Out of the Mists
Archibald Pierce stood on the steps of the Bay City Police Station and breathed deeply, allowing his lungs to fill with the first “free” air he’d breathed in seventy-two hours. His unfortunate incarceration had occurred when he had parked in a yellow zone, and the conscientious officer who ticketed the vehicle found that Pierce had several outstanding parking tickets. It had taken Pierce the past three days to raise the money to pay the tickets and the fine, but finally, he was free.
He straightened his tie and tried to smooth some of the wrinkles out of his pinstriped suit as he delicately picked his way down the concrete steps, resigned to the fact that he was destined to stay there until the taxi he had called could arrive. He was ravenously hungry, having chosen not to eat the suspicious gray glop that had been served for breakfast. Luckily, a portable hot dog vendor was parked near a bench that actually boasted a bit of shade from a scraggly elm tree. The lunch rush had come and gone, so Pierce found to his delight that he was alone. Using what little money he had, he purchased one of the last frankfurters and, even though under normal circumstances he wouldn’t consider eating such a thing, sat down on the bench and spread his napkin over his crossed legs.
Having purloined a used newspaper from one of the vacant chairs in the courthouse, he opened it to the society page and held it close to his face. His glasses had been broken the first night of his stay when his roommate, known to the regulars at the jail as “Ox,” had accidentally knocked them off the shelf where Pierce had stashed them. Not known for his grace and agility, Ox had then proceeded to crush them under his massive weight while trying to help find them. Apologizing profusely, he had handed the mangled eyewear to Pierce, who had sighed resignedly. Being only 5’7” and tipping the scale at a scant 145 pounds, he had wisely chosen not to say anything to his drunken cellmate and would replace the glasses the first chance he got.
His perusal of the comings and goings of the Bay City elite was interrupted when two uniformed officers walked up to the hot dog vendor, deep in conversation. Peeking over the top of his paper, he saw the cops look his way, but continued speaking without even attempting to lower their voices. Pierce understood why: sitting on a bench in the middle of the day, eating a hot dog, reading the newspaper, and dressed in a respectable navy blue suit, he was sure he could pass as a lawyer or even an assistant DA. Smiling to himself, he appeared to bury his nose back in the paper, but listened intently to what the officers were saying. Being naturally curious had served him well on many occasions, and he had learned long ago that a wise man keeps his ears open and his mouth shut.
“…and I just can’t believe it!” said the younger of the two cops. He was a short man with dark hair, and Pierce couldn’t help notice his striking resemblance to Jerry Lewis. “I went through the Academy with that guy, and he was as straight-laced as they come. Seems sad that somebody like Hutch could get drawn in by the likes of Vic Monte. What chance do the rest of us have?” “Jerry” shook his head sadly and stared at a spot on the ground in front of him.
The two now had Pierce’s undivided attention. Being a two-bit con man for most of his adult life, he had always dreamed of teaming up with someone like Vic Monte and had worked diligently in that direction. He had even given himself a nickname—“The Archer”—because he claimed that he always got his mark. Unfortunately, several months ago he had run a scam on a small dry cleaners in Chinatown and had taken the business for close to a thousand dollars. It was only after his success that he discovered, to his horror, that particular shop was owned and operated by none other than Monte himself as a front for a numbers’ racket. The word on the street was that Monte had it in for Pierce and, while not wasting precious time and manpower by actually putting a hit out on him, it was made known that he would be very grateful if The Archer was the victim of an unfortunate accident.
Since then, Pierce had been on his toes, constantly watching his back. His latest stay in a Bay City holding tank had been very uncomfortable when a number of Monte’s men had been brought in. He had breathed a huge sigh of relief when they were all herded into a different cell and then either transferred or released. As far as he knew, none of them even knew he was there at the time, which suited him just fine. But now, listening to the officers’ conversation, he was on full alert, eager for anything he could pass along to get him into Monte’s good graces.
“Yeah, I know,” replied the other officer, whom The Archer now thought of as the “Dean Martin” of the pair. “It’s tough. But I guess it happens to the best of us¾”
“Not to a cop like Hutchinson, it doesn’t!” Jerry replied vehemently. “Now, I don’t know what’s goin’ on around here, but I’m gonna find out.” With that, he turned and almost viciously slathered mustard on his hot dog, his jaw set with determination.
“Hold on just a minute,” Dean replied, reaching out to grab his partner by the arm. “You can’t just go off half-cocked like this. Maybe we should talk about this a little more.”
“About what? You know somethin’ I don’t?” When there was no reply from his partner, Jerry continued, “I didn’t think so. Now, let go of me so I can find Hutchinson and find out what the deal is.”
“What d’ya mean, find Hutchinson? He’s still in the holding tank, or have you forgotten?”
“No, he isn’t,” Jerry replied, taking a huge bite of his hotdog and chewing loudly. “He made bail a few hours ago and took off. I figure if I hurry, I might just catch him at his place or somethin’.”
“Wait,” Dean replied quietly, eyes scanning the area around them. Seeing only one man apparently engrossed in his paper, the officer continued, though lowering his voice. “Maybe I do know somethin’ you don’t.” He dragged his partner a little ways from the vendor’s cart.
Jerry looked at his partner expectantly. “Well, don’t leave me in the dark, man. What’s the scoop?”
“Hutch isn’t really working for Monte. He’s undercover.”
“What?” Jerry asked incredulously. “How did you know this and I didn’t?”
“Well,” Dean continued, leaning in toward his partner. “Last night I had to work late, what with all the commotion about Monte’s men being brought in. It just so happened that Sheila had invited her folks over for dinner, and I knew she’d be furious if I didn’t show. So, during a break in the action, I snuck into an empty office to call her.”
“And?” his partner prompted.
“And, before I could even pick up the phone, I heard another voice. Seems I had ducked into the DA’s secretary’s office, and there was someone in the inner room on the phone. Whoever it was never even knew I was there, but before I could sneak back out, I heard him mention Hutchinson’s name. I was a little curious what they were gonna do to him—him being dirty and all—and that’s when I heard him say that Hutch was undercover.”
“Are you sure?” Jerry asked skeptically, stuffing the last of his hot dog into his mouth. “’Cause I’ll tell ya, those two put on quite a show when Starsky brought Hutch in last night. All that yellin’ and pushin’ and shovin’. I’ll tell you what, they sure had me convinced. Man! I can’t believe it. Undercover, huh? I gotta admit, it’s quite a relief.” He wiped his hands and face on a small paper napkin and threw it into a nearby trashcan.
“Has anyone ever told you that you’re eating habits are atrocious?” Dean asked as they headed back up the steps. “Didn’t your mother ever tell you not to talk with food in your mouth? And how in the world do you keep from getting sick? You never even chewed that hot dog, and I’ve seen what you do to a slice of pizza...”
As the officers walked out of earshot, The Archer hurriedly folded his newspaper. No longer interested in waiting for his cab, he practically ran down the sidewalk to a nearby pay phone. There was a worm in Monte’s apple, and a cop at that. There was no telling just how grateful the mob boss would be when he got that little tidbit of information. A feral grin spread across The Archer’s face as he entered the phone booth, dropped in a coin, and dialed. This was just the break he’d been waiting for all his life. He straightened his tie a little as he listened to the ringing on the other end of the line and waited impatiently for someone to pick up.
Hutch slowly cracked open one eye and stretched luxuriously before turning to look at the officer disturbing his apparent slumber. He hadn’t really been sleeping, of course; there were far too many men in the holding cell for that luxury. There always seemed to be a pecking order of sorts, even though the occupants were only there for a few hours. Hutch had seen the wisdom of letting it be known right off the bat that he was not to be messed with. So, in order to establish his supremacy early on, he had bodily removed the previous occupant of the cell’s only cot. After a brief but violent struggle, Hutch had then spent the remainder of the long night pretending to be asleep. In truth, he was wide-awake and constantly on guard, lest one of his fellow inmates decided to try and establish a little supremacy of his own.
When his name was called, Hutch stood up slowly and, grabbing his jacket that had served as a makeshift pillow, strolled to the now open cell door. “I’m Hutchinson,” he said to the guard, even though he knew the officer was well aware of who he was. “What do you want?”
“You’re outta here,” the guard explained. “And you, too, Delaney,” he continued, shifting his gaze to a young dark haired man who had joined Hutch at the door.
The guard blandly continued his explanation. “The two of you made bail. You can go to Property and pick up your personal belongings. Just go to the end of this hallway, take a left, then go—”
“I know where Property is,” Hutch snapped back. He turned to the man behind him. “Come on, Delaney. You can follow me.”
The two men headed down the hallway in the direction the officer had indicated. “So, Hutchinson,” Delaney began, trying to match his stride to that of the tall blond. “What happens to you now? They ain’t gonna let you be a cop no more, are they? Now that they busted ya.”
Hutch snorted out a short bitter laugh. “They’ve got to prove I did anything wrong besides being at the scene, first. Hell, I might even sue for false arrest. No, we stick to my story and I’ll come out of this just fine, right? That I got a tip there was a big buy going down at the warehouse, and there was no time to call my partner for back-up...my partner who didn’t hesitate to snap the cuffs on me himself. Ungrateful—” Hutch took a moment to swear and shake his head in anger before continuing. “Yeah, I went in, hoping to make a major bust on my own. When I realized that Monte wasn’t there, I decided to try and bargain. Offer a reduced sentence to anybody who would give up Monte. But before I got anywhere, the cops arrived, and I got scooped up in the net with the rest of the fish.”
“You think they’ll buy it?”
“It’s not like I ever played by the rules one-hundred percent before. It’s not that far fetched that I’d go off on a hot tip on my own like that. Besides, I’ve got an arrest record they can’t argue with. They don’t have any reason to believe I’ve gone sour now.”
“But what if they don’t believe you? What if you’re kicked off the force?”
Hutch didn’t even slow down, his eyes glaring straight ahead as he continued down the hallway, ignoring the hostile looks from the officers and department personnel they passed. He did lower his voice, though. “Then to hell with them. I’ve still got enough information and contacts to be useful to Monte. Names, places, which other cops can be bought off. Even if I don’t lose my job, maybe I’ll just quit, you know? Get out of this deathtrap before I buy it from some hophead with a knife in a back alley some night. Helluva retirement plan they offer here, huh?”
There seemed to be no answering that, so Delaney chose to walk on in silence. So much of what the other had said made sense to him, but he was still leery of the detective’s apparent loyalty to Vic Monte and the whole organization. In spite of the fact that Hutch had just been arrested, booked, and locked up like the rest of them, Delaney thought it would still be a good idea to let Mr. Monte have the final say on what, if any, future he had in the organization.
There was no line at the Property window when they arrived and Hutch stepped up first, giving his name and receipt to the clerk. After a few minutes, the bored-looking officer returned to the front with a large manila envelope in his hands and dumped the contents on the counter.
“Hutchinson, Kenneth R. One brown leather wallet with seventy-one dollars in it, one set of three keys, sixty-two cents in change. Sign here, please.”
Hutch glared at the man and made no move to pick up the proffered pen. “Where’s the rest of it?”
The clerk made a big show of peering into the now empty envelope and sticking his hand inside, thrusting it into the corners. “That’s all there is, Hutchinson. Now pick up your stuff, sign the form, and move on. I got work to do.”
Hutch just stared at the clerk. “What about my gun?”
“What about it? It’s being held until the investigation is over. You’re a cop, you should know that by now.”
“But I haven’t officially been suspended yet. And until I am—”
“Yeah, well, Captain Dobey wants to see you before you leave the building today. Said he wants to know where your badge is, too.” The clerk looked at Hutch suspiciously. “Why didn’t you have your badge on you, anyway?”
“Like I told them before, there wasn’t time—”
“You had enough time to grab your gun.”
“Look, you pencil-pushing moron, I don’t have to explain this to you.”
“Fine, tell it to Captain Dobey! Said he’d be in his office.”
“Well, you can tell Captain Dobey to stuff it, as far as I’m concerned.”
“I don’t think that’s wise, Detective,” the clerk sneered, as he took Delaney’s receipt and headed into the maze of shelves that housed the prisoners’ belongings. After a few moments, he returned with another manila envelope and allowed Delaney to check his property before signing. “I think you got enough trouble without adding to it by ignoring an order from your superior officer. Or at least, the officer who was your superior.”
“You don’t get paid to think,” Hutch snapped back, grabbing Delaney by the arm and steering him down the hallway.
“You really gonna blow off your boss like that?” Delaney asked. “Maybe you should just go see him for a minute, find out where his head is, if you know what I mean.”
“I’ve made bail. I still have my badge until Internal Affairs gets a hold of it.” Hutch just shrugged his shoulders. “Right now, I’m more concerned with where Monte’s head is at. I can deal with Dobey later. I need to let Monte know nothing’s changed, as far as I’m concerned.”
“I’ll tell you what,” Delaney replied as they made their way out the front doors of the station. “Why don’t we grab a cab over to Mr. Monte’s and see what’s up? That’s where I’m headed, and you might as well go with me.”
Hutch shook his head. “You’d better go on ahead. It’s not too wise for us to be seen together once we leave. I’ve got to make sure that they’re not tailing me, either. The last thing I need is for them to see me running straight to Monte.”
Delaney nodded. “Okay, sure. I’ll let Mr. Monte know that you’ll be in touch.”
“See you around,” Hutch replied as he started down the stairs. He had barely made it down the first two steps when a voice behind him literally stopped him in his tracks.
Hutch stood motionless and took a deep breath before turning around slowly to face his partner. “What?”
Starsky looked uncomfortable, shifting his weight from one foot to the other and refusing to look his friend directly in the eye. “Dobey wants to see you. Sent me to see if I could catch you before you left.”
Out of the corner of his eye, Hutch could see Delaney casually watching the exchange from the sidewalk. “And I told the Property clerk to tell Dobey to stuff it, and you can, too, for all I care, partner.”
Hutch turned to descend the remaining steps, but Starsky was quicker and grabbed his arm. “Hold on a minute, Hutch. Don’t you even want to know what this is about? He’s given you the benefit of doubt. He’s been holding IA off, but I don’t know how much longer he can—”
Hutch turned around again, his eyes burning with cold anger. “First, pal,” his voice dripping with sarcasm and hostility. “You can let go of me. Second, if you’re just dying to tell me what the captain wants, I suppose I can’t stop you.”
Starsky dropped his hand and finally looked Hutch in the eyes. “I don’t know how to make this any easier, so I’ll just come out and say it. You’ve been suspended, Hutch. Indefinitely, or at least until IA completes their investigation. I...I need you to give me your badge.”
“First, they take my gun, and now you want my badge, too?” Hutch’s voice was getting louder by the syllable, and several people coming and going from the station stopped to see what was causing the commotion. “Welcome to America. I’ve spent most of my adult life putting lowlife trash behind bars in this very building just to have them back walking the streets less than twenty-four hours later. And you know why? Because in America, you’re innocent until proven guilty. Except when you’re a cop, that is. When you’re a cop, you’re guilty as charged until IA has a chance to drag your name through the mud and ruin your reputation and your life.” He was nearly shouting and approached Starsky slowly, backing the smaller man into one of the large columns supporting the overhang above the station doors.
“Take it easy, Hutch,” Starsky tried to calm his now furious partner.
In one fluid movement, Hutch pinned Starsky to the column behind him. “What do you want, buddy? Partner? My shield? Well, I’ll tell you what. You can have it, but not until the day they pry it from my cold, dead fingers!”
The two men stood motionless for several long seconds, and for just a moment, Hutch thought he had gone too far. Starsky’s expression was unreadable, but he had seen a dark shadow pass across the other man’s face and wished he had chosen his words more carefully. He stared into Starsky’s eyes, trying to reassure him that everything was under control, then roughly pushed him away.
Without so much as a backward glance, Hutch stormed down the stairs and crossed the street. Delaney watched him go before turning his focus on Starsky. The detective appeared to be genuinely shaken as he straightened his jacket before slowly retreating into the station house.
“Well?” Delaney asked, crossing to the desk to refill his glass with another shot of bourbon. Vic Monte remained silent, his face expressionless as he placed the handset back into the phone cradle. “He wants to meet with me.”
“I knew that, but what else did he say?”
“Patience, Delaney, patience.” Monte slowly swirled the ice cubes in the glass tumbler before continuing. “You know, as a boy in Italy, we used to grow grapes. My mother, father, brothers, and I would tend to the crop and show it the utmost care and respect. Then, when the grapes were just right, we’d harvest them carefully and take them to the presses where they would give up their sweet wine. Then we’d store it in barrels and wait for when it was ready to drink, and sell to the rest of the world. Heaven, Delaney. The Monte family wines were pure heaven.”
Delaney settled himself in an armchair opposite his boss. “So, what’s that got to do with Hutchinson, Mr. Monte?”
Monte looked at his impatient lieutenant and shook his head. “My point is this—no matter how careful we were and no matter how good the grapes, every once in a while, for whatever reason, we’d get a barrel that would go bad. And once it was bad, there was nothing to do but get rid of it. But, it took time, Delaney. Only time could tell us which barrels were destined to be served on the finest tables in Europe and which would end up being poured into the sewers. And that’s what it will take with our detective friend—time.”
“So, we just cut him loose and continue with business like nothing’s happened?”
“On the contrary. We pretend like nothing’s changed and we allow him to operate just as before, but we watch him. Carefully. And we keep our eyes and ears open for any hint, any whisper of betrayal. Then, just like the wine of my childhood, with the first inkling that the grapes have gone sour, we get rid of him.”
“There’s still something that bothers me, Mr. Monte. Hutchinson’s badge. When we was released and went to get our stuff back from the cops, they didn’t have his badge there. Hutchinson’s partner stopped us when we left the station and asked for it, but Hutchinson didn’t have it on him.”
“How did Hutchinson explain that?”
“Said he didn’t have it when he went to the warehouse the night of the bust. Ain’t that kinda odd?”
Monte took a sip of his drink as he thought. “Odd, yes, but not improbable.”
“But do you think that means anything? Does that mean he’s really still a cop? Is he maybe undercover and trying to nail you?”
Monte’s brow creased in anger. “You think I haven’t thought of all this, Delaney? You think Vice Monte is a fool? No. No, you see, it’s like the proverb my grandfather used to tell me, Delaney—conservare tuo amicos vicino, anche tuo nemico, avvicinarsi. ‘Keep your friends close, also your enemies closer.’ Go, call Hutchinson. Set up a meeting. Let’s put him in the press and see what kind of wine he turns out to be.”