Author’s Note: This story was inspired by two of the Friday Fiction prompts on the Starsky&Hutch Fans&FanFictionFaceBook site. The challenges were “cold” and “weather related.” Thanks, Paula!
Dave Starsky sat with his partner, Ken Hutchinson, in the back row of the briefing room. The day shift was about to receive its morning heads-up. The weather forecast was for extremely unusual winter conditions but Starsky didn’t understand why that should’ve caused the tension he felt in the air. He and Hutch had already talked in the locker room about what they might be able to do for their friends who lived on the street.
Behind the podium, Sergeant Mayfield cleared his throat, causing everyone to settle. “The only topic on today’s agenda is the storm that’s headed our way. They’re calling it an Arctic Express and –”
Snickers and chuckles filled the room.
Mayfield’s normally calm expression turned glacial. “Apparently,” he went on, “it’s going to be no laughing matter!”
The joviality died away.
“We’ve all got nice, warm homes to go to tonight,” Mayfield continued, “while those who live on the streets have nothing. I got in touch with the mayor as soon as I heard the predictions and was able to convince him to open the gymnasiums of three schools. Bay City High, Alan Shepherd Elementary, and St. Francis Elementary will be available to our homeless as of three o’clock this afternoon. The addresses are on your information sheets.”
There was the sound of paper shuffling and a lot of muttering. “Why don’t we just let ‘em freeze t’ death?” someone stage-whispered.
Mayfield must have heard the question because his expression turned sour. “I heard that, Dailey. But this is not L.A. We don’t treat our homeless the way they do. We try to help them, instead.”
“Damn bleeding hearts,” came from a back corner.
Mayfield ignored the comment and continued. “You’d better understand me when I say this, people, today’s activity will not reflect Los Angeles’s attitude toward its vagrants. The men and women you’ll be escorting to the shelters are due respect and kindness. Most of them wouldn’t be in the situation they are if they had any options. They don’t! They live on the street because circumstances and life have treated them poorly.” He gripped the edges of the podium and leaned forward. “If I hear of a single incident of hostility being directed at these people, either in actions or speech, I promise the officer or officers responsible will regret it.”
The stare turned into a glare. “Do I make myself clear?” When no one answered or made another remark, he nodded toward Starsky. “Officer Starsky, you have a question?”
Starsky stood. “Yes, Sergeant. It’s been Hutch’s and my experience that a lot of the homeless guys are veterans and they may not…”
Hutch stood up next to him. “What Starsky’s trying to say, Sergeant, is that these homeless veterans still have a great deal of pride. They’re not on the street by choice and they have come to look askance at… help… when it’s offered.”
“‘Askance,’ Officer Hutchinson?” Mayfield’s tone was lightly sarcastic and Hutch’s neck and face flushed. A few titters were heard.
Starsky put his arm around his partner’s shoulders; he needed everyone in the room to know that, if they were going to make fun of Hutch, they were taking on Starsky, too. “Hutch is a college graduate, Sergeant, he uses words like that sometimes.”
“I take his point, Officer Starsky, and yours.” The sergeant scanned them. “And I believe what he’s telling us is that some of these people we’ll be trying to help won’t want to participate. Is that it?”
“Yes, Sergeant,” Starsky agreed. “Not only will they find it hard to believe, they won’t want to give up their individual spot, wherever they… live.”
“Some of them,” Hutch continued, “have actually had to fight for the more salubri… better locations, such as under an overpass where they’re sheltered from all but the worst weather.”
The sergeant nodded and motioned for them to be seated.
Starsky and Hutch sat down. Starsky leaned against his partner, in silent thanks for the support, and was gratified by the return pressure.
“The storm that’s predicted to hit Southern California tonight,” Mayfield said, “and last as long as two full days, is promising to be like nothing in living memory, so the homeless could die if we don’t get them to a shelter.”
“So what?” was murmured from Dailey’s direction.
Starsky clenched his fist but didn’t say anything. Mayfield had obviously not heard.
The sergeant looked around to make sure everyone was paying attention. “Officers Starsky and Hutchinson are probably right, though. Somehow, we need to assure these men and women that their places of… residence… will be waiting for them afterward.”
“An’ jus’ how are we s’posed to do that, Sarge?” Dailey sneered. He was a hardened officer Starsky and Hutch knew well, and for whom Starsky had zero respect. Dailey was the kind who should have been drummed off the force years earlier but had, somehow, managed to remain. He had even gathered a cadre of narrow-minded, heavy-handed like-thinkers around him.
“If you’d let me finish the briefing, Officer Dailey, you’d find that out.” Mayfield clearly shared the opinion that Dailey had no place on the BCPD but was forced to put up with him. “While everyone on this shift, in every precinct, is convincing the homeless that taking shelter in the gyms might just save their lives, the chief has asked for volunteers from off-duty and retired officers. These men will patrol the vacated alleys and underpasses in spare black-and-whites, and try to make sure no… usurpers…” He smiled at Hutch. “I didn’t go to college, but I read a lot.” His attention returned to the room. “Make sure no claim jumpers move in.”
A few good-natured snorts followed this announcement. Dailey and the officers around him, however, had sullen looks on their faces.
The first two men Starsky and Hutch approached went willingly. “Sure, Officers,” one of them said. “Billy and me are new in town. We ain’t found a good place to flop yet that ain’t already taken. We’ll be more ‘n happy to spend a night or two in a nice, warm school.”
Others weren’t quite as amenable. “What are you talkin’ about, Hutch? What’s an Arctic Express?” an old codger asked.
“We s’posed to take somethin’ with a name like that serious?” The second one laughed but it turned into a choking cough.
“It’s gonna get really cold, fellas,” Starsky explained. “Rain turning to sleet, then, when the mercury takes a dive, everything that’s wet becomes ice. Including you.”
“It may not snow but your cardboard cartons could turn to frozen mush,” Hutch said. “And your thin blankets could become your death shrouds.”
The second vagrant, his cough now under control, definitely didn’t like the sound of that. “‘Death shrouds.’ You got a way with words, Hutchinson.”
The two got in the black and white for the trip to the nearest shelter. After they were settled, Starsky and Hutch went out to gather more.
Starsky pulled into an alley where Dailey and his partner, Blaire, were looming over Elijah and Charles, two of Starsky and Hutch’s friends. The homeless men were crouched next to a Dumpster, protecting their paper bags of recyclable cans and bottles.
“You heard me, you foul-smelling alley rats,” Dailey snarled, clearly unaware of Starsky and Hutch’s approach. “We’re not givin’ you a choice. You’re gonna be guests of the mayor and the tax-payin’ citizens of this city for a couple of nights.”
Blaire kicked Charles, who had been slow to get to his feet.
Starsky walked between them and turned to face Dailey. “The sergeant told us we weren’t to use such tactics, Dailey.”
Dailey shrugged, his entire attitude exuding disgust. “What he don’t know won’t hurt ‘im.”
Hutch stepped up next to Starsky. “Ah, but he will know, because Starsky and I will tell him.”
“Yep, that’s what I figured,” Dailey sneered. “Turn on your own.”
“You’re not my own, Dailey, thank God.” Hutch’s voice was tightly controlled. “You belong in a museum that exhibits the mannequins of policeman the Twenties tolerated.”
“Tolerated, huh?” Dailey spat, the glob coming close to the toes of Hutch’s polished shoes. “Believe me, Hutchinson, my type of policeman kept the streets clean! And safe for stuffed shirts like you.”
“You’re an anachronism, Dailey,” Hutch replied, “and I’m going to do everything I can to make sure you don’t wear that uniform much longer.”
“Yeah?” Dailey shot back. “You and whose army?”
Starsky laughed. “Oh, that’s original. I’m his army, Dailey, and you’d better remember that.” He took one step forward so that he was almost in Dailey’s face. “I was in the army, you sad sack. I spent eighteen months in Vietnam. I learned more ways to silently kill a man than you can even imagine.”
Dailey puffed up like a bantam rooster. “Are you threatening me, Starsky?”
“If you want to look at it that way. I’m just telling you that me and Hutch are going to file a complaint against you and Blaire, here, and, if you’re nearly as smart as you think you are, you’d begin filling out your retirement papers before that complaint is investigated. You’ve got more than enough years on the force; you can call it quits with full pension. It’s more than you deserve.”
Hutch raised the index finger of his right hand. “Don’t say one more word, Dailey. Get out of here and take this pathetic excuse for a partner with you. We’ll transport these men.”
Dailey and Blaire’s expressions promised retribution but they shuffled out of the alley.
Elijah was open-mouthed. “You shouldn’t have angered them, Hutch. Starsky. Those two look like the type who will lay in wait and ambush you some night.”
“You let us worry about that, Elijah,” Starsky said, making sure his voice sounded confident. Inside, he wasn’t too sure Elijah wasn’t right.
“Just take care of each other, that’s all we ask.” Elijah exchanged a silent look with his friend before turning back to Starsky. “If you and Hutch think we should go, Charles and I will accept the mayor’s kind offer.” He gestured to a collection of cartons in a nearby partially-boarded-over doorway. “Do you think our cribs will still be here when we get back?”
“Cops’ll be on patrol all night, Elijah,” Starsky answered. “We hope so.”
“Come on then, Charles.” Elijah and his friend walked to the squad car.
After getting Elijah and Charles registered in the gym, Hutch followed his partner back outside.
“What do you say we stop at the station, Hutch? It’s getting cold enough that we’re going to need our overcoats soon.”
Hutch rubbed the arms of his uniform’s long sleeves, feeling the definite chill in the air. “I think you’re right, Starsk.”
As soon as they’d grabbed coats, scarves, and gloves out of their lockers and were back in the car, Starsky drove to the next alley on their beat.
Three men were huddled around a meager fire burning in an oil drum near the east end. They backed away when the black-and-white turned in but relaxed when they recognized Starsky and Hutch.
At the far end of the passage, three squad cars were parked around a group of tattered figures, sitting and prone. They were surrounded by six officers.
“Shit,” Starsky swore, “looks like Dailey’s collected more of his kind and isn’t paying any attention to what we told him.”
Hutch gestured to the three waiting for them. “Let’s get these guys taken care of first, Starsk. Then we’ll come back.”
Starsky turned off the engine. “Good idea, Ollie.”
Hutch grinned and stepped out of the car. By the time he got to the men, they had gathered around the fire again. “Joe, Bert, Cecil, you’ve heard about the shelters the mayor’s set up?”
“Yeah,” Joe admitted. “But we decided we ain’t goin’.”
“Why’s that?” Starsky joined them, his tone light.
“Well, ya see –”
A grunt of pain, muffled by distance, issued from the other end of the alley, interrupting Joe’s words. Hutch put his hand on the butt of his gun as he and Starsky spun toward the sound. Dailey had, apparently, kicked one of the vagrants in the ribs and was drawing his foot back for a second blow.
“Take care of these people, Hutch!” Starsky sprinted toward the far group.
Hutch pointed to the patrol car. “Get inside, guys, and stay there!” He ran after Starsky.
Starsky grabbed Dailey’s arm and twisted him away from the man on the ground. “That’s it, Dailey! You’re on report as soon as Hutch and I get back to the station. You can kiss your badge goodbye after this little –”
Before Hutch reached the crowd, he saw Blaire, Dailey’s partner, deliver a heavy blow across Starsky’s back with his baton. Falling to one knee, Starsky reached behind and took hold of Blaire’s ankle. Standing up quickly and turning, he pulled the ankle with him. Taking a two-handed grip, he jerked the attached leg upward, forcing Blaire to fall onto his back. The heavy wooden weapon he’d used skidded away from his right hand.
Hutch picked it up as he slowed next to the altercation, keeping a wary eye on Dailey and the others.
Starsky held onto the ankle and pushed it above Blaire’s head. The hip popped out of its socket with a somewhat satisfyingly ugly sound and Blaire screamed. Hutch felt a little pity for the thug-in-a-uniform but total pride in his partner’s action.
Starsky must have sensed another blow coming because he didn’t need the warning Hutch yelled. He ducked under the Billy club aimed at his head, pivoted, and landed two quick punches to the paunch of his new attacker.
Hutch was so proud of the way Starsky had handled both cowardly assaults, and angry at the officers who had perpetrated them. His eyes were blazing as he tackled another pair who appeared ready to enter the fray, truncheons slapping into palms. The two stumbled backward and fell with Hutch on top of them.
One of the others must have moved in because Hutch’s left arm was snagged and savagely slammed against the edge of a Dumpster. He heard and felt a bone in his forearm crack.
At the patrol car, Joe, Bert, and Cecil piled in and Joe grabbed the radio mic. “Hello! Starsky and Hutchinson are in trouble. You gotta send help!”
When no voice came back, Cecil punched Joe in the shoulder. “Let go of the button, stupid!”
Joe did and urgent words followed. “…was that? Say again, Unit Fourteen, what’s happening? Where are you?”
“Key the mic!” Cecil hissed.
Joe did. “The alley on the south side of Temple, between Eighth and Ninth. Starsky and Hutchinson are gettin’ beat up by half a dozen cops. Homeless guys like us are on the ground. Please. Send help!” He let the mic fall from his fist.
“All units,” the radio voice commanded, “all units in the vicinity of the alley south of Temple, between Eighth and Ninth. A report of officers needing assistance. All units respond Code Three!”
Joe and the others jumped out of the car and ran toward the altercation.
Blaire, Starsky’s first attacker, was down, still screaming. The second one was fighting like a demon though, delivering blows to Starsky’s injured back with fists that felt like pile-drivers. Starsky knew a second rib had cracked.
The odds were bad and Starsky had no doubt Dailey and these other clowns were determined to do as much damage as they could before help arrived. If help arrived. While trading punches with his current assailant, and two others waited for their turn, Starsky kept part of his focus on Hutch.
Hutch, held in a half-Nelson grip, watched Dailey move to stand in front of him, winding up to throw a devastating punch to Hutch’s midsection. Trusting that the guy behind was holding him tightly, Hutch lifted his legs and planted both feet in Dailey’s gut. Dailey stumbled back a few paces but didn’t go down.
Hutch brought his elbows together and slipped down out of the half-Nelson. He spun and brought his head up under the chin of the holder.
Before he could fully turn back, Dailey was there, swinging his Billy club. Hutch took the blow on his raised, already injured left forearm but, before Dailey could take advantage, two of the homeless men, who had obviously gotten to their feet, grabbed Dailey and dragged him backward.
“No you don’t, you bastard,” one of the men growled. “Those two are friends of ours. You ain’t hurtin’ them no more!”
Hutch heard sirens approaching. Quickly, he checked Starsky’s situation. His partner was breathing heavily and standing over two prone officers. He tried to hide a wince when he straightened and looked over. Thankfully, Hutch could tell that although his partner was banged up, he wasn’t hurt too badly.
“Sounds like somebody…” Starsky glanced appreciatively toward Joe, Bert, and Cecil, who were standing at the edge of the assemblage, “called the cops.”
Hutch smiled. “Since this area is where most of the homeless congregate, I suspect they were pretty close by.”
The six rogue officers were in various states of sullen, damaged condition, being held tightly by those they’d been abusing. The shoe now being on the other foot was clearly not what they had intended.
Against their will, but at the insistence of the patrol captain who arrived on the scene, Starsky and Hutch were taken to Memorial Hospital where their injuries could be assessed and treated.
“I’m tellin’ ya, Hutch,” Starsky said, “Joe, Bert, and the others shouldn’t just get a night or two out of the cold, they ought to get a medal!”
He and his partner, refusing to be separated, were sitting on adjacent treatment tables — separating curtains pushed back — while doctors, interns, and nurses taped Starsky’s cracked ribs and put Hutch’s broken forearm in a cast.
“I’m with you, partner,” Hutch agreed. “Let’s see what we can do about that at the station.”
Eventually, they were released, Starsky treating his ribs gingerly, and Hutch grousing about having to wear a sling for a few days and the cast for six weeks.
“We got off lucky, Hutch,” Starsky said, on their way to the squad car that had been assigned to take them back to the station.
“Don’t I know it.”
Sergeant Mayfield was waiting for them at the rear entrance, a smug smile on his face. “I hear you two have complaints you want to file.”
“You bet we do, Sergeant,” Hutch replied.
Mayfield escorted them to his office. “Well, I’ll tell you this. Those three men who were brought in in your patrol car, plus the four from the other end of the alley, have already told us their version of what happened. I.A.’s going to have Dailey and the other five up on charges by the end of shift.” He ushered them into the room and closed the door behind them.
Hutch sank gratefully into a chair and Starsky sat next to him.
Mayfield perched on the edge of the desk and openly appraised them. “Good thing you had your heavy coats on or you both might have been hurt a lot worse.”
Starsky’s grin was rueful. “I think Hutch and I realize that, Sergeant.”
Mayfield nodded. “Six against one, then against two, were bad odds.” He reached forward and shook each of their hands. “I’ll want you to show me that trick I hear you used on Blaire, Officer Starsky.”
“Any time, Sergeant. Is he going to be okay?” Starsky sounded as if he was trying to work up some sympathy but hadn’t quite made it.
The sergeant smiled, knowingly. “Oh, sure, you only dislocated the joint. He’ll walk again soon. And it shouldn’t hinder any job he might apply for in the future, but I hope I can guarantee it won’t be in law enforcement.”
Starsky met the sergeant’s eyes. “That’s good to hear.”
“Can we put the seven homeless men up for a commendation of some kind, Sergeant?” Hutch asked. “They saved our butts!”
Apparently liking the idea, Mayfield got up, went behind his desk and sat down. He picked up a pen and drew a pad of paper to him. “What are their names?”
Hutch exchanged an embarrassed look with his partner. “Uh… well… that is…”
“We only know their first names and nicknames,” Starsky said. “But Hutch and I are headed for the gym. We’ll find out and let you know.”
Mayfield jotted a few notes. “Do that.”
Sensing dismissal, Hutch got up and opened the door for Starsky. They filed out to their waiting patrol car.
As they walked into the gymnasium, chatter stopped and people began clapping. Soon, cheers and whistles were louder than the applause.
Hutch shoved Starsky ahead of him. “We don’t deserve this, Starsky, make them stop!”
Starsky drew him forward with a smile. “‘Course we do, Hutch. These people need heroes and I guess we qualify today. We kept them from getting kicked around, after all.”
Eventually, after they’d shaken hands with, and been clapped on the back, painfully, by every person in the shelter, Hutch sat at a table and took down the real names of each of the seven men who had helped them.
“What’s this for, Hutch?” Joe asked.
“Starsky and I can’t guarantee anything, Joe,” Hutch answered, “but our day-shift sergeant is going to ask the mayor to approve civilian commendations for all seven of you guys.”
Joe appeared to be impressed. “Ain’t that somethin’, Cecil? If it happens, I imagine it’ll be a certificate of some sort. They’ll look great on the walls of our refrigerator cartons, won’t they?”
“We gonna hafta dress up for any kinda presentation?” Bert asked, a disgruntled look on his scraggily-bearded face.
Starsky put a hand on the man’s shoulder. “I’m sure the mission has something they can loan you, Albert.”
“Hey!” Bert stepped back a pace. “Don’t you two be gettin’ formal on us now, Starsky. We’ve all sorta gotten used to our status as Invisibles. Not sure we could handle any changes.”
“You’re just going to have to make the best of it, Bert.” Hutch put all the appreciation he felt into his voice. “Because Starsky and I consider you our heroes!”
“Come on, Hutch.” Starsky took the pad of paper and pencil and stuffed them in the pocket of his overcoat. “It’s getting colder out there every minute. We need to check the rest of the alleys and then get this list to Mayfield.”
Hutch stood up and headed toward the doors with his partner.
“Come on back here whenever you need to warm up, boys,” Joe said.
“We’ll do that, Joe.” Hutch glanced around at the intense faces. “And we’ll keep your cribs safe.”
“Thanks, Hutch! Starsky!” Cecil smiled, gap-toothed but happy. “We’re grateful.”
On their way outside, Starsky carefully put his arm around Hutch’s shoulders. “Maybe this Arctic Express won’t turn out to be such a bad thing, partner.”
Hutch instinctively understood what Starsky meant. “The city needed to realize that these people exist. Maybe things will change for the better.”
“We can always hope, buddy.” Starsky unlocked and opened the passenger door of their squad car and bowed Hutch in. He hurried around to the driver’s side and slid under the wheel. “Log us back in, partner. We got a beat to patrol and lives to save.”