playing cards. None of them seemed particularly disturbed by the storm. Frankie sat at the table, his head bowed over a comic—Superman this time. He looked up as Starsky sat down across from him. "Told you it was gonna storm, didn't I?" he asked.
"You sure did."
"Want some coffee?"
Starsky's stomach lurched at the thought of the bitter brew and he shook his head. "Is this almost over, you think?"
Frankie grinned. "Mebbe. Sometimes these storms don't last long."
"'Course sometimes they go on for three or four days." He closed the comic book. "I guess you really ain't much of a sailor, are you, David?"
"No," Starsky said firmly. Someone had left a pack of cigarettes on the table and more for something to do than because he really wanted it, Starsky took one and lit it. He smoked for a moment in silence. "A friend of mine used to be a sea scout," he offered. "That guy, now, he loves the water, ships, all that."
"Uh-huh. I remember one time we were working undercover on this cruise ship and . . . ." His voice dwindled off and he stared at the glowing tip of the cigarette.
"What happened, David?" Frankie urged.
He shrugged. "Nothing."
There was a pause. "Is your friend a sailor?" Frankie finally asked awkwardly.
Starsky smiled faintly. "No. Hutch is a cop."
Frankie considered that. "I never much liked cops."
"Everybody likes Hutch."
Frankie finished his coffee. "I once had this friend named Will, but one night somebody stuck a shiv in his gut and he died." It was said matter-of-factly.
"That's too bad," Starsky said. "Hey, Frankie, where the hell are we going anyway?"
"Oh, the BLUE LADY goes a lot of places. I've been most everywhere there is on this old ship. Africa, even."
"Yes, but where are we going this time?"
"Macao, I think. Yeah, that's what the captain said. Macao."
A wide open port in the South China Sea.
The words came so clearly into his head that Starsky was startled and he glanced around, almost expecting to see Hutch standing there saying it again. A wide open port in the South China Sea. He tried to think in what context he had heard his partner say that, but the specific case escaped him for the moment. Whatever it was, the subject of Macao had come up. He sighed and crushed out the cigarette. "What happens when we get there?"
"We take on cargo."
"I don't know. Stuff. And then we go on somewheres else."
Not me, Starsky thought. The only place I'm going is home.
The galley door swung open suddenly and King entered. "Hey, all you guys, into the cargo hold. We're taking on water."
Everybody got up and started pulling on windbreakers and boots. Starsky looked at Frankie. "Are we sinking?" God, wouldn't that be great? He could go down with this hunk of wood out here in the middle of god knew where and they'd never find a trace of him.
Frankie shook his head. "No, man, we just gotta bail a little. The BLUE LADY ain't gonna sink."
Not very reassured, Starsky followed the others from the galley, wondering as he went what Hutch must be thinking about his vanishing act.
During the next five hours he had no time for thinking about anything except bending and bailing. He was drenched from head to toe, his back was breaking and he was more than a little scared. His dislike of all things nautical had increased tenfold and he resolved that his first act upon getting home would be to take the model ship he'd painstakingly put together (after Hutch had given him the kit) and smash it into several million pieces, none of which would be identifiable as having once belonged to a ship.
When finally the storm eased just after dawn and the leaky cargo hold was once again secure, the weary men staggered back into the galley and this time he was glad for the inky black coffee, quickly downing three warming cups.
He lit another cigarette and sat slumped at the table, staring around with bleary, bloodshot eyes, not really seeing anything. He was startled to realize that King was sitting across from him. The first mate was wet, but seemed otherwise unfazed by the past few hours.
"Getting your sealegs yet, Starsky?"
"We'll be hitting port before too many more days have gone by."
King looked a little surprised. "Yes, that's right." He poured himself more coffee. "I don't know what plans you might have," he began, "but I hope it's nothing stupid."
"As a cop, you might get ideas." King smiled. "But, then, you're not exactly in any position to go to the authorities yourself, are you?"
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"You want to play it dumb? Well, okay, it's your business. But if you're not inclined to play it smart, the captain might have to confine you to quarters for the duration." He didn't seem to expect any response to that and Starsky made none. After a moment, King gulped the rest of his coffee and left the galley.
The room was empty now, except for Starsky. He wanted to get up and go back to his cabin, crawl into bed, and sleep, but he didn't have the strength to make the effort. Instead, he folded his arms on the table, rested his head on them, and fell asleep right where he was.
Macao, looking lush and green, loomed before the BLUE LADY. The harbor was crowded with junks, sampans, and boats from many nations. Starsky stood on the deck, shading his eyes from the glare of the hot sun, and stared hungrily at the land. They dropped anchor just beyond the stone jetty that separated the outer wharf from the inner one.
He leaned over the railing toward the land, where he could see narrow streets climbing the hillsides, streets that were lined with brightly-painted houses bearing colorful flowerpots. None of that meant anything to Starsky at the moment, however. All he felt was a deep yearning to have the land under his feet again.
King was watching him. Not wanting to give the first mate any cause for suspicion, Starsky walked casually away from the railing and ducked down into the galley. Frankie was there. "Want some coffee, David?" were, as always, the first words out of his mouth.
Starsky shook his head, then shrugged. "Okay." He took the cup that Frankie offered, sat down, and lit a cigarette.
"Macao's pretty, ain't it."
"I guess." Starsky sipped the coffee, which tasted even worse than usual. "You going ashore, Frankie?"
"How do you get from here to there?"
"There's a launch." Frankie seemed strangely disinclined to talk.
Starsky shut up, too, and lost himself in planning. First thing to do, he figured, was find an American embassy or consulate. There would probably be a hassle, because he didn't have any passport or I.D., but once he told his story, it would all work out. They'd probably let him use the phone. Who to call? Well, Hutch, of course, but where? It didn't stand to reason that he was still in San Manuel. Unless he was in the hospital or something.
Now that Starsky was so close to going home, he allowed himself to think about that for a moment. Hutch hadn't appeared to be badly hurt after the crash, but then he himself hadn't really been in any condition to judge. And he did remember a bump on Hutch's head. Head injuries could be tricky.
Hell, he told himself quickly, this was no time to be a frigging pessimist. If everything moved as quickly as he hoped, in an hour he would be talking to his partner. "I better . . . get up on the . . . deck," he said, wondering why his tongue suddenly felt thick and unwieldy. He pushed the coffee mug aside and stood.
His legs wouldn't support him and the room was spinning. He turned to leave, but instead everything went black as he pitched forward and fell onto his face.
When he woke up, he was in his cot. Frankie, looking dismayed, was bent over him, a wet cloth in his ham-like hands. "You okay, David?"
Starsky fingered a growing lump on his head. "You drugged me," he said hoarsely. "You son of a bitch."
"It's for your own good, David. I'm your friend. I tried to catch you before you fell, but I couldn't . . . ."
"My own good? Frankie, I gotta get off this boat. I gotta go home." He wiped angrily at the sudden and unexpected tears that sprang to his eyes, tears of anger and frustration.
Frankie wiped Starsky's face with the cloth. "The captain told me to do it. To protect you."
Starsky laughed bitterly. "Protect me? From what?"
Frankie folded his hands in his lap. "The captain told me," he said carefully, "that if you go to Macao, the police will arrest you."
"Why?" Starsky was trying to fight his way out of the fog that still enveloped him. "I know I don't have a passport or anything, but once I tell them . . . ."
Frankie was shaking his head stubbornly. "No. Captain Menzetta said it would be very bad for you."
"Please . . . ."
"You just stay here and you'll be safe."
"Oh, god . . ." Starsky grabbed Frankie's arm. "Will you do something for me, Frankle?"
"Go ashore and make a phone call. Call the States."
Frankie frowned. "I never done that before."
"It's not hard. Gimme that paper and pencil and I'll write it all down." After a moment, Frankie complied. Starsky carefully wrote Hutch's number down on the scrap of paper. It wasn't easy to hold the pencil in his numb fingers. "Try this number first. Call collect and ask for Ken Hutchinson. Tell the operator that you're calling for Starsky. Got that?"
Frankie didn't answer quickly, seeming to carefully think over what Starsky was telling him. Finally he nodded. "Yeah, I got it."
"Okay. If you can't get him there, call this number." He put down the precinct number. "Ask for Detective Hutchinson."
Again Frankie nodded. "This won't get you in no trouble, will it?"
"No. You'll be saving my life, Frankie. When you reach Hutch, tell him where I am. He should contact the local authorities as soon as possible. Should I write all that down?"
"No, I can remember."
"It'd be so much easier if you would just help me get off the boat," Starsky said trying once more.
"I can't, David."
"But you will make the call? Tell Hutch . . . tell him where I'm at . . . tell him that I need . . . never mind, he'll know. You will make the call, Frankie?"
"Sure, David, sure. I'll be back later."
Frankie left. After he went out, Starsky heard a small click as the door was locked. Frankie was taking his job very seriously. Starsky rested back against the cot and closed his eyes. In a little while the phone would be ringing in Hutch's apartment. His partner would probably be sleeping and it would take him a minute to collect his thoughts—Hutch was never at his best when awakened out of a deep sleep. But once he understood what was coming down . . . shit, he'd be surprised.
His eyes still closed, Starsky frowned. What the hell had Hutch been doing all this time? What did he think had happened to Starsky? It must have been very strange, waking up after the accident, and finding his partner gone. It had been so long. Weeks. Starsky didn't know how long. He didn't even know what day it was now. Hutch had probably been going crazy. God, it would be good to see his ugly mug again. To get home. See the apartment. Get his car out of Merle's. Go down to Huggy's for a cold beer. See Hutch.
He drifted into a drug-tinged sleep and dreamed that the BLUE LADY was cruising right up Wilshire Boulevard, and he was standing on the deck, waving at the crowd. Above the noise of the cheers that greeted him, he could hear Hutch laughing. It was a good sound and it made him laugh, too.
It seemed like a very long time before he heard the click of the key in the lock and the door opened. Frankie came in, looking sweaty and frazzled. Starsky sat up on the edge of the cot. "Thought you'd never get hack," he said. "Did you talk to Hutch? What'd he say? Is he okay?"
Frankie sat down and took a pack of cigarettes out of his pocket.
"Here. I got these for you."
"Thanks." Starsky took one out of the pack and lit it. "Well?"
"I done just like you said to, David."
Realizing that Frankie would tell the tale in his own way and could not be rushed, Starsky bit back his impatience and took a deep breath, trying to calm his jangled nerves. "What happened, Frankie?"
"I went into the Hotel Bela Vista. That's a real nice place. They have some phones in the lobby and I used one of them."
"You talked to Hutch?" Starsky broke in.
Frankie's brow was furrowed. "I called that first number, like you said."
"It was just a . . . a record, like, you know?" He took the paper out of his pocket and studied the words scribbled there. "It was a record that said the number was . . . disconnected. That means it's no good anymore," he added helpfully.
Starsky shook his head. "I don't understand."
"That's what the operator told me."
"But it doesn't make any sense. Why would Hutch disconnect his phone?"
"So? Did you call the other number?"
"Yeah, I did. The police station. And I asked for Detective Hutchinson, just like you said to."
"Yeah? Was he there?"
Frankie folded the paper a couple of times, not looking at Starsky. "The man what answered the phone said there wasn't no Hutchinson there."
"Maybe he was in the car. They could've patched the call through."
Frankie shook his head. "I don't think so, David, 'cause when the operator asked when Hutchinson would be available, the man said that he wasn't on the force no more."
Starsky sank back against the wall. "What?"
"He said that Hutchinson wasn't on the force no more."
Starsky felt like somebody had pitched a cannonball into his gut. "But . . . but why?"
"I don't know nothing else, David."
Starsky's hand trembled a little as he crushed the cigarette out against the wall. "This doesn't make any sense," he mumbled. "Hutch has to be there. Unless . . . ." He remembered with sudden and shocking clarity the sight of Hutch lying in the twisted wreckage of the car on that dark road in San Manuel. Maybe he'd been hurt worse than it had looked. Maybe when Starsky hadn't brought the help he'd promised, Hutch had died. He felt cold. Turning his back on Frankie, he curled on the cot. Frankie touched him lightly on one shoulder. "David? Don't be mad. I done just like you said."
"You did fine, Frankie," he said hollowly.
"Hey, David, I gotta go. Captain Menzetta wants me up on the deck."
Frankie opened the door, then hesitated. "I'm real sorry, David."
"Yeah, I know you are." The door closed and was locked and Starsky was alone. Alone. He rolled over to stare at the ceiling. Hutch wasn't on the force? His home phone was disconnected? Could there be any explanation except that his partner was dead? Dead. Hutch was dead.
"Hutch is dead." He said the words aloud and they echoed in the cabin. Undoubtedly it happened because Starsky had failed Hutch at the one moment he needed him most of all. Hutch had lain in the wrecked car waiting for help that never arrived and he died there.
Angrily, Starsky wiped away the tears that were sliding down his face. Guilty as he was, there was blame for this that went beyond him. What were the names that Menzetta had told him? He closed his eyes in the effort to think. "Wong and . . . and Rossi," he whispered in a moment. The two bastards that snatched him, that kept him from getting help back to Hutch.
The two bastards that killed his partner.
Starsky sat up abruptly and swung his feet to the floor. The black grief that was welling up within him would have to wait. There was no time now to dwell on the pain Hutch might have suffered, the feelings of betrayal he must have had when Starsky never returned. No, he couldn't think about the death right now. The life gone; the laughter gone. He couldn't stop to think about the funeral, about Hutch being lowered into the ground, alone.
Starsky smashed his hand against the wall. And then again. And again.
It was almost five minutes before he could breathe normally and before the trembling eased. He nursed his throbbing hand between his knees and tried to think. There was only room for one thing in his life now and that was revenge. A filthy word. Getting even. It was possible that he really thought that if he could punish Rossi and Wong severely enough that might somehow restore Hutch to him. Maybe that futile hope lurks behind every act of revenge.
His body ached with the urgency toward action. Life might not be worth much right now, but at least he had a mission. Once the two most responsible had been dealt with, he could begin to wonder what to do with himself. First things first though, as his partner would say. He had to get off the BLUE LADY and back to San Manuel.
He stood and went to the door. Flimsy, like the rest of this tub. Wouldn't be that hard to just crash through it. How many doors had they smashed through? One going in high, one low. Teamwork. One going in just a split second before the other. They took turns going in first. It was nothing that had ever been talked about; it just was.
The problem here was noise. He stood very little chance of making it off the boat without a fight if they knew what he was up to. However, it seemed obvious that Menzetta had no intention of letting him out of the cabin until they were well away from land. And any chance he might have of overcoming Frankie was laughable.
So. Noise or not, there seemed just one logical alternative available to him. He bent down to take off his shoes. It was a long swim and the less encumbered he was, the better. Following that line of thought, he also left the windbreaker on the cot. Jeans didn't make the best swimming attire, but he couldn't very well arrive in his shorts, so there was no choice.
Finally, barefooted, clad in jeans rolled to his knees and a black T-shirt, he was ready. He paused for one more moment to visualize the layout of the boat. Out the door, a sharp right, up the steps, dodge the dinghy and over the rail into the water. Simple. Yeah, sure.
He wiped both hands on the front of the T-shirt and took a few steps back from the door. Muttering a brief prayer under his breath, he rammed the door with his shoulder. It trembled and almost gave way. Not waiting to see if there would be any reaction to the noise, he hit the door again and it crashed open.
He fell into the narrow corridor, jumped to his feet, and charged up the stairs. Someone, be couldn't tell who, was standing at the top of the stairs. He shoved whoever it was aside and kept going.
"Hey!" It sounded like King's voice.
Starsky reached the railing. In a single vaulting move, he was over the side and plunging downward. He hit the water feet first, sank quickly for a few seconds, then splashed to the surface and started swimming. Behind him, he could still hear shouts coming from the BLUE LADY, but he ignored them, pulling himself through the water with long, powerful strokes. It was beginning to get dark and he dodged the other boats that rose out of the gathering dusk.
He reached the stone jetty and pulled up on it to rest for a moment. Not daring to stay long, he waited only until he'd caught his breath and then immediately plunged back into the water. There were people on the junks and sampans that cluttered the inner harbor, but they paid him very little mind, as if a crazy man swimming by had nothing at all to do with them.
Starsky didn't know how long it was before his feet touched solid ground and he half-walked, half-crawled out of the water. He did know that the dim sound of a police whistle could be heard getting louder and that everyone was looking at him. Sudden and inexplicable panic seized him. Wouldn't it be logical to simply wait for the cops to arrive and tell them what had happened? But what if they didn't believe him? They might lock him up until the story could be verified and god only knew how long that would take. And besides, he'd heard horror stories about Americans being tossed in foreign jails and practically disappearing for years. He couldn't take that chance. Also, maybe Frankie's warning about the police might have had more truth in them than he'd first thought.
So he didn't wait. He moved quickly into the crowd that jammed the sidewalk. He rolled down his sopping pants legs and smoothed back his hair. In the darkness maybe no one would look closely enough to see that he was drenched and shoeless.
He walked without any idea of where he was going, walked until he reached a quiet, flower-filled garden. A sign in English, Chinese, and Portuguese proclaimed that he was in the Luis Camoens Grotto and Garden. The name meant nothing at all to Starsky, but the area was quiet and, for the moment at least, deserted. A refuge. He stretched out behind a high hedge and rested his head on his arms.
For the first few minutes he did no more than try to steady his tortured breathing and calm the trembling in his body. Without quite knowing why, he suddenly found himself on the other side, the side that ran from the police. He was totally alone, without the knowledge that somewhere he had a partner willing to back him all the way.
After a long time, he fell asleep there on the grass.
A hand gripped his ankle and shook gently. He woke instantly and saw Frankle crouched beside him. "David?"
Starsky sat up, tensed to move. "What are you doing here?"
"Looking for you."
"Why?" Starsky pulled tentatively against the hold on his ankle and Frankie let him go.
"'Cause I was worried about you. Captain Menzetta told me to find you and tell you to come back to the BIIJE LADY before the police find you."
"I'm not going back, Frankie," Starsky said flatly.
"Because I have to go home." He moved a little against his clothes, which were stuck unpleasantly to his body. "You have any cigarettes? Mine got wet."
Frankie tossed him a pack and Starsky lit one. "Captain Menzetta said—"
"Fuck Menzetta," Starsky broke in viciously. Frankie recoiled a little at his tone. "He keeps saying that the cops are after me, but that's just to scare me. He doesn't want me to blow his tight little ship right out of the water."
Frankie shook his head. "No, David, it's really true. I saw the Frisco paper. It had your name in it. Mr. King has a copy he got before we left port."
Starsky sighed. "What exactly was in the paper?"
Frankie tried to remember. "It was something about you killing somebody and how the police was looking for you."
"Killing? But I didn't kill anybody."
"They think you did."
Starsky knew that Frankie was not lying, was probably incapable of lying with any degree of believability, so what he was saying had to be true. But he couldn't understand any of it. Unless . . . a possible explanation began to take shape in his mind. He gnawed on his knuckle thoughtfully. Maybe they thought he'd been driving the car and that he had fled after the accident. Then, after Hutch died, (Hutch is dead, he reminded himself) they charged him with something . . . something like vehicular homicide. He was accused of killing Hutch.
It was absurd. It made him want to throw up.
"David? You okay?"
He was pulled back to the present. "Yeah . . . yeah."
"Now that you know, are you gonna come back to the BLUE LADY?"
"No. I can't." Frankie started to object, but Starsky shook his head. "Let me tell you, Frankie. Listen. I didn't kill anybody. But somebody did. Wong and Rossi killed my partner. They killed Hutch and I have to go back and make them pay for it."
"You gonna kill them?"
After a long moment, Starsky shrugged. "Probably. I don't know." He really didn't. "But I have to go back."
"Yeah, I guess you do."
"Will you help me?"
"Sure. We're friends, ain't we?"
"Yeah, we are, Frankie. I've got to get off Macao and figure out how to get home."
Frankie frowned thoughtfully. "You gotta stay someplace tonight." He brightened. "I know a place."
"With this girl I know. Come on." They walked through the streets of Macao, staying in the shadows just beyond the casinos. The nightclubs were filled with tourists clad in evening clothes, playing the games of chance and skill like fantan, boulle, chemin de fer, and roulette. Frankie seemed to know his way through the back streets well and in a short time they reached a small apartment building just beyond the casino area.
They went to the second floor and Frankie tapped lightly on the door. They could hear the soft scurry of feet and then the door was opened by a young lady clad in a bright red silk negligee. She was not especially pretty, but her face, reflecting the Chinese-Portuguese heritage of Macao, was lively and her long hair gleamed. "Hi, Frankie," she said in accented English. "I didn't know you were here."
"Hi, Sallee. This is my friend David. Can we come in?"
"Sure thing." They followed her into a room that was engulfed in red and black, all highlighted by a bright red lamp. She gestured them to the sofa. "What's up?"
Without going into much detail, Frankie told her that Starsky was on the run from the cops—which seemed to amuse her—and that he needed a place to stay until he could get off Macao. Without hesitation, she nodded. "Sure thing, Frankie. He can stay."
A few minutes later Frankie was ready to go, promising to be back in the morning with clothes and, hopefully, some information about how Starsky might get away. After he was gone, Sallee and Starsky sat looking at one another for a time. "You stink," she said finally.
He shifted uncomfortably on the brocaded sofa. "Sorry."
"Would you like to take a bath?"
"Yes, if it's okay."
She showed him to the bathroom (more red), ran a tub of hot, bubble-filled water and left a man's blue robe. "Put this on. I will make some sandwiches and tea."
The fragrant steaming water eased his tense muscles and he stayed in the tub until it cooled and goosebumps appeared on his flesh. During that time, he did not allow himself any conscious thought. After he was out, dried, and wearing the blue silk robe, he stared at himself in the mirror. The beard would stay, he decided. It would help disguise him. There was a pair of scissors in the medicine cabinet and Starsky trimmed the beard and his hair a little. As he worked, he tried to avoid looking into his own eyes. The flat, empty gaze frightened him.
"David?" Sallee called from the other room. "Food is ready."
He went out and sat on the sofa again. "Do I smell better now?" he asked, making an effort at lightness.
"Much better. Like a field of wild flowers," she replied, pouring tea and handing him a sandwich.
"Thank you," he said softly.
She sat with her feet tucked under the negligee and watched him eat. "You were hungry. "
"Are you frightened?"
"No. Yes. I don't know. More mad, I guess."
"Are the police really after you?"
He shrugged. "Does that bother you?"
She smiled. "The police and I are old friends."
"Could I ask one more favor?"
"Could I use your phone to call the States?" The idea had been stirring in his mind since his arrival at the apartment. "I'll pay you back whatever it costs as soon as I can. Promise."
Her only reply was a negligent wave toward the phone. Nodding his thanks, he lifted the receiver. There was no sense in calling Hutch's number; more than being wasted effort, he honestly didn't think that he could stand to hear some frigging recording telling him that the number had been disconnected. So he placed a call to Dobey's home.
He struck out. According to the singsong voice of the operator, all the lines between Macao and the States were out—something to do with a storm someplace in the middle of the Pacific. She had no idea when service might be restored. He slammed the receiver down. "Damn."
Sallee got to her feet and lifted the tray in one fluid movement. "You need some sleep, I think. The bed is in there."
"The couch will be fine."
"Really?" Again she looked amused, "All right." He waited while she fetched a blanket and pillow and switched off the ghastly red light. "Good night, David."
"Good night." From beyond the open window, Starsky could hear the faint sounds coming from the casinos. People having fun. Music. Laughter. It all sounded vaguely obscene to him suddenly. He crushed the pillow over his ears so that he wouldn't have to endure the sounds of a life that no longer included his partner or himself. Even the pillow, though, couldn't block out the sounds of his memories.
"No . . . please . . . no!"
"David, wake up."
He jerked into wakefulness and his eyes flew open. "What!"
Sallee was sitting on the edge of the couch. "You were dreaming, David." One slender hand reached out and, feather-light, touched his cheek. "And crying."
"I'm sorry to wake you," he said hoarsely. Dream images still hovered on the edge of his vision. He rubbed his eyes, trying to vanquish the terrible scenes.
"Shh. To cry so, like a child, in your sleep must mean you are very sad. I like to see only happiness. Why are you crylng?"
"I don't know," he said. He shook his head a little.
"Were you dreaming?"
"Yes." He stared at her. "I was dreaming. My friend was calling to me, begging me to help him. I tried to help, I tried, really, but I couldn't. And he died."
"It was only a dream."
Starsky sighed. "But it's real." His hand clenched. "It's real."
"Let me help you," she murmured, moving a little. The red gown slipped from her shoulders and fell wispily to the floor. "I will make you forget the sadness, David."
He watched as she stretched her body, the color of coffee with cream, out next to him on the couch. "Sallee . . . ."
"Shh." She leaned toward him gracefully until their lips met, her mouth open expectantly.
He was tentative at first, a little bewildered, not sure if he wanted this to happen at all. It didn't seem right to be screwing around when Hutch was dead. It seemed like a betrayal of something that he couldn't quite define. Caressing her small breast, he teased the nipple into a firm, pointed cone.
She pulled the robe from his body and it joined the gown on the floor. Starsky felt a surge of emotion that was only partly passion and the rest a strange blend of anger, bitterness, fear, and grief. He grabbed for Sallee because she was there, sharing the night with him, and he couldn't bear the loneliness for one more moment.
Sallee pressed her thighs and pelvis against him, reaching for and finding his swollen flesh. She sighed, taking his hand and putting it on her thigh. As his fingers moved against the warm flesh, he felt the tightly curled triangle of hair and the damp softness beneath. She made soft noises.
"Louder," he said.
"Please, louder . . . drown out the sounds. Drown him out, please." He listened to her, trying not to hear the echoes from his dream. She wriggled under him and in a moment he entered her. She sighed. Her knees were drawn almost to her chest. He covered her mouth with his and felt her tongue against his tongue, her hands pulling him closer. It seemed to take a very long time. He worked very hard over the lovemaking, trying to turn it into an act of exorcism. Like all such rituals, it didn't work. His mind refused to lock onto the woman or the act; he worked harder, faster, more frantically, just trying to bring this ritual, this strange betrayal, to an end.
She whimpered finally, raking his shoulders with her nails. He came a moment later, the climax feeling more like a sigh of relief than a release of passion. He pulled away immediately and sat up. She rested her head on his thigh.
"Thank you," Starsky whispered.
"I wanted to make you happy, but it didn't work, did it?"
"It's not your fault."
They were quiet for a long time and then Sallee got up from the couch.
She picked up the negligee and put it on. "Go to sleep, David," she whispered. She left the room, left him alone with the noise of the city.
Starsky wondered, as he listened, if the people in the casinos ever gave up and went to bed. Or did they just keep playing their stupid and dangerous games of chance all night long, thinking that the next hand of cards, the next spin of the wheel, the next toss of the dice would surely bring that one big stroke of luck.
Starsky pulled on the robe and went to the window. From where he stood, he could see the dancing lights of the gambling palace. Poor stupid people, hoping for a big win. Didn't they know that if you kept on rolling the dice, kept on taking such stupid, dumb chances, that the day would come when it all went sour? Everything would be gone before the poor bastards knew what had hit them. Nobody ever came up a winner.
Instead of getting back into bed, he sat on the window sill, letting the faint night breeze cool his body. Tired as he was, he didn't want to sleep again. Sleep led to dreams and in his dreams he had thoughts that he couldn't control. It was better to stay awake. He would just sit here on the sill and wait until morning. After all, the new day had to come sometime. Didn't it?
Frankie, true to his word, showed up early the next morning, bringing Starsky a clean pair of jeans and a shirt, as well as his shoes retrieved from the cabin of the BLUE LADY. Starsky dressed quickly and joined Frankie and Sallee at the table for breakfast. Sallee greeted him with a smile and a cup of tea. He returned the smile fleetingly.
"Got something for ya," Frankie said around a mouthful of egg and toast. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a U.S. passport case and a small roll of bills. "Now you can get off Macao ."
Starsky picked up the passport and opened it. A bearded face that bore some resemblance to his own looked back at him. "Where'd you get this?"
Frankie shrugged. "Happens all the time in Macao. Everybody wants passports."
"You stole it?"
It didn't bother Starsky as much as he thought it should. In fact, when he placed it in the proper perspective of his mission, it didn't bother him at all. He thumbed through the bills. "Where do I go?"
"Hong Kong. From there you can get to the States." Frankie looked at him anxiously. "Did I do okay?"
"Yeah. Fine." Starsky shoved the passport and the money into his pocket. "You can show me how to get over to Hong Kong?"
"Frankie, what do you know about Rossi and Wong?" he asked abruptly.
"Rossi and Wong. The guys who brought me to the BLUE LADY."
"Oh." Frankie shook his head. "I don't know nothing about them. I seen them bring guys to the boat a couple of times, but I never even spoke to them."
"Do they always work out of San Manuel?"
"No, I don't think so. They just kinda move up and down the coast."
"Terrific." He finished the lukewarm tea in a gulp and stood. "All right, let's go." After a brief hesitation, he bent and kissed Sallee on the cheek. "Thanks, sweetheart."
"Sure thing. Next time you're in Macao, drop in."
"Wouldn't miss it."
Frankie and he made their way to the ferryboat pier, which was crowded with Chinese and Portuguese passengers and those seeing the travelers off. A number of children swam around the ferryboat, begging for coins, which they retrieved and held between their teeth. There were also many policemen in their impeccable white uniforms, with pistols, rifles, or machine guns tucked under their arms. Starsky purchased his ticket for the ride to Hong Kong and walked toward the gangplank. Frankie followed as far as he could. They stopped at the foot of the plank and Starsky turned to face the other man. "I want to thank you, Frankie," he said holding out his hand. "Without your help, I never would have made it."
Frankie shook his hand vigorously. "You're welcome. I hope you get the guys that killed your partner."
"I will." Starsky held Frankie's hand a moment longer before dropping it and hurrying onto the ferry, trying to lose himself in the crowd. None of the police paid him any more attention than they did the rest of the passengers, but he was relieved to be on the boat, away from their watchful eyes.
He left the deck quickly, going into a spacious salon with wide-open windows. He sat in a small wicker chair, opposite an old man with a curlicue reddish beard and huge tortoise-shell glasses. Despite the earliness of the hour, he was drinking a glass of Madeira, dark blood color. He was talking in a fluent mixture of Chinese and Portuguese to a young Oriental girl. They made a strange pair, the old man in his Western-style suit and the girl in her Cantonese cheongsam, with its tightly fitted lines and slit sides.
Starsky took a cup of tea offered by a porter in a jacket that had once been white, but which now bore the leavings of many voyages. The salon was crowded with passengers smoking, drinking, playing mah-jong, computing figures on abacuses, or simply cooling themselves with big fans made of fine yellow palm leaves.
There was something about being all alone in the unfamiliar surroundings that made Starsky want to pull even more into himself. It reminded him of his first days in Vietnam, when he'd been confronted with an entirely new culture and people. He'd been very homesick during those early days, more affected by loneliness than by the war itself. He sipped the bitter tea absently. That had been when he'd met Hutch. The memory made him smile faintly. His first reaction to the young blond M.P. hadn't exactly been positive. It had served to prove his frequent contention that the Army brass didn't know its ass from a hole in the ground. Somebody must have really been reaching to team him up with Joe College. Ken Hutchinson was a recruiting poster soldier—always military, with the proper crease in his trousers and a perfect spit shine on his shoes.
Hutchinson, it could be assumed, was also less than thrilled by an order that had him walking patrol with a man who looked like he'd slept in his uniform. Or whatever parts of his uniform Starsky might be wearing at any particular time. Still, ill-matched as the team appeared to be on the surface, they got along all right. As they walked the streets of Saigon, they would talk. Lots of good conversation they'd had.
It was good, Starsky thought, that they had never run out of things to say to each other. The only things they'd run out of were time and luck. He realized suddenly that the young girl and the old man were looking at him curiously. He set the teacup down carefully and wiped at the dampness that he hadn't known was on his face. They were embarrassed to have been caught staring and they resumed their conversation softly.
A Chinese man in an ill-fitting brown suit approached Starsky. "Your passport, sir," he said.
"May I have your passport, please?"
The man smiled, showing a mouth full of gold. "It is the rule. Your passport, please."
With a sinking feeling, Starsky took the passport from his pocket and handed it over. The man moved on, making the same request of the man and the girl. They complied immediately, without breaking their conversation. The man disappeared through the doorway to the engine room. Starsky watched him go. The girl leaned closer to him. "He will return it," she said in a soft musical voice. "Do not fear."
Starsky managed a small grim. "Thanks."
"You are an American?"
"I know that because Americans worry a great deal about their passports."
"With cause," the old man said. "A document like that is worth many thousands of dollars in Hong Kong. Sometimes it is worth a life."
Starsky wondered belatedly if Frankie had injured or maybe even killed someone to obtain the precious piece of paper. The thought was uncomfortable and he pushed it aside. A sudden, ear-splitting whistle blasted through the air. Starsky jumped. "What's that?"
"We are soon arriving in Hong Kong," she said.
A few minutes later the man with the gold teeth returned, bearing a pile of passports and immigration papers, which he tossed with disdainful abandon onto a table. Two other officials, both heavily armed, sat down and began to stamp each passport. The passengers swarmed around the table, chattering and grabbing at the stamped documents. Starsky elbowed his way to the front and searched until he found his passport. Or rather the passport of one Lasko, Jerome. The precious paper in his hand again, he worked his way out of the crowd and went back to the deck.
The boat was rapidly approaching the dock, making its way through the harbor, which was jammed with hundreds of junks, fishing boats, freighters, and regatta boats. Above the sounds of the boats and the mingling of voices in many tongues, Starsky could hear the raucous cries of the gulls overhead.
It didn't take long for the boat to reach its mooring and Starsky found himself disgorged upon the pier into a mass of teeming humanity. He let the noisy crowd sweep him along for a while, not knowing where he should go or what he should do next.
He decided to find a bar someplace, sit in a corner, and have a drink. Maybe two. Maybe a whole bottle. Hell, it made sense, didn't it? Shouldn't a guy have a fucking wake for his partner? He started looking for a cheap bar. If anybody deserved to have a drink downed in his honor, it was Ken Hutchinson.
The Orange Blossom Bar tried very hard. It had a sort of plastic Susie Wong atmosphere, over laid with an aura of genuine decadence. He sat for two hours, drinking American whiskey for which he paid too much from his small cache of bills. When he first sat down in the booth, he was joined by a bar girl who sipped cherry brandy and apparently refused to be put off by his unsociable demeanor. She merely tapped her long, blood-red nails on the table and sighed frequently. After a long time, she turned to him and blinked her endless lashes. "You want to have some fun?"
Starsky waved for another drink. "I'm having fun, honey," he replied. "Can't you tell? I'm having one hell of a good time."
Ritualistically, she reached one hand under the table and gave his thigh a squeeze. "We go my place? Not far. I give you one hell of gooder time." She giggled.
He frowned. "I do not think," he said, speaking very precisely, "I do not think that you are showing the proper amount of respect. I mean, do you have any idea what's going on here?"
Playfully, she shook her head. "No, honee, what's going on here?"
He took another gulp of whiskey and sat quite still for a moment, letting its stinging warmth fill him. Maybe oblivion could be found at the bottom of the glass. In a moment he probed delicately at the fringes of his consciousness. No oblivion yet; it still hurt. "Well, I'll tell you. What we have here is a wake." His voice roughened. "I'm talking about a dead man. This is no frigging game."
"Dead man is no frigging game," she agreed.
"Right." He nodded solemnly. "Right you are, baby. Fun and games is all over. It's all gone, 'cause Hutch is dead. Dead."
The bar girl exercised an unexpected philosophical streak. "Everybody die, honee." She waved a hand as if to illustrate the fleeting quality of all existence.
"Why?" Starsky said, sounding like a petulant child.
She shrugged. "That's life."
Starsky leaned across the table toward her. "Can I tell you a secret?"
"Life sucks," he said distinctly. He was quiet for a moment. "I wonder how much it costs to fly to California."
"A whole lot."
"Yeah. More than I got, that's for damned sure."
"Why for you want to fly to California?"
Starsky drank more whiskey. "'Cause that's where Rossi and Wong are." He shrugged. "I don't know what to do except go after them. What else can I do?" He surveyed the room glumly.
She was rapidly losing interest in the conversation. "You like dance, maybe? I put some hot American music on the jukebox."
Sliding out of the booth, he pushed some change across the table toward her. "Yeah, sweetheart, that's a good idea. Play some music. I gotta make a phone call." There was an old-fashioned wooden phone booth in one corner of the room. Walking with intoxicated deliberation, Starsky went over to it, sat down, and closed the door. He watched for a moment as the girl made careful musical choices and then he lifted the receiver depositing several random coins. "I want to make a collect call to the States," he told the operator who spoke in crisp British tones.
"I want to call Harold Dobey in Los Angeles." He gave her the number and then waited for what seemed like a very long time before he could hear the ringing of a phone in the Dobey home. It rang three times.
"Operator," Starsky said suddenly, panic-stricken.
"Yes, sir, the number is ringing."
"Never mind," he said quickly. "Forget the call." He slammed the phone into place. No. He couldn't talk to Dobey now. It would mean hearing the awful words being said aloud by someone else and that was something he couldn't bear right then. Once another person said "Hutch is dead" it would be a true and unchangeable fact. Maybe there was still a small fragment of hope somewhere inside him that it was all some kind of dreadful mistake. He couldn't take the risk of having that hope—no matter how futile it might prove to be—destroyed at a time when he'd need all of his strength just to keep going. One part of him had apparently accepted the seeming inevitability of his partner's death, but another part of his mind or his heart was hanging onto a fragile thread, a tenuous prayer. He couldn't lose that, so he wouldn't talk to Dobey now.
He left the phone booth and walked back to the table. The girl was dancing alone in the middle of the room and she waved at him. "Come. Dance with me."
Starsky shook his head. "No. I have to go." Lifting his drink, he held it aloft for a moment, remembering that this was, after all, supposed to be a wake. But he was screwing it up. As usual. He was such a dumb bastard that he didn't even know how to have a good wake for his best friend. Maybe, he thought, I should say Kaddish. That he knew how to do. He'd done it for his father. But he couldn't do it for Hutch yet. Not yet. "Stop dancing," he ordered the girl. "Pick up your drink."
Humoring him, she obeyed.
Starsky was staring at her, not seeing the young Oriental girl, not seeing anything at all really, except a past that shone golden in his memory. Better to see that and bask in its reflected warmth than to look upon a future that was only a grey void. A cold, colorless place.
"We have a toast?" the girl said brightly.
"Yeah. A toast." That sounded good. His slightly muddled mind sorted through words and thoughts and finally he shrugged. "This here is for Kenneth Richard Hutchinson," he said softly. "My partner. Hutch. With love." In one gulp he finished the rest of the drink. He tossed a bill onto the table and left without looking back.
Starsky walked for a long time, sobering slowly. Clearly the solution to his problems did not lie in the bottom of a whiskey bottle. He couldn't even get blindly drunk and forget. Well, probably that was for the best. If he had discovered blissful oblivion in the alcohol, he might have been content with that. Might have been glad to forget revenge, forget trying to get home and find out just what had happened, forget trying to deal with Hutch's death. If only he could've drowned all that, he would have gratefully. But it was obvious that he couldn't. The truth wasn't going to go away, so he might as well face up to it. Maybe when he had completed his mission, maybe then he could deaden the hurt with booze. After all, he had to de something with the rest of his life.
He finally went into an airline ticket office. The man behind the counter was an American. "May I help you?" he asked somewhat doubtfully, causing Starsky to wonder for the first time just what he must look like.
"Yeah, maybe you can help me," he said, leaning against the counter. "Can you tell me what a one-way ticket to Los Angeles will run?"
"Whatever the cheapest way is." The man consulted a book before giving his answer, an amount which stunned Starsky. He'd been expecting that it would be expensive, but even so . . . . "Okay. Thanks."
Back in the street, he gave in to the raging despair that filled him and slammed his fist against the side of the building. "Damn. Damn." Weren't things ever going to turn his way? Where the hell was it written that David Michael Starsky had to get all the world's crap dumped on him personally?
As if in response to his anguished question, it began to rain. Starsky shrugged and started to walk again. Probably there was something kind of funny in this whole thing. Big-fucking-shot cop, undercover operator, Captain Marvel-type, and there wasn't a damned thing he could do to help himself. The cops were after him. His partner was dead. He was thousands of miles from home. And he was scared. He was even more scared now than he'd been the night of the Tyler Monroe stakeout when he couldn't pull his gun. Maybe because this time there was no Hutch to back him up This time he was alone. Alone on this tiny island jammed with people.
Starsky was jolted from his gloomy introspection by shouts coming from down the block, shouts followed by the familiar sound of a police whistle.
For one terrifying moment he thought they were after him, but almost immediately he realized that they weren't. A slight figure in black pushed by him going at a dead rum.
"Stop thief!" someone yelled in English above the chorus of Chinese voices.
Instinct took over and Starsky set off in pursuit. He followed the fleeing man for several blocks, until the thief ducked into an alley, Starsky right on his heels. Finally he launched himself, football style at the man's legs. They connected and both fell in a heap. "Naughty, naughty," Starsky said, grabbing a black leather bag. Sitting on the hapless criminal's stomach, Starsky opened the bag. "My god," he whispered when he saw what was inside.
Starsky could hear the police whistle getting closer. There was no time to think. He clutched the bag to his chest, jumped up, and ran into the maze of buildings that surrounded the alley.
He kept running until long after the sound of the pursuit had been lost in the noise of Hong Kong, until a painful stitch in his side forced him to stop. He slumped down behind a low brick wall that fronted the vast green lawn of some government building, out of sight both of the street, and by virtue of a clump of thick hedges, of whatever prying eyes might be looking out the windows of the building. It took nearly ten minutes for his breathing to return to normal. When the pain in his side had finally subsided, he sat up and almost timidly opened the bag again.
It hadn't been a dream. The bag was crammed with money.
"Thank you," he whispered to whatever force had suddenly smiled upon him. The cash was in several different currencies—American, British, German, and some he didn't recognize, so Starsky had no way of knowing how much he had in all. But the American bills, at least, were all in large denominations and if the others followed suit, he was holding a great deal of money. Enough, maybe, to get home on.
I'm a thief, he thought suddenly. He was turning into the kind of person Hutch and he had spent years chasing down, busting, getting off the street. But his faint sense of guilt—and it was faint—was overshadowed by a sense of rightness. His grandmother used to say, "What God does not choose to give, you cannot take." The money, he decided, was meant for me. It was just the wheel finally turning his way. An honest-to-god lucky break. His hold on the money tightened. This cash was his way home. Back to . . . well, back to whatever waited for him there. The jolt given him by the cash allowed a peeking through of that same faint hope that had kept him from calling Dobey earlier. It was possible that Hutch wasn't dead. It was possible. In which case, something was very wrong, wrong enough to make him leave his apartment and quit the force. If so, Hutch needed him.
"The next time you need me, man, I'm gonna be there." That's what he'd said to Hutch and he meant it. Even if the only help he could give his partner was to track down the men responsible for his death and exact a full measure of justice.
Starsky took the money out of the bag and shoved it into several pockets, pushing the bag itself out of sight beneath the bushes. It didn't take him long to make his way back to the airline office. The American had been replaced by a young Chinese man. "I want to go to Los Angeles," Starsky said without preamble. "One way."
He began pulling crumpled bills from his pockets. "I'm paying cash." He glanced up and saw the clerk watching him curiously. "I, uh, won a big pool," he said by way of explanation. "You just take out how much the ticket is and then give me the rest back. Can you do that?"
"Yes . . . yes," the clerk said, beginning to uncrumple the money. "When do you wish to leave, sir?"
"Today. Now. As soon as possible."
The clerk frowned professionally. "I'm afraid that the earliest seat is not available until the day after tomorrow."
Starsky sighed. "Okay, I'll take it. Do I have enough money?"
There was enough and just a little left over, which the clerk handed back. It took only a few minutes to complete the purchase in the name of Jerome Lasko, and then Starsky left the office.
Night was slowly descending upon Hong Kong. He walked past several cafes, from which loud radio music was pouring as people began gathering for the evening. Lovely young girls, most of them Chinese refugees, prowled the streets like taxis looking for customers. There were few policemen, only crowds of youths standing on the corners, smoking, or lurking in the doorways of the cafes. Neon lights reflected blood red or green on their waxy faces. Over it all, there was an air of danger just waiting to be unleashed, of violence yearning to break out.
Starsky stopped at a corner kiosk to buy another pack of cigarettes and lit one before walking on. He had to find a place—a cheap place—to spend the next two nights and he had to eat. He stopped momentarily in an effort to get his bearings. A young tough bumped into him and kept going after a snarled remark in Chinese. Lousy punk. Somebody oughta toss the creep. Probably got a gun or drugs or something. Oughta throw him against the wall and frisk him good.
A few minutes later he saw an American-style fast food joint and stopped in front of it. The crowd swirled around him impatiently as he stared at the bearded, grubby stranger reflected in the plate glass window. Who was the haunted, alien figure? And would he ever be able to find himself again?
When it came to that, who was the real David Michael Starsky?
He moved a couple of steps closer to the window, trying to get out of the way of the never-ending stream of humanity that flowed up and down the sidewalk. There were some questions that he'd never been very concerned with. Like the question of identity. He knew, by god, who he was. The grandson of a rabbi he never met. The son of a cop shot down on the streets of New York. The lover of Terri, shot down on the streets of Los Angeles. The partner of Ken Hutchinson. He was a cop.
There was more, of course. Even he realized that every person was the sum total of a lot of different things. That sounds like something Hutch would say, he thought. Yeah, I'm a big sum total. I like pizza and Dr. Pepper and Adidas shoes and tight blue jeans and my car and Humphrey Bogart pictures. And tacos. And Ed McBain mysteries. And STAR TREK. I hate yogurt and violin music and writing reports and doing laundry and funerals and HAPPY DAYS.
So. Add all that up and the sum total is—what? Me? Except that I'm not a cop now. My grandfather the rabbi is dead and my father the cop is dead and my girl Terri is dead and my partner Hutch is dead. Subtract all that from your frigging sum total and what the hell is left?
What was left was the man in the window staring back at him. What was left, he figured, was just David Michael Starsky. What was the line about being true to yourself? But didn't that mean you also had to be true to all those little bits and pieces of yourself? The stranger in the glass was as much a part of him as the goddamned hero cop roaming the streets of Los Angeles.
Starsky straightened his shoulders a little. This is life, buddy, he thought, and I might as well get used to it. After another moment he sighed and went into the restaurant, hoping he could get a cheeseburger.