Out of the Mists
by The Blintz and Brit
The flashing red and blue lights from a dozen patrol cars added to the unworldliness of the moment. The storm that had drenched the crime scene hours before had fled, as if escaping arrest. Everything in the rain’s wake was cast with a slick reflection of the police lights dancing off the pavement in alternating colors.
The street was crowded with the press of bodies—detectives, FBI, ATF agents, lab technicians, the chief of police, EMS with a host of ambulances—and darting in between them all were patrolmen escorting their arrestees toward squad cars. In the midst of the organized chaos Captain Dobey barked out orders, directing the flurry of activity as twenty-eight men were apprehended during a major syndicate sting, the likes of which the city hadn’t seen in decades.
Inside the warehouse—the focal point of the investigation—Starsky shoved his arrestee against the wall and quickly patted him down. The expression on the detective’s face was fierce, promising violence at any moment if one word was said out of line. Everyone else in the immediate area purposefully averted their eyes—some out of fear, others from disgust, and a few out of respect. None too gently, Starsky cuffed the man, though he felt a tightening in his gut at the accompanying snick of the bracelets locking in place. Grabbing the taller man by the arm, he jerked him through the dock doors toward the patrol car waiting to transport him in for booking.
Starsky glared at the red and blue lights dancing off the tarmac as he hustled his prisoner through the puddles. “You have the right to remain silent—”
“I know the drill,” the cuffed man growled.
Starsky spun his charge against the fender of the patrol car so he ended up facing the enraged detective. Dark blue eyes bore into his arrestee, while the activity around them fell silent.
Starsky’s face seemed to grow angrier still. An internal war briefly darted across his face until he finally spat at his captive’s feet, breaking a puddle’s reflection. “You make me sick.”
With a vengeance, Starsky yanked open the back door of the patrol car. Those watching noted he seemed barely able to keep his rage in check. To his credit, Starsky used one hand to steer the criminal’s head away from hitting the door jam as he shoved him into the car. The prisoner quickly leaned toward the open door. “Starsky, I—”
“Shut up!” Starsky slammed the door, forcing the other back. The detective’s fist pounding on top of the patrol car signaled the waiting officer to put the vehicle in motion.
Starsky watched as the car shot through the darkness, its red and blue lights casting a glow upon the drenched buildings. He gazed down the empty street well after the patrol car was out of sight; the image of Hutch’s face staring at him through the back window of the patrol car burned into his mind.
“You all right?” Starsky’s voice was hushed, his head bowed down as if reading the arrest data in front of him.
“Fine, though you had those cuffs on me a little tighter than necessary.” Hutch’s grousing would have made Starsky smile if it hadn’t been for the pressure the two of them had been under for the last four months. Still, he glanced up from his folder to see Hutch pacing the small room, playing his part to the letter.
A tap on the interrogation room door signaled that Dobey was moving into the adjourning room to watch Starsky question his partner. The fact that the captain, the chief of police, and half the IA staff sat behind the two-way mirror was laughable, since the busted detective knew the interrogation would be observed.
“Show time,” Starsky breathed, loud enough for Hutch’s ears alone. He hoped the men sitting on the other side of the glass couldn’t see the mischief in his partner’s eyes. For the audience, Starsky slapped the folder down on the table in front of him. “I thought I knew you! I realize things have been bad for you lately, that money was tight, but I never believed you, of all people, would give in like this! It’s bad cops like you—”
“Oh, stuff it, Starsky!” Hutch charged back over to his partner and swept the papers off the table. “You pious, self-righteous...” Hutch’s eyes darted past Starsky to his own reflection in the two-way glass. “And all of you in there can stuff it, too!”
“Look...” Starsky stood and crossed to the agitated blond. “The DA’s willing to cut you some slack if you’ll drop a few names—”
“Are you nuts?” Hutch grabbed Starsky by his collar, forcing him backward across the edge of the small table. “They’d kill me!”
Starsky grabbed his partner by the wrists to steady himself until he was “rescued” by the observers. Under his breath he murmured with some amusement, “Easy there, Blintz.”
“What’s the matter?” Hutch whispered back, obviously enjoying the moment, giving Starsky a shake. “You forget how to dip?”
As the officers spilled into the room, Starsky threw himself backward, making it appear as though Hutch had shoved him violently. Hutch swung at the retreating figure, purposefully missing, but by mere inches.
Two uniformed officers grappled with Hutch, forcing his arms behind his back to subdue him as he continued to rant. “Come on, buddy. Pal. Why couldn’t you have looked the other way, huh? Did you forget all the years of being partners, buddy? You forget the reason why I needed the money to begin with?”
For an instant, it was as if all the air had been sucked out of the small room as Starsky’s and Hutch’s eyes locked. It was, of course, a ruse—part of the dangerous game the two had been playing—but the pair had agreed to include for believability’s sake the fact that Hutch had taken a prolonged unpaid leave of absence during Starsky’s recuperation. Once Hutch had put the surviving hit man away for attempted murder and an assortment of other charges, he dedicated himself to his partner’s recovery, at no small financial sacrifice. While it wasn’t an issue between the two of them, Starsky still felt a genuine pang of guilt. The brief wounded flash in his eyes wasn’t an act as the two glared at each other.
Starsky picked himself up off the floor, waving away the proffered assistance from another detective. “Get him out of here.”
Hutch continued hollering all the way down the hall, until his voice was finally lost behind the door of the holding tank.
Captain Dobey lingered behind while the rest of the group filed out of the room, a select few heading up to the commissioner’s office. Starsky picked up the case file papers scattered about the floor and handed them back to his superior.
“You boys all right?” Dobey asked quietly.
Starsky nodded curtly, anger in his voice. “I’m ready for this to be over.”
“That makes three of us.”
Starsky’s eyes smoldered. “Two.”
The brunet’s gaze swung toward the hallway. “You know we didn’t get Monte. Hutch told me at the warehouse that we’d only gotten the second-level men, after all. The top dogs are still out there, safe, and he wants to bring them down. Them and Vic Monte.”
“So, we bust Hutch, too, keep his cover good. He makes bail and it buys him some time to dig a little deeper.” Dobey studied the remaining detective. “It’s risky—”
“But I trust Hutch’s instincts on this one.”
“Yeah, well, my instincts don’t like it. Not one damned bit.”
“So what are you going to do?”
Starsky grimaced and ran his hands through his unruly hair. When he finally answered, the resignation in his voice was tinged with fear. “Same as always—watch his back.”
The group of men milling about the commissioner’s office was subdued as they waited for the “prisoner” to be brought in. Starsky sat off to the side, brooding. Captain Dobey had already filled them in with as much information as he had to date: during the sting, twenty-eight arrests were made, including the staged bust of Hutch.
This was not the first clandestine meeting of the representatives from the four different divisions. The commissioner, DA, chief of detectives, and FBI had been looking for a chance to bring down Vic Monte for years, and a golden opportunity had literally been dumped in their laps.
The undercover assignment had started just over six months ago. Starsky had been sent home from the hospital after a week-and-a-half stay, courtesy of two bullets taken during a setup he and Hutch had inadvertently walked into. The mark had been Vic Monte, head of a local “famiglia,” in retaliation for mob hits he and his cartel had arranged. The partners were caught in the middle of a war, and Starsky had barely made it out with his life. In the process of saving his partner and the other innocent restaurant patrons caught in the setup, Hutch had turned the tables, killing one of the hit men and wounding the other. As Vic Monte’s limo had approached the Italian restaurant, the gunfire from within had tipped them off, and he and several of his upper-level men had sped away to safety.
Two days later, Hutch had received a phone call from none other than Vic Monte himself, thanking the detective for the interference that had saved the mobster from walking into sure death. Hutch had immediately seized the opportunity and played up his role in squelching the assassination attempt. Insinuations had been made that he’d heard about the hit and specifically went to the restaurant to interrupt it, hoping Monte would be enticed by a “cop on the edge,” looking for a little side action.
The head of the famiglia didn’t get to be where he was by being reckless or stupid. Over the next few weeks, Monte had put his ears to the streets, hoping to find proof to back up Hutch’s alleged indiscretions. By then, rumbles had been made of supposed past infractions by the detective, including his looking the other way in instances where it would serve his own purposes. There had even been a few suggestions of out-and-out graft, all courtesy of one Huggy Bear Brown and a few choice snitches.
The instant Hutch had hung up from his initial conversation with the mobster, he had laid out his plan to Dobey, and then, with his captain’s cautious agreement, did the same to their superiors and the FBI. The police chief, commissioner, and Feds all but salivated at the opportunity and had quickly agreed to put Hutch undercover if Monte should contact him again.
The only person who had raised an objection was Starsky, who was adamantly opposed to his partner going undercover so deeply without him. After literally hours of discussion, some of which were heated, Starsky had finally conceded, though not happily and not without reservations. The final point of agreement was that Captain Dobey had the final say on when the assignment was over, whether or not both of them agreed.
A month after the initial call, Monte had contacted Hutch again and arranged a face-to-face meeting. The famiglia head spoke plainly, all the while understanding the ramifications of blatantly offering a bribe to a police officer. But any legal retaliation by Hutch, should he refuse, would cause minimal damage in the big picture—the gain far outweighed the risk.
Hutch had neither accepted nor rejected the offer, telling Monte he’d need some time. The mobster wasn’t thrilled by the prospect, but knew better than to push. Within a few days, Hutch did accept, by tipping Monte off to an alleged raid scheduled on one of the felon’s numbers’ drops, and the fragile association was established.
Within the course of the next few months, while Starsky impatiently recuperated, Hutch “looked the other way” on more than one of Vic Monte’s operations. The detective was paid handsomely, receiving several thousand dollars and the arrest of a few minor drug dealers sacrificed as a gesture of Monte’s “good will.”
This arrangement between felon and “dirty” cop cautiously continued to grow over a six-month period. While Hutch continued to gather evidence, building a substantial case against Monte, he was allowed access to more and more of the mobster’s business. Meanwhile, Starsky was upgraded to “light duty,” which put him at his desk, following his partner’s paper trail.
As the covert operation approached its seventh month, it was finally decided that the Feds would go in for the kill. Hutch was quite sure he had enough on Monte and his upper level of support for multiple convictions of graft, money laundering, drug trafficking, and extortion. But the night the police moved in, neither Monte nor his top men had shown, and Hutch caught wind of two new names and a liaison for heroin shipments out of Asia.
When the FBI, ATF, and BCPD raided the main warehouse of Monte’s drug transport, Starsky went straight for his “crooked” partner, looking for a signal as to how to play the moment. At Hutch’s hostile reaction, the darker partner took his cue and “arrested” him.
Now, as the task force sat waiting in the commissioner’s office, Dobey watched Starsky as he stared out the window at the skyline. Tension caused the muscles in the detective’s jaw to dance, and the shadow of worry and sleeplessness darkened Starsky’s eyes. Just as the captain was about to cross the room to talk to him, Starsky’s head turned to the open doorway, though there was no one there. Within a moment, a shadow was cast down the hallway, followed by a police officer leading a handcuffed Hutch into the room.
The conversations in the office quickly fell away as Hutch was deposited in the middle of the room. As soon as the uniformed officer left and shut the door behind him, Starsky was up in an instant, removing the cuffs from his partner.
“Thanks.” Hutch rubbed his wrists and sat in the chair Starsky had vacated, knowing his partner would find a perch on one of the arms.
Agent McMillian slammed his coffee cup down on top of the commissioner’s desk. “Where was Vic Monte tonight, Hutchinson? You said getting him and the others was a sure thing.”
Hutch cocked his eyebrow and glared at the aggressive agent. “And a good evening to you, too, McMillian. Always a pleasure.”
“All right, knock it off,” Dobey growled. “We’re all tired. It’s been a long night for everybody. Hutchinson, why don’t you tell us what happened?”
Hutch exhaled heavily and rolled his head, trying to relieve some of the tension in his neck and shoulders. “Initially, the plan was for Monte, Ferarro, and VanMele to be there as well. This was the second of three major shipments of coke and heroin from Joe Randell and his famiglia, and good old Vic and his buddies didn’t trust the second string with it.”
As predicted, Starsky found a place on the chair’s arm to Hutch’s left. “ATF said the street value was around two-and-a-quarter million.”
“Sounds right.” Hutch nodded and continued, “I got a call earlier in the day that Monte wanted me there as well, just in case Randell tried to renegotiate the price, which is what happened during the first shipment. If he did, Monte would hand him over to me on a silver platter.”
“And Big Vic stays in the game because, by not playing, he didn’t break any laws,” Starsky interjected. “So, no hits, no runs, no errors.”
“We know all of this,” DA Richardson growled. “So, where was Monte and the other two tonight? Does that mean your cover’s blown?”
“Well, sir...” The tone in Hutch’s voice contradicted the respectful title he gave the DA. It was reassuring to feel Starsky tense next to him. “As I was saying, they should have been there, which made me wonder the same thing. Fortunately, the man Monte left in charge of the buy—Squires, the bruiser arrested tonight—he’s big on muscles and short on caution. While we were waiting for Randell’s men to bring the shipment, Squires thought he’d impress me with how much he knew about Monte’s operation. It turns out the reason Vic and his playmates weren’t there tonight was because of some new action offering a connection out of Singapore. They’re pretty big guns if Monte, Ferarro, and VanMele all went to meet with them and missed out on tonight’s big buy. From the sound of it, the Singapore connection would make everything we’ve got on Monte so far look like busting a high school kid for selling a nickel bag of grass.”
Police Commissioner Wilson placed his elbows on his desk and rested his chin in his hand. “That’d mean staying under for a considerable amount of time, Hutchinson.”
“Yes, sir. I...we realize that.” While Starsky didn’t move, Hutch could feel his partner’s internal battle: concern, anger, and fear. He was grateful Starsky hadn’t spoken out against his suggestion of remaining under—without him.
The commissioner nodded and turned his focus on the FBI agent who sat with one hip propped up on the desk. “What do you think, McMillian? Do you have what you need to take down Monte and call it quits? Get this Singapore deal from another direction?”
McMillian thought for a moment before answering, weighing the existing evidence against a potentially bigger bust. “As for Vic Monte and his crew, I think we’ve got all we need to take him down on several counts. Right, Ben?”
The DA nodded. “Ideally, we’d get him with his hand in the cookie jar, like we were supposed to tonight. I think we could get a conviction; what we do have against him at this point is solid. As long as we have Hutchinson’s testimony, that is.”
Chief of Police Carl Porter, who’d been silent up until then, looked around the room. “So the question is, do we risk losing Hutchinson and his testimony for him to go back in and investigate this new connection, or do we play it safe and take down Monte now on a few lesser charges? I’m pretty certain you could put him away for the rest of his slimy little life, but possibly lose some of his hired help, who’d pick up where Monte left off. If we take Monte now, we could go after the others and this Singapore connection by another route. I don’t know. Maybe we should just go with what we’ve got and take you into protective custody, Hutchinson.”
The DA shifted, shaking his head. “Still...we’re so blasted close to wiping out all of Vic Monte’s famiglia.”
Captain Dobey scrubbed his face with his hands. “What about your cover, Hutch? Is it still good?”
Hutch wasn’t surprised when Starsky stood abruptly. “Excuse us for a moment.” Starsky’s hand latched onto Hutch’s shirt and pulled him up from the chair and out into the hallway. Once they had shut the door behind them, Starsky first peered down the hallway to make sure they were alone, then turned back toward his partner with fire in his eyes.
“What are you doing?” Starsky and Hutch said simultaneously, anger on each of their faces as they squared off.
“Me?” Hutch asked, incredulous. “We’ve been given a golden opportunity here! I’m trying to take advantage of it.”
“Well, this ‘golden opportunity’ is liable to get you killed for no good reason.”
“‘No good reason?’ What are you talking about? You know what’s going to happen when that heroin from Singapore hits the streets! What are you thinking?”
“I’m thinking that there’re other ways to stop it from happening besides you staying under alone.”
“Look, Starsk, I’ve made contact with one of Monte’s hired guns—a guy by the name of Dixon. He may be the one who took out Theresa DeFusto’s brother. If I can prove it or get him to talk—”
“So, what...you’re staying in for revenge? You want to nail the guy who started the mess that got me shot?”
“You almost died, pal.”
“And so you’d risk your life to thank Theresa for helping us that night.”
“Oh, come on! If the tables were turned, you’d stay under in a heartbeat!”
“And if the tables were turned, you’d be standing right here, getting in my face!”
The hallway was silent for a moment, the two men’s eyes locked in an internal battle of wills. Hutch finally sighed. “Starsk, I’m already in. Neither one of us wants this crap on the streets.”
Starsky leaned back against the wall, his head tilted back so he could stare at the ceiling rather than succumb to the pleading in his partner’s eyes. “I know. It’s just...”
Hutch’s hand gripped Starsky’s arm. “I know. I’d feel better if you were in there watching my back, too. But, Starsk, how can we not do this?”
Starsky finally dropped his chin to look Hutch full in the face. “My gut’s telling me this is gonna go down bad.”
“Maybe. But my gut’s telling me I’ve got to do it anyway.”
“You’re in there alone. Richardson and McMillian are ready to pull you out, get you in protective custody. But if you push to stay in, they’ll go with it. You know they want this so badly they just might sacrifice you to get it. Who can you trust?”
“Same as always—me and thee.”
The silence that again followed was tense, though not fueled by anger. Starsky finally sighed heavily, dropping his head the rest of the way to his chest, then nodded once, knowing he had to let Hutch follow his convictions and that he would stand beside him, no matter what happened.
Hutch’s hand gripped the back of his partner’s neck, a gesture to bolster them both. The two returned to the room, and Hutch sat back down in his chair. Starsky stayed nearby, but instead of perching next to his partner as he had before, he leaned against the wall. The subtle change didn’t go unnoticed by Dobey. “We were discussing the case while you two were out having your private party in the hall. What use do you think Monte’s going to have for you, now that you’ve been arrested and thrown off the force, Hutch?”
“I’ve thought about that, too. I’m sure I can convince him that I still have enough connections to be of benefit to the organization.”
The DA nodded. “What about bail...have you got that covered?”
Captain Dobey spoke up. “We’d already worked that out with Hutch’s parents in Minnesota. They were briefed on the assignment and were told that a staged arrest was possible as part of the sting. Hutch has already called them, and they’re wiring the bail money, so that’s taken care of.”
Agent McMillian exhaled loudly. “Here’s my take on this. As much as I want the Department to bring down Vic Monte and this new Singapore connection in one big sting, I don’t want to blow what we’ve got. Hutchinson, you’ve done a good job, but I think going back under is too risky. You may have convinced Monte and a bunch of thugs that you’ve gone sour, but I think there’s a whole lot of people, including several on this force, that won’t believe it and will inadvertently blow your cover. You’ll end up dead, and we’ll lose Monte in the process.”
“Gee, it’s nice to know you care, McMillian,” Hutch growled.
“I don’t mean to be blunt, but it’s a big risk to leave you out there. As a matter of fact, I’d like to take you into protective custody until we can arrest Monte and get him to trial.”
“Don’t pull the plug now!” Hutch bolted up out of the chair. “We can still get Monte ‘with his hand in the cookie jar,’ as was so aptly pointed out.”
“We’re so close, Mac. A few more days, that’s all we need. If something doesn’t happen by then, we nail him,” Richardson urged.
Hutch and McMillian stared each other down until the FBI agent finally conceded. “All right, but if things get too heated—”
“I’ll pull him out,” Dobey interjected, then swung a parental finger in Hutch’s direction. “Meanwhile, you be careful.”
Hutch nodded, his satisfaction evident. While the commissioner called downstairs to the holding block, requesting an officer to return the “uncooperative prisoner” to his cell, Hutch turned to Starsky and extended his arms, offering his wrists.
Starsky pushed himself off the wall and retrieved the handcuffs from his jacket pocket. After securing his partner, he locked gazes with Hutch, his voice low. “Don’t be a hero.” He waited until Hutch nodded. “Don’t make me regret this for the rest of my life.”
Hutch was about to respond with a smart comeback, but was stopped by the intensity he saw in Starsky’s eyes. Instead, he gripped his partner’s arm and nodded. A knock at the door announced the escorting officer, and Hutch left the room without a backward glance.