The Stranger
by Candy Apple

SHSVS, Episode 603, Part 3

Back to Part 2

Karen Patterson lived at 245 Hunter Street in a tidy first-floor unit of a two-unit rental property. She was a divorcee who was currently searching for work, filling her unemployed hours with visits to the library to catch up on reading her favorite author--Ramona Kensington. An attractive strawberry blonde with a good sense of fashion, she cut an attractive figure as she made her way into the Sheridan Street Library.

Few people would have guessed that she was really an undercover homicide detective named Lizzie Thorpe who truly couldn't stand Ramona Kensington's cliched steamy bodice-rippers.

As she made a show of browsing the shelves of romance novels in the fiction area, she was oblivious to the intense observation she was receiving from Arturo, dressed in a sweatshirt and jeans, fake glasses in place, sitting at a table littered with psychology books. Masquerading as a college student doing research, he kept a close eye on the movements of his partner.

Meanwhile, ensconced in Hutch's less-obtrusive car, parked on the street that ran alongside the library, Starsky and Hutch shared a bag of take-out food from The Pits and watched the comings and goings around the building and parking lot. They noted general descriptions of the male library patrons and their cars, and waited for Lizzie to emerge to see if she snared any interested followers.

"You think Flores'll back off long enough for someone to get close to her?" Starsky asked, chewing a large bite of his hamburger.

"As long as we're doing stuff like this--daytime surveillance--I'm sure of it. What I'm worried about is that he's going to interfere with things too soon if we do hook our boy and he makes a move."

"At least if we arrest him for something, we can get the blood and semen samples from him. If he's seen following Lizzie and then breaks into her place, that oughtta be enough."

"Yeah, it will be. Provided Arturo doesn't jump him before he gets into the house. Lizzie's planning to do some napping in the daytime and spend the nights in bed with her gun."

"Gives target practice a whole new meaning," Starsky quipped, reaching for some fries.

"Pervert," Hutch responded, laughing.

"How're things goin' with Arturo and Caroline? He say anything to you about how they're gettin' along?"

"Not recently. I guess there's nothing new on that front. Why?"

"He's in love with Lizzie. That's obvious as hell."

"If you're talking about his reaction to this assignment, I wouldn't want you going undercover to lure some maniac who raped and beat men. I wouldn't have wanted it whether we were lovers or not."

"I know. But look where we ended up. All I'm sayin' is that they're more than just partners."

"As far as I know, they're keeping it platonic."

"I hope they can. It's just all over his face when he looks at her. I've seen people look less interested on their wedding day."

"Here she comes," Hutch said, shifting a bit in the seat, watching as Lizzie made her way down the sidewalk from the front entrance and across the parking lot toward her car.

"I'm lookin' at a guy in a green station wagon," Starsky said.

"Where?"

"Two rows over from Lizzie. See that pea green thing with all the rust on it? There's a guy in there. Shit, where are the binoculars?" Starsky started rifling the glove box, then hung over the front seat so he could dig around in the back. He finally straightened with the binoculars in hand. "I think you've got something growin' back there."

"Very funny."

"Looks like a younger guy. Kind of slimy-looking. He's checkin' her out." Starsky watched a few more seconds as Lizzie got into her car--or rather, Karen Patterson's car--a bright yellow Chevette, and drove out of the lot.

"Shit. He's got a girlfriend or wife or something," Starsky said as a young woman hurried out of the library and got into the car he'd been watching. The two occupants kissed, and the car pulled out of the lot and headed in the opposite direction.

"Mr. Blue Plymouth Fury doesn't," Hutch said, nodding toward the large blue car that pulled slowly away from the curb.

"He wasn't at a good angle to see what she was carrying out for books--unless he just stalks ladies at the library."

"Nobody else is following her, so let's see if he does," Hutch suggested.

They followed the blue car, which remained a good distance behind the yellow one Lizzie drove, until he turned down another side street.

"You think he made us?" Starsky asked, as they continued in the direction Lizzie was driving.

"No. I'll call in his plate number. My guess would be he lives down there."

Hutch's guess proved to be right, and the remainder of their day was spent discreetly tailing Lizzie. Unfortunately, they appeared to be the only ones interested in tailing her. A very long week passed during which they learned more than they ever wanted to know about the patrons of the Sheridan Street Library and their comings and goings, but no sign of a man tailing Lizzie or even nibbling at the bait.

"I hate all-nighters," Starsky grumbled, shifting again in the back seat of Hutch's car.

"Quit your bitching. I even cleaned out my car for you, you ungrateful asshole," Hutch teased, taking another drink of his coffee. "And I agreed to take the first shift. So what have you got to complain about?"

"Plenty. There're better things I could have up my ass right now than one of your broken seat springs." Starsky grinned, still keeping his eyes closed, listening to the slight choking sound from the front seat.

"Damn you," Hutch muttered, wiping his chin with a napkin.

"Big, long, smooth, hard things...pumping in and out and in and out--"

"Don't make me come back there," Hutch warned, waving a finger in Starsky's general direction.

"What do I have to do to get you back here, Blondie?"

"Starsk, give me a break. What's the point in having a hard-on you can't do anything with?"

"I could take care'a myself back here. I'm not worried."

"That'd work great if you had to shove it back in your pants and get out of the car, wouldn't it?"

"Ouch." Starsky let out a long sigh. "Okay, so whaddya wanna do instead?"

"I thought you were taking a nap."

"Your back seat isn't as comfortable as the Torino's."

"Bullshit. It's bigger. There's nothing wrong with my back seat."

"Your back seat is perfect, darlin'. It's the car's I'm not sold on."

"Starsky."

"Sorry. So when do we get off?" Hearing Hutch's exasperated sigh, he hastened to add, chuckling, "Sorry, babe. Bad choice of words."

"Garner and Hughes will take an early morning stint from six until eleven. At eleven, Lizzie's going out to do some fake job hunting. Dobey wants us to follow her during the day."

"If she's not goin' to the library, what's the point? What's the point'a the whole thing, for that matter? It's starting to look like we're barking up the wrong tree here."

"All we know is that we haven't seen the guy follow her. We don't know that he didn't get her name or address off her library card. Arturo said there was a male custodian and a male librarian on duty yesterday. The custodian was using spot remover on the carpeting not far from where Lizzie checked out her book, and the librarian was re-shelving books. Both probably saw her, both possibly could have seen what title she was checking out. If one of them makes a move, we wouldn't have a lot of warning. They could start tailing her from here."

"I guess she can't go to the library every day." Starsky was quiet a minute. "I wonder if he scopes out bookstores, too, or just the library."

"All four women had library books."

"They aren't the only women who've been raped in Bay City in the last few months. Maybe we're missing somebody that should be part of this."

"We have everyone who was attacked in a similar situation where the entry pattern and MO matched."

"Doesn't mean he couldn't vary his entry pattern based on opportunity."

"True."

"All'a this overtime should help the down payment fund, anyway."

"There is that," Hutch agreed, seeing a slightly brighter side to their extended hours. "What time've you got?"

"Almost two. If you're sleepy, I'll trade with ya. I'm awake anyhow."

"Feeling okay?"

"I think I went at it a little hard with the weights the other day. My side's hurting a little."

"I'm sorry about that, babe."

"Why? You didn't do it, I did."

"Because I think you're still upset about our argument."

"You can't stop arguing with me because I'm too stupid not to take it out on myself in the gym," Starsky responded, laughing a little. "Or on the vending machines."

"You must've been pretty angry."

"I was." Starsky straightened to a sitting position. "I was mad at you for makin' me sweat it out, and we couldn't talk about it, so I guess I just had to get it out somehow. The weights and the vending machine were in the wrong places at the wrong times I guess," he concluded, shrugging.

"Guess it's a good thing I let you take it out on them first," Hutch said, smiling.

"I never would'a taken it out on you anyhow. I love ya too much." Starsky moved up to lean on the front seat. "Wouldn't hurt a hair on that gorgeous blond head'a yours." He trailed his fingers through the back of Hutch's hair.

"This sure has been a miserable few nights," Hutch lamented, leaning into the stroking hand. "When this is over--"

"No hard-on discussions, remember?"

"Yeah, right," Hutch conceded, laughing. "Let's just say you and I have a date with drawn shades and an unplugged phone."

"No arguments there. But hey, it could be worse. At least we're miserable together."

"Maybe it's not so miserable after all then," Hutch said, catching the questing hand and kissing it.

Lizzie had dozed off and on during the first four hours of the night. Lying awake in bed all night had seemed like a good idea in the swell of enthusiasm of planning the assignment, but after the first full week of absolutely no action, she couldn't seem to find the adrenaline to lie in bed and not nod off. The telephone startled her. Frowning, she rolled over and picked it up.

"Hello?"

"Hey, baby, gettin' lonely over there?" a sultry male voice asked.

"It's four a.m., Artie." She barely stifled a laugh at Flores' somewhat pathetic attempt to sound like a phone pervert.

"So? You're supposed to be awake anyway."

"I was. But what's your excuse? You're supposed to be asleep so you can be eagle-eyed tomorrow."

"Couldn't sleep. I should've been doing the stake-out with Starsky and Hutch."

"Having three of you sit there would be a huge waste of effort. Besides, they're going to watch out for me. I'll be fine. But thanks for checking up on me."

"It's not too late for you to back out of this assignment, Liz. Please think about it. This guy doesn't play games. You could get hurt."

"I know. But I think about what he did to those women, and I just can't let that go. Not if I can do something to get him off the streets. I wanted to get into real police work, and that's what I'm doing."

"Okay. Can't blame me for trying." He was quiet a minute. "You've got a lot of guts."

"Thanks, partner. I'm a little jumpy, if you wanna know the truth."

"I still don't know why I couldn't be your upstairs neighbor or something. That apartment's vacant over you." There was the sound of another voice in the room, and Arturo covered the phone and said something in response. "I gotta go. Um...be careful, huh?"

"I will. Get some sleep. I'm in good hands."

"Yeah, I know. Be careful."

"You said that already."

"Oh, right." There was a pause. "'Night, Liz.

In a thicket of shrubs not far from the small two-unit, a dark-clad man adjusted his binoculars. The sheer curtains in the bedroom obscured his view, but he was sure she was in there. It would be dawn soon.

This wasn't the night...not yet. But soon.

The next day proved to be as boring and uneventful as its predecessors. "Karen" went to several shops and boutiques and picked up job applications, did some light grocery shopping and went back to her apartment. Then, just as day turned to dusk, she surprised her two bodyguards by heading out to her car, getting in and starting down the street.

"What the hell's she doing?" Starsky asked, straightening in his seat while Hutch started up the engine.

"This isn't part of the plan," he said evenly. "Looks like she's moving the timetable up a little. She's heading for the library."

"But Flores isn't there!"

"Maybe that's why she's doing it," Hutch said, watching his speed to stay a good enough distance behind Lizzie that anyone watching her wouldn't also pick up on their presence. "I think she's worried about the same thing you were--that he won't let anybody get close without scaring them off."

"It's getting dark. I don't like this."

"If we're gonna draw this guy out, we've got to take some chances. I think we're all so busy protecting Lizzie because she's a friend that we haven't thought like cops. We're all acting like a bunch of big brothers. She's thinking like a cop. This guy isn't going to stalk her in broad daylight." Hutch pulled up to the curb on the street across from the library. They both watched Lizzie get out of her car and hurry inside, holding the book she'd checked out the day before. "It would have been better to have someone inside, just in case that's where he is."

"I could go in and look around a little, pretend I'm just there for the magazines."

"Suppose that girl or Ms. Quinn are working? A nice, loud, 'Good evening, Detective' ought to fuck us up royally."

"You're right."

"We'll just have to wait and keep an eye on her. His MO has been to attack them at home, so we've got no reason to expect he'll do anything here."

"What's taking so long?"

"I swear, you're worse than Flores. She's been in there about three minutes. She couldn't pick out a book that fast."

A few minutes later, Lizzie emerged from the library with another novel and got into her car. She drove back to her apartment and went inside. There was no sign of anyone but Starsky and Hutch tailing her.

"Nothin'," Starsky grumbled, shifting restlessly in the seat. Just then the radio came to life with an emphatic "officer down" and "armed robbery" call. The address wasn't more than ten blocks away in the nearby business district.

"Call Lizzie and let her know she's on her own," Hutch said, pulling away from the curb as Starsky called them in as responding. He then asked to be patched through to Lizzie, informing her that they were on their way to an officer down and would be back as soon as possible.

Lizzie hung up the phone and sighed. She'd made the little trip to the library hoping to attract the attention of the man they were looking for, but now that she was alone, she found herself hoping, deep down, that she hadn't succeeded. Though nighttime brought a certain creepiness to it, knowing she was being watched by two cops she trusted who had saved her life once before had taken most of the fear out of the assignment. She glanced at the phone and thought of calling Arturo, but that was absurd. Starsky and Hutch would probably be back in position before he could get there, not to mention the fact it would be less than popular with his wife for him to run off to Lizzie's undercover apartment just because she had a case of the jitters.

Clad in a robe and slippers, she went to the small kitchen and filled the tea kettle, setting it on the burner to heat while she looked through the small box of assorted tea bags she'd brought with her. Hopefully, the tea would have the unusual combination of giving her a little caffeine to help her stay awake while relaxing her a bit at the same time. She smiled as she looked through the assortment, which Arturo had tossed in her carton of provisions. She'd only mentioned in passing liking a cup of tea to help her unwind in the evening, and he'd remembered it and picked out a very nice variety of herbal teas from a health food store she favored.

I know it's corny, but damn, all the good ones are taken, she thought dismally, jumping a little at the whistle of the tea kettle. He's smart, sexy as hell in a sort of understated way, with those big brown eyes and that killer smile, kind, caring--and chivalrous. She smiled at her own thoughts as she bobbed the little teabag up and down in the cup of hot water. She'd fought so hard to be taken seriously as a cop that if someone had asked her how she'd have felt to be paired off with a "chivalrous" partner before being hooked up with Flores, she would have cringed. Now, thinking of how genuinely worried he was about her safety on this assignment, the way he always opened the door for her, the way he was always ready to do the chasing or the tackling, but somehow managed to let her have equal time to use her own skills in subduing suspects...

"Damn," she muttered to herself, setting the tea bag on the saucer and taking a sip of the drink. She'd been on the other side of the coin--she'd been the wife who discovered her husband was cheating and was left to raise her daughter alone. How could she do that to Caroline? Arturo's wife was a lovely person and a wonderful mother. They'd had more and more problems since her miscarriage, and Arturo had confided that his wife was seeing a therapist now to work through her depression and grief over that loss.

How could I walk in now and take her husband away, too? For that matter, even if we gave in to what we both know we're feeling for each other, could he actually walk away from her after what they've just been through? Could he leave Alicia? Could either of us live with ourselves for taking what we wanted regardless of the cost?

Sighing, she took her tea with her into the bedroom and set it on the nightstand. She picked up the novel she'd just checked out of the library and wished it held any lure. Then again, a nice cup of tea and a good book probably would have put her to sleep, and that wasn't the goal. She checked to be sure her gun was safely under her pillow and tossed her robe on the foot of the bed, slipping between the sheets and stuffing enough pillows behind her back to sit up comfortably. Thinking she might gain some insight into what made the killer tick, she opened the Ramona Kensington novel and scanned a few pages.

"You think Lizzie's called in another unit by now?" Hutch asked, watching the ambulance drive away carrying Simmons, who had been wounded in the shoulder, and his partner, Babcock, whom Hutch was sure had lost several years off his life when his partner went down. Fortunately, it appeared the wound's greatest threat was blood loss, and as soon as Babcock had dropped the shooter, he'd been diligently applying pressure to the wound. Starsky and Hutch had been at the scene for about forty-five minutes.

"Dobey said to call Garner and Hughes if we needed extra help, so she probably did. We better head back over there and see what's up." Starsky watched as the coroner's wagon picked up the remains of the shooter. "Glad it wasn't the other way around this time," he said, getting into the passenger seat of Hutch's car.

"That asshole's got a rap sheet a mile long. Gotta love parole boards," Hutch commented, starting up the engine. "The girl he shot in his first robbery is still a vegetable, but she's not dead, so he's out on the streets."

"Well, Babcock just revoked his parole. Good riddance to the SOB."

"Yeah, one down and how many thousand to go, huh?"

"Anybody ever tell you you're a regular shaft'a sunlight?" Starsky teased, grinning.

"I do my best, partner."

Lizzie looked at the clock, noting that Starsky and Hutch had been gone over forty-five minutes. She knew Dobey would be irate that she hadn't called in another back-up team, but when Starsky'd given her the location of the officer down call, she didn't anticipate them being gone very long. Besides, every cop in driving distance to that call would show up there, so they should have been free to return fairly soon.

But it was nearing eleven and they still weren't back.

She blinked a few times, fighting drowsiness. The bed was comfortable, the book was atrocious, and the tea had relaxed her far more than she wanted.

"Everything looks quiet," Hutch said, pulling up to the curb again. "Lights are out."

"Somethin' doesn't feel right about this." Starsky took out his gun and released the safety. "There's no other unit. Why would she turn out the lights and try to lure the guy with no back-up?"

"Probably the same reason she went to the library tonight without warning us first. She's been concerned right along about this guy spotting one of us."

"I wanna have a look around."

"Hold it. Somebody's at the door."

She came awake with a scream, feeling the oppressive weight on top of her in the bed. Like a horribly real shadow, the dark-clad man loomed over her, straddling her and pinning her in place, her right arm caught beneath his body, his hand restraining her left arm against the bed. With his free hand, he backhanded her, cutting off her second cry of fear.

"Isn't this what you wanted?" he hissed.

She assessed her trapped condition, and realized there was precious little else she could do now but play along with him and hope to get at least one arm free, hopefully her right, to get her gun.

"Yes," she said, forcing herself to lie still. "God, yes!" she said, putting an exhilaration in her voice that was driven solely by the cold terror she felt.

Her attacker seemed temporarily unnerved, as if he didn't know how to react to that response. He reached up and slid his hand into her hair, then grabbed it tight and forced her head back. His masked head was moving down toward hers. She felt the sickening sensation of his mouth against her own, and the knit of the mask around it. Resolved to remain calm enough to relax him, she endured the painful pull on her hair and the horrible feeling of being kissed.

And then his hand left her wrist, leaving her left arm free, so he could pull at the sleeve of her nightgown. As the fabric tore, she prayed she could manage the gun left-handed and slid her hand under the pillow, resisting the urge to stop him from tearing at the gown. Her right arm was still beneath him, and this was her one chance to stop him before he could really hurt her.

She felt the cold metal of the gun, focusing on it instead of the unpleasant feeling of his hand moving over her body and his mouth badgering her own with unwanted kisses. Just as her hand closed around the gun, there was a crash from the living room, and as the startled assailant abandoned his assault and lurched away from her, she pulled the gun out from under the pillow and held it in both hands, aiming it at him as he started to run.

"Freeze, police!" she shouted, and he spun around, just as another shadowy figure tackled him and threw him to the floor. Lizzie switched on the light as she heard the first sounds of fists connecting with flesh, accompanied by angry shouts. Arturo was on top of the masked man, who now appeared unconscious from several blows to his face.

"Flores!" Starsky shouted, grabbing the other man and pulling him back, only to lose his grip on him as he struggled to go after the fallen attacker again. "Damn it, Flores, stop it!" He grabbed Arturo again and this time Hutch was there, both of them fighting with all their strength to contain the other man's rage and drag him away from the attacker.

"Get some cuffs on him!" Starsky shouted at Lizzie, who shook off her momentary shock and got out of the bed, her gun still aimed at the man sprawled on the floor. She took the cuffs Starsky tossed to her and secured one wrist, rolled the unconscious man over, and locked his wrists together at his back. Finally free to adjust her tattered nightgown and pull on her robe, she picked up the phone and called for an ambulance, then asked to be patched through to Dobey.

By now, Arturo was sitting on the foot of the bed, breathing heavily while Hutch hovered nearby, as if he expected him to lunge for the man on the floor yet again. Starsky poked at the man with his foot, then squatted and pulled his mask off. The bruised, bloodied face of a man in his late thirties was revealed. With his brown hair and common features, there was nothing exotic or sinister about him. In his unconscious state, he looked like the guy next door.

"Don't know what I expected him to look like," Lizzie said, giving voice to all their thoughts. "Some kind of monster, I guess," she added, her voice a little shaky. Arturo got up and went to her, and she accepted the embrace readily.

"You okay, Liz?" he asked, pulling back a little. She smiled and nodded.

"I will be."

"I'll take you to the emergency room," he said.

"No need. He didn't do any damage."

"Your mouth is swelling up."

"Nothing an ice bag won't fix. I'm fine, Artie, really," she said gently, doing her best not to see the man so close to her as a knight in shining armor. She had reached her gun and had hope to save herself before he'd come flying in and "rescued" her, but she had no guarantee her attempt would have worked. It could have just as easily backfired. "Thanks, partner," she said, hugging him again.

"No more arguments. You're shaking like crazy. You could be in shock."

"Arturo's right," Hutch said. "Besides, we should have the emergency room report for the case file, even if all you got out of it was a fat lip. Gotta have something to back up that 'assaulting an officer' charge."

"Okay, okay, I'm outnumbered," she conceded, smiling. "Just let me get some clothes on, huh?" She moved away from Arturo, which she had to admit, if only to herself, was remarkably hard to do. Picking up the jeans and blouse she'd tossed on a chair when she changed earlier, she went into the bathroom to get dressed.

"You did a real number on this guy, pal," Hutch said, looking at the battered face of the unconscious man.

"What was I supposed to do? Stand by while he raped my partner? And by the way, where in the fucking hell were you two?!" he demanded.

"We responded to an officer down call. We told Lizzie, and we assumed she'd call other back-up," Hutch explained. "It was Simmons, by the way. Took one in the shoulder."

"If I hadn't shown up here tonight, just on a fluke--"

"Hutch and I would'a been bustin' in here and pullin' the guy off her. We weren't more than twenty seconds behind you, Flores."

"Yeah? Well every second counts when some son-of-a-bitch is tearing her clothes off!"

"I know you're upset, but you better just settle down," Hutch advised, pointing a finger in Flores' direction. "You're acting like an angry lover, not a cop," he said in a much lowered voice.

"I suppose you'd let some slimeball climb all over your partner and then give him a fucking tea party! Not very damn likely."

"He's got ya there, Hutch," Starsky said, heading toward the front door to lead the paramedics back to the bedroom.

But my partner already is my lover. And he's right. It'd only be a stroke of luck if I didn't kill the bastard right there on the spot. Shit, Flores, what have you gotten yourself into?

Lizzie was relieved when the perfunctory once-over by the emergency room physician was complete. She'd called her mother to alert her that she'd be coming home that night, as soon as she gave a preliminary report to Dobey, and she was looking forward to seeing her daughter and getting a good night's sleep in her own bed. As soon as she was dismissed by the doctor, she went back to the waiting room where Arturo was pacing like a caged panther. If he was this overwrought about a fat lip, she wondered how he'd survive a bullet wound.

"All set?" he asked, brightening as soon as he saw her.

"Clean bill of health. I could have told you that," she added, smiling, then frowning at the discomfort on the left side of her mouth. "Well, almost a clean bill of health."

"Let's go, then. Dobey'll be waiting for us." He fell into step beside her, placing a reassuring hand on her back as they moved toward the exit.

"How'd you happen to show up tonight anyway?" she asked as they walked across the parking lot toward the car.

"I was restless and I got worried. So I came over to check things out." He unlocked and opened the passenger door for Lizzie, closing it after she was seated in the car. When he slid into the driver's side and fired up the engine, he added, "I can't believe they just took off like that."

"Don't blame Starsky and Hutch. It was up to me to phone for a replacement back-up unit. I wasn't in any immediate danger when they left--well, except for possibly being bored to sleep by that novel."

"So why didn't you call for another unit?"

"The officer down call wasn't more than ten or twelve blocks away. I figured they'd get there, every car within driving distance would also be there, and they'd be able to leave and come back before another unit could even make it over there. I didn't have any way of knowing it would be someone we all knew who was shot. Which reminds me--did you hear anything about how Simmons is doing?"

"He was still in surgery to remove the bullet, but they thought he'd be fine except for needing some PT after he heals up." Flores paused. "The guy we grabbed tonight is fine, too. I guess he'll probably be released from the hospital first thing in the morning so we can book him."

"Has he said anything? Do we know anything about him yet?"

"His ID reads Christopher Paul Schneider and his address is right across the street from the Sheridan Street Library. He hasn't said a word other than to demand a lawyer and bitch about police brutality. I'm sorry now I didn't get more licks in."

"That wouldn't have accomplished anything but getting you suspended." Lizzie paused, taking in her partner's solemn expression. "Everything turned out okay. I'm fine, the perp's in custody, nobody got seriously hurt. How about looking a little less grim? We ought to be celebrating."

"He almost raped you."

"But he didn't. When you came in through the front door, I had my left arm free and my hand was on my gun under the pillow. It's tough to rape a woman when she's just blown your dick off." Lizzie smiled as Arturo had to laugh, in spite of himself, at her crude assessment.

"Would sure slow him down," he concluded, shaking his head, still smiling. "You're one hell of a cop, partner. I'm really proud of how you handled this whole thing." He let the silence hang for a moment. "Of course, I've always been proud to be your partner."

"Thanks, Artie. That means a lot to me."

"If you weren't such a good cop, I'd've busted you in the chops for calling me 'Artie'," he teased.

"You don't expect me to say 'Arturo' every time I want you to pass me the salt at lunch, do you? It's a beautiful name, pal, but it needs shortening. You know, kind of like cutting off the end of 'Lizzie'."

"You don't let me get away with anything, do you?" he said, chuckling.

"Not if I can help it."

Based on the attempted assault on Lizzie and the MO of Schneider's entry to her apartment--through the living room window--a judge signed a search warrant for the man's car and residence. Armed with those documents, Starsky and Hutch headed for the small bungalow on Westdale Street, a tidy, working-class neighborhood characterized by similar homes that overlooked the parking lot of the Sheridan Street Library.

The exterior of the house was unremarkable. A single-story yellow house with white trim and white awnings, it was situated on a narrow lot with a long driveway running alongside it, leading to a small, one-car garage behind it. Starsky went up the three front steps onto the porch and rapped on the front door while Hutch watched the second exit, a side door that opened onto the driveway.

"Police, open up." He waited, but there was no response. They hadn't expected one, but they also had no way of knowing for sure that Schneider lived alone. Using the key found on Schneider, Starsky unlocked the front door as Hutch joined him, and they entered the small house, flipping a light switch they found inside the door. It illuminated two lamps in the living room.

The house was tidy and clean, with a very ordinary interior. The furniture was not new but was also not tattered and worn. The colors were predominantly brown, tan and beige, and the walls were adorned with what looked like family photos mixed in with some decorative landscapes and other items.

"Guess they don't all have aluminum foil for wallpaper," Starsky commented, referring to the utter normality of Schneider's dwelling compared to those of similar nut cases they'd encountered over the years.

"There's got to be something here."

"He's a good housekeeper, that's for sure," Starsky said, running a fingertip along the top of a natural wood doorframe and finding no dust there.

"You figure this is his room?" Hutch asked, standing in the middle of the larger of the home's two bedrooms. It contained a double bed, dresser and overstuffed chair. Everything was tidy and immaculate. Even the few personal effects on the dresser were neatly arranged.

"If you're a neat freak, where do you hide your trophies?" Starsky pondered aloud. "The closet." He opened the folding door, revealing a rack with neatly hung clothing, an upper shelf with carefully stacked shoe boxes, and a floor with a few larger cartons pushed against the back wall of the closet. In front of them were four pairs of shoes, also lined up perfectly.

"He ought to be arrested for being this damn neat, even if he wasn't our guy," Hutch quipped, snorting a little laugh as he stood behind Starsky.

"Well, let's see what all's in these boxes." Starsky began the task of pulling out the cartons and searching those.

"I'm going to check out the other bedroom. Maybe he stores his goodies in there."

"You know, he probably burned his clothes by now, if they were bloody, and there's no indication he took anything from the scenes."

"And you said I was a shaft of sunlight."

Hutch went down the hall and began his own search. What he found in the second bedroom sent him hurrying back to his partner.

"Take a look at this," he said, thrusting a photo in front of Starsky's face as he sat on the floor, sifting through what looked like old income tax records.

"Yeah?" Starsky looked at the photo of an older woman with gray hair and glasses, smiling, dressed in a cranberry-colored dress accented with a double string of pearls.

"So? That his mother?"

"Look at her face, Starsky. Closely." Hutch waited. "Remind you of anyone?"

"Can't say it does."

"Then look at this." Hutch handed him a much older photo in a gold frame. It appeared to be the same woman, only thirty years younger.

"Oh, my God--it's her." The face looking back at him from the photo was the same one that appeared on the back of the dust cover of all Ramona Kensington's novels.

"Our friend is Ramona Kensington's son." Hutch announced, as Starsky stood and followed him back to the spare bedroom. "All Flores could find out about her was that her real name was Jane Middleton and she had retired to Palm Springs."

"Her background didn't seem all that important," Starsky said, shrugging. "Lots of psychos pick up on something in books or movies, and it's not really got anything to do with the person who wrote the book or made the movie. At least, most of the time it doesn't."

"You think she abused him? Molested him? What? I mean, the guy needs some reason to go out and do things like that to women who read his mother's books. He's obviously got a serious sexual twist, but the rapes are getting more and more violent to the point he's killing his victims or beating them nearly to death."

"Look at this house, Hutch. I like my place clean and tidy, but this is compulsive. There's no dust on his cartons. It's like everything is...is... Felix Unger clean."

"So Mom was a neat freak who smacked Junior around for not cleaning his room?"

"The whole neat/clean thing is probably just one part of it. Or the result of something else." Starsky sighed. "Technically, we still haven't found anything that proves anything."

"We haven't searched every inch of this place yet, and we haven't searched his car. There's got to be something. Even Mr. Clean has to have left some evidence around."

The rest of the search inside the house yielded nothing obviously incriminating. Disappointed, the two detectives turned their attention to the car, a gray 1978 Monte Carlo. Like the house, the inside of the car was immaculately clean. Under the front seat, however, was the golden piece of evidence both men had been seeking: a small spiral notebook in which Schneider had recorded the daily itineraries of all four of his victims, including their addresses and workplaces. The final entries involved Lizzie's undercover address, car and license number. He'd been following her for about three days, from the looks of the log. In the glove compartment was a pair of binoculars.

"How'd we miss this guy?" Hutch asked, frustrated. "He was following her, and so were we."

"We were watching Lizzie and the library. We weren't watching all these houses along here. If he parked facing the street, like the car is now, and stayed back here near the garage, we wouldn't even see him from the angle we were watching, from the side street. He must'a been following us following her. How the hell did we not notice him?"

"Dobey's not going to be happy about that. Three of us all hovering around her and not one of us noticed the perp. That's just great. He watched us--and found the right moment to get in while we were gone."

"Maybe he was in some sort of disguise."

"Yeah, he better have been in some sort of disguise, or Dobey's gonna put us in one--blue with matching hats and whistles," Hutch stated grimly.

After receiving accolades from Dobey on her handling of the assignment, Lizzie was more than ready to call it a night. She had truthfully told Dobey that she couldn't clearly see the scuffle between Flores and Schneider and therefore was not aware how much was necessary to subdue the man. Given the fact the arrestee's injuries were all very superficial and didn't amount to much more than a few bruises, Dobey didn't anticipate too many problems with IA, or much credence being given to police brutality charges. Starsky and Hutch were still searching Schneider's house and car. Lizzie didn't envy them their long night.

"Looks like your mother's waiting up for you," Arturo said, parking at the end of Lizzie's driveway. A light was burning in the living room window.

"She's been worried sick while I was on this assignment."

"I'll pick you up about noon tomorrow. Maybe we can grab some lunch before we go in. I'm going in at the regular time, so if anything comes up you need to be in on before noon, I'll come get you."

"I should probably just go in. I can always take some time off later."

"You've had a hell of a night, Liz. Dobey said not to worry about coming in first thing."

"I want to be in on questioning Schneider."

"Starsky and Hutch'll probably do that. After all, it was their case. We were just helping out."

"Maybe I could push some of Schneider's buttons."

"I don't doubt that."

"Meaning what?" Lizzie frowned.

"Now that he knows you're a cop, he'll probably be pretty hostile."

"You're probably right. I am beat."

"I'll walk you up."

"It's just a few yards, Artie. I'll be fine. Get home to Caroline. She'll be worrying about you." As Lizzie started to open her door, Arturo took a hold of the hand closest to him.

"When I heard you scream... Liz, I...if that guy had really hurt you..."

"Hey, come on," she said, smiling and squeezing his hand. "I'm fine, partner. I'm real glad you showed up when you did. We make a hell of a team."

"We sure do," he said a little sadly. "Liz, I--"

"You better get home," she said gently, releasing his hand and touching his cheek briefly. His hand came up and covered hers immediately, and he leaned into the touch.

"Artie...we can't do this."

"I can't help it."

"We have to help it. Caroline's been through so much with the miscarriage. Think about her...and Alicia. They need you." She paused. "I do, too, but they were there first."

With a sad smile, she pulled her hand away and got out of the car. Before closing the door, she leaned back in to see her partner sitting there with a somewhat devastated look on his face. "I don't know if this makes it better or worse, but...it's hard for me, too. You're the best partner I could ask for. Let's not let anything mess that up, okay?"

"Yeah, okay," he said in a hushed tone. "Get some sleep, partner," he added with a little smile.

"You, too." Reluctantly, she closed the car door and walked up to the front door. She turned and waved at Arturo, and he flashed the headlights once in response.

Please believe me, Artie...it's as hard for me as it is for you. On that thought, she unlocked her front door and went inside, leaving Arturo to go home to his family.

With the suspect being kept in the hospital overnight for observation, Dobey had mercy on his two detectives and sent them home with the order to be back on the job first thing in the morning. By 3:00 a.m., they had stripped off their clothes and crawled into bed, cuddling up together.

Hutch took in Starsky's pale color and the slightly rapid breathing. Concerned, he stroked the dark curls and spoke softly against Starsky's ear.

"You okay, babe?"

"Just got some aches and pains." There was a pause. "God, I'm tired, Hutch."

"I know. We've been running on a couple hours' sleep here and there for the last week or so."

"I didn't used to get winded like this."

"You've got a few more miles on you now. We both do, Starsk. People get older and--"

"Thanks, but we both know it's not old age settin' in."

"You're lucky--"

"To be alive, I know."

"Well, yes, you are, but I was going to say that you're lucky to have the stamina you have--which is still better than most people's best."

"But it's not my best. I was the guy who could work all day and play all night and get up and do it all again the next morning without breakin' a sweat." Starsky sighed. "I miss that guy."

"I know," Hutch responded, rubbing Starsky's back in long, soothing strokes. "I know it's hard to get used to there being some limitations on your energy that weren't there before. Maybe we can get home early tonight and get some rest. Dobey might let us off the hook--"

"I'm not asking Dobey for favors because I'm too fucking weak to pull my share."

"Hey, where'd that come from?" Hutch pulled back so they were face to face, only inches apart. "You're the strongest man I know."

"You don't get out much then." Starsky tried hard not to smile, but did anyway.

"I get out plenty," Hutch responded, chuckling and hugging Starsky close again. "How about a massage? You always sleep like a baby after one of those."

"We've only got a few hours before we have to get up again. Stay put." Starsky smiled. "Feels pretty good right here," he added, snuggling against Hutch. "'Case I haven't mentioned it lately, I love ya a whole lot, babe."

"I love you, too. For what it's worth, I'm exhausted and my back is killing me from spending so many nights sitting in the car or sleeping twisted in the back seat. We've both got our battle scars and our nasty little pains that make us feel old and washed up."

"You always know what I need to hear," Starsky said, his speech slurring a little as he started dozing.

"Dobey said a black-and-white is bringing Schneider over here now," Hutch said as Starsky hung up the phone. It was shortly after 9:00, and after rushing in to work "first thing," they'd ended up talking fast about angles and long driveways to quell Dobey's wrath over finding their perp was sitting across the street from the library, watching them. The wrath had only been modestly lessened, and they'd been dismissed to their desks to catch up on the paperwork for the case until Schneider and his attorney arrived for the questioning to begin. Personnel from the forensics lab were going over Schneider's house with a fine-tooth comb, hoping to find something the naked eye missed.

"I was just talking to the woman the world knows as Ramona Kensington," Starsky announced. "If I'd grown up with her, I think I'd be psychotic, too."

"Why?" Hutch asked, chuckling.

"She's rude, arrogant, self-righteous, stuck-up, rude--"

"You're repeating yourself." Hutch paused. "You know, Starsky, I wish you'd just come out and say what you feel."

"Okay, so she got under my skin," Starsky admitted, smiling a little. "She said Christopher would never amount to anything, so it didn't come as any surprise that he had turned to something sordid and illegal to occupy his time, and she further said that he did all of it simply to spite and humiliate her."

"She might not be far from the truth."

"Probably not. Long and short of it is, she's not willing to talk to us unless we subpoena her or go through her attorney."

"That's easy enough to do. Let's see what sonny-boy has to say first."

Christopher Schneider was one of the most average-looking men Hutch had ever seen. With his brown hair, clean-shaven face and wire-rimmed glasses, he reminded Hutch of the guy who had done his taxes a couple years earlier. Ironically, by trade, Schneider was an accountant. His attorney was one of the better known defense counsels in town, and he had a good record of getting his clients off the hook--even the guilty ones. Max Hoffman was definitely a good man to have on your side, and a not-so-good one to have on the other side of the interrogation table.

"My client has agreed to answer some of your questions, but I warn you, if this session becomes hostile or abusive, he will invoke his right to remain silent."

"There's no need to get hostile or abusive," Hutch stated calmly, opening up the manila file folder in front of him. "We have a significant body of evidence mounting against your client, and at least two witnesses who may offer a voice identification. He attacked a police woman and began a sexual assault on her person, which fortunately did not progress to the level your client's other assaults did."

"Alleged assaults," Hoffman corrected. A portly man in his early fifties, he tugged uncomfortably at the neck of his dress shirt, loosening his tie a bit. He reminded Hutch more of a longshoreman than a lawyer.

"Of course. Starsky, you want to get started?" Hutch asked agreeably, turning on the tape machine.

"Mr. Schneider, we'd like to hear, in your own words, why you were in the bedroom of the apartment at 245 Hunter Street last night."

"My client declines to answer that question."

"Can't say as I blame him, but if he's not going to cooperate at all, there's not much point to this," Starsky responded. "All right, let's move on to something a bit more specific. Why did you climb on top of the woman in the bed and begin kissing and fondling her?"

"I thought that's what she wanted," he stated simply before his lawyer could get his mouth open. Hoffman looked annoyed beyond words.

"Were you acquainted with Detective Thorpe prior to that night?" Hutch asked.

"No."

"Then what would make you think she wanted you to make a sexual advance on her?"

"I didn't know she was a cop."

"Assuming for a moment she wasn't, what made you think she wanted you?" Starsky probed.

"Because it's what those women really want. That's why they read about it all the time."

"This interview has gone far enough--"

"No, Hoffman, this has to be said," Schneider interrupted, holding up a forestalling hand at his attorney.

"You asked for my help and representation in this matter. If you're not going to cooperate with my advice--"

"I'm tired of no one having the courage to call these women what they really are!" Schneider shouted.

"What are they, Chris?" Starsky asked quietly, calmly.

"They're hypocrites, liars...closet whores!"

"Closet whores?" Hutch asked, frowning.

"Those books. They read those books because that's how they want it."

"How do they want it?" Starsky prodded.

"They wanna be somebody's whore," he said, surprisingly calm, given his outburst a moment earlier. "They want a man who's gonna show them who's boss and take what he wants."

"Is that why they fight and scream and plead with you not to rape them?" Hutch challenged. By now, Hoffman had merely crossed his arms over his chest and given up. His client was obviously not playing with a full deck, and he intended to have his say while he had a captive audience listening.

"It's part of the act. If they gave in, they'd have to admit they really wanted it. It's their secret fantasy. It's what every woman really wants."

"Is that what Brenda King wanted? Is that why you killed her?"

"I...I didn't mean to kill her. She...she fought so hard, I couldn't...even after...I didn't have a choice. I had to quiet her down, and I hit her too hard."

"Why did you attack another woman the next night?" Starsky prodded.

"I thought...I thought she'd be like the others...quiet down once she got what she wanted. But she kept screaming and that damn dog..."

"Is that what your mother taught you?" Starsky asked, producing one of Ramona Kensington's steamier books from where he'd stashed it on the seat of the chair next to him. "This is what women want?"

"Leave her out of this."

"Is that what you're thinking about when you're with these women?" Starsky asked. "About your mother getting what she deserves?"

"I...I'm not gonna say anything else."

"We found this journal in your car," Hutch said, holding up the notebook. "All the victims' names are in it. You sure you don't want to cooperate? Right now, you're facing the death penalty. We've got no reason to go easy on you. The only hope you've got is cooperate now, and the DA might take that into consideration when deciding whether or not to go for the death penalty."

"It is apparent that my client is overwrought and in need of some counseling before you continue questioning him," Hoffman interjected, seeing his case crash and burn around his ears. Schneider held up a hand again.

"I'm fine," he said, taking a deep breath and regaining his composure. Hoffman shook his head and resigned himself to saying nothing more.

"Why did you really go after those women, Chris?" Hutch asked, leaning forward on his elbows on the table.

"I can be forceful," he said. "I can be forceful. I am not weak!" He slumped back in his chair. "I don't want to talk about this anymore."

"You heard my client, Detectives," Hoffman spoke up, though he sounded discouraged, as if questioning why his big-mouthed client chose now to be reticent, after having blown any hope of being proven innocent of the charges.

"We heard him, Hoffman," Starsky said, rising. "Loud and clear."

Starsky and Hutch met Lizzie and Arturo at Huggy's for lunch. Lizzie looked well rested and, with the exception of the bruise near her mouth, showed few ill effects of her encounter with Schneider the previous night. Flores, for his part, looked like he'd been awake forty-eight hours straight and seemed more than a little distracted throughout the conversation.

"I'll bet you ten-to-one that Hoffman goes for an insanity plea," Lizzie said, stabbing several pieces of lettuce in her garden salad. "He's like some kind of twisted version of Norman Bates, obsessed with his mother." She paused before taking a bite. "Sad thing is, somebody ought to arrest her for turning him into a neurotic basketcase."

"Maybe we oughtta go back to his place and look for the wig and the housedress under the floorboards," Starsky responded, chuckling. "I'd guess Mommy gave him some sort of hang-up that he wasn't strong enough or effective enough--you know how he went on about being forceful?" He paused while Hutch nodded. "Then he looks at the men she writes about. Men who show their power by dominating and raping women. So how does he prove he's all Mommy thinks he should be?"

"By going out and becoming the kind of man he thinks she admires," Hutch responded, sighing. "Man, the things people do to their kids."

"You feeling okay today, Lizzie?" Starsky asked, taking a bite of his hamburger.

"Oh, sure, I'm fine. I'm just glad we got that nut off the street." She looked over at Arturo, who was still staring at his mostly untouched club sandwich. "You're not getting sick on me, are you?" she asked, pressing the backs of her fingers lightly against his cheek as if to check for a fever. He seemed to barely resist flinching away from the touch.

"I'm all right," he said a bit abruptly.

Silence reigned for a few moments as nearly empty plates were pushed aside, and finally, Flores pushed his partially full one aside as well.

"Dessert, guys?" Anita asked, picking up the dishes. "We mess up your sandwich order, honey?" she asked Flores, who smiled and shook his head.

"Just not too hungry," he responded.

"You're lookin' a little droopy. Better get yourself some rest. Lots of flu going around right now." She picked up the last of the dirty dishes and put them on her tray. "We've got a special on hot fudge sundaes," she said, giving Starsky the eye.

"Bring us a big one," he said, indicating himself and Hutch.

"Bring him a small one," Hutch corrected.

"So you can eat half of it while you're pretending not to eat it? No way. One large hot fudge sundae, please, sweetheart," Starsky said to Anita, flashing her his best smile. That was good for at least twice the normal serving of hot fudge.

"Oh, why not. Bring us one, too, and I'll work on forcing it down him," Lizzie said, smiling and nudging Arturo, who barely managed a smile.

"I know this isn't going to be easy, but if you're not going to be comfortable with me, with us being partners, we're in real trouble," Lizzie said, as Arturo started up the car to return to headquarters. Starsky and Hutch were pulling out in the Torino, entering the flow of traffic just ahead of them.

"Give me a little time, Liz."

"Time for what? You know how I feel about you, and I know how you feel about me, but that doesn't change anything else in our lives."

"How can you say that? How can it not change everything else in our lives?"

"You still love Caroline and Alicia, don't you?"

"You know I do." Flores sighed and rubbed his forehead with one hand, the other on the steering wheel. "If I didn't, things would be pretty clear cut."

"Do you want to break up the partnership?" Lizzie asked quietly. "I don't want to lose your friendship, and I don't want to lose our partnership, but if we can't work together, we need to admit that."

"No, I don't want to end the partnership." Arturo sighed. "I just want to know one thing, and then I promise I won't ever bring it up again."

"What?"

"If I weren't married--"

"You wouldn't be safe alone in this car with me," Lizzie said, smiling and winking at him, waiting for Arturo to smile back. Finally, they both laughed.

Starsky was sound asleep, on his stomach, face pressed into the pillow, curls every which way, one hand stretched out on Hutch's side of the bed. Even in sleep, it seemed Starsky knew when Hutch wasn't nearby. Hutch watched the first rays of sunlight cast their glow on his lover's skin, following with his eyes the curves of shoulder to back to waist to the swell of buttocks that were barely covered by the sheet Starsky had kicked lower through the night.

They'd made love the night before, which was nothing unusual in itself. Still, this rare morning off was giving Hutch the golden opportunity for a little Starsky-watching. He felt a bit ridiculous standing by the bed naked, holding his guitar, but he hoped the result would be worth it. Slipping carefully into bed and covering himself to the waist as he sat against pillows he stuffed behind his back, he was glad the movement hadn't disturbed Starsky. He wanted to do that in his own way.

He started quietly picking out chords on the guitar, watching Starsky's face go through its waking contortions while the still-foggy brain registered the music.

Longer than there've been fishes in the ocean
Higher than any bird ever flew
Longer than there've been stars up in the heavens
I've been in love with you

Hutch smiled at the sleepy eyes that were blinking and looking up at him blearily. They soon crinkled into a broad Starsky smile.

Stronger than any mountain cathedral
Truer than any tree ever grew
Deeper than any forest primeval
I am in love with you

Starsky moved over and rested his head on Hutch's thigh, closing his eyes again, as if he wanted to just soak up the sound without the distraction of sight. The warm weight felt good against Hutch's leg, his only regret being that he couldn't reach out and touch Starsky and play the guitar at the same time.

I'll bring fire in the winter
You'll send showers in the spring
We'll fly through the falls and summers
With love on our wings

Starsky was perfectly still and silent, listening to Hutch's voice. In any other circumstance, Hutch would have thought his partner had dozed off again, but he knew as long as he sang, he'd have Starsky's attention. He sacrificed fumbling a few chords to reach out and stroke the dark curls just once, gently. He smiled as Starsky leaned immediately into the touch.

Through the years as the fire starts to mellow
Burning lines in the book of our lives
Though the binding cracks and the pages start to yellow
I'll be in love with you
I'll be in love with you

He set the guitar aside, glad to be free of the hard wood so he could accept the much warmer, softer feeling of Starsky's body against his.

"Love that song," Starsky said softly, his voice sounding a little strained as he buried his face against Hutch's neck. "Love you, too."

"And I love you," Hutch responded, smiling and nuzzling the curls near his face.

"Kinda incredible thinking about gettin' old together, isn't it?" Starsky swallowed. "I hope we can."

"I know. So do I. I want to get old with you. I want to be old and gray together. I want to live long enough to see you drive too slow," he added, laughing. That brought a snort of laughter from Starsky.

"You're gonna have a hell of a wait for that," Starsky responded.

"Good. Take forever. I'll be here."

Together, they made music of their own the rest of the long, lazy morning.

Author's acknowledgments: Songs quoted in order of appearance:

"The Stranger" by Billy Joel

"Longer" by Dan Fogelberg

Both songs are the property of those who hold the rights; they do not belong to the author.

Send your comments to :
ZebraThree Productions: z3prod@yahoogroups.com
Author: blair_lady@yahoo.com

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