Out of the Mists

 

Chapter Eight

 

Starsky had stayed at the reception as long as he could, but after coming in from the gazebo with the Dobeys, the feeling of being smothered grew so strong he quickly said his good-byes and fled under the pretense of wanting to follow some leads.

 

Starsky returned to the cottage, a bottle of scotch in one hand and a gallon of water in the other.  He couldn’t bring himself to draw water out of the charred kitchen to care for the plants, so he brought it with him.  The burns on Hutch’s pale, cold face haunted him still. 

 

When he finished the task of watering the plants, Starsky wandered aimlessly through the rooms again, wondering what he was searching for.  Still nestled in one corner of the living room was Hutch’s Gibson, the guitar reflecting the soft light of the lamp.  He smiled fondly at the instrument and gathered it up, reverently touching the strings as he perched on the wide lip of the window frame. 

 

The strings rang out clean and pure, an echo of its owner’s own voice.  Starsky aimlessly picked out a tune, a bittersweet smile on his lips at the memory of his partner’s unfathomable shyness when it came to singing in front of more than just his immediate friends.  Starsky’s fingerings soon fell into a familiar melody, and he stopped suddenly, realizing it was a song Hutch himself had written.  One hand came up to cover his eyes, and Starsky did everything he could to withhold the tears again. 

 

Drawing a steadying breath, he set the guitar aside and looked out at the multitude of stars gracing the velvet blackness.  “Hutch, I wish—”

 

Movement outside the window distracted Starsky, and he peered through the glass.  Perched on a nearby branch sat a mourning dove.  Starsky stared at the small bird; not believing in anything as mystical as it being the same dove released at Hutch’s funeral, but intrigued all the same.  The two eyed each other for a moment before the bird pushed itself off the branch and flew away. 

 

He sat alone in the darkness, long after he’d lost sight of the dove.

 

˜ 

 

When Starsky arrived at the hotel the next morning, he was a little surprised to find his mother and Hutch’s parents waiting together in the Hutchinsons’ suite.  Rachel rose from her seat on the sofa and greeted her son with a kiss on the cheek and a warm embrace.

 

“We’re all packed and ready to go, honey,” Rachel said, nodding toward the pile of suitcases at the door. 

 

Starsky held his mother for an extra moment, relishing her touch.  “I see that,” he replied. “But I sure wish you could stay a little longer.  I feel like I’ve hardly seen you and you came all this way—”

 

“Nonsense,” Rachel said, extracting herself from her son’s arms and picking up her purse and sweater from the sofa.  “You’ve got a lot to do right now, and you don’t need me in the way.  Perhaps later, when it’s over, you can come back to see me for a while, okay?”

 

“Yeah, that’d be great, Ma.”  Starsky turned his attention to the Hutchinsons who were watching the interaction between mother and son with a touch of sadness and envy.  “Well, as long as everyone’s ready, I guess we should be going.”

 

“Wait a minute,” Richard Hutchinson interrupted, rising from his chair.  “Before we leave, I think there’s something I need to say to you.”

 

Starsky held up a placating hand.  “Please, Mr. Hutchinson.  I know what you’re going to say, and you’re absolutely right.  Believe me, nobody could blame me more than I blame myself for what happened, and if it’s any consolation at all—”

 

“Hold on just a minute,” Mr. Hutchinson interrupted again.  “Let me say my piece.  I just wanted you to know that we don’t blame you.  My son died doing what he loved and doing what he did best.”  The older man’s voice broke, but he continued on, determined to finish his thought.  “And I want you to know that I’m grateful that my son had someone like you for a friend.  He tried to tell me so many times how much you meant to him and everything you did for him, but I wasn’t always willing to listen.  But I’ve seen enough and heard enough in these few short days to know he was right.  I just wish I’d had the chance to tell him...”

 

Starsky nodded and grasped Mr. Hutchinson’s hand in both of his, trying to console him.  A silent understanding passed between the two and no further words were necessary.

 

Finally, Starsky broke the silence.  “Well, are we ready?”

 

The three older adults made one last pass through the room to make sure nothing had been left behind.  Each one grabbed a suitcase or two and exited to the hallway toward the elevators.  Starsky picked up the remaining luggage and followed them out the door, the click of the latch echoing after him.

 

˜ 

 

Starsky had just stepped out of the shower, trying to revive himself, when the phone rang.  A towel was hurriedly wrapped around his waist and another thrown around his shoulders.  As he stumbled to the bedside phone, he tried to capture some of the dripping water from his hair. 

 

“H’lo?”  Starsky’s voice was muffled by the towel.  When no one responded, he felt a fist of apprehension clench his gut.  “Hello?  Who’s there?”

 

The receiver clicked, and he was met with the familiar buzzing of a disconnected line.  Starsky knew it was most likely a wrong number, but the hairs on his arms still stood up, a reaction of his self-preservation instincts.  He also knew it could have been one of Vic Monte’s goons checking to see if he were home, or any number of the enemies he and Hutch had made over the years, ready to strike while the remaining detective was vulnerable.

 

Starsky reasoned that it was most likely a wrong number, but it didn’t stop him from taking his Beretta into the bathroom while he finished getting dressed.

 

˜ 

 

At five-hundred dollars a plate, the governor’s fund-raising dinner was everything one could hope for.  A string quartet played Mendelssohn in one candle-lit corner, and tuxedoed waiters swept the room brandishing trays of delicacies.  The governor’s wife stepped up to the microphone, announcing the first course was to be served if everyone would take their seats.  The guests moved quickly to their places, their chatter and laughter punctuating the concerto. 

 

Once the guests were in place, dozens of wait-staff laid the first course before them and the governor stood and elegantly raised his glass.  Clearing his throat, he began his toast.  “Friends, we’ve come here on this glorious evening to—”

 

A commotion at the back of the dining hall escalated, cutting off the speech and turning the heads of the diners.  Shouting and a loud thud were followed by the double doors bursting open and one of the doormen hurtling into the dining area.  The governor’s bodyguards immediately moved to his side.  As the doorman rolled to his feet, an angry Starsky swiftly followed, gracefully dodging the lunge of a second attendant. 

 

Starsky paused briefly when he realized all eyes were upon him.  While he had manners enough to be mildly embarrassed, his discomfort didn’t stop him from continuing into the room, his badge extended.

 

The governor’s face turned crimson, and a flick of his wrist set his bodyguards forward.  “What’s the meaning of this?”

 

“I beg your pardon, sir, but it’s important that I speak with Agent McMillian immediately.  Your doormen refused to let me in.”  Starsky’s eyes blazed when he spotted his quarry. 

 

McMillian stood angrily, slapping his napkin beside his plate.  “Detective, I don’t know what you think you’re doing here, but—”

 

Starsky was beside him in an instant, grabbing the agent by the lapels.  “But nothing.  What do you think you’re doing, arresting Vic Monte?  You know we don’t have enough evidence to convict him of Hutch’s murder yet!  The judge’ll dismiss the charges on a technicality, and it won’t matter when I’m finally able to come up with a smoking gun with Monte’s prints on it.  It’ll be thrown out of court as double jeopardy, and you know it!”

 

Gasps from around the table turned the agent’s face to crimson.  The governor’s voice escalated.  “Detective, you’re out of line!”

 

“No, I’m out of patience!” Starsky bellowed without taking his eyes off McMillian. 

 

The governor jabbed his finger toward Starsky.  “Remove this man!”

 

The two bodyguards lunged at the detective, but not before McMillian was shoved onto his salad plate.  Starsky grabbed the agent’s chair and used it to sweep the first bodyguard’s legs out from under him.  When the second bodyguard swung a meaty fist at his head, Starsky ducked, then landed a combination of punches into the man’s solar plexus, crumpling him to the floor. 

 

McMillian had gained his wits and scrambled off the table, but was stopped by a solid mass of fury.  Starsky’s face was less than an inch from his own, his midnight blue eyes blazing.  “Drop the charges.”

 

“You’re crazy!”

 

Starsky’s hand lashed out beside him and came back with a fistful of salad from a nearby plate.  His face softened marginally.  “Hutch always said these grass clippings were good for you.  Yelled at me for never eating enough of them.”  Starsky’s expression changed subtly.  “I wonder if it’s still good for you if it’s stuffed up your nose?”

 

A nervous laugh was emitted from a few gray-haired women seated by the unfortunate agent.  McMillian looked wildly about for any available help.  “You’ve lost your mind, Starsky!”

 

 Starsky’s eyes narrowed.  “Don’t charge Monte with Hutch’s murder.  Not yet.”

 

“It’s not up to me anymore.  It’s out of my hands.”

 

Starsky’s voice became a hiss.  “Fine.  But when I do put all the pieces together to nail him, if he can’t pay for Hutch’s murder, somebody else is going to.”

 

The fistful of Romaine was flung into McMillian’s face as Starsky turned on his heel, blithely stepping over the prone and groaning bodyguards.  With natural grace and dignity, Starsky straightened his jacket as he calmly walked out of the hall, slamming the doors behind him.

 

˜ 

 

When Dobey returned to the squadroom after spending a frustrating morning with his superiors, he wasn’t surprised to see Starsky flipping through the forensics evidence taken from Hutch’s cottage for a fourth time.  The detective’s gaunt features softened Dobey’s fury marginally as he stomped into his office to hang up his overcoat.

 

“Starsky, in here, now,” Dobey hollered through the open door as he returned to his desk.  He snatched up the reprimand issued from Chief Porter’s office and read through it again.

 

Starsky stuck his head in the door.  “Cap’n, can’t it wait?  I was just heading down to the jail to question Vic Monte before some

 

“Do you know what this is?”  Dobey waved the paper in Starsky’s general direction.

 

When Starsky didn’t answer but stood looking at him expectantly with barely concealed impatience, he continued.  “This is a butt-chewing.  My butt-chewing.  From the chief.  He got one, too—from the commissioner.  And he got one, too—from the governor.  The governor, Starsky!  What in blazes were you thinking, going into the governor’s banquet half-cocked like that?  That was stupid, you hear me?  Stupid!”

 

“But, Cap’n—”

 

“Don’t you ‘but, Cap’n’ me, Starsky!  You harassed a federal agent and assaulted the governor’s staff.”  Dobey’s look was incredulous.  “I know you’ve been under a lot of strain.  I know what Hutch’s...what losing Hutch...” The larger man sighed, his expression softening at the flash of pain that flitted across the other’s features.  “Did you really threaten McMillian?”

 

The slightest grin crept across Starsky’s mouth.  “With lettuce, Cap’n.  I threatened him with a salad.”

 

Starsky couldn’t read the changes crossing Dobey’s face.  The superior officer lowered himself onto his chair and picked up his pen, scrawling his name along the bottom of the departmental reprimand, indicating he’d delivered it to the officer in question. 

 

Starsky shifted impatiently from one leg to the other.  “That it?”

 

Dobey scowled as he looked up.  “No, that is not it.  Part of this reprimand requires you to undergo departmental counseling.”

 

“Oh, come on!”

 

“You brought this on yourself, Starsky.  And you’re lucky you don’t get worse than that.  Your behavior over the last couple of weeks has been erratic.  You’ve been angry—beyond angry.  Things get broken.  You won’t eat, you hardly sleep.”  His tone softened.  “I know what you’re going through, son.  I lost Elmo, my partner.  My best friend.  But, Starsky...” Dobey shook his head.  “If I hadn’t pled your case to the commissioner, you’d also be relieved of duty until you were evaluated by a shrink!” 

 

Starsky began a biting response until he realized the weight of what had just been said.  Dobey had gone to bat for him—again—and more than likely had to do some major kissing up to keep him on the streets.  Playing mind games for a few hours with the Department headhunter was a light sentence considering the mayhem he’d wreaked the night before.

 

“Thanks, Cap’n,” Starsky murmured, backing out of the doorway.

 

Dobey peered after him, trying to again envision the events at the governor’s banquet.  Wadding up the reprimand and throwing it in the garbage rather than inserting it into Starsky’s permanent file, Dobey managed a chuckle.  “He threatened him with lettuce?”

 

˜ 

 

Vic Monte was unnerved, but desperately trying to conceal it with his typically aloof exterior.  As he huddled in one corner of his jail cell, the noises and smells assailed him.  The angry shouts of prisoners, the sarcastic rebuttals of the jailers, the smell of fear and sweat, vomit, and disinfectant caused his gut to tighten no matter how hard he tried to push aside his fear.  He sat alone in his dim cell, his lawyer having pled that he would be an easy target for a retaliatory strike since the judge had ordered him held without bond.  He’d already been harassed and pushed around by both the transporting officers and guards, but they did so without leaving any physical evidence that could be used against them.  Still, at the moment, he was at least safe from the other prisoners. 

 

The police, on the other hand, were another matter.  Monte found himself again looking into midnight blue eyes burning with hatred, and he involuntarily shrank back farther on his bunk.

 

“What’s the matter, Vic?”  Starsky’s voiced dripped with venom.  “Don’t like your accommodations?  Maybe you’d like some company.  I hear the boys in cell block three are always looking for new friends.”

 

“Very amusing, Detective.”  Monte schooled his features.  “To what do I owe the honor?  It couldn’t possibly be that you’re here to gloat, since we both know the murder charges will never stick.” 

 

Starsky’s hands gripped the cell’s bars.  “Not yet, anyway.”

 

Monte stood smoothly and crossed to the barrier between the two of them, staying just out of Starsky’s reach, all signs of his fear concealed.  “And they never will, since I didn’t do it.  However, that doesn’t mean I didn’t dance at his funeral.”

 

As predicted, Starsky’s hand darted out, almost faster than Monte’s eyes could follow.  The detective’s fingers grasped the air less than an inch from the felon’s prison uniform, his face contorting in rage.

 

“Easy, Mr. Starsky, you’re going to hurt yourself.  You certainly aren’t going to hurt me.”  Monte clasped his hands in front of him and gracefully turned away, returning to his bunk.  “No, I don’t think so.  Not today.  So, why are you here, Detective?”

 

Starsky reined in his anger and pulled down the hem of his jacket from where it had ridden up during his failed attempt to throttle the other man.  “Singapore.”

 

Monte arched one slender eyebrow.  “Really?  Why does that not surprise me?  You must think me a fool, Starsky.”

 

“Look, you’re already in here.  You know the Feds have enough on you to lock you away for twenty lifetimes.”

 

“Perhaps, but my lawyer is something of a magician.  You never know what he might pull out of his hat.  So, what do I possibly have to gain by helping you?”

 

“You really think you’re going to buck these charges?”

 

“Without Hutchinson’s testimony?  Who can say?  Again, I ask—what could I possibly get out of helping you?”

 

Starsky looked around the cell.  “How about different accommodations?”

 

Monte’s interest was immediately piqued.  “Assuming that I’m convicted.  What are you suggesting?” 

 

“Phoenix.”

 

“O’Sage?” 

 

Starsky could tell by the look in the man’s eye that he was on the right track.  O’Sage was a federal prison in New Mexico known for its leniency and favorable climate.  Among hard-core inmates it was known as the “Hotel Ritz” of penitentiaries.  He nodded, although he had not even discussed any possible arrangements with the Feds.  Right now, though, he’d make a deal with the devil if it meant tracking down the Singapore connection and Hutch’s murderer.

 

Monte began to quickly run through his options.  The bottom line was he would do or say just about anything to ensure he didn’t spend the remainder of his days in San Quentin.  But he also knew that any direct connection between him and the arrest of his newest dealers from Asia would mean a certain bloody and agonizing death wherever he spent his sentence. 

 

“I want your word, Cop.” 

 

“I’ll give you the keys to the city and a Papal blessing, if that’s what it takes.”

 

Monte’s eyes bore into Starsky’s.  “Your word, Starsky.  You could have blown me away any number of times before this and didn’t.  I want your word.”

 

Starsky didn’t blink.  “I can’t make any promises.”

 

“But you’ll talk to the judge?”

 

“I’ll talk to the judge.  I’ll do everything I can, and then some, to get you transferred to O’Sage.”

 

“All right, good.  We have a deal then.  But it would be suicide for me to give you names outright.  Even going to O’Sage isn’t worth the risk.  The Feds couldn’t keep your partner alive, and I know damned well they wouldn’t shed a tear if I got iced.”  Monte thought for a minute as he stood and paced his cell, piecing together a trail to lead the detective to Singapore without it pointing back to him.  Finally, he turned toward Starsky.  “There’s a fink who likes to call himself The Archer—big name for a little flake in a cheap suit.  He’s the one that blew your partner’s cover to me.” 

 

When he saw Starsky’s clenched fists turn his knuckles white, Monte raised his own hands in a gesture of defense.  “Look, we both know I issued a hit, but Hutchinson disappeared before my men could get to him.  This Archer character found out your partner was under and got word to me so I’d forget about his former indiscretions.  I found the information useful, so I let him off the hook.  You find The Archer, and you’ll eventually find Singapore.”

 

“Where am I gonna find this Archer?”

 

“You’re the detective.  Figure it out.” 

 

Starsky’s eyes bore into Monte for a moment more before he turned on his heels and charged down the corridor.  Left alone with the sounds and smells of the prison, Monte felt the now-familiar quake in his gut return. 

 

˜ 

 

 “The Archer?  What kind of jive handle is that?”  Huggy placed a burger-and-fry platter in front of Starsky, hoping to entice him to eat.  The waitress, who had just gone up to the counter to retrieve the meal huffed her annoyance at her boss for stealing her customer’s food, then called back a duplicate order to fry cook, telling him to rush it.

 

Starsky watched in mild amusement as his friend liberally doused the fries in ketchup for him.  When he didn’t make a move toward the meal, Huggy glared at him until Starsky picked up the burger and took a bite.

 

Starsky sat the sandwich down, speaking around the mouthful.  “I don’t know, but I got the name from Vic Monte himself.  Said if I find this Archer guy, I’ll get what I need about the new suppliers from Singapore.” 

 

“And you think these are the cats that...that killed Hutch?”

 

Starsky sighed and scrubbed his eyes with his hands.  “I don’t know anything for sure, Hug.  But Hutch was after these guys, and that’s enough for me to know that I’ve got to finish it.”

 

Huggy’s hand rested for a moment on his friend’s shoulder.  Nodding toward the food, he moved to the phone.  “Eat before that becomes a congealed mass of cardiovascular cloggage.  I’m gonna make some calls.”

 

Starsky moved a few fries around on the plate before he gave up.  A large yawn took over his face, and he blinked his burning eyes.  Crossing his arms against the edge of the bar, he leaned forward and rested his head on them. 

 

Ten minutes later Huggy returned, saddened to see the dozing figure.  Pulling a takeout box from under the bar, he slid the meal in, hoping Starsky might try to eat again later.  He was sure there was nothing edible in his friend’s refrigerator. 

 

His waitress paused beside him.  “What’s the matter?  He drunk?”

 

“No,” came Starsky’s muffled reply.  “He’s not.”  He straightened and looked at Huggy.  “What’d you get?”

 

Huggy gave the waitress a meaningful look, sending her back to work.  Once she was out of earshot, he leaned in closer to Starsky and picked up the takeout box, offering it to the other.  “Good help is so hard to find these days.  I got a lead on this Archer dude.  Ain’t much to know about him, which is why I didn’t hear of the likes of him before.  But apparently he likes the ponies, and it’s not uncommon to find him hanging out at Cabrillo Downs this time of day.  He fancies himself to be a sharp-dressed cat, though certainly not in the same league as yours truly.  Dude’s about five-six or seven, thin, short gray hair, and one of those moustache and goatee jobs.  Shouldn’t be hard to miss him among the other Cabrillo clientele.”

 

Starsky quickly stood up from his barstool and unexpectedly staggered backwards.  One hand lashed out for the end of the bar to steady himself until the dizziness cleared. 

 

“Starsky, I don’t think you—”

 

“Thanks, Hug, you’re the best.”  Starsky spun and made his way out of the bar, leaving Huggy staring after him, the takeout forgotten in his hand.

 

˜ 

 

The blare of the loudspeaker announcing the next race was deafening.  Starsky stalked through the crowded room, easily slipping between frantic people trying to place their bets before the post of the next heat.  As Huggy predicted, The Archer was easy to track down as he sat apart from the rest of the masses, looking for all the world like an out-of-place lawyer in the sweltering betting room. 

 

Starsky slid onto the bench next to the smaller man.  “Placed your bet?” he asked amiably. 

 

“Oh, yes.”  Pierce smiled politely, then returned his focus to the TV monitor above his head displaying the odds on the next race.  “You?”

 

“Not yet, but I’ve got a tip on a sure thing.”  Starsky smiled when the thin man glanced at him with interest before returning his attention to the screen.  “I’ll bet that you’re going to spill your guts about everything you know about Vic Monte and some new players in town from Singapore.”

 

Pierce’s head whipped around in horror to face Starsky, his mouth opening and closing, as if trying to find his voice to call for help.  Starsky already had his leather case out and flipped it to display his badge in Pierce’s face.  Pierce pushed himself off the bench, foolishly intending to try and run away, but Starsky’s iron grip latched onto his lapel and dragged him back down onto the bench.  “It’d be a shame if you tried to run and fell down and broke your leg.  They shoot horses when they break their legs, don’t they?”

 

Pierce stared at Starsky’s icy features and nodded, trembling. 

 

Starsky released his hold on the other man’s coat, then patted his face.  “We wouldn’t want that now, would we?  Hmm?”  At Pierce’s nod, he continued.  “Okay, then.  What do you say you and me take a drive, and we’ll have a nice little talk?  And, if you’re real good, maybe—just maybe—I won’t kill you outright for blowing my partner’s cover.  And if you tell me everything I want to know, you might live long enough to find out who won the race.”

 

˜ 

 

 “Your captain tells me you’ve been having some trouble sleeping, Detective Starsky. Why do you think that is?”

 

“I’m not tired?” 

 

Dr. O’Shea glanced up from her ledger, studying Starsky through her lowered lashes.  The detective was obviously beyond exhaustion, but she had yet to get a straight answer from him.  He was also obviously humoring her and enjoying the sport, since an almost bemused smirk tugged at the corner of his mouth.  So far, half his time was spent looking about the room for something to pique his interest during what appeared to be a monumental inconvenience and waste of his time, and the other half was spent staring at her legs.  “Are you eating?”

 

“What?”

 

“I said, are you eating?”

 

“I heard you.  I meant eating what?”

 

The psychologist took off her glasses and rubbed her eyes, the beginning of a migraine starting.  “Look, Detective, I know you only kept your appointment because you were ordered to.  So let’s cut through the bull, okay?”

 

Starsky dropped his amiable facade, but remained silent.

 

The doctor’s tone softened.  “I can appreciate what losing your partner¾

 

“You can appreciate?”

 

¾but I’m not going to pretend I know what that feels like.”  Dr. O’Shea sighed and looked into the haunted eyes across from her.  “I know you’re in knots, Officer.  You need to get out whatever it is you’re feeling, and the best way to start is to identify those emotions.  So, what are you feeling, Detective Starsky?  Rage?  Bitterness?  Sorrow?  The need for vengeance?  What would prompt you to threaten an FBI agent with...”  The doctor quickly flipped through the case file.  After scanning the document, she looked back up incredulously.  “With a salad?”

 

“Lack of vitamins?”

 

Dr. O’Shea sighed again and laid the file back on her desk.  “I think we’re done for the day, Detective.  I won’t restrict you from active duty, but I will be seeing you again.  Soon.  Meanwhile, I want you to really examine how you’re feeling, because frankly, I think you’re in denial, which is causing you to lose your grip on reality.”

 

Starsky had already stood and moved toward the door, but was stopped by her last statement.  “Denial?  About what?”

 

The doctor’s expression was kind.  “I don’t think you’ve accepted the fact that your partner is really gone.”

 

Starsky thought for a moment before answering, then touched his temple.  “Here, I know he’s gone, I saw...his body.  I buried him.  But here...”  His hand traveled to rest on his stomach.  “My gut doesn’t know it.”

 

Without another word, Starsky left, quietly closing the door behind him.

 

˜ 

 

After his persuasive conversation with Archibald Pierce, Starsky had amassed a significant trail of names, dates, and places—far more than he’d expected to get, or, he was sure, Monte most likely anticipated the small fink of having.  Still, all the snitch had been able to provide of any real value regarding the opium smugglers was the location of the warehouse to be used for an upcoming delivery, and the names of two of the hit men from the Asian connection.

 

Starsky had more to go on then he’d had in days, but his exhausted brain was spent and he couldn’t quite put the pieces together.  His brief appointment with the Department psychologist was forgotten.  He scrubbed his hand across his face for the third time in as many minutes, trying to keep his eyes focused on the road ahead of him.  He was jolted awake when he ran a red light and was nearly broadsided by a delivery truck that had the right of way. 

 

He gave an apologetic wave to the angry truck driver after righting the Torino.  He knew he needed sleep, but past attempts had been nearly futile.  He’d either be awakened by the reoccurring vision of lifting the sheet at the morgue to reveal Hutch’s cold, still body on the slab, or by a terrifying feeling of suffocation.

 

He redirected the sedan toward Hutch’s cottage, finally acknowledging his body’s need for rest and hoping to find some comfort there.

 

˜ 

 

 “Huggy, one of your whacked-out friends is asking for you.”  Huggy followed the waitress’s pointing finger toward the back entrance.  It took him a minute to figure out who she was referring to, as the slight disheveled man stood in the shadows, almost as if he were uncomfortable among the lights and noisy crowd.

 

Huggy sighed, in no mood to deal with the old man right then.  Still, he called into the kitchen for the fry cook to throw something together for him, then worked his way to the back of the restaurant.  “Hey, Eddie, what’s happenin’?”

 

“Hiya, Huggy.  How’s business?”  Eddie Doyle grinned blearily, trying to get his aging eyes to focus in the darkened room. 

 

“Doin’ good, Eddie.  I’ve got them bringing out something for ya, okay?”  Huggy turned back toward the bar, thinking a meal was all the derelict wanted.

 

“Oh, okay.  That’d be swell, Huggy.”  Eddie fiddled with his hat for a moment before he remembered why he had come to the restaurant.  “Hey, Huggy?”

 

Huggy stopped just before reaching the bar and rolled his eyes before turning around.  “Yeah, Eddie?”

 

When Huggy didn’t walk back to him, Eddie cautiously made his way past the crowded tables.  He thrust a torn and dirty note into Huggy’s hand.  “That’s for Hup.” 

 

Huggy stared at the crumpled paper for a moment.  When he found his voice, it was incredulous.  “What?”

 

Eddie didn’t understand Huggy’s reaction.  “It’s a note.  A note for Hup.  He said it’s important.”

 

“Eddie, you know that Hutch is...” Huggy tore open the note and scanned the contents.  The handwriting was an unfamiliar childish scrawl, probably Eddie’s.  “Who gave you this?  Who said it was important?  Eddie, who gave this to you?”

 

Eddie smiled, knowing he held a secret.  “He told me not to tell.  He just said give it to Huggy to give to Hup because it was important.”

 

The fry cook emerged from the side door of the kitchen and wordlessly thrust a large brown paper bag into Eddie’s arms. 

 

“Thanks, thanks a lot, Huggy.  Don’t forget to give that message to Hup.”  Eddie tottered out of the back of the restaurant, the bag clutched tight against his chest.

 

When Huggy finally lifted his eyes up from the note, Eddie was gone.  The cook cocked an eyebrow at his boss and took a long drag on his cigarette.  “Whatcha got there, boss?”

 

“Trouble.”

 

˜ 

 


Chapter Nine