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-----

Maxine 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."

She lifted her finger from the receiver and hung up the phone. Then walked over to 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, man? Don’t you realize that bringing her up here could jeopardize Carlisle’s safety?"

Hutchinson 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 going to get through to him this way. He took a deep breath, composed himself. Looked his partner in the face. By virtue of their proximity to one another, Hutchinson could look straight into his partner’s eyes, the windows into the soul, and he knew that his best friend was only trying to help.

Starsky put a hand on his 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."

-----

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

Now a lot of things could be said about Agent Costagravas, but a mental or social giant he wasn’t. Consequently he made up in brawn what he lacked in brains. It was probably a plus in his line of work. And 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. Maxine 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 then took it upon himself to reprimand the addle-brained guard. "Bruno, ya 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. Maxine 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 Maxine and 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 John Carlisle."

As she stood there shaking his hand, an effortless smile grew upon her face. John Carlisle, wow! Here she was standing face to face with a man whom only few people had seen, much less got 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 just don’t like it, Hutch."

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

"And 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 talking and smiling. "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.

Maxine’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. Maxine wasn’t sure, but she suspected that 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.

She 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, she 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 for the front door, but Bruno jumped up and 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 else 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 about this. Why does he have to be so goddamned decent and sincere?

Starsky got up from the table, a disgusted look still on his face. "I’m gonna go check on Carlisle, you do remember him, don't you? He’s the body you’re supposed ta be guarding?"

Hutchinson 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.

"A stroll where? I thought we couldn’t leave?"

"We could go out on the balcony. I think there’s a full moon out 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 slowly pulled her close to him and held her tightly. He gazed into her eyes for so long that 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 until the cold brick of the building was pressing against her flesh . He braced his hands against the wall on either side of her and drew himself forward to kiss her. When they were done, 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 was hard 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 again, 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 blatantly obvious. He noticed that 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 who was nodding off in the corner. His mass barely fit on the chair he sat in. His weapon hung loosely at his side. Starsky went over and removed the gun from his hand; checked that the safety was on and carefully put it back into the man’s shoulder holster. As he turned to go look for his partner, that's when 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 it up and tried to read the sports page of the evening newspaper, but fell asleep after he found out the Vikings score.

-----

When Friday morning arrived, Hutch woke up to find himself fully clothed and spooned up next to Cleo in bed. They hadn’t done "it", but with all the hot and heavy kissing they were doing the night before, 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 up a change of clothes there."

"No problem. I’ll go 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. Then he stepped out and offered up the facilities for her use. "It's all yours," he said.

Maxine got up and walked over to where he stood, kissed him on his cheek, went inside and closed the bathroom door.

"Don’t be too long!" he told her.

"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 in the room, 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."

Hutchinson took the piece of paper with him and turning the doorknob as quietly as he could, opened the bedroom door. 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 looks 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 escaped felons caught in prison searchlights. The dark-haired man seemed as if he were 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 Maxine turned to leave.

"Oh, Hutch..."

"Yeah, Starsk?"

"Don’t get lost, huh, buddy?"

"Not a chance."

Maxine stood behind the blond man; she liked watching the two of them in conversation. She could tell that 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 now one man had to power to destroy it all. He wasn’t about to let that happen. Even before they’d arrived in town, his men had been infiltrating the staff of the Imperial hotel. It had been a slow and painstaking process, but they were inside. Grimes’s men were now in control of the hotel kitchen, as well as the lobby and loading dock areas. They would hold off on their advance, and then when the order to strike was given, they would proceed like a well-oiled machine. The element of surprise, as opposed to the waging of a full-scale attack, had worked well for them in the past, but he knew from experience, that no plan was foolproof.

Grimes was leaning against a back wall of the kitchen, smoking and rehearsing their next move in his mind. As near as he could figure it, right now his men far outnumbered the Federal agents and getting rid of them was only a matter of time and a little effort. Until then they had to be content to wait, at least that's what Bartok wanted.

-----

Hutch and Maxine 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. And 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 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."

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

What she was telling him wasn’t entirely untrue, she had actually considered a ballet or an acting career when she was in college, but somehow her physical beauty always seemed to get in the way of the folks in charge acknowledging her true talent. At auditions she was usually disappointed. If the producer or the director of the production 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 with him and contemplating romance. At first she was afraid of leading him on, but now that she was well into the charade, she figured she might as well enjoy it. "So you’re a cop?"

"A police detective."

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

"A policeman 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.

Preoccupied by the charms of his companion, Hutch’s usually keen eye failed to detect the brand new faces manning the hotel desk. The outfit she was wearing didn’t help matters much 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."

Hutchinson dropped his head a little, it was 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, all right?"

"Sure, why not?"

They kissed once more, got on the elevator and got off on their floor. Upon emerging from it they walked over to the "A" shift agents who were guarding the Carlisle's penthouse. Since Hutch recognized these two men from before, he didn’t bother pulling his badge. "Glad to see you guys are back on the job. 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 said, and then followed the proper procedure to get he and Cleo back into the penthouse.

-----

David 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 could see they were both practically glowing. "Look at them, can’t you tell?"

"It’s sickening, that’s what it is." Starsky answered.

Maxine 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 some empty peanut shells at him. "Who me?"

"Yes-s-s, you, you dummy." Hutch answered, brushing 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?"

"Try not to 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 after she’s done with ya."

"It’ll won't happen," he said assuredly.

The two men walked inside the room, patting each other on the back. Hutch separated himself from his friend and went over to join the girl and Carlisle. He looked a little perturbed as he walked over to them. Maxine again had to surreptitiously switch 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 for a minute?" She got up and he motioned to Carlisle. "Excuse us."

Carlisle nodded absently.

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

Maxine 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 ask too many questions of Mr. Carlisle. Especially not about his time in Japan."

He watched her full lips 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 guessed 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 the one who's 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. The problem was that 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 going on. 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 the good feelings of love, joined his partner at the door as they prepared to leave. Then 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 fifteenth floor of the hotel. The agent in charge, Peter 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 when Carlisle’s moved." He laid out a large blueprint onto the tabletop and with a long stick pointed out the entry and exit doors to everyone. "We’ve marked all the exits and entrances and will have men posted at all of them. We’ve even got a few men posing as waiters and bellmen. We'll 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 candidate 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 many years now. His men and my men have crossed paths more times than I care to number. I don’t want the reason for Carlisle’s death, or our missing a chance to bring Bartok to trial to be that his men got a make on any of mine. 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, he was 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 ringing. 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 over 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. It was 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 a few recorded bits. I think I’ll have time to flesh them out sometime today."

"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."

The reporter 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."

Maxine knocked on the front door as a signal that she was coming out. When she stepped out 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." Maxine 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 walked briskly 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 ten minutes after two 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 fifteenth floor. The doors opened and Ken and his partner stood there. 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, Renee, 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.

Hutchinson 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 upon seeing them. "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 you."

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

"How’s Carlisle doin?" Starsky asked.

"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 you goin' out."

"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…"

Maxine sat and listened to their war of words with interest. She thought that Ken had a point, but so did his friend. This Carlisle was an important link to the Bartok case. His allowing her to stick around really might threaten Carlisle’s safety. For her the outcome of the trial didn’t matter, because she was only there to do one thing, her job as a reporter. She couldn’t tell the blond cop who she was, or why she was working the party that night. She was severely 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 his apartment and swung the door open wide, putting the key back in its spot above the doorframe. He carried in a grocery bag in one arm and had his car keys in his teeth as he let Cleo in.

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

She 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 kitchen table and quietly pulled out six tomatoes, a clove of garlic, oregano, spaghetti, French bread and a bottle of wine. He looked up and saw her standing in the middle of the room watching him.

"Don’t just stand there," he said. "Make yourself comfortable."

"Okay."

Maxine eagerly took off her coat and draped it on the top of the couch. As she sat, she crossed her lithe, graceful legs in front of her. Hutch took down two glasses and carefully uncorked the bottle of wine, 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."

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

They sipped the wine slowly, with their eyes focused on each other, and Hutch bent down to kiss her. When their lips met, he didn’t know whether it was the alcohol that intoxicated him so or merely her presence. But he did know that if he didn’t get to the kitchen, neither one of them would be eating tonight. 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 very at home in the kitchen. Maxine 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 think 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."

She dropped the magazine on the tabletop and got up, then walked over to him, hugging him from behind. "So what’s my first lesson?"

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

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 found a serrated knife. "This okay?"

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

"Cool."

Maxine took the baguette out of the clear wrapper and put the bread on a cutting board and started slicing it. Hutch diced the tomatoes and poured them into the a small pot. Then 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 traveled nervously back and forth across the room, his hands in his pockets, waiting for his partner to return. This was the last briefing before John Carlisle’s trial date and they both needed to be there ‘on time’.

John Carlisle slowly walked into the room dressed in an identical suit. He looked very much the part of the well -to- do criminal turned legit. "Good morning, Detective Starsky."

Starsky looked up, his thoughts disrupted, 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. 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, while Cleo just looked happy. Hutch’s face was hangdog, he knew they'd be late. "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 at the door and turned to Cleo. The other three men waited for him.

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

"I don't know, go shopping maybe. Wash my hair. Don’t worry about me, you 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 headed out the door and summoned the elevator. When it arrived, Maxine waved to Hutch as the four men got in. When they were gone she continued on her way out of the hotel. Once they got to the floor, 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 conference table 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 apologetically.

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 trying to put 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, the female reporter 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 or not. After a minute she decided, with some trepidation, 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. Then she unlocked the desk drawer and took out the tape she’d made of her short conversations with Carlisle. Slipping the cassette into a recorder on the counter, she pressed play. Listening intently to the sound of Carlisle’s voice as 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 detention homes. She fast-forwarded the tape to him talking about why he decided to reform and his decision to testify against Bartok and going to 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, Maxine set about developing the film.

As she hung each wet photo from the tiny line strung across the small room, she studied the images on them. The first ones were of Grimes’s men. One as they were entering the hotel, another of them getting into the elevator. Then more tricky shots of Carlisle, him standing out on the balcony, smoking a cigarette, him reading. She heaved a sigh as she put up the last two. They were both of a smiling Ken Hutchinson. Her eyes lingered on his face. What’s the matter with me? This is a job like everything else I’ve done. I can’t let what I feel for him stop me from doing this story. I’ve got to do it. She blew out air from her cheeks and forced herself to get on with it. Coming out of the darkroom, 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 got started, she didn’t stop until she’d finished the first draft.

-----

A satisfied smile came over Bartok’s face as he prepared to make the call that would finally eliminate John Carlisle from his hierarchy. Soon, the long and painstaking task of tracking Carlisle’s every move would come to an end. And the FBI’s interference into his business matters would stop. It had been a long, exhausting ordeal, but the outcome would be worth it. He felt a palpable excitement as he dialed Grimes’s private number at the hotel. "Crandall, this is Bartok. It’s time. Advise your men to be ready."

On the other side of the receiver, Grimes was beaming. "Don’t worry, sir."

Bartok hung up the phone. There was no doubt in his mind that his men would be thorough in the implementation of their duties, and would die before failing. He settled back into an easy chair and awaited the news he knew would surely come—that John Carlisle was dead and would never have a chance to testify against him in court.

-----

Agent Drummond stood over a large plastic replica of the two hotels, including the downtown Bay City courthouse. A roomful of agents, and the two partners, as well as Agent Costagravas and Jonathan Carlisle stood in rapt attention as he continued with his demonstration. Drummond moved several small plastic men and cars into different spots within the model so that each man could see what was intended to happen the next day. Of particular interest were the dolls that sported small, dark business suits. Drummond pointed to the dark-haired detective.

"Detective Starsky, since you’re posing as Carlisle, you’ll be coming out of the hotel escorted by several agents. They’ll lead you into the parking lot, where you’ll enter this limousine here. This car will make its way to the courthouse using one of several undisclosed routes. Detective Hutchinson, you and Agent Costagravas will escort the real Carlisle in this car here, and go in the opposite direction. Any questions?"

"Yeah." Hutch motioned with his hand, "What’s to stop Bartok’s men from offing Starsky if they think he’s Carlisle?"

Starsky gave the blond a wide-eyed look. He turned to Drummond with a expression that said, ‘yeah, that’s a good question.’

"Ah, but that’s the beauty of the plan, Detective. There’ll be more cars for them to wonder about than just the two," Drummond answered, smiling.

Hutch’s face glowed with awareness. "So Bartok’s men won’t know which car is Carlisle’s or which ones are the decoys."

"Exactly. Rest assured, Detective Hutchinson. We have no intention of losing Mr. Carlisle, or your partner either for that matter."

-----

Right around the time Drummond was finishing his meeting with the task force, Maxine had finished the rough draft of her article and had returned to the hotel. When she got to Carlisle’s floor, the same two agents she’d seen when she left were there. She stepped up to them and smiled genially. "See, I told you I’d be back. Did you miss me?"

"Baby, you’ll never know how much. Hey, my name’s James, and this here's my partner, Phil."

"It’s very nice to meet both of you." She stepped forward to enter the penthouse, but he stopped her with his hand. "So tell me, what’s a fine sister like yourself doing fraternizing with the man?"

She laughed. "I don’t see him as ‘the man’, brother."

"That’s because he’s leading you around by your nose." He turned to his partner. "No malice intended."

The shorter man nodded. He was used to his partner’s errant lack of decorum.

"I’ll tell you somethin’, sweetie, in my book, love don’t know no color. So do me a favor, and keep your black power speechifying to yourself."

"That’s cool, but I’ll tell you what, when you get tired of vanilla, just remember, chocolate’s waitin’ right outside the door for you."

"I’ll keep that in mind." She motioned for him to open the door.

The agent complied with her request and she disappeared inside. Just as the door closed, his partner felt a gun poking him in his side. He turned to check it out, and the muzzle of a gun was the last thing he saw. His out-spoken partner didn’t see much else.

 

>Continued