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DEADLY DIVERSION

 

It was Monday morning--cold, overcast. Pretty ordinary for a fall day in Bay City, California. Like most days, Detective David Starsky’s candy apple red Torino was parked in its usual location outside Metro police station. Its owner and his partner, Detective Kenneth Hutchinson, were in the station's squad room trying to get their work done amidst an environment that bustled with noisy activity. Despite constant interruptions by co-workers and others, nothing could disturb the pair's routine. The interruptions were also no deterrent when it came to Starsky's ravenous appetite. He was eager with the anticipation of chowing down on one of his typical ‘roach coach’ selections, thoroughly oblivious to the fact that his partner was doing double duty by filling out the previous day’s reports for the both of them.

"You almost done with those?"

"Almost." Hutch answered, picking up his head to invariably do what he always did, frown with disdain at what his partner was about to stuff into the garbage disposal he called a mouth. "I’m almost afraid to ask. What is that you're eating?"

"Scrambled eggs, chorizo, peppers and salsa wrapped in a toasty warm tortilla. Want some?"

"No, no, way. I still have trouble believing you really eat all that spicy stuff first thing in the morning."

"Say what you want, Hutch. There's nothin you can say that's gonna spoil my appetite."

And with that he took a great big taunting bite of his breakfast, chewed it aggressively and gave his partner a big smile. Hutchinson shook his head, mentally writing off his partner as a lost cause. He got up and placed the finished reports in the out box at the end of their desk and was on his way back to his chair when Captain Dobey stuck his head out of his office door.

"You two, come in here!" he barked.

Starsky gave Hutch a look and Hutch returned it. Both watched as Dobey’s head quickly did a disappearing act into his office.

"Oh, oh." Starsky muttered.

"Yeah, what have you done now?"

Starsky got up, reluctantly leaving his breakfast behind and followed his partner into Dobey’s office with the same reluctance. They found the captain at his desk and it wasn’t lost on either of them that despite his blustery directive, he looked uncharacteristically calm.

"What’s up, Cap’n?" Hutch asked cautiously.

"Yeah, what’s shakin?" Starsky chimed in.

"Have a seat, you two."

Still mystified, both men took their customary seats. Dobey looked at them, not speaking for a minute.

"C’mon, Cap’ don’t keep us in suspense." Starsky urged.

"You two ever hear of a mob informant named Jonathan Carlisle?"

"Nope, doesn’t ring a bell, how about you, Hutch?"

"It was all over this morning’s paper, Starsk. Jonathan Carlisle is testifying against Vincent Bartok. He's the leader of a mob organization suspected of operating an extensive extortion ring here in the States."

Starsky patted his partner on the shoulder. "Got to admire that Hutch, got a memory like an steel trap."

"Well, I’m glad at least one of you is up to speed on current events" Dobey remarked.

"Don’t hate me cause I’m beautiful, Cap’." Starsky replied.

Dobey, well used to Starsky’s foolishness by now, ignored the offhand comment and handed the men a thick file folder from across his desk. "You’ll find everything there is to know about Carlisle in there. The trial date is two weeks from this Thursday. As of today you two are on babysitting duty." He leaned forward and his girth pressed against the edge of the desk as he raised and pointed a stubby index finger at the two of them.

"Hutch, I know I can count on you to be levelheaded--Starsky…"

"Don’t say it, Cap’n, I’m way ahead of ya."

"Don’t worry, I’ll keep an eye on him, Captain." Hutch assured the man.

"Look, I know you two have a like/hate relationship with the Feds, but I’m letting you know up front, this is their baby. The reason I’m assigning this one to you is because I know you’re the best at going undercover. But don’t forget, this is serious business. I’m putting my ass on the line, not to mention the department’s, so don’t make me regret it."

Starsky stood up and gave him a mock salute. "Aye, aye, Cap’n."

Dobey abruptly rose from his chair. "Starsky, now that’s exactly what I’m talking about!"

Hutch stood up and quickly ushered his partner out with a smile. "It’s okay Cap’n, don’t worry, we’ll keep you posted."

"See that you do!"

Once the door shut Dobey sat down in his chair and wearily covered his eyes, then let go a frustrated groan that could be clearly heard by everyone inside the squadroom.

-----

On the other side of town another set of individuals were being briefed by their ‘superior officer’, A Mr. Roger Samuels, the editor-in-chief of Inside magazine. Samuels, once an enlisted man, posed an impressive figure, standing at about six two. He held his conferences seated behind a huge mahogany desk, surrounded by expensive furnishings and lush hanging plants.

Seated before him was a beautiful female reporter named Maxine Garvey and the assistant editor of his magazine, Alan Piper. Piper was a small, bespectacled man who chose to dress in tailored, three-piece suits and alligator shoes. He was by all accounts the buttoned down, by the book type. He watched attentively as Samuels snipped the end off a cigar and held it unlit between his forefinger and thumb.

"Good morning to you both."

"Good morning, Mr. Samuels." They answered.

"I've been looking forward to having this opportunity to finally meet with you, Ms. Garvey."

"Same here, sir." she answered.

"I hear from Mr. Piper here that you’re the person responsible for the very impressive stories I’ve been reading lately. I told him I wanted to meet you personally, instead of talking to you on the phone as we have in the past."

"It’s a privilege to meet with you as well, sir."

"I’ll have you know that it’s in no small part due to your previous efforts that I’m considering you for our next exposé."

Garvey’s eyes glowed with excitement. She wanted to leap out of her chair, but didn’t dare. "Really?"

"Really. As you know the mission of our magazine is to offer our subscribers a look into the questionable activities of those who become involved in organized crime." He took a sip from his coffee cup. "Naturally, this means that there are some pieces that must be obtained under very stressful and sometimes dangerous conditions. I can’t emphasize enough the importance of discretion and good judgment on your part."

"I understand."

Samuels rose and walked over to a table which held a slide projector. He hit the toggle button on the machine and turned it on. The motor spun and the fan whirred as it came to life. "Mr. Piper, lights please."

Piper got up and flipped off the overhead light switch. Samuels pressed the clicker for the first slide. As Piper returned to his seat and looked up at the screen, the first images to appear were of artist’s renderings. At first glance, Maxine concluded that the individual being depicted was of the criminally hardened sort. But upon more detailed observation, she discerned the refined intelligence of a man who possibly appreciated art and fine wines. There was definitely something behind the eyes that hinted at a deepness far beyond that of just a hired gun.

"These are artist’s renderings of Mr. Jonathan Carlisle, an information source close to the FBI. He’s being escorted into the U.S. tomorrow to testify against members of a criminal organization run by Vincent Bartok, a wealthy businessman with connections in Japan and the United States."

Maxine’s brow furrowed. "Do you mind if I ask a question?

"By all means."

"Why are there court renderings but no photos?"

"A good question. The answer is, except for a few very close acquaintances and members of his former organization, no one has ever been close enough to photograph him. Most of the people he comes in contact with aren’t around for very long. And unfortunately for us no cameras were allowed at previous trials." Samuels ordered the next slide up and continued. "Because of this the police and the FBI have him very well guarded. We think our readers would like an insider’s account of Carlisle’s treatment en route, during and after the trial."

The machine noisily advanced from a dark screen to the next slide. These slides were actual photos and not artist renderings. What stared back at the three of them were two very intimidating looking Anglo and four Asian men, all wearing business suits and permanent scowls, hidden behind very dark sunglasses.

"These are some of the members of Bartok’s organization who are very likely going to try to assassinate Carlisle before he can testify. They’ll be looking for any opportunity to try and get close to him. The FBI and the police will also be watching anyone who tries to get near him."

Samuels shut off the projector and walked over to her. "I think you're good for the job. You need to tell me now, do you think you can handle it?"

She didn’t hesitate for a second. "Yes sir, I can."

"Good, that’s what I wanted to hear." Samuels shook her hand heartily and turned his attention to Piper. "Mr. Piper, please see to it that Ms. Garvey is provided with all the effects she needs." He turned again to her. "Ms. Garvey, don’t hesitate to contact us should you need assistance."

Piper, quiet for most of the briefing, nodded proudly and smiled at his protégé.

"Thank you sir." she said, smiling back at the two of them.

----

By mid-day the afternoon heat had dissipated the early morning's haze. Starsky was maneuvering his bright red Torino through the crowded downtown traffic like a racecar driver. He and his partner were on their way to the hotel where their man was being sequestered. Meanwhile Hutch was busily immersing himself in the file Dobey had given them on the elusive Jonathan Carlisle.

"Man, this guy’s got a list of priors longer than my arm. No wonder the Feds are so protective of him."

"Like what, for instance?"

Hutch flipped through the file. "Oh, just a little assault and battery, arson, armed robbery…and that’s just here in the States."

"Oh, terrific."

"My sentiments exactly."

"The Feds are gonna be breathin’ down our necks the whole time. Any ideas yet how we’re gonna do this?"

"We do exactly what we’re supposed to do. We keep our eyes and ears open and keep him alive so he can make trail."

"Sounds easy enough."

Starsky slowed to the curb and parked in front of the hotel. Both men got out and flashed their badges, strolling up to the entrance and into the lobby with no problems. Starsky brought up the rear while Hutch approached the desk clerk. The clerk looked up at them and waited until one of them spoke.

Hutch flashed his badge again. "I’m Detective Hutchinson, this is Detective Starsky, we’re here to…"

The clerk cut him off with a bored, "Follow me," then stepped from behind the counter.

Hutch stole a look at Starsky, who was likewise mystified by the clerk's unfriendly behavior. They found themselves silently following as he led them up to the Penthouse level of the hotel. On that floor, four plain-clothed Federal agents were gathered outside the door of one suite. As the two men came forward with the clerk, two agents, both with rather obvious height differences, cut them off.

The clerk stopped abruptly."You guys are on your own." He said, then disappeared.

The two partners shrugged and moved towards the guarded door.

"Hold it right there. Identify yourselves." The taller of the two agents directed.

"Detective Hutchinson." Hutch flashed his badge and smiled, politely offering his hand to the tall agent to shake. The gesture was flatly ignored.

"Detective Starsky here." Starsky was serious as he flashed his badge, after witnessing his partner’s gaffe, he didn’t bother offering his hand.

"You two flatfoots must be the guys BCPD assigned to help escort our pigeon to his destination." The shorter agent deduced.

Hutchinson nodded. The short agent knocked on the door.

A voice answered the knock. "Identify yourself."

"Detectives Starsky and Hutchinson are here. Requesting entry."

The door was unlocked and the shorter agent stood aside to allow the two partners in. Starsky went in first, but then in a show of gentlemanly gallantry stopped beside the door long enough to let his partner in ahead.

"After you, Blondie."

Hutch walked in, wagging his finger at his partner and looking just a little embarrassed. "Not here, Starsk."

Once they were inside the room, a very large, very intimidating man stood just inside the doorway. Both detectives jumped as he closed the door and secured it behind them with a menacing look.

Starsky looked up at the intimidating fellow. He gulped and smiled. "Hey, how ya doin up there’?"

No response. The man just pointed a large finger in the direction they should go and motioned that they should move forward.

"Tough room." Hutch responded under his breath.

"Must be the tall, silent type."

Starsky noted.

The detectives were led through a maze of hallways, one of which went past a balcony where three other dark suited agents seemed to be on a break. The men continued on through a labyrinth of unguarded doors, until they were finally told to stop at one that opened into a guestroom. The burly agent escorting them stopped short of the door.

"Wait here." he ordered, and then left.

"This is gettin’ kinda strange." Starsky remarked.

"No kidding."

"So where do you think Mr. Wonderful is?"

Just as Hutch was about to answer, a disembodied voice issued forth from a darkened corner of the room.

"Gentlemen."

Hutch turned around to see where the voice was coming from and Starsky strategically adjusted his position for a better look. When the figure finally came into the light, Starsky swore that he was looking at a character from out of one of those Christopher Lee horror flicks.

"Better watch your neck." Starsky whispered to Hutch.

"Zip it, Starsky."

The man of mystery came out from the shadows. He was dressed in an expensive red silk bathrobe and slippers. He walked over to them and shook their hands graciously.

"Please, sit down, won’t you?"

The partners looked around for some place to sit, but seeing nothing closely resembling that, they reluctantly took seats on the only things available, two very stiff throw pillows. Starsky managed to sit down on his without spilling over, but Hutch, being slightly taller, found the task a little more difficult to achieve. Finally, with time and a little embarrassment, he was able to remain stationary.

"May I offer you gentlemen a beverage?"

"Whatcha got?" Starsky asked.

"Starsky." Hutch chided him.

"Right, we never drink on duty." he answered sarcastically.

"I’d like you two to try something I brought back from my last trip to Japan."

"Really, we can’t."

Carlisle ignored Hutch’s demurrals and went over to a table where an ornate teapot with several small teacups sat on a small tray. He brought the tray over to where the two men were sitting and poured three cups of tea. He handed one cup to Starsky.

Starsky leaned toward his partner as he took it. "Whaddya think this is?" Starsky whispered.

Hutch took the cup that Carlisle offered him. "Sake, Starsk. It’s a traditional Japanese rice wine."

"Oh."

Carlisle took a seat on the floor in front of them. He held the cup up and away from him and prepared to take a sip.

"Kanpai, gentlemen."

"Kanpai." Hutch followed his lead.

Starsky imitated Hutch. "Kanpai."

"Drink, drink up." Carlisle urged.

Hutch held the cup in both hands and sipped the tea slowly. Starsky followed suit, except he drank his down in one gulp. Carlisle set his cup down on the tray and waited for both of them to finish before he inquisitioned them. Hutch put down his cup and set it on the tray as well.

"You’re the policemen who are going to be escorting me to the trial, am I right?"

"Right. Starsky and I will be your decoys in route to the courthouse, right, Starsk?" Hutch replied. "Right, Starsky?" he repeated.

When he didn’t get an answer right away, he turned to his partner and saw that Starsky looked a little green around the gills. Probably due to strength of the sake. He placed a steadying hand on his friend’s shoulder.

"Hey, you all right?"

"What?"

"You okay, partner?"

Starsky shook himself free of the woozy feeling. "Whoo, yeah."

"You’ll have to forgive my partner, you’d think he’d never had sake before."

"Well, it is very potent, especially on an empty stomach. He’ll be all right though. So, have you worked out a plan?" Carlisle inquired.

"According to our captain, the FBI has arranged at least two separate routes leading to the courthouse. At least one of those that we’re aware of, will be a red herring. Starsky and I will be there to make sure you get where you’re going in one piece." Hutch replied.

"When this is over, I guess I’ll owe you two big time."

"Let’s not get ahead of ourselves, gotta get you to the courtroom first." Starsky managed to reply.

-----

Maxine Garvey was up early Tuesday morning, preparing herself for the possibility of a productive day. Several pairs of shoes, undergarments, wigs, sunglasses, and a dingy, weathered old coat lay on a daybed in the living room. She was going over in her head the strategy she would use to approach her subject, Jonathan Carlisle, when the phone rang. She rushed to pick it up.

"Hello?"

"Good morning, Max, it’s Allan."

"Good morning, Allan. What’s goin’ on?"

She pulled the phone cord around the coffee table with her so that she could sit down.

"Just checking in to see if you needed anything. How’s the apartment?"

"It’s very nice as usual, Allan. I’ve already thought up some ideas on how to get inside. Why don’t you tell me what I’m really up against?"

"It’s like Mr. Samuels said, the police, the Feds and Bartok’s inner circle. The most important thing is, whatever you do, they can’t know that you’re a reporter and you can’t help law enforcement in any way, the whole operation must run without outside interference."

"I’m hip to that. I’ll be a fly on the wall, baby. Don’t you worry." She checked her watch. "Hey, I’ve got to go, I’ll talk to you later."

"Good luck."

"I won't need it. But thanks anyway."

She hung up the phone and she walked over to the hallway closet, pulled out a huge garment bag and stuffed the clothes and the coat into it, zipped it up and flung it over a chair. She took the shoes and several other small articles and put them into a light travel bag. Then she disappeared into the bathroom. A few seconds later she came out looking completely put together, grabbed both bags and took them out the front door with her, mindful to deadbolt it on her way out.

A gleaming white convertible Mustang sat outside her apartment. Garvey loaded everything into the Mustang's back seat and got into the car. She put on a pair of sunglasses and turned the ignition. When the motor sprung to life, she put the car into gear, smiled a satisfied smile and drove off.

Twenty minutes later Garvey pulled the car to a stop in front of the garage of a craftsman style duplex. She opened the glove compartment and pulled out a remote control, signaling the garage door to open. It all seemed very routine, as if she’d done it all before many times. She pulled the car inside, the interior lights coming on automatically as the door closed.

-----

Hutch stood before one of the large glass windows in the penthouse staring out at the magnificent view it offered, the cleft in his brow clearly furrowed. Starsky kept noticeably quiet, by now it was second nature for him to intuit when his flaxen-haired partner needed some quiet time to mull things over by himself.

"Okay, that’s long enough. What’s goin’ on in that blond noggin of yours?" Starsky prompted.

"I’m thinking about how we’re going to get Carlisle out of here without getting him or ourselves killed."

"I’ve been thinkin' the same thing. The crazy thing is, we don’t even know who or what we’re dealing with."

Carlisle came into the room quietly, hidden in shadow.

"Never fear, gentlemen. I‘m well acquainted with my former employer’s habits. I’ll tell you all I know." Carlisle said, his voice again seeming to come from out of nowhere.

"I wish you wouldn’t do that." Starsky said.

Carlisle moved into the sunlight. "I’m sorry. We do have a lot to talk about. Won’t the two of you please sit down?"

Hutch looked down at the pillows, making a slightly sour face. Obviously this was some depraved interior designer’s attempt at humor, he thought. "Ah, I’ll stand if you don’t mind."

Starsky, having had no trouble the first time around, grinned cockily and propped himself up on the throw pillow across from Carlisle, while his partner leaned against a nearby wall.

"What can you tell us about Bartok?"

"Well, he’s a very patient man. He’s waited a long time to get close to me. I don’t think he’s going to let a little obstacle like the FBI or two undercover cops get in his way, if you know what I mean."

Hutch folded his arms across his chest. "Do you have any idea how this guy works? What his M.O. is?"

"Judging from what I’ve seen in the past, his men don’t act without being led. They usually wait for the other side to make a tactical error. That’s when they make their move."

"Well, if they’re gonna be poppin’ up from outta nowhere like you do, I’m tellin’ ya right now, we’re in for a lot of trouble."

"I’m curious, what happened, what made you turn informer?" Hutch asked.

"Some might call it an attack of conscience, I call it an epiphany. After being his right hand man for the last fifteen years, I came to the realization that Bartok’s existence depended upon having someone as his enforcer, his muscle. That was how he achieved his power. It meant that I was a device that fed the machineand once I was gone, he would just promote someone else to take my place. In essence, it meant that I was expendable. And that’s just not how I planned to exist for the next years of my life."

"So you’d make good on his threats using intimidation and elimination." Hutch guessed.

"For starters."

"The main thing is, how are we gonna know when they get here?" Starsky queried.

"You won’t."

"Well, the trial’s two o’clock next Thursday, we’d better think of something before they get here." Hutch said.

----

On Wednesday, at about mid-morning, several passengers got off a private plane landing at Bay City airport. Passengers who vaguely resembled the men on the slides shown to Maxine Garvey and Alan Piper at Inside magazine. There were at least twelve of them, each of differing shapes and races, an even ratio of Caucasians and Asians. All of them were stylishly dressed, their eyes concealed behind sunglasses. No one spoke; gestures seemed enough to communicate with one another. A finger movement and waiting baggage clerks whisked their accompanying baggage away, loading them into the trunks of four idling limousines.

In the center of this entourage was an elderly gentleman guarded by two large men, both of them tattooed and tough looking. They walked beside him with their hands in close proximity to their concealed weapons, making it apparent to any would-be aggressor that crossing them was done at their own peril. The men divided themselves among the four cars and the chauffeur of the lead car pulled off while the rest of them followed.

Bartok leaned back into the expensive leather upholstery of the car and pulled a cigar from its holder, in an instant a lighter appeared. "Where are they holding him?" Bartok asked, puffing on the now brightly lit cigar.

Crandall Grimes, his right hand man, sat beside him.

"The Imperial Hotel downtown. He’s heavily guarded." Grimes put the lighter back into his jacket pocket.

"Federal agents and police, I presume."

"Yes."

Bartok’s eyes found his number two man, Franklin Manville. Again, no verbal directives were necessary, just a simple nod and the man instantly knew what to do.

Manville picked up the limo phone, dialed a number, said, "We’re on our way," into the receiver and then hung up.

Grime’s continued. "Our reservations are at the Miyako hotel, which is within walking distance of the hotel where Mr. Carlisle is being secured. The rest of the men are positioned and ready to proceed on your order, sir."

"That’s fine." Bartok answered. When Grimes moved to leave, Bartok immediately reached out and grabbed his arm with such force that he thought the man might have broken it. Bartok's well-harnessed anger was evident in his voice. "Crandall, I want you to tell your men to use caution, but above all..."

"Ye...s..s sir?" Grimes winced with the pain.

"Tell them that failure...is not an option."

"Yes, sir."

Then Bartok released Grimes’s arm, freeing him to return to the seat opposite his. Bartok closed his eyes and took a long, slow drag off his cigar and then laughed, a long, hearty, wicked laugh. Manville looked over at Grimes, expecting him to be grimacing in pain from the near bone crushing assault. Instead, Grimes was holding his bruised arm and smiling.

-----

Inside the Imperial hotel, just a few feet away from Carlisle’s heavily guarded room, the doors to the elevator slid open, and a cleaning cart was pushed out of the elevator and onto the carpeted corridor. The agents on the outside, who were sluggish after a heavy meal, were slow to detect the heavyset black cleaning woman who strolled onto the penthouse floor, her face partially obscured by long, salt and pepper hair.

The woman began to hum softly as she unlocked the door to the cleaning closet. She pulled out some cleaning supplies and other items and put them down on the cart, closing and locking the supply room door. After she’d finished loading her cart, she continued pushing it down the hallway, still humming softly to herself.

-----

Inside Carlisle’s suite, Starsky paced back and forth like a caged animal, while his cool and collected blond partner played solitaire on the coffee table in the living room, far away from those damned pesky throw pillows.

"Hey, Hutch, I’m going stir crazy. Can’t we go out or somethin’?"

"Why don’t you just go out on the balcony and get some air?"

"We’re twenty-two flights up, dummy. You know I hate heights."

"So, don’t look down."

Problem solved, Hutch continued with his game, while Starsky apprehensively wandered out onto the balcony, staying well away from the railing.

------

The cleaning woman continued to roll the cart down the long corridor, triggering one of the wheels to squeak loudly, bringing her presence to the attention of the taller of the two agents. He looked up, saw her, and then roughly shoved his partner. "Hey, what are you doing up here?!" he yelled.

Before she could answer, both men were out of their chairs and racing the two feet to where she stood, knocking over the cart and tackling her to the floor in the process. She started to scream.

"Aah, aah! What I do? Ya crazy, let me up"!

The two agents were still on the floor holding down the woman’s legs and were trying to secure her arms behind her when the commotion brought Starsky and his partner out of the suite to see what was going on. In seconds, they had blown past the burly guard, flinging the door open, with their guns drawn. Upon seeing the two agents and the harmless trespasser they had captured, they lowered their weapons and returned them to their holsters.

Hutch shook his head. "What’s going on out here?"

"What’s it look like, smart guy?" asked the tall agent sarcastically. The woman still struggling under his grasp.

"Looks to me like they sacked the cleaning lady." Starsky remarked.

"C’mon fellas. She looks harmless enough. Let her up." Hutch suggested.

The two agents reluctantly released the woman and dusted themselves off. "She’s not even supposed to be up here, this is a restricted floor." The shorter agent stated matter of factly.

Hutch knelt next to her. The woman was wringing her hands nervously, obviously distressed by the whole situation. He tried to calm her, supporting her back as she got to a sitting position against a wall. Starsky knelt to her right, while the two agents kept a watchful and suspicious eye on all three of them.

"Calm down, all right?" Hutch instructed the agents, and then turned to the woman. "Are you okay?

"You’ll have to forgive these two, they really love their jobs." Starsky informed her.

When she spoke, her words were a confusing jumble of West Indian patois. "Everting irie. They jes a-scared I witless is all! Lord all mighty, I never see such a ting."

Strangely, the blond cop seemed to grasp all this. "They got just a little overzealous, ma’am. Come on, let us help you up." He offered.

Hutchinson took hold of the woman by her right shoulder and elbow while Starsky grabbed her from the opposite side. With their assistance she was able to get her to her feet. Of course, her first thought was to immediately try and right the heavy cart.

Starsky restrained her. "Hey, hey, hey! Let those two get that!"

"Go ahead guys, it’s the least you could do." Hutch insisted.

The two agents halfheartedly righted the cart and picked up each and every spray bottle and cleaning rag from its resting place on the floor and then put them back on the cart.

"There you go, ma’am." The taller agent said, pushing it over to her.

"Now say you’re sorry, like good little soldiers." Starsky insisted.

"We’re sorry--ma’am." The agents responded begrudgingly.

The woman nodded at them and straightened out her uniform, then smiled at Hutch, who smiled back. Then she did something very strange, she took his chin in her hand and looked into his eyes.

"You are good man. I can see dis clear. So no worry, I mean to cause you no trouble here."

"It’s no trouble at all, ma’am." Hutch answered, his cheeks blushing a touch.

Starsky knotted his brow. "Yeah, we’re here to help. Hey, ya mind if I ask you somethin’ though?"

"I will answer, if I am able."

"How did you get up here?"

The housekeeper gave him a big sheepish grin. "It no magic, if that what you be thinkin’. I come up di wrong floor, dat all it be, no big ting."

"Oh." he said, still not fully understanding.

And with that, the woman pushed her cart towards the elevator, summoned it, and departed just as curiously as she’d arrived, leaving the four men standing around scratching their heads, both literally and figuratively.

"How about that?" Hutch asked his partner.

"Mighty strange if you ask me."

The excitement over, the two partners walked back to the penthouse door and knocked to be let back in. No response.

"Hey, Bruno, open up!" Starsky yelled.

"What’s the password?" The agent responded through the door, obviously finding their situation humorous.

"What password? Do you remember a password, Starsk?" Hutch asked.

"Nope."

"Hey, Bruno, would you let us in please?" Hutch requested.

Starsky got an idea. "Hey Bruno, open up, I got somethin’ for ya."

His curiosity peaked, the door opened and the agent looked out. "Like what?"

"This!" Starsky reared back and sucker punched him in the nose.

"OW!" howled the burly agent.

"Starsky!" Hutch yelled.

Starsky walked right past the big man without looking at him. "That’ll teach ya to play games with the hired help."

"Nice, Starsk, piss off the big guy with the gun." Hutch remarked as he walked past the guard. Bruno was now leaning with his back against the door, gingerly holding his nose.

"What? It worked didn’t it?"

"I think you broke it!" Bruno grumbled.

Hutch rolled his eyes at his partner and put his hand on Bruno’s shoulder. "You’ll be okay. Why don’t you go see if you can find some ice for that in the refrigerator?"

The big man followed the cop’s instructions, holding his bruised proboscis all the way. Hutch patted him on his back as he walked past them. "Let’s go see what Carlisle’s up to."

"Lead the way." Starsky replied.

Both men set off towards the backroom to find Carlisle. When they stepped into his room, it caught them off guard to find him sitting on his bed, meditating. They stopped in their tracks and Hutchinson cautiously approached him. "Mr. Carlisle? Ah…Mr. Carlisle? We’d like to go over the preliminary route with you once more so you know what’s going on Thursday…"

Carlisle didn’t respond. He remained in a deep meditative state, legs crossed beneath him.

"Mr. Carlisle? Did you hear me?"

He emerged slowly from his trance. "I heard you."

"Good. We’d like to go over the itinerary with you one more time."

Carlisle peeled his legs from beneath him and extended them until his feet touched the floor. He got off the bed, patting his stomach as all three men walked out to the kitchen and sat at the table.

"Before we do this, gentlemen, I’ve heard many stories about the coffee and donuts so popular with your officers out here. Do either of you know where could we get some? I am thoroughly famished."

"There's a coffee shop downstairs…" Starsky replied, and then looked hopefully at his partner.

"You know the Feds won’t go for that." Hutch reminded him. "We can’t even order room service."

"Yeah, I know, I know. Possibility of a security breach."

"Come now, you guys look like some pretty smart cookies. I'll bet you could figure out a way to get something up here."

"A man after my own stomach." said Starsky.

"Starsky! We can’t take him out of this room, let alone past the guards outside."

Starsky gave his partner one of his patented, ‘that’s what you think’ faces and then ushered Carlisle back toward his room. "I don’t know about you, but my stomach’s doin’ flip-flops and somersaults over here. If I don’t get at least a donut and a cup of coffee, my brain’s gonna be toast for the rest of the day."

"Oh, and that'd be a major departure from the norm for you, wouldn’t it?"

"Ha, ha. Very funny."

Carlisle stood in the doorway. "I don’t think anyone ever said that you and Mr. Hutchinson couldn’t go down for something, now did they?"

Hutch thought about that a minute, then realized Carlisle was right, no one had said that. He followed Starsky out of the room, and then yelled back at Carlisle. "I’ll have Starsky bring you back a bear claw!"

"Good!" Carlisle yelled back. " And I take my coffee black, no sugar!"

 

-----

 

The hotel’s coffee shop was accessible from the lobby and the elevator let the two officers off at ground level. During the ride down, Starsky went on and on about the white lie he’d told the two agents to get the two of them out of the suite, and Hutch was still rollicking with laughter. When they entered the restaurant they made an effort to compose themselves, but to no avail. They were so glad to be out of Carlisle's room for even five minutes that they failed to notice the small legion of black limousines parked in front of the hotel across the street.

Hutch went over to the waitress standing behind the counter. "Eh…excuse me, miss? Ah…could I get three coffees please, two black, no sugar. One with."

"No problem." she answered.

"Make one of those coffees to go. And two bear claws, please." Starsky added.

The waitress didn’t take long to fill their order. So the two of them remained at the counter to enjoy their brief respite.

Outside, the limousine occupants filed out and made their way into the lobby of the Miyako Hotel. Bartok was the last to get out of the vehicle, and just as he was heading for the entrance, a filthy looking, toothless old bag lady carrying several mesh bags teeming with her belongings approached him. She walked into his path and held out a grimy hand. "Help an old lady? A dollar...some spare change?"

Bartok’s men were quick to react and seized her immediately as she approached him. Too quickly. Bartok stopped them.

"It’s all right, gentlemen. Those of you who have only been with me a short time will soon learn. Some might consider me a cruel and heartless man, but I do have caveats. One is that I do not allow insensitivity or indifference when dealing with those less fortunate than myself. Release her, and as restitution for your ignorance, I would have you dig deeply into your pockets."

The men didn’t question the order they were given; they simply pulled out several bills from their pockets and handed them to the woman and watched as she graciously accepted them.

Her face lit up with happiness as she shook the hands of both men. "Thank…you…I’m gonna eat now…I’m gonna eat real good."

Bartok was then led inside the hotel, leaving the bag woman to shuffle off across the street and into the very same coffee shop where the two detectives were finishing their coffee and donuts. The bag woman came inside and the putrid smell of something rotten wafted in with the mesh bags she carried. As she trudged up to the counter, she placed the bags on top of it. Starsky made a visible face.

"Aw, man-come on. Give a guy a break, willya lady?"

The waitress made a face also. "Hey! Hey! You can’t leave that stuff there."

The bag lady didn’t seem the least bit concerned. "I just want me some coffee and…and a piece of that there apple pie over there…that’s all. I got money."

By now the waitress and the two partners were discreetly holding their noses.

"Ma’am, ma’am… Could you at least take those bags off the counter?" Hutch asked.

"Okay, okay, okay…" she agreed.

The woman removed the bags but relocating them only seemed to worsen the strength of the odor. Starsky picked up the bear claw and the coffee and moved from his seat. "Whew, man, let’s go back up, okay?" he whispered.

"I’m with you."

Starsky was the first one to dart into the waiting elevator, with Hutch close behind. Just before the doors closed, they saw the bag lady smiling and waving at them, while the waitress, still grimacing, prepared her order.

Content now, the woman took her bags over to a far corner of the shop. She returned to the counter for the coffee and the pie and brought them with her to a table. Then she sat down and eagerly devoured a large forkful of the pie. Just as she was about to sip her coffee, her eyes caught sight of whatever was going on in front of the hotel across the street.

Bartok’s men were up to something all right, and while there was no sign of him, several of his men were filing out of the building and crossing the street to the main lobby of the Imperial. She watched with interest as they entered and disappeared from sight. She got up then, leaving the unfinished food and her bags behind.

The waitress shouted after her. "Hey lady, you can’t leave that stuff here!

The waitress’s admonishment went unheeded, for the activities of the visitors outside had distracted the woman’s attention. She exited the coffee shop and entered the Imperial through a side entrance. Watching the men closely but guardedly, she employed a large potted plant in the lobby as cover to watch them as they passed the hotel's nightclub entrance and approached the desk clerk.

The clerk looked up. "Can I help you, gentlemen?"

Grimes stepped up, his face as devoid of emotion as a brick wall. "We need access to the penthouse floor."

The male clerk looked up, fully aware the area was off limits. "I’m sorry, sir, but the penthouse floor has been reserved until further notice."

The clerk’s trembling hand reached under the desk, fumbling for the alarm trip button. As he searched, one of Grimes’s men came at him from behind and cold cocked him with the butt of his gun. The clerk’s body slumped to the floor and Grimes stepped over it as he came around the desk. His sole purpose appeared to be gaining access to the contents of the clerk’s desk drawer. Upon discovering a concealed drawer inside it, he pulled out what he was looking for, a duplicate log. He flipped through it single-mindedly and when he found what he was looking for, a self-satisfied smirk came upon his face .

He kneeled down and whispered into the unconscious clerk’s ear. "It appears that the penthouse is no longer reserved." He dropped the logbook on the floor and stepped out from behind the counter. "All right, he’s in Penthouse B, twenty-second floor. Let’s go." He led the way toward the elevators.

As they crossed to the elevator, an unknown photographer caught their movements in a quick series of freeze frame images.

The bag lady hastily tucked an object into the pocket of her dingy coat, hurried out of the hotel and walked over to a nearby telephone booth. Digging into the deep pockets again, she found what she was looking for, change. She slipped a dime into the slot and dialed anxiously, waiting for the call to connect.

"Hello, Allan?"

"Yes, this is Allan. Maxine?"

She turned and closed the telephone booth door. "Yes, it’s me. I think I’ve got something." She removed two blackened caps from her teeth.

"What is it? Are you okay?"

She hunched closer to the phone as if she feared someone would hear her. "They’re here, Allan. Bartok and his men. I got pictures."

"Good, good, have you seen Carlisle yet?"

"No, not yet. He’s up in the penthouse. But at least I know who the good guys are and who the bad guys are now. That’s half the battle. And you were right, getting close to him is not going to be that easy."

"Never said it would be. What’s your next move?"

"I’m going back to the apartment. I have to change into something more appropriate. I’ve got to get a job."

"A job?"

"Trust me, Allan, it’ll be a gas. I’ll talk to you later."

"Okay. Let me know what happens."

Maxine hung up the phone and hunched her body over to once again to become the old woman. Bagless, she inconspicuously shuffled off in the direction of the craftsman house.

-----

It was early Thursday evening and in a reserved portion of the Miyako hotel dining room, a gourmet feast had been served and the traces of it subsequently cleared away. Grimes’s men had eaten heartily and they were standing round the room fidgeting with nervous energy, ready for some kind of extracurricular activity to burn off the meal. Grimes, a toothpick resting in his teeth, leaned over to exchange a few words with his boss. "Sir, the men are restless and I daresay stuffed, would you grant your permission to allow them access to the bar downstairs?"

"Hmm. They’ve had a long flight and have a difficult assignment ahead of them. I see no reason why you and your men shouldn’t be able to enjoy a bit of entertainment. Tell them to keep to themselves and not to overdo it." He put his hand on Grimes's arm. "Oh, and Grimes, do remember…"

"Yes, sir?

"You’re in charge down there. Don’t let things get out of hand."

"I won’t. Thank you sir." He bowed to Bartok, and then turned to his men.

"You heard him. Downstairs."

The men followed him out of the dining room, down the carpeted stairs and directly into the lobby. As they approached the hotel’s club entrance, Grimes opened the door, and the loud thump of a disco song blared into the hallway. As they piled into the room, the solid oak door shut behind them, creating absolute silence. They gathered around him once inside.

"Remember, behave yourselves and don’t overdo it. I’ll keep an eye on things out here." Grimes notified them.

Despite his warning to them in minutes the formerly orderly gathering of hired thugs became a free for all, as some went to the bar for drinks while others went to the club section to watch the female entertainment. Hours passed while the men threw caution to the wind and overdid the drinking. Grimes, who was now watching the dancers himself, became so engrossed in their captivating beauty that he no longer paid much attention to his men.

When the second set ended, an announcer came on stage and approached the microphone. "Gentlemen, I want to thank you for coming and welcome you all to the Club Miyako. Right now on our stage, I’d like to introduce you to two of our newest dancing lovelies, will you please welcome…Cleo and Irene!!!

The announcer left the stage and much applause ensued as dance music began to play and two very striking women, one black; the other Asian, came onstage and started their routine. They wore scantily made costumes accompanied by fishnet stockings and high heels. Their routine did not look entirely professional, but for a roomful of drunken men, it proved to be very entertaining.

When their set ended, the men got loud and rowdy again, clapping and yelling for more. Maxine smiled as she went offstage. It confirmed in her mind that though these men were trained killers, they were still men and therefore very predictable.

Grimes, realizing now the complexity of the situation and the possibility that he might not be able to control his men in their alcoholic states, walked through the crowd and over to the bartender. He was agitated, but remained calm. "I need to see your boss," he said. "Right now."

The bartender sensed that the man meant business. "No problem, I’ll go get him." He walked into a back room and returned shortly with another man. He was a short, rumpled character with a badly trimmed mustache and a scraggly beard. By the look on his face it was evident he was used to having money thrown at him on a regular basis.

"I’m the owner, Ed Fleischmann. Sam here said you wanted to see me."

"Mr. Fleischmann, I need to get my men out of here. I know of only one way. I want to make you an offer."

The man looked faintly interested. "What have you got in mind?" Then he backed off noticeably. "My girls don’t do special favors, if that’s what you’re thinking."

"That’s not it at all, my friend. I want to hire your dancers…just for tonight."

"My dancers? If I do that who’s going to entertain the rest of my customers?"

Grimes pulled out a fat wallet and pulled out several bills of high denomination. "Here, this should take care of any inconvenience."

The man’s eyes widen noticeably at the sight of the cash. "Which of the girls would you like to hire?" He offered eagerly.

Grimes glanced at the stage where Cleo Garvey, Irene Chao and another dancer, Geri Hawkins, were getting ready to go back onstage. "Those three over there will do fine. Have them come up to the Mr. Bartok’s penthouse immediately. They’ll be paid handsomely for their trouble."

Fleischmann nodded and Grimes left the bar area. He walked out to the middle of the club floor, said something to them and despite his men’s earlier unruly behavior he had only to snap his fingers to get their attention. They followed him out of the club and went back up to the penthouse without a cross word.

-----

When the last set ended, Fleischmann walked over to the dancers as they went backstage to get dressed to go home. He stopped all three women as they were heading out of their dressing room.

His greeting to them was syrupy sweet. "Hello, ladies, how are you?"

Irene, the seasoned dancer of the three, blanched. "We’re fine, Fleischmann. What’s up? You’re not one for shooting the breeze."

"I got a another job for you."

"Another job? Come on, Fleischmann, we got homes to go to." Irene responded.

"Yeah, it’s 10:30,our shifts over." Cleo reminded him.

"C’mon, it’s an easy gig. You’ll get your base pay, plus, there’s a generous bonus in it for all three of you."

Irene’s mercenary feelers were up. "How much?"

Fleischmann smiled, he knew he had her. "There’s a thousand for each of you for a night’s work."

The girls were stunned by the amount, and they gathered around him like bees to honey.

"A thousand? What do we have to do? Something nasty I’ll bet." Irene said.

"Not at all." he assured them. "All they want you to do is dance, just like you always do."

"Just dance, huh?" Irene questioned.

"Yeah, just dancing." Fleischmann said, stroking his beard lasciviously as he eyeballed Irene. "That is unless you’d like to join me in the backroom instead."

"No thanks, Fleischy, I’d just as soon take my chances with the wolves upstairs. Come on, ladies." Irene declared.

"So you’ll do it?" He inquired, smiling.

"Why not? What’s the room number?" Irene answered.

Fleischmann pulled out a pen from his inside jacket pocket and wrote down the suite number on a slip of paper and then handed it to Irene. He watched her with pleasure as she tucked it into the heavy cleavage of her blouse.

"See you tomorrow, Fleischy. We’ll let you know how it turns out."

Fleischmann nodded knowingly and disappeared into his office.

Maxine smiled, it looked like she was about to be welcomed into the maw of the beast and she was relishing it.

-----

The three women got off the elevator and Geri, younger than the other two by a few years and a staid Midwesterner, looked around warily. "Irene, are you sure we’re gonna be okay? I mean being up here with these guys? Alone?"

"Don’t worry about it, Geri, just do your thing, okay?" Irene took out her compact and carefully reapplied her makeup. "You’re real quiet over there lady. What’s up with you?" she asked.

Maxine stopped at the penthouse door. She could hear the men inside, laughing loud and having a good time.

"Oh, just preparing myself for the worst…you ladies ready?"

"I’m always ready. Let’s go." Irene pressed the doorbell twice.

The door opened and Grimes let them in. "Come on in ladies, your audience awaits."

The girls sauntered in, cautiously taking in their surroundings. Maxine noted that it was very dark, except for a few lights on in the anteroom, giving it a nightclubby effect. Standing in the doorway of the room, they saw a makeshift stage in front of them. As they moved into the living room, the sound of their patiently waiting audience got louder.

"Come on girls, let’s get this over with." Irene said.

The two women took off their coats and walked through curtains of the makeshift stage area. A phonograph and a set of speakers sat nearby on a table. Not wanting to dance, Geri volunteered for the job of putting on the records.

"Don’t forget to turn it way up." Irene instructed.

"Come on girl, what are we waiting for? Let’s boogie!" Maxine shouted to Irene.

Geri put a record on. It was some generic disco tune with lots of guitar and rhythmic drumming. Maxine and Irene stepped through the curtains and onto the stage. The men immediately went wild, standing up and jockeying for the best view. Some of them were very inebriated and tried to rush the stage.

"MAN, THEY’RE CRAZED!" Irene shouted to Maxine over the din, continuing with their number.

"HELL, FORGET CRAZED! THEY’RE LOADED! HERE THEY COME!" Maxine grabbed Irene’s arm and pulled her towards the end of the stage.

As the men made a mad dash for them, they quickly ran behind the curtain. Out front, Grimes made an attempt to get his men back under control. "I promise you, I will shoot the next man who moves." He warned, and it looked like he meant it. He set off backstage and approached the three young women who were huddled together in a semi-circle, wondering what they should do next.

He approached them. "Ladies, ladies, I apologize for my colleagues. They sometimes forget themselves when they’re allowed recreation. Won’t you please continue your performance?"

"No way, man, they’re crazy…we’re going home!" Irene replied.

"I can’t let you do that. Those men out there have been promised entertainment. They will not react calmly if I have to tell them that you’re not going to perform."

Irene grabbed her coat. "That’s your problem mister. You can keep your money, we’re going home."

Maxine knew that leaving the hotel was not in the cards for her. She did some quick thinking. "Look, you guys go, I’ll stay behind and dance for them."

Geri balked. "No way, you’ve gotta come with us." She grabbed at her arm.

Maxine took her hand and patted it. "It’s okay, Geri, I’m going to stay…but on one condition." She turned to Grimes. "You have to promise that Irene and Geri will still get their pay and the bonuses."

It sounded like a good deal to Grimes. "You got it." He pulled out his billfold and handed the two women their money.

The other two girls were clearly surprised. "You don’t have to do this, you know." Irene said, tucking the money into her favorite hiding place.

"I want to. Now you guys go ahead."

"But how are you going to get home?" Geri asked, sounding very concerned.

Maxine smiled. "Hey, don’t worry about me, I’ll catch a cab."

"Okay, Cleo, we’ll see you tomorrow night then!" Irene said. She and Geri then grabbed their things and headed out the back way.

"You be careful!" Geri called back.

"I will!" She waved as the two girls left. When they were gone, Grimes planted his hands on her shoulders and guided her back toward the stage entrance.

"You ready?"

She nodded. He went to the phonograph and put on the record again. As the music started up, she paused and took a very deep breath.

"Ready."

She went out and began dancing, hesitant and uncoordinated at first, then gradually she found the rhythm of the music. The men magically calmed down, her body movements seeming to mesmerize them. Then, as before, the catcalls and yelling began again, as the liquor and the testosterone in their bodies took over. Again they started to rush to the stage, forcing her off.

Grimes ran up on the stage. "Gentlemen, gentlemen, you must control yourselves! She is not going to dance for you if you’re going to rush the stage!" he yelled.

But there was no calming the horde now as they ran past Grimes and after her. She started to scream as some of the men pawed at her costume and grabbed at the netting of her hose making escape impossible. .

-----

The commotion from the nearby suite was enough to awaken several occupants on the same floor. Some of them opened their doors slightly to see what was going on. But only one of them, an older woman wearing a bathrobe and a sleeping bonnet, came out to see what was going on.

Oh my, what is that? she thought.

Cautiously she came out of her room and walked over to the door where the noise was coming from. The only sounds she could hear were loud music, a lot of male voices and a lone female screaming. She rang the doorbell of the suite several times and when no one answered, she scurried back to her room and closed the door. A stolid senior citizen, she picked up the phone in her room and dialed the hotel operator. A man’s voice answered and she spoke in hushed tones.

"Hello? This is Mrs. Thelma Norton in suite 303. Can you send someone up here? I think a woman’s being attacked!"

"I’ll call the local police for you, ma’am. They’ll send a unit over right away."

"Thank you. Thank you very much. Tell them to hurry, won’t you dear?"

"No problem, ma’am."

The woman hung up the phone and returned to her bedroom, shutting the door that led into it and locking it.

-----

Not long after the hotel operator called the police, the blare of sirens cut into the night. Hutch was on the alert, going to the large picture window to see if he could find out what was going on. The sound of the disturbance alone was enough to make him curious. Unfortunately, he wasn’t able to make out anything much from his vantagepoint.

"Hey, Starsk. Looks like somethin’s going on at the hotel across the street."

Starsky was sitting on the sofa, reading some kind of sports magazine. "Whaddya see?"

"Couple of black and whites pulling up across the street. Can’t see very much else from here."

Starsky looked over at Bruno, who was snoring away on a chair nearby. He could see that his partner was restless and probably up for some action. "You think it means anything?"

"I dunno, maybe."

Starsky dropped the magazine and stood up. "Well, there’s only one way to find out…let’s go." He prodded his partner to leave, but Hutch stopped him cold.

"We can’t both go, Starsky," He pulled out a quarter from his pocket. "Tell you what. Heads or tails?"

He was used to this. "Tails."

Hutch threw the coin up in the air and palmed it, obscuring his partner’s view. "Sorry, Starsky, it’s heads, I’ll go." Starsky knew full well that it had landed tails.

"You know that is really gettin’ old."

"What? It worked, didn’t it?"

Hutch laughed and as he walked by the guard, patting him on the head briefly as he unlocked and opened the front door. "Hey, bruiser, wake up and keep an eye on my partner for me, willya?" he said.

The agent woke up with a start. "What? Oh, yeah, sure."

Hutchinson stepped outside the room and motioned to the agents outside the door. "I’m going to check out a disturbance at the hotel across the street, I’ll be right back."

The agents gave him the thumbs up as he got in the elevator. He rode it down to the lobby and when he got outside, the police were already taking away some of the drunken men. He walked over to a police unit and sought out one of the arresting officers.

He flashed his badge. "Detective Hutchinson. What’s the problem over there?"

The officer acknowledged him. "Oh hi, nothing serious detective, just a little party that got outta hand. Buncha guys tried to gang up on an exotic dancer."

"Where is she?"

The officer pointed to the rear of a black and white unit. "Over there, trying to keep warm."

In Hutch’s line of work, it wasn’t uncommon for him to encounter beautiful women on an almost daily basis. Of those he’d come to know intimately, only one or two had actually managed to capture his heart. So when he approached the black and white and leaned over to look inside, he wasn’t expecting much. In fact, he wasn’t expecting anything at all. Least of all to encounter one of the most captivatingly gorgeous women he’d ever seen in his life. She was breathtaking, huddled beneath a wool blanket, holding a very hot coffee cup in her hands and shivering.

"Hi there," he said. "I’m Detective Hutchinson. You okay in there?"

She turned around in mid-sip and looked at him, a little startled.

"Oh, yeah, I’m okay, just cold." She smiled, and the power of it alone just about melted him.

"You do look awfully cold." He took off his jacket. "Here, maybe this will help." He handed it to her.

"Oh no, I couldn’t."

She saw the disappointment on his face and wondered if it was possible that she might be seeing things. Was he really digging her? No, he couldn’t be. But she was willing to find out. She had some kind of a gut feeling that he just might lead to something more important, so she took him up on his offer. "Oh, why not?" she said, and then took the jacket from him. She pulled off the blanket and put it on. It was a size too big, but warm from his body heat. She draped the blanket over her knees.

"Hey, haven’t we met somewhere before?" he asked.

Maxine lowered her head, finishing the last of the coffee. "No, I…I don’t think so. I think I would’ve remembered meeting you."

Hutch smiled. "You got a way home?"

Normally after making sure the female victims of a crime were safe, Hutchinson and his partner would let the unit handling the call escort them home or down to the station. But there was something different about her. It seemed like there was some kind of magnetic force that glued him to the spot he was standing in. Or maybe it was the fact that she looked so damned cold and he was a pushover for a pretty face.

Still shivering, she slid out of the back seat of the squad car and stood beside him, tossing the blanket inside. Hutch mentally noted certain things he already liked about her. In particular the fact that despite a three-inch difference in their heights, she had beautiful, long, lean legs that gave her the appearance of being much taller.

She sighed. "I feel so stupid. I let my ride leave. I guess I’ll need to call a cab."

"I can…oh, wait a minute, no I can’t, the only car I have belongs to my partner and he’d kill me if I took that."

"It’s okay. I probably live too far away. Anyway, I wouldn’t want to put you to all that trouble.But I could use a dime to call a cab though."

Hutch put a protective hand on her shoulder. "I’ve got a better idea. My partner and I are sort of staying in the hotel across the street. Why don’t you use the phone and wait for the cab there? Besides, I can talk to you a little longer that way."

Bingo, I'm in, she thought, and courtesy of the foxiest detective she’d seen in a long time. She nodded her head in agreement.

Hutch led her by the arm and past the arresting officer he’d spoken to earlier, who was now handcuffing the last of the drunken partygoers. Hutchinson waved to him to get his attention. "Hey, I’m going to let her use the phone inside. I’ll take over responsibility to see she gets home all right, okay?"

"Sure, detective, we've got her statement, she’s free to go. Have a good evening." The officer waved, got into his unit and waited for the paddy wagon to pull off before following it out.

Hutch and the girl waved goodbye to the officer and then he guided her into the warmth of the Imperial's lobby. They walked to the elevator and with a loud ‘ding’ the car settled to the lobby to let them on.

He leaned against the side of the elevator and watched her. This is really crazy. I must be out of my mind. Starsky’s really going to lay into me on this one. And here I’m the one who’s supposed to be keeping an eye on him. he thought. Then, as if she could feel his eyes on her, she turned around and smiled, her hazel eyes sparkling at him.

"I just realized something. Here you are being so thoughtful, and I haven’t even told you my name." She offered him her hand. "I’m Cleo Garvey."

He took it, holding on a bit too long before letting go. "Ken, Ken Hutchinson."

"Lovely to meet you, Mr. Hutchinson."

"Please, call me Ken."

"All right, Ken. It’s really very kind of you to let me do this. I mean, you don’t even know me."

"Well, my partner’s not going to like it, but it wouldn’t be the first time."

The elevator doors opened at the twenty-second floor, and of course the Federal agents, this time a different pair, one black, the other white, became extremely alert. Hutchinson noticed the new faces right away and stood protectively close to her as they approached.

"What happened to the other two guys?" he asked them.

The black agent responded. "We’re the C shift. Word is you guys are in for the evening, orders are to let no one in or out past eleven o’clock." He flashed his shield. "Who’s the female?"

"She’s a friend. Just needs to use the phone."

The agent looked over her attire and smiled lasciviously. "I should have friends like that..."

"With your personality, friend, I wouldn’t count on it."

The agent smirked and stood inside, elbowing his partner as he did. Hutch knocked at the outer door of the suite, Bruno requested the password, and the blond successfully relayed it to him to gain them access.

When he and Cleo walked in, they found his partner sitting on the floor eating popcorn and watching a late night western on TV. He didn’t even look up when he addressed them. "Hey, what happened down there?"

"Turns out they were busting up a loud party at the hotel across the street."

Starsky finally looked up and noticed the girl. "I see you brought back one of the partygoers."

Hutch gulped slightly. "Oh...ah...yeah. Starsky, this is Cleo Garvey. Cleo, this is my partner, David Starsky."

Starsky sprung from his seat on the floor and wiped the butter from the popcorn on his hands onto the sides of his jeans. Hutch made a face. The dark haired man’s next observation concerned the woman's torn fishnet stockings and the scanty costume she was wearing. As he extended his hand to shake hers, he wondered just why his partner had picked up this damsel in distress. "Ah, nice to meet you."

Upon his partner’s look of skepticism, Hutch’s body language changed from open and optimistic to defensive and protective. Starsky noticed the change immediately. "You two guys know each other?"

Maxine searched the detective's face to see if she should give a reply. He smiled at her and laughed awkwardly. "As a matter of fact no, I sort of rescued her."

She smiled as well, watching him jam his hands into his pants pockets, fidgeting uncomfortably. He could never really lie to Starsky.

"Cleo’s a dancer at the hotel. The guys at the party got a little out of hand. She missed her ride, so I figured she could come up, use the phone and wait for a cab."

Starsky studied the two of them. He saw how his partner’s eyes admired the skin of the copper-hued beauty standing in front of them. The truth be told, Starsky would have no trouble getting lost in those warm hazel eyes of hers himself. She had a beautiful mane of hair, and a great figure that any sane man would die for. But she certainly didn’t affect him like she was his partner. What really struck him as odd was, as far he knew, Hutch had never dated anyone darker than a brunette or the occasional lady cabby. So where’d this Cleo come from? And why did he bring her here, when he knew it was against orders? What if something happened to her or she got in the way? Or worse yet, what if something happened to Carlisle? To him the repercussions were plain, but apparently they weren’t so clear to his partner. He was clearly going to have to call him on it. "Hey, buddy, can I talk to you a minute?"

Hutch sighed, he knew what was coming. "Sure, buddy. Sure. He turned to Cleo. "The phone’s over there on the table. The cab number’s taped to the side. I won’t be a minute."

"Okay, Ken," she answered, overemphasizing his name.

Starsky frowned at her and then regarded his friend. His disappointment was apparent. How could she know him well enough to call him by his first name? Hutch obediently followed his partner into a spare room and Starsky slammed the door behind them.

 

-----

 

Cleo waited for the two men to disappear behind closed doors before she moved to the telephone. For the benefit of the agent guarding the door, she went to the phone and pressed her fingers down on the switch hook. She gave it a minute and then spoke.

"Hello, this is Cleo Garvey. I need a cab at…um, wait-a-minute..." She turned to the agent. "Say, what’s the address here?"

The agent looked up from his post. "2611 Ocean Bay Avenue." He answered.

"Thanks. Okay, I’m at 2611 Ocean Bay Avenue… I’ll come out when I hear the horn. All right, thank you…g’bye."

Cleo lifted her finger from the receiver and hung up the phone. She walked over to the Bruno, who was more than a little bored and looked like he needed someone to talk to.

-----

Once in the privacy of the room, Starsky began to pace back and forth across it like a feral animal, uncharacteristically furious with Hutch.

"I don’t get it! What the hell’s the matter with you, Hutch? Don’t you realize that bringing her up here could jeopardize Carlisle’s safety?"

Hutch was at odds--torn between being true to his partner and his job and doing what was in his heart. He thought before he spoke and measured his words.

"Starsky…she needed help. I’m helping her, that’s all."

"There’s more to it than that and you know it. I’ve been your partner for seven years; you can’t fool me. I saw the way you were lookin’ at her."

"Sure, I’m attracted to her, Starsk. Call me crazy, but I just couldn’t stand the thought of her waiting outside in the cold…at night…alone."

"Okay, I understand where you’re comin’ from. But this is not the time to play Boy Scout. The cops could’ve escorted her home. After all, it’s not just Carlisle’s neck you’re riskin’, you’re riskin’ our necks too, and that’s serious business!"

Starsky stopped, he wasn’t getting through to him this way. He took a deep breath, composed himself. He looked his partner in his face. By virtue of their proximity to one another, Hutch could look straight into his partner’s eyes, those windows into the soul, and he knew his friend was only trying to help. Starsky put a hand on his friend’s shoulder.

"All I can say is, buddy, she’d better be worth it."

"I’ll handle it, okay, Starsk?"

Starsky nodded his head. "Sure, okay."

 

 

-----

Cleo sidled up to the agent. "So, big guy, who are we guarding?"


Now a lot of things could be said about Agent Bruno Costagravas, but a mental or social giant he wasn’t. Consequently, he made up for in brawn what he lacked in brains. It was probably a plus in his line of work. That’s how it was he picked this moment to open up and start volunteering what he knew to a perfect stranger.

"We’re protecting an informant turning states’ evidence. Those two guys in there are supposed to make sure he gets to court."

"Really? Would I know this guy’s name if you were to mention it?"

"I don’t…" He was caught in mid sentence as the door to the spare room opened and both detectives came out. Cleo quickly shut off the tiny compact/tape recorder in her pocket.

Starsky’s eyes darted straight to Bruno and the girl. He walked over to them, while Hutch went back to retrieve their very quiet ward. Starsky took it upon himself to reprimand the addle-brained guard.

"Bruno, you know you’re not supposed to say anything…you didn’t tell her anything, didja?"

The ‘hands caught in the cookie jar’ look on Bruno’s face spoke volumes to the dark-haired detective.

"Haven’t you ever heard of the sayin ‘loose lips sink ships’, man? Get outta here, go watch TV or somethin’."

The big guy loped off towards the balcony, leaving Starsky and the girl alone. Cleo sidled up to him, hoping to possibly get on his good side. "It’s all right, Mr. Starsky, I was only trying to be friendly with the guy. He was just telling me about his job, that’s all."

Hutch then came back into the room with Carlisle beside him. "Would you believe he’s been in there meditating all this time?"

Carlisle caught sight of Cleo and he smiled at her. "I see we have an visitor. A policewoman perhaps?"

Starsky smirked. ‘Not likely.’

Hutch introduced her. "Mr. Carlisle, this is Cleo Garvey, she’s a dancer at the Miyako club across the street."

"Oh, really. Are you going to entertain us?" He moved to shake her hand. "How do you do? I’m Jonathan Carlisle."

As she stood there shaking his hand, an effortless smile grew upon her face. Jonathan Carlisle, wow! Here she was standing face to face with a man whom only few had seen, much less get to shake his hand and live to tell about it.

"It’s a pleasure to meet you, sir."

"Same here. Would you like a drink?"

"Sure."

"I hope you don’t mind if I usurp your companion." He said to Hutch.

"Not at all."

Carlisle released her hand and she followed him over to the bar and he poured them both a drink.

Hutch sensed his partner’s unease and tried to diffuse it. He led him by his arm over to the balcony. Starsky face was set in a permanent scowl.

"I don’t like it, Hutch."

"C’mon, Starsk, would you lighten up? She’s harmless."

"You know that for a fact, huh?"

Hutch’s mouth hung open a second. "No, I don’t. But will you do me a favor?"


"What’s that?"

"Look over there." He pointed to Carlisle and the girl. "Does she look threatening to you?"

Starsky looked at the two of them standing over there laughing and enjoying their drinks. Yeah, she looked harmless enough, but where he was from, looks could be deceiving, and often were. Despite Hutch’s assurances to the contrary, he couldn’t quell the unease he felt. There was something about Cleo that wasn’t right, and since it was something he couldn’t put his finger on right now, he just as soon let it pass.

Bruno interrupted their discussion. "C’mon you guys, how ‘bout a game of cards or something?"

"Sure, why not? I’m battin’ a thousand tonight. What else could go wrong?" Starsky answered.

Cleo’s face brightened from across the room, she welcomed anything that might take Hutch’s partner’s mind off of her. Bruno brought over a deck of cards and they gathered at the dining room table to play.

-----

While the others continued their card game in the dining room, Carlisle decided to retire early. After having his usual nightcap he said his goodnights and went to bed. Still ill at ease, Starsky kept looking at his watch during the whole game. Cleo wasn’t sure, but she suspected he was wondering where her cab might be. Finally, her suspicions were confirmed.

"That cab should’ve been here by now. Didja give him the right address?" he asked her.

Cleo cocked an eye at him. "How many times are you going to ask me that question, detective?"

"Until I get the right answer, sista."

Hutch replied in her defense. "Cut her some slack, Starsk, it’s not like it’s her fault. Maybe he got lost."

Indignant, Cleo jumped up. "Do you want me to call again? I can, you know! Look, I didn’t ask to be invited up here, Ken asked me if I needed to…." She stopped ranting in midstream and ran to the front door, but Bruno blocked her way.

"Sorry, I can’t let you out there, Miss."

She did her best to get past him, but it was like getting past a Mack truck. "Just let me wait outside for the cab, stupid!" She was on the verge of tears.

Hutch got up and shot Starsky the most contemptuous look he could muster, slapping the playing cards down on the table and joining Cleo at the front door. He took her hand and pulled her aside for a private talk.

"Look, you’re not going anywhere. I don’t care what my partner says. I’m not going to be responsible for you catching pneumonia or something happening to you out there. You’re staying here until morning, you got that?" He smiled at her. "What do you say?"

She wiped her face and nodded her approval. No matter how much she tried not to, she couldn’t help but feel guilty. Why does he have to be so goddamned decent and sincere?

Starsky got up from the table, the disgusted look still on his face. "I’m gonna go check on Carlisle, you remember him? He’s the body you’re supposed ta be guarding."

Hutch knew deep down that Starsky had a valid point, but right now his feelings for this woman were stronger than his need to follow protocol or conform to his partners’ wishes. She smiled at him sweetly and he put his arm around her.

"Care to take a stroll?" he asked.

"Stroll where? I thought we couldn’t leave?"

"We could go out on the balcony. I think there’s a full moon tonight."

"All right." she answered.

Hutch took her hand and led her through the glass doors and out to the balcony. Under the clear moonlit night, he pulled her close to him and held her. He gazed into her eyes so long he thought he might drown in them, and if that happened, no one, not even his best friend, would be able to save him. He directed her backwards against the cold concrete, until it pressed against her flesh. Then he braced his hands against the wall on either side of her and drew himself forward to kiss her. Afterwards, he drew back and waited for her response. Then she, tantalized by the brief sensation of his lips on hers, took his arms from their positions on the wall and seductively guided them down to her waist.

"Isn’t that better?" she asked.

He smiled to himself. The Hutchinson Charm at work. Once he felt confident they were on the same wavelength, he kissed her twice more, at first gently, and then when she didn’t protest, more firmly with the second. He drew back, almost as if he were waiting for a slap for his insolence. But instead of slapping him, she took him by his hand and led him out of the darkness of the balcony and into the brightness of the suite. Her boldness in leading him and his awkwardness at being led were obvious. They were headed for the same bedroom where he and Starsky had had their discussion earlier.

"Where are we going?"

"Somewhere more private."

"Are you sure about this?" he asked.

She placed a finger to her lips. "Shhh. We’re just going to talk, get to know each other, that’s all." A mischievous smile crossed her lips.

Hutch helped her close the door behind them.

By the time Starsky came back from checking on Carlisle, Hutch and girl were gone. However, the room wasn’t completely empty, there was no way he could miss the huge mountain of man nodding off in the corner. His mass barely fit on the chair he was sitting in. His weapon hung loosely at his side. Starsky went over and removed the gun from his hand; he checked the safety and carefully put it back into the man’s shoulder holster. As he turned to go look for his partner, he heard it, the unmistakable sound of stifled laughter. It was coming from the direction of the spare bedroom. Starsky now knew the location of his partner and his lovely guest.

Starsky’s face registered resignation as he went around and turned out all but one of the lights in the room, then dropped onto the sofa. He picked up and tried to read the sports page of the evening newspaper, but fell asleep almost immediately.

-----

When Friday morning arrived, Hutch woke up and found himself fully clothed and spooned next to Cleo in bed. They hadn’t done "it", but with all the hot and heavy kissing they were doing that night, it was hard to believe they hadn’t. He tried not to wake her as he rose up on one arm and watched her sleep. Then, as if she could feel him studying her, she woke up.

"Hmmm. Hello you." she whispered.

"Hello. Sleep well?"

"Hmm. Wonderfully." She sat up and stretched herself like a Persian cat.

Hutch leaned on one arm and touched her cheek. "Thought you and I could go down and get some breakfast."

"Sounds good. Hey, what time is it?"


Hutch looked at his watch. "Seven-thirty." He rolled off the bed. "You coming?’

"Sure." She got out of bed and noticed what she was wearing. "Whoops, I can’t go out like this. Mind if we go back to the club first? I can pick a change of clothes there."

"No problem. I’ll wash up."

"Okay."

While she lounged in bed a while longer, Hutch went into the bathroom to brush his teeth and wash his face. He dabbed on some deodorant and a little aftershave for good measure. He stepped out and offered up the facilities for her use.

"All yours."

Cleo stood and walked over to kiss him on his cheek as she went past, then closed the bathroom door.

"Don’t be too long!" he called.

"I won’t."

True to her word, she was out of the bathroom in less than five minutes. When she walked out, she saw Hutch sitting at a desk, writing something on a slip of paper. She walked over to him and hugged him.

"See, I told you I wouldn’t be long!"

He finished the note to Starsky. "So you did. I thought I’d leave my partner a note, just in case he misses us."

"That’s a good idea."

Hutch took the piece of paper with him and went to the door. He quietly turned the doorknob. With Cleo standing behind him, he peeked out. Great, Bruno was still sleeping, and Starsky was snoring on the couch with a newspaper over his face.

"The coast is clear. Let’s go." he whispered.

They tiptoed past the couch, and just as they got to the door, Starsky lifted the newspaper from his face.

"Hey, you two!"

His voice stopped them in dead in their tracks; they looked like two deer caught in highlights. The dark-haired man looked like he was taking great pleasure in watching the expressions on their faces.

"You two look like the cat that ate the canary."

"Hey, Starsk, morning. How’d you sleep?"

His partner sat up on the couch. "Fair to middlin’, but I’ll bet you two slept a whole lot better." he answered, rubbing his eyes and yawning. "Where’re you off to?"

"I was just going to leave you a note. We have to pick up her stuff from the club, and then we’re going to get some breakfast. You want anything?"

"Nah, you two go ahead."

Hutch and Cleo turned to leave.

"Oh, Hutch..."

"Yeah, Starsk?"

"Don’t get lost, huh, buddy?"

"Not a chance."

Cleo stood behind the blond man; she liked watching the two of them converse. She could tell they really cared about each other a lot. When Hutch was ready, she followed him out the door. They weren’t able to go far before the two agents outside the door stopped them.

"Where you two off to now?" The short agent inquired.

"Breakfast. Oh, and guys…don’t wait up."

"Yeah, just make sure you’re back in time for the final briefing today."

"Count on it."

-----

Vincent Bartok had invested a lot of time and money into creating this dynasty of his and he wasn’t about to let one man destroy it all. Though it had been slow and painstaking, his men had been gradually infiltrating the staff of the Imperial, even before they’d arrived in town. Grimes’s men now were in control of the hotel kitchen as well as the lobby and loading areas. They could hold off their advance that way, and then when the order to strike was given, the operation would proceed like a well-oiled machine. The element of surprise, as opposed to waging a full-scale attack, had always worked for them in the past. But no plan was foolproof.

Grimes leaned against a back wall of the kitchen, smoking and rehearsing the next move in his mind. As near as he could figure it, his men far outnumbered the Federal agents and getting rid of them was a matter of time and a little effort. Until then they could be content to wait, at least until the day before the noon trial.

-----

Hutch and Cleo sat in the diner laughing and talking over a healthy breakfast of blueberry muffins, fruit and orange juice. It had been a long time since he’d been this excited about a woman. So far she was the perfect companion, smart, funny and devastatingly gorgeous. He was in heaven, but somewhere in the back of his mind he kept thinking that something bad had to happen soon. Gillian Ingraham was still a strong memory for him. She’d been killed. Why? Because he was a cop. It seemed anytime he got close to finding a lasting relationship with a woman, she either ended up a casualty of his line of work, or she left him, so he’d pretty much settled in for a future of short-term romances. Maybe this time it would be different.

"So do you dance for a living?" he asked her.

"No. Just for kicks. It’s easy bread. Nothing serious."

"Why nothing serious? If you don’t mind me saying so, you’ve definitely got the legs for it."

"Thanks. I used to dream about becoming a professional dancer, way back when. But nothing ever came of it."


What she was telling him wasn’t entirely untrue, she had considered ballet or acting when she was in college, but somehow her physical attractiveness always seemed to get in the way of the folks in charge acknowledging her true talent. At auditions, if the producer or the director of the show didn’t try to hit on her, she was left with the understudy role, or told thanks, but no thanks. She knew she was better than that.

After a while, weary of fighting off the wolves, she was drawn to her second calling: writing. She fell into it easily enough. Going from being the college newspaper editor to writing the Op Ed pieces. It wasn’t long before her connections and contacts led her to the job at "Inside" magazine; from there that she began her career as a reporter. And that path had her sitting here with a rather handsome cop, having breakfast and contemplating romance. She was afraid of leading him on at first, but now that she was into it, she figured she might as well enjoy it. It was too late to turn chicken now.

"So you’re a cop?"

"A detective."

"How long have you been ‘a detective’?"

"A cop for two years, a detective, about six or seven."

"Sounds kind of dangerous to me."

"It is, but my partner looks out for me and I look out for him. We do okay."

"He seems to care about you a lot."

"Yeah, sometimes a little too much."

He finished the last piece of muffin from his plate and noticed that she’d finished, too.

"We should get back."

"Sure."

The blond got up and let her slide out. He stuck his hand into his jeans pocket and pulled out a couple of bills and set them on the table. She took his arm and they went up to the cashier to pay the bill. Both of them practically floated on air on their way back to the elevator.

Hutch’s usually keen eye, now preoccupied by the charms of his companion, failed to detect the new faces manning the hotel lobby desk. The outfit she was wearing didn’t help matters either. It seemed a halter-top with hip hugger bellbottom jeans and hoop earrings did everything to emphasize her shapely hips and nothing to keep his attention on the job. As they exited the elevator, Hutch stopped, grabbed her around her waist and held her.

"Tell me something. Am I dreaming you?" he asked.

She laughed. "What are you talking about?"

"I mean, am I going to wake up? Are you going on some trip you haven’t told me about yet? Or do you have to leave town to visit a sick relative? There’s got to be…"

Her exacting look stopped him. "Oh, baby, chill. I don’t go around planning my life. You shouldn’t either. I don’t know what’s going to happen today, tomorrow, or the next day. None of us does. I go with the flow."

Hutch dropped his head a little, as though he’d been looking for some reassurance from her that she’d stick around for a while. She lifted his chin with her hand.

"Look, I think it’s better if we just take things slow for now, you dig?"

"Sure, why not?"

They kissed once more and walked over to the "A" shift agents guarding the penthouse door. Since Hutch recognized these two men from before, he didn’t bother pulling his badge.

"Glad to see you guys are back on duty. Um, this is Cleo…"

"C shift told us she was a guest of yours. Just remember if anything happens to Carlisle or her while she’s here, it’s your ass on the line, not ours."

"I’ll remember that." Hutch followed proper procedure to get he and Cleo back into the penthouse.

-----

Starsky was out on the balcony popping peanuts into his mouth, and Bruno was standing beside him watching the skyline through a pair of Carlisle’s high-powered binoculars when they came in. Carlisle was at the dining room table, reading the morning paper and drinking coffee.

Starsky turned around and looked through the pane of glass as they came in. "You guys have a nice breakfast?"

Bruno looked at them and he could see they were both practically glowing.

"Look at them, can’t you tell? It’s sickening, that’s what it is.

Cleo sat down at the dining room table with Carlisle and offered him a friendly smile when he looked up. Hutch joined Starsky out on the balcony.

"Hey buddy, I need to ask a favor."

Starsky was still popping peanuts into his mouth one after another.

"What?"

"I want to take her out to dinner."

"So?"

"So I don’t want to leave you here guarding Carlisle while I play Romeo. Unless you think you can handle this by yourself."

"I can handle it."

"Are you still ticked off at me because of Cleo?"

Starsky smiled and threw the empty peanut shells at him. "Who me?"

"Yes-s-s, you, you dummy." Hutch answered, dusting them off. "Whaddya say?"

"Like I said, buddy, I can handle it. If I need help, I can have the nearest Junior G man come up and take your place."

"Thanks, Starsk. You’re a pal."


"Don’t mention it. Just do me a favor."

"What’s that buddy?"

"Don’t get your heart broken into a jillion pieces this time."

"It’s nice to know you care."

"It ain’t that. I just don’t want to have to go to all the trouble of puttin’ Humpty Dumpty back together again when she’s done with ya."

"It’ll never happen."

The two men walked inside the room, patting each other on the back. Hutch separated from Starsky and went over to join Cleo. He looked a little perturbed as he walked over. Cleo again had to surreptitiously switched off her tape recorder as he walked up.

She looked up at him. "Oh, Ken, Mr. Carlisle was just telling me about when he lived in Japan for ten years. Isn’t that exciting?"

"Well, there’s something to be said for being well-traveled. Ah, could I see you a minute?" He motioned to Carlisle. "Excuse us."

Carlisle nodded absently.

"What’s wrong?" she asked him innocently.

Cleo got up and followed him out onto the balcony. The look on his face was clearly not a happy one.

"Cleo, I have to ask you not to get too friendly with Mr. Carlisle. Especially not about his time in Japan."

He watched her full mouth form an o-shape and her head drop down slightly. She seemed so genuinely and innocently taken aback that he felt kind of foolish for having made a big deal of it. What he’d seen was obviously a harmless conversation between the two of them. He was letting his partner’s suspicions of her become his own.

"I’m sorry Ken. I didn’t mean to pry." Her lower lip quivered just slightly.

He couldn’t help it, seeing her unhappy made him useless. He put his arms around her.

"No, I’m sorry. How ‘bout we have dinner tonight, to make up for it?"

She looked up into his eyes. "How could I say no with those pretty blue eyes staring back at me?"

He bent his forehead down to hers and they held each other, swaying in slow motion to music only they could seem to hear. Starsky watched the two of them through the glass doors from his seat on the couch. He smiled to himself. His look said, ‘Here we go again’. Starsky knew that as tough as Hutch was in the trenches, he was putty in the hands of a great looking lady. It usually fell to him to rescue his buddy from outside dangers when his insides had been turned to mush by love.

"Hey, you two, knock it off out there!" he yelled.

Hutch and Cleo, oblivious as whether they had an audience, turned toward him and started to laugh.

"Come on, buddy." Starsky got up. "We got a meeting with the Feds in a few minutes. Even if you’re not gonna be here, you at least oughta know what’s happening. Ya ready?"

"Be right there." Hutch turned to her. "I should be back in a couple of hours."

He took her by the hand and let it go slowly as he departed.

"I’ll be waiting for you," she answered.

Hutch, shored up by good feelings, joined his partner as they got ready to leave. Starsky left Bruno explicit instructions not to let their inquisitive guest get too friendly with Carlisle, then he and Hutch left.

-----

It was mid-morning and several of the government agents were gathered in a small but well secured conference room on the tenth floor of the hotel. The agent in charge, Pete Drummond, stood up as Starsky and his partner entered.

"There they are. Gentlemen, finally. I’m Agent Drummond. Please have a seat."

The two men quietly found seats at the huge conference desk.

"I’m going to go over this Wednesday’s transport schedule with you, for the day Carlisle’s moved." He laid out a large blueprint onto the tabletop and with a long stick pointed out the entry and exit doors. "We’ve marked all the exits and entrances and have men posted at all of them. We’ve even got a few men posing as waiters and bellmen. We want to try and keep one step ahead of Bartok’s men if we can."

He pointed to the penthouse floor on the map. "This area is still secured as far as entry by elevator and we’ve had no breaches of security as far as my operatives on that floor have reported."

Starsky snuck a look at Hutch to see if his face betrayed the knowledge that the floor had already been breached, twice. It didn’t.

"The next step is for us to devise a method to use you two." He pointed to them. "As you know already, one of you will be used as a decoy, you’ll be riding in one of the two cars we’re using to transport Carlisle to the courthouse. The other man will be with Carlisle and my men in the real transport car."

The other agents seemed to be taking careful mental notes as agent Drummond spoke. Starsky raised his finger and Drummond acknowledged it.

"Have you decided which one of us that’s going to be?" Starsky asked.

"Well, Carlisle’s about your height and weight, dark haired, we figured you’d be the best one to pass for him."

"Terrific."

Hutch looked worried and raised his hand. "I have a question."

"Yes, Detective Hutchinson?"

"Why are Starsky and I the decoys? Why can’t one of your men take that position?"

The other agents regarded him with rather reserved shock. Hutch was just full of surprises on this assignment. A superior’s plans were rarely questioned in their organization, and when they were, the doubter had better have a damn good reason to do so.

"I went over all this with your Captain, Detective Hutchinson, but if you must know, I’ll tell you. Our organization has been after Bartok and his people for years now. His men and my men have crossed paths more times than I care to remember. I don’t want the reason for Carlisle’s death, or our missing a chance to bring him to trial to be that his men got a make on any of my men. So your captain and I came upon the bright idea of assigning you two fellows. We needed some bright shiny new faces and you two boys are it."

"I think we’ve just been complimented, Starsky." Hutch said.

"Hum. No kiddin."

-----

Bartok was lying comfortably in a leather recliner, dozing off with a lit cigar clutched in his stubby fingers. The only thing that managed to disturb him was the offending sound of the telephone ring. He picked it up quickly.

"Hello. Bartok."

"It’s me, Grimes."

"Yes, Grimes, what is it that you had to wake me from a perfectly good dream?"

Grimes shifted uncomfortably on his feet.

"I’m sorry sir, just wanted to know what our next move would be and when."

"It’s heartwarming to know how enthusiastic you can when you are trying to get into my good graces, Grimes. Where are your men now?"


"The lobby, kitchen and the loading dock so far."

"Just stay there for now. I’ll notify you when the time is right. Until then, you and your men behave yourselves…and sit tight."

"But sir…"

"Grimes, that is an order."

Grimes sighed and hung up the phone.

-----

On noon of the same day, Bruno, Cleo and Carlisle were having lunch on the balcony of the suite when the phone rang. Bruno got up to answer it.

"Hello?" He paused a minute and then looked over at Cleo. "Hey, Ms. Garvey, it’s for you."

She looked at him, surprised. "For me?" She got up and put the receiver to her ear. "Hello?"

She was immediately serious when she recognized who it was.

She recognized Allan Piper’s voice. "How’d you get this number?"

"Oh, I have my ways. How’s the story going?"

She turned and whispered into the phone, watching to make sure Bruno returned to Carlisle’s side.

"I have notes and some little recorded bits. I’ll have time to flesh them out sometime today I think."

"Sounds like things are going well."

"Things are going fine. But look, this phone call is dangerous. I’ll be in touch with you later, all right?"

"No problem."

Cleo hung up the phone and walked over the glass doors. "Hey, Bruno?"

Bruno stopped what he was doing and walked back inside. "Yes, ma’am?"

She picked up her bag from the couch and slipped it onto her shoulder. "Bruno, that was my girlfriend Irene, I have to go back to my place and pick up some things from her. Can you tell Detective Hutchinson that I’ll be back in about an hour or so?

"Sure thing."

Cleo knocked on the front door as a signal that she was coming out. When she stepped out and the two agents smiled at her.

"Good morning, gentlemen."

"Morning, ma’am."

"I have to leave, I’ll be back later on. Can I count on you two to be here when I get back?" She asked them in a voice that was as sweet as it was enticing.

The shorter agent’s pasty face tinged a shade of red. "You know it!"

"We’ll be here." The black agent assured her.

"Good." Cleo turned on her comely heels and smiled on her way into the elevator. She knew their eyes would follow her up until the very minute she disappeared into the elevator.

Once in the lobby she thought she recognized the two men at the lobby desk as being from the group of men she’d seen sometime earlier. She briskly walked past them as she hurried out of the building. She walked the short distance to her apartment with determination and anticipation in her step. When she got inside she removed the tapes and notes from her bag and sat down at a desk to begin the work of transcribing them.

She looked at her watch. It was one fifty-five. almost finished; Ken should be getting back around now. She thought. I’d better get back before he misses me. She took the tapes and her written notes and tucked them inside the desk drawer, locking it with a key that she dropped into her bag. She checked herself in the mirror before she left.

It was two o’clock by the time she got back to the hotel. She got on the elevator and pressed the button for the twenty-second floor. She kept her eyes on the display as the floor numbers went past, and then bit her lip when it stopped at the tenth floor. The doors opened and it was Ken and Dave. Hutch looked up at her, both surprised and pleased, but Starsky just looked startled.

"Hey. Where’ve you been?" Hutch asked as he stepped inside.

"Oh, my girlfriend, Irene, called. I had to go take care of some things for her." Lies, building a bed of lies.

"How’d she know where to find you?" Starsky inquired suspiciously, following his partner in.

"I gave her the number," she answered hotly.

"Hey, don’t mind him. I’m glad to see you, even if he isn’t." Hutch said, trying to calm her down.

Hutch put his arms around her and noticed her shoulders were stiff with anger. He gave them a squeeze and she relaxed.

Starsky felt like a third wheel and was acting it. He turned away from them with his arms folded, and stayed that way until the elevator reached their floor.

When the three of them got off the elevator, the taller agent straightened up visibly.

"How was the briefing?" he asked Starsky.

"Informative, even entertainin’ ya might say."

"Don’t worry, they’ll be calling you two down for the p.m. session." Hutch advised them.

Starsky gave the password and Bruno let them in, this time immediately.

"Hey guys, you’re back. We missed ya."

"We missed you too, Bruno." Hutch said.

"How’s Carlisle doin?"

"Aw, he’s okay. Kinda bored though. I think he’ll be glad when the trial is over with."

"Him and me both." Starsky concurred.

"Admit it, Starsk, you’re just jealous cause I’m taking out a beautiful woman tonight and you’re not." Hutch said.

Starsky knotted his brow. "Look, it’s just your timin’ that’s an issue here. I don’t have a problem with it."

"Sometimes you just gotta do, Starsk, isn’t that what you’re always fond of saying?"

"This ain’t what I meant, Hutch, and you know it."

"Look, Starsk…"

Cleo sat and listened to this war of words with interest. She thought that Ken had a point, but so did David. This Carlisle was an important link to the Bartok case. His allowing her to stick around really might threaten Carlisle’s safety. But for her the outcome of the trial didn’t matter, because she was there to do one thing, to do her job as a reporter. She couldn’t tell Ken who she was, or why she was working the party that night. She was torn between lying to a man she was getting to know and enjoyed being with, in order to do a once in a lifetime story.

"Hey, sweetheart," Hutch called to her, managing to cut short her thoughts. "What’re you thinking about?"

She shook her head clear. "Oh, nothing, just curious about where we’re going for dinner tonight." Lie.

"Well, I was thinking about this nice little place in Venice, best Italian food this side of Italy."

"And a really nice greenhouse too I hear." Starsky chimed in.

The three of them laughed.

-----

That Friday evening, Hutch opened the door to his apartment and swung it wide open and he put the door key back in its spot above the doorframe. He carried a grocery bag in one arm and he put his car keys in his teeth as he let Cleo in.

"Here we are, the best Italian restaurant this side of Italy, Café Hutch."

Cleo smiled when she realized what he was going to do. Wow, she thought. This man is going to cook for me. I don’t believe it.

Hutch set the grocery bag down on the table and quietly pulled out three tomatoes, a clove of garlic, oregano, spaghetti, French bread and a bottle of wine from the bag. He saw her standing in the middle of the room watching him.

"Don’t just stand there. Make yourself comfortable."

"Okay."

Cleo eagerly took off her coat and draped it on the couch. As she sat down, she crossed her lithe, graceful legs in front of her. Hutch took down two glasses and carefully uncorked the bottle of wine and then poured them both a glass. He walked around to the couch and gave her one of them.

He toasted. "To good food, good wine and good relationships."

Cleo smiled up at him, clinking her glass with his. "To you and me."

They sipped the wine slowly with their eyes on each other and Hutch bent down to kiss her, and when their lips met, he didn’t know whether it was the alcohol that had him so intoxicated or the smell of her perfume. But he did know that if he didn’t get to the kitchen, neither of them would be eating. He pulled away from her.

"I’ll be back." He promised.

"Promises, promises."

Hutch willed himself into the kitchen and pulled down a pot, filled it with water and put it on the stove to boil. He then set about chopping vegetables and throwing them into another pot for the sauce. Hutch was definitely at home in the kitchen. Cleo occupied herself with a nearby magazine from his coffee table.

"So do you cook?" he asked.

She laughed. "I try not to, the last time I did I nearly killed somebody."

"Don’t tell me you don’t know how to cook." He asked incredulously, at last, a flaw.

"Why, do you want to teach me?" She turned around to see his response.

"Come on in here and get your first lesson."

Cleo dropped the magazine on the tabletop and got up. She walked over to him, hugging him from behind.

"So what’s my first lesson?"

"Let’s see, how about something easy. How about bread slicing?"

She moved around to the side of him. "Okay, sounds easy enough. Where do you keep your knives?"

He pointed south. "Right over there."

She pulled open a drawer and pulled out a serrated knife. "This okay?"

He looked at what she had in her hand. "That’ll do fine. Now cut the slices about two inches thick, pull out the butter and the garlic press and we’ll make some garlic bread."

"Cool."

Cleo took the baguette out of the clear wrapper and put the bread on cutting board and started to slice it. Hutch opened the tomato sauce and poured it into the vegetable pot. He stepped out of the kitchen and went over to his stereo.

"How about some music? You like jazz?

"Love it."

Hutch wiped his hands on his apron and turned on the record player. Soon there was soft, romantic music filling the air, creating just the proper ambience. He smiled to himself and thought, Starsky, you old worrywart, how could anything possibly go wrong?

-----

Friday evening had come and gone, and now, dressed in a three-piece Armani, Starsky’s compact, muscular body nervously paced back and forth across the room, waiting for his partner to return. This was the last briefing before Jonathan Carlisle’s trial date and they both needed to be there ‘on time’.

Jonathan Carlisle slowly walked into the room dressed in an identical suit. He looked very much the part of a well to do criminal turned legit.

"Good morning, Detective Starsky."

Starsky looked up, his thoughts disrupted and temporarily removed from worry mode for the moment. "Oh, yeah. Good mornin’, Mr. Carlisle."

"You look preoccupied, Detective. Trouble?"

"Just running late for this morning’s briefing. No big deal. No sense sweatin’ it, I guess."

"Quite right, Detective Starsky. What’s on the agenda for today?"

They both took a seat at the kitchen table while Bruno looked on.

"This is supposed to be a dress rehearsal. Anybody who’s going to be a part of this thing is going to be meeting with Drummond today. Hutch and I were late for the first meeting. Looks like we’re gonna be late for the second. I’m a wreck."

That said, Hutch and Cleo chose that particular time to walk in the door. Hutch was dressed in a sweat suit, looking rushed and sweaty, Cleo just looked glowing and happy.

The look on Hutch’s face was hangdog. "Sorry, Starsk. Mr. Carlisle, good morning."

Starsky grunted something unintelligible under his breath.

"Hey, Bruno." A nervous smile broke over Hutch’s face as Bruno acknowledged his hello with a wave of his hand.

"Hey, Hutch, what time is it?" Starsky asked, ignoring the perfectly good watch on his own arm.

Knowing his partner was angry, he tried to deflect the situation with some humor. "I dunno, Starsk, daytime?"

"Funny. We’re late for the briefing. Are you gonna change clothes or what?"

"Sorry, Starsk, we went jogging this morning and I forgot the time. Let’s just go."

Starsky, Bruno and Carlisle got up and headed for the door. Starsky and Bruno checked their guns and adjusted their bulletproof vests. Hutch stopped and turned to Cleo. The other three men impatiently waited for him at the door.

"We’ll be at this most of the day today. What’re you gonna do?" He asked her.

"I dunno, go shopping maybe. Wash my hair. Don’t worry about me, do what you have to."

Hutch kissed her on the cheek. "You’re a doll, you know that?"

"No, I don’t. Keep telling me." She kissed him back. "I’ll meet you at your place tonight, okay?"

"It’s a date."

"Come on, Hutch, we don’t have all day." Starsky chided him.

They all headed out the door and took the elevator down to the conference room floor. Cleo waved to Hutch as the four men exited and she continued on her way out of the hotel. Several heavily armed Federal agents escorted the group to the conference room. Things were getting close to the wire.

-----

Agent Drummond drummed his fingers on the desk as he and several other agents waited impatiently for BCPD’s finest to show up. ‘Late again, as usual. It’s a wonder they made it through police academy training at all’, he thought to himself.

A loud knock at the door signaled their arrival and one of the agents inside the room opened the door to let them in. Agent Drummond stood up and directed them to come in.

"Timeliness is a virtue, men. In this situation it could mean the difference between life and death. I ask that you try to be on time from now on. The next twenty-four hours are crucial."

"Sorry, my fault." Hutch said.

Drummond stepped forward and shook Carlisle’s offered hand.

"Mr. Carlisle, so nice to finally meet you."

"Likewise. I’d like to thank you for this opportunity."

"Nonsense. It’s just the government’s way of thanking you for assisting us in putting a stop to Bartok’s operation. Please have a seat, gentlemen. We have a lot to go over."

-----

On her way back to her apartment, Cleo had to walk past the Imperial hotel’s loading dock area. It was then that she saw some of Grimes’ men standing vigil on the platform. She stood there in the shadows wringing her hands and debating whether to go back up and tell the two detectives what she’d seen. After a minute she decided, with some misgivings, to return to her apartment to begin writing the article.

She pulled off the outfit she was wearing and took a shower; a shower always seemed to get the creative juices flowing for her. She toweled off and put on a robe. She unlocked the desk drawer and took out the tape she’d made of her short conversations with Carlisle. She slipped the cassette into a tape recorder on the counter and pressed play. She listened intently to the sound of Carlisle’s voice while she braided her curly hair into two braids.

 

He talked about his life as a young man living on the Upper East Side of Chicago and how he fell into the criminal lifestyle after his parents died and he passed in and out of juvenile homes. She fast-forwarded the tape to him talking about why he decided to reform and deciding to testify against Bartok and going to the trial.

"You’re a very interesting man, Mr. Carlisle. I just hope your story’s worth screwing up my love life for." She said aloud to herself.

She slipped on a pair of jeans and a top and then grabbed the two rolls of film from the drawer. With a journalist’s skill she took the rolls into a closet that had been transformed into a makeshift darkroom. Bathed in the warmth of the red light, ‘Cleo’ set about developing the film.

As she hung each wet photo from the tiny line strung across the room, she studied the images; the first ones were of Grime’s men. One as they entered the hotel, another shot of them getting into the elevator. Then there the more tricky shots of Carlisle, of him standing out on the balcony, smoking a cigarette, reading. She heaved a sigh as she put up the last two. They were both of a smiling Ken Hutchinson. What’s the matter with me? This is a job like everything else I’ve done. I can’t let what I feel for this guy stop me from doing this story. I’ve got to fight it. She blew out air from her cheeks and forced herself to get on with it. Locking the darkroom door, she went over to her typewriter, stuck a few sheets of paper into it and sat down. She hesitated a moment before beginning, but once she started, she didn’t stop until she’d finished the first draft.

 

Continued