Some Night Work Can Really Kill Ya
Blue Starsky

SHSVS, Episode 9

**********

"Got a dead male, Caucasian. According to the ID in his wallet, he's twenty-eight-year-old Greg Erlewine." The sergeant who'd been on duty handed the wallet to Hutch. He looked inside and showed it to Starsky. No cash. Nothing else had been in the deceased man's pockets.

He'd been found lying on his stomach, shot in the back of the head. Execution style. Starsky and Hutch had been called to the scene, and were waiting for the medical examiner to arrive so they could see the man's face and get more--if preliminary--information confirming who he was.

"Yeah, what else?"

"Unmarried."

"Witnesses?"

The sergeant shook his head. The three of them went through a debriefing session and Starsky took notes.

"Good thing it'snot dark yet," Starsky told his partner.

The crime scene was in an alley at Twelfth and Main, and it was dark enough in the daytime. He and Hutch carefully walked through the taped-off area together. They examined the scene for any clues that might help them discover who'd killed this man and why. Was there a bloodstain on a rock? Was there sign of a struggle, either on the body or in the environment? They checked the bottoms of his shoes and the crack in his sunglasses. Nothing could be deemed irrelevant at this stage.

The medical examiner arrived not long after they had. Monica Teale had been a medical examiner with the county for many years. Starsky and Hutch liked working with her because, not only was she very knowledgeable and experienced, but she also was very compassionate. She was as tall as Hutch, wore her hair short, and they'd never seen her dressed in anything but slacks and a blouse. Her style mimicked the streamlined way in which she dealt with everything.

They returned to the body as the ME began her examination. They took more notes and paid close attention. Starsky looked away for a moment when the flashing of the cameras was getting to his eyes. "How long you think he's been dead?" he asked.

"Well, from a cursory look here, I'd guess at least eight hours. We'll know for sure after I get him back to the lab," Teale said.

"Think he was killed here?"

"Again, looks like it," she said, putting on a second pair of gloves then rolling the DB over onto a blanket with the help of her assistant. Today, Keith Winston, a grad student at UCLA, assisted her. He wanted to go into this line of work, and he wanted to learn from the best. "We're all wearing two pairs of gloves now. It's safer."

There was a semicircular bruise of approximately one and a half inches in diameter on the dead man's face.

"Bite mark going to be of much help?" Hutch asked.

"Maybe. Everyone's teeth are different. It clearly is a bite mark, and in the past five or ten years forensic odontology's come a long way. We'll take a lot of photos, as usual."

"How'd you know that was a bite mark?" Starsky asked him.

"I read an article in a police journal that you subscribe to."

Keith got the ID information from the card in the DB's wallet, and then helped her move the body onto a wheeled gurney. "I'll let you know when positive ID's been made, and someone can notify next of kin."

Processing the scene took a while. After the body was removed, bystanders were less interested and dispersed.

"Notice what our boy was wearin'?" Starsky felt something tug on the bottom of his shoe and found some dirty, pink chewing gum stretching from the ground to the toe of his tennis shoe.

"Yeah, didn't get that off the rack in Monkey Wards. Better get as much of that gum as you can for a sample." They called an evidence technician over, and he put the gum into a small container.

"Hey," Hutch called out to a uniformed officer. "You got a reason to be inside the tape?"

The officer removed himself from the scene.

"Surprised he wasn't eating a burrito," Hutch mumbled.

Starsky felt along the wall for any other bullet holes. "A cold place to die, huh?"

Hutch nodded, making notes in the margin of his checklist.

As they drove back to the station, Starsky could feel his stomach protesting. "When do ya think we're gonna get some dinner tonight? Didn't count on a double shift. But then--"

"We never do," Hutch said. "The mountains of paperwork await. How many forms do we need to fill out now?" They passed a Reagan for President billboard. "In '84 they'll be trying to get us to vote for the chimp."

After Starsky parked the car in front of the station, he noticed Hutch looking at him. "What?"

"Might miss more than dinner tonight, babe." Hutch puckered his lips slightly, and Starsky did the same back to him.

"You're somethin' I can't live without, either," Starsky said softly as they got out of the car and walked inside.

"You saying all these nice things to me just so you can have your way with me later?" Hutch asked when the elevator doors closed in front of them.

"And what if I am?" He ran a finger down the front of Hutch's chest until he got to the first fastened button on his shirt. "What if I told ya that I'm gonna do things to parts of your body that you never experienced before?"

"Good things?" Hutch laughed.

"Things that'll make you call my name to the clouds!" Starsky answered.

"Four-A and six-B, right?" The doors opened and they stepped out.

"Hutch, when'll you ever stop forgetting about seven-A?"

"They add more forms to the process every day." He opened the squadroom door for his partner, content in the fact that anyone who heard them would have assumed they'd discussed paperwork in the elevator. "But then, if it was somebody I loved, guess I'd want as much documentation as possible."

Hutch found the forms and sat down at the typewriter. Starsky got them each a cup of coffee, then sat across from him, just as they'd done a million times before. In time, a report on the deceased man was delivered, as were the coroner's findings.

"Much as I hate paperwork, I hate notifying families even more." Hutch opened the folder. "Has a father living in New Orleans. You want to call this time?"

Starsky didn't want to, but he went ahead and did it. Hutch stood beside him, theoretically proofreading their report, but Starsky knew that he was really there to help his partner through this difficult task.

After the call was made, Starsky made some final notes, and they took off for a beer and a quick dinner at a hotdog stand that was on the way to Venice Place. "Rotten news for a Sunday evening. No two are ever the same," he told his partner. "It was like the guy was expecting it. Even before I identified myself."

**********

They double-checked Erlewine's address and left for his apartment, hoping that, as it often did, a thorough search of the victim's home would yield some crucial evidence.

"Fourteen sixty-four Richfield. Pretty pricey area. And what does he do for a living?"

"Says he's a vacation consultant. Melrose Travel. Guess we'll find out what that means when we stop by his office. Sounds to me like some kind of fancy name for a travel agent."

They pulled up in front of the apartment building. "Bring that--" Starsky started to say when he realized that Hutch was going to bring the folder of information with them, anyway. Hutch opened the door for Starsky, and they walked in. "Manager's in apartment one," Starsky said, then rang the buzzer.

A woman said "hello" into the small speaker, and they identified themselves. She let them into the building and met them in the hall in front of her apartment. They could hear her television. Mrs. Quimby was about fifty, though she dressed much younger. She wore jeans and a t-shirt that had a picture of "The Dukes of Hazzard" on it. "Hi, I've been expecting you."

"Here's our search warrant. "

"Oh, I don't need to see that," she said. "It'll be nice when this is all over. Maybe I'll be able to rent the apartment to someone who pays his rent on time."

"Do you need me to stay with you or anything?"

"No, ma'am, Mrs. Quimby," Starsky said, hoping she'd let them go in alone. A civilian following them around, asking a lot of questions, only made things like this take longer.

"In that case, I'd just as soon stay down here and get back to my studying. I'm working toward my real estate license. Here's the key."

"Thanks," Hutch said. "We'll want to interview you later on. Will you be available a little later this afternoon?"

She looked at her watch. "I'll be home, but it'd be better if you managed to avoid coming between three-thirty and four o'clock. 'Love Connection.'"

"Sorry?" Hutch asked.

"'Love Connection'," she repeated. "On TV. I guess you're usually working at that time, so you can't watch it."

"Okay," Starsky said. "We'll be back later."

"We'll try to be back before three-thirty or after four o'clock," Hutch said.

"I'll be here." She tore a piece of paper off a pad she had been holding. "And here's my phone number, so you won't have to come all the way back down to ask any questions."

The partners smiled and headed to the elevators, as Mrs. Quimby went back into her apartment. "Smooth as silk," Hutch said.

In the elevator, Starsky smiled and nudged his partner with his shoulder. "Love connection."

They unlocked the door of apartment 314 and went inside. It looked like some decorating magazine had furnished the place. "What does this decor remind you of?" Starsky asked.

"Buy it off the rack because you have no personality," Hutch replied. They did the standard pre-search to be sure there was no one hiding in the closet, no dead bodies on the couch, no booby traps in the laundry basket. "You take the low road and I take the high road?" he asked.

Starsky nodded. They put on gloves, new regulations. "Nothing interesting in the fridge," Starsky said, eyeing the array of wines and take-out boxes, three foil-wrapped in the shape of swans.

"And what might've been in there?"

"Oh, I dunno. A rat? A snake? It's amazing what people have in their refrigerators these days." He spoke with a Groucho Marx accent. "How that snake got into my refrigerator, I'll never know."

The early stages of the search turned up nothing. "Maybe he wasn't home that often, being a travel agent and all." A wide assortment of expensive looking luggage in the bedroom closet seemed to confirm that supposition. Starsky checked out the closet while Hutch looked through drawers.

"Where's this guy's address book? You'd think everybody would have an address book, if only for Christmas cards." Hutch was getting frustrated already. Starsky knew his partner had a bad feeling about this case.

As Starsky was re-zipping a duffel bag, Hutch came up to him with a handful of frames. "Found these in the back of a desk drawer." He held one up; it was Erlewine with a blonde woman. "She comes over, sees the photo framed on the shelf. He scores points." Now he held up the one of Erlewine with a brunette. "Same with her." Erlewine had the exact same smile in each of the photos. There was nothing behind his eyes. His smiles seemed to be painted on. Unfortunately, the people he was with probably couldn't see that.

"How do you figure this guy can afford this place? How can he go out to restaurants that give you a swan instead of a doggie bag? And how can he afford to romance this bevy of beauties?"

"That, Starsk, is one of the million dollar questions."

**********

When they arrived at Venice Place, Starsky opened the trunk and pulled out a bunch of his clothes on hangers, and also a small bag that contained underwear and toiletries. "You carry it up. It'll look like dry cleaning or somethin'." Behind the hood of the trunk, Hutch mouthed the words "I love you," and gave Starsky a look that made him feel like he was either going to cry or come or faint, or all three at any moment. Hutch had brought some of his things over to Starsky's a week or so earlier. This was one small outward sign of their commitment to the relationship. You belong at my home; I belong at yours. "No doubt about it," Starsky sighed. "We're gettin' way too sappy."

As soon as Hutch locked the door behind them, Starsky was there. "I missed you, Blondie. You've been teasin' me all day, too."

"Who, me? Why would I do something like that?" He giggled as Starsky tickled him on his chest.

"You're getting so bad."

"How bad?" Hutch had a gleam in his eye now. Starsky was readying himself for the pounce.

"You're nearly gettin' as bad as me!" he laughed.

"Bad joke. There are ways that the police have for dealing with perpetrators such as yourself." Hutch took hold of one of Starsky's arms. "We have ways of teaching you lessons."

They walked into the bedroom, where Starsky positioned Hutch with his back against the wall. "I don't know, Sergeant. I've been pretty bad. Think you got a special lesson for me?" After the first contact his thigh had with his lover's groin, his partner was on fire.

After Hutch pulled off his shirt, his hair was all flyaway, wispy from the static electricity. When he was completely nude and going for Starsky, it added to his overall look of crazed desire. "Partner," Hutch said, "tonight you are mine. Tonight your body takes flight."

"Oh, shit, your skin is so smooth," Starsky said as they embraced in the center of Hutch's bedroom. He glanced out at the greenhouse. "It's like we're in a jungle or something."

Hutch tilted his chin up and kissed him, mouths hungry for one another, tongues dancing together. "I got a vine you can swing from, Tarzan," he said, placing Starsky's hand around his erect penis.

This was the first time Starsky'd had his hands on his lover's body in far too many days. He got reacquainted fast. The hardness, the impressive circumference and length. The tip of his thumb teased the glans, petting with feather touches, while his fingers squeezed and pumped the shaft. Starsky was able to wedge his own cock between Hutch's balls and thigh. He moved backward toward the bed, Hutch traveling along with him in a dance step that was becoming more and more familiar, more and more special. He sat on the bed and laid back, Hutch on top of him. Their bodies ground together, and Starsky gasped for breath at the burning sensation of penis against penis. The outer, soft skin, the steel hardness, the folds and sensitive spots, and the power all collided in a beautiful explosion of sparks showering through his body, igniting nerve endings. They kissed, tongues mimicking the joining, the pace and need in their genitals.

As quietly as he could, Starsky reached into the drawer and pulled out the bottle of lube. He drew his tongue and lips from his partner's chest up to his face. Once he knew Hutch was about to lose it, thanks to a deep kiss and the pulsing of a well-trained knee, he was sure his partner was overcome. Soon, his lube-slick hands were massaging, squeezing, slurpy suctioning Hutch's formidable cock and balls. "Come on, lover. You know you want it. It's been too long."

Hutch had reached a good and serious rhythm, humping into Starsky's fist. He backed up, lying on the bed with Hutch sitting up beside his knees. He pulled his knees as far up onto his chest as he could, shifted his balls out of the way and, as his partner licked his lips, proceeded to draw a thick trail of lube from the seam below his balls downward. Glancing up now and then just to be sure he was making it as good as possible, making sure to have his lover's rapt attention. "Yeah, Blondie. I want you already. Need you. In here."

"Sure you don't want to work up to this, babe?"

Starsky pushed a pillow beneath his butt, arched his back and slid a slippery finger into his asshole. Hutch changed his posture to be right below him, a hand on the underside of each thigh. Hutch was under his spell now, eyes looking hungrily as Starsky's finger slid out, then in, out--almost out, then in even farther.

Then Starsky produced his new toy--a dildo he'd purchased not long ago--and started to put it to work. "See how ready I am for you, Hutch?" His partner shook his head as though he was trying to convince himself that this was all a mirage that he had to snap back from.

"Where--where'd--?"

"I tried to get one that was your size," Starsky smiled. "But this was the biggest they had." He lifted his head and shoulders a bit more and reached out. In a flash, five fingers scattered around his partner's balls and straining erection, his left pointer finger still stretching himself open. Hutch gasped.

He reached for Hutch's hand and wrapped his lover's fingers around the base of the toy. "Come on, boy. Help me out here. Get me all ready for you."

Starsky could tell he was unsure. He pushed forward so his butt slid up onto Hutch's bent knees--just inches from those succulent balls. He grabbed for Hutch's right hand in the process, coating him with enough lube to get the job done. "Give it to me, Hutch. I wanna take you soon." Starsky looked at Hutch's face. It gave him chills to see how much his partner wanted him. The bright blue of his eyes taking on an almost frightening, colorless fierceness, the fierceness of desire. "Let it go, babe."

Hutch began by drawing his fingers down the back of Starsky's thigh. Starsky molded his hand atop Hutch's. Together, they eased this new creature into Starsky's body. Starsky clenched his ass muscles on the first in-stroke, intent on letting Hutch feel the resistance as he tried to pull back out again. On subsequent plunges, he got more and more into it, pulling Starsky's cock and balls up and out of the way. "You'd do this so soon for me?"

Starsky nodded. Hutch eased the toy back in, his hand tugging at Starsky's cock, fingers running rampant along his balls. Suddenly, Hutch got up and hurried to the bathroom.

Starsky was panting. "Hey, Blondie! Lube's in here already."

Hutch returned. It wasn't the lube he was after. "Look what I got, partner." It was a handheld mirror. "Ever seen yourself ready to take me? Want to see?"

At first, for some reason, the idea scared him a little. But then, he was intrigued. He had no idea what he looked like in this state, and seeing could be as much a turn-on for him as showing him was obviously a turn-on for Hutch. "Okay, babe. Show me what's goin' on down there." Hutch held the mirror in place, and Starsky's eyes moved between Hutch's face and the reflection as his partner slowly removed the dildo. He couldn't suppress a grunt when he saw himself stretched open like that. And then, when he simultaneously saw and felt Hutch's sweet finger outlining the gaping orifice before snaking on inside, he closed his eyes and groaned.

"Want more?" he heard his partner ask.

"My back's gettin' a little sore. Think I can relax and let you handle this yourself? And maybe we could retire Hutch Junior for the evening and I could start to connect with my partner."

"Hmmmm," was all he said, planting a slobbery kiss onto the inside of Starsky's left knee. "You just relax, lover. Relax and tell me what feels good." He pulled Starsky's thighs forward so that his calves would rest against his shoulders. Starsky's feet tingled a little from being up in the air, and now he was free to give in. Free to become simply a quivering mass of sensations, a receptacle--giving, taking and demanding--one who absorbs sensations, one who tells his man what he wants and likes.

Starsky leaned his head and shoulders on three piled pillows. His attention zigzagged between focusing on his feelings and heavy-lidded glimpses of his partner, trance-like, visibly calculating so many strokes, so many leniencies. Starsky laid back, eyes closed, allowing him to push against those long, talented fingers. "Ahhh--oh, yeah. Oh, yeah, babe. Give it to me. Give it to me, Hutch."

He pushed forward, calves pressing against his partner's shoulders. Opening his eyes slightly, he saw this beautiful, blond gold man just about to lose control as his fingers plunged deeper--deeper, spread out wider. His partner's eyes were darting now from meeting his eyes to eyeing the expanding orifice that reacted to every touch. Occasionally, Starsky could feel tugs to hairs on his leg, as his partner's grinding genitals clenched and then released. Each new sensation seemed to magnify them all.

"Hey, curly," Hutch said, licking a long swipe on the underside of Starsky's thigh. "Time for you to pick a number between two and four."

"Five."

He could actually feel Hutch's chuckle ripple through the fingers that were sweetly invading him. He suspected Hutch had known that would be his answer.

Parting his knees, he marveled at the sight of his fine muscled, tan-golden man, like a merman, lithely moving up and between his thighs. The smooth, bronze flesh seemed to emerge or sprout from some secret special place in his own body, from some ancient time or island of blond gods. The thought made him smile, and the smile soon blossomed into a moan of delight, as the fingers showed just how long and well trained they were. Starsky liked the look of how the dark hair on his legs set off his sleek blond partner. And always, they fit together perfectly. Hutch moved with grace and purpose, and when his face met Starsky's, their lips found each other, and suddenly he no longer seemed to feel the force of gravity pushing him into the bed.

**********

When they arrived at work the next day, there was a note on their desk saying that Captain Dobey wanted to see them at nine o'clock. When the time came, they went into his office and found Detectives Collins and Leavitt there. After a round of hellos, Starsky went to the coffee maker. Hutch said he didn't want any coffee. They were seated and got down to business.

"Leavitt and Collins have a case like yours from last night. Happened a few days earlier," Dobey allowed Collins to continue.

"Sam Patton. another male, Caucasian, thirty-five, skid row alley, gunshot in the back of the head, the same caliber as your guy. We think they may be connected."

"So, you want to take over Erlewine?" Starsky asked, raising the cup of coffee to his mouth. Hutch snagged the cup just before it reached his lips.

"No. You've got it backwards," Dobey said, as he walked around to the front of his desk. "Leavitt and Collins have to go to San Francisco to testify in a case they worked on five months ago. I want you two to take over the entire investigation. I've got to go meet with Chief Ryan. The four of you can work things out." He grabbed his jacket and left.

Starsky took back the coffee cup and moved to sit on the corner of Dobey's desk. Hutch went out to get some paper, returned and sat down primed for note taking. Leavitt and Collins filled them in.

"Our man was married, no record, worked for the city. Nothing from coworkers or family, nothing you can sink your teeth into. Not that we discovered after two days, at least."

"His car missing, too?" Starsky asked as he handed the cup of coffee to Hutch.

"Yeah, at first. Then it turned up in some residential area in Culver City. No prints, no signs of foul play. It's in the garage. You guys'll want to take a look at it."

"How was yours dressed?"

Leavitt answered. "Dobey said yours was in some pretty expensive clothes. Ours was no gutter rat, but doesn't sound like he was as well-to-do as your boy." Collins cleared his throat and Leavitt looked up at the clock. "We gotta go get ready for the flight."

"Good luck. Dobey knows where we'll be staying if we can help clear anything up." They handed them a folder of papers and excused themselves.

Returning to their paper-covered desks, Starsky shook his head. "Hardly get a chance to start on this one and," he slapped the Patton folder on top and dropped into his chair. A jolt of pain brought back memories of last night's events, and he gritted his teeth in a grimace that turned into a sly smile. "Gotta get myself a cushion," he whispered as the partners leaned forward putting the papers in order. Hutch gave him a sideways glance and one of those naughty schoolboy smiles that Starsky liked so much.

Unfortunately, that evening Starsky fell asleep before anything could be done about it.

The next day, they looked at the last hours of Erlewine's life, interviewing his neighbors, coworkers, any relatives they could find. No one they spoke to had ever heard of Patton. They looked into his bank records. Had he recently deposited or withdrawn any large sums of money? All rote, all steps they'd taken a hundred times before with so many other cases.

They went over Erlewine's rap sheet. He'd been brought in a couple times on domestic violence warrants. At the time of his death, there were two restraining orders out against him. They made note of the names of the officers who had worked on those cases and planned to contact them soon, as well as check out the incident reports.

After reviewing the incident reports, they were able to determine that the two women who had filed them--two and three years ago, respectively--seemed to still be living in the area. Perhaps their victim was not entirely innocent in the whole scenario. As there was just cause, they would be able to contact these women and perhaps get some insight into the life of Mr. Erlewine.

"You gonna make the request for copies of the orders and all that crap, or should I?"

"Starsk, why should I care which one of us calls in for the copies?"

"I was just offerin'."

"Go ahead and call then. You thought of it first." Hutch walked over to get a cup of coffee and just as he'd turned to walk back to his desk, another detective left the room in a hurry, causing the door to hit Hutch and some coffee to spill on his shirt. "Ayyyaaaaah! That's hot. That's hot!" he said, as he pulled the shirt out in front of him and dabbed at his chest with some paper napkins.

"You're just upset about last night," Starsky said when Hutch had returned to his desk.

"No, I'm not." He pushed the lap drawer of his desk closed, and Starsky could see and hear that a now-broken pencil had been caught in there.

"Oh, yes, you are," he said in a hushed sing-songy voice. "You're upset about last night."

"Starsk!"

Starsky rummaged in his desk and produced a small white envelope, handing it to his partner. "Tonight, then," he said as Hutch took it.

His lover's face turned one of Starsky's favorite shades of pink when Hutch opened the envelope and looked inside. There was one small item in there: a single screw. It did bring about one of the first of few Hutchinson smiles he'd seen yet that day.

They gathered what information they could on the two women who had filed restraining orders on Erlewine, and prepared to make their initial phone calls, hoping that each would agree to talk to them. Unfortunately, all they'd been able to learn about the two women were their names and contact information.

"Carmen Goldberg and Lynn Sloane," Starsky read from a report. "Goldberg works at Pacific Insurance on Twelfth, and Sloane works at the Stanton Hotel. Who should we call first?"

"Goldberg had the most recent restraining order. Don't think we ought to call either of them tonight, though. Too late. Try and catch them tomorrow, early evening. Hope they'll be home. Or earlier tomorrow...."

"Both women have pressed some pretty serious and personal charges against this guy. Best not to surprise either one at work with this unpleasant blast from the past," Hutch said as he got up to get them both more coffee.

"Doesn't anybody ever make a fresh pot of this stuff? What time is it?" Starsky asked, noticing that the coffee, which was thick by now, and tasted like mud, had left a bitter and gravelly substance on his tongue.

Hutch had requested the photos from Erlewine's home, and they saw that they'd been delivered. Out of their frames now, they were easier to set out and look through.

"Our boy was busy. Think one of these women is Goldberg or Sloane?"

"Could be." Starsky stopped him. "That one looks familiar, don't ya think?"

"Yeah," Hutch said thoughtfully. Whoever it is, I can't remember where we've seen her. If we've seen her recently, she's done enough to herself that she looks plenty different."

"I'll request a copy of that one. Any others?"

"Nope," Hutch shook his head. We can return these. Good to have them available."

"My ma writes all kinds of information on the backs of every picture she takes. Why couldn't our boy have done that?"

"Look at it this way, Starsk. The less your mom has in common with this guy the better, huh?"

Starsky smiled. It was a silly remark, and it served its purpose. He felt that much less stressed about the case.

**********

They worked long hours, and became frustrated that there seemed to be nothing that would point to any connection between the two dead men, or any reason that either--or ideally, why both--would have been killed.

Sitting at their desks the next afternoon, they began to brainstorm--tossing out any possible similarities or connections between the two, no matter how remote or absurd. They looked a little similar. About the same age. Similar enough bank accounts. Did they go to a gym? A tailor? Did they both know the assailant, and did they both have the same type of relationship with him? They looked through each man's personal effects, the items that had been on him at the crime scene.

Both killings had been at night, both had been dead about the same amount of time when they were found. Maybe one or both of them didn't normally dress in suits, but were dressed up to go out somewhere in the evening.

Both Patton's and Erlewine's suit jackets had labels from Dominik's, a men's clothing store on Innes. Hoping this link between the victims might prove significant; Starsky and Hutch took a ride out to the store. It was small, and Starsky couldn't tell who were the customers and who were the salespeople, because everyone was dressed alike. All in conservative suits, it could've been a board meeting at IBM.

A man seemed to be walking around him, eyeing him suspiciously. "May I congratulate you on your choice of our establishment," he finally said. "Clothes do make the man, and each man grows up sometime. Forty regular?"

Starsky laughed. "Wait a sec. I'm not here to buy a suit."

"Some appropriate casual wear, then? If you'd like, it's perfectly permissible to leave the store in your new purchase, and we can, uh..." He walked around Starsky again. "We can dispose of your...." He pinched a small fold of leather jacket between his index finger and thumb. The salesman wore a navy suit, with a vivid red handkerchief in the front pocket of the jacket.

"Wait, now, will ya? I'm not a customer."

The man simply looked at him. He was blond, with eyes that some would call green, but they looked virtually colorless to Starsky.

"I'm, I mean, we're police officers. Detectives." He looked around for Hutch and finally found him. A very tall saleswoman was pursuing him with a dark-colored, double-breasted jacket on a hanger. Finally, Hutch was at Starsky's side, saleswoman in tow.

"I have this perfect robin's egg blue Villini dress shirt in the back. Perrrrfect with those eyes." Before anyone could answer, she'd walked away and disappeared behind the cash registers.

"Mister, uh --"

"Frederick," he said, carefully enunciating the "er" in the middle.

Was that supposed to be his first or last name? Though he looked and acted the part, Starsky didn't see Frederick as being necessarily cut out for this trade. He was built like an athlete, and came across a bit more like a secret service man than a salesman in a clothing store. His suggestions came across more as commands. Starsky glowered at him and Hutch continued.

"Mr. Frederick, as Detective Starsky has told you, we are police officers. We're here because we have a few questions about a couple of your customers."

"Oh, yes?"

"Is there a manager we could speak to? Someone who'd have access to your books, receipts?"

"That would be Ms. Bowman. And here, she's returned."

"What did I tell you?" she asked as she held up a light blue shirt under Hutch's chin. "The mirror is...."

"Ms. Bowman, we aren't here to buy clothes. We're police detectives, investigating two of your customers, Samuel Patton and Gregory Erlewine. Could you check your records and see when these men last were in your store?"

Hutch gave her the names and produced photos of each man. "Well, there's no doubt that's Mr. Erlewine. And what did you say the other gentleman's name was?"

"Patton."

"Patton. And how is that spelled?"

Starsky looked at Hutch, who spelled it out for Ms. Bowman. In short order, she'd recovered the most recent receipts and information cards for both. Each had signed using a credit card in his own name. Addresses matched. The only thing that was at all different was Erlewine's listed occupation. Talent agent. "Can we take these, or at least get copies?" Starsky asked. She made them photocopies and followed them to the door.

"I'll bet I can guess your inseam," she said to Hutch.

"Not while I'm on duty," he said with a smile, and they left.

"Can I guess your inseam, Detective?" Starsky asked as they drove.

"You can guess it. Hell, you can measure it--any time you want!"

**********

As they sat at their desks eating Chinese take-out for dinner, Starsky allowed himself to think the worst. "We aren't getting anywhere with this, Hutch. There was, what, forty-eight hours between Patton and Erlewine's murders? What if there's a third one on the way?"

"I know, Starsk. I was thinking the same thing. Wish we'd been able to find more social contacts for Erlewine. There's something we're just not seeing."

When they finished eating, they decided to retrace some of their steps, starting with the scene of Erlewine's murder.

Starsky shook his head. "It's too much, sometimes, y'know? I mean, someone died here and nothing's changed. It's as though it never happened." He felt Hutch's hand on his back.

"Careful, partner. You're always reminding me not to get too philosophical about it all."

"Yeah," Starsky said, as they got into the Torino. Their efforts were bringing them no place.

They received a report on the car radio from a uniformed officer who had met with some friends of Erlewine's. Apparently, a female friend had phoned to see if he wanted to go out that evening, but he'd declined, saying he had to return a book to the library. "I didn't see any book at the scene, did you, Hutch?" Starsky said with a sarcastic grin on his face.

"Nope. Guess he was off having fun, fun, fun. Or at least that was the plan." When they got in the car, Starsky entertained his partner with his repertoire of Beach Boys favorites.

When they returned to the station, Minnie Kaplan brought up the reports they'd asked for. "Looks like your boy wasn't going to win any Mr. Popularity contests," she said. "Officers commented that Mr. Erlewine was belligerent and uncooperative," she read from a page. "Hey, Fred Norton and I are pals. I'll tell 'im that you want to talk to him." She set the reports on the desk. "Hey, Starsky, my boy," she said with a wink, "you've been looking more and more, uh, relaxed every time I see you. Found the real thing out there this time?"

"Yeah. Think I just may have," he said with a smile, feeling a blush capture him. It took a lot of effort to avoid looking at Hutch, but he did.

Minnie squeezed his face so his lips puckered. "I'm happy for you, David," she said and, after saying goodbye to Hutch, left the room.

When his eyes finally did meet his partner's, the amount of love he saw there nearly blew him out of the room on a cloud. He cleared his throat and picked up the first page. "Looks like three years ago, when this first restraining order was actually issued, Sloane and Erlewine were living in the San Diego area. Now they're both living here. Goldberg filed her complaint here and is still in the area.

"What kind of business did it say Erlewine was in? Wasn't something where he'd be making the kind of money where he could necessarily afford that car and those clothes."

"Right. Can't say that Mr. Fred-er-ick would have quite that many glorified downtown travel agents as customers. What do you say we call those women now?"

Hutch picked up the phone, hit a button and began to dial. "Hello? Carmen Goldberg, please. Ah, Ms. Goldberg. My name is Kenneth Hutchinson, I'm a detective with the Bay City Police Department, and I'm working on a case in which your assistance and some further information from you would be very helpful. It's concerning a restraining order that you filed with our office against one Gregory Erlewine back in November 1977. I can totally understand that, Ms. Goldberg, but let me assure you that under the circumstances, you have absolutely nothing to fear from Mr. Erlewine. See, I am looking for your assistance in the investigation of his recent death--" He pulled the phone a little ways away from his ear, put his hand over the mouthpiece and whispered, "Not sure if that sound is shock, or joy, or what."

The phone conversation continued. "No problem. Yes, he was found dead about a week ago, and we're looking into the circumstances surrounding his death. My partner and I would like to meet with you to ask more details of the circumstances back in '77; anything you think might be helpful to us in this investigation. Certainly. That would be no problem." Starsky nudged him. Hutch wedged the phone between his shoulder and ear, reached down and wrote "meet her at her home" on the back of a scrap of paper. Starsky nodded. "Well, for us, the sooner the better. We're pretty a--. That's right. It's good of you to understand."

Hutch put his hand over the mouthpiece once more. "She's checking her calendar." He motioned for Starsky to hand him the small black binder that they used for tracking appointments. "Ms. Goldberg? What's that? Wednesday afternoon?" He flipped through some pages. "Two o'clock? Yep, that works for us. Now, if you could--. Was that East Ninth? Okay. We'll be there. Once again, my name is Detective Hutchinson, and I'll be accompanied by my partner, Detective Starsky. Fine. We'll see you then."

"We wanna try and talk to both these ladies on Wednesday?"

Hutch scanned the calendar and gave him a little shrug.

"You call her or should I?" Starsky asked.

"Why don't you call this one," Hutch said, standing up. "I'm gonna visit the john. Be right back."

"Want me to wait 'til you get back?" Starsky called after him.

"Whichever," he said as he walked out the door.

Starsky climbed up to sit on the corner of Hutch's desk, double-checked the number and called the second woman for what would probably be a replay of the Carmen Goldberg call. It rang three times. He looked at his watch. And then a man answered. "Hello?"

"Hello. This is Detective David Starsky, and I'm calling to speak with Lynn Sloane."

"This is Lynn Sloane. Is there some trouble, Officer?"

Starsky grimaced. "Uh, I'm not sure I have the correct number. I'm calling in regards to a restraining order that a Lynn Sloane filed with San Diego police in August 1977."

"Against Greg Erlewine?" the man asked.

"Y-yes. That's it exactly."

Hutch returned and sat back down. He started to go through some papers, but Starsky nudged him with the toe of his sneaker. "So you're saying that you are the Lynn Sloane who filed for this restraining order, sir?" He emphasized the "sir," and had no doubt that Hutch was taken as off-guard as he was. He leaned forward. Starsky motioned, offering to let him listen in on the earpiece, but he shook his head no.

"Yes, that's me. I'm Lynn Sloane. It's a family name. A lot of people call and expect to talk to a woman. It's understandable, I guess. Especially in this situation. What do you need to know? I never expected to hear Erlewine's name again. Never wanted to, at least."

"Well, Mr. Sloane, uh, we don't mean to make this too unpleasant a task, but we'd like to meet with you regarding Mr. Erlewine. It would be helpful to us in a case my partner and I are currently investigating."

He heard Sloane grunt a little. "Not surprising, really. Yeah, I guess I'd be able to talk to you. I--"

"Mr. Sloane?"

"Sorry, I just wanted to make sure my wife wasn't home yet. I could talk to you, but I'd really like this to be the end of it. My wife and family don't know anything about this. If we could meet somewhere besides my house?"

"We'll do everything we can to make it confidential and convenient for you. You could come down to the station and talk to us here. Would that work out?"

"Yeah. That'd probably be okay. When do you want to meet? You have some kind of timeframe in mind?"

Starsky put his hand over the mouthpiece and mouthed, "When?" to Hutch, who pointed to the coming Wednesday's date on their calendar. Starsky ran a hand through his hair and nodded. "Actually, yes, Mr. Sloane. We have some time this coming Wednesday. Virtually any time before 2:00 p.m."

"Just a minute." Starsky got a pen and heard Sloane rustling a paper. And then, unexpectedly, the man became nervous, speaking softly and quickly. "Hey. My wife just got home. Can I callyaback?"

"Sure," Starsky said, speaking quickly caught up in the man's obvious predicament. "The number is 555-2740,extension 338. Just leave a message if we're not here. Detectives Hutchinson or Starsky."

"Hutchinson or Sparky; 555-2740. 'Kay. I'll call and confirm within twenty-four hours." Dial tone.

"Holy shit!" Starsky spat after he hung up. "What the hell was this Erlewine guy up to, anyway?"

"Sounds like he was up to just about everything," Hutch smiled and slapped him on the thigh after scanning the room. They were alone. "What time is it?" Hutch asked softly. "Suddenly I want to take you home and see about doing some restraining of our own."

Starsky held a folder near his mouth, leafing through its contents. Deliberately looking away from his partner, he said, "Anyone ever tell you that you have a really dirty mind, Sergeant?"

"Um, yeah," Hutch said. "My partner tells me that all the time."

That night, they were at Starsky's apartment. Standing by the window, Starsky thought about how nice Hutch looked in the setting sun. "I am primed for you, partner," he said. Standing before him, his hands gripped Hutch's wrists, then, locking eyes with his partner, he slowly moved up his arms, loving the firmness of the muscles beneath his fingers. Finally, he held Hutch's face, and they spent a moment just looking at each other. "It's all, just.…"

"I know," Hutch said. "I feel the same way."

Starsky pulled his lover's face to his, and his tongue explored the dark sweetness of Hutch's mouth. He wrapped a leg around Hutch's thigh, setting a familiar rhythm, unashamedly taking a small dose of the connection he needed.

Soon, Hutch suggested they move the party into the bedroom. his eyes seemed ultra blue as he lay beneath Starsky framed by the blue bedspread. The need was too strong to indulge in much foreplay. A hand between his lover's thighs confirmed that Hutch felt the same way. Starsky sat up a little and unbuttoned his shirt. "I'm gonna take my clothes off, and then I'm gonna take yours off. Peel off your shirt. Pull down those jeans." He teased his partner with his knee. "You don't have to do anything."

"I like that idea," Hutch said, stretching his arms over his head. "I'll just lie here and enjoy the show."

Starsky had pulled one arm out of his shirt when the phone rang. "We're not here," he said.

"Starsk, it could be the break we've been waiting for."

"Could also be Simmons and Babcock lookin' for two more to round out a poker game." Grudgingly, he answered. "Starsky."

When he heard a nervous woman's voice on the phone, he gestured to Hutch and tilted the receiver a bit so they could both listen at once.

"Detective Starsky? I'm calling because I have some information that I think you may be looking for about those two murders."

Hutch reached over to a night table and got a pen and pad of paper, and handed them to Starsky. "Okay, definitely I'm interested. What's your name?"

"Look, I don't feel like--"

"Fine. Just give me something that I can call you."

"You can call me, um, Gretel."

"Okay, Gretel, what kind of information do you have?"

"Well, I knew Erlewine, and he was--" She paused.

"Gretel, are you there? What's going on?"

"I can't stay on the phone. I think someone's listening to my conversation. Can I meet you somewhere?"

"Yeah, you name it. Where and when?" Hutch jumped up and put his shoes back on.

"Turner Beach. Place called Lucky's Tavern. Do you know it? I can be there in thirty minutes at the most."

"We know it. How will we know you?"

"I can't…I don't feel safe. I'll find you. I know what you both look like. I'll be there." She hung up.

"You want to take my car? A little less conspicuous?"

Buttoning his shirt, Starsky answered, "Conspicuous I don't care about. I just wanna get there, and quick as we can. Take your heap, and we might end up in an auto body shop while our lady leaves us for no-shows. Come on, Hansel, sounds like Gretel's at least fifteen minutes closer than we are."

When they arrived at Lucky's Tavern, they parked, went inside and sat down at the bar. "She'll know us, she said?" Hutch asked. As they stood side by side talking, a woman in a halter-top jostled her way in between them and then slowly walked away. They looked after her, and she simply smiled. "Still got your wallet?" Starsky asked his partner.

"Somehow I don't think that was Gretel."

Sitting down at the bar, they ordered a couple of beers and looked around the room. Pretty good crowd for a Thursday. No one seemed to be looking at them, or for them. "She should'a got here before we did," Starsky said. He asked the bartender if anyone named Gretel had left a message. The bartender said no. "Think Gretel's going to be able to leave us a trail of breadcrumbs?"

After about a half-hour, they started thinking that their lady informant was a no-show. Starsky reached for his beer, and the side of his hand touched the sticky bar top. He grimaced and stuck a cocktail napkin into a glass of water. Hutch gave him a little elbow jab. "Guy in the baseball jacket," he said softly. When Starsky looked around, he told him, "He's over there. Pretend that you're watching the guys play darts." Starsky got him in his sights. "He's been eyeing us for a while now."

While the distance, cigarette smoke and crossfire of mingling patrons made it difficult to see the man clearly, he could make out enough to get a fair take on him. He seemed jittery, hands going in and out of his pockets. Kept messing with his hat. Holding the glass of beer up in front of his mouth, Starsky said, "Maybe he's lookin' for us. Maybe we should help 'im out?"

"You got it." A glance between them communicated the tactic they'd take. This called for Hutch to go outside. He acted like he was saying goodbye to Starsky then left the tavern, while Starsky got up from the stool, feigning drunkenness. The guy in the baseball jacket was between him and the restrooms. "Hey," he said to the bartender, "which way's the john?" As he started walking, the guy stayed where he was, probably thinking he was being inconspicuous, even though he was a muscular guy.

As Starsky got nearer to him, he shifted around enough that Starsky could never clearly see the guy's face.

Starsky readied himself for an encounter with this unknown--and, therefore, unpredictable--man.

Finally, when he was about three feet away, the guy bolted out the door, Starsky in pursuit. When Hutch got to him, he produced some kind of a weapon; it looked like it might have been a tool of some kind. Hutch didn't let him hit him with it, but in the scuffle, he managed to knock Hutch over, long enough to get to his car and take off with a squeal of tires. They jumped into the Torino and high-tailed it after him. "Who the hell is this guy?" Starsky said as he turned a sharp corner, his butt actually leaving the seat for a second as if he were on a roller coaster.

"Starsky! This guy's a lunatic. We don't even know if he's involved. It's not worth killing yourself over!"

Hutch's words didn't affect him. "He knows something, all right. It's our first lead." He wiped sweat off his forehead. "The only thing close to a lead we've had in a week on this whole case."

"What if it turns out he's just some hype with an outstanding warrant, and Gretel's back at the bar?"

"I'm the one with the what-ifs, partner, remember? Trust me, this guy's involved." Their suspect sped down the winding road. Hutch radioed the information to dispatch. Each car ripped past a restaurant where a group of people was about to cross the street. Starsky's heart was in his throat. He checked the rearview mirror, just to reassure himself, and was relieved to see the stunned pedestrians just standing in a huddle.

Just then, a 7-Up truck veered in front of them. "Aw, shit! Goddamn it!" he screamed at the driver of the truck. Sure enough, as soon as the truck maneuvered out of the way, the car they were chasing was gone. Starsky hit the brakes and swerved to the side of the road. Perspiration clung to his back, and he readied himself for Hutch's usual post-pursuit exclamations. Out of the corner of his eye, he watched his partner peel his fingers from the door of the car. "We lost him."

"No kidding," was all Hutch said.

"License plate." Starsky took out his spiral notebook and they conferred on the plate number, which Hutch had written down to give dispatch. He looked at his watch and then let his head fall back against the headrest. All that excitement, all that exercise, for nothing. A small spark of hope ran through him, and he looked over at his partner. "Still got a while before time to sign in."

"We have to fill out the report."

"Hutch," he sighed. "Did anyone ever tell you that you're a stick in the mud sometimes?"

When Dobey arrived that morning, they met with him and arranged to take off early in the afternoon. Double shifts weren't unheard of for them, but if they didn't have to pull one, they weren't going to request it.

"He tried to smash Hutch's head in," Starsky told Dobey.

"After you chased him outside and Hutch tackled him."

"He was wearing a heavy coat and ski cap in the summer," Hutch said.

"It may be uncomfortable, but it's not a crime." Dobey wasn't going to budge, and they knew he was right.

The DMV had pulled up a name and address from the license plate, and after cleaning up, they drove out to question the woman who owned the car they'd been chasing the night before.

"Says here that the car belongs to a Karen Jaffe. Fourteen twenty-seven Post." Dobey handed them the report and they left for that address.

"There's 1410," Hutch said. "Be on the other side of the street, any second now."

They pulled up a few houses down the street from 1427, and sat in the Torino planning their next move.

"Could be walkin' into nothin'; could be somethin'."

"Starsk, I couldn't've said it any better myself." Hutch gave him a small, tense smile. "Back door?"

Starsky looked up and down the street. "I'll take the back door, you ring at the front." They nodded in agreement and got out of the car. The tension was on now, and Starsky was in super-alert mode. If the guy they'd been tailing was in that house, he could easily see them walking up the driveway. He could easily be ready for them.

The car wasn't in the driveway. No curtains seemed to move; he didn't really have that "being watched" sensation. As they got closer to the house, they didn't hear anything. A small nod passed between them, and Starsky made his way around the corner.

There was a gate, but it was unlatched. Hutch was giving him time to get into position. There was a small creak of the hinges, but he got into the back yard behind the house quickly. Sliding glass doors looked out onto a small yard.

Luckily for him, there was no dog. He stayed very still--enough away from the doors, but ready to pounce on anyone who might try to exit by them. He was able to hear the doorbell when Hutch rang it, but didn't hear any movement inside.

"Open up. Police!"

There was no response to Hutch's call.

He and his partner had been through this many times before. They were like two halves of one person, evaluating the situation, waiting, timing events. Starsky took a walk around the back yard. Nothing that was in plain view looked out of the ordinary. He made mental notes and finally joined Hutch in the front. "Anything?"

"Nope. Car's not here."

They drove around the neighborhood on the off chance that they'd see the car somewhere, but found nothing.

**********

"Friday night," Starsky sighed, pulling Hutch close to him. "Wish we had a real weekend comin' up."

"Maybe we don't," Hutch said, rubbing his hands along Starsky's chest, "but why don't we see how much weekend we can fit into one night?"

They shared a kiss. It quickly turned into one of those "climb right into your mouth" kisses, as Starsky had nicknamed them. They couldn't get close enough. Starsky expertly threaded his hand beneath the tie of Hutch's robe inside just the right spot and--. As he was going in for a kiss, just a millisecond before touchdown, the phone rang. his hand and lips missed their target, and the partners' noses bumped into each other. "No! Noooo. I don't believe it!" He clenched his teeth and pressed his face into the warm skin of Hutch's shoulder.

"Just think, if we weren't together tonight, you…"

"If we weren't together," Starsky said pulling his face away, "I'd probably be propped in bed having my way with little plastic Hutch Junior who you met the other night. Hello?!" he barked into the phone, forgetting that they were at Hutch's place. It was Dobey. "Got another 187, same MO. This time, though, your victim is female. Could be your woman from the phone call," the captain said. Starsky was jolted, unpleasantly, out of his world of sensual pleasure and into one of cold reality. He appreciated Captain Dobey's failing to question or mention the fact that Starsky was at Hutch's place--again.

"Okay, Cap. We'll be there. Where's it at? Alley at Ninth and Tremaine," he repeated aloud to Hutch who was pulling on his clothes.

**********

She had been shot in the back of the head, like Erlewine. No bite mark this time. When he heard the probable name of the dead woman, Starsky bit his lip hard and kicked a rock into the side of a building so hard the rock broke apart. Karen Jaffe. The one whose car they'd been chasing less than twenty-four hours ago. They'd been at her house and found nothing. No one would grant them a search warrant then. Now, how much good would it do? No good for her. He looked at Hutch and knew that his partner was thinking the same thing.

"Killer doesn't stray much from the same methods. Maybe he's new at this?" Starsky said as he and Hutch conferred privately.

"Could also be a sociopath. Cocky by now that we haven't caught him. Throwing it in our faces."

"Could be this, could be that. Could be we're up shit creek without a--" Starsky pulled the door shut with a slam. "How many days has it been? Maybe this'll finally break the case wide open for us."

Hutch nodded. Though both would be relieved to make progress on the case and bust the perpetrator, neither was happy about its coming to this--the worst way possible to get a break in a case.

Back at the station, they got a full file on Jaffe. She was a librarian at the main branch of the Bay City Public Library. Now they had to inform her family and question her coworkers. Could they have kept her alive? Was the unnamed man in her car a friend or foe? Since the body had not been definitely ID'd as Jaffe's, there was nothing more they could do on the case tonight.

They returned to Venice Place, where they no sooner had removed their jackets and hung up their holsters than they dropped onto the bed and fell asleep. At one point, they both stirred, getting up to undress and get under the covers. Hutch looked over at Starsky as though he'd forgotten that his partner was there and was happily surprised. He leaned back against Starsky, and they fell back to sleep, spooning and holding onto one another's arms, not a word said between them.

As soon as they arrived at work Saturday morning, the report was on their desk. The body had been confirmed as Jaffe's. "Here's one thing that was easier when we were lower in the ranks. Someone else had to inform the families."

Hutch got a couple cups of coffee. "Coroner could do it."

"I know she could," Starsky said as he pointed to the phone number of Jaffe's next of kin, a younger sister in Arizona.

"What time is it now in Arizona?" Hutch asked just before he picked up the phone.

"One hell of a rotten time for Karen Jaffe's sister," Starsky said, walking a short distance away and leaning on a file cabinet as Hutch made the call. He noticed the morning paper on a nearby desk. The report of the murder had found its way onto page one.

**********

That night, they decided to stop by The Pits to see if Huggy knew anything about all this. "Hi, Hug!" they said as they went up to the bar. Starsky could hear the electronic beeping sounds of someone playing Pong on a machine across the room.

"Top it off, Huggy," a woman at the bar said.

"Ellie, you know I'm gonna have to charge you for another beer when I do that. This isn't like the bottomless coffee at Woolworth's. You do this to me every time you come in here."

"Can I help it if I only like the foam?" she asked, looking from Huggy to Hutch and Starsky.

Starsky shrugged and the two of them went over and sat at a table.

Huggy walked over. "So what have my two favorite representatives of the law enforcement community been doing with themselves lately?"

"Aw, you know the drill, Hug," Starsky said. "A little of this, a little of that."

"And if I know you two, there's probably a whole lot of that." He laughed, and for a second, Starsky wondered if Huggy somehow knew. But then he decided against it. If he had, he wouldn't have made a comment like that.

"Look, Hug," Hutch began. "We need any information we can get on these alleyway killings. One of the victims worked at the Bay City Public Library, another worked for the city. The other one was a travel agent."

"Uh, let me bring you fellas a coupl'a beers. How 'bout if I make it three and you buy me one?"

They agreed. When he returned with the beers, he sat in the booth next to Hutch. "Dig. I ain't heard much about this one cat, what's his name? Earl of Wine? But what I have heard--it doesn't make him out to be Captain Kangaroo."

"Huggy," Hutch said. "You're losing me a little here. Could we talk people and leave the cats and kangaroos out of it?"

"You'll have to forgive my partner," Starsky said, as he patted Hutch's knee beneath the table. "We're a week into a murder case and all we've got to show for it is yet another murder."

"I see your predicament," Huggy said.

"I'm sorry, Hug," Hutch apologized. "I'm letting this one get to me. You ever seen Erlewine?"

"Yeah, I've seen 'im. Man got around, that's for sure. Wasn't ever too uptown for anything or too downtown to go uptown. Had a new lady every week."

Starsky swallowed hard before asking, "Always ladies, Hug?"

"Now that you mention it… I never saw anything with my own eyes, but I did hear that the Wine Man liked to sample what was growin' on either side of the fence."

"Right," Hutch said. "Was he usually with rich women?"

"No, and that's part of what was so strange about it. It was like he'd take anyone and try to get money out of them. Money, favors, whatever. Didn't matter if they had a whole lot and could buy him his own car, or if they hardly had any. Like he was in it for the sex and cuz he liked humiliating them later. No way could a lot of these people give him the money he was askin' for. And he musta known that. He was one bad dude with some pretty dangerous hobbies."

"Ever hear what line of work he was in?"

"I think I heard once that he trained horses down at the track. Something like that."

"Any of these women look familiar?" They showed Huggy copies of the photos they'd retrieved from Erlewine's apartment, and Huggy studied them.

"Can't say as I recognize any of them. Still, this could'a just been his personal stable from the last week. Don't know how he played so many women, mostly women, back-to-back, sometimes simultaneously, and yet never seemed to have any of 'em catch on. None of them ever ran into him when he was with another woman, for instance. See what I'm saying?"

"Yeah, who knows how he did it? Guess he took that secret with him," Starsky said.

"Too bad," Huggy replied. "There are a lot o' guys around who'd probably pay good money for it."

"Hey, Hug, how often do you get over to the library?"

"Funny you should ask, my blond brother. I was there just this past week. Picked up some pretty illustrious reading material."

"Illustrious?"

"Pay no attention to my partner, Huggy. What did you get?"

"Well, ya know that book you recommended, The Vampires of Western Asia?" Starsky nodded. After I read that one, I found this other by the same author. It's on--"

"Vampires of Western Europe," Starsky said and this time Huggy nodded. "I read that one, too. Did ya check it out?"

"You better believe it. Not too long ago."

"Me, too," Starsky said. "Hey, I can even remember. I was 5-13-79. How 'bout you?"

Huggy laughed. "Well, I'm not completely sure, but it was sometime this past June. I'm the one who left the coffee ring on the first page of chapter eight."

Hutch leaned back in his chair. Starsky felt a little guilty for leaving him out of the conversation and for straying from the intended subject. "Huggy," Starsky said. "A few days ago Hutch and me went up to Lucky's Tavern to meet this woman. She wasn't there, but we ran into a wrench-wielding, football player type, and then a day later our lady turns up dead. Know anything about this caper?"

"Well, I might be able to turn you onto a lady who was real recently played by Mr. Erlewine. And if my guess is right, she would be more than happy to tell you about her experience."

"Thanks, Hug," Hutch said, finishing up his beer.

"Can I get you guys another?"

Starsky was actually surprised when Hutch said no. "See, I'm cutting down a little, trying to maintain my already fantastic physical condition."

Huggy laughed. "Ten-four, say no more," he said. "Well, what're you doin' spending a Saturday night with me and your partner then? Get outta here, before you lose the one who's hot for your 'fantastic physical condition'!"

**********

The following morning, they searched Jaffe's house on Post Street. They went to the house and got the search set up, then made their way to the library. Dobey radioed Jaffe's specific information to them as they drove. She worked in the reference department, had people working for her. Her supervisor's name was Rushton, head of the department.

They were shown to the reference department, a large room behind the reference counter with many desks with mauve-colored moveable walls between them. Some people were just arriving at work, people with stunned looks on their faces. No one seemed to notice that there was anyone extra in the department. Some hugged one another and cried. A young woman stood by a desk with Jaffe's nameplate on it, just staring.

"Makes ya stop and wonder about what kind of world we're livin' in," Starsky whispered.

Hutch gave his back a quick rub, "I know, partner." They walked up to someone and identified themselves. The woman looked at them as though they were Death's own messengers. But then she composed herself and asked how she could help.

"We're very sorry about your loss, Miss--"

"Krueger. I'm Violet Krueger. Karen--" she made a little choking sound then continued, "Karen and I worked together. What can we do to help?" Starsky noticed that Miss Krueger was only wearing one earring. Probably less on account of style and more the distraction of suddenly losing a friend. Violet Krueger was blonde with big blue eyes. Some quality about her said that she could've been a Hutchinson, but she didn't have the height. Her voice was very controlled and even, almost hypnotic at times.

"We'd like to speak with Miss Jaffe's coworkers. You could help us find her boss, I think that's--"

"Donna Rushton, assistant director. She's in and out all the time, also acting as library director right now. We're temporarily without a head of the reference department. Anyway, we can track her down for you."

"Thanks," Starsky said. "We'd also like a room where we could meet with people in private. And maybe," his nose alerted him that there was a coffeemaker somewhere in the vicinity. "Maybe we could get these 7-11 coffees topped off sometime?"

"Absolutely," Violet Krueger said looking over at the coffeemaker. "I'll go find Mrs. Rushton for you. Billy?" she called, and a young man in jeans and a t-shirt joined them. "Billy, these are detectives Starkey," she pointed at Hutch, "and Hutchinson."

"No, it's StarSSSky. I'm Starsky." The grimace on Billy's face at the mention of Mrs. Rushton's name didn't escape his notice.

"Well, these detectives want to question everybody. Can you get them settled while I go try to find Mrs. Rushton?" She had a very calm, almost haunting style of speaking. Was she like this all the time or was it due to her loss? There was something not right about her, something Starsky didn't exactly like.

"Okay," Hutch said, when she returned.

"What could've happened to her?" Violet Krueger asked.

"That's what we're here to find out," Starsky said, in his best Joe Friday tone.

Suddenly, another woman appeared beside Miss Krueger. "Good morning, detectives." She shook their hands. "It's a sad morning, indeed. You're here to investigate, I take it?"

"Yes, we are. We'd like to find out what happened, and we'll need your department's assistance to do that."

"Of course." She opened a notebook calendar that she'd been carrying and pulled a pen out of the breast pocket of her jacket. "Violet tells me you need a room. We'll put you in 517, fifth floor. I'll see to it that employees are made available as you need them." Mrs. Rushton was about fifty, with hair that looked like the consistency of steel wool, in a tall bouffant style. She was quite tall, dressed in a suit of all beige. The suit had a very long jacket that went down nearly to her ankles. Between the single color of her clothing and the hair that added height, she had the illusion of being quite an imposing woman. When she spoke, she stood too close, making Starsky back up.

"We already have a list here." Hutch produced the alphabetical list of library employees, broken down by department, that Violet Krueger had given to them.

"Looks like we'll stick mostly to your reference department. Of course, we'll talk to anyone else who wants to. Maybe you could send the next one to us as each person returns? That's how we usually do it."

"I'd be happy to assign a member of my staff to do that. When do you want to meet with me?"

"Well, seeing as how you were Karen Jaffe's boss and you're right here, would it be all right if we started with you?"

"Detective Starkey, is it?"

"StarSSSky," he said, as Mrs. Rushton walked away and wrote something down on a pad of paper behind the reference counter.

"I'll be in 517 with the detectives," she said to Violet Krueger." After that, I'd like you to send people up there one at a time until everyone's been spoken to. Right this way."

They followed her to a poorly lit, dismal staff elevator and rode up to the second floor. "Violet is one of the candidates for the head of reference," she told them.

"P through Z," Starsky said as they got off the elevator and he saw the sign. "How many floors do you have here?" They followed her through the large room, past the aisles of books.

"Five and the basement," she said without looking back at them. They waited as she chose the right key from a ring holding at least ten of them and opened the door.

"Any way we could get a list of whatever books Miss Jaffe had checked out recently?" Hutch asked. "Just about anything could be a clue."

A man pushing a small-wheeled cart of books came over and interrupted them. "Mrs. Rushton, does this go in reference or in the stacks?"

"We'll wait for you inside," Starsky said and they entered the room and sat down at the table. "Can they give out information on books people've checked out?" he asked his partner.

Hutch didn't answer. He was distracted by glancing through some transparencies that were by an overhead projector that was in the room.

**********

For lunch, Starsky suggested a restaurant in the area that had been recommended to him by a "gourmet."

"And just who is this gourmet?"

"Artie, the guy who shines shoes down by Uncle Elmo's. His brother is restaurant editor for Golf Digest."

Hutch smiled as they walked down the street. "Don't tell me Uncle Elmo's the one who sold you Hutch Junior."

Starsky pivoted and gave him a shove with his shoulder. "You kiddin'? People might still know me in there!" He turned a corner and Hutch followed. "Here it is. I know you like Mexican food."

"El Taco? Come on, Starsk."

"Hey, we ain't got time for some chi-chi lunch at some place that's miles away from here. Anyway, Artie assures me that once you've had El Taco's quesadillas, you'll never go back. Like some things I could mention," he said with a wicked smile.

"Maybe I should wrap a warm flour tortilla around--" Hutch stopped when someone approached then walked past them. "We'll finish that conversation later."

"Mmmmm," Starsky hummed as they walked into the restaurant. He loved it when Hutch said a little something in public. "Look at these specials." He pointed to a chalkboard in the foyer. "Man, am I hungry."

They were seated, and there sat Hutch--a menu in one hand and his notebook in the other.

"What do you think so far?"

"How many different explanations of Jaffe's last days did we get?" Starsky asked. The lunches came quickly.

"They're similar enough." Hutch leafed through some papers. Starsky knew what he was looking for. Who might benefit from a slightly different version of her whereabouts? Who might have something to hide or might be covering up for someone else? "But it's the differences…" He took a bite of his quesadilla and continued as he chewed.

Starsky peeled back the top tortilla and dribbled in a quantity of Tabasco sauce. "That one girl. Miss Helpful. What was her name?"

"You mean Violet?" Hutch asked, and Starsky kicked him under the table.

"Yeah, Krueger."

"Hey, Starsk."

"Yeah."

"I don't know how to tell you this, but…in my past, I was with--" He paused and looked away as though embarrassed. "I've been with some women."

"Oh, you're gonna get yours tonight, partner!"

"I was hoping you'd say that."

"All I can say," Starsky continued, "is that I better not be hearin' about you being with anyone else from here on out."

Hutch scooted out of the way just in time to avoid Starsky's inevitable butt swat. "Hey, no need for jealousy, babe. The only time I'd ever stick my hand in a pair of panties again is if you started wearing them."

"And believe me, you'd find a surprise inside," he laughed.

"My favorite kind."

On the surface, the day's interviews provided little more than two doses of writer's cramp. When they got back to the station, they learned that Jaffe's car had been found. Abandoned, no prints, no evidence, at least not yet. They went down to the impound garage to check it out.

**********

There didn't seem to be anything unusual in Karen Jaffe's schedule the last two days before her murder. She'd spent her normal hours working on the reference desk, arrived and left as usual. She'd met with Mrs. Rushton, but then everyone meets with their boss. A search of her desk didn't turn up anything substantial. Most of the personal items they'd found were of the fast lunch variety--dried soups, cheese and crackers. On the bottom of her stapler was a note that read, "Move this and die!" A couple of her friends laughed nervously when they'd discovered that, but obviously it wasn't anything but a joke.

**********

They sat at their desks with the open files of all three victims in front of them. Sam Patton. Greg Erlewine. Karen Jaffe. The faces in the photographs looked out at the detectives. "What're we missing?" Hutch finally said. "Erlewine works at the university. Hell, he seems to have had a new job every month. Jaffe, the library. Patton works for the city." He tapped his lips with his finger. "What does that mean? He works for the city."

Starsky picked up the file and read from it. "Name, DOB, address," his eyes scanned the form. "Here we go. Sam Patton worked as an administrative assistant, whatever the hell that's supposed to mean, at…" he stood up to finish the sentence, "…at Bay City Public Library. Shit! How did we miss that?!"

Hutch grabbed the file and read it himself. "That's Jaffe and Patton." He pulled out the list of library employees that Violet Krueger had given them and scanned it. "Some detectives we are. Here it is. Patton, Samuel. Right under where it says cataloging. And Erlewine?" They knew he didn't work there, but still they checked out the list.

"Didn't…didn't that friend of his say that he was planning to--?"

"Yeah, yeah. And we assumed that he forgot all about the library. What time is it?" He grabbed Starsky's wrist and looked at his watch.

**********

Before they left for the cataloging department, where Patton had worked, they phoned and talked to Violet Krueger at her extension in the reference department.

"It's sad. Tomorrow--every Wednesday night--would've been their book club meeting. No one wanted to attend after Sam's accident. Now, I can't imagine that anyone will show up after Karen…."

"What kind of club? Both Patton and Karen Jaffe belonged to a club there?"

"It's a mystery book club. They meet once a week, Wednesday evenings. This week, it's John D. MacDonald's Green Ripper."

Starsky motioned to Hutch, although he knew Hutch was about to do what he was going to suggest, anyway. "Miss Krueger--"

"Violet."

"Violet. Could you, or someone connected with the group, please make some calls and do what you can to get the members of the group there tonight? What time is the meeting?"

Hutch tilted the phone so they could both listen. He heard the flipping through of some papers, and then she came back on the line. "I found it, Detective Starkey."

Starsky tried to pull the receiver away, but Hutch wouldn't let him.

"The meeting is held every Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. We'll get as many of them here as we can tonight. People will probably like the chance to get together during this tough time."

"Last question. Do all the members of the group work at the library?"

"Oh, no. I'd say most don't work here."

"Okay, thanks for your help. Oh, and Violet, you can tell the members that the police will be there to question them for help in trying to solve the case, but please don't identify us as police officers until we're ready to address the group. Understood?"

"No problem. I do a lot of reading, and I know kind of how this is done."

Starsky took his ear away from the phone and grimaced as Hutch said goodbye. "Green Ripper. Haven't you been reading that, Starsk?"

"Oh, yeah," he said as he tossed the wrapper from his breakfast burrito into the trashcan. "McGee falls for this woman…. What did Jaffe tell us to call her? Gretel?" Hutch nodded. "We've been thinking nursery rhymes, and that's really the name of a character from MacDonald's book. "

"Really? What happens to her?"

"She's murdered by some cult. McGee goes after them."

Hutch leaned over Starsky, pretending to get something on the desk, but Starsky knew he was really just trying to be close to him, to make any memory Starsky might have of his own terrible experience with cults pass a little easier. It helped to have this strong man whom he loved so much pressed against him. He had to smile, as Hutch casually rearranged a few of the items on the desk, trying to make it look as though that's why he'd leaned over it. Yes, the tape dispenser looked a lot better on the right. Starsky felt a warm, well-loved sensation even after Hutch had gone back to his chair.

It helped, too, that they finally seemed to be closing in on their murderer. At least once that happened, Starsky knew he could look forward to a long celebratory lovemaking session afterward. He hit the palm of his hand on the desk to aid in snapping his mind back to work. "We can hope it doesn't turn out to be anything like that."

**********

After the meetings in cataloging, they attained a list of the members of the mystery book club. As Violet Krueger had said, there were only three members who worked at the library. Of the remaining members, two did work at the library, Penny Hendricks and Jeffrey Northrup. Hendricks, another librarian and head of the periodicals department, was out ill today.

But the other, Jeffrey Northrup, was already there, working in circulation. They went to the circulation desk and asked if they could meet with him. A man behind the desk told them to wait and left to retrieve him.

"Tell me something," Starsky said to a woman who was stamping dates on a stack of books. "Can we really get the records of the books that certain patrons of yours have checked out recently?" He noticed Hutch glancing at him, but before he could say anything, someone approached them.

"This is Jeff Northrup. He's a student at Los Angeles Community College, and works here part-time." They shook hands, and Northrup agreed to talk to them. He suggested that the three of them go to a small coffee shop near the library.

Northrup looked to be about nineteen or twenty, and no one would've suspected that he worked in a library, even if it was only temporary and half-time. He was very tall and lanky, and as they walked to the cafe, he used broad gestures to demonstrate how evenly he would straighten a row of books after he had shelved them. His work was primarily behind the scenes.

Starsky commented on the incongruity of a library worker with a skull and snake tattooed on his arm.

"It's not like I'm in this for a career or anything," he said. "It's temporary, for the cash. I just work in the background. Shelving, lugging boxes. You guys investigating Karen's and Sam's deaths?"

Starsky nodded. "We didn't know about your book club 'til just recently. We were wondering what you might be able to tell us. Can you remember anything that happened recently that might have made you at all suspicious?"

Northrup looked up toward the ceiling as he dipped his cookie into his cup of coffee. It wasn't until the cookie had broken off and sunk into the cup that he "came back to earth" and said anything at all. "Well, I don't like to get anyone in trouble or anything. I mean, I don't know really what all's going on with people. I just know what I see."

"And that's all we need to know, Jeff. You can tell us what you think, and we'll remember that if you're only an observer then there may be something that you, understandably, could've misconstrued."

"There's just this one kinda freak in our group, see? He gives all the women a hard time. Last week, he was bugging Karen." He scraped his nail along the first C in the AC/DC logo on his shirt. "I offered to help, a couple-three times, but she told me that she could handle it."

Starsky and Hutch exchanged a glance. "Just what do you mean by a kind of freak?"

"Doesn't seem to be there for the same reason the rest of us are. I never really know if he's read the books or not. Seems more like he's there to leer at the women or start trouble. But that's a whole 'nother thing, really."

"What's his name?" Hutch asked. "We'll be there tonight, observing then talking to the members. How will we know him?"

"Oh, you'll know 'im," Northrup assured. "Big as a house with a brain the size of the nail on your pinkie. Name's Stephen Shulman. No idea where he's from. I never see him at the library 'cept when we're having the group."

"Anything else?" Starsky asked. "Maybe we should talk to someone, maybe Mrs. Rushton…"

"Oh, man, don't get mixed up with her!" He laughed with his mouth closed--a dark, chortling sound from deep in his throat emanating from behind his closed lips.

"Meaning?" Hutch said softly.

"Oh, I mean, like you don't want to be up against her for a job, that's for damn sure." He made a slurping sound as he finished his coffee.

"You're not gonna leave it there, are you, Northrup?" Starsky gave him a sly look.

"I'm not saying anything, just what I hear. Strange things go on around this library. Look, I gotta get back. My class starts in a little over an hour, and I want to get some time in before I go back to school."

And that's how the conversation ended. They had a lot to chew on, a lot from a source of perhaps dubious credibility. But then, Starsky thought, sometimes the sources who seem the most reliable and stand-up are the ones who are the least trustworthy.

They got lunch at a take-out place and drove to a secluded spot to sit, eat and talk. Starsky flipped down the armrest that was between the two front seats. Though they were near a park, miles from the beach, there were seagulls flying by, squawking and looking for handouts as usual.

"So what do you make of young Mr. Northrup?" Starsky asked.

"Got a gut feeling that he might have been interested in Karen Jaffe." Hutch reached over and grabbed several french fries from where Starsky had dumped them, inside the top of his styrofoam burger box.

"Yeah. I got that impression, too. He could be tryin' to throw us off the scent. Could be involved himself. That wasn't no daisy he had tattooed on his arm."

"No, it wasn't," Hutch agreed. "Could be he's playing more ignorant and uninvolved than he really is. Still, we'd better be ready to encounter Mr. Shulman aka The House."

"Think we'll need backup?"

"Not us!" Hutch exclaimed with exaggerated machismo. "Um, really, I don't know. I'll tell you at seven-thirty tomorrow night. How's that?" He reached over and rubbed Starsky's thigh.

"Worth lookin' into whatever competition there was for Rushton's job?"

"Yeah. We'd better. Can't rule anything out." He reached to dip the fries in the ketchup, but Starsky moved the ketchup away at the last second.

"When are you gonna get your own french fries?" he asked Hutch.

"Maybe not until I get a partner who's too mean to share his," was the only reply.

As he pushed the ketchup back to the center of the armrest, Starsky said, "Y'know, this reminds me of somethin' I saw once on the late show."

"Oh, yeah? What happened?"

"These two guys--the good guys--they go into the meeting of this group of smart people. First they look around. Then they're welcomed into the circle. But it turns out that the people are really psycho killers who'd been booted off this planet years ago."

"Starsky! How can our going to the meeting of a book club at the Bay City Public Library possibly make you think of alien psycho killers?" He shook his head. "Lucky I'm around to fill your nights with something other than television now."

Starsky laughed. "You're right. But then again," he teased his partner, "isn't a library just about the last place you'd expect a space traveling, returning-to-earth psycho to go?"

"Not if he wanted to get the latest John D. MacDonald mystery." Hutch managed to keep a straight face.

**********

After finishing another visit to the library, they stopped by the station to wrap up the latest round of paperwork. The partners joked with one another as they walked outside.

"Didja see that book on UFOs? You mean to tell me that they could print that, with all those doctors' testimonies and it's all absolute hogwash?" Starsky shook his head. They waved a hello to a couple uniformed cops who were just walking inside.

"Starsk," Hutch said as he opened the passenger door. "Think about it this way. If there were all these doctors--" He started to reach for something that was in his seat. "What's--?"

They stopped. Stopped talking. Stopped moving. Hutch's hand was frozen a foot from a hardcover copy of The Empty Copper Sea, another John D. MacDonald novel, its iridescent cover shining in the afternoon sun.

"Who'd be leavin' us a present?" Starsky asked, eyeing the book.

"Somebody who was able to unlock the doors. Somebody who knew that this book is written by the same author as Green Ripper? I don't like it, Starsk."

"Me neither. Could be it's not as innocent as it looks. It's a message, at the very least."

In slow motion, almost like a dance, the same thoughts on their minds, they removed their hands from the car, stepped back, and moved away slowly.

"Go inside and report it," Starsky said.

"You go inside and report it."

"Look, it's my car. I'll stay." He was not going to let his partner stand outside, even for a short time, anywhere in the proximity of a car that could explode at any time.

Hutch seemed to understand and, as time was crucial, ran inside. Starsky's eyes scanned the street. Could've been right in front of us a minute ago, he thought. Hutch returned with men from the bomb unit and Captain Dobey as well.

They moved away, letting the bomb squad do their work. The book contained an explosive device.

"Heard it ticking, huh?" Captain Dobey asked.

"Not me. You?" Starsky looked at Hutch, who shook his head.

"Then how did you know?" Dobey sounded like he was about to suggest that some FBI guys be brought in on the case. That maybe they couldn't handle it on their own anymore.

"Look, Captain," Hutch began. "This isn't just a normal investigation, anymore; it's personal now."

"It's--" Starsky began.

"We must be getting pretty close to something--"

"Something--"

"Big. And someone's so worried about what we might uncover that they're willing to kill us, even though we're cops."

Starsky grasped his partner's wrist. "Willing to blow us off the face of the earth." Now that he'd gotten a word in, there was no relief at having finally been heard. There was no success in being allowed to voice your own death warrant.

Hutch rubbed the back of his neck with his hand. "At least this time the bomb was visible."

Later that day they received more information about the bomb. The lab technicians said that it was crude. The person who'd made it probably got directions from one of those photocopied newsletters that are distributed by underground militant groups.

While it was crude, there was no doubt that the Torino and both men would've gone up in flames had it been allowed to explode as planned. Starsky hoped that as they continued working on the case in the next day or so, someone would look sufficiently surprised to see them--alive.

Before leaving the station, they arranged a time to do some research into Northrup's comments about Rushton. Both the police files and the newspaper morgue would be consulted.

**********

Starsky dropped his partner off at Venice Place, then went to get some Chinese take-out. When he returned, he found three canvases and a couple of sketchbooks propped against the end of the sofa. Hutch's box of art supplies was on the piano stool, and Hutch was in the shower.

Starsky peeked his head into the stall. "Would ya like some company?" Hutch brushed the water from his eyes, grabbed the back of his partner's head and pulled him forward for a kiss. "Lemme get rid of these," he said pulling off his jeans, and was bare and in the shower, too, in a matter of seconds.

"Babe, I figure we should do this in the showers at the station sometime." He rubbed the soap between his hands then coated Starsky's body with the soft lather. "Let the other guys watch--I'd get down on my knees," he knelt down. "And pay particular attention to the Starsky family jewels that I love so much." Hutch always handled a washcloth in just the right ways to tantalize his partner. Right now, the little exhibitionistic scenario he was painting just added to the exquisite sensations. "Man," they'd say, "Hutch really can lick his partner's balls." and Hutch proceeded to do just that.

Starsky ran a hand over Hutch's head, the wet hair dark and slick beneath his skin. "You keep this up, lover, and I won't need to take showers anymore. Just rely on you and that--" He bit his lip as Hutch swirled his tongue around a spot on the underside of his balls, then sucked a bit of the skin in between his lips. This was a technique Starsky had nicknamed "the cyclone." "Hey, bring that talented mouth up here for a minute," Starsky said after getting his voice back.

As Hutch stood up, drops of water ran down his skin, the entire length of his body. They kissed, mouths suctioned to one another, wet, erect cocks struggling to join together, only to bump into each other and slide past over and over. Hutch pulled Starsky to him, and then wrapped a leg around him, clamping their bodies together. He moaned. "God, Starsk, I love the hair around your cock." He sucked on a wet earlobe, and then continued. "The way your cock shoots out from that dark hair.…" By now, Starsky was against the wall of the shower, each man pushing his body against his partner's, humping in their perfect natural rhythm.

Starsky's eyes had been closed, but when he felt Hutch's hand take his chin and tilt his face toward his, he opened them.

"I love to feel my cock," he pushed against Starsky hungrily, "go through that hair, and--" his groin jerked downward, giving Starsky's cock the electric shock of suddenly coming into contact with those large, tight, Hutchinson balls. That was it for both of them, as they seemed to come at the exact same moment. Starsky was glad that he was against the wall. As it needed to support both his and Hutch's boneless bodies.

Then Hutch leaned back a little, reached between them and gently traced swirls of their mutual water-diluted emission through Starsky's pubic hair. Starsky watched for a minute, then leaned his head forward and took a dramatic pretend bite out of his partner's wet shoulder. How his partner loved the hair on his body, and how Starsky loved to have his partner love it. None of the women he'd ever been with would have thought to do something this 'dirty.' It was so hot to watch and to feel that he and Hutch returned to kissing and celebrated any post-orgasm aftershocks with darting tongues and caressing hands.

When he got out of the shower, Starsky went into the kitchen, gathering plates and silverware. He adored walking around his partner's home in the nude. Hutch was still paying rent, but he felt at home in Hutch's apartment, and he knew that Hutch felt at home at his place.

"Hutch," he said with a sarcastic smile when he couldn't find any clean glasses, and had to wash a couple to use that night. From the bottom cupboard, he pulled out what was left of the bottle of Chianti they'd started a couple nights ago and began clearing off the table. Hutch emerged from the bathroom in his orange robe, rubbing a towel over his wet hair.

Hutch took in a deep breath. "Smells good," he said, walking over and giving his lover a hug and kiss. Hutch ran his lips along Starsky's neck.

"You wanna eat now?"

"Sure. Dinner smells good, too."

Starsky laughed and motioned for him to come to the table. "You gonna do some painting tonight?" He pulled on a pair of sweat pants before sitting down at the table.

"Mphfff?" Hutch said, his teeth tearing the meat off of a rib.

When his partner put down the clean-stripped bone and started looking around, Starsky cocked his head. "Napkin?"

"Thanks," Hutch said. "Should've eaten before I had my shower. What did you ask before?" He poured the wine into the two glasses.

"You going to be painting tonight?"

"Oh, yeah, it's Tuesday now, right? Man, feels like when we were still in blue. Working so much that you can't remember your own name." He contorted his face and asked, "What day is it today?"

"Tuesday is correct," Starsky said with a smile. Hutch smiled and teasingly pointed at him. Starsky reached over, grabbed the finger, brought it to his lips and gave it a kiss. "Mmmm, I like this sauce, babe."

"I'm glad." After scraping some of the spicy Mandarin beef from his plate over onto Starsky's, Hutch said, "Tuesday's my art class." He got up and stood at the sink washing off his hands and face.

"Hey." Starsky got up and stood beside him. "We haven't been together in a long time."

Hutch patted his face with a towel and smiled. "There's an intoxicating scent lingering on my fingers that begs to differ, partner."

"You know what I mean," Starsky said as he dumped leftover food into containers. "That shower was just appetizers."

"Plenty of time for that tonight," Hutch said, as he set three of his in-progress paintings out on the couch and eyed them critically. "See this?" He handed Starsky some photos of a panther he'd taken at the LA Zoo. "That's what I'm trying to capture in this one." He set the photos down along the bottoms of each painting. "Not too far along on any of these really. I missed last week's class. As you well know." Starsky got a swat on the ass.

"And where are the pictures of me? I see flowers and panthers, and some really old naked guy. Have you ever thought of drawing me?"

Hutch put an arm around Starsky and pointed to the painting of the panther. "I drew you when I was sketching the firm body, and sleek muscles of that panther. When I was painting the petals of that orchid, I was painting you--some of my favorite parts of your body. I was thinking of the little shallow indentation here where your neck meets your shoulder." Hutch's tongue darted into that very indentation and the sensation, along with the words his partner was saying, made him feel weak.

"I was thinking of the soft, yielding flesh of your inner thighs, flesh that feels so nice beneath my touch." Slowly, his hand moved up and down Starsky's back.

"Besides, how could I paint this massive organ of yours, without regretting the fact that I can't convey how it feels as it grows and pulses in my hand..." His lips barely touched the burning flesh of Starsky's ear. "How you taste..." He kissed Starsky's lips, but pulled back before the kiss got out of control. Somehow, he seemed to regain his composure, continuing to speak in that slow, soft, seductive tone.

"How could I draw the ripe cheeks of your ass, without even being able to hint at the pleasures you save for me between them?" His hand caressed Starsky's ass through his pants, but soon he put a hand on each shoulder and looked into his eyes. "Starsk, you're with me all the time, and I can't create anything--a new song, a painting--without filling it with your energy and love." The kiss that followed was slow and sensuous, ending with Hutch's running his thumbs over Starsky's chin. "You haven't shaved."

It was hard to speak. "Want me to?"

"Not right away. I kind of like it. At least, please don't until tomorrow." They just looked at each other for a few minutes, and Starsky was still floating on the cloud of the things his partner had just said to him.

"So you want me to give you a little more inspiration right now?"

"There's never a time I really want to say no to that offer, babe." He reached for a folder of sketches that had been in a desk drawer and put them on the piano stool. "Sometime, I really should paint you. We'd probably have to lock the painting in some kind of safe, though." He went to the bedroom and began getting dressed. Starsky followed him.

"Hmmm," Starsky said, grasping him around the waist. "Sounds like just the kind of painting I'd love posing for."

"Tell ya what. I'll only stay as long as I absolutely have to. Be home as soon as possible. Okay? Then we can start planning just what kind of pose you might like best."

Starsky wasn't ready to give up yet. He sighed as though he were giving in, and turned his back as Hutch finished getting dressed, gathering things for his class. Silently, Starsky slipped his hands down the front of his sweat pants, and manipulated his stiff, hungry genitals, already dripping with pre-cum. After a few seconds, he heard his partner getting ready to go. He turned back around. "Okay. Just give me a kiss goodbye, then, to hold me 'til you get back."

Hutch was clearly happy to oblige.

Starsky took Hutch's face in his hands and kissed him deeply.

After the kiss, Hutch let out a heavy, jagged breath and inhaled strongly, as he pressed the side of has face into Starsky's palm. "You're not playing fair," he said.

"All right, babe. I guess you're right." Starsky could see that his partner was all but hooked. "It's just--it's just that we're still a really new couple. That's all. I like showin' you how much I love you." He was using a lot of physical and emotional ammunition to get his partner to stay home. Just that morning, Hutch had used that very phrase when promising Starsky a rocket ship to the stars tonight.

"Starsky. What am I going to do with you?"

Resisting giving him the myriad of answers that danced through his mind, he simply said, "Oh, okay. I guess you're right." He put his hands on either side of Hutch's face and kissed him once more. Then, he rubbed his thumb over Hutch's lips; his casual and acquiescing words and tone of voice in complete contrast to what he knew his experienced and fragrant hands were doing to his partner. "You go on. Go to your art class. I'll be here when you get home."

Starsky was about to take his hand away when Hutch's hand shot up to cover it, holding it firmly against his face. Hutch placed a big, noisy, wet kiss on the palm of Starsky's hand then let him go. "You be ready when I get back, now."

"Promise." He smiled. "Maybe I'll start gettin' ready for ya right now, blue eyes. How 'bout that?" He pushed down the sweat pants and took the straining erection in his hands. "Get the motor started for you."

A file folder fell from Hutch's hand, papers, sketches and half-completed drawings scattering everywhere.

"Open your mouth, Hutch."

"W-w-what? Why?"

Starsky moved toward him. "Just quit talkin', and part those luscious lips for me, partner." He placed a hand on Hutch's shoulder, and his hungry lover automatically sank to his knees, papers crinkling beneath him. "I've got something I'm gonna put in there.... First, close your eyes." Starsky took one last glance at Hutch, who knelt in front of him. "Now open your mouth. Hutch did as he was told.

Soon he could see that his partner was intoxicated on the drug of Starsky, and he slowly drew the tip of his cock over Hutch's bottom lip, then his top lip. When Hutch tilted his face upwards, it took all he had to control losing it right there. Completely acquiescing to one another, letting go and being led by your partner. It was new to both of them. Still overwhelming to experience and to see.

Starsky put his hand on the side of Hutch's face, then stood there, his cock in his hand, attending to his partner--tenderly, deliberately anointing his partner with his essence, which clung to his lips like a precious, colorless syrup. "Are you ready, partner?"

"For anything, lover," Hutch said, his eyes still closed. As the head of Starsky's cock entered his mouth, Hutch reached up to grasp his lover's balls. He must have known their exact location by scent and by touch, having had the experience of reaching for them so many times before, often in the dark. He didn't need the aid of sight, fingers finding their own way. It wasn't just a blind service that Starsky was asking him to perform, but Hutch was gifting him with this treat, feeding his own need, sharing something sweet and precious and private between only the two of them.

As his loving tongue worked its magic, his experienced fingers touched all the right places. Hutch must have known that he now had his partner literally in the palm of his hand. Starsky slumped forward, his hands on his lover's shoulders.

"Open your eyes," Hutch told him.

Starsky did so.

Hutch licked his lips. "...and watch me eat my favorite dessert."

**********

The day had come to meet with Miss Carmen Goldberg and Mr. Lynn Sloane. Sloane had arranged to meet them at 11:00 a.m. at a Denny's in Thousand Oaks. They'd go to Goldberg's home at two.

In the car on the way to Denny's, Starsky was nervous, so he decided to see what Hutch thought about something. "Hutch, I read this thing, and I wanna know how we can keep from lettin' it happen when we meet Sloane."

"What kind of thing is it?"

"See, I read this article where they talked about this thing called gay-dar. It's where guys who sleep with guys are supposed to be able to recognize other guys who--"

"Starsky, are you kidding me?"

"No. I'm serious. What if Sloane is into this stuff and he takes one look at us and--"

"Starsk." Hutch rubbed the back of his neck and looked out the window for a moment. "I'm not sure where you read about this, but I don't believe it at all. Aren't you the one who's always telling me that my biorhythm calculations are malarkey? Well, don't you think this gay-dar stuff comes in much lower on the evolutionary logic scale than that?"

"I guess you're right." Intellectually, he knew Hutch was right, and he'd needed to hear him say that. But emotionally, he still had his doubts.

"How 'bout if you tell yourself it's not like either of us sleeps with other guys. It's that we make love with each other. We've been together for a lot of years; it's the whole person that we love. It's real," Hutch told him.

"Okay, I like that." He felt better, and he appreciated the fact that Hutch didn't tease him about his worries. That's a true best friend. One who knows when to joke, and when to stop kidding around.

When they arrived at Denny's, a man walked up to them.

"Detective Hutchinson?"

"I'm Starsky, he's Hutchinson. You Sloane?"

"Yup. Shall we get a table?" Sloane was tall, about Hutch's height. He had dark hair and a dimple in his chin. He wore a suit, and there was a guitar pattern on his tie. Starsky knew Hutch would notice that. You couldn't miss the wedding ring, interwoven gold strands.

"Yeah, I'm starving," Starsky said.

Sloane followed the waitress to the table and the partners lagged a bit behind. "You had a big breakfast not too long ago," Hutch said.

"So?" Starsky said as they were seated in a booth.

"Uh," Hutch said to the waitress before she left to get them menus. "This cup has lipstick on it."

The waitress just looked at him, so he asked, "Could I get a clean one?" She took it and went off for the menus.

"I really appreciate your meeting me here," Sloane said. "A thing like this could do damage to my family, and maybe even my business. My past--" He took a drink of ice water. "My past isn't known in Bay City."

"We respect that. There's no reason anything should be made public or go any further than this meeting at this table today," Hutch said.

"Thanks," Sloane said, as he took the menu the waitress offered him. She asked him and Starsky if they wanted coffee. Each said yes, and she poured it for them.

"I'd like coffee, too," Hutch said, looking up from his menu.

"But I thought you didn't."

"No. I do want some. Just in a clean cup, please." When she walked away, Hutch sighed and said to Starsky, "Is that so hard to comprehend?"

Once they'd decided what, if anything, each was going to order, they started the discussion. "So what information can you give us about Mr. Erlewine? Anything would be helpful. If you could give us the circumstances of your coming to file for a restraining order against him, that could give us clues as to what may have been going on his final days, and what may've caused his death." Hutch put his napkin in his lap.

"This isn't easy for me. It's something I've tried for the past few years to put behind me."

"We understand. But anything you can tell us would be of help. It might be that he was harassing others who still could use our help," Starsky said.

"Okay."

The waitress returned with her order pad. "I'd like the Grand Slam," Starsky said.

After Sloane had ordered, Hutch ordered an English muffin and asked, "Oh, and a cup of coffee, please."

"Like I started to say," Sloane began. "I'm not positively sure what you're looking for. So stop me if what I'm saying isn't of any help." He put some milk into his coffee, stirred it and took a sip. "Uh, I met Greg at work."

Starsky, who was taking notes, stopped him. "What kind of work was that?"

"Insurance. We were both in insurance. At night I was going to hotel school. All in San Diego. Anyway, he was very good-looking, and I was into that sort of thing back then. So we went out a couple times. He got really serious really fast. And then he started getting angry a lot. If I wasn't home when he called, or if I said I couldn't go out some night. He was jealous. Started threatening me. Camping out outside my house. I'd turn around in the grocery store and there he'd be."

He took three swallows of coffee, twirling his spoon in the cup before continuing. "Then, it was like one day he just flipped. Said he was going to 'out' me. He wanted money. The kind of money I didn't have--and couldn't get. At first, I wasn't too worried. Back then, when I was into that, people at work knew. So why should I care if he'd tell people things about me they already knew or suspected?"

The waitress returned with the food. Starsky flipped the notebook over so a blank page was facing up. When he looked at the layout of assorted pancakes, eggs and bacon in front of him, he immediately asked her for another order of toast.

When she turned to walk away, Hutch stopped her. "Shirley, is that your name?" It was the name on her badge. "Shirley, could I please have a cup of coffee? If it's not too much to ask." Starsky noticed that, although Sloane had started eating, his eyes were on Hutch.

"Oh, coffee. Okay."

"And--" Starsky said.

"And another order of toast."

"Wheat."

"Wheat," she agreed before leaving.

"Please continue," Hutch said before taking a drink of ice water.

"Okay. So I didn't care if he told the people at the office that I was, well, then anyway, that I was gay. I knew I'd get razzed about it, but it was a pretty cool group of people. Didn't expect anything much." He picked up the top pancake on his stack and spread butter on it, then did the same with the pancake below it. As he poured the syrup, he continued. "So one night after work, he's there knocking on my door. He wants to get back together or else he'll tell on me. And I said 'Tell, if you want to. Everybody knows already'."

"Did he give you an idea why he was so mad? Why he was gonna tell on you?" Starsky asked.

"I'd tried to break it off. He was too much for me, going too fast. I was sorry I had started dating him when I'd known him such a short time." He looked at Hutch. "Does that make sense?"

Hutch nodded.

"Is your wife at work right now?" Starsky asked, and then cursed himself for letting his feelings get the better of him.

"Yes. She works a ways away from here. No chance of her walking in or anything."

Luckily, it appeared that Sloane didn't grasp his sudden mention of Mrs. Sloane and the jealousy that had brought it up. Starsky hadn't liked the way Sloane was looking at his partner, and the question was more to stop that than anything else.

He let out a quiet sigh of relief.

"He pushed me against a wall. Started running around the apartment, breaking things, pulling furniture over." He put his napkin in front of his face and coughed a little.

"We truly appreciate your reliving these bad memories in order to help us," Starsky said.

He nodded and went on. "So, I'm not that much of a fighter. Never have been. Even though he threatened me, I never thought he'd get physically violent. I called the operator and got the police over there." He took another drink of coffee. "I'll admit it. I was scared out of my wits. So they came over and took him to the police station. I said I wanted to file charges, and I also got that restraining order. But, it didn't end there."

"What happened?" Hutch asked him.

"A few days later, I get this phone call from my mother. She's crying, and I'm trying to find out what's wrong. I'm thinking somebody's sick or dead or something." He looked away from Hutch and picked up his fork. He stabbed the center of his fried egg, letting loose the liquid yellow yolk. He continued talking, looking down at his plate.

Starsky put a couple big forkfuls of ketchup-covered hash browns in his mouth before getting back to his notes.

"So, I finally can understand what my mother is saying, what she's so upset about. Turns out Greg called her and told her that I was gay. He embellished the news with all kinds of stories about how I forced young boys to have sex, crap like that. I never had sex with kids. That's sick. I was always in monogamous relationships." He looked back up in Hutch's direction. "When I had relationships, at least." He took out a handkerchief and blew his nose. "That's most of it. Greg Erlewine is--was--really, really bad news."

"What happened with your mother?" Starsky knew that wasn't a question that would be sanctioned by the department, but neither was it something for which he'd get Sloane's report overturned or receive any kind of reprimand.

"It's different now. I gave her a big wedding to attend. She did all the mother of the groom stuff. I've given her a couple precious grandchildren. The past is past. I just hope that she's been able to completely forgive me."

Forgive you? Starsky thought as he glanced over at his partner. Hutch's sad face told him that he was thinking the exact same thing.

Both Starsky and Sloane had crumpled up their napkins and placed them on their plates. Shirley, the waitress, walked by with their bill. "Oh, wow. You wanted coffee, didn't you?" Hutch just smiled. Starsky knew that he may have given the waitress a little piece of his mind under other circumstances, but the mood just didn't lend itself to scolding anybody for anything.

Hutch picked up the tab, refusing Sloane's offer to pay. They all shook hands. "Your cooperation means a lot. Lets us get a true picture of the man, what may have been going on. Thank you again."

"Will you need to contact me again?"

"We may. Not sure. We'll be certain to keep your situation in mind when we do," Starsky said.

They sat in the Torino and watched him drive off. "I-I don't know what to say. Have you ever heard a story like that?"

"Parts of it are really similar to stories we've heard in the past. This kind of thing happens to women usually, at least from what we've seen, what's been reported. It's just that much more amazing considering--" Hutch didn't finish the sentence He didn't need to.

"Right. Considering." He fished the keys out of his pocket. "Hey, Hutch."

"Mm?"

"I love you," he said before starting the car and backing out of the parking place.

"Love you, too, partner," Hutch said.

By the time they got back to Bay City, they had forty-five minutes before their meeting with Carmen Goldberg. After stopping at a cafe and getting two coffees to go, they went back to the station where they typed up a report of their meeting with Sloane. A special code was added which meant that anyone contacting this person should use care and the utmost confidentiality. Not that they didn't do this on a regular basis, but this alerted people to the fact that there may be persons at this man's home or office who shouldn't have an inkling that he is dealing with the police. This had been discussed and okayed by another officer.

**********

Carmen Goldberg lived at 1127 East Ninth. They parked outside the house and noticed the curtains closed when they got out and walked toward the door, which was opened after just one knock. "Ms. Goldberg? I'm Detective Hutchinson; I spoke with you on the phone. And this is my partner, Detective Starsky." She welcomed them in and they sat in her living room.

"Can I get you gentlemen anything? Coffee?"

Hutch smiled, but said, no thanks. They repeated the introduction they'd used earlier with Sloane.

"Uh, is it okay if I have a Coke?"

When the police are around, Starsky thought, people start asking permission for everything. They let her know that was perfectly all right. Goldberg was around 5'4", with long, dark hair. When she showed them an old photo of herself and Erlewine--"I don't know why I've kept this. A reminder, maybe"--it was clear that she'd put on weight since their relationship. Was it because of the experience?

She left to retrieve a Coke from the fridge, returned and sat on the couch and took a deep breath. "Where to begin?" She opened the soda. "I first met Greg at work."

"Pardon the interruption," Starsky said, "But where were you working at the time?"

"The Ambassador Hotel. I was on switchboard. He worked in the gym. Gave massages, mostly. Well, he hadn't worked there for long, but he was really attractive. And when he asked me out I was on cloud nine. We dated a few times and he was such a gentleman. But that wasn't the real Greg. I didn't know that yet, of course." She took a drink of the soda. "After a month or so, much as I was swept off my feet by this guy, I wanted things to slow down. It wasn't like he was talking about marriage yet. It was just that he was, um, there all the time.

"He didn't like my friends, even wanted to drive to and from work with me. Not like 'cause we were going out, but more because he didn't trust me or something. He could go out and have a life away from me, but I had to be monitored all the time. When I found myself asking his permission to do things, I realized that it was a really bad sign. And I had to get out. When I told him, he threatened me. Vague threats. And he said he wanted me to pay him."

"Ms. Goldberg, can you tell us if he was ever physically violent with you?"

"Not until this time. Not until I said I wanted to break it off. Then, that exact night, it was like he, he--. Like he flipped out or something."

Starsky realized that was the exact phrase that Sloane used earlier.

"He started yelling at me, but he hit me, too. Pushed me against a wall, then slapped me so hard that I heard bells." I managed to get out the front door, and a neighbor called the police."

"And that's when you got the restraining order?" Hutch asked.

"Right. I mean, it's not like I could've picked up and moved just because this crazy guy was bothering me. Couldn't do it without saving some money and planning for a while, anyway."

"Did he threaten you at any time before this final violent incident?"

"Yes. As a matter of fact, he did. I used to work for another hotel. A big chain. And I'd worked my way up to assistant manager of a prime location. Anyway--this stays confidential, you said?" They nodded. "And you really need to know this stuff?" More nods.

"Well, all right. I'd had a sort of relationship with one of the district reps who stopped by our hotel on a pretty regular basis. I was young and stupid. He was older and seemed really worldly. Nothing came of it. He broke it off, saying he wanted to try and make his marriage work. Soon after, I heard he was screwing another girl from another location. So, while things were going okay with Greg, I confessed this to him. Really stupid move." She took a drink of soda, and, when she went to put it back on the table, the can missed the edge of the table; had she let go of it completely, It would have spilled all over the floor. She moved it closer to the middle of the table before going on.

"So, Greg's threatening me with telling people about my affair with Mister, uh, with that district rep. I was too young and stupid to know what information like that could do to my job. And too inexperienced with real dregs like him to know that he wasn't kidding, anyway."

"He told?" Starsky asked.

"He did everything but buy a billboard to advertise it to the world. First thing he did was to contact Mr. So-and-So's wife and tell her. Then he told my supervisor, anonymously, of course. And soon, because I had--" She took on a stern, super-professional, male tone of voice. "Because I had breached professional protocol and my actions were now negatively affecting the morale of the entire hotel--" back to her own voice, "I was asked to leave. With the definite message that I'd be fired should I choose not to quit. I was too scared to use them as a reference when I got the job I have now, so I had to start at the bottom again."

"And what happened to Mr. So-and-So?" Starsky asked, figuring he knew the answer already.

"Oh, nothing, of course. I heard that his wife got a diamond bracelet." She finished the last of the Coke." And the teenaged girl he was seeing got a trip to the Bahamas."

The front door opened and a man walked in. Carmen immediately stood up and Starsky did the same, worried that this might be some kind of trouble.

"Roy, these are the detectives I was telling you about." She introduced him to them as her boyfriend. He lived there, too, and he knew all about what they'd been discussing. Roy looked like a decent guy, his clothes plastered with mud, suggesting that he'd been working outside all day.

"Good to meet ya," Roy said. "Uh, excuse my appearance. I'm heading a crew of concrete workers down at that new elementary school they're building on Main."

"No problem. It was nice to meet you. And thanks, Ms. Goldberg, for your help. If we need any more information, we'll be in touch."

**********

"Hey, Starsk," Hutch said in the car on the way home. "Whatchya say, when we find this killer, we boot 'im off the planet?"

"Good idea," Starsky said, refusing to let his partner ruffle his feathers.

"Something's worrying you," Hutch said as they walked up to the apartment.

There was no need to deny it. "Well, I'm not worried, exactly. It's just that this Sloane guy has me thinkin'."

"About?"

"He was so scared'a his wife finding out. Makes me wonder what kind of relationship he has with her." When they walked inside, Starsky took off his jacket and hung up his gun and holster. "Maybe even wonder why he got married." He got a couple beers out of the fridge. "Is there anything else, anything more current that he's keeping from her?" He sat down, putting the beers on the coffee table. "How did he get to this point in his life?"

Hutch put his hand over Starsky's. Felt nice. Warm. "I think that we're all products of our lives. Life experiences have brought us to the point we're at, makes us who we are, makes us tick. Life experiences somehow meshed with nature." He reached over and felt the soil in a fern's pot. "Probably a good dose of fate, too." Hutch leaned back and put an arm around Starsky's shoulders. "This isn't about Sloane, is it? You're looking at his present and wondering about our future."

Starsky leaned over and gave Hutch a kiss, then they sat with their heads touching, eyes closed. Each hand giving the other reassuring squeezes. Neither needed to say more.

**********

The next morning, when they got back to the squadroom, there was a note on their desk: "Captain Dobey wants to see you in his office."

He wasn't there, but they went in anyway, and sat waiting for him.

"Take your feet off my desk, Starsky!" Captain Dobey wasn't happy.

While they had a lot of notes, a lot of information on the decedents' lives, characters and associates, Dobey was, understandably, aggravated that they couldn't give him a clear idea of who the murderer or murderers were. "We don't pick up or prosecute people on could-be's," Dobey told them.

Starsky let the part about not picking up people slide. Sometimes they had to pick people up on "could-be's."

"How do you think the public is reacting? People killing librarians? May as well have people killing daycare center workers." He picked up the newspaper that was folded on his desk. "Today's paper has an editorial by someone who's afraid now to bring her kids to the library. She asked what's being done about this, the commissioner asked me what's being done, and now I'm asking you two."

"Cap, it's not like mob hit men have been opening fire in the romance novel section or somethin'. We can't just create a break in the case." He regretted it as soon as he'd said it.

"What? You can go out there and do your jobs. You can go out there and find whatever it is that will incriminate whoever it is who killed these people."

"Captain," Hutch interjected. "That's exactly what Starsky and I are doing. As a matter of fact, we have an appointment to meet someone this afternoon. And this could be the break we've been searching for."

"All right then." He paused, wiped off his forehead with his handkerchief. "Look, I know you're doing your jobs, and I know this is a complicated case. But, please, do whatever has to be done to go out there and wrap this one up."

"You got it, Cap," Starsky said.

Starsky rubbed his stomach, and, when they stepped out into the hall, Hutch dropped some coins into the candy machine and pushed the button for Starsky's favorite. He knew Hutch had seen him eat an apple not long ago, but here he was buying him candy, nonetheless.

People occasionally passed by, but no one seemed at all interested as Hutch peeled back the outer wrapper. He then folded back the foil inner wrapper and, with a slow thumb movement, the dark chocolate bar rose up from its wrappings.

Taking the offering, he looked down at his notebook, eased the bar into his mouth, eventually snapping off a piece a few inches long using just his lips.

Starsky closed the book and smiled. He slapped Hutch on the arm and they took off.

**********

The book group met on the second floor, where there was a circle of chairs set up over by the microfilm reading machines. Some of the attendees looked as though they'd come straight from work.

Shulman was a big guy, all right. he wasn't all that tall, but he was built-up and carried himself with an air of dangerous self-confidence. He floated from one woman to another as though he were at a singles' bar. Soon, they all clustered together, to prevent his homing in on any one of them.

Everyone else in attendance was very somber, very sad. Some were clearly frightened. But Shulman either didn't understand what had been going on, or he didn't care. Could he have been the one they saw at the bar, the one who sped away in Jaffe's car? They noticed that Violet Krueger was there. This was despite the fact that she'd told them she didn't belong to the group. When she noticed they were looking at her, she looked away. They watched the members of the group as they congregated around a circle of chairs. As agreed, they had been told that some detectives wished to talk with them, but Starsky and Hutch hadn't been identified yet, and as the library was still open and other patrons were around, the detectives were free to observe pretty inconspicuously.

"Could he've been the guy we saw drive off in Jaffe's car?" Starsky whispered.

"I don't know, Starsk. Could be. The way he ran through all those people, made for really good distraction. It was hard to even spot him before we saw he was driving off."

Shulman approached a woman who'd been identified as Penny Hendricks, the other library employee with whom they hadn't had a chance to speak yet. She was probably in her late twenties, with a low-cut dress that advertised her assets, and a cross on a chain around her neck. Whatever Shulman said to Miss Hendricks was unintelligible. "You've got some nerve," she told him. "I can't believe you'd even show up here."

"Why shouldn't I?" he asked.

"Don't you think you caused Karen enough grief when she was alive? Why are you here? Or do you know something about Karen's death?"

Starsky didn't know whether to be impressed by Hendricks' nerve or worried by her potentially suicidal behavior. Unfortunately for him and Hutch, the group was called to order and they didn't get the chance to see how that little interaction played out. "I'll get the straight story from her," he whispered to Hutch.

"And what makes you say that? Assuming that she does have a straight story to tell?"

"She could be another lady who can't resist my adorable charm."

"Or maybe she'll just tell you whatever you want to hear to get you and your tostado breath away from her?" Hutch asked.

Penny took charge of the group. After everyone sat down, she said, "I thought it would be a good idea if we got together and kind of remembered Karen and Sam. And, at the same time, maybe we can help the police department with information for their investigation."

Starsky and Hutch walked over and took the two empty chairs in the circle.

"My name is Paul Simon. I'm not the Paul Simon, of course. Anyway, I've been worried that somebody's after the members of our group," a mousy-looking man said, his body seeming to contract, neck disappearing into the collar of his shirt so that his chin nearly met his bow tie. The only thing that set him apart was his socks. When he crossed his ankles in front of him, Starsky noticed that his socks were a vivid purple.

Starsky welcomed Hutch's taking over here, being the one to do the talking. He was more interested in observing right then.

"We have no reason to suspect that, and we don't want you to be worried unnecessarily. What we'd like from you this evening is any information you might have. Anything unusual you may have observed with Mr. Patton or Miss Jaffe. Any ideas, no matter how far-fetched they might seem right now, could be helpful to us in breaking this case. Detective Starsky and I will be able to meet with any of you privately or here as a group. And we'll leave our cards so that you can contact us later, should you remember anything after tonight."

And then they paused. Both partners sat back and let the other members of the group consider Hutch's words. People looked every which way; they seemed to glance all over the room, avoiding eye contact with the two of them. Northrup put a piece of gum in his mouth. For the most part, the group was motionless and seemed tense.

Finally, Penny Hendricks spoke up. "Do you think this all has something to do with the library?"

"We can't say anything concrete yet," Starsky said. "But one of the connecting factors between all three victims does seem to be the library, and this group in particular." He looked around carefully--who reacted, and how, to that final statement? Violet Krueger, who hadn't sat down with the rest of the group, seemed to lurk on the outside. Her expression was one of worry.

Penny Hendricks looked directly at Shulman, but spoke to the detectives. "And when can we meet with you alone?"

"Well, we've been authorized to use the meeting room over there. Anyone want to say anything before meeting with us privately?"

Shulman was running a fingernail over a pimple on his neck. "Maybe I should just take off. This ain't worth the time." He got up and walked toward the elevators.

Hutch followed, grabbing him. "Maybe you don't think it's worth your time, but the families and real friends of three people who died recently have requested your presence and your cooperation." Shulman walked back and sat down. Starsky glared at him.

Soon, Penny was walking them to a small study room and unlocking the door.

"Everyone around here has so many keys," Starsky said.

"Just the librarians have the big sets like these," she said. "Shall I send people in one-by-one?"

"That'd be fine," Hutch said, flipping through pages of his notebook.

After she was out of earshot, Starsky leaned over to his partner. "You know how much those angry, flashing eyes of yours turn me on, don't you?"

Hutch laughed. "Think he's capable of murder."

"Could be. Can't be sure. Can you?"

"No. Damn it," he said, before going back to the group to escort Mr. Shulman in to be their first interviewee. They'd done some research on him before today's meeting. Twenty-six years old, but looked like a high school kid. This was the kind of punk that Starsky could rarely tolerate.

"Sit wherever you want," Hutch said, dripping with a threatening sort of niceness.

Shulman rejected any of the chairs at the table and sat in one that had been pushed over against the wall. They moved their chairs over to his, so that the three of them sat in a tight little triangle, not at all constructed to put Shulman at ease.

"So," Hutch began. "What is it you'd like to share with us? We're all friends here, right? What is it that you're so anxious not to tell us?"

He didn't answer. Not unexpected.

"Did you hear my partner ask you a question?" Starsky asked. "I think you ought to answer him."

"I don't know nothin'. Broad never gave me the time of day, stuck-up bitch."

"And did you do anything about that?" Hutch asked. "I don't know…buy her candy? Or flowers? Write her a poem? Kill her, maybe?"

"You guys are so full of--" He stood up and tried to get past them. The partners stood up as well. Both were taller than Shulman. He ended up back in his chair in seconds.

"What do ya say we play nice now, okay?" Starsky opened his spiral notebook to a blank page and Hutch handed him a pen. "We'll do this paint-by-numbers style. Slow with simple questions, callin' for yes or no answers. We don't got anywhere else to go tonight, and there's nothing that Hutch and me would rather do than spend our evening talking to you, Shulman." He dropped the sarcastic tone of voice and spoke harshly and more loudly to him. "Question one. When did you last see Karen Jaffe?"

"I don't remember. The last meeting of the group, I guess. When was that?"

"We can't tell you when you last saw her, Shulman. Now it's time for you to answer Detective Starsky's questions."

Starsky still wasn't sure if this kid was all bark, or if he was actually capable of killing someone. He had priors; they'd found that out. Mostly delinquent stuff. Some kids change their lives after that kind of stuff. For others, it's the beginning of a cycle of increasing crimes. "Karen Jaffe. You last saw her when?"

The questioning went on like this. Shulman alone took over thirty minutes, and they'd gotten little from him. Probably more important than whatever he'd said was the feeling they had about him. The way they analyzed him through his behavior, the way he talked, everything. Could he have done it? Could he have been involved? Before they let him out of the room they told him to stay in town. He took off and was going down in the elevator as soon as he was set free.

After both of them went out to the others and thanked them for their patience, they assured the rest of them that they didn't expect any of the other private discussions would take anywhere near that long. "Mr. Shulman was just exceptionally helpful and brimming with information," Starsky said, knowing that the group would chuckle.

Paul Simon, not the Paul Simon, was the first to come in of his own accord. "Should I close this door?" he asked. "I mean, if you wanted it left open, that would be okay with me. But if you want it left open, then could I sit over there by the corner?"

Starsky interrupted him, fearing that the man could go on in circles forever. "Go ahead and close the door. Sit wherever you like."

He sat in the chair at the table, where Starsky had laid out his papers and pen. Starsky pulled them away and sat on the other side of Hutch. This was the first of five unproductive sessions. Primarily, they had people who were, understandably, worried for their own safety and wanted a little reassurance. It was a touchy situation. They wanted them to feel secure, but they couldn't assure them that they weren't the next targets of the killer.

But somehow, Hutch and Starsky knew that other members of the group were not the intended victims.

"Never know when one'a them might be blown away just to make it look like someone's after the group," Starsky said.

After the last person had talked with them, Penny Hendricks came in to see what they wanted to do next. They noticed the overhead lights turned off and then back on again.

"Closing time. Fifteen minutes," she told them.

"Could we spend five minutes more in here, gathering up all this new data?" Hutch asked.

"Sure. I'll wait for you out here."

"Do you have to wait?" Starsky asked. "We don't want to tie up your whole evening."

"No problem. Glad to help. Sam and Karen were friends. Anyway, I'd worry that you guys would walk out then need to get back in for something you'd left behind. It's better if you have someone with the key. And, I don't know if you know this but my husband is with the Eleventh precinct. Not too far from yours. Maybe you know him. Max Hendricks?"

Starsky didn't know him, but he'd heard of him. Max was a good cop. He told her that and she smiled.

They thanked her, and then put the evening's notes in order. "When do we get one of those little tape recorders so our hands won't have to be all gnarled up after one of these sessions?" Starsky asked.

"Let's ask again tomorrow." Wrapping it up, they walked out with Penny and said goodbye at the door. They watched as she got into her car and drove off before walking to the Torino, which was parked in the other direction.

"Did you buy her story about why she was so rough on Shulman at the beginning of the meeting tonight?" Starsky asked.

"I believe her, Starsk. Sounded honest to me. What did she say exactly? She was lashing out. Last time she'd seen the two of them together he'd been hitting on Jaffe, really bothering her. Everyone in the group knows that he can be trouble."

**********

"That the first time 'Jaws' has been on TV?" Hutch asked.

"Dunno." Starsky pushed Hutch's bangs off his forehead. "Thanks for moving the cherubs out of the way. It was like I'd see the shark and then these angels outta the corner of my eye--"

Hutch yawned. "This is nice." Starsky thought so, too. "I could just fall asleep right here," Hutch said, tilting his head to the left so his nose was nestling against Starsky's stomach.

"Okay, you go to sleep. I'll find something to occupy myself." He reached over and unbuttoned the last few buttons on Hutch's shirt, rubbing his hand over the beautiful chest. He saw his partner smile, eyes still closed. "First thing on your Christmas list," he said, as he tried to unbuckle the belt essentially using just one hand, "is a belt with an escape button."

Hutch laughed, got up, and turned off the TV. "You must think that I'm always in the mood!"

"I know you are," Starsky said, walking over and pulling him into an embrace.

"And, how do you know I am?" After picking up his jacket, which had been draped over the back of the couch, and tossing it aside, he backed his partner up until he sat on the back of the couch. Hutch stood before him, unbuttoning his shirt. "How do you know I'm always in the mood?"

"Well, I know I'm always in the mood for you." He laughed. "And, you're a man, can't deny that." Starsky slid his hand in between his partner's strong thighs and rubbed the evidence of that fact. "And so am I, so I know." He separated his legs and pulled Hutch closer to him. "And I also know how we feel." A playful squeeze brought about a breathy, ratchety sound from somewhere deep within his partner. "How long we've waited to be together." He stood directly into a bear hug, which quickly turned into a bout of raucous kissing. When Starsky nearly tipped over from his partner's pushing against him, rubbing his groin on his thigh, he started to laugh and ran away.

"Da-dum, Da-dum," he mimicked the beginning chords of the "Jaws" theme song. "Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the bedroom--" They met in the center of the room. Hutch pushed Starsky's shirt off, and he in turn pushed off Hutch's. "C'mere." he held his partner close. This was definitely one of Starsky's top ten hugs. Their chests squeezing together, pelvises pushing so hard against one another you'd think they'd eventually meld together. There was no doubt how much his lover needed him, and he left no doubt that his need was equally as strong.

"Wait a minute. What's that?" Hutch pointed at one of his groups of plants.

"Will ya ignore Phillip and his green pals for now, huh, and pay attention to me, please? If you don't, pretty soon your partner's gonna develop a bad case of gangrene in his shorts." He managed to whip off the belt and ease his hands into the back of Hutch's pants.

Hutch kissed him over to the corner of the room. While one hand alternately caressed and tried to hold his partner still, the other picked up an African violet. He looked at it closely.

"Hey," Starsky said to the plant, "there are only two of us in this relationship. We ain't looking for third parties." He tried to take it and put it back on the table, but Hutch stopped him.

"This isn't mine."

"Say AAAHHH," Starsky instructed. No reaction. "How about, Simon says--?"

"This isn't my African violet. How'd it get here? It was right out in front. It just appeared today." He leaned from Starsky's grasp and looked at the door. "Someone's been in here today, Starsky."

Realizing that his partner was serious, Starsky stopped squirming. He picked up the pot from the small plate it sat on. "Did your mother ever tell you to beware of strange plants bearing notes?" A folded piece of paper was under it. They put the plant back on the table and read the note.

I was afraid to say anything to you when you were here, but this can serve the same purpose. The one who's been killing these people may kill again if she isn't stopped. I can't risk her finding out that I told you something.

"Typed. Is there anywhere we've been lately that we didn't see typewriters?"

"Well, we get the message, even if we don't like it. Maybe we need to start piecing together what we can come up with for a motive for her." Hutch said, opening a desk drawer and pulling out a pen and pad of paper. He sat on the couch and patted the spot beside him. "Terrific. They can get into the car, our home…. What'll we find next? A pissed-off tarantula? So, what do you think about this? Trying to throw us off the scent?"

Starsky sat beside him. "You're kidding me." He leaned forward, holding his face in his hands, speaking through his fingers. "Please tell me that you're kidding me. You wanna sit here and speculate about a maybe motive from a could be scenario?"

"Look, we have a full schedule for the next couple of days. Feels like we're close to wrapping this up." Starsky felt a warm hand rubbing his back under his shirt. "We know we can't ignore a lead no matter how strange or unlikely it seems. Also, we can't rule out the strong possibility that this was put here to throw us off completely. And--" kisses dotted the back of his neck, tickling him. "And, the sooner we wrap this up, the sooner we get that long weekend that we had to postpone."

"I hate it when you're logical." Starsky leaned back. "Just promise me one thing, will ya? Especially long as I'm stayin' over here so much, can we just stop putting keys over that doorframe? You're just inviting stuff like this. Next time, instead of a plant, it could be a giant tree you find growing in the middle of your living room."

Hutch leaned over and kissed him, speaking a syllable after each kiss. "Fee…Fie…Foe…Fum." The violet was on the table in front of them. When the fourth kiss concluded, Starsky glared at the flowers, which were now sitting beside the previously disruptive cherubs, and they got going with their notes.

**********

On Thursday, they went back over Karen Jaffe's schedule. She had met with her boss the day before her death; the only meeting that was not in her normal routine. They went up to talk to Donna Rushton, but she was at a Library Association Conference. Polly, her assistant, was there and agreed to do whatever she could to help them. When they asked how long she'd been Mrs. Rushton's assistant, the young woman smiled.

"Only a few months now. Mrs. Rushton, um, has had several assistants in the year and a half that she's been here. Not even sure how long I'm going to stay. I don't like being yelled at. Confidentially.…" she leaned forward. "I'm applying for a waitress job at a cafe down the street."

They asked what she knew about how Rushton got her job. "You mean Mr. Salazar?" she asked.

Neither detective responded, allowing Polly to supply all of the information without coaxing, allowing her to speak her mind.

"People've probably told you about that already. This isn't the first time we've had violence like this connected with the library. See, I worked in periodicals before getting this job."

Starsky nodded.

"Well, when Mr. Salazar was killed, it was like Mrs. Rushton wanted to start this big campaign to find who'd killed him. She wore black and everything. It was weird because everyone knew she was just performing. In real life, they'd disliked each other. She'd been campaigning really hard to get the job." She looked down, and her voice became more quiet. "There was the time it got out about Mr. Salazar's affair. Um," she looked up. "I'm real sorry. I know you're here to talk about Karen and Sam."

Polly remembered Karen Jaffe's coming to meet with Mrs. Rushton, and she was able to go into Rushton's office and produce her calendar to show them. She assured them that it would be all right. Both she and Rushton kept it up to date. Though sometimes Rushton didn't tell her about appointments and she'd end up double booked. A series of phone calls came in, and while Polly was on the phone, they leafed through Rushton's calendar book. There was Jaffe's name, matching the date and time it had been on Jaffe's own calendar. They looked at some of the other dates. Hutch pointed so hard that Starsky felt the jab right through the leg the calendar book had been resting on.

"What?"

"Less than a week earlier. Name sound familiar?"

It was Erlewine. They asked Polly about it. She remembered Erlewine. "I don't know what I should say." She shifted in her seat, adjusting and readjusting the bow on her blouse.

"Just tell us whatever happened. We're only after the truth."

"You don't know Mrs. Rushton. I don't want--" She leaned forward. So did they. Softly she said, "I don't want to get in trouble."

"Polly, don't you think there's been enough trouble around here lately? Whatever you can tell us may actually help. You're more likely to be keeping trouble away. No one's going to fault you for telling the truth."

It was Hutch's comforting confidante voice. And it worked perfectly, giving Polly the confidence she needed to talk to them.

"It's just that everyone's been so tense, under so much pressure lately. Everyone was upset when Karen was here, the other day. I think they were arguing. I don't know what about."

"Polly, did you know Sam Patton?" She nodded. "Can you remember him being up here at all in the last week or so before he died?"

She thought about it, even flipping through the pages of the day-by-day calendar on her desk. "I-I just can't. I mean, I remember seeing Sam. But I don't remember him meeting with Mrs. Rushton."

They talked for a while longer and Hutch handed Polly his card. "I want you to call us if you think of anything else. Call if anything happens, okay?"

"Okay. "

They walked out to the car.

"Notice how many IBM Selectrics there were just in the rooms we visited today?" Hutch asked.

"Yeah. How much chance do we have of finding just the machine that typed that note? And if we did, who knows who was actually doin' the typing."

**********

That afternoon on a trip back to Erlewine's apartment, they used the key they'd been given by his landlord, Mrs. Quimby, and opened his mailbox. Some of the contents were crumpled, as it looked like the mailman had just continued stuffing days after days worth of mail in there. They took the mail up to the apartment, and Starsky flipped through it as they walked around.

"I dunno, Starsk. You think he's going to have something incriminating around here?"

After tearing open an envelope and reading the first few lines of a letter, Starsky replied, "What'd'ya say we come up with something in the first five minutes?"

"Whatchya got?"

"Oh, just someone telling Greg to leave her alone," he said with some of the joy that any break in a case brings.

Hutch walked over and stood behind him. "That's pretty boring handwriting. Could be a man telling Greg to leave him alone, too." He took the envelope, which had been pinched in between Starsky's fingers.

"No return address. I looked." Starsky examined the note. No signature. Very plain handwriting. Plain stationery. No perfume scent or hearts and daggers doodled anywhere. He handed it to Hutch.

"Easy to get handwriting samples. Samples close enough to this, we'd have enough ammunition to get a court order for a bite sample to match to our boy's cheek."

This relationship ends right here, Greg. You don't really know anything that would be of any interest to the police. I cannot put up with any more of your trouble. Everything is going well for me, my career is on the upswing. When I get the promotion, I'll have reached my goal. It'll take an awful lot more than your usual tactics to bring me down. If you don't stop harassing me, you'll regret it. Move on to your next target. Or else.

Hutch sat down on the bed. Starsky started to protest, but remembered, to his dismay, that this apartment had been gone over by the lab boys days ago. They could sit anywhere they wanted, move things. "'Or else' is a pretty vague threat. Just about anybody'd say that to him under the circumstances. I can't believe he hadn't already heard that one a million times before."

Starsky reread the sentence Hutch was pointing to. "'When I get the promotion, I'll have reached my goal. it'll take a'--is that an 'A'?"

Hutch nodded and looked over his shoulder. "An awful lot--"

"Right. 'It'll take an awful lot more than your usual tactics to bring me down'."

"Who's up for a promotion?"

"Whoever it is, he or she knows something about his violent past and probably his history of blackmailing people," Starsky said.

**********

Later that afternoon, they were organizing their notes again. "Let's keep this one where we can see it. This list is something we keep having to--" Hutch stopped abruptly.

"What is it?"

He pointed to the list and Starsky looked over his shoulder. "These notations in the margin," Hutch said. "Handwriting look familiar?"

"Who?" Starsky started to say. "Krueger, wasn't it, gave us that list? This is a fine kettle of fish."

"We've been wondering what role Miss Krueger plays in this Library Days of our Lives. Add this to our new pot of African violets. Maybe she's in it a whole lot deeper than we ever thought."

Their last stop was back to the station where they went over files, testimony, interview transcripts, anything they could get their hands on concerning the murder a year ago of Raymond Salazar, the librarian who was up against Donna Rushton for the position of assistant director. He'd been shot and left for dead while driving the bookmobile in a bad section of town. His wallet was missing and the vehicle was found miles away.

**********

"What're you putting in the salad?" Hutch asked.

"Raisins. I saw this chef on TV, and he put raisins in a salad." Hutch looked unsure. "Now, don't say anything 'til you try it. You might like it." Starsky tossed the salad. "Don't forget, partner, there were other things that you didn't know you'd like until you tried 'em."

Hutch, whose hands were covered with flour and egg, craned his neck to give his partner a kiss. "How many pork chops you want, one or two?"

As they continued making dinner, they moved around the small kitchen, sometimes bumping into each other, sometimes by mistake. "One of these days, we should get a bigger kitchen," Starsky said, but then felt embarrassed that he'd spoken so definitely about their future together. But Hutch agreed. Starsky walked over to him, a carrot stick between his lips. They kissed, and each man got half. During dinner, they deliberately avoided talking about the case. They argued about sports and cars mostly.

After dinner, Hutch suggested they take a shower. Showering together had become a form of foreplay for them. He got undressed and threw a bath towel over his shoulders. Starsky pulled off his shirt. As his partner turned toward the bedroom, Starsky gave him a swat on the butt and followed. He walked over to the mirror. "I feel like I'm gaining weight," he said more to the mirror than to Hutch.

Hutch looked at his partner. He got up and stood behind him. "I don't think so."

"No?"

"Y'know, I always wondered how I'd look with a hairy chest." Hutch wrapped his arms around his partner, looking over his shoulder, stroking Starsky's chest. "Yeah," his hands traveled from Starsky's ribs up nearly to his shoulders then back again. "I've always been pretty proud of this body," Hutch said as he rubbed the furred belly. Then fingertips only moved upwards. "Like this trail of hair..." Downwards. Starsky just let his arms rest limp at his sides while his partner's hands continued their journey. Other parts of him were anything but limp.

"Follow the dots," Hutch said, pushing Starsky's hands out of the way when he tried to participate. "I've worked hard for this great body," Hutch teased, as each hand moved down past one of Starsky's hips to rub the thighs, eliciting grinding moans from his partner. "Just look at this body." Hutch purred and his hands ventured in between his lover's thighs. Starsky rolled Hutch's name around on his tongue, inaudibly.

"When Hutch gets home I'll be ready for him," Hutch whispered against Starsky's ear.

He manipulated Starsky's stiffening genitals through the denim of his cut-offs. "When he gets home, he'll do wonderful things to me." The snap was undone, and the eager cock pushed forward, causing the zipper to begin to open as if by magic. Starsky remained quiet, allowing Hutch to speak about and manipulate his body as though it were his own.

Hutch unzipped the rest, slid his hands inside, and pushed the shorts down without touching his partner's genitals. There was still a new shock of sexual thrill as Starsky realized, Hutch, my good-looking, brave, macho partner, is pulling down my pants and then he's gonna--. It brought up a sort of primal fear, crossing a set boundary, allowing yourself to be exposed, physically and emotionally by another man. Allowing that man to touch you in the most intimate of places, then to admit to yourself and to him, how good it all feels.

The bit of fabric that passed for Starsky's favorite cut-offs lay in a pool of denim at his feet, as he heard his partner's voice again. "Hutch likes me to be ready for him." Starsky could feel Hutch's cock against his ass. He pushed back and flexed his buttocks.

When those large hands came up from the inside of his thighs to grasp his cock and balls, Starsky's left hand reached around to grab Hutch's ass. They moved against one another and Starsky was so turned on, in part by watching his partner manipulate him as though they were one and the same body, so free of inhibitions, so full of fire.

Hutch held up his hand and Starsky licked the palm. "Maybe just a little squeeze.... Oh, yeah, babe." Starsky's body tightened. Hutch bent his knees slightly and then Starsky felt fluid-like, sweat-slippery but shadowing, folding atop every move Hutch made. Flesh to flesh, one body, one soul. "Yeah, Hutch knows what I need," Starsky heard his partner say.

Starsky let his head drop back against a strong shoulder. Hutch's lips sampled the exposed throat as his fingers continued pumping. Starsky's body seemed to become fragmented. He felt each location as it reacted to the love his partner bestowed. His entire focus on a square inch of flesh on his neck, absorbing, magnifying every sensation. One moment, a warm silky tongue, the next, there was left a moist spot, an air-cooled magnet to vibrations. The rapid beating of his lover's heart echoed through his own body.

He forced himself to take the occasional glance in the mirror, loving the look of withering self-control on Hutch's face. The look on his own face nearly startled him the first time he'd seen it, from ultra-tense, when he bore down, to ultra-relaxed when his partner kissed or massaged a new space. He'd never seen that look of nearly painful perfect pleasure on his own face. No one had ever put it there before or been able to draw it from him.

"God, Starsk, your body feels so good. Give it to me, babe." His voice had become breathy and still had an edge to it. The pumping got faster, his left hand tormenting the needy testicles. "Come on, boy. Give it to Hutch." Hutch's face was buried against Starsky's neck, his cock pushing, burrowing in between willing buttocks. They trembled and panted in unison.

"Huuuutch," Starsky moaned, speaking for the first time, and when he came, it felt like a jumbo jet was coursing through him, all he heard was the roar. He splashed through Hutch's fingers onto the mirror before them. Soon Hutch came on Starsky's skin. He felt the warm cream coating the back of his thigh. Hutch held him tight, and he held onto his partner's forearms. "God, I needed that," he finally said, and he pivoted, turning to face his partner for some warm, deep kisses, the kind of kisses that only two people who have really known each other as the best of friends and the most intimate of lovers could share.

"Shower," Hutch said. Starsky went along with him. The water felt good, and Hutch always pampered him so well. Starsky leaned into him. Hutch managed to be both thorough and tender with the fragile, spent genitals and there was always a hint of what lay in store later.

**********

Friday, when they went to the library, there was a message waiting for them. It was from a woman in the cataloging department who'd identified herself as Chris Saudelli, Patton's supervisor. They'd left word that they wanted to meet with her, and here she was.

"I'm sorry I wasn't here when you people came in before." She walked to her desk and they followed. The pattern on her underpants showed through her white slacks, and it was difficult not to become mesmerized by the back-and-forth motion of the miniature roses. "Here we go. This is what I wanted to show you," she flipped backward the pages in a legal pad until she reached a certain page. "This is our departmental sign-out sheet. Now, we lost Sam on a Wednesday. Sam was very good about always signing out so we'd know where he was." A staff member called her, and she handed them the legal pad and directed them to a table where they could work, then walked away.

"Right," Starsky said. "Died on Wednesday--" While checking his notes against the page where the supervisor had stopped, he pulled out a chair, spun it around and sat backwards in it. "How far ya wanna go back?"

"Let's just start flipping."

"Tuesday. Union meeting over lunch. A few different people went to that."

"He was a--" Hutch began.

"Library assistant, it says here. Probably some kind of catch-all title. Ready for Monday?" Hutch nodded and he flipped another page back. His finger started at the top of the page. "This can't be right. Does this mean six-thirty the night before? Why's a library assistant at work at six in the morning?"

They flagged the supervisor down as she walked past them. "Would Mr. Patton have been in at six or six-thirty in the morning?" Hutch asked.

"Oh, yes," she said. "He had a unique schedule. Got here at six-thirty and would leave at eleven-thirty. Is there a problem?"

"No. Thanks. Now this makes sense."

She went back to her desk, which was just a few feet from the table where they were sitting. "Let me know if you have any more questions."

"Okay. Sam gets here six-thirty Monday morning and right away, he signs out to go--. Uh, fifth floor." He glanced at Hutch, who took the pad over to the supervisor for help in deciphering the entry.

"Fifth floor, DR, " she said. "Interesting. He had a meeting with Donna Rushton. I don't think she's usually here that early. Oh, well."

"Did Mr. Patton work directly with Mrs. Rushton?"

"Not usually, no. I hadn't told him to meet with her, if that's what you're getting at. And he wasn't working on any projects with her. Not that I knew of, anyway."

They thanked her and went back to the table. "This wasn't on Rushton's calendar, was it?" Starsky stopped when he noticed that a young man who was pushing a truck of books had stopped nearby and appeared to be listening. They both looked over at him, and he pushed the truck on past them. "Too early, y'think?"

"Could be." Hutch fingered the crescent moon on his necklace. "Let's think of reasons why they would've met and their meeting wouldn't have been put on Rushton's calendar."

Starsky went through the papers one-by-one. He tried to make it look like he was reading, but as he held each page up from the tablet, the sun shone through the paper and he looked for signs of white-out or any other alterations that may have been made. There didn't seem to be any. They had similarly inspected the Rushton calendar that Polly had shown them.

When Starsky shifted the tablet, a folded piece of paper fell out. He looked at it. It was someone's notes: "Need room 226 next Friday for library research class." It also had some notes about needing an overhead projector, things like that. He walked it over to Saudelli.

"Oh! Is that where that went! How strange! Thanks for finding it. We have to book that room."

"I see there's a check mark at the bottom," Starsky said, trying to get more information, just in case.

She looked. "Here? That's not a check mark. That's the letter "V." It's a note from Violet Krueger."

"You mean to say Violet Krueger wrote this? She didn't dictate it and have someone else write it?"

"No," she laughed a little then apologized. "I'd know Violet's handwriting anywhere."

"Would you happen to have anything that Donna Rushton wrote?" It was Hutch. Starsky hadn't even known he was standing there.

"Ummmm…" she thought. "Well, there is this." She pulled a large, very full notebook from a shelf and started looking through it. "This isn't very timely, but it is something that Donna wrote herself." She took hold of a small yellow transparent plastic tab, in which was a bit of paper that read, Memos. It's from this past Christmas. She made corrections to a party memo that had been sent out to librarians, then she had her assistant--"

"Polly," Starsky offered.

"No. Donna's had at least two assistants since Christmas. This was, uh, Ladonna, I think. Anyway, her assistant just Xeroxed the same memo with her notes on it and it was distributed." She pulled open the three handcuff-sized rings that held the papers and pulled this one out. "Is this helpful?"

Hutch and Starsky smiled at one another. "This is very helpful. Could we get a couple copies of this, please?"

**********

After they realized that Violet Krueger hadn't made those notations on the employee list, but Donna Rushton had, they set out to meet with Rushton. This time, they had a search warrant.

They learned that she had left the library early. Polly thought she'd heard her talking about meeting a friend for an early dinner at Ricardo's. Strangely enough, Ricardo's turned out to be the new incarnation of Andrea's Restaurant, which had been owned by Amboy, before it was sold to aid his court fees. The last time Starsky and Hutch had been there, they'd created a scene and were thrown out. This time, though, they'd be totally by the book, and as incognito as possible. The maitre d' was helpful, allowing them to check the reservation book and even to go inside and take a quick look around. Nothing. "This place reminds me.…"

"What, of last time we stormed through here?" Hutch asked.

"No. It reminds me that I'm hungry."

Hutch gave him a little push toward the door. "We'll have to stop somewhere and get something on the run tonight."

"Yeah, I know. Otherwise, Rushton'll be on the run and my full stomach won't mean a thing."

Later that evening, they stopped and got some burgers.

They drove out to Rushton's house in Woodland Hills. As they had done at Karen Jaffe's home, Starsky went around back and Hutch rang the doorbell and knocked. No one seemed to be home. There were no cars, no lights. There was one difference, though. When Starsky turned to leave the backyard, he encountered a German shepherd, probably belonging to Rushton.

It was as though he forgot how to breathe for a second. But then he said, "Nice doggie." And as soothingly as possible, without moving from the spot, he called his partner's name. "What's your name doggie?" He reached to pat its head and the dog growled at him.

Hutch came around the corner and saw the situation, but then disappeared again. Starsky tried to inch away, but the dog's growling made that impossible. His mouth was dry, but he continued to try and speak sweetly to the animal. Finally he said, "You know, doggie, that Starsky has a gun? You don't want to maul the nice man with the gun, do you?" Clearly, the dog knew that Starsky wouldn't shoot him.

And then in a blaze of sound and action, Hutch returned, yelling to Starsky and to the dog. "Come over here, Starsky!" he yelled as the dog ran toward Hutch. "Here ya go, boy!" He said, throwing a small, paper-wrapped package into the back yard. Thankfully, whatever it was got the dog's attention, and Hutch eased out the side gate after his partner.

"Is there a bathroom around here?" Starsky asked, his heart still pounding.

They knocked and examined the front of the house once more, wondering if the back-yard fracas had made anyone inside stir. No luck.

"Starsk, sometimes I just don't get it. I mean, you have this really dangerous job. Guys have cornered you--more than one guy--with knives, chains, whatever. And you just go at them. You do what you have to do. You've saved my ass more times than I can count. What is it about a dog that makes you so afraid?"

"Maybe…" Starsky said, breathing hard as they walked back to the Torino. "…maybe if I knew that, I wouldn't have so much trouble with dogs." Hutch agreed. When they got into the car, Hutch took a drink of his milk and a bite of hamburger. Starsky looked around. "Where's my burger? I know it was here. I remember taking--" He glowered at his partner. "You--you gave my dinner to that creature?"

"Starsk, I had to do something. You were in danger."

"And why didn't you toss him your burger?"

"At the academy I was taught that when time is of the essence you go for the nearest possible source of help. I reached in through the window and yours was the first one I saw. Simple as that. Your hamburger gave its life so you could live to eat other hamburgers in the future." He smiled.

"We're stopping at the first hamburger joint I see. And you better keep your eyes open, now." At a stoplight, Starsky looked over at him, pulled his sunglasses down a bit on his nose and looked at Hutch over the top of the glasses. "Be careful someone doesn't reach over and toss your burger to the wolves sometime."

"You wouldn't dare," Hutch said, and they both laughed.

"Y'know how the two of us been talkin' a little about maybe buying a house? Just remember, my position is 'not in my back yard' when it comes to dogs like that one."

"All right. Understood," Hutch said. "I'd care more about who was inside the house, anyway."

"So, partner, where else could this woman be?" They called in and put out an APB on her and her vehicle. They had sufficient reason to suspect that she could be armed and dangerous.

"Why don't we try the one location where we've ever seen her?" Hutch said, as he tried to grab Starsky's replacement hamburger. Starsky slapped his hand.

They stopped at some pay phones to call the station and then call Penny Hendricks. Someone had mentioned that Penny could've been the one Rushton was supposed to have had dinner with. Hutch fished in his pocket and eventually produced some change. He handed some to Starsky. "You got Hendricks' number? Why don't you call her? I'll call in, see if anything's up."

Starsky got into the booth beside Hutch's, put the coins in and dialed. He was just about to put the phone to his ear when he noticed that some fool had put ketchup on it. He hung up in time for his money to come back and leaned into Hutch's booth. "Got a napkin?"

Hutch made a little hand gesture at him but went on talking. Starsky didn't get it, so he asked again. "Starsk, you know it bugs me if people interrupt me when I'm on the phone."

"I know, I know. Do you have a napkin?"

"A what?"

"There's all this…junk smeared along the receiver in that booth." Finally, his partner understood and whispered for him to go back to the Torino. There were extra napkins from dinner. Oh, yeah, Starsky said to himself as he retrieved the napkins and returned to wipe off the phone.

He put the coins back in the slot, but this time one of them seemed to have gotten stuck on the way down. He pulled the change lever about a dozen times, and that did no good. He put the phone to his ear and got some inane recording about how he needed to deposit another ten cents. "Hey--you accepted that dime two minutes ago! What's wrong with it now?" He slammed a fist against the side of the phone.

"Phone abuse'll get you five to ten." Sometimes Starsky loved Hutch's calm voice. Other times, he didn't.

"The thing ate my dime. Perfectly good dime. Wouldn't let me make my call. Took the dime fine when there was ketchup all over the phone--" Hutch had stepped into the booth, so Starsky moved halfway out. "So what is it? You're supposed to either get ketchup in your ear, or the goddamn phone eats your money?" He kicked a rock, and it just missed the Torino's fender.

"Hello, Miss Hendricks," Hutch said. "This is Detective Hutchinson. I'm calling because my partner and I are trying to locate Donna Rushton. Have you seen her this evening by any chance?" Hutch looked at Starsky and shook his head. "Can you tell me if you and she were to have dinner together--. Oh, I see. No. If you could just contact us, that would be better. Don't want to unnecessarily alarm Ms. Rushton. Do you have our number? Right. And thank you again." He hung up the phone and, with an amazing slight of hand that Starsky'd never known his partner could manage, slid something into the waistband of his jeans before leaving the phone booth. Starsky fished it out. It was a dime. Of course. He put the dime in his pocket and they both got back into the car.

"Puttin' money in a guy's briefs? Sounds like a pay-off for something to me, Sergeant Hutchinson."

"Well then maybe, Officer, it sounds like what is." He smiled.

"Don't tell me I'm only worth ten cents, now."

"You'll get a lot more tonight, Starsk. You're worth a hell of a lot more than that."

Hutch rolled the window down all the way, rested his elbow on the frame.

"Okay. You're a killer librarian whose murdering days are numbered. The cavalry is closin' in. Where do you go? What do you do?"

Hutch just looked straight ahead. "That's the million dollar question, partner."

"Remember when we were in her office that one time? 'Member how she tucked that little black calendar book'a hers away when she saw us looking at it?"

"And she tried to distract us with talk about Violet Krueger. What was in that book? Think it was worth--?"

"Worth going back to the library to get before skipping town? And she made sure everyone knew that she'd be somewhere else tonight. Somewhere besides the library," Starsky said.

"It's really a shot in the dark."

"Well, if we get there soon enough, it won't be dark. And maybe we can avoid the shooting." They stopped at another pay phone and arranged to borrow Penny Hendricks' keys to the library.

They didn't tell her why they needed to get into the building, and they felt secure in the fact that she wouldn't call anyone to alert them that the police were on their way.

Finally, they made a brief radio call into Dobey to inform him of their plans. "We don't even know if anything's going down," Starsky said into the microphone. "She might not be there, and if she is, she may be alone and we can bring 'er in no problem."

"All right, but call for backup when you need it, you hear?"

"Ten-four, Captain." Hutch returned the car mic to its holder.

**********

The library was dark and appeared to be empty. The rows of tall shelves gave it a maze-like quality. Starsky had to be particularly on-guard because they might not be able to see their suspect coming. "'Five floors and a basement,' the lady said. Where was her office, again?"

"What makes you assume she'd be in her office?" Hutch asked. "This woman, and whoever else might be with her, has the run of the building. We don't know what she's doing, or where she might be doing it."

"But, if she and her pals were scared enough of us to try and blow us up, don't ya think they'd probably be in the 'wrap things up and get outta town' mode?" Starsky put his finger to his lips. "Shhhh."

"What is it?" Hutch asked.

"Nothing. Just shhhhh."

Rather than risking each going on a different floor and their losing communication with one another, they opted to start at opposite ends of each floor in turn. "She's got keys to all the office rooms. How do we get past that?"

"Have faith, buddy. We can do it. If we're really lucky, we'll hear her and her keys clanking around," Hutch said. A nod passed between them, and each ran cautiously to the east and west ends of the main floor. This floor had circulation and reference desks on the east end, where Starsky was. He didn't know if he was thankful that he didn't have to look around the darkened corners of all those rows of books, or if he was more worried because he had that much less to hide behind. He moved slowly, keeping his back to walls, dividers and the occasional cement pillar. We'll be on the fourth floor, and she'll be back on the first, he thought, wishing they'd had a chance to call for backup.

And suddenly, he heard a sound. The squealing scrape, probably of a chair against the floor. He got low and moved toward the sound, eyes and ears keenly focused, scanning for anything further. He could sense that he was getting closer to the source of that sound, and when assured that he was well concealed by a pillar, he eased his chin around the side to--. He jumped and his head jerked back, just missing the hard concrete.

"Don't ever do that to me again!" Hutch said in a harsh whisper, as he reholstered his gun.

Starsky's heart was pounding. "Any--" He took a couple deep breaths. "Anything?"

Hutch shook his head. "On up?"

"Yeah." Once at the door to the stairwell, they stood at each side of the doorway, guns drawn. Hutch gave a quick glance inside, nodded and they went in. This was one of Starsky's least favorite kind of stairwells to be walking into. There were about ten steps, then a corner to another ten steps. From the bottom of that first set of steps, you couldn't see up to the top.

Their communication for the next while would all be in very well-rehearsed, precise silence. Nods, small gestures, vibrations, sometimes even thoughts passed between them. As they found their way onto the second floor, Starsky couldn't help but wonder if Rushton worked alone, or if she had one or more accomplices. They'd established early on that she probably couldn't have committed the murders single-handedly. Even if she had a brilliant and evil mind, even if she were a master of martial arts and could have overpowered the victims, there had to have been another person to drive the victims' cars away.

This floor housed LP records, microfilm readers, and children's books. Quite the assortment. It was a strange dichotomy to be worrying about his partner's and his own safety and suddenly look over to see Harry Belafonte's bright, smiling face on an album jacket. As some of the shelves of albums were at eye-level, his instinct was to aim his gun, and he nearly did, threatening at least the image of some musician. How could he have thought Buddy Holly was the murderer? He allowed himself a brief, if strained, smile, a valve to let out some of the tremendous amount of built-up tension.

Slowly, carefully, they made their way to and beyond each floor. On the fourth floor, the one next to the top, when he and Hutch were nearly together in the middle of the room, he saw his partner snake around a corner of the book stacks, his body sloughing off a layer of grimy looking dust. He could feel how hard Hutch was trying not to sneeze.

Fifth floor, top of the building. This time, as they glanced at one another before separating, the eye contact was that much more intense. This floor probably represented High Noon. "I'll be there if you get into trouble," the glances said, and each man ran as quietly and steadily as possible to his prescribed end of the very large room. P through Z, Starsky thought as he pressed his back against the northwest corner wall. That's what he'd said days ago when Rushton had escorted them up to this very floor to conduct employee interviews. Call for backup before you go into something bigger than you can handle, Dobey had said. And yet, they hadn't. There hadn't been time.

As he moved stealthily around a corner, Starsky again thought of Rushton's office, which was room 501. She'd told them about how she aspired to be in the spacious corner director's office on the same floor. Starsky looked at the number on the nearest office to him--551. Damn, 501 was over in Hutch's corner. He shot a hard glance down from his side to the next, wishing he would see some sign of his partner's whereabouts and progress. He didn't, and he didn't have the time to wait until he did.

Even though they were in an urban area and there was a section of the roof behind him--a locked area most likely for workmen--he could hear no traffic sounds. The top corner of his back jeans pocket was temporarily caught on some unjointed piece of shelving, and when Starsky shifted to free himself the fastest way possible, the small squeak that the metal made seemed dangerously deafening. And again, the quiet returned, hanging in the stagnant air.

He turned a corner and had entered the Q range. And then R. Something ahead of him in the aisle caught his eye. A dark shadow, low to the ground. He'd nearly kicked one of those small, metal, wheeled step stools that was in the aisle, but managed to see and avoid it at the last moment. As he walked past, he noticed an embossed image of a woman holding a book on the black rubber top of the stool. She didn't look like any killers he'd ever met before. But then, she didn't really look like any woman he'd ever met before either. Maybe, if he stepped on the stool, he could see through the stacks, peep-hole-like, over the tops of some of the books.…

He never got to finish the thought. He heard a dull thud followed by a grunt, which he knew came from his partner. He moved toward the sound, his finger vibrating where it was perched along the body of the gun, above the trigger. Once he reached the row of U's, directly in front of room 501, he saw the something that was a very bad sign. A burly young man was walking into the room, holding and pointing what looked like Hutch's gun.

The door to the room was left open. That was good. Although there was a large, clear window in the front; the Venetian blinds had been drawn. That allowed both the suspects camouflage, but Starsky, who was on the other side, as well.

For the first time, he heard Rushton's voice. "He's not working alone. We have to find out where that other cop is."

He managed to glance into the room just beyond the end of the blinds before rushing out a few feet into one of the rows of books. He heard Rushton or her male accomplice peer outside, checking where Starsky had been standing seconds before.

"Nobody," the male voice said.

"Oh, god, how would you know?" Rushton said angrily. "Could be fifty of them out there and you wouldn't notice."

That was a piece of luck. Discord between the suspects. It could ultimately work in their favor. When he'd glanced into the room, he saw Hutch in a chair, and he seemed to be just coming to. Starsky's guess was that Rushton probably got his attention while her boy slugged him. Only Hutch, Rushton and the two-ton young accomplice were in there. It wasn't Shulman, but this man was certainly in the same league.

"You gonna let her talk to you like that?" It was Hutch's voice.

"Shut up!" Rushton yelled.

"You don't like it when she yells, do you? Why don't you tell me about Ray Salazar." Hutch was obviously speaking to the accomplice.

Starsky heard a slap, followed by a laugh from his partner. It wasn't a real laugh, and it was a very chancy thing to do, as it could get him more than just slaps from the guy.

And then he heard a bit of information that they hadn't received before when the kid said, "Aw, Ma." This was her son. None of the information on her had said she had any children.

"You shut up, too!" she yelled. "Come over here!"

Starsky heard some movement in the room. It was time to figure out and make his move.

"I'm nearly as good a shot as my son," she said. "Shame the Empty Copper Sea didn't work out."

"You won't take us alive, copper," her son laughed.

There was the sound of a chair being moved. "And then you could have saved so much trouble if you'd just taken that hint and backed off. You found out what kind of a man Gregory was. Was his death a loss of any kind, really?" Her condescending tone changed briefly. "You sit down, too!"

"What about Patton?" Hutch asked.

"Bastard was trying to get hush money out of me; somehow he'd gotten some information from Greg. Sam hadn't ever tried anything like that before, I could tell. Jaffe would've tried. Now, after you and your partner are eliminated, and little Violet is implicated, I can go on to get the directorship and no one has to know anything about my personal life." She started to laugh, and the son joined in. When Rushton's laugh deteriorated into some kind of cackling sob, Starsky knew it was the right time to move in. She'd no doubt regain her self-control shortly.

He ran up behind Rushton, knocking her down and causing her to drop the gun, which he kicked toward Hutch and away from the kid. She was wild with rage and tried to run out of the room. He grabbed her shoulder, but his hand slipped and he had a hold of the back of her jacket. He was aware of the fight going on between Hutch and her son across the small room. When he'd successfully tugged her back into the room, she squirmed to escape again, and the nearest thing to grab was her hair. He got a handful of the mighty beehive bun, but it came off in his hand. He threw it on the ground and retrieved her with a small amount of fuss, cuffed her hands behind her and sat her in a chair. "I should've set that bomb to go off sooner. Get rid of you and that gaudy red sports car of yours."

"Hey! You watch it!" Starsky said.

While Hutch had his gun in his hand, the son had shoved him against a wall that was covered with a white board. As the two of them struggled, the back of Hutch's shirt was erasing a marker-written economics lesson from the board. Hutch used a head butt followed quickly by some well-aimed kicks to bring sonny boy down. He cuffed him, sat him down next to his mother, and held his gun on them both. The kid had the same build and look as Shulman. It could've easily been Rushton's son they saw at the tavern that night.

"Mother and son killers. What'll we get next?" There was a phone in the room, and Starsky was glad to discover it could be used to dial an outside line. "Dobey said we should call for backup," he said, as he dialed and listened to the ringing. They couldn't be sure if there were others, connected to this duo or not. Maybe elsewhere in the building, maybe in the basement, there would need to be manpower to really check the premises. As he talked to the dispatcher, he heard Hutch reading the prisoners their rights.

After flipping a coin, it was determined that Hutch would go to the ground floor and meet the other officers. He turned to leave the room, but--"What the HELL is that?"

Starsky looked at what Hutch was pointing to.

"It's a disembodied hive o' hair. Don't worry. I think it's dead already."

When Hutch left the room, Starsky felt a great sense of relief. In the back of his mind, he knew there was still a chance that someone else was lurking in the building, but he suspected that they had the only two criminals cuffed and under his watchful eye. Soon the sound of sirens could be heard.

It was dark out now. The flashing lights entered through the room's outside window, reflections covering the whiteboard with random, pulsing red and blue color. "Hey," he looked over at the now dark-haired Donna Rushton. "We have this great romantic photo of you and Mr. Erlewine. It was taken, of course, before you bit him on the face." Hutch returned and leaned on the doorframe. "Gotta make sure they don't forget to get hold of that little calendar of hers." He leaned against the door where he and his partner could speak without being overheard.

The parking lot that had been so dark and empty when they arrived, now contained police cars, light, and people moving around.

Hutch said, "Y'did a good job, partner, taking down the woman while I was wrestling with the kid, Mr. Moose."

"Hey, I went after the one with the gun. She was more dangerous. An' she could'a been carrying a flame thrower or somethin' in that--"

"Hive of hair?" Hutch laughed, as Starsky turned the corner, now about a mile from the station.

"Hey, don't laugh. There are those fake pregnant bellies that shoplifters use. Why not detachable hair--store your entire arsenal. All your militia and beauty salon needs in one carry-all hive." At the next stoplight, he noticed that the people in the car beside them were looking at them because they were laughing so hard. He didn't care.

**********

As they walked over to the elevators, Starsky looked at his partner and commented, "That's a fine golf ball you've got growing on the side of your head."

Hutch winced, rubbed his head and asked, "You ever think of retiring or trying for a desk job? Leaving this stuff to the younger, less jaded guys?"

"Yeah, every time we wind up one of these."

"Ever feel like the two of us had better not ever retire?"

"Yeah, every time we wind up one of these," Starsky repeated. Hutch nodded and, now that they were alone in the elevator, reached over, threaded his fingers in Starsky's hair and rubbed the side of his head.

**********

It was the beginning of a four-day weekend for them, and Saturday morning. As Hutch dried himself after his shower, he said, "There's something I've been meaning to ask you, Starsk."

"Fire away."

"When we were in the library, two or three times I heard you asking if people could legally gain access to patrons' check-out records. Was there anything personal behind that question? Your love of Bigfoot stories, maybe?"

Starsky went over to his desk, opened a drawer and pulled out a book. He handed it to Hutch.

"The Joy of gay sex!" Hutch said. "I didn't know there was such a thing! And don't tell me--" He closed the cover and tilted the book up, no doubt to see the Bay City Public Library stamp in red. He set the book down, walked over to Starsky and gave him a hug, while he was just brimming with laughter. "You mean to tell me that some of your recent moves haven't been Starsky originals?" They kissed a terrific kiss, although they had a hard time keeping their lips together because they were both laughing so hard. "I'm…I'm just amazed that you were brazen enough to check it out!"

"Well," Starsky cocked his head. "I'm working on this case…. Checked out quite the assortment of books that day."

Hutch put his arm around Starsky's waist. "Okay, partner. We've got four days off in front of us. Should we start on page one, or--"

"I was actually a little worried that the title--" He noticed the confused look on Hutch's face, so he was a bit more specific. "I was kinda worried that the word 'gay' might make you uptight or something."

"Starsk."

Starsky was at once warmed and comforted in a big bear hug.

"Starsk, as I've said before, labels don't mean a thing. The way we make love, they call it gay sex. If there weren't a name for it, we couldn't find books like this one to give us ideas, right?" They kissed. "We love each other, and we want to be together. If anyone's going to label our whole relationship, it'll be us. Right?"

"Right," Starsky agreed.

"Now, back to this wonderful piece of literature you've borrowed here. Oh." He opened up the back cover. "When's it due? How much time have we got?" More laughter. "Since you've read it and I haven't, why don't you tell me which page you think we should start on."

Well, I've been thinking--" Starsky sucked an earlobe in between his lips, and then said, "I got this friend of mine I've been wanting you to meet."

"Oh, really?" Hutch said with a look that covered both delighted curiosity--and a little worry.

"Really." He flipped right to a page toward the end about toys. "Friend's name is 'Starsky Junior.' An' he's been looking forward to meeting you." He moved around so he was standing behind his partner. "That sound okay to you?"

Hutch nodded and finally let out an "Oh, yeah." He groaned from someplace so deep within him that it was tangible--Starsky actually felt the words roll along his own body, from his thighs to his groin.

Starsky dropped to his knees, letting the palms of his hands slowly follow his descent, moving from his partner's shoulders, to his back, past his ass. "Cracked any walnuts between these, lately?" he asked as he caressed each thigh, fingers eventually traveling in between them as Hutch separated his legs even more. He could hear his partner's breathing. "Close your eyes, babe," Starsky told him, before sucking a small ring of Hutch's ass into his mouth. He flicked his tongue over the skin before removing his mouth.

As he massaged the pale buttocks before him, he fought the surge of excitement that threatened to make this all end too soon. He drew his tongue in long swipes over his partner's ass. "I'm in the mood to eat some Hutchinson." His tongue tip drew along the crack. "That okay with you?"

Hutch didn't say anything, but when Starsky reached up and spread apart his ass cheeks, Hutch reached back to hold them apart. "That's my boy," Starsky whispered. First, he reached through his lover's legs, handling and pulling at the cock and balls that filled his hands. Hutch groaned, and Starsky saw his fingertips whiten a little, pulling his buttocks further apart. A real invitation, he thought, and when he licked the backs of Hutch's balls there was the most breathy "Yeeeessssss."

"This what you want?" There was no answer, but as his tongue traveled past the small asshole and then over it again, his partner made his feelings known as he bent forward to receive Starsky's tongue, his fingers loosening their grip on his ass. "My Hutch," he whispered, imagining for a moment the shock so many people would have were they to find the two of them like this. If anything, it made the moment, and the taste, sweeter.

Hutch pushed back against him a couple of times, but then turned around and took Starsky's hand and they walked toward the bed. He pushed the pillows up so he could lean on them, and sat up in the bed with his back against the headboard. Then, he put a pillow under his ass and pulled those incredibly long legs apart so an arm held each leg behind the knee. He spread his legs. "Now, Starsk. Easier, and I get to watch this way."

They had done this before, in bed and with one of them seated in a chair. Starsky got on his stomach, took deliberately tantalizingly quick tastes of the eager cock and balls, and then returned where he'd left off. When the tip of his tongue nudged at the puckered hole, Hutch's body jerked and the headboard slapped against the wall. When he started to look up, Hutch spoke. "No. No, it's okay. One of these days we'll get a padded headboard."

Starsky smiled, then continued. As always at this time, the opening seemed impossibly small, and completely uninviting to guests. Soon enough, the tiny folds of skin would loosen so he could suck on them, bringing about wonderful moans from his partner. He added his fingers to the game, rubbing the area just between Hutch's balls and asshole.

Finally, the passage opened enough for the tip of his tongue to enter, and when it did, Starsky could feel Hutch's strong thighs attempt to jump forward, held in place by both his partner's own arms and Starsky's shoulders. He knew that feeling. It was a combination of the involuntary push forward to get a deeper connection and some kind of fearful jerking away as though what was being done to you is too "naughty." But then your system slows to a roar, remembering who it is who's doing this to you. So when you do push forward, and your partner does go deeper, it's all the more stimulating.

"Mmmmmm," Starsky hummed, and when he felt his tongue accepted more deeply, he felt a warm hand on the back of his head, stroking his hair. He hummed again.

When the opening was about the diameter of a dime, Starsky lapped his tongue back and forth along the crease, from the root of Hutch's balls nearly to the small of his back, and back again, the gaping target, like a small but tasty indentation in his path.

He looked up at Hutch, but didn't have to speak. As they did in some of the scariest, most intense times at work or off duty, they'd found that while loving one another, in their most intense times in the bedroom, they could also communicate nonverbally. Did Hutch need more of his partner's tongue? Or now did he want his fingers? He saw Hutch reach into the drawer of the nightstand. Not only did he pull out the bottle of lube, but Starsky thought it was very brazen and very erotic that he pulled out the dildo as well. He was ready tonight. No "Oh, I forgot about that," which would've been acceptable had he decided he'd rather try it some other time.

He handed both items to Starsky, who poured forth some lube and did what he sometimes called "the Dance of the Fingers." The first finger was accepted easily, and Hutch motioned for a second finger almost immediately. Starsky scissored his fingers and felt Hutch reposition himself. He looked up to see if his partner was comfortable, and the smile he was given told him that he was. Now he held his fingers close together, plunging them in, them pulling them nearly out, then plunging again.

"Starsk…"

He held still and looked up. He felt Hutch's ass muscles tighten around his fingers as he tried to understand what his partner was saying.

"Shhh, shhh," is what it sounded like. But then he heard and understood it. It made him smile. "J-Junior. Starsky Junior."

"You sure?"

Hutch nodded, and Starsky coated the dildo with lube then held the tip of it against his partner's asshole. He ran the tip around the outside edge until Hutch couldn't take it anymore, and he felt those long fingers grasping at him. "Okay, partner. Allow me to introduce--" After a couple of inches, Hutch tightened up. This wasn't unusual when they were working without toys, and Starsky knew how much his partner wanted it, so he kissed the back of Hutch's thigh, rubbed the side of his face against his skin. He saw Hutch reach forward and take hold of his own cock, pulling it out of the way--though erect as he was, it hadn't been that much in the way.

Starsky smiled and the next few inches of the toy were accepted so easily. it wasn't as though he was pushing, as much as Hutch's body was just swallowing it, pulling it in of its own accord. Starsky felt a drop of pre-cum dribble from the tip of Hutch's cock, and he laughed as he said, "May I introduce Starsky Junior?"

"I think," Hutch said, squirming as Starsky began manipulating the toy. "I think I can say that he and I have now been 'introduced'." Hutch's big smile seemed to occasionally distort into an expression of pain, but Starsky knew his partner's expressions and this wasn't pain. He knew his partner and all of his expressions by heart. "What the hell are you doing?"

Starsky laughed. "I'm doin' what I know you like. Havin' fun with ya." His right hand fondled Hutch's chin, as his left kept up the tempo down below. They kissed, and when Starsky felt his partner's quivering lips beneath his, the urgency in his own body grew. His knuckles brushed up against Hutch's balls, and even that small amount of contact elicited a deep moan. After another kiss, Starsky finally made his own needs known. "Lover..." He lay with his chest atop his partner's, their mutual sweat making it difficult for him to stay there. His knee took over driving the dildo and he took hold of each side of Hutch's face, kissing him and speaking into his mouth with every other breath. "I'm dyin' here. I gotta be inside you…."

A large hand reached between them to grasp his erection. Hutch leaned his head back and breathed hard. "Let's retire the starter. It's time you and I got down to business." With Starsky's help, he removed the dildo and tossed it aside. "Come on…c-come on, Starsk."

Starsky loved to grasp those large, strong thighs, a hand on the inside of each, and then separate them. He loved to do that, and he loved to feel that Hutch was spreading his legs, helping him, wanting him. So much more intimate, so much better than what he had had with women. Each line on his partner's face held meaning, he could read every gasp, every shake of the head.

It was a shocking sensation, one Starsky had never experienced before. His partner's body was completely ready for him, like a glove, made to measure. The heat and tightness were there, but the entry was swift, so swift that he felt as though his body would enter his partner's, there was no stopping him. They would be totally joined. And then as quickly as he had sailed right in, Hutch flexed his ass muscles sending a fiery jolt through Starsky's body. It was as though he'd been very hot and took a running jump into a swimming pool. Hutch's body reacted and it brought him immense pleasure to see and feel his big partner squeeze him between his thighs and then shift so that he offered Starsky easier access.

Hutch must've noticed the new experiences Starsky was having. "Tell me what you're feeling."

He felt the wrinkles in the sheets beneath his knees, the sweat on the back of his neck. These weren't the kinds of things Hutch wanted to hear, though. He leaned forward and whispered. "I feel you, blue eyes. I feel your ass under my fingers, and I feel your body taking my cock." That sharp current shot up his back again. He laughed as well as he could, though he was having trouble breathing. "Oh, man. I feel your ass opening up to me, one second taking what I give you…" He thrust forward, deliberately squeezing Hutch's balls against his stomach. "…an' the next second, I feel you grab me," he kissed his partner. "And you tug and I can feel my balls tightening, feel you pullin' the cum outta me."

"Oh, yeah?" Hutch asked. "Whadya mean? Like this?" And then Hutch was running the show. He arched his back, his body swallowing the maximum possible, then pushed up against Starsky's body, squeezed and pulled on his partner's cock. His body was so beautiful--pale, blond pubic hair, and then nothing but smooth Hutchinson flesh the rest of the way up, until his eyes met his partner's eyes and he leaned forward.

His lover's eagerness brought him to the edge. He moved his hands underneath Hutch's ass and held on so tight that he knew there'd be bruising. He sat up and began pounding into him, deep, quick strokes as he reached forward, grabbing and pumping Hutch's cock like it was the stick shift on a formula one race car. He saw nothing, and all he could hear was himself grunting with each in-stroke, and his partner saying, "Yes," softly, intermittently, and deliciously. Which of them came first? He hardly ever could tell. They shared a post-climax kiss, during which they held each other so tight for fear they'd fall from the earth. Starsky's fingertips glided along his partner's face as Hutch pulled him forward, burying his face in Starsky's hair and kissing the top of his head. The strong arms that were holding him relaxed and he sat up, intent on staying inside his lover's body for the time being. Looking down, he saw the white proof of their lovemaking intermingled with and clinging to the dark hair on his stomach. Hutch's eyes were closed but he was smiling. Starsky rubbed his hands from Hutch's knees, which were on either side of him, down to the ankles and feet. "You know what they say about guys with big feet," he said.

"What do they say?" Hutch asked, his eyes now partially open. "And you better not say 'big socks'."

"No way, blue eyes." He leaned forward again, careful not to rest his entire body weight on his partner. "Big socks is not what I was gonna say." And then any doubt he may have had that you can laugh as you kiss the person you love more than anyone in the world were put to rest. That's just what they did.

**********

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"Lie Down Like a Sigh," by Lucy

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