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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