The young woman was bored, even resentful of the long meeting she was forced to attend. Kansas born and bred, the now petulant girl was the epitome of classic all-American beauty. Her face was oval in shape, with a high forehead and naturally arched eyebrows that lent an air of haughtiness to her expression no matter what her mood. Her eyes were large and moss green, her hair a white-blonde sheathe. She stood 5'11" tall in her bare feet and, at twenty-one years old, was worth millions of dollars a year to the large group of businessmen who surrounded her at the conference table.
Restlessly, she fiddled with her gold pen while her agent whispered to her reassuringly. "Marsha, honey, just a few more to go. Hang in there."
The distinguished looking man at the head of the table observed the brief conversation between the girl and her agent and got to his feet. "Why don't we all take a short break? We've been reviewing these contracts for over two hours now, and I'm sure Miss Wells would appreciate a moment to freshen up. We've finished with the preliminary paperwork anyway, and all that remains are the main terms and conditions of the binding contract. Let's break for twenty minutes and meet back here."
Marsha rose in a hurried manner and headed for the door, calling over her shoulder as she went, "Ben, see if you can find me a cold Tab, would you? I can't drink that warm shit anymore."
Her agent frowned a little at her language. "Sure, baby, sure. Now don't wander off, okay? Twenty minutes means twenty minutes."
"Whatever." Without another glance, she headed out the door in search of the ladies' room. She'd just spotted it when she felt a large, heavy hand grip her shoulder and another hand wrap itself around her mouth, extinguishing the scream that rose in her throat.
"Come on, Detective. You know how to do this. Spread 'em out. Come on."
Starsky groaned under the weight anchoring his arms over his head, but tried to obey the order. "Oh, you son-of-a-bitch! You're a sadist. Just how long do you think you can keep me pinned here?" he asked, inching his legs farther apart.
"As long as I want. I can keep you here all day long and make you writhe," the breathy voice answered.
"You'd love that, wouldn't you?"
"Uh, huh. About as much as you would. Now spread 'em out."
Starsky did, spreading his legs wide and raising his knees a little higher. "Now. Now ya gonna quit torturing me and get down to business?"
His blond-haired lover laughed throatily, before kissing him deeply and slipping his hardened girth slowly into the hungry portal he'd been teasing so beautifully. "How's this, baby? This what you wanted?" Hutch asked unnecessarily, starting a deep undulation guaranteed to drive his partner wild.
"'Bout damn time," Starsky groaned out, before speech was no longer possible and he gave himself over to the delicious sensations rocking his frame.
Long moments later, both men lay on the messy bed, spent and sated, content to let their heartbeats return to normal while holding each other tightly. A few strands of Hutch's dampened hair were begging to be brushed from his eyes, so Starsky did, then pulled the happy face closer to kiss it again. "If that was your idea of a quickie before work, we better look for new jobs and a new boss. We're definitely going to be late."
"Not if we shower together," Hutch all but laughed out. "Besides, with you at the helm of the Tomato I have no doubt we'll get there with minutes to spare."
"We gotta get out of bed first," Starsky murmured, wishing it was their day off. "I'll go if you will."
"On three?" Hutch asked, still feeling ridiculously happy.
Starsky got up on two and reached a hand down. "Come on, you're not getting your back washed unless you move your ass."
Hutch grabbed the outstretched hand and got to his feet. Both cast a regretful look at the large bed with its tangled sheets and blankets. "Next day off, we don't leave it, okay?" Hutch asked seriously.
"Okay," Starsky readily agreed. "Our next day off we'll stay in bed all day long, but now we gotta go to work."
An hour later, freshly shaved and showered, both men were seated at their joint desk sharing a cup of coffee. The last few work-weeks had blended together as they'd spent long hours on the street wrapping up two cases at once. The daily grind of categorizing statements and preparing reports had taken a serious back seat to their field work, and today they had promised each other they'd spend a few hours on the boring but necessary paperwork that was littering their desk, before Dobey's temper went into overdrive. Then they could hit the streets for their regular patrol.
"Starsk? I need the Sorenson statement. can you hand it to me?"
"I'd be happy to hand it to you if I had it, but I don't. It's on your side."
"No, it isn't."
"Yes, it is."
"Starsky--I have my side of the desk mainly organized now, and I'd know if the statement was here."
"I'm tellin' you, I don't have it!"
"All right, you two, enough of your bickering. I have the Sorenson statement, and it wasn't easy to retrieve from that garbage dump you call a desk!" The partners sat up a little straighter as their captain addressed them. They were long accustomed to Dobey's quick entrances to the squadroom from his adjoining office. "The statement can wait, though. I need you two in my office; a new case came in."
Starsky was the first to bounce from his chair, and was halfway to the office before Hutch had returned the file in his hand to a manila folder and rose himself. Once inside, they seated themselves casually in the chairs in front of Dobey's desk, Starsky even daring to rest his feet on the edge of it.
"You comfortable, Starsky?" Dobey asked in his most put-upon tone.
"Very, Cap'n. now what's the new case?" Starsky stretched out his legs a little farther, ignoring the look Hutch was sending him.
"Have you two ever heard of Marsha Wells?" Dobey asked as he fumbled through paperwork on his desk.
The detectives glanced at each other, then Hutch answered for both of them. "Nope, never have. Should we know her?"
"You'd know her if you were a female between the ages of twelve and sixty. She sells more cosmetics than any model in the country and was on the cover of more than thirteen magazines last year alone." Dobey grabbed two magazines from a stack of files and tossed them across the desk. "This is Marsha Wells."
Both men whistled appreciatively at the pictures of the stunning blonde, who posed with a seductive pout to her lips. Starsky spoke first. "Now that's a pretty girl."
"I'd say that's an understatement, partner." Hutch was studying both covers and noting the differences as well as the similarities to the shots. "Marsha Wells is involved in the new case, Captain?" He asked while thumbing through one issue.
"Marsha Wells is the case. She's missing. Her agent thinks she's met with foul play, but the uniforms on the scene couldn't turn up any evidence of that."
"When did she go missing, Cap?" Starsky was looking over Hutch's shoulder as he spoke, taking in the pictures of the missing girl.
"Late yesterday afternoon, in the middle of a contract signing. They were on a break, and her agent thought she was going to the ladies' room. She never came back to the meeting. Now, this woman is twenty-one, and we have no evidence that anything violent may have happened to her, so for all we know she's off on a spa trip, or just pulling some kind of stunt with her contract." Dobey tossed a few more magazines to the men. "Since she's a high profile person, we're not taking any chances. I want you two to start hunting down leads immediately. This is now your number one priority."
"So, I guess all those reports we owe you will just have to wait a while, huh?" Starsky smiled hopefully.
"You know, if you would just do your paperwork daily, this would never be an issue." Dobey started to warm up to a real lecture, but the calm looks on the faces of his detectives told him he'd be wasting his breath. "Yes, Starsky, your reports will have to wait awhile. Here's the initial statement from the agent." He handed a file to Hutch. "Now get going."
It took little time for both men to put their jackets on, close the open drawers of their desk and hurry from the squadroom. Starsky was openly relieved to have escaped the boring morning he had anticipated. Clapping Hutch on the back, he led the way to the parking lot. "Reprieved! And by the Captain himself." Starsky was whistling as he unlocked the door of his well-loved Ford, got in and reached across the passenger seat to unlock Hutch's door. He had the engine started before Hutch was fully seated, and the car in reverse at the same time his partner managed to get his door closed. "So, where do you want to start?"
Hutch was examining the report Dobey had given them. "Well, might as well start with her agent. See if we can get some additional information from him, then we can check out that attorney's office where the girl was last seen."
"Okay. Address?" Starsky asked putting his sunglasses on.
"Well, Starsk, looks like we're going out of our territory."
"Yeah? Where to?"
"Hm, if I'd've known we were going there this morning, maybe I would'a ironed my shirt." Starsky glanced down briefly at his lightly rumpled, very comfortable t-shirt.
"Do you even own an iron?" Hutch asked, laughing a little.
"Sure, I use it for melted cheese sandwiches once in a while." Starsky flashed a grin. "If you're real good, I'll make you one sometime."
"Thanks, Starsk, you sure do know how to spoil me."
"Nothing but the best for my partner. Now, where exactly in Beverly Hills am I heading to?"
Hutch gave the address and settled back against the seat to peruse the scanty information in the file. He also glanced again at the model's photograph, fixing her features in his brain. The girl was undeniably gorgeous, but the careful studied poses for the camera obliterated any trace of personality or character in her face. He put the photo back in the file. "I wonder what kind of girl she is?"
"A rich one I'd bet." Starsky was calmly dodging slower cars in his normal zigzag approach to city driving. "I read once where those top models can make five hundred dollars or more an hour."
"What do we make again?" Hutch asked rhetorically, quickly bracing a hand against the dashboard in defense of another fast lane change.
"Not even close."
"That's what I thought. Good thing we don't care about money."
"Oh, yeah, that's what I think every time we go to the bank and cash our checks." Starsky's laughter was infectious, and both men enjoyed a few minutes of mirth before Starsky seriously considered Hutch's earlier question. "I suppose she's probably a little stuck-up. Face like that--she's probably had people falling at her feet all her life."
"That's just speculation on your part; she could be perfectly nice and not at all stuck-up."
"Hutch, you asked me to speculate."
"I'm just saying it's hard to know."
"Okay, maybe she's as sweet as sugar and as innocent as a baby, or maybe she's a conceited prig, but neither one really matters much unless it leads to some idea about where she may be or what may have happened to her. Let's hope her agent can fill in some blanks."
Finding parking on the narrow street where the discrete office building was located took patience, but eventually Starsky found an open slot to inch into. Both men briefly admired the cleanliness of their surroundings and the manicured shrubbery, before heading inside the posh suite of offices. A large receptionist's station was located in the front of the main lobby. A middle-aged, professionally dressed woman greeted them pleasantly from behind the high desk.
"May I help you, gentlemen?"
"Yes, ma'am, we'd like to speak to Ben--um, Ben...?" Starsky looked at Hutch for help.
"Ben Straus," Hutch supplied smoothly. "We don't have an appointment, but could you please let Mr. Straus know that Detectives Hutchinson and Starsky are here to follow up on a complaint he filed at our precinct?"
"Yes, of course. Miss Wells' disappearance has us all very concerned." The receptionist reached for the phone, dialed and whispered a few words. "Mr. Straus will be out momentarily. Perhaps you'd like to take a seat." The sweep of a manicured hand indicated a small grouping of chairs.
"Thanks," Starsky responded, smiling briefly before walking with Hutch toward the soft lobby seats. They didn't have a chance to sit down, though, as a loud voice beckoned from the lobby corridor. "I'm Ben Straus. Come on back to my office."
The partners followed the agent down a short hallway until they reached a large double-door entryway. They were led inside an office decorated in chrome and glass, all polished to mirror finish. The furnishings were sparse and sleek, but contained a few low slung, soft-backed chairs, a small sofa and a large desk. "Sit down, please. Have you heard anything? Turned up any leads or clues, whatever you call them?" The agent's voice was still loud and unquestionably nervous.
"No, Mr. Straus, we haven't." Starsky tried to find a comfortable position in the strange chair while he spoke. "My partner and I were just given your report to investigate. We came here first to talk to you and get some further information before we proceed."
"I don't know what more I can tell you that I didn't tell the officers who came out when I called yesterday."
Hutch sat forward a little. "We'd like to review the facts you reported and ask you a few more questions about Miss Wells, if that's okay."
"That's fine, that's fine. What can I tell you?" The agent moved restlessly from his desk chair to perch on the edge of the desk itself.
"You told the officers on the scene that you and Miss Wells were in Bay City to attend a contract signing meeting at the offices of Harrington, Burke and Clay, the attorneys representing Lady Fair, Incorporated. Is that correct?" Like his partner, Hutch was struggling to get comfortable as he spoke.
"Sorry about the chairs. The dumb-assed decorator my secretary hired thought the room needed an eclectic look, so I'm stuck with chairs no one can sit in without their backs breaking." The detectives nodded in agreement before Straus answered. "Yes, that's correct. Marsha and I were there to sign her new contracts."
"You said new?" Starsky asked. "does that mean a renewal of an old contract, or was this a new deal for her altogether?"
"Lady Fair is brand new, although I've been workin' the deal for eight months now. Lady Fair is the top of the game. The best of the best. This is an exclusive contract, too. One year where they don't use another model for any of their cosmetic ads--print or television--and Marsha doesn't model for anyone else."
"Is that an unusual kind of contract?" Hutch wondered. "I mean, you said you worked the deal for eight months."
"Yes, it's unusual. An exclusive like this is a risk for both sides, so it doesn't happen that often."
Starsky gave up trying to stay seated and asked while rising, "What're the risks?"
"If the campaigns don't fly with the public, the company is stuck with no other choices for a year. And if the model should be offered another deal--one she or he really wants--they can't take it because they're on an exclusivity clause." Straus loosened the knot of his knitted tie before continuing. "Detectives, how is knowing about the contract going to help you find her? I mean, I'm not trying to tell you your business, but shouldn't you be out there looking for her?"
"Mr. Straus," Hutch began.
"Ben, call me Ben. I'm not the formal type."
"Ben," Hutch went on. "At this point we have no evidence that a crime was committed or that Miss Wells is in any danger."
"What do you mean? She's gone! She never came back to finish signing the most important contract of her career. You don't know Marsha; her career is everything to her. She wouldn't have just walked out."
Starsky placed a light hand on the troubled agent's shoulder. "Ben, we're going to do everything we can to find out where she is, but we've seen things like this before. Not with famous models maybe, which does concern us, but sometimes people just decide to take a little vacation without telling anyone about it. She could've been mad, she could've been gettin' cold feet about the signing. Legally, we can't even put out an APB on her until twenty-four hours have passed, since she's an adult and we have no evidence that she was kidnapped or that any crime occurred."
"Twenty-four hours before you can do anything?"
"That's not quite true," Hutch interjected quickly. "We are here right now to talk to you, and we're starting an investigation. Miss Wells is a high profile person, and so the risk that she could be a crime victim is greater. We just wanted to point out that it could be nothing at all, and she'll be calling you any minute."
"Something happened to her, I'm telling you!"
"Okay, just take a breath. Let's start with the people at the meeting. We'll need their names, addresses and phone numbers if you have them. Also, did Miss Wells know any of them personally, or just from a business standpoint?" Hutch found a pencil in his jacket pocket and accepted the small pad of paper Starsky handed him.
"My secretary can give you a list of names and numbers." The agent moved to his desktop phone. "I don't have home addresses, and you already know the office building they work out of."
"That is the attorney's office." Starsky pointed out. "What about the company itself; where is Lady Fair located?"
"Their corporate headquarters is in New York, but they have a field office we deal with here in town."
"In Beverly Hills?" Hutch clarified.
"Okay, could you please ask your secretary to add that address to the list? What about her family? Close friends? Can you tell us anything about them and how we can reach them?"
"She doesn't have any real close friends that I know of. There are some other models she shops with sometimes, but no real friends. As for her family, she'd never talk about them. All I know is that she ran away from some farm in Kansas when she was seventeen and hitchhiked her way here. I don't even know the name of the town."
"We'll need all of those other girls' names; they may know something, even if they aren't good friends. Can you add those, too?" Starsky asked.
"Yeah, no problem." He dialed his secretary's extension. "I'll tell you where you should start, though. You should start with her no-good boyfriend."
The partners glanced at each other, as they waited for the man to give his secretary the list of instructions. Once he hung up the phone, Starsky spoke. "What do you mean, her 'no-good boyfriend'? You think he'd harm her?"
"I don't know--I've never trusted him. He thinks he owns her. That she's his personal property, and she listens to almost everything he says and believes it. Even the bullshit."
Hutch tried to sit up a little straighter, "Can we have his name and address, as well?"
"Sure. He's real easy to find, but you'd better take some cop cars with you and a lot of handcuffs before you go see him."
Starsky had been looking at Hutch, but he spun his head around at the agent's words. "Now, why would we need to do that, Ben? This guy's a criminal?"
"No, not in the way you're thinking. His name is Anthony Ivey, and he runs the hottest photography studio in the city, maybe even the country. He makes his real money doing advertising shots; the fashion editorials are what give him his cache, though." Straus noticed the nearly identical expressions of confusion the detectives were wearing. "Advertising, as in breakfast cereal, cars, cheese, anything the manufacturer wants to sell to the American public, Ivey or his top assistant photographs it for print. Fashion editorials don't pay nearly as well, but that's where the glamour is and the shots where you get your name under the picture in the glossy rags."
Hutch ran a hand through his hair, flipping it out of his eyes. "But you said he's involved in illegal activity?"
"Not exactly, but if you visit him unannounced, you'll find plenty of illegal substances around. I'm talking about drugs. The studio is closed to the public, and there's always plenty of coke and pills on the premises to keep his already jittery, sleep-deprived models, up and alert. They work insane deadlines over there. That's what I was talking about."
"Okay. Listen, Ben, you've given us enough to start with, but we may need to come back and see you. Would you mind adding your own home number and address to that list?"
"Sure, sure. Whatever you need, I just want ya to find the kid. I'll go get the list." The men watched as Straus hurried from the office. Starsky sat on an edge of the desk and leaned over until his arms were resting on the sides of Hutch's chair.
"Well, buddy, whatcha think?"
"I think I'm stuck."
"In the chair. To the chair." Hutch wiggled a little pathetically. "Starsk, help me would ya? I can't get out of this monstrosity. I think my back locked up."
Starsky was laughing, despite the glare coming from his partner, as he reached under Hutch's elbows and helped heave him to his feet. Hutch couldn't swallow back a groan.
"That thing should be registered as a torture device! Now my back really hurts."
Starsky placed a warm palm on Hutch's lower back and dropped his voice so it was barely above a whisper. "Not to worry, I'll take care'a that tonight, okay?"
"Is that a promise?" The look of pain was gone from Hutch's face.
"That's a promise."
They separated casually when they heard the agent's returning footsteps. The man looked out of breath, as he came back to the desk and handed Starsky a sheet of paper.
"Here it is. You'll let me know when you know anything?"
"Of course, and if Miss Wells contacts you, please call us at this number." Hutch handed him a business card.
After shaking hands with the worried man, they left the office and headed back to the car. "Where first?" Hutch asked as Starsky pulled away from the curb.
"Huggy's. I'm hungry, and maybe he's got some more information about this Ivey character. We can eat and talk at the same time."
"Okay, I could go for some lunch, and since you didn't iron your shirt, we better not eat in Beverly Hills."
Hutch enjoyed the light slap delivered to his thigh, especially when it turned into a caress. It was brief, though, as both returned to thoughts of the case on the drive to their favorite hangout.
The Pits was running at its normal level of chaos for this time of day. The neighborhood establishment did a brisk lunchtime business, even though the food was sometimes negligible in taste. It was, however, cheap and plentiful. In addition, a colorful crowd of strays and regulars made for an interesting meal.
Starsky spotted an open booth near the back and led the way to it. Both men waved at Huggy who was busy at the bar, just to let him know they were there. Starsky scooted alongside the worn, leather-covered booth bench first, leaving the end corner for Hutch. Hutch sat down with a small wince and reached a hand behind his back to press against a defiant muscle.
"Back still hurtin' ya?" Starsky asked, concerned.
"No, not really, just a twinge."
"You know, partner, between your trick back, the colds you've been getting all year, and that occasional sore throat that you try to hide when you have it, well--I'm beginning to think that I better start takin' better care of you. Maybe pay more attention to what you're eatin' and how much sleep you're getting." Starsky's tone was teasing but his smile was sincere.
"Very funny, buddy," Hutch laughed out. "I'm not sure a change in my diet would do a lot for an occasional sore back."
"Maybe not, but it might help the colds if you started eating a real healthy breakfast or something in the morning."
"I do eat a healthy breakfast most of the time," Hutch argued, embarrassed, "maybe not on the mornings we're running late, but otherwise."
"You eat a bowl of rocks or something terrible from that blender you love." Starsky made a shuddering motion. "I'm talking about eggs, and oatmeal."
"You'd be joining me in eating this healthy breakfast?"
"Well, I'd help you make it."
"Help him make what?"
Both men looked up at the question and saw Huggy, who had made no noise on his approach and was now preparing to squeeze into the booth.
"Nothin' really, Hug. How's it goin'?" Starsky worked his way farther over to give Hutch room to move down for Huggy.
"It is goin' spectacularly, my brothers. Now to what do I attribute the nature of your visit? Are you in the mood for a tasty Huggy special, or perhaps I can tempt you with one of the fine entrees my new chef has been worrying himself over."
"What kind of entrees?" Hutch asked suspiciously.
Huggy waved his arms expansively, "The kind designed to delight and tantalize the most discerning of palates!"
"I'll have a cheeseburger," Starsky said with finality.
Hutch smiled and raised his index finger, "Make it two."
"Do I look like a waiter to you two no-taste bums?" Huggy shook his head indignantly. "I'll see if I can send an available waitress to your table post-haste, however." He moved to get up, but Starsky stopped him.
"Hang on a sec, Hug. We wanna ask you something before you get our orders squared away."
"You always do." The bar proprietor relaxed back against the seat. "Well, lay it on me."
"What do you know about a man named Anthony Ivey?" Hutch asked. "He's a photographer in Beverly Hills."
"You mean the dude that owns Sizzle?"
"Sizzle?" Both detectives looked confused, and Starsky volunteered, "That's not the name Straus gave us."
"He didn't give us a name, Starsk, just the address," Hutch replied, grabbing his notepad. "Go on, Huggy. What do you know about him, or his place?"
"Are you askin' if he dabbles on the dark side?"
"Come on, Hug," Starsky looked up as he spoke, "spill it."
"Well, I know that ol' Tony runs himself the chicest photography studio going, and he isn't always particular about the ages of the models he uses."
"So? There's nothing illegal about using underage models," Hutch began, but Huggy broke back in.
"There is when their mamas and their daddies don't know nothin' about it, unless I'm most mistaken."
Huggy anticipated the next question. "And before you ask, I ain't talkin' about no kiddie porn, least of all none that I ever heard 'bout. All I know is that he signs up a certain amount of runaways without providing them with any adult supervision, and perhaps he's been known to provide chemical persuasion to keep them happy and posing for him."
Hutch rubbed his eyes against the smoke in the bar. He and Starsky shared a glance, and Hutch knew his partner was thinking the same thoughts. "Huggy. This is the second time in one morning that we've heard about illegal activity in what we now know is the hottest studio in California. You want to explain to two confused cops how this has gone unnoticed by the Beverly Hills Vice Squad? Or the press?"
"The press? Hutch, you're smarter than you look, even I know that, but that was one dumb question. The press means advertising. Those dudes are all sleepin' in the same bed, and they're not goin' to say nothin' about nothin'."
"Okay, but no one has ever leaked a word to the police?" Starsky's tone was justifiably doubtful. "That's hard to believe, Hug."
"Believe it or not, this is just the word on the street--or the street as it travels to our fair town. I'm just passing on my knowledge as you asked me to do. I claim no responsibility on its accuracy. Now, can I go get a waitress to take your orders, or do you wish to converse further?"
"No, go ahead and get her, we're starved." Starsky watched as Huggy walked off, but quickly he called him back. "Hey, do us a favor?"
"But of course."
"See what else you can find out on the quiet okay? Anything about Ivey or the studio."
"I'll see what I can do." Huggy started off again, but his patience was tried when Starsky called him again. "Yes!"
"Make sure the burgers are cooked medium-rare, okay?"
Neither detective could understand what Huggy was mumbling as he made his way to the bar."
Three hours later, the detectives were exiting the offices of Harrington, Burke and Clay. They had questioned everyone who had been present at the meeting from which the model had disappeared; even the floor receptionist and the building's janitorial staff were thoroughly interviewed. The process had been time consuming, but other than matching some factual time information already gathered by the police officers that had been called in after the disappearance, the questioning had yielded almost no new information.
"Sun feels good," Starsky commented as the heavy door closed behind them. "They always keep those office buildings way too air conditioned." Hutch nodded, as he removed his hands from his pockets to turn down his jacket collar. He had worn it up with his jacket zipped against the cool interior air. Starsky noticed a faint rush of goose- bumps on his neck as Hutch unzipped the light material partway.
"You're doin' a nice imitation of a popsicle. Just how cold were you in there?"
"Pretty damn cold. It felt like Minnesota in January." Hutch jammed his hands back in his jacket pockets.
"Maybe it's the remnants of that virus you were fightin' last week."
"You weren't cold in that meat locker?" Hutch asked indignantly. "That air conditioner must have been set at fifty degrees."
Starsky shook his head and smiled a little at the exaggeration. "Hey, what time is it?" he asked, changing the subject before Hutch really started sputtering.
"I legitimately forgot to put it on this morning."
Hutch shook his head a little and glanced at his watch. They had almost reached the car. "It's nearly three-thirty." Their call sign was being spoken from the dashboard radio and could be heard even though the doors weren't open yet. "You going to grab it from your side?" Hutch asked his partner, who was fumbling with the door lock.
"Yeah, I got it."
"Zebra Three," Starsky recognized the dispatcher's voice immediately, "patch through from Captain Dobey."
"Okay, Mildred." Starsky sat down, holding the radio handset with his left hand, while his right one stretched across the seat to unlock Hutch's door. Hutch had one leg inside the car when Dobey's voice assaulted them."
"Where are you two? You haven't radioed in all day!"
"We're working on our top priority case, as you told us to do when you gave it to us this morning, Cap'n, remember?" Starsky raised his brows questioningly at Hutch who shrugged his shoulders in return.
"Well, I need you in here, now. The feds have stuck their noses in, and we're going to have a meeting in my office at four."
"Oh, that's just great," Hutch muttered under his breath, making a reach for the handset, but Starsky held on to it.
"Cap'n, just how the hell did the feds get involved so fast? It hasn't been twenty-four hours yet, and Hutch and me just started diggin'."
"Come in, Starsky. I'll explain it to you when you get here, and I hope you and your partner have made some progress today."
"We just got started, Cap'n." Starsky voiced his complaint at the same moment that Dobey signed off. He replaced the handset in its cradle and turned to Hutch. "I guess we got a meetin' to go to."
"Yeah, it didn't sound like we had a lot of choice. Oh, well, look at it this way--if the feds want to take over, we've only invested one day of our time. Not weeks and weeks, only to have them come charging in and kick us off, or taking all the credit for a case we handed over almost completely wrapped up." Hutch spoke in a resigned tone that held a touch of bitterness.
"I suppose you're right, but I'm hopin' we still get a chance to work this one. I'd like to get inside that studio for myself. See what that Ivey dude is mixed up in--especially if he's got kids involved."
"Well, one way or another, the BH Vice is going to get informed. If this guy is dirty, he'll go down hard."
It took less than ten minutes for them to reach their station. Once upstairs, they glanced briefly at the messages on their desk before filling two mugs with stale coffee and tapping on the closed door of Dobey's office.
Dobey's sharp voice pierced the thin door, "Come in." Starsky opened the door wide, waiting for Hutch to brush past him before he entered himself and slammed the door closed louder than he had intended to. Starsky stopped at Hutch's side, both still close to the door as two men they didn't know rose from the office's guest chairs.
"You made good time," Dobey commented, getting up from his desk chair as he spoke. "These two gentlemen are Federal Inspectors Gates and Mitchell. Gentlemen, these are the investigating officers, Sergeants Hutchinson and Starsky." All four men shook hands briefly, the detectives taking casual note of the tense stance that the redheaded Gates held, only slightly more pronounced than the balding Mitchell. Dobey spoke again, "Starsky, why don't you grab two more chairs from the squadroom?"
Starsky glanced at Hutch, then answered, "We're fine standin', Cap'n." The partners moved around to the back of Dobey's desk, leaning back against the wall where they could see the inspectors who had reseated themselves. "Wanna fill us in on what we're meetin' about?" Starsky asked in a low tone, his facial expression deliberately pleasant.
"Our office was notified of the disappearance of Marsha Wells. Now, we know this isn't strictly federal, yet," Gates paused for breath and looked at all three of the city police officers, "but we're anticipating that it could become federal if a ransom demand is made. Our office would like to work cooperatively with your department from the beginning. We feel it will be the best way to insure that nothing is missed, and should we need to take a lead role in the investigation, less time will be lost."
"Joint cooperation?" Starsky began, but Dobey interrupted him.
"Wait a minute, you two." The captain rubbed a finger across his trim mustache as he addressed his detectives as if each had spoken. "I'd like to get the clarification, if you don't mind. He turned to the inspectors. "I'm assuming that this cooperation includes the approval of your superiors? May I also assume that my department and my men will stay on the case in full capacity until it's closed?"
This time Mitchell answered the inquiries. "Yes, Captain. We have full authority to authorize a joint investigation, and we won't be bouncing your department from the process."
"All right. I'm satisfied, and you'll have our cooperation." Dobey turned back to receive nods from Starsky and Hutch. "Now, where do you want to start?"
"We'd like your detectives to brief us on what they may have learned today." Gates sat forward a little and drew out a notebook.
"Well, I'm afraid we don't have a lot yet," Hutch began. "We interviewed the attorneys and all the office staff where the girl was last seen. That was basically a zero. We did get some information from her agent, though, and we want to follow up on it as soon as possible."
"What was that?"
"It seems that Ms. Wells' boyfriend is a photographer. He runs a studio in Beverly Hills named Sizzle, and the agent..." Hutch raised his brows.
"Ben Straus," Starsky supplied.
"Right, thanks. Straus thinks there might be illegal activity going on there, and that the boyfriend..." He paused, briefly, but remembered the name before Starsky could speak up. "Ivey, Anthony Ivey is of questionable character."
Gates nodded and released a small sigh. "Our office has heard of Sizzle. Unfortunately, it's all been rumor and innuendo. Nothing that we could turn over to vice to start an investigation."
"And now?" Starsky asked. "I mean I know we didn't bring in anything solid yet to go on, but one of our sources backed up what Straus told us. Couple that with the fact that the girl is gone and the man who runs Sizzle is her boyfriend, and I'd say that's worth an investigation."
The two federal agents exchanged a hard look before Gates spoke. We agree with you, Detective. We also need to inform Beverly Hills vice, to let them know that we'll be playing in their back yard--and obtain their cooperation."
"We'll let you handle all the informing and the politeness, while Hutch and me get over there and start asking some questions." Starsky redistributed his weight against the wall, sipping from his cup. His smile was confident, and he was clearly pleased that they were remaining the lead investigators. He tried to catch Hutch's eye to communicate his pleasure, since Hutch hated turning a case over as much as he did, but his partner seemed lost in thought. Agent Gates was starting to speak again when Hutch cut him off.
"Wait a minute, wait a minute." Hutch gripped Starsky's free elbow as he spoke. "Let's think about this. If we go in there now, with the little information we have, Ivey or any of his staff who might be dirty, could just freeze up."
Starsky shrugged his shoulders, surprised at Hutch's statement. "So? We run that risk every time we question a suspect. What're you gettin' at?"
"I know that, Starsk, but just hear me out. If we go in now, we're not getting farther than the lobby. Agreed?"
"Agreed, but we can talk to them. Get a feel for if they're dirty or not, and if we have to come back with a warrant and tear the joint apart, okay. We'll do it."
"But--even if we get a judge to agree to issuing a warrant to search--and that's a big if, considering we're working with unsubstantiated rumors--and if we bust in there, all we may find are some drugs on the premises. All that'll get us is a few busts for possession. It won't necessarily give us any information on what may have happened to Marsha Wells, or what may be happening inside to those underage kids."
Starsky smiled and said, "So what's your brainstorm, partner."
Hutch smiled in return, oblivious for a moment to the other three men in the room who were listening to the exchange closely. Right now, he just needed Starsky to see and support his idea. Together they'd convince the others if they had to.
"We go in undercover."
"Yeah, I kinda thought that was part of your brainstorm." Now Starsky's smile was a grin. "Okay, I can see the advantages..." he began, before being interrupted by their captain.
"Hold on a minute; I'm not sure I see the advantages. Undercover as what? And just what do you hope to accomplish at this stage of the game? You said yourself you've barely started working the witnesses." Dobey looked at Gates and Mitchell as he spoke to his detectives, trying to gauge their reaction.
Gates took the lead again. "It's an interesting idea. Before we continue discussing it, though, I'd like to hear if you have any experience in undercover work."
"My men are well-trained, Agent Gates, and have been undercover numerous times. Often in very dangerous situations," Dobey answered loudly.
"All right. Please continue then, Detective Hutchinson." Gates turned to his partner before Hutch could start. "Unless you have any questions?"
"No," Mitchell said softly. "I'd like to hear the idea out."
Hutch moved closer to the agents' chairs. "I'm afraid I don't have a detailed plan right this second. As my partner can tell you, I just thought of this. It makes sense, though. We go in, and you and your office work the case from the outside."
"And we can coordinate with Beverly Hills to cover the studio quietly," Starsky added, moving to Hutch's side.
"Okay, we can see some possibilities here and it may be the best way to get the information, but as your captain asked you previously, just what are you going to go in undercover as?" Gates asked the question with an expectant look on his face.
"We'll need to do some research before we can answer that," Hutch replied a little impatiently.
"We could go back to Straus," Starsky suggested with a snap of his fingers. "That dude is already on the inside of the business, and it was obvious that he's got no love for that photographer. I bet he could help us."
"That's a great idea, Starsk." Hutch turned to Dobey. "Well, Captain?"
Dobey didn't answer immediately. He stroked his mustache again, then picked up a pencil before he spoke. "All right. If we have the approval of the agents' superiors, I'll approve it as well. But, I want to run a complete check on this Ben Straus before you go back there. Let's make sure he's clean before we enlist his help. Even then there's some risk, but it'll be calculated. I'll trust you to feel him out before you lay this out. Understood?"
"Understood, Cap'n," Starsky answered for both of them. "We'll get started on the run down."
"No, I'll do that myself. I'll also send a pair of uniforms to this Sizzle place, to ask some basic questions of this Ivey character. If he's the girl's boyfriend, he'll be suspicious if someone doesn't see if he knows anything about where she may be."
The detectives nodded in agreement; it made sense. "Okay, Cap'n, but tell the guys to tread real softly. We don't want to tip our hand."
The look Dobey gave Starsky would have withered a lesser man. "Thank you for that valuable advice, Starsky. Now I think this meeting is over. We'll reconvene in the morning after Gates and Mitchell have secured their office's approval, and after we have the make on Straus complete. For tonight, we're done."
The agents and the detectives all said a quick good-bye before they exited Dobey's office. The agents bound for their car, and the detectives to their desk.
"What time is it now?" Starsky asked, making a grab for Hutch's wrist. Hutch didn't bother with a teasing reprimand; he merely turned his arm so Starsky could look at his watch more easily. "It's goin' on five."
"Already?" Hutch was surprised; he didn't think they'd been in Dobey's office that long, and he looked at his watch himself. "Starsk, it's just four-thirty."
"Let's call it a day anyway, okay?" Starsky locked pleading eyes on his partner. "I'm not in the mood for paperwork tonight are you?"
Before Hutch could answer, Dobey poked his head out his office door. "I'll need your case notes typed up and on my desk before you leave tonight." The stout man closed the door again, ignoring Starsky's groan.
By 6:00, with the report neatly typed and left with their superior, the men were in Starsky's kitchen. By mutual agreement they had decided to sleep at his apartment because the refrigerator held more food than the one at Venice Place. At least more food that Starsky would eat.
They worked in tandem to throw a fast meal together from the leftover chicken they found, as well as the salad makings in the crisper. Hutch made the dressing for the salad first, quickly mixing olive oil, vinegar and garlic together and setting it aside. Then he started with the salad itself, slicing, chopping and peeling, while Starsky dumped the chicken in a pan and stuck it in the oven to warm. As an afterthought, he searched the freezer and found half a bag of frozen french fries. He found another pan to pour those into and salted them before sliding them into the oven as well. Once his own part of the dinner preparations was complete, he leaned against the counter to watch Hutch busy at the cutting board. Hutch's large hands were practically covering the small knife he wielded, and Starsky smiled as carrots, peppers, onions, tomatoes and lettuce were quickly reduced to small pieces and tossed in a wooden bowl.
He moved up behind his partner and encircled his waist snugly. "Need any help?"
Hutch had removed his boots when they first got home, but Starsky was still wearing his shoes, making the difference in their heights nearly negligible. Dropping the knife, Hutch dipped his head backwards to rest on a shoulder, as he enjoyed the nibbling sensations being applied to his throat. "No, not with the salad, I don't. I could use one of these, though." Hutch turned around enough to be able to find Starsky's lips. Together they shared the first kiss of the evening.
Starsky's hands traveled slowly up his partner's spine, as the kiss deepened slightly. Soon his hands were buried in the fine strands and massaging along the hairline at the nape of Hutch's neck. He felt the pleasured sigh being released against his lips as a vibration that almost tickled. Once a quick release for air was accomplished, Starsky anchored the blond head more firmly before kissing the soft lips under his own one more time.
Hutch rocked a little against the compact body pressed tightly to him. He found the lush padding of Starsky's rear and stroked it firmly over the denim, loving the way it moved under his hands and the way Starsky's legs separated against his touch. Reluctantly, Hutch pulled away from the hungry mouth and asked, "Are we going for our second quickie of the day right here in the kitchen, or are we waiting 'til later?"
"Wouldn't necessarily have to be a quickie," Starsky mumbled, trying to bare Hutch's neck a little more for his mouth to explore.
"We've got chicken heating up in the oven," Hutch whispered. The feel of his partner's hands and lips were playing havoc with the idea of waiting until after dinner.
"Um hm, and I got a blond heatin' up in my arms." Starsky exposed an ear, pushing the hair away gently so he could suck the lobe into his mouth and tease and tickle the outer shell with a wet tongue.
Hutch's response was immediate. He abandoned the lush, covered ass to reach up and grab a handful Starsky's t-shirt. A few tugs had the material freed from the belt, and Hutch let his hands wander across the warm flesh underneath. Then curving his fingers, he stroked down the sturdy spine before plunging them under the belt to explore the soft upper curve of bare skin.
Starsky groaned against the ear he was still tormenting. Hutch had barely started to touch him and already he was on fire, as if a current of pure pleasure was radiating from Hutch's fingertips to electrify every nerve ending in his body. With a kiss to Hutch's ear, he released it and placed both hands on his partner's shoulders, easing him backwards without dislodging Hutch's hands from his own rear. "I need a little room," Starsky whispered.
Using two hands, he yanked Hutch's shirt free and started unbuttoning it from the bottom. He rubbed each bit of skin he revealed as he worked his way to the collar, lowered his mouth and nuzzled into the working hollow of Hutch's muscular neck, and then opened the shirt flaps wide to palm the hardened nipples that were waiting for his touch.
Hutch sucked his breath in sharply as the combination of the tongue lapping against his throat, teeth nipping under his chin, and the circular sweep of the flattened hands against his chest and belly started an incendiary reaction in his groin. He pressed closer, dipping his hands as low as he could inside the tight jeans.
"Starsk, your pants," Hutch was breathing a little fast as he rubbed his groin against Starsky's. The zippers of their jeans made a cracking noise as the friction increased. "Got to get your pants off."
"Oh, yeah," Starsky rasped out, but instead of reaching for his own zipper, he moved back slightly and attacked Hutch's. Nimble fingers worked fast to undo the top snap of the jeans and open the zipper, despite the fact that the closeness of their two bodies left little room to work. In seconds, he had the blond's jeans bunched at his feet. Pulling the slightly damp briefs over the massive erection, he let them go, allowing them to slide down the long legs of their own accord while he fingered the swollen flesh. "You're so hard," he commented unnecessarily. "I love it when you get so hard for me, so fast."
"All you have to do is be this close to me and I want you. You don't even have to touch me, and I want you." Hutch had managed to free one hand from its tight confines. He reached around to find Starsky's straining fly. He started to open it but was stopped when Starsky gracefully slid out of his embrace, pulling Hutch's other hand free, and dropped to his knees. Hutch moaned at the meaning of the gesture. Anticipation increased the need coursing through his body. He quickly kicked away the jeans, freeing his feet.
"It's better when I touch you, though, isn't it?" Starsky asked before twining his fingers in the thatch of moist blond curls. He pushed at Hutch's legs with his shoulders, backing the tall man against the counter top. "Isn't it nicer--hotter--when I touch you? When I put my hands all over you?"
"God, yes. Touch me, Starsk."
Starsky reached between the spread thighs to clasp the tight balls, giving them a gentle tug. "Like that? Want me to touch you here?" He flattened his palm to rub the bottom side of the sparsely haired testicles.
"Yes, there. Oh, yeah, oh, yeah--touch me there." Hutch was alternately rubbing his own belly and Starsky's dark hair. The feel of the hard edge to the counter top was cool where his shirttail was unable to cover his bare rear.
"How 'bout here?" Starsky crooned, grasping the thick barrel tightly. He jerked it once, twice, three times in quick succession.
"Yes, there, everywhere--Starsky!" Hutch's voice was shaky with desire. The tone and timbre of the cry was a further aphrodisiac to his partner.
"Or what if I just take as much of this monster in my mouth as I can and suck you dry? How about that, Hutch?"
Hutch made a sound akin to a whimper as Starsky did just that. Coherent thought left his brain as he gave himself over to the delightful tongue and lips, creating a special magic like no other.
Starsky was merciless in his need to drive his partner wild. When he had as much of the long penis tucked in his mouth as he could, he created a vacuum with his lips, sucking hard then releasing enough to lick. He drew his tongue down the underside of the length until he reached the tip. He curled his tongue tightly to toy with the slit, loving the cries Hutch was making. He stroked the penis a few more times before guiding it back inside his mouth and reaching his hands around to fondle his lover's bottom. The tight flesh was cool to his touch, exactly the opposite of the burning cock in his mouth. Finding the opening he sought, he gently penetrated Hutch with one finger.
"Starsk, Starsky, now--do it. Do it, please. Harder...oh, God," Hutch moaned and filled the willing mouth with rough thrusts. Starsky took it all and when the final thrust came, he drank the warm gift, leaving Hutch drained and standing on shaking legs.
Starsky smiled up at the panting form, licking his lips, enjoying the sight of Hutch trying to recover from the orgasm he'd just given him. He got to his feet and pulled the long body close again. He kissed Hutch passionately, not caring that the blond was still trying to catch his breath. He could feel his own blood pounding in his ears, his own need shrieking to be relieved.
Hutch broke away, gasping. "You trying to finish me off?" he asked with a smile, running a hand through Starsky's tangled curls and noting the deep inhalations and the hard bulge against his thigh. "That was pretty amazing, you know. now how about we go in the bedroom and let me take care of you?"
"Too long a walk," was the answer he received. "Can't wait. I need you now." He plummeted Hutch's neck again, pushing the collar low on the shirt he still wore, and nibbling against the skin lightly. "Need you, babe." With that, he spun Hutch around and bent him over the counter. "Okay? Hutch? Okay?"
Hutch was shocked to find himself partially stretched over the cold formica, but it excited him, too. His body was too sated to react, but his heart thrilled to the knowledge that his partner wanted him so much. "Okay, it's fine. It's perfect. Give it to me, do it."
Starsky was panting, his need reaching desperate proportions as he told himself to slow down. He made short work of freeing his penis and balls from their denim prison, not even bothering to remove the jeans entirely. He ran his hands up and down Hutch's back, under the soft cotton shirt, and then kneaded his buttocks for a few seconds. "It's gonna be fast," he warned. "I'm right there now."
"It's okay," Hutch murmured, "I'm not made outta glass."
Starsky's organ pulsed harder and harder, feeling like it might burst before he could prepare Hutch. Somewhat frantically, he cast his eyes around the kitchen, looking for anything he could use. His lust-filled brain incapable of guiding him to the bedroom to retrieve the lubricant they had just used that morning. He spied the large bottle of olive oil on the counter by the sink, and in two steps had the bottle in his hand. The cap was already off.
Hutch saw what he had grabbed and spread his legs as far as they could go. He made no protest, just waited as his heart pounded against the hard surface. In an instant, he felt his shirttail being pushed out of the way and his cheeks separated.
The trickle of the thick oil caused him to gasp, as it left a tickling sensation down his skin before it reached his center. "Oh, God, Starsk...it feels weird."
"Hang on," Starsky smoothed the oily substance all around the clenched orifice, then as slowly as he could, he worked it inside with one finger. He had to clench his teeth now, his excitement threatening to explode. No matter what, though, he'd never hurt Hutch by entering him dry.
Hutch bore down on the finger, feeling Starsky's urgency as if it were his own. "Put in three. I'm open; I'm ready--you don't have to go slow."
Starsky didn't answer because he couldn't. He splashed a little more oil on his hand and on Hutch's butt, before plunging three fingers deep inside the slippery hole. He twisted his hand, seeking to give Hutch more pleasure and open him further at the same time. Hutch quivered in response, clutching the counter until his knuckles lost their color.
Still pumping his fingers, Starsky used his other hand to pour the oil over his aching cock, not caring that some dripped to the floor and onto the jeans still clinging to his thighs. He smoothed it from base to tip with a trembling hand, and then removed his fingers from Hutch's ass to position his weeping shaft. He inched in, finding little resistance. Hutch's body was open for him, and, with a sigh of relief, he drove himself in deep until he was flush against the pillowy rear. Hutch purred in response, arching backwards to tighten their union as Starsky began to piston. Together they found their rhythm--one as old as time itself.
Forty-five minutes later, the partners were sitting at the small kitchen table, eating chicken that was a little too dry, and french fries that were a little too crisp. The salad had never made its way to the refrigerator to be chilled, so it was room temperature, but the men ate hungrily, enjoying it all.
Both were bare-chested, bare-footed, and clad only in pajama bottoms. Starsky's were a deep wine color, while Hutch wore faded blue. After their earlier coupling, a shower had been a necessity.
"My butt still feels kinda slick," Hutch observed, reaching for more ketchup.
Starsky's grin was huge, as he replied with raised eyebrows. "I did try and get all the oil off you. I soaped your rump a lot."
"I was there, Starsk, remember? I'm not complaining, I was just mentioning that I have a slippery ass, that's all."
"Yeah? Let me feel for myself." Starsky made a half motion to rise, but Hutch stilled him with a look.
"Finish your dinner. I think your hands have been on my butt enough, considering we haven't even gone to bed yet." Hutch's smile took any sharpness out of his words.
"Well, I'll be checkin' it out when we do go to bed." Starsky spoke in a mock serious grumble. He was well satisfied now, but he liked to keep his blond guessing. "Hey, any more fries in the bowl?"
"Big talker." Hutch shoved the bowl at his elbow across the table. "I think we're both finished for today, plus we should figure out how to approach Straus tomorrow. You know, make some notes--work stuff?"
"I don't wanna work tonight," Starsky spoke with his mouth full of fries. "I'm tired, plus we don't know what to plan until we get Dobey's clearance and then talk to Straus."
Hutch got up from the table, carrying his used dishes to the sink. He wrapped up the last of the chicken, sticking it in the refrigerator while he answered, "I guess you're right. There's not a lot we can do tonight, and I'm tired, too. How about some TV in bed?" He added some tinfoil to the top of the salad bowl and stuck that in the refrigerator as well.
"Now you're talkin'." Starsky got up himself, juggling his plates with the now empty french fry bowl.
"You wanna wash or dry?" Hutch asked, filling the sink with warm water and adding a squirt of detergent.
"I'll dry." The dark-haired man quickly grabbed a sponge and wiped the counters down, while watching Hutch wait for the sink to fill. He found two dish towels and slung one over Hutch's shoulder, and the other over his own.
Hutch tested the water with an elbow and then plunged in up to his forearms, sending bubbles floating around the room. He never saw Starsky get behind him, but he did feel the elastic of the pajamas being pulled away from his waist, and the long fingered hand that began to rub all over his bare backside.
"You're right, Hutch. Your butt is still slippery." Starsky ducked his head when the wet sponge came flying backwards, laughing hard as it hit the wall, leaving a wet trail on the way to the floor.
The next morning found the detectives waiting in the same lobby for the same man they had waited for the day before. The check on Straus had come back clean. Dobey was satisfied with the spotless report and the approval of the federal agents' superiors. The meeting had ended quickly, and the result had been that Starsky and Hutch were cleared to plan an undercover investigation of Sizzle. No new word had come in during the night on the whereabouts of Marsha Wells.
As he had the day before, Straus greeted them loudly from the corridor and beckoned them inside.
"He's louder than Dobey," Starsky whispered as he followed his partner to the inner office. This time, both men eschewed the uncomfortable chairs and moved to the much less dangerous looking sofa. The talent agent followed them, dragging one of the uncomfortable chairs behind him.
"I'm not going to sit in the thing," Straus said in an exacting tone. "I'm not crazy. I just want something to lean on. Please, please, sit down and tell me. Have you found out anything about Marsha?"
The two cops noted the genuine worry in Straus' voice, and Starsky answered gently, "Not yet, Ben. We haven't received any new leads either."
The agent cast stricken eyes on the detectives. "Nothing? How can that be? How can a girl--a well-known girl--just up and vanish into thin air? It makes no sense."
Hutch leaned forward. "We agree. It doesn't make any sense, and we're very worried about what may have happened to her and how we can find her."
"Oh, God." Straus rubbed his reddened eyes. "The wife told me I tossed and turned all night. I feel it now. I feel a hundred years old right now." He took a deep breath. "You think she's dead, don't you? You think someone killed her."
"No, no we don't. We don't know anything yet, and we aren't jumping to any conclusions." Starsky softened his voice. "Ben, try and listen. We just don't know what happened and we need your help to find her.
"I told you yesterday, I'd do whatever it took. I have some money if you want to post a reward. I'll pay it, and if it isn't enough, I'll get more."
Hutch got up and stood next to the agent. "We appreciate that, but it isn't necessary right now. We do have a plan, though, and like my partner said, we need your help."
"Tell me." The agent clasped his hands together, and Hutch continued.
"We were able to get some of your suspicions regarding Anthony Ivey and Sizzle corroborated by," he hesitated, trying to find a better noun for their friend than snitch, "by an informed source. We took this information to the federal authorities and our captain. We've all agreed that our best place to start is inside Sizzle."
"What do you mean, inside?" Straus asked, confused.
"He means we plan on going in there, undercover, to see what we can sniff out without anyone knowing we're cops." Starsky left the sofa to stand next to Hutch.
"Undercover? Like on TV? Fake identity stuff?"
"That's right, and that's where we need your help." Hutch took a moment to appraise the agent's degree of distress. When he was satisfied that the man was in control and listening clearly, he went on. "We need you to be our guide to how to get in there. What can we pose as to gather the least amount of suspicion to us? We need to blend into the crowd there if we're going to be successful."
"And you think this will show you what happened to Marsha? You think I'm right, that that no good son-of-a-bitch, Tony, may have pulled some stunt?"
"We won't know until we get inside," Starsky clarified. "But, at the very least, we'll be able to see what's goin' on with those underage kids, and maybe even help them get home to their families, or at least into some kind of shelter where they can be protected."
"I always felt awful about those kids. I guess I should have called the authorities, huh?" Now guilt replaced the stricken look in Straus' eyes.
The detectives didn't answer in the affirmative, the way they wished they could. Instead, Hutch started, "It's not too late to help them now, and hopefully find Marsha at the same time. Can you tell us about the employees? What kind of work do they do?"
"That depends," Straus looked a little mollified by Hutch's comment. "Tony, is the star of the joint, and he owns it lock, stock and barrel. He has lots of people working for him: photographer's assistants, hair and make-up stylists, bookers, accountants, stock models and office help. It's a big studio."
The detectives considered the list. "How hard is it to get a job there as an office worker, or," Starsky glanced at Hutch, "an accountant? My partner is good with math, and both of us can type and file."
Straus shook his head. "You don't want one of those jobs. Those people are stuck in the back office and never interact with Tony or the models."
"Okay, how about a photographer's assistant? What do they do?" Hutch asked, thinking of Starsky's talent with a camera.
"Hutch..." Starsky knew where he was going.
"You could have been a professional photographer and you know it. Your stuff is ten times as good as the stuff that gets published." The agent didn't hear the note of pride in Hutch's voice, but Starsky did, and he flashed a shy smile.
"Partner, we're talkin' about a professional studio. I'm not good enough to fake it in there."
"Who says you'll be faking it? I'm telling you, you're talented enough to pull it off, we just have to get you hired." Hutch paced a few steps, his hands on his hips. "Ben, do you know how the hiring works at Sizzle? Would your recommendation get us in the door?"
"Sure, sure, I can get you an interview. Hell, if this one here," he jerked a chin in Starsky's direction, "is as good as you say he is and you can bring some samples in to prove it, Tony will probably hire him on the spot. He can't keep assistants. He treats them like dirt, and eventually they get fed up and go elsewhere. In fact, I know for certain that one quit last week."
"How many assistants does he usually have?" Starsky asked curiously.
"Four or five. They do a lot of catalog and print work at Sizzle. He could probably use ten."
"Okay, this is perfect," Hutch spoke confidently. "We'll get you in easy, Starsk. now we need a way in for me."
"We could show them those Polaroids you took in the woods that day," Starsky teased briefly.
"Very funny. Ignore my partner, Ben. I'm afraid I can't take a picture to save my life, but I can learn how to load a camera, and I've helped Starsky out in darkrooms sometimes. I've watched him mix the chemicals and I could learn how to do that. do you think there would be any kind of job like that?"
Straus laughed out loud. "Are you kidding? You just described what the photographer's assistants do. You don't think Tony actually lets them take any pictures for publication, do you? No way...he's a glory hound. The only one of his assistants that gets near a camera for production is Leslie, and she's been with him since the start. The rest are glorified gophers, but they still have to know every inch of a camera and have a portfolio of good samples, before Tony will consider them at all."
"Great." Hutch sighed loudly. "Well, what do you think, Starsk? We get you in the front side, and I try for one of the office slots? It's not as good as us both being up front, but maybe I can work my way around that."
"Well, it's not my first choice but it's better than nothing, I guess." Starsky kept his tone positive. It wasn't the best solution, but it was a way in for both of them. "Okay, Ben, can you make a phone call for us? See what's open in the office, and also see if you can get an appointment for me to try for that assistant's job. I'm gonna need some time to get some samples, but not that much."
Hutch smiled slightly at the comment. He knew Starsky kept the best of his photographs neatly mounted in a handsome leather folder.
Starsky was still talking to the agent. "I could be ready by this afternoon if you can get me in that quick. Maybe you can find out about any other spots that would get my partner closer to Tony, or to the staff closest to him. He's not gonna be able to do his best work stuck in the back and, frankly, we work better if we're close together."
Straus nodded but didn't say anything. He rubbed his eyes again and moved a little closer to where Hutch was sitting. "Can you stand up for a second, Detective?"
Hutch looked surprised at the request and darted his eyes to Starsky, receiving a shrug in return. "Um, sure." Hutch got to his feet, standing a little stiffly. "I'm up," he quipped.
"Can you turn around? Move slowly, if you don't mind." The agent was looking Hutch up and down now, and both detectives noticed it.
Hutch shook his head a little, but did revolve slowly around one time. "Okay, wanna tell me what this is about?"
"Yeah, yeah...you might just have a shot." The agent was talking under his breath and definitely to himself.
"A shot at what, Ben?" Starsky asked loudly, since the agent seemed to be lost in thought.
"Getting hired on as a model."
"A model?!" Hutch's voice squeaked in shock.
"A model?" Starsky repeated, sounding surprised but not shocked.
"A stock model," Straus clarified. Tony has a large string of stock models who work directly for him, unlike the big names who normally work for an agency that hires Tony. Part of Tony's business..." He paused. "Didn't I already tell you this?"
"It's okay to say it twice, whatever it is," Starsky assured the man.
"The catalog work is what pays the rent. That's the stuff he uses stock models for. You know what I mean. The pretty young housewife showing off her new refrigerator, or the happy businessman posing in his new Porsche. Those people are stock models. I'm afraid some of those kids I was tellin' you about are stock models, too."
"And you think Tony would hire Hutch as a stock model?" Starsky was clearly pleased.
"I think so; he's tall and thin. Handsome face and he's got those nice blue eyes. Plus he's blond, and it looks natural to me. Tony will go for that look."
Starsky smothered a grin. "I'm certain my partner is a natural blond, Ben." He made a show of studying his partner carefully. He did note the reddish flush to Hutch's cheeks, but couldn't resist teasing him just a little. "I suppose he's good lookin' enough."
"Oh, yeah, I can always tell a bottle job." Straus was proud of his many years in the business, and it showed. "I'm a modeling agent, remember? I'm telling you, he's plenty good looking enough."
"Um, guys? Um, thank you, but you're both forgetting one thing--I can't model. I-I have no idea how to model." Hutch was hoping that the nervous twinge in his voice wasn't noticeable. "Tony would see right off that I have no experience, and then not only would I not get in on the front end, but I'd have blown my chance to get in on the office side, too."
"Modeling is not that hard. Of course, I wouldn't want you to repeat that to any of my clients. They think they're doing brain surgery half the time, but basically it's being able to take direction, move easily, and be a perfect living clothes hanger. The hours are long and you're on your feet all day. That part can be hard. Of course, you're too old to do any fashion shots, anyway, and those are the hardest."
"Wait a minute, I'm only thirty--" Hutch began indignantly, but Straus cut him off.
"If you're over twenty-five--and you look over twenty-five to me--you're too old to do any fashion shots. It doesn't matter, though. You're the perfect age to play the dad in back-to-school ads, or the husband buying his wife some bauble. You know the type of ads I mean, you must see them in magazines and newspapers all the time."
"I guess we haven't been paying enough attention to advertising, Ben, but we'll trust your experience in this matter. If you think he can get in that way, we'll go with it." Starsky was trying to ignore Hutch's sputtering.
"It'll be okay, partner. you'll be fine, and I'll be there the whole time." Starsky refrained from patting Hutch's knee and turned again to the agent. "Now, can you help us create some kind of background for him? Something that Tony will buy? After all, as you said he isn't twenty-five, and what if Tony gets suspicious about wanting to see what he's done before? Any ideas?"
"Sure, sure. Hutch--I can call him Hutch?"
"Yeah, you can call him Hutch. You can call me Starsky."
"Good, okay. I'll tell them that he's the client of a friend of mine from the Midwest--he looks like he could be from the Midwest--and that he's just relocated to California. I'm helping him out, you see. helping him get a gig, because he and my associate are friends. It's a favor thing. This business runs a lot on favors...Sizzle owes me a bunch of them. I rep the top models in town. Of course, the one thing I can't tell is if he's photogenic or not. If he's not, there's no way he's getting in, no matter how many favors they owe me."
"I don't know if I'm--" Hutch was cut off again.
"He's photogenic," Starsky answered with assurance.
"I'll need a head shot of him--eight-by-ten glossy."
"That's no problem; we'll take care of that today." Starsky was still speaking for both of them. "Now, we're going to want to go in at separate times, maybe two, three days apart. Me first, so can you work on the assistant's job first?"
"It's done. I'll be on it as soon as you leave. There's one thing, though. All of this is going to take time. Time to get you in there, and once you're in, time for you to find out anything. What about Marsha while all this time is going by?"
Hutch found his voice. "We're not the only police officers working the case, and the federal authorities are also involved. Trust us, there's plenty of manpower available to hunt down any lead, and the feds are doing background checks now, on both Marsha and any family and friends they can find. The case will not be idle while we're getting set up."
"I better make those calls," was Straus' only reply. He did smile at Hutch, though.
"Okay, thank you. So you'll let us know as soon as you have anything arranged?" Starsky asked, while handing him another business card. As an afterthought, he found a pen and jotted his home number on it as well. "You can reach us at either of these two numbers."
"I'll be in touch. I'm going to make this happen as fast as I can." The agent hurried to his desk, as Starsky and Hutch waved good-bye and headed out of the office.
After a brief stop at Metro to inform Dobey of their plans and to gather some of the paperwork that still needed to be completed from their desks, the men headed over to Starsky's place. Now that they were on an undercover assignment, even one that hadn't started yet, it was important that they maintain a very low profile. They wouldn't be working the street or going to Metro very often, until the assignment was over. Much to both men's chagrin, Dobey insisted they could get some of their backlogged reports completed while they waited and prepared for their stint undercover. He even suggested they borrow one of the department's portable typewriters. It now sat in the back seat of the Torino.
Hutch carried the paperwork upstairs for safekeeping, but neither wanted to work on reports right then. They were both focused, Hutch albeit nervously, on preparing for their roles.
"Think we can have a beer?" Starsky asked hopefully, with his head stuck in the refrigerator. "We're kind of off duty."
"Yeah, I think so, and I know I can use one." Hutch flopped on the couch, putting his feet up on the coffee table. His sigh was loud enough for Starsky to hear from the kitchen. "I don't know how you think I'm going to pull off being a model, Starsk."
"I know you can, simple as that," Starsky joined him on the couch and handed over a cold can of Coors. "I know you're nervous now, but once you're doing it, it'll be the same as every other undercover assignment. You're a terrific actor when you gotta be. This is no different than any of those other times, and you're always a little nervous until we get going." Starsky toed off his sneakers and kicked them aside. He ran a socked foot over Hutch's booted calf. "You'll be terrific."
"Yeah, but Starsk, this is in front of a camera, posing and stuff." Hutch took a healthy gulp from his beer.
"Hey, speaking of cameras, I better find mine. I've gotta take some shots of you, then we'll have to set up my developing stuff in the bathroom." Starsky got up and headed for his desk. It only took him a moment to find his much loved Nikon F2. He checked it over quickly. "I've even got film, so we're in business."
"Aw, Starsk, do we have to do that right now?"
"No. You can finish your beer, but then we gotta do it. We have to be ready, and I don't wanna lose the natural light. I'm gonna take some shots on the balcony, and then maybe I'll find something around here to use as a decent backdrop, and I can take some inside shots."
Hutch groaned loudly, but Starsky ignored him and headed back to the kitchen. The low rumbling in his stomach had reminded him that they hadn't eaten yet today. He made a quick search of the refrigerator and pulled out a plate of ham, some cheddar cheese, bread and mayonnaise. "I'm making ham sandwiches." Starsky raised his voice to be heard clearly in the living room. "Do you want cheese on yours?"
"Yeah. You want some help?"
"No, I got it. Finish your beer."
After they were done with their quick lunch, Starsky herded Hutch into the bedroom. "Brush your hair, while I find you something to change into." He headed for his dresser.
"What's wrong with the shirt I'm wearing?" Hutch asked, while heading to the adjoining bathroom to deal with his fly away hair.
"It's the wrong color. It won't photograph well."
"Okay, you're the expert." Hutch was wielding the brush like a weapon, but his hair didn't want to lie down. "There's a lot of static electricity in the air or something. Starsk! I look like Dennis the Menace!"
From the dresser, Starsky rubbed his mouth to smother a laugh. When he was composed, he called out, " Bring the brush with you; I'll fix it after you change." He continued rifling through the drawers until he found what he sought--a soft cashmere sweater in forest-green. He shook it out once and laid it on the bed. "Hurry up!"
"I'm coming, don't yell at me." Hutch's hair was sticking up in a few places, but he didn't resemble Dennis the Menace.
"I wasn't yelling. I was speaking enthusiastically." Starsky smiled and pointed to the sweater. "Put that on."
"Isn't it kind of hot for a sweater?" Hutch asked, unbuttoning his shirt.
"You're not going to be wearing it that long, and the color is perfect."
Hutch fingered the soft material before slipping it over his head. The sweater was V-necked and, other than being a little short in the sleeves, fit him fine. "This is nice. where'd you get this?"
"My mom sent it to me a couple of weeks ago; there was some sale at Barney's or Macy's or somewhere. It looks good on you, but push the sleeves up some." Hutch did as he was asked. "Okay, sit down and let me see what I can do with your hair. Mine's not stickin' up, ya know."
"That mop of yours is too heavy to lift off your head."
Starsky laughed as he brushed the fine blond hair back off Hutch's face. It didn't take long for the strands to fall into their normal shape. "Okay, we're ready. To the balcony we go." Starsky made a flourishing gesture with his left arm.
Once outside, Starsky took a few practice shots of the sky just to adjust his lens. He posed Hutch with one arm on the railing and one at his side. "Smile." Hutch plastered a grin on his face.
"Okay, that was my fault, I should have told you to smile naturally." Starsky looked up, a patient expression on his face.
"Come on, give me a good one."
They went on like that for ten minutes--Starsky cajoling, and Hutch trying his best to cooperate. Starsky was getting some shots, but not the one he wanted. "Hey, relax for a minute, I'm going to switch settings." Hutch let out a sigh of relief for the reprieve and turned his back to Starsky, leaning both elbows and his waist against the railing. He watched a few birds fly by, while Starsky was making his adjustments behind him.
"Um, hm? You ready?" Hutch asked with his back still turned.
"Not quite, but I was just wondering if I'd told you today that I love you."
Hutch turned his head over his shoulder, and his face lit up with a tender smile. Starsky clicked quickly. He got his shot.
Later that afternoon after taking several interior poses, Starsky was in the bathroom, which he'd converted into a temporary darkroom. Hutch had brought up the typewriter and was working on some of their reports when the phone rang. Starsky heard the ring faintly, but not what Hutch was saying to the caller. He was just about finished, and it took less than five minutes to join Hutch again in the living room. His partner was back on the couch. "Who was on the phone?"
"Straus," Hutch answered. "You're in, buddy, or at least you have an interview. You have to be at Sizzle tomorrow morning at eight. You're meeting with the great Anthony Ivey himself."
At 7:45 the next morning, Starsky was waiting in an art deco styled lobby. Unlike the pleasant, professional receptionist at Straus' office, the receptionist at Sizzle was little older than a teenager and viewed Starsky as suspiciously as if he were there to rob the place. After checking his appointment with Ivey's personal secretary, she'd waved him to a chair without saying a word.
For this I got up at the crack of dawn, to be sneered at by Miss Teenage Horror Story? Hutch is probably still sleeping, too, while I wait to see Tony the Artiste and who knows what else he is. Starsky was trying to stifle a yawn, as he mentally prepared himself for his meeting with the photographer. The longer the wait, the sleepier he was becoming.
He and Hutch had been up late preparing the fake background he would use and sorting through his leather portfolio. All his photos of Hutch had to be removed, as well as any he'd taken at any police event. He smiled under another yawn, remembering Hutch's surprise when he viewed so many pictures of himself that he'd never seen before.
Starsk, when did you take all these? Hutch had asked.
When you weren't looking.
The loud buzz from the receptionist's station broke into Starsky's reverie. He glanced at his watch and saw that the photographer was already more than twenty minutes late for their meeting.
"You can go back now, Mr. Simms. Third door on your right." The receptionist didn't look up as she spoke.
That's me, Mr. Simms, Mr. Donald Simms. "Thank you," Starsky muttered, grabbing his portfolio and smoothing down the crease in his beige dress pants as he rose. He and Hutch had decided on pseudonyms using the initials from their real names, just to make things simpler. When Straus pulled off an interview for Hutch, he'd be using the name Kevin Harris. Starsky took a deep breath and headed for the inner offices.
The third door on the right, was unmarked and closed. Starsky tapped on it lightly. He heard a muffled voice from inside the room. Then, "Come in already!"
Starsky wasn't sure what to expect when he entered the large office. All that he'd been told about Tony Ivey said he was a brilliant, temperamental, morally bankrupt individual. The man at the center of his thoughts was standing in the middle of the large, rectangular room. He was tall, Starsky noted, but reed thin. He had the kind of dark brown hair that was so deep it could look black in some lights. His face was so thin it made his features appear too large, and right then, Starsky was staring into an open cavernous mouth that was twisted in anger. Ivey was shouting into the phone.
"I want you to just fucking make it happen! That's all. It's very simple. Just do it!" Ivey slammed the phone down before turning to Starsky. "Come on, come over here. If you're expecting a polite, formal interview you may want to try another studio. I don't work that way."
"I'm just looking for a fair chance, Mr. Ivey," Starsky put on his most ingratiating smile and delivered the first of what he assumed would be many insincere statements. "I've admired your work for a long time, and I'd just love the chance to learn from you."
"You can shit can the kiss ass stuff. That goes nowhere with me; in fact, it pisses me off. I know every little wannabe to ever pick up an instamatic wants to work with the best, and that's me. The best. Now why don't you just show me your book?" Ivey plopped in his desk chair and lit a cigarette. He tapped on his desktop impatiently. "I'm really not bullshitting you when I say I'm a busy man. Bring your book here, please."
Starsky hurried to the desk, unwrapping the leather thongs from his portfolio as he went. He dropped the book down where indicated and stepped back. Ivey had not offered him a chair, and he decided against taking one on his own, preferring to remain standing. For several moments, the only sound in the room was the exhalation of smoke and the quick page turns of mounted pictures. Then, Ivey slammed the book shut.
Okay, am I in, or am I shit canned? Starsky thought, unconsciously using Ivey's previous vernacular. He raised expectant eyes to the photographer.
"They're decent." Ivey stamped out his cigarette and reached for the phone. "You're no Avedon, but I expect you already know that since you're satisfied with working as an assistant at your age. Straus said you can load a camera and I'm a loader short, so I'll try you for one week. You fuck up once, and I'll shit can you on the spot." He started to dial a number, then glanced back up at Starsky. "What? I just told you, you have a week. Now get out of here. Go find Leslie. Leslie is my assistant and she deals with all the other assistants. She'll set you up."
Starsky was caught between relief that he was being hired and confusion as to what he was supposed to do next. "Okay, thank you, Mr. Ivey. Um, Leslie will tell me when I start I guess? And I can find her in the studio?"
"Oh, God, I have no time for this. Please tell me that you're smarter than those questions indicate? You start today. Now. This moment. I hope that's not disruptive to the plans you may have already made for the day?"
This guy is a first class prick. I'd like to know how he's lived so long and kept all his own teeth, Starsky thought darkly, while trying to arrange his face in a pleasant manner.
"I'm very happy to start today, Mr. Ivey, and I'll just go find Leslie now." Starsky managed to get the words out with a smile, but he hurried for the door. He paused for just a second with the knob in hand, but when Ivey didn't speak again, he made his grateful exit.
Breathing a sigh of relief, Starsky eased the door closed and turned around. He encountered a solid force in front of him. He jumped back against the door. "Excuse me, ma'am, I didn't see you."
"That's all right," a slender woman in her late thirties smiled reassuringly. "I was listening at the door and waiting for Tony to let you loose. I'm Leslie Curry, and I'll be trying to make your first day with us a little more comfortable now."
Starsky let out some pent-up breath and returned the smile. "That's good to hear, Miss Curry. I wasn't even sure where I was supposed to start looking for you, never mind if I remembered how to operate a camera after that interview."
"Call me Leslie." The easy smile was back, and the woman lightly touched Starsky's elbow. "Come on, let's get a cup of coffee and I'll explain what your assignments will be." The tall woman led the way down the narrow corridor until they reached a makeshift lunchroom. Starsky looked around curiously.
There were a few tables with chairs, and additional chairs were scattered around the room. Three coffeepots were in various stages of use. One brewing, one nearly seared to the burner, and one being passed back and forth between two girls wearing short bathrobes and heavy make-up. They waved at Leslie briefly, but otherwise made no comment as they continued filling their cups and adding saccharine. Others--both men and women--wandered in and out, clutching mugs and moving with speed. Starsky didn't see anyone who looked to be under eighteen, but since all the women--and to his eye, the men--were made up, it wasn't as easy to gauge their ages.
After they found two clean mugs, Leslie guided them to a table. She took a sip of her coffee. "So you survived our Tony. You're to be congratulated."
"Is he always in that good a mood?" Starsky asked pointedly.
"I'd like to tell you that Tony's bark is worse than his bite, but I'd be lying. He's a brilliant, temperamental artist, but I'm afraid he has little patience." Leslie spoke in an indulgent voice, as if she were explaining a toddler's antics.
"Then I assume you have a lot of patience." Starsky tried for a light tone and sipped his coffee, wondering if he could keep the conversation on the photographer without appearing to be too curious in his first thirty minutes on the job.
"I've worked for Tony for years. I admire his talent and respect his abilities. I suppose I can ignore most of his moods. This is a hard business to run, and he's had some--personal...well...you know. Everyone's life gets crazy sometimes." Leslie set her cup down and brushed some hair out of her eyes. "Now, let me explain what we'll be expecting from you, Donald."
Starsky hid his disappointment when the subject was changed to his duties. He'd been hoping that Leslie would continue talking, and perhaps even mention that the photographer's girlfriend was missing. Instead, he listened to a rundown of very basic job responsibilities that he'd be performing. When Leslie was finished talking, she stood up. "Okay, that's about everything. I'll take you to our office manager now, so you can be put on the payroll, then we'll go to the darkrooms. There's a good deal of film from two shoots yesterday that need to be printed. You can start there."
It was 9:00 that evening before Starsky wearily walked into his home, as tired as he'd been from any day in recent memory. Sizzle moved at a frantic pace, and from the moment he'd been put into the darkroom, he'd worked non-stop. Finally at 8:00, the last shoot of the day was over, and no one had anything else for him to do. He made the long drive home, trying not to think that he'd be back in twelve hours. Instead, he wondered what Hutch had done all day and anticipated seeing his partner again.
Hutch was sitting on the couch, slumped over the typewriter that was set up on the coffee table. He was typing with one hand and rubbing the back of his neck with the other.
"I hope you haven't been sittin' like that all day long." Starsky shut the door and moved toward the couch as he spoke.
"Hey, Starsk," Hutch's welcoming smile was especially sweet to the worn out cop. "How'd it go?"
Starsky leaned over the back of the couch and grasped Hutch's shoulders. Hutch raised his face, as Starsky lowered his, and kissed him hello. "Hi. I missed you."
"That's what I like to hear." Hutch grabbed one more light kiss before Starsky straightened. "So, how'd it go?"
"I'll tell you about it after I get out of these clothes and grab a beer." Starsky headed for the bedroom, unbuttoning his shirt as he went.
"I was beginning to think I was going to have to send a patrol car to check on you," Hutch commented loudly enough to be heard in the bedroom.
"Trust me, partner, there were times today that I wish you would have." Starsky came out wearing his old, comfortable blue bathrobe. "That place is run like a concentration camp."
"That bad, huh?" Hutch pulled the sheet of paper from the typewriter and set it on a small stack of folders. He leaned against the cushion and used two hands this time to rub the back of his neck. "Sit down and tell me about it."
"I'm getting the beer first. you want one?"
"No thanks. I made some macaroni and cheese a couple of hours ago. You want me to heat it up for you? You must be starved."
"I think I'm too tired to eat right now." Starsky reentered the living room, yawning as he spoke, and sat down in his fan-backed chair, beer in hand. He patted his knee. "C'mere."
Hutch smiled and moved from the couch to sit on the floor between Starsky's bare legs. He leaned his head back and stretched his own legs out to their full length.
Starsky put his beer down and started a firm massage at the nape of Hutch's neck. "I'll tell you one thing, just for openers. Ivey should be arrested for being the meanest asshole to ever walk the earth, even if we find out he hasn't committed any crime, and I strongly doubt we will."
"Little more to the middle," Hutch directed as he rotated his head slowly. "Yeah, there. Oh, God, that's sore." Hutch shut his eyes as Starsky increased the pressure between his shoulder blades. "So tell me. I'm guessing Marsha Wells wasn't hanging around the place?"
"How'd you get your neck this bad? Jesus, Hutch, did you sit slumped over all day? Your lower back is probably worse." Starsky dropped his hand to the small of Hutch's back. "No," he sighed, using the heel of his hand to rub now. "Marsha Wells was most definitely not in sight. Nor were any drugs that I could see. Some of those models were pretty wired, though."
"Well, we both knew Straus had to be exaggerating when he said that drugs were out in plain sight. I'm sure he has seen them occasionally, and they probably are on the premises most of the time, but I'm guessing they're somewhat careful about them." Hutch patted Starsky's calf, settling back against him. "That's good, Starsk. That helped, and you're tired. Just relax now."
"I'll do a better job when we go to bed." He grabbed his beer again, drinking thirstily. "I'm gonna try and figure out a way to get closer to Ivey tomorrow. They had me locked up in the darkroom all morning, and in the afternoon when I was in the studio, he wasn't."
"How'd you do as a photographer's assistant?" Hutch asked with a caress to the calf he was lightly holding.
"I did fine, I guess. It was pretty boring work to tell you the truth, but Leslie told me that one of the other assistants didn't show up for work today and he didn't call in, so I have a feeling I'll be doing more than grunt work soon, since they're so shorthanded."
"Did you get his name?"
"Sure. I already called it in to Dobey on the way home. He's gonna run a make on the guy."
"I love having a partner who's smart as well as charming."
"You forgot gorgeous."
"I never forget that."
"Better not. so, what did you get done today while I was slaving away?"
"What about Leslie? You didn't tell me about her," Hutch reminded his tired friend.
"Oh, yeah. Well, she thinks that Ivey pisses perfume. She started to say that something was going on in his "personal life," but she shut up real fast. She's been with the guy for years, and she knows that studio like she built it."
"And no one mentioned the fact that his girlfriend is missing?" Hutch asked in disbelief.
"Not directly, at least not that I heard, but like I said, they had me locked up half the day. I did overhear two of the models talking about a police visit, but they clammed up when they saw me. I'll do better tomorrow. I won't be the stranger who's gettin' stared at." Starsky rubbed his eyes fiercely. "God, I'm tired." Another yawn escaped. "Did anything turn up on this end?"
"Nope. I took a few of our finished reports over to Metro about noon, and checked in with Dobey. He said that the feds have been in contact with the girl's family and that was a dead end. Apparently, her folks died when she was a child, and an aunt and uncle raised her. Not a happy home life. She left the place for good at seventeen, and they didn't try to find her. They told the agents they haven't heard from her in four years."
"This is lookin' strange, Hutch. It's been over seventy-two hours, and none of us have turned one clue yet."
"We've gone that long without a lead before, and you just went under today." Hutch was getting to his feet as he spoke. "By the way, that pile of reports on the table needs your signature."
"Okay--but in the morning."
Hutch made his way to the kitchen. "You won't have time in the morning; you're up at what, five-thirty?" The sound of pans being rattled reached Starsky's ears as he groaned.
"Thanks for the reminder, pal."
"You're welcome. Do you want some salad with your macaroni and cheese?"
"Remember? I said I'm not really hungry. I'll eat breakfast, okay?"
"At five-thirty?" the blond head popped out of the kitchen to ask.
"Shit." Starsky thought quickly but could come up with no way out of a pre-dawn rising. The drive to the studio was too long, and he was expected back and working by 8:00, which meant he really should be there at 7:30. "Shit," he mumbled again. "Yeah, give me some salad, too."
"Will do," Hutch replied cheerfully. "Now find a pen and sign the reports that I've been slaving over."
After Starsky signed the reports, grateful--although he didn't say it aloud--for the huge backlog of paperwork that was now behind them, he did manage to eat most of the warmed-up dinner Hutch had placed in front of him. He was yawning so loudly throughout the meal, Hutch took pity on him and removed the plates from the table. "Go to bed, buddy, before I have to carry you in there."
"Yeah, I'm goin'. Aren't you coming?"
"I'm right behind you; I'm just going to rinse off the plates."
Starsky nodded and made his way blearily to the bathroom. His teeth received a cursory brushing, before he made his way to the bedroom, shed his robe and climbed between the navy blue sheets. Dimly, he could hear Hutch in the bathroom as he started to drift.
Hutch came in quietly, and took care to undress with as little noise as possible. The bedside lamp was still on, but Starsky's eyes were closed.
The poor guy is beat, Hutch thought as he finished undressing, laying his clothes on the chair. He was wearing his underwear when he pulled his side of the bedcovers down. Then there were some mumbled words from Starsky's side of the bed.
"Take 'em off."
"Huh? Your eyes are closed, how did you know I was wearing them."
"Heard what you took off." The mumble was barely discernable now.
"Starsk, you're asleep, buddy."
"Don' care. There's always the mornin'." The last word was half spoken and half sighed.
Hutch waited for a moment, but there was only silence and deep breathing. He removed his briefs, tossing them in the general direction of the chair before climbing in next to his partner. He pulled him close, appreciating the warm naked skin. Then he whispered softly into an ear. "You have to be up at five-thirty."
The next morning was even harder than the previous one for Starsky. The alarm tortured him awake at the appointed hour, and not even a pillow would smother its demanding shrill. Hutch added a pointed shove to his shoulder before he succumbed to the inevitable and got out of bed.
"I'll make you some coffee while you shower," Hutch whispered, eyes still tightly closed. He was snoring softly again before Starsky was even inside the bathroom.
Sure you will, Blondie. You're dead to the world and comfortable and warm, while I'm standing here freezing in the middle of the night waiting for the shower to heat up.
Once the water was above chilled, Starsky managed a quick shower followed by a quicker shave. He needed coffee before he left the house. Hutch was still snoring lightly while he dressed and found his shoes. He shut the door partially behind him as he headed for the kitchen and got the coffee on. He'd almost finished his first cup when Hutch padded from the bedroom, rubbing his eyes and trying to stuff his arm in a robe that was inside out.
"I was going to make that for you."
"But then you fell back to sleep."
"You want something to eat?"
"No. I want you to trade places with me. You go be a photographer's assistant and I'll go back to bed."
Hutch was all the way in the kitchen now, his robe only partially on. He kissed Starsky sleepily. "Good morning. I'd do it for you if I could. I'll call Straus later and see how he's doing on getting me in."
"I'd prefer it if you weren't all naked and gorgeous right now when I gotta go. Plus, you're gonna freeze to death." Starsky untangled the rest of the robe and tied the belt around Hutch's middle. "I know you would," he continued. "I'm just bitching, and I have to leave now. I'll try and check in later."
"Okay, I'll stay in touch with Dobey and work from this end." Hutch reached for a mug while yawning. He stared at the empty porcelain and then put it back. "I don't really have to be up now."
Starsky shook his head and finished the remains in his cup. "Nope, you can sleep all you want, and I'm gonna try and not resent that. I'll see you tonight."
Hutch was on his way back to the bedroom when Starsky left. Luckily he encountered little traffic, so his drive to the studio was faster than he'd anticipated. When he reached the entrance to Sizzle, he took a moment to mentally prepare himself to don the persona of Donald Simms, photographer's assistant, and stepped inside. Ignoring the receptionist, he hurried for the main studio.
The room had been transformed in the short hours since he'd left it. It now resembled a luxurious ski lodge, complete with fake fireplace. Two models he hadn't seen the day before were sitting in tall stools toward the rear of the room, looking bored and smoking cigarettes. Ivey and Leslie were in a heated discussion with two men Starsky didn't recognize. They were all standing in the middle of the raised platform floor. Starsky stayed quietly at the door, listening intently.
"I don't care that you and your crew worked all night. I don't care. It's your job, the thing I pay you for. I've got the representatives from Revlon coming here in one hour to check on the shoot. Do you see those two women sitting on those stools?" Starsky saw the arm Ivey used to gesture with nearly hit Leslie in the face. He continued listening as the furious photographer continued. "Those are Revlon models, and they're now making a handsome sum of money to sit on their skinny asses because the set is all wrong!"
The two men stared at the floor both looking exhausted and abashed. They said nothing.
Starsky saw Leslie put herself between the men and Ivey, and then she laid a hand on Ivey's arm. "Tony, we have an hour. I know the changes you want done, so why don't you let me manage them and you go to your office and just unwind for a few minutes. You haven't slept in days."
Ivey turned his face away, and Starsky was able to clearly see the change in his expression. He looked stricken. He didn't answer his assistant, but he nodded and started to walk away. Leslie followed him to the door, and Starsky unobtrusively moved out of the way and settled himself partially behind a corner back drop.
"I thought she would have called me by now, Les. What if something did happen? What if this isn't one of her games?" The photographer spoke in a whisper, but Starsky was able to hear him.
"She still may, Tony, maybe even this morning. There's been nothing found to indicate that anything happened to her, you know that." Leslie's voice was singsong soothing, and even Starsky could see Ivey relax under her tone. "Now you go on and let me handle this. I'll send someone to get you when it's done. We still have lots of time."
Starsky stepped out of his corner when Ivey left the studio. Leslie spotted him immediately. "Donald, I'm so glad you're early since we have a hell of a morning ahead."
"Yeah, I heard a little about that when I came in," Starsky mentioned in a light tone.
"The set argument? That was nothing, although I've got to get the guys started on the changes. It's really no big deal. Tony is just a little overwrought right now, and he was...disappointed that the chalet doors aren't opening properly. It's a little thing since they'll be closed for the shoot, but he likes a realistic set."
And giving his employees ulcers, Starsky thought darkly, remembering the downcast eyes of the workmen who had obviously been up all night. He plastered on a smile. "So, where do you want me to start?"
"Well, I have another no-show today. Sam left a message saying he has the flu and won't be in for the rest of the week. That leaves me two assistants down and a ton of work to get done. I'm going to need you to take some color tests for a scheduled run later in the week, and there's a group of hopefuls coming in this afternoon. I'll need you to manage that entire process. I'll be tied up with Revlon, and Mike--the other assistant--is going to be working with some of the kids on a record cover."
Starsky's ears perked up at the mention of "kids" but he asked instead, "Hopefuls? I'm sorry but what process will I be managing?"
"We have four or five new guys coming in this afternoon to test as stock models. House models. You know."
"Sure, of course." Starsky smiled confidently. "So I'll be taking the test shots?"
"Yes, and pick through their books. See if you can find one or two of their own glossies that I can stick under Tony's nose without his pitching a fit." Leslie spoke tiredly. "He'll choose the ones he wants to hire himself, so we'll be keeping them around until Tony can find a few minutes to break free and see them. If I can give him a heads-up with their own head shots, it saves him time."
"I guess an operation like this hires models on a regular basis?" Starsky asked.
"Yes, on a contract basis. We always need fresh faces, although we manage to keep our more reliable stock models working pretty steadily. It depends on the jobs." Leslie glanced at her watch. "I have to get going. You're clear on everything?"
"Yeah, no problem. I'll get started now."
"Thank you." Leslie hurried off to start the set designers on their changes, and Starsky left the studio to start his morning. Before he went to the smaller studio down the hall, he made a quick detour to the Torino, which he'd parked one block away from Sizzle. He needed to call in the name of the flu-ridden assistant to Dobey.
The next four hours flew by, as Starsky got the test shots completed and was required to do another stint in the darkroom. The passing of time was marked with increasingly louder rumblings coming from his empty stomach.
Haven't these people ever heard of lunch breaks? he asked himself, wishing he'd thought to bring a sandwich from home. The time spent in the darkroom was doubly frustrating because it meant less time interacting with the studio staff.
At least this afternoon I'll be able to get closer to some of these people when I shoot the "hopefuls" coming in. I'll have to have more time with Leslie and maybe even Ivey. The thought of the afternoon's assignment made him think of Hutch, and he hoped that his partner was getting good news from Straus about his own interview. The sooner Hutch got in here the better Starsky would like it.
A sharp rap on the door interrupted his thoughts. He didn't recognize the voice that called to him. "Hey, Simms. Studio two is filling up fast and I was told to get your ass down there."
"I'm on my way." Starsky hurriedly completed the last negative he'd been working on, rinsed off his hands, and made his way to studio two. Four men were waiting inside with what appeared to be varying degrees of nervousness and boredom. The youngest looked to be about twenty and the oldest somewhere in his early fifties, which surprised Starsky a little. He plunged in.
"Hi, I'm Donald Simms and I'll be taking your test shots. I'll also need to see your, um, your books. I'll need to pick out a glossy or two before we get started." Starsky watched as all four men reached for leather folders and plastic cased eight-by-tens. "I suppose you all brought resumes?"
The loud opening of the studio's door interrupted the answer. The receptionist popped her head in. "I've got one more for you. He was late." The girl said nothing else as she left, clearing the entrance for a tall man who looked at Starsky a little nervously. "I'm sorry I'm late." The man moved forward with an out stretched hand. "My name is Kevin Harris."
Starsky blinked rapidly but managed to keep his face expressionless as he clasped his partner's hand. "Hi Kevin, I'm Donald Simms, th-the photographer, er, photographer's assistant. Um, I'll be taking the test shots."
"Good, thanks. Ah--nice to meet you." Hutch nodded imperceptibly and raised a manila folder. "I brought my head shots."
Starsky was regaining his equilibrium. "You can just wait with the others, Kevin, while I set up."
Starsky was grateful for the unfamiliar camera waiting for him on the tripod. It gave him something to focus on other than the astonishing appearance of his partner, who was now trying to look at home in his surroundings.
Well, partner, I wished for you and here you are.
Now that the surprise was wearing off, Starsky felt a strong sense of relief. His earlier frustrations at not having turned any leads were slipping away as his natural optimism took over. Now that he and Hutch would both be working from the inside, they'd be able to make some real progress.
Finishing with the camera, Starsky grabbed the clipboard with the directions for the body angles and head placement that Leslie was looking for in the pictures. He stole a glance at the hopeful applicants and saw that Hutch was clearly the most nervous of all. He felt a stirring of compassion for his partner, who really didn't like to be on display, and decided to end his wait. "Kevin, if you'll step up to the white line here, I'll start with you."
He could see Hutch swallowing from six feet away, but the blond squared his shoulders and ambled to the line. Wearing a black shirt tucked into crème colored pants, Hutch looked both sophisticated and elegant. Starsky tried to communicate his approval with a sly wink as he gave his instructions. "Okay, if you'll just turn your head to the right, chin up a little and relax your arms for me."
Hutch tried hard not to blink--as hard as he tried to relax under the gentle voice directing his positions. Although it felt longer, in just a few minutes he was done and Starsky was smiling at him.
"Thank you. That's all I need, but you'll have to hang around, okay?"
"Sure." Hutch stepped over to the back wall, still feeling his heart beat too fast. He caught his breath and watched as Starsky worked calmly and confidently with the other models. Even to Hutch's untrained eye, he could see that Starsky knew how to get the best poses arranged and the most natural shots. His partner was as graceful and easy going as if he'd always been doing this.
When we retire from the force, he can do this for a living and support me in the manner to which I could become accustomed. The thought made Hutch smile and he felt the last twinges of his nervousness fade away as he watched Starsky work.
All the test shots were just completed when Leslie flew into the room. She went to Starsky immediately. "I have two minutes; the Revlon shoot is not going well and I'm afraid Tony is going to murder someone in a moment."
Starsky and Hutch took care to not look at each other, Hutch in particular maintaining a casual stance as he stood with the other models.
Leslie continued. "Do you have the glossies?"
"Yeah, right here." Starsky handed over the small, neat stack. He made sure that Hutch's picture was on top.
"Thanks. Show them where they can get coffee, but no one leaves the building until I get back." With that, the harried woman flew back out of studio two.
"So," Starsky smiled at the comely group. "Who wants to come get a cup of coffee with me?"
The lunchroom was more active than the day before, and there were almost no free chairs. Starsky pointed out where the empty mugs were located, allowing the men to help themselves while he hung back and waited.
Hutch poured himself half a cup and smiled his way over to where Starsky was standing.
"I'll explain tonight," Hutch whispered so softly that Starsky barely heard him.
"I'm just glad to see you here." Starsky returned in as soft a voice, then casually walked over to the fifty-something-year-old model to make small talk.
Hutch took a few sips of his coffee, then looked carefully around the room. The most crowded table was filled with teenagers done up in heavy punk make-up and hair. Next to them was a table of women who appeared to be in their mid to late twenties. Hutch made his way over to join them.
"Hi, do you have room for one more?" He smiled his most beguiling smile. "My name's Kevin and I'm just trying out for a spot today."
The women looked him over appraisingly, before one nodded and indicated the last empty chair. "Sure. Take a load off, honey. We all remember our first day here."
"So, you're all house models?" Hutch asked.
"That's right. House models, just dripping glamour, every last one of us." There were light giggles from the other models as the woman spoke. "I'm Becky and I'm a smart ass, so don't let me bother you. This is Carla, Joan and Susie."
"I'm pleased to meet all of you." Hutch appreciated the fresh candor, which was not what he'd been expecting.
"Where ya from, Kevin? I've never seen you on the LA circuit, and I've been on the circuit for a million years." Becky appeared to be the only one of the women interested in conversation.
"I'm from the Midwest, Minnesota to be exact." The masked detective easily spoke the truth.
"Another one from the great beyond, Joan." Becky laughed heartily. "We get a lot of transplants. Joan and I have decided we're the only native Californians in California."
"I haven't been here very long myself. I'd always wanted to try my luck in California, because you know it's hard to get a lot of modeling work in Minnesota," Hutch replied. He quickly decided to dig just a little. "Are there other models from the Midwest who work here?"
"Some, sure." Becky didn't seem interested in elaborating. "You're certainly not just getting started?"
"Of course not." Hutch hoped his smile was confident. "I've been doing this for years but never fulltime. Like I said, not a lot of work in Minnesota."
"Remember what Marsha said about Kansas, Beck?" Hutch turned sharp eyes on Joan as she addressed her friend.
"Sure. She always said it was 82,264 square miles of empty." Becky's tone seemed a little sad to Hutch, but he jumped on the opening.
"I'd love to meet a fellow Midwesterner. Is Marsha a house model here?"
"No, not anymore. She used to be when she first came to California as a kid. Tony discovered her."
"Ah, the man I hope to be working for," Hutch commented. "Tony Ivey."
"Be careful what you wish for, Kevin. Tony has been known to make me wish I'd become the nurse my mama wanted me to be." Becky fumbled with her cigarette package as she spoke. "Damn, I'm out."
"Especially this week." Hutch didn't know if the comment came from Susie or Carla. he hadn't straightened the names out to match the faces yet, but he leaned forward a little and made sure his expression was full of casual interest.
"The boss is having a bad week?"
"You can say that again. Marsha took a powder, and Tony's been..." Joan was speaking this time, but stopped when Becky put a hand on her arm.
"Ladies, we're late. Kevin, good luck, I hope we see you around." With that, Becky crumpled up the empty cigarette jacket and rose. The others followed, and Hutch was left sitting at the table alone.
Hutch was still thinking about the exchange and what Becky might know, when Starsky started clapping his hands sharply. He looked up and saw a young girl leave his partner's side. He got to his feet, just as Starsky was telling the men that it was time to go back to the studio.
The small group walked single file back to studio two, Hutch in the rear right behind Starsky. When they entered, they saw Leslie and Ivey in the middle of the room.
"Oh, good, your little coffee break is over," Ivey said before the door was closed behind the group. "You two stand over there." The photographer was pointing at Hutch and the older model. "Now, please? That wall. Go. Stand there."
Hutch couldn't help looking at Starsky briefly, but he checked it as he left the group with the silver-haired man and stood at the near wall. Ivey continued.
"Now, you other three, thank you for coming in, lalalalalala, you know the drill. One day we may be able to use you, but this isn't the day." The photographer waited with an impatience that almost had an odor for the rejected models to gather their belongings and leave the room. He turned to the men he had waiting.
"Okay, you two have some possibilities. Walk across the room for me."
Hutch watched as the other model took off immediately. He glided smoothly across the room, turned, and strode smoothly back to the wall.
"Thank you." Ivey looked at Hutch expectantly. "The invitation was for both of you. If you please?"
Hutch could feel Starsky's encouragement as if it were spoken aloud. He threw his shoulders back and remembered to not copy the walk he'd just seen, but to use his own. He moved naturally across the room and hoped his cheeks weren't showing the blush he felt.
The loud shrill of a telephone interrupted his walk back. Ivey answered it himself and turned the room blue with cursing. He slammed the phone down hard and turned to Leslie. "Fucking Revlon is going to kill me. I have to get back in so you finish here. Hire them." Without another word, the angry man stormed from the room.
The atmosphere in the tense studio brightened considerably on his exit. Leslie smiled broadly and spoke to Starsky first. "Donald, do you think you can show our new models where the office manager is? Once they have their paperwork filled out, take them to make-up. I have shoots for both of them in the morning, and I'd like make-up to get their colors set today." She turned to the newly hired models. "Welcome to Sizzle, gentlemen. I'll see you both tomorrow morning at seven sharp."
Hutch entered Starsky's place almost an hour after his partner had arrived. It was after 9:00 p.m. Starsky looked up eagerly as he entered, but his welcoming smile was soon frozen on his lips.
"Don't say a word. Not one word." Hutch headed for the bathroom with Starsky hot on his heels.
"What did they do to you?" The bathroom door closed in Starsky's face as he asked the question. He could hear the sound of the sink taps running full blast.
"They put enormous quantities of make-up on my face," Hutch yelled back. "Then they took it off, so they could start all over again in a slightly different shade. They did this three times, and now it's all coming off."
"I'm coming in," Starsky said as he opened the unlocked door. He watched for a moment as Hutch pulled his shirt off and stuffed it in the hamper. Then he lathered up a washcloth vigorously. Starsky was trying not to stare, but....
"I don't want to talk about it, Starsky."
"But, Hutch...your hair." Starsky reached out a tentative hand to touch the top of Hutch's lacquered head. "It's all poufy on top, and it's all gone below your ears, and there's nothin' on your neck anymore!"
"Thank you for bringing that to my attention, Starsk." Hutch began scrubbing his face with the soapy cloth.
"Why'd ya let them cut it? Why'd they cut so much of it!"
Hutch turned his head toward his stupefied partner, his face still covered in lather. "I didn't have any choice. I found out today that my hair is," Hutch cleared his throat and adopted a snotty tone, "hopelessly out of style and it had to be immediately rectified."
"But I love your hair, and I didn't know it was out of style." Starsky elbowed Hutch over a bit and peered at himself in the mirror. He fingered one of his thick curls. "Is my hair out of style?"
"How would I know?" Hutch shoved Starsky back over. "I know you're not cutting it, though."
"You cut yours."
"They made me." Hutch began to blink rapidly. "Ah, shit."
"I've got soap in my eyes. Ah, shit!"
"Lemme see." Starsky grabbed a dry towel with one hand and Hutch's chin with the other.
"Now I've got it in my mouth, too!" The sheared head jerked away from Starsky's hand, as Hutch plunged his face in the running water. He made an abundance of sputtering noises.
Starsky began staring again at the bare neck as it was bent over the sink. He couldn't get over how clean and defined they had made Hutch's hairline. He couldn't believe they had trimmed the long locks he loved. He noticed something else.
"Hey, Hutch? The back of your very bare neck is colored funny. I can't believe they put make-up there, too."
"I'm lucky they didn't put rouge on my nipples." Hutch raised his clean face from the sink and reached for a hairbrush.
Starsky was chuckling at the image Hutch presented, and he wrapped his arms around his partner from behind, squeezing briefly before reaching up to pinch the un-rouged nipples. They pebbled immediately. "I don't know. A little rouge on these babies might be kinda sexy. "'Course, I'm the only one who gets to apply it."
Hutch laughed as he tried to drag the brush through hair that was stiff with hairspray. Starsky was distracting his efforts by nuzzling the back of his neck. It was just starting to feel good when Starsky pulled away.
"You, oh love of my life, need a shower. You taste like make-up, and I always hated that taste. Plus, you're never gonna be able to brush this junk out of your hair."
"Yeah, I suppose you're right." Hutch moved to the shower and opened the curtain wide to start the water. He bent over low to remove his shoes and socks and with his back still turned to Starsky, slowly pulled off his pants, tossing them aside. He ran a hand under the water again, then hooked his thumbs in the elastic of his underwear and removed them an inch at a time. Once he was nude, Hutch stepped into the warm spray and turned around.
"Am I showering alone?" he asked with a short smile, before closing the curtain.
It only took Starsky thirty seconds to strip and join him.
After their long shower, they found their way to the kitchen to make a quick snack to take to bed with them. The bedroom was lit softly, and Starsky had tuned in an easy listening oldies station on the bedside radio. Both remained comfortably nude and were ensconced in the soft sheets, sleepy, and eating chunks of cheese and slices of banana. Starsky held a handful of chocolate chip cookies, and he was thoughtfully breaking off bites to feed to Hutch who was pretending he didn't want them.
Once their snack was finished, Starsky brushed his hands on the top of the sheets and reached for Hutch's head. He ran his fingers through the short, damp strands of hair and smiled. "You know, it's really not bad, Hutch. Makes you look really young, since it's about as short as it was in the Academy."
Hutch moved his head until it was resting against Starsky's shoulder, then he pressed them both against the mattress. "Well, don't get used to it, because once this case is over I'm growing it back."
"Speaking of the case," Starsky pushed Hutch's head a little closer to his chest and adjusted the pillow behind his own head, "you still haven't told me how you just appeared there today, or if you sniffed anything out when you were chatting those girls up."
"I nearly panicked, Starsk. I was sitting here in my robe, just sorting through the files for Dobey. I'd just gotten off the phone with him. He was processing the make on Leslie Curry and had told me that nothing else had come through from the feds or the uniforms, and, of course, he wants me to bring in the signed reports immediately. So we hang up and the phone rings again. It's Straus, and he tells me to shave real close and wear a good shirt because he has me set to go to a group interview at one." Hutch was absent-mindedly combing through the dark mat of Starsky's chest hair as he spoke. "So, I hit the shower and tore over to my place to find a decent shirt. I remembered what you said about dark colors and the camera, so I wore that black one...that was okay?"
"You looked hot--now go on." Starsky was enjoying the gentle tugs and twirls through his chest.
"That's it. I changed and headed down there as Kevin Harris." Hutch added a light kiss to a peaked nipple. "You did real good as Donald Simms, photographer, who had never met one Kevin Harris, model, before."
"I was real happy to see you, partner. I'd spent another frustrating morning and was thinkin' that if you were there, it would go better--make me better--and then there you were."
"Not that I made any progress, but maybe tomorrow."
"I keep thinkin' I'm missing something right under my nose. I see these made-up kids walk by and I'm trying to calculate their age sans the goop on their faces, and then there's that dick, Ivey, who blows up if you look at him cross-wise. He looks like he has enough of a temper to put someone six feet under if he wanted to."
"Now the question is, did Marsha do something to make him want to bury her?" Hutch raised his head enough to look into his partner's eyes as he spoke.
"That's what we gotta find out, and we gotta find it out fast." Starsky yawned as he finished speaking. "I think, though, that one of us has a 7:00 a.m. call, and one of us has an 8:00 a.m. call, and both of us better get some shut-eye, and right now." Starsky loosened an arm to turn off the radio and shut off the lamp. "'Night, babe."
Hutch snuggled a little closer and drew the covers up over both of them. "'Night."
As his partner had the morning before, Hutch found the alarm to be particularly shrill and painful to his ears when it went off at 4:45 a.m. Starsky's arm was draped across his neck, making the reach for the alarm even more difficult.
"Kill that thing," Starsky mumbled, unconsciously tightening his hold.
"I can't reach it if you don't let go of me." The buzz seemed to be reverberating off the ceiling to Hutch's sensitized morning ears. Starsky released him enough to find the alarm and he gratefully silenced it. "Oh, God, it's early," he moaned, forcing himself to sit up and put his feet on the floor.
"Shudup, I'm sleepin'." Starsky's words were nearly indistinguishable from under the pillow he'd retreated to.
"Yeah, yeah." Hutch made his way to the bathroom. "I'm waking you before I leave, buddy, and that's in forty-five minutes."
"Make coffee first, and shudup."
Hutch refrained from tossing something at his sleeping lover and finished his walk to the bathroom. A tepid shower helped to get his eyes open, and, as he had the day before, he shaved his light beard stubble as closely as he could. The toweling dry of his newly short hair took depressingly little time. He stared at his reflection in the mirror.
I've gone from Dennis the Menace to G.I. Joe in forty-eight hours.
The studio had told him that his wardrobe for the shoot would be provided to him, so Hutch didn't bother to look for anything photogenic to wear. He donned jeans, loafers and a lightweight sweater against the chilly morning air, and headed to the kitchen to get the coffee on. He'd give Starsky ten more minutes to sleep.
Once the coffee was done, Hutch filled two mugs--doctoring one heavily with sugar--and carried them both back to the bedroom. He placed them on the nightstand and found Starsky's head under his pillow. "Starsk, wake up."
The grumbled reply was emphatic. "No."
"Come on, Starsk, I have coffee for you, and I need to talk to you before I leave." Hutch grabbed a mug and waved it in the vicinity of Starsky's head. "Smell that. Doesn't that smell good?"
Starsky groaned but did turn over and sit up. "Okay, hand it over. When did you start talking so much in the morning?" He took a tentative sip of the hot brew, then scowled. "You forgot the sugar."
"I've barely said anything this morning, and give that back. You're drinking mine."
"You handed it to me."
"Would you quit bitching? I don't like being up at this time either." Hutch smoothly switched the mugs. "Here's your sugar."
Starsky mumbled thanks and got his eyes a little more open. "Whatcha wanna talk about?"
"That girl I was talking to yesterday, or rather one of the girls."
"Um hum." Starsky was drinking more appreciatively now.
"Her name was Becky, and she seemed to have some history at Sizzle. I'm going to see if I can get her alone and talking again. Can you call Straus at home before you leave and see what he knows about her?"
"Sure. Now what did you really want to talk about?"
Hutch's eyes widened. "I'm scared shitless."
Starsky put down his mug to capture both sides of his partner's blanched face in his hands. "I know, but you're gonna do fine." He pulled Hutch a little closer and gently kissed him. "Now get goin', or you're gonna be late."
Hutch nodded and got up. "We'll have to play it by ear, but let's try and break away for a check this afternoon?"
"Okay, but I'll try and check in on you even before that. I'm also gonna see if I can corner Tony and maybe get him mad."
"That sounds like a plan you'd better be careful with."
"Aren't I always careful?"
The impish smile that now appeared in the wakening face warmed Hutch's heart and got him laughing. He was still laughing as he walked out the front door. Somehow, he was less nervous now about his first photo shoot as a model.
After Hutch left, Starsky quickly showered and dressed, then made his phone call to Straus. The agent answered the phone himself.
"Ben, this is Dave Starsky. I'm sorry to get you at home so early, but I've got a question for you."
"That's okay, I was just getting ready to leave myself. I still haven't been sleeping much. I can't get Marsha out of my mind."
"I understand. I know this must seem to you like nothing's progressing, but my partner and I are both fully under now. Something will break." Starsky spoke in as confident a tone as he could muster.
Starsky could hear a heavy sigh before the agent spoke. "I'm putting my faith in that, detective. Now what can I answer for you?"
"My partner met a house model yesterday who he thought might be a good source of information. He didn't get her last name, but her first name is Becky. Do you know a model named Becky?"
"Beck? Sure, I know Beck. I used to rep her when she was younger, before she ran into some...troubles. She's a good kid."
Starsky was completely professional as he asked, "What kind of troubles?"
"Nothing illegal, and nothing I can talk about. I'm tellin' you, she's a good kid."
"Did she know Marsha well?" Starsky could hear a gasp of breath, and he silently cursed himself for using the wrong tense. "Ben, I'm sorry. I meant does she know Marsha well?"
"Guess I'll have to get used to that kind of thing if you don't find her," the agent rasped harshly. A long moment passed before he continued. "Beck and Marsha used to be casual friends, if I remember right. Marsha is kind of hard to get close to, you know? Becky is real good friends with Leslie Curry, though."
Starsky glanced at his watch and realized he was going to have to cut the conversation short. "Listen, I want to hear more about this, but now I gotta run. I just wanted to get your take on Becky."
"Hear more about what?" Straus asked in a confused tone.
"Becky's friendship with Leslie Curry for one, and a whole lot more on Leslie herself." Starsky began to fidget. "I'm sorry, I can't be late so I have to get off the phone, but can you do me a favor?"
"Whatever you need."
"Try and put together as many details as you can remember regarding Becky's friendship with Leslie and Marsha. Plus, anything else you can think of about Leslie that might fill in some of her history. The background check we ran on her came back clean, but that doesn't always tell the whole story."
"Leslie is a good kid." Starsky sighed softly at Straus' words. He was beginning to think the agent viewed all the women involved with Sizzle with rose-colored glasses. "That may be true, Ben, but you yourself were the one that first told us about illegal activity at Sizzle, and Leslie is second in command there. Anything you can tell us about her may help in some way to find Marsha."
"Okay, Detective, I'll try and remember stuff about Leslie and Becky. Do you want to meet me somewhere to talk?"
"Yeah, I do, but I'm not sure when that will be. Can you just expect my call?"
"I'll be in my office all day, and at this number after seven tonight."
Starsky thanked him briefly before hanging up, and hurried out the door. He wasn't as lucky with traffic as he'd been the morning before and, combined with the phone call, he was five minutes late when he rushed through Sizzle's lobby and headed down the corridor to studio one. He skidded to a stop when he saw Leslie.
"Donald. I could have used you thirty minutes ago."
"I'm sorry, there was..."
Leslie waved a hand. "No time now, just go help Tony in one. I'm working with Mike in two."
Starsky watched her hurry off, and he took a moment to catch his breath before opening the door to studio one. The room was filled with people, and one large section was designed to look like a nightclub--complete with bar, stools, and shelves lined with bottles of real alcohol. Dimly, he wondered if the set designers ever got to sleep, as he went straight to the photographer. "Good mornin'. Leslie said I should work with you right now."
Ivey turned as he spoke, showing Starsky eyes that were much too bright, with almost no visible pupil.
Coke? Uppers? I wonder which one Mr. Ivey has been indulging in. He looks like he hasn't slept or eaten in a month.
"Thank you so much for joining us, Mr. Simms." The man's voice dripped with sarcasm, which Starsky pointedly ignored.
One wrong word, and this guy's going to blow sky-high, Starsky thought while offering a smile. "Happy to be on the job, sir. Where would you like me to start?"
Ivey opened his mouth and then shut it with a snap. He raised a hand that was trembling slightly and pointed to a small group of people in the corner. "Get them posed."
Starsky glanced at the group and saw his partner in the middle, talking to a petite girl. He knew before he asked his next question that it would not be well received, but he had no choice. "How should I pose them, sir?"
"GOD DAMN IT! Didn't you study the story-boards? This shoot has been posted for a week!"
"No," Starsky tried speaking calmly. "I didn't see the story-boards, but if you can tell me where they're posted I'll go look now."
"There's no time for you to look now, and if I didn't need some kind of assistance today, even putrid assistance, I'd be sending you on your way, Simms." The man took a visible shaky breath. "This shoot is for Glacier Beer, an account I've been working on for a long time. As you'll notice, we have a set designed as a nightclub. We have models dressed in clothes suitable for a nightclub. We have the beer all over the set. Now, what we don't have is the models posed to be looking like they're drinking the best fucking beer of their lives and having the best fucking time while drinking it. Could you please take care of that?"
Starsky nodded briefly and hurried over to the group of models. He knew from the looks on their faces that they'd heard every word of his dressing down, and he couldn't prevent a blush from creeping over his cheeks. He made sure he wasn't obvious as he locked his eyes on Hutch's for a moment, needing the calm that came from a glance at the steady blue orbs. His own eyes crinkled when Hutch added a sly wink, and he felt himself visibly relax.
Before Starsky could begin speaking to the group, Ivey began shouting again. He swiveled to see if the rage was directed at him. It wasn't. This time the photographer was shouting at a young girl. Starsky turned back to the group, but then heard another shout.
"Simms! I have to take a call, and I don't know how long I'll be. Work the poses and the lights. I'll expect you to be ready as soon as I return."
He was out the door before Starsky could answer the directive. The bulk of the tension in the room left with him. Starsky turned a reassuring smile on the assemblage waiting for his instruction.
"Okay, folks, thanks for being so patient." He glanced around the set, quickly familiarizing himself with the placement and style already there. "We'll get goin' in just a second."
Starsky was sizing up the different heights of the models and reaching to readjust a bar stool, when he felt his partner's eyes on him. He watched for a moment.
Hutch raised his chin slightly, and then continued chatting with the same petite girl Starsky had first spied him with. He looked closer.
I see it, partner. No way this kid has seen her eighteenth birthday, and this one's obvious even with all the make-up and that hairstyle. Starsky continued pondering, certain he was right but unclear as to why Ivey would let a clearly underage girl appear in an advertisement for beer.
Is he so messed up on whatever he's high on--or comin' down from--that he didn't notice who all they picked for this shoot? Starsky listened as Hutch raised his normally soft speaking voice a little higher.
"So you've been a model for over a year here?" Hutch's tone was friendly as well as louder than normal.
"Yeah, I've been here a long time now." The girl was sniffling frequently and darting her eyes around the room.
"You must be pretty happy with the work, and the money." Hutch noticed the girl's sudden restlessness, and he tried to focus her attention back on him. "Have you been featured in any of the ads before?"
"What?" The girl's hands were tapping her thighs now. "No, never a feature. Just background shit like today. Listen, I think we've got some time before Tony comes back. I'm gonna hit the bathroom." She took off without another word.
Hutch touched his nose lightly as he caught his partner's eyes. Starsky nodded briefly in return.
"Okay, if I can get you and you and you," Starsky pointed at three of the models, "to move up front and grab yourself a bottle of beer, we'll get started." Starsky began to close the group up, giving Hutch a chance to slip away.
The hall was uncharacteristically quiet, as Hutch made his way toward the twin male and female restrooms. Normally the hall was teeming with activity, but both morning shoots had required a lot of personnel. This, combined with the still early hour, lent an unfamiliar emptiness to the surroundings. He'd planned on just waiting for the young girl to come out and trying to talk to her privately, but when he saw Becky, the model he'd met the day before, approach the bathrooms from the other side of the hall, he waved briefly and slipped inside the men's room.
Hutch looked around and saw that he was alone, so he pressed against the adjoining wall to see if he could hear anything from the other side, or hear when the teenager left. He heard Becky's voice pitched low, but clear.
"That stuff will kill ya, kid." Hutch unconsciously held his breath as he eavesdropped. Becky's tone was full of contempt and maybe a touch of pity. "I've told you a million times."
"I don't need a lecture, Beck. I need this to keep going. If I don't snort I'll start eating, and if I do I'll get fat and then Tony will...."
"I know all about Tony."
"What do you know, Becky?" Hutch froze as he recognized Leslie's voice joining the two models.
"Hi, Les. I was just telling Miss Stupid here, that she's powdered her nose enough for one morning."
Hutch pressed closer to the wall as the voices became a little muffled. Then he heard Leslie clearly again. "Just get back to the studio, but you come see me before you leave today. We're going to have another talk." There was the sound of footsteps and the soft closing of a door. Hutch remained where he was. He didn't have to wait long for the conversation to resume.
"Leslie, it's been days."
"I know how long it's been." Hutch heard a weary sigh after the words.
"You also heard that last fight between them; you told me you did."
"They fought all the time."
"You mean Tony screamed and Marsha took it." Hutch recognized the disgust in Becky's voice.
"What do you want me to do, Beck? What?"
"I want you to call the police and tell them how much they fought, tell them how Tony used to treat her."
"Tony would never have hurt her. He loves her, more than he loves anything." Leslie's voice was loud now, and filled with emotion.
"He has a brutal way of showing it."
"Tony was right here with all of us when Marsha disappeared."
"That doesn't mean he didn't make a phone call or two to one of his friends. He knows plenty of people who would do just about anything for the right price. We both know Tony did not want Marsha to take the Lady Fair deal."
Hutch was frantically trying to absorb all the words, wishing he had his notebook. Leslie responded angrily. "If you're so sure he did something to Marsha why don't you tell the police?"
There was a snort of laughter. "With my history with Tony? The cops would just think I was a jilted girlfriend trying to make trouble for her ex boyfriend and current boss. They wouldn't investigate on my word, but they might on yours."
"Tony didn't do anything to Marsha, or have anything done to her. I'd stake my life on it."
"Okay, Les. I hope you're right. But mostly I hope Marsha is all right."
Hutch waited, but nothing further was said. In a few moments, he heard the door open again and footsteps heading down the hall. He counted to ten, then left the men's room to return to the studio. He was trying to figure a way to get Starsky aside and tell him about the conversation he'd just heard, when he opened the studio door. Instantly, there were numerous pairs of eyes burning into him. Tony was standing in the middle of the room, and this time he didn't shout. This time he nearly whispered as his voice dripped venom.
"You've kept me waiting for ten minutes. Ten minutes is worth a lot of money to me. Don't ever walk off a shoot again; I don't give a fuck if you have to piss your pants to keep working. You break when I tell you to break and not before."
Hutch felt his face redden. He swallowed hard and said nothing.
"Is that understood?" the photographer asked.
"Yes, I'm sorry." He kept his anger in check.
"Just get back to the set."
Hutch saw Starsky's face as he headed back to the group that was partially posed. He nodded a little when he saw the suppressed rage on his partner's features. Starsky spoke before he was back in place.
"I have your spot right here, Kevin."
Hutch never understood how he got through that morning, and without Starsky there, he didn't think he could have done it. The photographer's irrational anger kept spiraling out of control as he found fault with every pose, every change of the lights, every smile his weary models tried to give him. After three hours, he gave his final explosion.
"I'm getting nothing from you people. Nothing. Go eat. Go sleep. Go do something for sixty minutes and then come back and do your jobs! I can't take any more right now."
Everyone breathed a sigh of relief when he left, and once the door was shut behind him, they hurriedly exited the studio themselves.
Starsky and Hutch remained behind.
"I say we kill him." Starsky ran a shaky hand through his curls. "You okay, babe? You were doin' real good no matter what the asshole said."
Hutch smiled and nodded. "Yeah, I'm a tough model, remember?" The brief laughter they shared felt good. Hutch continued. "We need to talk. Where did you park the Torino?"
"One block north." Starsky raised his eyes hopefully. "Did you get something from the kid?"
"I'll tell you about it when we're in the car. I'll go first, okay? Give me two minutes and then follow me."
Starsky nodded. Five minutes later, both men were cocooned in the privacy of the Ford. Hutch started to speak and quickly told his partner everything he'd heard.
"Okay, so what do we have?" Starsky tapped Hutch's arm as he spoke. The blond had been about to rub his face. "Don't do that. You'll smear that make-up all over the place."
Hutch sighed and dropped his hand. "What we have is one very protective photographer's assistant, one ex-girlfriend who knows probably first hand about how bad Tony's temper really is, one doped-up teenager, and the owner of the place who was crashing hard."
"What do you think he was coming down from, cocaine?"
"Has to be," Hutch agreed. "That kid was snorting in the bathroom, and Tony has all the signs of a serious habit. Ben was right, that place is teeming with drugs. The guy getting made up with me this morning did a few lines right there in front of me and the make-up artist. She didn't even blink."
"So what do we have?" Starsky asked again in frustration.
"We've got enough to shut the place down," Hutch answered, equally frustrated. "I don't know, Starsk. Leslie's the key, though. My gut says so."
"So does mine."
The men were silent for a minute before Starsky spoke. "Hey, Hutch, we should've done something yesterday that we need to do tonight."
"Put an after-hour tail on both Leslie and Tony."
Hutch's lips billowed as he released a stream of air. "Yeah, we should've done that last night." He reached for the mike. "We need to call all this into Dobey, anyway. Which one should we have him send a team on?"
"Tony." Starsky met Hutch's surprised look with confidence. "My gut tells me we tail Leslie."
"I've been trusting your gut on everything but what to feed it for years now," Hutch quipped. "Okay, Dobey puts a tail on Tony, and we take Leslie. Agreed?"
"Now that we settled that, how about feeding our guts? I'm hungry." Starsky fingered the ignition keys restlessly.
"If you can find somewhere to eat and still get us back to the studio in forty minutes, I'm with you." Hutch had the mike in hand. "If you can't, just remember I'm willing to starve to avoid another mad rant from the crazed photographer."
"Just watch my smoke, and call Dobey. I'll find us some lunch somewhere in under five minutes."
The Torino peeled away from the curb as Hutch called dispatch. "This is Zebra Three requesting an immediate patch-through to Captain Dobey."
After briefing Dobey on their new suspicions and arranging for a tail and home stake-out for Anthony Ivey, the partners gulped down a hasty lunch from a ritzy corner deli located close to the studio. Starsky was so hungry he forgot to complain about the leanness of the turkey hidden under a layer of crunchy produce, or the crust-free bread that was sliced paper-thin. He simply ate with one hand and drove with the other. Hutch ate more carefully, aware of the fact that he couldn't afford to spill anything on his studio wardrobe, or destroy the make-up on his face. He ate with several paper napkins tucked into his collar and spread over the lap of the brightly colored trousers.
Starsky dropped Hutch off close to the studio, then left to park the car on the quiet street he'd been using. When he joined his partner back at the nightclub set with five minutes to spare, the change in the room's atmosphere from the morning was tangible. The models were calmly waiting for the shoot to restart, and Tony was not screaming at anybody. He was sniffling heavily, though.
Maybe we can get through this job before his high wears off again and he turns back into The Beast. I wonder what this guy is like without all the chemicals twisting his brain and personality into knots, Starsky thought while answering the photographer's wave.
"Simms," Ivey called almost pleasantly. "Would you please turn on the music and adjust the back light? I'm ready to get started."
"Sure," Starsky answered, hurrying to the tasks. In a moment, the studio was filled with the seductive notes of a jazz ensemble.
"Perfect." Starsky could see the photographer relax even more, and he marveled at the change in the man but remembered its source.
"Okay," Ivey continued from behind his tripod. "Blond man, undo the top two buttons of your shirt, and lean in a little more to that luscious creature next to you. Make sure I can see the bottle label."
Starsky swallowed his smile as he watched Hutch look at the other men on the set. He was the only blond. The buttons were quickly unfastened as Hutch followed his direction to the letter. The beer bottle was held prominently, while he leaned over the shoulder of the teenager he'd followed earlier.
"That's it. That's my shot," Ivey purred. "Excellent. Everyone's come alive! Back people, move up and tilt your bottles. Yes, yes." The camera was clicking frantically as Ivey spoke. Starsky stood by in anticipation of anything the man might require of him. "Laughter! Let me see some pure joy."
The shoot ended an hour later. Starsky was intensely relieved that Ivey had held on to his good humor and that he'd managed to get the job done, and done well to Starsky's eye.
The asshole really is talented, he thought with genuine admiration. I wonder how much better he'd be without all that shit in his system messing him up.
One of Ivey's silent, ever-present minions was handing out small towels to the models, as they moved away from the hot lights. The set designers were already beginning to disassemble the nightclub scene, clipboards in hand with the next story-board set for the that studio.
"All right, thank you, everyone, and check your schedules. I'm off." With that, the photographer left the room.
The models wandered off as well, leaving Starsky and Hutch alone in the studio with the busy set designers and dismantlers. Starsky began unloading the film from the cameras just used, as Hutch casually walked over to him, patting perspiration from his face and neck as he moved.
"There are schedules?" Hutch asked in a low voice, once he was at Starsky's side. "How come I didn't know about the schedules? Since the second I got here someone has just told me where to go and," he looked down at his loud clothes with a touch of a sigh, "what to wear."
"You got me. I didn't know there were story-boards posted until this morning." Starsky carefully transferred the film into a protective container. "Somehow, I don't think this is a typical work-week at Sizzle. At least for the sake of the people who have to stay here, I hope it isn't."
"Me, too." Hutch looked at the towel he'd been using, then held it up for Starsky's inspection. "I don't think I'm wearing much make-up anymore."
Starsky didn't look up. "Yes you are, it's all over you, it's just messy now. If you're scheduled for another shoot today, you're goin' back in the chair, Kevin."
"Thank you for that observation, Donald." In deference to the men busily at work behind them, Hutch refrained from slapping Starsky's butt, as he wanted to do. "I better go see where those schedules are and what torture awaits me. Where will you be?"
Starsky held up two canisters of loaded film. "Where do ya think? The darkroom, although I'll check with Leslie first."
Hutch nodded and walked off. The partners didn't see each other again for the rest of the afternoon. Hutch had been needed on a small editorial shoot, and had to spend time in the dreaded make-up chair being painted and lacquered for the second time that day. Starsky, as he had predicted, was sent to the darkroom for the remainder of his shift.
Leslie had been in charge of Hutch's job, much to his relief. The woman treated them all kindly and with patience--the direct opposite of the way her boss handled people--and it was very clear to him why Leslie was present on the big jobs like Revlon.
Hutch noticed that even though the job was simple, Leslie took a long time in her decisions, and the patient voice was at times shaky. He wondered if Becky's words earlier in the day had sunk in, and she was going to voluntarily go to the police with whatever information she had regarding Ivey's treatment of the missing model. More than ever, his gut was still telling him that Leslie was the key to this investigation, and he was hoping the evening's tail of the woman would give them the break they needed.
At 6:30, Leslie called it a day. She gathered some of her long, dark-blonde hair up in a makeshift knot as she spoke. "That's it guys. I'm tired and I think we have everything we need here. For those of you who haven't checked the schedule yet, none of you are on call for tomorrow. Tony and I have meetings for most of the day, so they'll be no shoots. Thanks, have a good evening, and I'll see those of you on schedule back here the day after tomorrow."
Hutch watched as Leslie headed to her tiny office, thinking gratefully that he and Starsky had time to get into position to tail her without much effort, since she was remaining in the building for now. He followed the other models down the opposite direction to a small mailroom. The schedule was posted there, and he saw immediately that he wasn't scheduled for the rest of the week.
Damn! Now what? I just come in and hang around? Pretend I didn't see the schedule?
Hutch was still working out possible solutions as he went into the men's dressing room to change into his own clothes and wash his face. When he was done changing and had the make-up scrubbed off, he casually strolled the corridors and peeked into the empty studios looking for Starsky. The darkrooms were all locked from the inside, so he couldn't look there. When Starsky was nowhere to be found, Hutch decided to get his own car and drive it to where the Torino was parked. He'd wait for his partner in the Torino.
When Hutch left the lobby, it was nearly dark outside. He used his normal quick walk to make short time to his car and slid inside the unlocked door.
"You know, gorgeous men really should be driving gorgeous cars, but you'll never listen." Came a voice from the back seat.
Hutch jumped so high in shock that he bumped his head on the car's roof. "Starsky! What the hell are you doing back there?"
Starsky scrunched up far enough to be able to wrap a hand around the blond's mouth from behind. "You tryin' to wake the dead, or just let everyone on the block know who we are?"
"Take your hand off my mouth," Hutch mumbled, not indifferent to nipping the palm over his lips. "You made me bump my head!"
With a low laugh, Starsky removed his hand and climbed over the front seat. "Sorry, babe, but you were really loud." He settled himself comfortably and grabbed Hutch's face. "Hey, no make-up. If we were home I'd kiss ya." Hutch was scowling and rubbing his head as Starsky spoke. "Come on, is it bad?"
"No," Hutch relented, "but could you not sneak up on me like that again?"
Starsky couldn't resist one last tease. "I was just making a point about gorgeous men and ugly cars." He patted Hutch's thigh. "Okay, fun's over. I was waiting for you in the bomb 'cause it's less flashy than the beauty, and I figured we'd have to tail Leslie pretty close. I called Dobey while I was waitin' on you and got her address just in case." He stretched around until he had an arm in the back seat, pulling up their guns and holsters. "Here, I got our pieces out of the Torino's trunk.
"How long have you been waiting?" Hutch asked while he put on his holster and then started the engine.
"Thirty, forty minutes, I guess. Go south and pull behind the employee parking spaces."
Hutch refrained from commenting on the unnecessary directions, but followed them anyway. In a moment, they were parked sixty feet from the small back lot. There were only a few cars there, including a Porsche and a small Toyota.
"Whatcha wanna bet that the custom Porsche belongs to our favorite scum of the week?" Starsky asked, while trying not to drool over the sleek lines of the dark sports car.
"All we know about him so far is that he's got a hell of a habit and one nasty temper. That's all we know." Hutch sighed as he answered.
"We also know he doesn't drive a Toyota--but Leslie does. Look."
Hutch followed his partner's gaze until he spotted the photographer's assistant unlocking the blue Toyota and tossing a bag inside before she entered herself. "And it's show time." Hutch switched gears from neutral to drive. He waited until the car had left the lot, then got a few car lengths behind it. "She live in town?" Hutch asked, his eyes still on the Toyota.
"Uh, huh. Apartment complex it looks like from the address," Starsky confirmed. "She's picking up speed."
"And she's heading toward Santa Monica Boulevard. The lady is not going home."
They drove in silence for the next few minutes, watching closely. After five miles, the Toyota pulled onto a side street in a residential neighborhood. It stopped in front of an old small house.
Hutch pulled over on the other side of the street and killed the engine and the lights. "Where are we? West Hollywood?"
"Looks like it to me," Starsky answered, squinting his eyes to read the house address. "Can you read the numbers?"
"Nine-six-three? Is that a three?" Hutch was also squinting.
"No, I think it's an eight, and Leslie's going inside."
"Yeah." Starsky picked up the mike, speaking in a low voice. "This is Zebra Three reporting our location at 968 Blakemoore."
The dispatcher's voice crackled through. "Roger that Zebra Three."
"Please report our position to Captain Dobey immediately. Zebra Three, over."
"Roger. Central--over and out."
Starsky replaced the mike before lowering his window in order to see easier. "She used a key to get in. Suppose it could be her boyfriend's house or something?"
Hutch made a light snort. "You think Tony let's her have a boyfriend?"
"That's a good point," Starsky agreed. "Well, it's not her house and she has a key. It's gotta be someone she knows well."
Both men fixed their gazes on the two front windows, visible but not clearly outlined in the darkened house.
"Come on, Leslie," Starsky crooned. "Turn some lights on so we can see something, here."
He'd barely finished speaking when the front of the house became illuminated, revealing shades pulled across both windows, but a bright light shining from them.
"Nice work, Starsk. Now can you get her to come out and tell us everything she knows?" Hutch quipped.
"I'm not sure my powers are that strong, buddy-boy, but I did get the lights on." The shadow of a lithe female figure was clearly outlined now. The figure was running a hand through her hair. "You gotta love long hair like that on a woman in her thirties," Starsky admired. "I always hate it when a gal hits thirty and thinks she's got to cut her hair off."
"Yeah, me, too." Hutch was quiet for a minute, then. "She sure got it down in a hurry."
"Guess so. What do they use? A couple of those pin things? Must be able to pull those out fast."
"Probably," Hutch continued to muse aloud. "Except it looks a lot longer right now then it did when it was down at the studio today."
"Could be a trick of the lights," Starsky said in a doubtful tone.
"Yeah, or that's not Leslie we're staring at, partner."
"Same figure. Same height."
"Different hair," Hutch stated. "I'm sure of it. We're looking at the back of a tall, thin woman with very long hair."
Starsky shook his head. "It can't be that easy, can it?"
"Call it in. I'm going to get a little closer."
Starsky nodded as Hutch exited the car, and once again he grabbed the mike. "Zebra Three requesting silent back-up at 968 Blakemoore and an immediate patch-through to Captain Dobey."
Once Starsky had briefed Dobey on their suspicions, he joined Hutch who was crouched low behind the Toyota, where he could clearly see the front door as well as the two front windows. "I checked around back. Only one entrance," he whispered as Starsky knelt beside him. "You get Dobey?"
"Uh, huh. He's workin' an emergency search warrant." Both men turned their heads at the sound of approaching cars. "Back-up's here. They know to wait in their cars."
"Starsk, look." Hutch pointed at a second figure now visible in the window, slightly shorter than the first one.
"Yep. I see her. That's Leslie."
The men watched closely as the two figures skirted back and forth in front of the windows. They listened closely as well, but were too far away from the entrance to hear anything from the closed interior.
Long minutes passed, while they watched what appeared to be pacing and heavy gestures from both occupants of the house.
"Think they're fightin'?" Starsky asked. "Damn, I wish we could just blast in there and see who is really who."
Before Hutch could respond, the door to the house was flung open loudly, and then hurried footsteps and a head of bright hair were revealed.
Starsky and Hutch moved forward quickly and met the person in the middle of the driveway.
"Marsha Wells," Starsky spoke in a tone close to amazement. "Nice to meet ya, Marsha. We've had a whole lot of people trying to figure out where you've been."
The young woman searched both their faces before responding. "Cops?"
They both nodded and peered hard at the girl's perfect face.
"And all I wanted was to just get a little fresh air." The girl sighed and looked at them both...again, hard. "You'd better come inside and meet my sister."
The partners glanced at each other before Hutch followed the girl into the house. Starsky ran over to one of the black-and-whites and hurriedly spoke. "Call dispatch. Tell them to let Captain Dobey know that we've got Marsha Wells." He was running back to the house before the patrolman could respond. He gasped in a little air before entering the small home to find Leslie speaking to Hutch.
"I don't understand. You're one of the new models; what are you doing here? I don't understand." The startled woman looked up as Starsky entered. "Donald? Okay, what the hell is going on here?"
Both men pulled out their shields at the same time. Starsky spoke first. "We're detectives, Leslie. We've been working undercover at Sizzle all week, hoping to get some leads on what happened to Miss Wells, here. Her agent reported her missing to our precinct."
Leslie sat down hard in a nearby chair. "I planned on Ben reporting it. That was the plan, but then there was only one visit from two police officers. They barely questioned anyone!"
Hutch rubbed his eyes tiredly. "I think you'd better start at the beginning, but before you do, we need to read you your rights."
"My rights? I did nothing wrong!"
Marsha stepped to her sister's side. "Before you start talking about arresting my sister, maybe you'd like me to try and explain things?"
"Please do," Starsky, replied, a small hint of irritation showing in his voice.
"No one at Sizzle knows that Leslie and I are sisters. No one in the industry knows either. Les is fifteen years older than I am, and when she left Kansas I was so young I barely remembered her. She did send me letters once in a while, though, so when I couldn't take what my uncle was doing to me anymore, I hitchhiked out of the state and came to California to reunite with my big sister."
"Your uncle was abusing you?" Hutch asked quietly.
"Yes, but that's another story for another time. He's dead to me now."
"Why don't you go on, Miss Wells," Starsky prompted her as gently as he could.
"My sister took me in. I was a runaway and barely seventeen years old. She could have gotten in a lot of trouble for not turning me in. My aunt and uncle were my legal guardians."
Leslie sat up a little straighter and interjected, "After what Marsha told me she'd been through, there was no way I was going to let her go back to that place. Tony was my friend then, as well as my boss, and he loves young models." The woman's voice had a small catch in it, and Starsky and Hutch looked at her sharply.
"That's another reason we were at Sizzle undercover, Leslie. That was brought to our attention--Tony's use of underage, unsupervised models."
"You may not believe me right now, but that was part of what I was hoping to stop."
There was a loud knock on the still open front door, and Dobey was standing in the frame. Agents Gates and Mitchell were right behind him."
"Cap'n. How'd you get here so fast?" Starsky asked, amazed.
"The agents happened to be in my office when you called in, Starsky. They had some information for me. As soon as you gave me the update, we started right over. I can still handle a siren just fine, and we were anxious to hear the details of Miss Wells' disappearance." The large man hovered a little, his brows threatening to knit together. "We're all very relieved to see that you're all right, young lady."
Hutch was feeling a strong sense of exhaustion as the long day, combined with the confusing, partly told story, started a dull throb at his temples. He addressed his superior. "Captain. The ladies have been trying to explain what happened to us. Would it be all right with you and the agents if they continued where they left off? Starsky and I will fill in the blanks for you...later."
Dobey glanced at the agents and received brief affirmative nods in return. "Go on, Hutchinson."
"Thank you." Hutch turned to the sisters, now sitting together in the one chair. "Okay, let's clarify a few things before you go on with your story. Can you answer some questions?"
The women nodded at the same time.
Hutch raised a brow at his partner and resisted the urge to rub his temples again. "You planned your sister's disappearance?" he asked Leslie directly.
"We planned it together, Detective," Marsha spoke up. "We didn't break any laws doing it either."
"That's not quite true, Marsha," Leslie's voice was shaky again. "I broke a law when I lied to the police when they came to question us, but what you men need to understand is that I was trying to save my sister's life."
Leslie showed wide eyes to the law officials, but when they didn't question her last statement, she went on a little more confidently. "Anthony Ivey is a man with very few morals left. He wasn't always this way, but ten years of too many drugs and too much money, and way too much power, have completely changed him." She grasped Marsha's knee. "I begged my sister to not get involved with him two years ago, but she didn't listen to me very well back then. I watched him completely take over her life and chase everyone she cared about far away. I watched him scream at her and humiliate her, and threaten her time after time. Finally, Marsha had had enough, too. She was listening to me now, but afraid. Tony is a man to be afraid of, and he started to really lose it when Marsha started her negotiations with Lady Fair."
Marsha broke in. "Before you ask, I know I should have left him a long time ago, but I loved him a long time before I feared him."
Like his partner before him, Starsky was rubbing his own eyes, wishing they could race to the end of this story so he could make some sense of it. "But why fake your own disappearance? You're a famous woman, what were you planning on doing? Hiding from Tony? Giving up your career?" Starsky thought of the exhausted worry on Ben Straus' face days before and became angry again. "And the people who love you, were you going to tell them?"
"It was only supposed to be a few days," Marsha answered in a small voice. "Les thought...she said..."
"Let me finish this, honey." Leslie drew her sister a little closer. "My plan--and it was my plan--was to arrange for my sister to not go back to her contract meeting. I knew they'd take a break sometime in the afternoon, and I had a friend waiting there to drive her away and fast. Here to this house that I rented."
"He scared me to death, too," Marsha interjected. "I knew he was going to be there, but he snuck up on me and covered my mouth. I wasn't expecting that."
Dobey was beginning to reach the end of his patience. "Ladies, can we stick to the story, please?"
"Leslie, help us understand what you hoped to accomplish," Hutch asked.
"I hoped to bring about a police investigation that would close Sizzle, jail Anthony Ivey, and get about four teenagers into foster care. That's what I hoped for, and I'm a bit of a coward, gentlemen. I was afraid to do it any other way. I was afraid that if I just went to the police and told them what was going on at Sizzle--the drugs, the runaways, the shady deals--that Tony would make sure I paid no matter where he was. This way, I got my sister away from him when his temper was out of control, and I really thought the police would be all over the place and that they'd find the drugs and the kids."
"Whose idea was it again to go in undercover?" Agent Gates spoke sarcastically and for the first time.
Dobey reared up and spoke before his detectives could. "That was a plan agreed upon by all of us, if you remember correctly, Gates!"
"Well, in lieu of this new information, I wish we'd gone the other way, Captain." Gates held his ground, angry at the wasted effort.
"I don't know, Gates." Starsky smiled a little dangerously. "I think it was still the best thing we could have done."
"How's that, Detective?"
"Hutch and me saw drug use for ourselves, and we also saw those kids. We have enough first-hand information that we can arrest Ivey tonight. We may just be able to keep the ladies out of it."
"Surely, you know that this woman," Gates pointed at Leslie, "is in as much trouble as Ivey is. She knew about the drugs and the children, and she did nothing about it except concoct this half-assed scheme."
"You don't understand," Leslie cried out. "If I'd have gone to the police...you just don't understand. If you're going to arrest me I'll accept that, because I know that I did it the only way I knew how to keep myself and my sister safe."
"Do you really think Tony would have physically harmed either of you, Leslie?" Starsky asked curiously.
"Look at my sister's face. Sometimes looks like that can get you hurt if the wrong person thinks they belong to him."
The room was silent for a moment before Dobey took control. "Miss Wells," he directed at Leslie.
"It's Curry. I was married years ago. I kept my married name."
"Excuse me, Miss Curry." Dobey's expression contained compassion. "Your story is going to be checked out thoroughly. For now, Agent Gates is correct and you could be indicted, but that's not going to be decided tonight. I'm going to have a warrant issued for the arrest of Anthony Ivey on suspicion of corrupting the morals of minors, as well as possession of narcotics. The rest of this is going to the district attorney, but if your story completely checks out, I'll be recommending leniency for you. Right now, you stay put. Both of you." He widened his gaze to include Marsha as well. "If you have an attorney I'd suggest you call him, and I'd like both of you to come to my office tomorrow morning. Is that agreed?"
The women both nodded silently.
"All right. We're finished here." Dobey pointed a finger at his detectives. "I'll see you back at Metro; we have a lot of work still to do tonight."
It was 2:30 a.m. before the weary detectives stumbled inside Starsky's front door. Getting the warrant for Ivey hadn't taken much time, but arresting him and booking him had. Then there was the inevitable report that Dobey insisted they type up, so it would be at his fingertips when he talked to the District Attorney early the following morning. Dobey had also demanded as complete a rundown as they could provide on the juveniles they had seen during the week. Dobey wanted to get social services working that issue immediately.
"Starsk?" Hutch started, watching dully as Starsky vaguely aimed for the counter to throw his keys on. He missed and the set made a harsh jangle as it hit the floor.
"What?" Starsky was shedding clothes as he walked into the bedroom.
"Do you think we're getting too old to work this hard?" Hutch picked up some of the discarded clothing as he followed his partner into the bedroom. His eyes were dull and heavy-lidded as he watched Starsky remove his socks--the last piece of clothing he wore--and head for the bathroom. Wearily, he kicked his shoes off and sat on the bed. "Do you?"
Starsky didn't answer until he finished in the bathroom. He walked out stiffly and went straight to the bed, jerking the covers down roughly. He had to shove Hutch's shoulders to get him up, so he could draw the bedding down low enough to climb into. "Right now, yes, but ask me again after about fifteen hours' sleep."
"We have to be at the precinct at eight." Hutch didn't bother responding to Starsky's groan. He set the alarm, undressed, and quickly used the bathroom himself before climbing into bed. "At least everything is almost wrapped up, and I don't have to wear make-up to work tomorrow."
Starsky was in the pleasant place before sleep completely claimed him, but he giggled anyway at Hutch's words. "That's right, babe," he snuggled against the smooth chest, "and one of these days we're gonna have a day off again." The last word trailed off into a light snore, so Hutch kissed the tangled curls once and rolled him a little to the side in order to join him in much needed slumber.
The following day was a blur of whirlwind activity. Social Services was set in motion, the District Attorney was met with, and another long meeting was conducted with Leslie Curry and Marsha Wells. Ben Straus had been notified of his client's safe recovery, and he'd rushed to Metro to see the miracle for himself. Marsha had apologized profusely to the man who didn't trouble himself to hide his tears of relief.
Starsky and Hutch watched the reunion with small smiles on their faces. They exchanged a look of shared satisfaction. Happy endings were to be savored in their line of work, and this one was a happy ending. The DA decided against indicting Leslie, and after the meeting, the sisters left Metro each clinging to an arm of the ecstatic agent.
By 4:00, Starsky was ready to call it a day. He glanced over to Hutch's side of the desk and saw the blond head bent over a small stack of files. Casually, he walked around the desk and, leaning down, feigned interest in the paperwork. "You about ready to blow this joint?" he whispered.
"I need thirty more minutes." Hutch didn't look up as he whispered back. "My place? I haven't been home in days."
"Tomorrow, okay? Let's stay one more night at mine."
Hutch wasn't in a position to question or argue, so he gracefully acquiesced. "I'll see you in an hour."
When Hutch arrived at Starsky's, the curtains were drawn against the early evening, dusky sun. The stereo was playing something soft and sultry--something he knew but couldn't quite place. "Starsk? I'm here." He started to take his jacket off.
Starsky came out of the kitchen carrying two full glasses of chilled white wine. Hutch smiled as he gratefully accepted one, then he noticed something else. "How come you're wearing your camera?" He fingered the leather strap that was around Starsky's neck.
"Thought I might take some shots; kinda in the mood after all that time in the studio. Drink your wine."
Hutch took another long sip of the excellent Chablis. "This is good," he commented appreciatively. "What are you going to take pictures of? Are we going out?"
"Oh, no, we are most definitely staying in." He leaned forward and caught Hutch's bottom lip with his teeth, sucking it into his mouth briefly, then letting it go.
"I missed you." His voice a husky whisper.
Hutch licked the lip that had just been held and smiled. "You just saw me an hour ago."
"Not the same thing. I missed you like this. You and me, alone."
"Someone's got plans for us," Hutch murmured, reaching his hands out to thread them through the dark hair. "Missed you, too. Do you want to neck on the sofa like a couple of teenagers? I'll cop a feel, you'll cop a feel."
"I'm goin' to feel up a cop, all right. My cop. My strong, sexy guy." Starsky unsnapped Hutch's shoulder harness, pulling the gear away and setting it aside. "I wanna do something."
"So do I."
"Good. I wanna take your picture."
"That's right. I wanna take your picture. I wanna take lots of them while you're getting undressed for me real, real slow."
Hutch felt his cheeks burn as he stammered, "Starsk, come on. I-I can't do that. Pictures? Like that?"
"Um hm." Starsky ran his hand slowly down Hutch's chest. "Sure you can. They'll just be for us and it'll be so sexy. Please, babe. I want it." Starsky backed away with a final caress and slid to the sofa, his legs spread comfortably wide. Hutch could see the hard bulge straining against the zipper.
"Come on, babe...be my model? My own special model, and show me what I want to see."
Hutch felt his tongue thicken as he looked at his impossibly erotic lover stretched out on the couch, watching his every move. He made his decision quickly, unable to deny the curly-haired wizard one single desire of his heart. His hand moved to the top of his shirt, as his hips swayed to the languorous beat of the music.
"I'll give you a show, Starsk. I'll give you a good show, and then I'm going to take you to bed because you know what?"
Starsky's eye's were riveted on the hand that was slowly unfastening one button after the other. "What, Hutch? What?"
The large hand finished with all the buttons before Hutch answered, pulling his shirt open to reveal nipples gone taut with need. "Tomorrow's our day off. Remember?"
The only sound remaining was the click of the camera.
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