Elemental Forces
by Sarah Problem

SHSVS Episode 18, Part 1

"Hey, Gordo, must be your lucky night. Guess these airport cops just aren't doing their jobs properly. Somebody ought to call in and complain."

Starsky gave Hutch a smug grin, patting the hood of the Torino as he walked around to the driver's side door. He knew he had taken a chance when parking in the "white zone," but since they were just going to walk Huggy to his gate, he couldn't see paying for parking if he didn't have to.

"Told ya they wouldn't tow it. They all know class when they see it."

Ignoring his partner's gagging noises at the word "class," Starsky got behind the wheel. It had been a nice, clear evening that had turned cool and crisp as the sun set. They had shared a quick meal with Huggy, then sat around and visited while he packed. Now that they'd done their duty by seeing him off for his month-long vacation, he and Hutch were free of obligations for the evening. The chilly air called to him, made him want to put some miles on the Torino and get out of the city.

"Let's go for a drive," he suggested, waiting for Hutch to settle before pulling into the busy airport traffic. "It's after ten, and if we get out of the city, the freeways will be practically empty."

"You and this car," Hutch said teasingly. "Aren't you ever going to outgrow this infatuation? This fixation on such an obvious phallic symbol--"

"Doesn't come close to matching yours! Mine is just bright, fast and loud. That monster Magnum you carry, on the other hand, is big, pointy and shoots big bullets. That sounds like a hell of a lot more of an image problem than mine does."

"Asshole." Hutch joined him in laughter. "Okay, I could do with getting out of the city for a while. But let's go north this time."

Turning on the radio and leaning back in the seat, Hutch laid his arm on the back of it, fingers lightly touching the back of Starsky's neck, stirring his curls. Starsky smiled and reached out to squeeze Hutch's knee.

They made their way through the maze of parking lots, special lanes and terminal exits until Starsky finally found the on-ramp he wanted. Traffic was still thick, even at this time of night, but at least it was moving at a respectable rate. It wouldn't be long before they'd have the freeway mostly to themselves.

Starsky reached down to adjust the radio, one eye on the road. "You know, there's a place we might--"

"Watch it!"

At Hutch's exclamation, Starsky glanced in the rearview mirror and quickly turned the car to the right, careful not to cross the line or jerk too hard. A large Cadillac had swerved suddenly into his lane, near his back wheel. Just before it would have hit the Torino, the driver swerved violently back into his own lane.

"What the hell?"

"He's speeding up," Hutch warned. The driver must have hit the gas, as it pulled past the Torino in a burst of speed. "Something must be going on with the driver, Starsk. Looks like he's going to lose control!"

The car swerved again, this time bouncing off the divider, throwing sparks, then sharply veering back into its lane.

Hutch grabbed the mars light and opened the window, placing it on the roof as Starsky hit the siren. Hutch grabbed the radio, calling in the plate number and asking for a highway patrol response. Starsky tried to keep up but stayed a safe distance behind. If the driver saw the light or heard the siren it wasn't making any difference in his driving.

The Cadillac increased speed, bumping against the cars on either side of it. One car was sent into a spin, hit the divider and came to a stop. Starsky had to slow down to miss the second car, as the driver fought for control. Ahead of them, he could see taillights making crazy patterns as other cars tried to avoid being hit. Blaring horns and screeching tires filled the night air.

"Watch out!" Starsky yelled, catching sight of the Cadillac farther down the road. "He's gonna lose it!"

Pumping the brakes carefully, Starsky had to turn the car sharply to be able to avoid another car that had been bumped out of control. He hoped fervently that no one was following close enough to hit them. As he skidded to a stop, he saw the Cadillac hit the center divider at an angle, propelling the front of the car up and over, rolling the heavy piece of machinery over once before it came to a stop, right-side-up.

They weren't rear-ended, although Starsky could hear a thunder of screeching brakes and wondered how close it had been. Hutch, who had been braced for the stop, was already on the mic, requesting an ambulance and a paramedic, demanding to know where the Highway Patrol was.

With the mars light still running, Starsky turned off the motor and siren, but left the lights on. Getting out of the car, he saw that traffic had come to a standstill and he could hear the noise of horns and angry voices behind them.

In his headlights, Starsky could make out the wreckage of the Cadillac--bits and pieces of metal bright in the headlights and what few freeway lights there were. The front and sides were smashed; the top was caved in, but so far, no sign of the driver.

Avoiding the obstacles in front of him, Starsky ran toward the wreckage, looking for signs of leakage, flames or sparks. He could smell motor oil and radiator fluid. Thankfully, the smell of gasoline was minimal. There were other people coming out to look and he could hear Hutch yell at them to stay back and get back in their cars. Multiple sirens echoed in the distance as he got closer. It was hard to see because of the randomness of the lighting, so Starsky approached cautiously, not wanting to hurt himself on sharp objects that might be hidden in the dark patches.

As he came to the mangled driver's window he could barely make out a body spread over the front seat. The body had a man's shape and size and looked to be jammed head first into the passenger's side footwell. He reached in and touched the man's back, just as Hutch arrived on the other side of the car.

"Can you get the door open?" Hutch asked sharply, pulling at the front passenger door, then at the one in the back. "The doors are crushed shut. We can't get him out that way without some equipment. I'm crawling in the back."

Starsky was testing both doors on his side, pulling the handles with all his might. He then reached in through the broken window of the driver's seat, to see if he could manhandle it open. Nothing moved.

"No dice. They're jammed on this side, too."

Hutch was already inside, having pulled himself through the back window. He was now leaning between the twisted bucket seats, hands moving quickly, but carefully, to ascertain the man's condition.

Whoever he was, he was well dressed, Starsky noted, seeing what looked like a tuxedo. Must have been driving home from a party.

Hutch held up a hand, and as it caught a random bit of light, Starsky could see it was covered in blood.

"I've got a pulse, but he's bleeding somewhere," Hutch announced. "Get one of those ambulances down here!"

Backing away from the car, Starsky whistled loudly to the approaching Highway Patrol car that was weaving its way through the various wrecks, waving his arms to get the patrolman's attention. As the car pulled up, Starsky flashed his badge. "Got a live one!"

"Ambulances and fire trucks already on the way!" the young Highway Patrolman said, nodding at Starsky's badge as he grabbed his mic. "You see it happen? Any more cars farther up?"

"See it? We were practically in it. This was the lead car, but there are some stopped up ahead, you can see their brake lights. Don't know if they need help or not, but a lot of the ones behind us do."

Leaving the officer to call for more help, Starsky went back to the wreck.

"He still there?" Starsky stuck his head into the driver's window. He noticed that Hutch had taken off his light jacket and had thrown it over the man's back.

"Still here, but bad off," Hutch muttered, hands still moving lightly, testing and touching. "They better get here quick, Starsk. I don't dare move him, or do anything more to check him out. His pulse isn't very strong. I can't find where he's bleeding without moving him some more."

Sirens grew loud and screeching, the pavement flashed red and blue in spots as help arrived. Starsky could see the Highway Patrolman waving in an ambulance. "Got one now, Hutch. Looks like--"

Starsky froze as his eyes caught site of movement that didn't belong. Inside the back of the car, something on the floor had caught a bit of light and whatever it was had Starsky's hair standing on end. Starsky blinked once, then twice, eyes on the darkness of the floorboard.

Then it moved again, and Starsky knew exactly what it was.

"Hutch! Freeze!" Starsky hissed. "Don't move!"

"What?" Hutch looked up at him in surprise but held himself still.

It moved again, slick and smooth in the darkness, just under the hem of Hutch's pant leg. As Hutch started to open his mouth to say something he stopped, the fair features going pale in the dim light, eyes wide as they met Starsky's.

It was moving again, this time under the hem of Hutch's bellbottoms, moving around his ankle.

"There's...something..." Hutch gulped audibly, bloody hands gripping the back of the seat tightly.

"Yeah, I know. Just don't move, okay? Let me get some help."

Starsky looked up at the various men getting out of the ambulance and several police cars. Stepping back, not wanting to startle what was inside the car, he yelled for them to all stay back, that there was a problem. When questioned he asked for a flashlight.

The young Highway Patrolman tossed him one and he turned back to the car.

"Hold still, Hutch. Just. Don't. Move."

"Wasn't planning on it," Hutch said softly, looking and sounding brittle. "I can feel it moving around. It's moving up my calf and has a good grip on my leg. Starsk, it's big!"

Shining the light off to one side so he wouldn't startle it, Starsky could make out the thick, muscular body and pale, brown scales of some sort of snake. A big, thick snake.

"Oh, shit! Snake," Starsky hissed, his mind trying to think of what to do."

"No shit?" Hutch replied, sounding calmer than he looked. "Never would have guessed."

"Damn! Is it poisonous?"

Starsky almost jumped at the unexpected voice in his ear. He hadn't realized that the Highway Patrolman was looking over his shoulder.

"No idea, and I don't want us to find out," Starsky replied, his mind racing. The snake was still moving. The only good news he could see was that since Hutch was squatting, it probably couldn't get higher than his knee, his jeans would be too tight at that point.

"We don't have time for this," Hutch hissed, frustration overtaking the pale features. "This guy is going to die if he doesn't get some help!"

"I know, I know! But none of those guys are going to want to get in this car with that thing on the loose." Remembering something from a nature show, Starsky turned to the Highway Patrolman. "Look, go ask those firemen if they have one of those extinguishers that gets real cold, you know, the ones that freeze the fire out."

As the patrolman went to meet with the firemen and ambulance crews, Starsky turned back to Hutch.

"You just hang tight, buddy and we'll get this guy out'a your hair in just a minute."

Starsky turned, ignoring the muttered "Where the hell would I go?" as he had another idea.

"I need a tire iron, too!"

"I'll get mine!" the patrolman yelled, racing for his trunk.

Starsky turned the flashlight back to the floor of the car. From what he could tell, there was more of the snake under the seat than there was tucked into Hutch's pant leg. Starsky had never heard of a snake moving around tail first, so the head must be at Hutch's end. All they had to do was convince the snake that Hutch wasn't a nice, warm place to be and they could flush it out.

As the fire chief and the patrolman arrived--one carrying a fire extinguisher and the other a tire iron--Starsky stopped them, and as quickly as possible explained what he wanted to do. All in agreement, the three of them took their positions.

As the fireman leaned into the rear window on the opposite side, and the patrolman got his revolver ready, Starsky resumed his position, slipping the tire iron in through the window, while a wide-eyed and a confused-looking Hutch watched.

"Lookit, Hutch, this is what we're going to do." Starsky signaled to the fireman who was half in the window on the other side of Hutch, fire extinguisher ready. "You lean as far over toward Fireman...uh..."

"Joe," the fireman volunteered quickly.

"You lean toward Joe as far as you can, so he can aim the extinguisher over your front and toward your knee. It's going to be really cold, and as he moves it down your leg the snake will feel winter comin' and decide to leave. When he does, I'm going to pin him down with the flat end of the tire iron. Joe is then going to drop the extinguisher, grab you and pull you out'a the window, and patrolman--"


"Yeah, Jack here is going to shoot it. Got it?"

"Sounds like fun," Hutch muttered as he began to lean away from Starsky. "Let's hurry this up, okay? This guy can't wait around anymore."

On the count of three, Joe the Fireman switched on the extinguisher and aimed it at Hutch's knee. By the surprised look on his partner's face, Starsky knew it must have been really cold. The spray was moved farther down his leg, and as it moved, Starsky could see the snake move as well. After a moment, the broad, flat head of the snake appeared near the toe of Hutch's boot.

Jamming the flat end of the tire iron down on the back of the snake's neck, Starsky yelled for them to move. Before Hutch was halfway out window on the other side, Jack was over Starsky's shoulder with the gun. Starsky kept up the pressure on the twisting reptile, could feel it lose its struggle to hang on to Hutch. But as soon as it lost its hold and Hutch was out the window, Jack shot three times at the writhing reptile.

It stopped moving after a moment, but Starsky, not being one to trust a snake any further than he had to, used the tire iron to roll the carcass into a plastic sack someone had handed them. The next thing Starsky knew, he had pulled the heavy sack through the window and had dumped it several feet behind the wreck.

Almost shaking with relief, it was all Starsky could do not to pull a shell-shocked Hutch into his arms. Instead, he settled for thumping him soundly on the back, earning a glare instead. "Just our luck, huh?"

"And how's that?" Hutch asked, looking tired and a bit jumpy.

"Well, what are the odds that we would run into a snake? Is that freaky or what?"

"Par for the course, I guess."

The fire chief came up to them. "The paramedics say that the snake is going to need to be brought in to the hospital. They think the guy may have been bitten."

"That would explain why his car was tap-dancing all over the freeway," Starsky said, shaking his head. "It wouldn't have had to bite me to get me to drive like a madman."

"I'll take it in, in the trunk," the patrolman offered. He turned to the two detectives. "Could you two follow me to the hospital, so I can get your info there? I'm going to need some witnesses or my captain isn't going to believe this."

"We'll be there." Starsky grabbed Hutch's arm and guided him toward the Torino, mindful of his partner's bloody hands and wet leg. As Hutch got in, Starsky leaned toward him, keeping his voice low. "And while we're there, we're going to make sure you're okay."

"I'm fine, Starsk. It didn't bite me or anything."

As he shut the Torino door, Starsky noticed that he wasn't actually shaking, although it felt like he was.

I sure hope you're okay, Hutch, 'cause I just might have had a heart attack!

In a few minutes they were following the Highway Patrol car, lights flashing and siren blaring toward the hospital.

Starsky took the phone call at Hutch's apartment, while his partner was in the shower. They didn't have to stay very long at the hospital--just long enough to make sure Hutch was okay and give their information to the patrolman. He had given them Hutch's number and the number at the station in case there was any news. Starsky repeated what they had told him, as soon as Hutch came out of the bathroom.

"A Western Diamondback," Hutch echoed, shaking his slightly damp head. "No wonder the guy was driving like that. He must have been trying to get away from it."

"No one would be thinking very clearly, that's for sure." Starsky went over to wrap his arms around him. Hutch leaned into the embrace, hooking his own thumbs in the loops of Starsky's jeans. "Very poisonous. Add to that the fact that someone cut off the rattles, and you've got a very dangerous, silent weapon to let loose in someone's car."

"Someone wanted that man dead."

"Too bad it worked."

Even though the man was alive upon arrival and they knew they had a possible snakebite victim, the hospital staff had been fighting a losing battle. While the snake was certainly poisonous, the victim had a nasty head wound as well. It was going to take an autopsy to determine what had actually killed him.

"You were damn lucky, Hutch," Starsky said softly, running his hands lightly down Hutch's back, feeling the muscles under the soft, damp skin. "It could have bitten you, too."

"Probably would've killed the snake. I'm too mean to have even noticed."

Pulling him even closer, Starsky chuckled into Hutch's neck, "Oh, yeah, I keep forgettin' how closely you're related to Superman!"

Such are the stuff of nightmares, Starsky thought with a chill. Damn, how I hate those things! Snakes, creeping up on you like that...

As if he could read his partner's thoughts, Hutch pulled him closer, holding him tight. Starsky then felt Hutch's warm breath at his ear.

"You did great tonight, babe. Stood fast, came up with the answers and did what you had to do." Hutch's voice was silky, heating up those chilled places in Starsky's spine. "I know there isn't a damn thing in the world you wouldn't do for me. Love like that should be rewarded, don't you think?"

Hutch gave him a soft kiss.

"You are quite the con man, that's what you are," Starsky replied teasingly, pulling back just enough to see Hutch's eyes. "A sweet-talking, never-up-to-any-good con man, who just wants to get into my pants. My ma warned me about men like you, yet here I am, fallin' for your evil ways one more time."

Hutch laughed, his blue eyes dancing. "Your mother warned you about con men who might be after the family jewels, huh? Well, that's a switch."

"Okay, so she warned me against bein' one," Starsky admitted with a laugh of his own. "But I was warned, and here I let you slip passed all my barriers." He leaned in and brushed Hutch's warm lips with his, lingering a moment. "And, oh, man, am I glad that I did."

They kissed slowly--shallow, light caresses at first. When Starsky sought entrance, Hutch sucked him in, and they spent several minutes taking turns tasting and exploring each other's mouths.

Starsky's hands roamed freely, tracing Hutch's spine with the tips of his fingers, until he met and burrowed under the wet towel. Hutch moaned as Starsky's hands found and gripped round buttocks. He concentrated on kneading Hutch's ass, pressing their crotches together, Hutch's erection clearly outlined under the towel. Starsky's own cock was growing hard and ready in his jeans.

Hutch's hands were under Starsky's shirt up to his shoulders, holding him in place as he delved deeply into his mouth.

"No fair!" Hutch gasped as they parted, both of them short of breath. "I need more skin than that, lover."

"Need a shower."

Hutch pulled him close again, nuzzling at Starsky's neck. His warm tongue trailing a wet line from his collarbone to his jaw, as Starsky gasped.

"No, you don't."

"Need a shave."

Hutch's mouth found his earlobe, making him squirm, then moved on to the corner of his jaw. Starsky could feel Hutch's lips slide softly up over his jaw, stopping to rest at his mole. "No, you don't."

There was no more arguing as Hutch's hands found the buttons of Starsky's shirt. He stood silently as Hutch undid the buttons and pulled the shirt just over his shoulders, exposing his chest.

The flush on Hutch's face grew darker, and his eyes grew hot and smoky, as he looked Starsky over. As Hutch reached down to his belt, Starsky took his wrist, holding it back.

"Want you tonight, babe," he whispered, leaning over to kiss Hutch's chin. His hands found Hutch's ass again. "Want you all damp and glowing in that big mirror in there." He could hear Hutch's breathing catch as he nipped at his chin. "Always love to see an angel fly."

Hutch groaned and wrapped his arms around Starsky's neck, his mouth finding Starsky's and demanding entrance. As they kissed deeply, Starsky rubbed and massaged the slick, soft skin under his hands, fingers digging into solid muscles at times and places calculated to make Hutch gasp.

Soon, his fingers found the cleft of Hutch's ass, hot and damp from the shower. Starsky's heart was pounding furiously, as he followed it down as far as he could reach without letting go of Hutch's mouth.

They were pressed together, Hutch's chest sliding deliciously over Starsky's where the shirt was open. He could feel the hard hammering of Hutch's heart against him, could feel the desire fueling the movement of the hands at the back of his head and in the tongue that dueled with his.

Starsky felt like he was burning from the inside out, his cock hard and pulsing hungrily in its trapped space. Hutch felt so good against him, so sweet against his skin, under his fingers and in his mouth, but it wasn't enough.

Not losing contact, he leaned into Hutch as they kissed, making him take a step back, then another, moving his golden lover back into the bathroom that was still damp and steamy.

"Now, Hutch?" Starsky asked as soon as they were in the room, his hands roaming Hutch as Hutch's fingers wove themselves in and out of his curls. Getting a breathy nod he released Hutch, turning him around to face the large bathroom mirror, pulling the towel from around Hutch's hips.

Leaving the light off, Starsky stood behind him, pulling Hutch's arms back to place his hands on the back of Starsky's head. Starsky pressed himself against Hutch's back, chin at his neck, leaving Hutch's body open to his view.

Hutch watched for a moment, his eyes black in the mirror, his flush tingeing the gold of his body with a bit of bronze. Then he sighed and closed his eyes, leaning his head back onto Starsky's shoulder, letting his lover look his fill.

The light from the living room fell in soft waves over the smooth body, shimmering like gold in the floating strands of hair that haloed Hutch's head, glinting faintly in the brows and lashes on his lit side. The rest of his torso was outlined in pale planes and dark sharp valleys. Starsky's hands followed the light, fingers stroking across the places that glowed, then scratching lightly at the places that existed in the shadows.

Like looking into his soul. Parts of him hold such happiness and light, other parts he keeps hidden, out of sight.

His fingers explored the thicker skin and pebbled texture of bronze nipples, moving up the firm plane of muscle to shoulder, feeling the ash-gold of sparse underarm hair, then up the hard muscles of arms to elbows and back down again. He could feel how Hutch's skin reacted, how he sighed and moaned as Starsky touched him, the small tremors that followed his fingers.

Starsky paused a moment in his caresses, reaching between them to unsnap his jeans, to unzip them and free his own cock, groaning as it found space to enlarge against Hutch's ass, finding the cleft as naturally as breathing.

Hutch's cock responded as well, still as yet untouched. Starsky watched as the firm, long organ filled with desire. It started out thick and heavy among Hutch's balls, braced by narrow hips and thick thighs. And as Starsky touched him it grew to standing, the head growing, flaring in search of contact, of loving.

The sight made Starsky's mouth water, and he sucked on the tender skin of Hutch's shoulder. How many times had he taken that monster into his mouth, tasted its flavors? No matter the number, it would never be enough.

Hutch was groaning now, the hands laced behind Starsky's head were pulling him forward, begging for more contact. Starsky saw and felt Hutch's hips flex forward, his moan almost painful as his cock found only air.

Pulling open a small drawer, Starsky grabbed for the tube stored there. Unwilling to let Hutch go, he used one hand to loosen the lid, let the tube leak onto the counter and swept a large dollop of the cool gel onto his fingers.

As he continued to touch Hutch, he warmed the gel in his hand. Then, suddenly, he grabbed at Hutch's cock, taking it firmly and pumping it from the tip to the root, feeling it slide roughly in his fist.

"AH!" Hutch gasped deeply, body jerking forward. Starsky's other hand held Hutch's hands in place, keeping Hutch stretched and opened to him.

He pumped once more, squeezing the shaft firmly, pressing the glans as it passed through his fingers.

"Ohhh...yess...pleasestarsk! Pleasemore!"

He started a regular rhythm, pushing and pulling Hutch's cock as he worked the organ, feeling Hutch move to brace his feet farther apart, as he began to thrust to Starsky's timing.

Starsky's blood was burning, flowing hotly from the vision of Hutch in the mirror, the smell of heat-flushed skin under his nose to fill Starsky's cock to what felt like bursting. He found himself pushing his cock against Hutch's ass in counter-rhythm to Hutch's thrusts, rubbing himself in the crevice.

It was more than he was going to be able to stand, yet he wanted more.

Grabbing the base of Hutch's cock tightly, he made his finger and thumb into a tight ring. his other fingers splayed across Hutch's sac, and he forced Hutch to stop.

The groan he heard was almost heartbreaking, and he could feel how hard it was for Hutch to keep his hands up and away from himself.

"Don't stop! Pleaseplease!"

"Soon, Golden Boy," Starsky breathed thickly, putting more of the gel on his fingers to warm. He brought his fingers to Hutch's crevice and slid coated fingers down to his center. "Damn, Hutch, you look like half an angel, half a demon like this. You get me so hot just watching you, knowing I can have you, seeing how I can make you fly!"

He pushed fingers inside, hearing Hutch gasp at the penetration and feeling him bend slightly to open himself more.

One finger, then quickly two found their way inside the tight, hot tunnel. It was as if Hutch were molten inside, and Starsky's cock ached with the need to be where his fingers were. But Starsky added a third finger instead, feeling the muscles under the tender, thin skin stretch for him.

"Gotta be now! Oh, Starsk! Do it now!" Hutch moved his arms then, bending forward to brace his hands on the bathroom countertop, spreading his legs farther, presenting himself to Starsky.

Starsky gripped the base of his needy cock harshly, taking a breath at the sight before him. It felt lewd, him with his shirt open, but still on, his jeans barely down past the bottom of his balls, and Hutch spread out naked and demanding in front of him. He was so close now, the sight of it was almost enough to make his body cross the line of no return.

Using the other hand to spread Hutch's ass cheeks, he placed himself, now rock-hard and painful, at Hutch's center, only nudging the puckered rose of flesh. Hutch moved backward and Starsky pushed in, feeling the volcanic heat surround and engulf him in one quick stroke.

His balls felt crushed, he had pushed inside so hard. For what felt like an eternity neither one moved, although Starsky could feel slight tremors in both of them, the call of lust and desire trying to force them forward. For as long as he could, Starsky held himself still, marking the moment when he and Hutch were once again one body, one breath, one heart.

Who was the first to move he didn't know. Their bodies took over and they both worked toward a cadence that sang of life, love and trust, Starsky's body following the song of mating and mated.

He knew when he rubbed Hutch's special spot, felt the shock in the body under and around him. He repeated the stroke and Hutch rewarded him with a gut-deep rumble of pleasure that was almost like the purr of a huge cat. Starsky quickened his pace, thrusting hard and deep, centering his focus on Hutch's pleasure, feeling as it grew strong and took over his lover. Hutch was leaning hard on the counter top, talking to him, saying wonderfully sexy things that Starsky only half caught in his fight to hold back his own climax.

Bending over, he reached around for Hutch's cock, finding it hard and desperate for his hand. He pumped it in time to his thrusts, trying to bring it all together, feeling it come to a peak when Hutch gasped and yelled his named. Starsky milked his cock in that moment when Hutch's body froze, and as Hutch groaned and twitched in his hand, Starsky felt the cum--hot from Hutch's desire--as it was propelled outward, splashing Starsky's hands and the bathroom counter.

He held on as long as he could, before his body took over. His hands found Hutch's hips and gripped hard, moving Hutch back and forth even as Starsky thrust hard and deep inside of his lover.

Time had no place in his mind as he gave over to the sensations, feeling as if his heart, head, and cock would explode at any moment. It was sweet agony, to be so close, yet not quite there, to have it last just...another...heartbeat...longer...

It was fireworks and starlight, like a whole galaxy swirling before his eyes as he came. As his body clenched, forcing his semen out and into his lover, he could only hold on for dear life. When his head partly cleared, he found himself still on his feet draped over Hutch's back, hips still flexing slightly with the leftover pulse of ejaculation.

He was breathless, weak and trembling, realizing that it had to be only Hutch that held them up. So, despite his desire to remain connected, he carefully pulled out of Hutch, guiding him down with him to the cold bathroom floor.

Hutch wrapped around him, both of them breathing heavy in the aftermath. They held on to each other for a few minutes, Starsky wondering if he were ever going to get the strength to move again, when Hutch's fingers trailed lightly down his middle, from collarbone to spent cock.

"Looks like I need another shower. Want to join me this time?"

Starsky's mind wrapped itself lazily around the idea and decided it definitely held some appeal.

Well, if neither one of us is related to Superman, then we sure should be! If I ever see him walking around with a red cape and tights, I can't say I'd really be surprised.

"Do you realize," Dobey mumbled grumpily from behind his report covered desk, "that I'm beginning to wonder if I can leave you two alone for two minutes?"

Hutch flashed his partner an amused look. He and Starsky, who'd not had a full night's sleep, had gotten up in pretty good moods. Dobey, on the other hand, had not been in a major auto accident the night before, yet seemed to be the shell-shocked one this morning.

"Captain," Starsky began, "it's not our fault we just happen to be sensitive to our surroundings."

"That's right," Hutch chimed in. "If we didn't have our eyes and ears open at all times--"

"Yeah, yeah." Dobey flipped another page, eyes scanning the reports from the night before. "I still say you two are just trouble magnets, primed to keep me shelling out good money for antacids and hair dye. I've got more grey hairs that can be blamed on you than from both of my kids."

"But you must admit," Starsky said, eyes dancing as he tried to act serious, "that the 'elderly' look is very dignified, sir."

"Yeah, and you're one to talk," Dobey growled softly, spearing Starsky with a "look." "Just remember what goes around comes around. I'm not blind to just how many grey hairs are managing to find their way to your head!"

Hutch hid a grin as Starsky flashed him a surprised look, then raised his hand to pat at his curls.

Now he's got you worried, Hutch thought with amusement. Ten seconds alone and you're going to be asking me where the grey is. And some people say Dobey doesn't have a sense of humor!

Dobey searched through the papers on his desk and fished out an eight-by-ten photograph. He handed it to Hutch. It was a portrait usually done for publication purposes. Hutch hadn't gotten a good look at the victim's face, but the mass of "salt-and-pepper" hair--heavy on the salt--looked like the style and color Hutch had seen in the dim light of the wreckage. He was a handsome man--even features, dark brown eyes. He was smiling, healthy-looking, and in an expensive business suit.

"The man who died last night was Robert Danforth Rushlow, the owner and manager of The Visionary."

"The Visionary?" Starsky repeated, looking surprised. "Hey, I've read that one, it's a--"

"It's a piece of junk is what it is," Hutch broke in, handing the photograph to Starsky. "All they print are 'incredible' stories that aren't true, rumors and horoscopes."

"Some of those stories are true!" Starsky protested.

"Which ones? The 'My Stepmother is an Alien out to Take Over the World,' or 'Ninety Pound Man Eats Full Grown Shark in Horrific Beach Encounter?'" Hutch snorted in disgust.

Starsky blinked, looking a bit embarrassed. "Well, I didn't say those were true," he mumbled. "But if you looked close enough you'd see that they do cover some important local issues. Sometimes they'll even be the first to break a corruption story, when none of the other papers would touch it. They're the ones who reported some of those bribes the last mayor got caught taking, even before the other papers found out about it. You've just got to be able to pick out the important ones."

"Well, whatever the heck it is, he was the owner of the paper and is worth millions!" Dobey stabbed at the papers on his desk with his finger. "And despite the fact that his life isn't supposed to be worth more than any other murder victim's life, everyone from the DA on down the line is already under pressure to find out what's going on.

"We've been lucky so far that the morning papers have only reported it as a fatal accident. But you can bet that by the evening editions they'll have it down as murder, and maybe even the snake aspect. We need to get cracking on this case before we lose what little edge we may have.

"Since you two were at the scene last night and don't have any other pressing cases at the moment, I'm handing it to you. I want this handled properly, and you'd better keep me posted."

Shuffling the papers into a folder, Dobey handed them to Hutch and waved them out of his office.

Nothing really interesting here, Hutch thought, looking over his half of the divided report file. A really good education, a top college...but not the best that could be bought. No sign of a juvenile record, adult history is clean. Not even a parking ticket in his personal files.

Robert Rushlow, in his mid-fifties, was from upper middle-class parents, majored in journalism, and upon graduation went in with several partners and bought a bankrupt news press. Over the last twenty years he'd dumped the partners, legally, and by smart marketing and sensational stories managed to make his paper a staple in every local supermarket in the country.

Local boy makes good, at least in the money department. But I don't see anything that would get someone mad enough to kill him.

Taking a sip of his coffee, he glanced at Starsky who was seated at his desk opposite him. He tried not to smile, remembering how Starsky had made a beeline to the men's room after their meeting. Hutch knew he must have been checking for grey hairs because of Dobey's remark. If there was a down side to knowing your captain too well, it was that he knew your weak spots just as you knew his. Which was a sobering thought.

I wonder how much he really knows about Starsky and me. If he doesn't know--or suspect--that we're now a couple, he's not beyond figuring it out sooner or later. Sometimes I wish he already knew, just so we wouldn't have to watch ourselves all the time.

"Find anything?" he asked Starsky, not wanting to dwell too much on thoughts that would go nowhere.

Starsky shrugged. "Just that they're still working on the forensic end of things. Preliminary autopsy results, along with the emergency room notes, show that Rushlow was actually bitten twice by the snake, once on the ankle and once on his upper calf. The venom of a Western Diamondback is pretty poisonous, but he was just beginning to show some of the symptoms at the hospital. He had multiple head wounds, cracked ribs, a broken arm, and heart problems when he was submitted."

"So they don't think the bite actually killed him?"

"They won't know for sure until the autopsy results are in, but I gotta tell ya, Hutch, it sounds to me like the accident was caused when he first saw the snake or first realized he'd been bit. That guy was driving like he was scared to death and fighting off the devil, not like he just wasn't feeling well."

A chill went down Hutch's back as he remembered the warm, heavy feel of movement against his boot, then later the touch of snake skin on his calf. Once he'd realized what it was, it had taken every bit of willpower he had to hold still. Just the memory made him feel a small stab of fear.

"The report on the snake," Starsky continued, looking at another page, "was that it was an adult, complete with fangs, but had had the rattles removed."

"Those things just don't slide in and out of expensive cars."

Starsky gave him a worried glance. "Let's hope they don't slide in and out of cheap ones, either. I spend too much time in your car to be worryin' about snakes livin' somewhere in all that mess. You find anything interesting in there?"

"You mean, did I find out that he's gotten death threats from a competitor, is into something shady, or has a jilted lover in his past? No, he looks clean from what's on the sheets."

"But if he's got money..."

"There's no telling what he's been up to that failed to get reported." Hutch sighed. "He was an only child, his parents are deceased. He's got a second wife; they'd been married for three years. His first wife of twenty years died of cancer; no foul play there. No children."

"Who'd he marry? His secretary?"

"Nope. She's not the kind to have a job, just a 'career.' He married well, apparently with her family's full approval."

"So, the bad blood must be in the business side of things."

"What was he up to last night, anyway? Have you got anything on that?"

Starsky flipped through some more papers. "There was a charity ball at the estate of Jason Brigman, one of those well-heeled bank owners. They were collecting money for some sort of children's charity that Brigman's wife runs. Quite a few people were there at the time, so we've got a lot of ground to cover. According to the statement taken from Rushlow's wife, the last time she saw him was when he was dressing for the occasion. She wasn't feeling well and decided not to attend. He said good-bye and left around six-thirty."

"No doubt they'll have some household staff we can talk to to confirm that."

"It also looks like we'll have a lot of ground to cover from those who attended the charity ball. I figure Mrs. Rushlow would be a good place to start. Strange that it was such an important function and yet she didn't attend with her husband. Means she wasn't going to be in the car with him that night."

"If not her, the servants might know something," Hutch added, nodding his head. "If they don't pay well, then we may get lucky and find an employee who's not too concerned about keeping secrets."

"Well, no time like the present."

The drive to the estate was eye opening. Way up in the hills, the view was incredible, with most of the city around the other side of the mountain and the ocean taking center stage. Starsky was impressed even before he saw the house itself.

It was all very expensive and very impressive, just like he'd expected. Starsky found himself trying to guess what the whole thing cost. He finally gave up, deciding he didn't really want to know.

After driving up to the door, they were let in by a butler and taken to a large room with an ocean view to wait for the widow. The room was decorated in a modern style, without being overdone. It was clear that careful attention had been paid to achieve a style that screamed "wealth and taste," now marred by the addition of what were clearly flowers of condolences. As soon as they were alone, both men went to the window.

"Now, this is the house I want to retire in," Starsky said softly to Hutch, who was standing at his elbow in front of the wide windows. "Look at the view!"

"And the pool and the furnishings and the hired help." Hutch chuckled softly. "I would have to choose a high maintenance lover, with delusions of wealth."

"And if you don't set your sights high, you won't ever get what you want. You just get what you deserve." Starsky gave him a small, mischievous smile as they both turned back to the room.

It's really nice, but there's not much I've seen so far that would tell us who really lives here. Too bad we can't just drift around and get a look at the back rooms without a warrant. The bedroom, bathroom, or an office could tell us a lot more than this room can.

Both had wandered to opposite sides of the room, looking at the flowers and reading some of the attached cards, when minutes later Mrs. Rushlow came into the room. Starsky was struck with her bearing, which was quiet and sorrowful. Dressed all in black, she looked to be in her late forties, her hair and person neat, but not made up for company. Her eyes were red and she looked as if she were truly upset, but in control.

"Gentlemen? My butler has told me you are here to talk about my husband's death?"

"Yes, thank you for seeing us, Mrs. Rushlow." Hutch took out his badge and held it up gently, a sympathetic expression on his face. "We appreciate you being able to see us this morning. We realize this must have been a shock for you."

Starsky watched her face, saw the polite nod as she gestured for them to be seated. She was a nice-looking woman and had a very calm and regal bearing about her that didn't seem to be put on.

The detectives sat on the couch as she took an arm chair.

"I am very willing to help you, gentlemen, because I want my husband's killer caught."

"You believe he was murdered?" Starsky asked quietly, watching her closely.

Her eyes grew flinty as they took him in. "Detective, from what I understand, poisonous snakes don't jump into cars to hitch rides. Even if they only intended to scare or intimidate him, their actions resulted in my husband's death. He was murdered, and I want the killer or killers found."

That's interesting. How did she know about the snake?

"Do you know of anyone who would want to kill your husband?" Hutch asked.

Mrs. Rushlow sighed and shook her head. "I've been asking myself that question all night, and to be honest, I don't know enough of his past dealings to be able to say if he had enemies or not."

"How long have you been married?" Starsky asked.

"About three years. Robert and I met after the death of his first wife and dated for a couple of years before we married."

"I understand that there was a charity ball last night to raise money for a children's charity." Starsky continued. "You were unable to attend?"

"I suffer from frequent migraines, Detective. A fact you can verify with my physician. I have learned, from painful experience, that if I know one is coming on, I might as well cancel any plans I have for the rest of the day and evening." A look of tired frustration crossed her face. "I really intended to be there last night, since I was one of the committee members who arranged the ball and helped recruit those on the guest list. I called Amanda Brigman and let her know hours beforehand that I wasn't going to be able to make it. She was very gracious, saying she understood and would make my apologies for me. Robert was not very happy about going alone, but he felt that at least one of us should be there. He loved getting his picture in the paper, any paper."

The last had been said with a bit of disdain.

"So you last saw him...?"

"At about six-thirty. Cocktails started at seven. I went to bed--as many in my staff can confirm--and tried to relax so I could fall asleep. I was still awake when the officers showed up to inform me of my husband's death."

"And that's when you decided it was murder?"

"After the officers told me about the snake in the car, what else could I assume?"

So much for her knowing privileged information. Wish they hadn't mentioned the snake.

"So we should be able to contact Mrs. Brigman and confirm your husband's arrival and departure times?"

"Very easily, I should say. I've been getting phone calls all morning from friends and associates wishing me condolences, as well as the arrival of flowers. My husband was very rich, and many courted his favor. There were a lot of people at that ball who will know exactly when he arrived and when he left."

"He must have left quite a fortune behind." Hutch said the words softly, and to Starsky's eyes Mrs. Rushlow didn't look to be startled or upset by the statement. "All of which goes to you, I assume?"

"I'm sure you gentlemen have done your homework," she said with a slight smile. "I'm from a very respected family that has had its share of success in business. I came into this marriage with my own money and a signed pre-nuptial, in case things between Robert and me didn't work out. I think there are several charities that will profit from my husband's death, but I'm not sure what the terms of his will are, nor if he had changed if after we married. I have more than enough money of my own to last a lifetime. I didn't need his." Her eyes went to her hands on her lap. "Robert had his faults and wasn't the best husband, but I loved him anyway. I'd give everything I have to get him back."

Her words felt real to Starsky. If all the money in the world could buy back a human life, he could certainly see her writing out that check with no hesitation.

"You said he wasn't the best of husbands, Mrs. Rushlow. Could you be more specific?" Starsky asked.

A tinge came up to her face, her eyes still on her hands. After a moment she raised her eyes, looking at both him and Hutch.

"I've had some suspicions, for about six months now, that my husband was not being faithful to me. I haven't had my husband followed, although I certainly could have paid to have had it done."

"Why didn't you?"

She smiled weakly. "Pride, I guess. I wasn't willing to believe that he would cheat on me, even though the evidence indicated otherwise. I'm not a young woman anymore, and this is my first marriage. I was not interested in having children of my own, but would rather help out as many children's causes as I could. It was a bit...unsettling to think that Robert might have married me for something other than love, and…well…I didn't want to think he could tire of me so easily. No woman wants to think that the man she felt she waited her whole life for wasn't worth the wait."

Starsky looked at Hutch and saw him look back with the same thought.

Well, sounds reasonable. I can certainly see her point.

"What makes you think he was cheating?" Hutch asked.

"His decreasing interest in sex, for one thing," she admitted. Starsky could see that the honesty was making her uncomfortable. "He's barely touched me these last few months, even though I've always been very interested in his company. Despite his heart problem, which was being managed by his doctor and a better diet, he had always been very sexually driven. At the same time he was losing interest in me, he started spending more time 'at work' where he couldn't be reached, and had started driving himself around."

"And you think the reason he started driving himself around was...?"

Keen eyes regarded him unflinchingly. "To keep the staff from knowing where he was and who he was spending his long evenings with. At least...that is what I believe was happening. I wish now I had confronted him with it, dealt with it while I could. Now, I'm not sure I really want to know."

"Would you mind us talking to your staff?" Hutch asked.

It was a bold question. in most cases it had gotten him and Hutch booted out on their ears, but Starsky knew that it was a good method used to gauge just how deep the "cooperation" ran.

But the lady only nodded, as if the question were not only expected but proper. "Surely, please be my guest. I'll inform them that I need them all to cooperate." She lowered her voice, her slight smile only making her look tired. "But please understand that a few staff members were brought in by my husband before our marriage. Whether they will feel free to cooperate with you will depend on them, and who they feel loyal to. I'm sure that they may wish to...honor my husband's memory."

"And who would that be?"

"The butler, William Anderson, the chauffeur, Isaiah Jenkins, a few of the maintenance staff, and anyone my husband worked with or handled his business affairs."

Hutch wrote down the names.

"If you'd like to talk with them, I can send them in individually. I will, of course, leave you to your privacy while you talk with them."

Starsky rose as Mrs. Rushlow stood; Hutch was still scribbling notes. "Thank you, ma'am. We'd like to get started on this case while the facts are still fresh."

After she left the room Starsky sat back down, looking over Hutch's shoulder to read his notes.

"Whadd'ya think?"

Hutch shook his head in admiration. "Very classy. She's got the breeding, that's for sure, but it's not gone to her head. She's right about the children's charities. from what I've heard, she's a real force in keeping a lot of donations floating in. I don't think she married him for his money."

"So you think she was being truthful?"

"Sounded that way to me."

"Yeah, me, too."

They broke off conversation as the butler--a middle-aged man, severely dressed in his uniform, down to the immaculate white gloves--entered the room.

"Mrs. Rushlow has informed me that you wish an interview with me?" His expression was stiff and disapproving.

"Yes, Mr...uh..." Hutch checked his notes. "Mr. Anderson. Please have a seat."

"Thank you, but I prefer to stand."

Well, they couldn't all be easy, Starsky thought with an internal sigh.

Hutch thought the interviews had gone well enough, even though they garnered very little information. It came as no surprise to him that Rushlow may have gained some loyalty with his staff over the years. They did their jobs, didn't ask questions and were treated well. So it seemed that if Rushlow had any enemies, or a mistress, he didn't exactly broadcast it to his employees, where it could trickle down to his wife.

The chauffeur, Isaiah Jenkins, seemed very uncomfortable during the interview and finally gave them something to go on.

While he didn't actually know if his boss was sleeping around or had any enemies after him, he did happen to casually slip in the fact that a man of his employer's wealth would have been the target for a lot of talk. Just because it wouldn't be reported as gossip by The Visionary, his own publication, didn't mean that some other rack-rag wouldn't have printed a rumor or two.

"After all," Jenkins had admitted with a shrug, "I'm approached all the time by reporters from the competition, willing to pay me for spicy gossip about my boss or his wife. Just because I don't play that game doesn't mean everyone else who works here is as discrete."

With that in mind, they went to visit Rushlow's secretary. A nice-looking woman, who was clearly upset by the death of her boss but agreed to talk with them. She answered their questions without hesitation, but with little interest in volunteering any information. When the subject of a mistress or girlfriend was broached, she made it very clear that if he had one, Mr. Rushlow was careful to keep the information to himself. They got the impression Mrs. Gunnells would not have approved of any such behavior from her boss.

Hutch believed her, although noted that she had only been with Rushlow for a few years. By the time they left the office, it was clear to Hutch that Rushlow was very adept at keeping his private life private, at least from those in his office.

"You know," Starsky said as he drove the Torino back to the freeway, "I keep thinking about what the chauffeur said. If he does know something, he's found a good way to get us the info without actually betraying what loyalty he may feel to his boss."

"That's a good point," Hutch agreed. "If anyone is going to have 'the scoop' on him, it's going to be the competition. It's worth a shot, and I know just who to go to with this."

"Yeah? Who's that?"

"C.D. Phelps." Hutch grinned at the look of surprise on Starsky's face. "I think after that last column she wrote, she might see her way to doing us a favor or two."

Christine "C.D." Phelps had ridden with them a few years ago, to gather information for her articles in The Dispatch on "Counter Culture Cops: The New Breed." Originally resistant to the idea of a "ride along," he and Starsky had changed their minds quickly when C.D. had turned out to be a lovely lady.

"As hard as we both went after her, I'm surprised we came out of it so well," Starsky admitted.

Hutch remembered how they had both been relentless in jockeying for her attention, and how embarrassed they had felt when reading her first article. She had taken them to task for ignoring calls and being belligerent to perpetrators as they went about their business, calling them "Mutt and Jeff."

Once they had leveled with her, that they'd been asked to ignore calls in favor of sticking to a high profile case, and showed her what they were up against on the streets and at the station, she really began to get the story. When she had almost been a victim of violence, having been taken hostage by a madman, her tone had changed completely. The next article had called them "heroes."

"Well, I don't think competition for a date with her will get in the way this time." Hutch chuckled. "It wouldn't hurt to have some good press on our side, so maybe she'll do us this favor so we can owe her one."

"Just what I like, being in a reporter's debt." Starsky rolled his eyes.

"Can't be helped, buddy. Best we can do is be careful who we make our deals with. If it's got to be someone, I'd rather owe Chris. I think she'll be square with us."

"Can't argue that point. Let's go see if she's in."

The offices of The Dispatch were just as loud and frantic as Hutch had imagined they would be. There were phones ringing everywhere and people moving as if some deadline were only minutes away, which Hutch assumed was probably true. They had been told where to find C.D. and given directions through the building's maze, without even an interested glance at their badges.

It didn't take long to spot her across the room, or hear her for that matter. Hutch found himself smiling at the forceful tone of her voice as she yelled her displeasure in to the phone. The few years since they'd seen her had certainly not done her any harm; she was still very nice-looking. Hutch had developed a lot of respect for her writing over the years. She wasn't one to pull punches when she thought they'd do some good, and because of her relentlessness, a lot of ugly situations had been brought to her readers' attention.

"Hope she's in a better mood for us," Starsky said quietly as they made their way to her. "Sounds like we definitely caught her at a bad time."

As they walked up, she slammed down the phone, not even looking surprised as she registered their presence.

"Tell me," she began, with an evil smile, "is it still against the law to hire hit men to take care of total idiots?"

"Is this a research question?" Starsky asked with a matching smile.

"Oh, totally. All hypothetical, of course!"

"Then, yes," Hutch said with mock sadness, "it's still illegal."

"Well, then, a girl can only dream, I guess." She smiled for real this time, reaching out to shake their hands. "Well, what brings you two out this way? Don't tell me I'm on my way to jail for some reason?"

"Uh, no, you're safe for the moment," Hutch said with a laugh. "But we could use a favor. Off the record, so to speak."

"Oh, I love doing favors," she said sweetly. "Although I warn you that I can draw blood in payback. Let's grab the first empty room we can find, so we can talk without all my nosy neighbors getting the scoop on us."

Hutch was amazed at the results. After Chris had listened to their story in private and had promised them she wouldn't report on the case until after an arrest had been made, she agreed to call around and see what she could dig up for them.

After calling and getting research started in The Dispatch's own archives, she called some friends of hers at some of the other papers, including a few tabloids. He and Starsky had been correct in thinking that there was a bit of cooperation behind the scenes, and that a lot of cross-publication acquaintances had developed over the years.

While she was busy on the phone at her desk, Starsky had called Dobey to report in, while Hutch got everyone coffee. Starsky later relayed that Dobey expected them to obtain statements from those who attended the ball, to confirm when Rushlow had arrived, to whom he talked, and when he left. But once Starsky explained how they were following a hot lead to a secret girlfriend, Dobey relented and decided to put other officers on the more mundane tasks. For now, they were free to follow their noses, as long as they reported in regularly.

After about an hour, Chris hung up with a smile on her face.

"Got some news for you guys! Seems that Mr. Rushlow may have a little love nest on the side. Word is that he's been seen, in very discrete places, with a sexy young actress who is still in the 'casting couch' stage of her career. Apparently the second Mrs. Rushlow isn't the first wife he's cheated on. I don't have names for them all, but it seems he's been known to be a ladies' man from way back. And it seems he is buddy-buddy with enough of the other tabloid owners that he's managed to stay out of print, even when one of their reporters gets a juicy bit of gossip.

"So he was stepping out," Starsky said, interest written on his face. "Got a name to go with the latest fling?"

"She goes by the name of Crystal Song, but I doubt you're going to find that name in the phone book. I do know that she does bit parts in soap operas once in awhile--one filmed at the Burbank studio called 'The Call of Destiny.' Their office should have the information on where she can be found."

"Thanks, Chris." Hutch gave her his best smile as he got up to leave. "We owe you."

"Oh, you can count on that!" Chris agreed enthusiastically, her smile predatory. "Be prepared to give blood when I come for it."

As they made their way out, Starsky sidled up to Hutch, his whisper full of amusement. "She's got better connections than Huggy does. Get the feeling that we've just bitten off more than we can chew?"

"I'm sure of it," Hutch admitted with a laugh. "We'd better be careful, or we'll find we're 'Mutt and Jeff' again to someone other than Dobey!"

Grabbing something quick to eat, they then headed to the studio. They decided it would be faster all the way around if they didn't show their badges, but pretended they needed to find the actress for other reasons. People tended not to give out information to cops without their boss' okay, but they'd give them to delivery people with no thought.

Stopping to get a large manila envelope and a ream of paper, Hutch stuffed the envelope and sealed it, then wrote Crystal's name on it and roughed it up a bit, making it look "well traveled."

After arriving at the studio where they filmed the soap opera, Hutch left his jacket, holster and gun with Starsky and walked with the envelope up to the front desk, announcing loudly that he had a script for Crystal Song and was having trouble delivering it.

The desk was busy and no one really wanted to deal with him, but the third time he made his announcement, a harried-looking lady waved him over to her desk with resignation.

"We don't usually do this," she said, as she pulled out some books and started thumbing through the information inside.

"I appreciate it, though," Hutch said sweetly. "I've been paid to deliver this script to her personally, but no one seems to be able to tell me where she is. Someone's going to have my head if she doesn't get this by tonight!"

He was given the address of her agent, where the script could be delivered, then sent quickly on his way.

At the agent's office, they presented their badges to a worried-looking secretary. Her boss was summoned and, after a few words, went back in his office to call his client and ask her to come in. He did insist on a warrant before giving out his client's personal information. The agent returned quickly, saying that Crystal Song wanted to cooperate with the police. He gave her real name, Gail Gossett, and her address and told them that she had agreed to meet with them there.

The apartment was in a part of town that indicated she was probably receiving some help, if not outright being supported by someone. The rent would have been too high for a struggling actress, let alone one that seemed to be living on bit parts that were few and far between.

The door was opened by a young woman that Hutch wouldn't have said was more than twenty if she was a day. Small-boned, almost fragile-looking, she had long, dark hair, and brown eyes in a round pixie face. And it was clear as soon as she opened the door that she had been weeping violently. She had on no make-up and was in a bathrobe, looking small and lost.

"Miss Gossett?" Starsky held out his badge. She barely looked at it, only nodded and opened the door wider.

Hutch noticed the obvious signs of wealth throughout the room. Most of it seemed very masculine, which reinforced Hutch's thoughts that this was not so much Miss Gossett's apartment as it was Rushlow's, and that the lady who now occupied it was only a guest.

She led them to the living room, where she plopped gracelessly in the center of the couch.

"I guess it's all over, huh?" She pushed the hair out of her face, unmindful of how it looked. "End of the line. Time to go back and work for a living. Guess I should have had my bags packed before now, right?"

"You think we're here to roust you?" Starsky asked softly.

"Sure, why not? I'm sure Robert's people want me out as soon as possible. Maybe so they can close out the lease on this place, so it won't show up on the books. I'm sure there must be someone who doesn't want Mrs. Rushlow finding out what her husband was up to."

"No, Miss Gossett, we're not here to kick you out," Hutch said causally, watching as she took out a cigarette from a pack on the coffee table and lit it. She was upset, but her hands were steady. No signs of nervousness. "We're here to ask you some questions about Mr. Rushlow."

"Not much to tell, is there? We met at a party a couple of years ago, he gave me some nice things, got me a job once in awhile, and moved me in here. I saw him when he felt like coming by, and I made sure I wasn't around him when the wife was. Now he's gone and had a stupid accident, ruining everyone's good time. Nice kick in the head when you wake up and find your lover's death announced on the front pages."

Hutch exchanged a look with Starsky. It wasn't often that they were offered unflattering honesty.

"When was the last time you saw him?" Hutch asked.

She leaned back bonelessly, her cigarette making smoke curls in the air, eyes focused on the ceiling.

"Two days ago, when he came over during lunch for a quickie. He called yesterday during his lunch hour and said he'd be by after the party last night. But he didn't show up so I had some drinks and went to bed. Guess I know why he didn't show." She laughed sharply, then clenched her jaw on it.

"You think his wife knew of you? Did his secretary know?"

"He didn't think anyone knew, and if they saw something out of order they probably knew better than to ask too much. He didn't seem to worry about it, but was careful when we went out. Me? I don't know, never met her." She gave them both a sharp look. "I'm not stupid, detectives. I didn't have any delusions that he loved me, or that he'd ever leave her. We both had a good deal and used each other. I just...just..."

A few tears started to run down her cheeks, and she wiped at them impatiently with her hand. "I just never had anyone I knew die on me, and Robert was a really sweet guy. Never mistreated me or lied to me. I don't give a shit about the wife, but Robert dying like that just isn't right. Stupid traffic accident..."

She gave into it then, tears coming faster than before. Starsky walked over to a box of tissues on an end table and brought it over to her. She nodded in appreciation.

"Do you know if Mr. Rushlow had any enemies? Anyone who might be after him?"

"Don't have a clue," she said around wiping her nose. "He didn't talk business with me. If there was any gossip from the studio, he'd eat it up, and sometimes I'd see it the next time his paper came out. But we didn't talk about his business much. Why all these questions, anyway?"

"Just regular police business." Hutch gave her his best smile.

"Y-you want me to pack up now?"

Hutch looked at Starsky and shrugged.

"That's not for us to say, Miss Gossett," Starsky said. "But it might help if you had someone stay with you. I don't think sitting around here by yourself is a real good idea right now. When, or if, you're asked to leave will depend on other people, but you may be better off leaving under your own power than being kicked out."

She nodded vigorously. "Yeah, you're right. No use leaving things to the last minute. I've got a few friends who could put me up for a while, give me time to get my butt in gear and get a place of my own."

"But wherever you go, make sure to keep your agent informed, in case we need to get hold of you again," Hutch cautioned. "Tell him that he's to let us know where you are if we call. We don't want to have to tell anyone you were hard to find."

"Sure. No problem."

As they sat in the Torino, they discussed Gail's reaction to the news. Both men agreed that she'd acted as though it was truly the shock of Rushlow's death that had brought her to tears. Neither of them saw anything that said jealousy of the wife might have driven her to desperate measures, or that she had any other concern than her meal ticket had just punched out.

Hutch noticed it was near quitting time. "You want to get something to eat, then head back and fill out our reports?"

"Might as well," Starsky said. "Dobey will want to have everything on his desk tomorrow morning, and I'd rather eat first, then type them all out. No telling when we'll get off for the night."

On to Part 2

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