Sal's house was totally deserted. The garage had blood stains all over it, but the rest was relatively clean, except for the bedroom where things lay in disarray, broken glass littered all over. Hutch tried desperately to figure out where to go from there.
The patrolman called out to him from the door of the bedroom. "Sergeant, I found this in the bathroom. Some brown stuff is flaking off it. Could be blood."
Hutch took the leather jacket. If he needed further proof that Starsky had been there, he was holding it on his hand. He noticed it was damaged, cut several times across the top of a sleeve, inspected it closely. Yes, there was blood on it, but it hadn't come from inside the material. "Put this in a bag and tag it," he told the officer. My God, what am I collecting evidence for?
"Sergeant Hutchinson!" The call came from somewhere downstairs.
He ran out and leaned over the railing. "Here."
"Your name's Ken, right?"
"Officer Baylor's awake. I think she's asking for you."
He was rushing down the steps when there was a sound, a distant boom that rattled the windows, but he was too preoccupied to pay much attention. The road was more crowded now than when he'd left it. There were at least six black-and-whites in addition to the ambulance, emergency lights bathing everything in flashing red.
Linda was on a litter, paramedics clustered around her. He shoved one out of the way and went to his knees. "Linda, it's Ken, talk to me." She didn't look aware.
"She's drifting in and out," one of the paramedics said. "We should take her away, but she wouldn't let us until she saw you."
"Linda, I'm here. Do you know what happened? Where's Starsky? Linda?"
The dark head tossed. A paramedic steadied it. "We better take her."
"No! Linda, come on. I'm lost, baby. Give me something, anything."
"Really, Sergeant, enough!" The man was aiming a syringe at Linda's arm.
Hutch grabbed his wrist. "What's that?"
"She's in pain. I'm going to knock her out."
"Give me a second, just a second, please."
The man looked angry and ready to argue, but a faint whisper from Linda stopped him. "Ken?"
"Yes! I'm here. I'm listening."
"D...Dave...I heard...they took...."
"They took him? Who? Do you know where?"
"Marruzzi? They took him to Marruzzi? To his house?"
She couldn't talk, started coughing, tried to nod, stiffened with pain. The paramedic sank the needle into her arm. "Enough, Sergeant."
"Okay, okay. Take good care of her."
Hutch briefly stroked the dark head. "Thanks, honey." Then he was on his feet, issuing orders. Some patrolmen were saying something about an explosion and a fire, but it sounded like it was somewhere far away, so he couldn't spare it any thought. He shouted the address for Marruzzi's house. "Block the road to it. Nobody goes in or out. Stop and search everyone, every car. I'm going in. Somebody call Dobey and tell him what's going on."
His own car was blocked in. He grabbed the nearest black-and-white.
There were a few minutes when Starsky thought he was going to black out. At first he'd stayed under as long as his lungs could possibly take it, surfacing twice for air, but very briefly since Luigi had been shooting like mad. The explosion had caught him the third time he'd surfaced, its impact forcing him to sink again, this time uncontrollably. Then the first shock wave had tossed him, immediately followed by more as gasoline tanks went off in chain reaction, tumbling him every which way.
At last, when his lungs were strained to bursting and he gasped, air was there, mixed with only a small amount of water. It was hot, thick with fumes, tasting like gasoline and burning his lungs already on fire, but he was on the surface. He used the dead-man's-float until his head cleared a little and the pain in his chest stopped threatening to black him out.
He raised his head. Water wasn't his element, either, but he was stuck with it. He hadn't been doing so badly with the things he was stuck with that night. In fact, he was a little proud of himself. He couldn't quit yet, though. The shore was miles away. Marruzzi's landing was the closest straight shot, but that would be plain dumb. The Marina, he decided. He knew he wouldn't make it on his own. But he also knew the safety patrols of the place would soon put out to sea to investigate an explosion right off their coast. As if on cue, he saw a number of tiny lights separate from the string along the shore. He hoped his arms could stand some more strain and headed for them.
Ahead, Hutch saw the gigantic iron gates were open, letting out some cars. Starsky could be in one of them, but the roadblock would take care of those. If not, he would still be in the house, and anyway, Marruzzi was the man with the answers, he was sure. Slowly, ponderously, the gates were swinging shut. Once they were secured, he might not be able to get in.
He floored the gas pedal, calculated he just might make it, and with a tiny adjustment of the steering wheel, put the car directly in the center of the road. Peripherally, he was aware his vehicle was halfway into the wrong lane and that oncoming cars were rushing toward him. But he was fixed on the gates and the only way in was right up the middle. Anything in between would just have to get out of the way.
They did. Lights swerved left and right, away from him, with screeching and scraping sounds. His car reached the gates, almost got snared on both sides, then shot through them. He hit the brakes briefly in order to negotiate the curving driveway, barely kept the car from going into a spin, fed it gas.
Backlighted figures rushed out of the house, voices yelled, guns fired. The windshield splintered into a spider's web. He kept going, following the driveway around the house. He wasn't about to waste time with confrontations.
He had no conscious plan for entry into the house. His mind had already latched onto a piece of information garnered from Starsky's descriptions. With the instincts of a hunter, he went unerringly for the weak spot. The greenhouse loomed in front of him, lit with plant lights, a delicate, glass-paneled palace -- a breach in the fortress wall, and he sent the car crashing into it like a battering ram, stopped only when he had to. He was inside.
"Nobody else out there in one piece." Starsky gasped for breath to continue answering the shore safety guard's worried questions. "I'm a police officer. No badge to show you right now, though." Someone threw a blanket round his shoulders. He grabbed it greedily, chilled to the bone, shivering uncontrollably both from cold and fatigue. "Got a radio in there?"
"Call Metro Police Department. They'll vouch for me. Tell 'em Sergeant Starsky wants to talk to Captain Dobey." His teeth were chattering and it took a few tries for the man to get all the names and titles straight.
"Come in out of the wind." They drew him into the cabin and pushed him onto a cushioned bench. Somebody tried to rub warmth into him. They offered a thermos. He gulped the hot tea down, starting to feel a little better.
He heard Dobey's voice through the radio, several decibels louder than was necessary, as usual. It was accompanied by engine noises and the siren. The captain seemed to be on the road, going somewhere in a hurry. "Starsky, where are you?"
He rose to reach the mike. "Here, Cap'n. On a shore patrol boat off the Marina."
"You all right?"
"I'll live. Cap'n, listen. Linda was shot in Sal's house. I don't know where she is now, but she was alive when I -- "
"She's at the hospital, still alive. Your partner found her."
Starsky silently gave thanks. "Oh, so you knew -- where is my partner?" He heard an expletive that very rarely came out the black man's mouth.
"From all I've been able to gather, at Marruzzi's. Alone."
"What's he doin' there?"
"Take a good guess. They said he talked to Baylor and dashed there. I got units outside and I'm taking the warrant up myself right now so we can get in and find out what the hell's going on."
"Turn this thing around!" Starsky shouted at the people around him. "Take me to that pier, right there. Call the units, Cap'n. Tell 'em to go in. They don't need a warrant. I got all the justifiable causes you need." He was about to let go of the mike, but remembered something else. "Oh, Cap'n, Fontane and Sal're leavin' the country from Manderlay Heights. Try to stop them. Sal shot Linda."
The boat changed course for Marruzzi's estate, but somebody voiced concern. "Sergeant, we really should take you to our infirmary."
"Forget the infirmary. Just give me back that thermos, and push this raft, will ya?"
Hutch's break-in was so uncontested that it was almost ridiculous. There was no one left from the huge staff Marruzzi had. Maybe those cars on the road had been carrying them away. People who'd tried to stop him were still scattered all over the garden. Inside, he managed to snag one of the servants before the man scurried into the wood panelling like the rest. Readily, he old Hutch where Marruzzi was. In the library. Alone.
The old man was gazing out of a bay window, looking curiously detached from the chaos outside. "Who was it?" he asked at the sound of the door opening and closing, as if he had been waiting for a report.
"Not was. Is."
Marruzzi gave a small start. But he didn't turn, only shifted a little until, Hutch supposed, he brought the speaker into focus on the window. "Who are you?"
"Detective Sergeant Hutchinson." He locked the door as he spoke.
"I see. Do you have a warrant?"
"I don't need one when I'm met with gunfire."
"My staff isn't made up of fools. Your manner of asking admittance must've left something to be desired. No matter, we can leave that to my lawyers."
Lawyers. Staff. A white-haired, ultra-civil man -- "Turn around and come closer," Hutch snarled. He was obeyed. "Where's my -- " A hammering on the door cut him off. He whirled and covered the entrance. "Call them off!"
"I'm fine. Stand by," Marruzzi called out and the door was left alone. "Actually, Detective, I'm glad you're here. I was about to call the police myself."
"Oh, really? Why's that?"
"I'm worried. My grandson borrowed my yacht for some of his friends and soon after they left there was an explosion off the coast. I'd like to make sure my -- "
To the blond, it was so much drivel. "Save me your troubles. Where's my partner?"
Marruzzi was regarding him as if he were a slow child. "Really, Sergeant, how would I know that?"
Hutch contained himself with great effort. "Cut the crap! I know he was here. If you have to play games, you know him as Caporetto."
"This is confusing."
He had had enough. He advanced on the old man. "No, it's real simple. You tell me my partner is all right and where I can find him, you get to take your chances with a judge. You take them with me, and you don't have any chances."
The man stood firm against the blond's towering presence, not intimidated by the gun or the cold voice. His attitude imposed a strange restraint on Hutch. But it was the wrong time for it. The lid on a pressure cooker held only for so long, the small vent helped just so far, before it exploded. Hutch felt something inside reaching a critical point. It scared him. Whenever he lost control unexpectedly, he didn't have time to worry about it. He could feel this one coming, could tell it was going to force some deliberate violence out of him. And Marruzzi still stood, damnably nonchalant, like a blind man unconcerned about the tornado right in front of him.
Hutch was scared enough of himself to plead. "Let me find him. Just tell me he's all right."
Strangely enough, Marruzzi, who hadn't retreated from overt menace, now took a hasty step back. "If your partner is the man I know as Caporetto, I can't tell you that, Sergeant. I've been trying to explain. I think my yacht had an accident. He was on it."
It suddenly came together. The distant explosion he'd heard, the fire off the coast at the edge of his vision as he had driven up, all things he'd ignored then. He didn't ask any other questions, not interested in answers couched in unincriminating terms. Besides, hadn't this been a foregone conclusion anyway? Something he had already known, something that had been coming, had been bound to arrive?
He found himself at the window. The glass pane held a hundred images, like a hall of mirrors but without a sense of depth. The objects in the lit room overlaid the dark sea and sky, and for a second he couldn't tell which bright reflection belonged behind him and which was unreachably far. Then he saw it. It was burning, superimposed on the reflection of his own face, the flames visibly dying down. He brushed the glass in front of his face as if it were a match come too close; it failed to disturb the image. It looked like he could almost close his hand on it and it'd fit like a toy, except maybe some flames would spurt through his fingers, and if he squeezed real hard -- he put his hand down.
Something disturbed his neatly frozen picture. Distantly, he noted on the reflection that it was Marruzzi reaching for the door knob. "Touch it," somebody seemed to say, quite calmly and distinctly, "and you won't have a hand." The man pulled back. "To the middle of the room. More. Yes. Stay there. Right there. Don't move."
The old man was saying something and off somewhere else were loud, staccato sounds he should, for some reason, react to, but he didn't consider any of it worth hearing. He turned around. The gun was too heavy, dragging his arm down. He really should give a thought to a smaller piece like his -- stop.
"I know you," he said to the white-haired man standing in the middle of the room.
"Officer, you're wrong. We have never met before."
"I know you very well," he asserted, dispassionately. "I know this room. I stood here before."
"I don't understand what you're -- "
He interrupted. "The same." He waved at the room with his left hand, some instinct warning him against moving even slightly the one holding the weapon. "The best of everything money can buy." A large painting caught his eye briefly. "That must've set you back a bundle. Very nice. Of course, Starsky wouldn't appreciate it. Gee, Hutch, he'd say, it don't look like nothin' -- Yes, double negatives and all."
He felt a crazy urge to smile and maybe he did, a tender affection sluicing through the cold knot in his center. Spring trickle. Melting into winter ice. Out of season. No. Stop.
Quickly, he froze it again. If the arctic block melted, nothing might be left of the whole. He waved at the sumptuous room again. "Is there anything left that money can buy you? How much more can you have? Or maybe you're right. If you want only one thing in life, what happens when you lose -- " That was a dangerous track. He retraced. "Maybe you're right, but tell me, how are you going to take it all with you?" Now that was an intriguing thought. He was aware of lifting his gun.
"Or isn't it the material things anymore? Of course it isn't. It's power. What do you think, if you're powerful enough nothing can touch you? You'll be sacred, immortal? Because you deal death you can cheat it? Think again, old man."
His left hand came up, wrapping around the one already gripping the magnum. He braced his legs apart, arms outstretched directly in front of him. "You kill, I know. You order it and it's done. But did you ever kill someone when you're looking straight into his eyes, when you're close enough to smell the fear? I have. Many times."
The first time he'd cried. Crazy world. Man could kill. Man shouldn't cry. Had wanted to hide. Hadn't been allowed to. "Hey, it's all right," he had been told. "The day you don't feel like cryin' is when I'll start to worry."
Guess what, Starsk.
"I don't feel like crying," he said, or thought he said.
There was a lot of noise somewhere. He didn't care. The old man wasn't moving and that was enough. At the moment, it wasn't a person he was seeing through the gunsights. A spider, gorged but never full. And Hutch had stood at the center of this web already one time too many.