"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."
"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.
"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. 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--"
"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.
|SHSVS Home||||||Zebra3 Productions||||||Episode Main Page|