Publisher's Note: This is an excerpt from a story that is in Flamingo's
zine, Starsky & Hutch: Dangerous Lives, Dangerous Visions under
its new title, Remnants. This zine is in print and availabe from Flamingo.
Comments on this story can be sent to: firstname.lastname@example.org
"How 'd it go, Starsky? Did they make you?" Captain Dobey asked around a mouthful of popcorn.
"No, I'm in."
Starsky watched the different way his three wooden syllables affected his two companions. The stouter and older of their group of three relaxed, resting his considerable girth against the slop sink of the broom closet they were crammed into. His captain was visibly pleased with a job well done.
Hutch, however, wasn't so easily fooled. Starsky saw the tall blond straighten, those perceptive blue eyes digging into his face.
Normally, Starsky was more than happy to allow Hutch to read it all in his gaze, but not this afternoon. He turned his attention fully on Dobey, trying to block out his awareness of Hutch.
Shame was such a new thing between them, he didn't know how to deal. So, he just did his best to withdraw emotionally from the topic and report the facts, the way he'd fill out the details in an accident report—impersonal, like the events had nothing to do with him, like those cold hard facts hadn't stained his soul forever.
"Your cover held, then?" Dobey probed, his dark, round face lined with concern. Dobey might be glad that Starsky was in, that his cover hadn't been blown on day one, but it was clear their religious captain was having as much trouble dealing with this assignment as his inside man was. But that was only to be expected, Starsky supposed, unable to imagine what kind of cop wouldn't be creeped out by this particular undercover job.
"Anderson checked with Delgado in Quentin yesterday. Villar's reputation for Satanism is legendary in C Block. Delgado confirmed everything," Starsky assured.
"Any trouble?" Dobey probed, visibly worried, as any good commanding officer should be.
Starsky shook his head. "No."
No trouble. Except, he still couldn't meet his partner's eye.
Hutch had been his back up last night, as on all the nights before that. His partner had been out back in the bushes monitoring the transmission from the bug that Starsky had planted beneath the House of Satan's altar the previous week. Hutch had overheard every bit of last night's initiation ritual.
"Did you see anything we can use against Anderson and his followers?" the captain asked.
"Nothin' that points to homicide, Cap'. They might be twisted, but they ain't stupid. Anderson's not gonna let me see anything important this soon into the game, regardless of what Delgado says about Villar. They're gonna want to give me a few test runs before they trust me with anything important. I'm gonna have to play it slow till they make a slip."
Dobey nodded. "Good. Make sure you're not the one that slips up. These boys play for keeps."
"Don't I know it. You should see Anderson, Cap'. Cool as ice and just as slippery. To look at him, you'd think he was a pillar of the community," Starsky reported, still having trouble consigning the head Satanist's benign, grandfatherly appearance with his depraved actions.
"That pillar of the community is suspected of committing more murders than Simon Marcus and Charles Manson combined," Dobey reminded.
"And then some, I'll bet," Starsky agreed. After last night, nothing would surprise him. The fact that he hadn't even been entrusted with the cult's deepest secrets and had still participated in enough vice to get him three-to-five reassured Starsky not at all.
"You sure you weren't followed here?" Dobey checked for the fourth time in ten minutes.
About to snap at his boss' well-intentioned query, Starsky took a deep, calming breath and let the impulse pass. Now was most certainly not the time to lose it. He reminded himself that Dobey's concern was for his safety and not motivated by a lack of confidence in Starsky's abilities. Anderson and his friends weren't the kind you took chances with.
"I'm certain," he replied when he could trust his temper. "I left the apartment through the bathroom window, took a cab to the department store down the block, and entered the theater through the fire exit. I wasn't followed and no one saw me. Except an alley cat."
"Good." Dobey at last appeared satisfied. "The final initiation ceremony is tonight?"
"No. It's on Friday. Anderson's right hand man, Baldino, and me got plans to paint the town red tonight," Starsky answered, glad that his commander hadn't asked the particulars of last night's ceremony and doubly grateful for his partner's silence.
"You let us know where you're goin' and I'll get a surveillance team set up . . ."
"No can do, Cap'. We're goin' bar hoppin'. Dino's too much of a pro not to notice a tail. I'll be all right."
"Starsky . . ."Dobey growled.
"Look, he's not gonna pull anything on me. He thinks I'm one of them. He even seems to sorta like me," Starsky said.
Taking a deep breath, Starsky offered his commanding officer his latest triumph, "I told Dino that I'm havin' trouble finding a job with my rap sheet. He's gonna ask Anderson if I can be his driver for a while."
"You what?" Dobey gaped, almost choking on his popcorn.
Starsky nodded, trying not to look too satisfied. "I thought you'd like that."
"I don't even want to know how you managed it," Dobey rumbled, but he looked relieved, like he wasn't so worried anymore about finding his man hanging on a meat hook somewhere.
Starsky himself was still ambivalent about that breakthrough. As much as it would help his case, he still wasn't sure how pleased he was that a bunch of psycho Satan-worshippers had taken him to their hearts as though he were their long lost son. Still, as far as police work went, it was quite a coupe. It meant that he'd have a front row seat to all of Anderson's activities, which was a good thing. Only, the mere thought of being that close to that sicko on a daily basis gave him the willies.
"Will you be able to get away to meet us again tomorrow?" Dobey checked.
"I'll try. Better make it the Rivoli, though."
"Same time?" the captain asked.
"Same bat time, same bat channel." Starsky's grin was forced, but it was enough to fool their captain.
"Be careful, Starsky," Dobey warned, prizing his bulk off the sink edge to leave.
"Sure thing, Cap'," Starsky forced a smile, his heart twisting as Dobey's hand settled on the closet's doorknob. Something inside him twisted at the thought of these men he trusted with his life leaving. This was the first time he'd felt normal since their last meet four days ago.
"Hutchinson?" Dobey called.
"I'll be with you in a minute, Captain," Hutch spoke for the first time since he'd said hello. Dobey nodded. "I'll wait for you in the car. Don't be too long."
The tiny room could not be said to be silent as the door closed behind Dobey, not with the action packed shoot 'em up blasting through the paper thin walls from the nearest theater, but the lack of speech was disconcerting to the frazzled, dark-haired cop.
Starsky stared at the stained linoleum between his blue Adidas and tried to think of something to say. Hutch had heard everything last night.
Starsky actually jumped at the quiet greeting.
"It was part of the job, partner," Hutch continued. "You had no choice."
The understanding in the gentle tone enveloped him, reassuring him almost as much as the hand that gripped his shoulder did. His whole body seemed to relax under that touch, the way it would when he was holding his breath for a long time and finally let go and breathed.
"That's better," Hutch approved as Starsky finally dared the blond's gaze. "Do you wanta talk about it?"
"What's to say? It isn't even my religion and I feel . . . dirty about what went on."
Those clear blue eyes were startlingly non-judgmental as they dug through Starsky's outer guards, seeming to sink straight through to his soul. "Last night was worse than I thought it'd be, Starsk."
Detecting the note of apology, Starsky shrugged. "We knew it wouldn't be easy. At least you were able to prepare me as to what I could expect in there. Could've been worse."
"Not by much," Hutch whispered.
"Someone could've died," Starsky reminded.
"Yeah, you're right," Hutch agreed, then that hand that had yet to leave his shoulder was giving another encouraging squeeze.
As always, he found himself thankful for Hutch at the oddest of moments. Without his partner's briefing, he would have walked into that cult armed only with the lore culled from horror films -- very little of which was accurate as he'd learned. Even the most daring of horror directors steered clear of the sexual perversities involved in the actual satanic ceremonies. Hutch had done some research and warned him how things might go down. Without it . . . Starsky wasn't sure he would have held it together last night.
But he didn't want to think about last night right now, not with Hutch so near. He just wanted to enjoy the moment.
"There's that," Hutch agreed.
A particularly loud explosion from the film playing on the other side of the wall filled the lull in conversation.
"I still wish I could've gone under," Hutch said at last, beating a long dead horse. How that would have helped any, Starsky didn't know. He was having a hard enough time handling all this himself and he wasn't the one prone to head-trips in this partnership.
"Baldino would have made you in a minute. It might be ten years ago, but a guy don't forget the first cop that busts him."
"Yeah, but . . ." Hutch sighed. "I don't like you in there alone."
"I ain't alone. You're my back up." His partner's worry somehow eclipsing his own apprehensions, Starsky tried to lighten the mood. "Besides, if you think I want anyone else on the other end of that bug, you're outta your mind."
A touch of pink blossomed in his partner's tanned cheeks. "That was . . . pretty wild last night, huh?"
Thinking of the mockery Anderson's group had made of the Christian communion ritual, Starsky shuddered. "You don't know the half of it. Hutch, they . . . put it inside her. I had to get it out with my mouth and tongue." Starsky could feel his own face flaming at the confession.
"I heard," Hutch admitted, then continued in a more philosophical line, "Sexual perversion, desecration, blasphemy . . . it's all for effect, Starsk."
Starsky, who'd been there, knew better. "No, it ain't just the shock value or even the sex. These flakes really believe that doin' that stuff gives 'em power."
"Are you . . . okay on this?" Hutch hesitantly questioned. "I mean, can you . . ."
"No, but I can cope. You weren't there, Hutch. To think of some innocent kid being put through that . . . I want them, partner. I want to tie this case up so tight that it'll take their high-priced lawyers a hundred years just to make their bail."
"Okay, but remember that I'm out there if you need me."
Starsky found his first genuine smile of the day. "I've been doin' my damnedest to forget that, buddy."
Hutch grinned and gave a soft chuckle.
The joyful sound soothed Starsky's frayed nerves as little else had these last tension-wracked weeks. Being in the unobtrusive blond's presence after the enforced separation was ridiculously comforting. Undercover, he found himself missing his partner for the strangest reasons. Feeling the lack of the immediate steadfast support hadn't really surprised Starsky. All partners in a close-knit unit felt that emptiness on solo assignments, but it was the little things that got to Starsky most. Like the absence of that quiet laugh in moments when it was needed to break the stress, that silence was the loudest sound in the world. Or the way Hutch's forefinger would absently stroke his pale mustache when the blond detective was lost in thought. Or the way his partner would gripe incessantly about the inconsequential annoyances of day-to-day life and then clam up like a kid about the really awful blows. So many things.
But most of all, Starsky missed the out-and-out goodness of his partner. With the deviant persona this case had forced Starsky to assume, he found himself craving the gentle compassion that characterized Hutch. He needed a good long dose of interacting with a normal, balanced personality. Five minutes stolen in a broom closet with Hutch just wasn't enough.
Looking at him, Hutch's expression sobered. "I know that you're coping with the cover, but under it . . . how are you doin'?"
It's like he reads my mind or something, Starsky thought, forcing a smile. "Hangin' in there. How 'bout you?"
"The same." Those expressive eyes gave the truth of that away. Hutch might be more contained about his emotions, but they were no less strong for all that they were controlled. "I watered your plants yesterday, dusted a bit . . ."
"You don't even dust your own place," Starsky pointed out with a laugh.
"Yeah, well . . . hell, Dobey's waitin'. I've gotta go, Starsk. Be careful, huh?"
"Always. That goes for you, too, you know. Watch your back, babe."
Hutch's eyes squeezed shut like he was in actual physical pain. When they reopened, the crystal blue depths were the slightest bit misty. "Watch my back, he says. I'm not the one rubbin' shoulders with a bunch of wackos."
"Yeah, well, I ain't out there to do my job. You're gonna have to do it for me."
Hutch's smile was shaky, but Starsky appreciated the effort. For a minute, they just stood there staring into each other's eyes, Hutch's big hand still gripping his shoulder, their bodies brushing close as lovers. All Starsky wanted to do was sag against Hutch's warmth and let his friend support him for a while, but, Hutch would never allow him to walk out of here if Starsky were to let on how bad this assignment had really rattled him. If he gave into that weakness now, no matter what strides he might have made towards breaking this case, Hutch would force Dobey into pulling him in. There was a part of him that really wanted to do it, to let the whole damn depravity go, but there were two kids in the morgue whose murderers were still running loose, and, God knew, how many more would join them if Starsky didn't follow through with this case.
So, as tempting as it was to draw comfort from Hutch's strength, Starsky held back.
He couldn't, of course, keep Hutch from reading the struggle in his face, but there was nothing he could do about that. As long as Hutch was convinced that his partner was strong enough to get through this, that was all that mattered.
At last, the blond ripped his gaze away. Looking like it was tearing his heart out, Hutch raggedly whispered, "Dobey's waitin', buddy. I really gotta go. You sure you don't want back up tonight?"
Starsky nodded. "I'll be fine."
His bluff had been bought. He forced himself to be brave. His grin might be weak, but he kept it plastered on for his partner's sake. The last thing he wanted to see in the world right now was Hutch walking away from him.
"Till tomorrow, partner." Another shoulder squeeze, then Hutch was gone.
"Tomorrow," Starsky agreed, his grin dropping like the suspended anvil in a Bugs Bunny cartoon the moment the door closed behind Hutch. Absurdly enough, he felt like bawling his eyes out. Instead, he squeezed them closed and practiced that deep breathing Hutch had taught him till the impulse was mastered.
He couldn't afford to fall apart, not now, not when they were so close. If he could just hold out for a few more days, get the goods on Anderson and his flakes and bust them all to Kingdom Come, everything would be fine.
Telling himself that over and over again, Starsky waited a few minutes in the closet that now seemed as huge and gaping as an empty sports arena. Once he was sure Hutch had had time to clear the building, Starsky slipped out of the room himself.
Having nothing better to occupy his time before tonight's scheduled performance as Villar the Malignant, Starsky stepped into the nearest theater. It was the first time he'd snuck into a movie since he was thirteen.
He only wished that Hutch could have hung around long enough to join him.
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