Out of the Mists

 

Chapter Four

 

Starsky found himself outside Vic Monte’s home at 1:00 a.m., demanding admittance.  He was mildly surprised when he was allowed passage through the guarded entrance, though he knew he could be walking right into a trap.  The elaborately scrolled iron gate rolled open, and the Torino’s tires squealed slightly as it roared through to the main entrance of the house.

 

A tuxedoed butler met Starsky at the door, where the detective stood spinning his key ring on his index finger.  As he was admitted into the luxurious entryway, a burly guard demanded the pistol from Starsky’s shoulder holster before he was allowed in farther.  Starsky relinquished his Beretta with a mock scowl, having tucked a .38 special into the back of his waistband before leaving the Torino. 

 

When the bodyguard further attempted to pat Starsky down, the detective brought him to his knees by clamping the guard’s earlobe between his thumb and the ignition key.  “That’s not necessary, Grumpy.  Or are you Dopey?  I can’t tell...all you dwarves look alike,” Starsky growled, pressing harder.  “What do you say we go wake up Sleeping Beauty?”

 

“That won’t be necessary, Detective Starsky,” Vic Monte responded as he descended the open staircase, tying the sash of his silk dressing gown.

 

Starsky released his hold on the bodyguard’s ear and stepped past the prone man.  When the guard quickly rose and took a menacing step in Starsky’s direction, the detective drew the second revolver and stuck it between the other’s eyes, the safety clicking off loudly.

 

“Ah, Manuel, you are an idiot, aren’t you?” Monte said with an exaggerated sigh.

 

“Good help is so hard to find,” Starsky quipped as he relieved the bodyguard of his weapon and stuck it in his waistband, then retrieved his Beretta.

 

Taking a step back from his bead on the larger man, Starsky trained the second weapon on Monte.  

 

The mobster spoke calmly as Starsky studied him.  “You want to know where your partner is.  You think I took him hostage or that I killed him in retaliation for his ruse.”

 

“That’s about the size of it.”  Starsky’s nod was congenial, but his eyes promised violence.

 

“Well, I can honestly say that I was less than pleased to learn that Sergeant Hutchinson was playing me for a fool.  I can also honestly say that it doesn’t hurt my case at all that your partner is missing.  But, I am not so stupid, Detective, as to snatch or burn a cop when it would be so very obvious that I would gain significantly from his disappearance.”

 

“Your words mean nothing to me.  Where’s my partner?  Starsky’s voice rose to a hoarse bellow.  The .38 was raised higher until it pointed full in the face of the mobster.  Manuel took a step forward, but a gesture from his employer stopped him. 

 

“I don’t know.”

 

The .38 dipped marginally to the right before it fired, missing Monte by a breath.  The mobster’s hands went up to his ears as he flinched, the destroyed plaster beside him sending up a little cloud of dust.

 

Starsky’s voice was deadly calm.  “One more time, where is my partner?”

 

Monte straightened, composing himself.  Several other men rushed into the room from various parts of the house with drawn guns.  Monte simply raised a hand to stop them in their tracks.  His voice was placid as he met Starsky’s hardened gaze.  “Detective, even if you had the chutzpah to shoot me in cold blood, my answer would have been the same.  I don’t know where your partner is.  I did not order whatever has happened to him.  I can’t say I hope he’s alive, or that you ever find him.  But I can say that you’ll never be able to pin this on me, because I had nothing to do with his disappearance.”

 

“I don’t believe you.”  Starsky’s deadly whisper was followed by the snick of the gun’s hammer being pulled back.

 

“Then prove it.”  Monte straightened his dressing gown, turned, and retreated up the stairs.  Starsky’s hand trembled as the site of the weapon followed the ascent.  When Monte disappeared from his view, Starsky simply returned the hammer and clicked the safety back on, jamming the weapon into his shoulder holster.  His mind was already racing ahead to figure out his next move, never acknowledging the fourteen weapons still drawn and pointed at him as he turned to leave.  The clip from Manuel’s gun was tossed into the bushes as he charged down the sidewalk to the Torino, and the gun flung onto the lawn as he peeled down the driveway.

 

˜ 

 

The next days were a frantic blur of combing the streets and tracking down what turned out to be false leads regarding Hutch’s disappearance.  As he unraveled the meager clues he found, Starsky had managed to uncover evidence that supported the case against Vic Monte.  The detective passed them on to the DA’s office, almost annoyed as if the information ate up precious time that could have been used in his search for his partner.  Dobey, Minnie, and several co-workers and friends at the station were unsuccessful in convincing Starsky that he needed at least a few hours’ sleep.  On the brink of collapse, Starsky gave in, but was only able to sleep for about an hour and a half, slumped over in one of the leather chairs in the captain’s office.  Huggy finally managed to get Starsky to eat a grilled cheese sandwich, washed down with several cups of coffee in the midst of the second day.

 

The fifth day of searching for Hutch yielded nothing by Starsky, Dobey’s task force, or the FBI.  Captain Dobey paused in the hallway, watching Starsky through the squadroom window as he frantically scanned case files, hoping to find one thread that would offer him a lead. 

 

Starsky’s movements became jerky, and he was stumbling into office furniture and dropping things.  Dark circles ringed the detective’s eyes, and his face was lined with what looked to be a constant anguish. 

 

The captain prayed that something in the case would break soon, before he lost both of his detectives. 

 

˜ 

 

If Starsky had been in tune with his surroundings, he might have been surprised to note he was alone in the squadroom.  Captain Dobey had left an hour ago to have a quick dinner with the family he’d seen very little of in the last week, and to change his clothes before returning to the station for another late night.  The other shift detectives were out on the street, many of whom were searching for clues of Hutch’s whereabouts, even though they weren’t officially assigned to his case.  The remaining detectives who had been in the office earlier had made their way down to the commissary to get a sandwich for a late dinner. 

 

Anyone looking in at the room’s sole occupant probably would have thought he was asleep, his elbows on the desk, hands cradling his forehead.  Actually, Starsky was fervently reviewing the chart he had just scrawled out—a maze of names, places, times, and events that had led up to Hutch’s disappearance, and those that came into play since.

 

He didn’t startle when the phone shrilled in front of him, but blindly groped for the receiver and brought it to his ear as he continued to study the data laid out on the desk.  “Starsky.”

 

“I got something on your missing partner, if you’re interested.  What’s it worth to you?”

 

What’s it worth to me?  How do I answer that?  Starsky didn’t recognize the voice, husky from a lifetime of chain-smoking.  “Who is this?”

 

“Does it matter?  Do you want the information or not?”

 

“Have you seen him?  Do you know where he is?”

 

“Meet me.”

 

“Where?”  Starsky jotted down the address on the edge of one of the papers before him.  “I’m on my way.”

 

The voice rasped once more before the connection was broken.  “It’s gonna cost you.”

 

Starsky snatched up the notes and his jacket from the back of the chair as he raced out of the office.  It already has.

 

˜ 

 

The phone call had come from a snitch Starsky knew by name only.  The junkie, a small man known only as “Cox,” occasionally sold information to DiMira in Vice, and he typically found it to be reliable.  Starsky could feel sweat run down his back as he waited in the alley behind a seedy west-side bar.  A noise alerted him to the snitch’s advance, and he turned to watch his arrival. 

 

“You Starsky?”

 

“Cox.”  He nodded once.  “What do you know?”

 

The junkie lit a cigarette, his hands shaking, making the lighter’s flame dance.  Starsky’s hand darted out and wrapped around Cox’s, steadying it. 

 

“Thanks.”  Cox took a long draw of smoke as he studied the detective.  “Normally, I’d only deal with DiMira, you know?  I figure I could make an exception, but it’s gonna cost ya.”

“That’s old news.  Tell me something I don’t know, like where my partner is.”

 

Cox shook his head.  “That I don’t know.”

 

Faster than the junkie’s eyes could follow, Starsky’s hands lashed out and grabbed Cox by the front of his shirt.  “Don’t mess with me, dirtbag, ’cause you won’t live to regret it!”

 

The cigarette flew from Cox’s hands as he was thrust violently against the filthy brick wall.  He was genuinely afraid of the mass of rage before him.  “Easy, man!  Take it easy!  I said I don’t know where your partner is, but I do know where his car’s at!”

 

After a moment Starsky released him, and Cox retrieved his cigarette from the ground.  The two men stood in the shadows trembling, one from fear and withdrawal, the other bristling with anger and frustration. 

 

“Okay,” Starsky finally spoke.  “Tell me.”

 

“A hundred.”

 

The detective’s eyes narrowed, knowing Cox had inflated his price drastically.  If he gave in too quickly, the snitch would most likely only tell him a fraction of what he needed to know, effectively holding him hostage for another payment for the remainder of the information.  “Fifty.”

 

The junkie snorted.  “You’ve got to be kidding me, man.  One hundred, in advance.”

 

“Fifty.  And you take me there.”

 

“You’re full of it.  Seventy-five, and I ain’t goin’ nowhere.”

 

Even knowing he had to barter with the snitch in order to get any useful information didn’t stop Starsky from feeling nauseated.  If you only knew how much I’m willing to give in order to find Hutch...  “Seventy-five.  Half now, half when we get there.  Take it or shake it.”

 

Cox tried to stare down the detective and not show his desperate need for a score.  He was about to reel off a flippant response and walk away in hopes of upping the detective’s offer when Starsky’s low growl changed his mind.  “Tell me, now—or you won’t have to worry about another fix ever again.” 

 

˜ 

 

It turned out that Cox had made a buy the day before and went to one of the abandoned tenements a few blocks from the bar.  He went to the back of the building to slip in through a doorway.  The door had long since fallen off, but a few boards nailed across the frame to keep intruders out still remained.  As Cox had passed through the alley, he spotted the nose of a battered tan LTD poking out from behind a pile of trash discarded against the building.  He first passed by the car casually to ensure there was no one in it to witness his coming and going, or to interrupt his “party.”

 

Several hours later, after Cox had come down from his self-induced euphoria, the car was still there, and the snitch went to investigate it further.  The back seat of the sedan was littered with trash, leading him to believe it had been abandoned, perhaps after being stolen.  Even though he doubted he’d find anything of value to keep or hock, he searched the vehicle and was surprised to find the car’s registration still in the glove box, as well as a police radio and logbook.  Cox pulled the radio out and made a beeline to one of the local fences, which scored him five dollars. 

 

A day later, Cox had seen a news bulletin about a missing officer on a TV that hung above the bar, and decided to see if he could benefit from his discovery behind the abandoned apartments.  It didn’t take long for him to find out who would be the most interested in—and thus, pay the most for—his tip. 

 

˜ 

 

After paying and releasing the snitch, Starsky got out of the car, drew his gun, and took in the familiar site of the LTD standing mutely in the moonlight.  The Torino’s strobe splashed its red light across the side of his face and the profile of Hutch’s car, marking a bloody trail.  Starsky scanned the dark alley before moving to the LTD and quickly going through its contents.  Abandoned cars were nothing new in a town as large as Bay City, so it wasn’t surprising that Hutch’s car hadn’t been noticed before this.  Nothing out of the ordinary gave him any indication as to how the vehicle had gotten there or the whereabouts of its owner.  Starsky noted the disappearance of the police radio and logbook, and with grim humor realized that no one else would know that the mound of trash in the back of the car had been there before it had been abandoned. 

 

Returning to the Torino, Starsky called in his location and requested a crime lab and wrecker, as well as back-up units to search the surrounding buildings.  A knot of fear tangled with the hopeful possibility that Hutch, or at least clues to his whereabouts, might be within one of the tenements.  Retrieving a flashlight from the glove box, he refused to even consider the fact that they might find his partner’s corpse inside and resolutely pushed away the unwelcome image that came to mind.  

 

The now-familiar sense of desperation returned to wash over Starsky, and he rushed to the doorway near the LTD.  He wondered if Hutch had passed through the narrow opening between the boards, or had been forced through, assuming that the boards had been there when and if his partner had.  There was a possibility that, even though the boards were old and weathered, they had been placed there after Hutch had entered—if he’s even been here, Starsky reminded himself—to give it the appearance that no one had passed that way in years. 

 

It was obvious others had managed to slip through the opening, but in gauging the space, Starsky knew he wouldn’t fit.  Holstering his gun, he tugged on one of the boards.  When it didn’t give way, he stepped back and unleashed his frustration, kicking the wood until it cracked, then finally broke.  Frantic hands ripped the remaining pieces away until he had created a space large enough, then forced himself through the passage, unmindful of the splinters that scraped his jaw and chin, drawing blood. 

 

Starsky snapped on the flashlight and scanned the hallway.  The sound of rats scurrying from his entry greeted him and he swallowed convulsively.  The tenement smelled of human waste and was strewn with garbage, confirming that someone had been there recently.  Steeling himself, Starsky cautiously made his way down the hall, entering each single-room apartment and scanning them for any signs of life or of Hutch.  Most of the doors were missing or barely hanging on by a rusting hinge, and the rooms were barren except for garbage, empty boxes, and the occasional piece of dilapidated furniture. 

 

Finishing his search of the first floor, Starsky raced up the stairs to the second, then the third.  As he passed through each room, his anguish intensified until he was running through the abandoned building.  After the third floor offered nothing, Starsky barreled up the last set of stairs and burst through the stairwell doorway, only to find himself on the tarpaper rooftop. 

 

As he stood in the darkness, breathing heavily, the flashlight slipped from his numb fingers and rolled a few feet away.  After a moment, Starsky staggered to the edge of the rooftop and braced himself against the short wall lining the rim.  Before him Bay City lay in a sea of lights, giving testimony to its vast size and the hundreds of thousands of people it harbored.  Starsky felt a block of ice settle in his stomach with the realization that Hutch could be anywhere out there, waiting for his partner to help him, find him, save him—before it was too late.

 

Starsky closed his eyes and he threw back his head, releasing his desperation into the night.  “Hutch!”

 

˜ 

 

Chapter Five