"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."
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.
"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.
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," 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?"
"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."
"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'."
"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."
"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.
"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?"
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?"
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