The Veil
by Ellis Murdock

SHSVS, Episode 604

**********

"Personally, I think she's blown herself out."

"Nah. No way is she just gonna settle down like nothing's happened." Starsky wadded his third attempt at the Casten report into a compact ball and made a show of hitting the wastebasket on the first shot. "I'm telling you, Edwards, I've known girls like her, and you can put me down for ten she's just getting started. Let's say somewhere between the nineteenth and the twenty-fourth…" Squinting his eyes and touching fingertips to temples in the manner most commonly associated with fortune-tellers in cheap nightclub acts, he finally announced, "I'm seeing the twenty-first. Gotta be."

"Done." Edwards grinned. "How about you, Hutch?"

"Unlike my partner here, I'm afraid I can't claim to have much insight into the mysteries of volcanism. I've certainly never been able to channel one. You want to try for earthquakes next? It would be a lot handier, considering where we are."

"Oh, put him down for ten, too." Turning eagerly toward his partner, "Why don't you pick a day between the thirteenth and the eighteenth, hmm? What?" Starsky plastered on the expression that matched the cockily confident voice, and made a concerted effort to radiate innocence. Yes, Hutch had long ago become immune and was likely to see through it instantly, anyway, but that was all part of the game. "I've been reading all about fumaroles. Trust me on this, it's a sure thing."

"Fumaroles, huh?" Hutch asked, rolling his eyes. "Just put me down for five on the twelfth, will you?" To Starsky, "I may not possess your encyclopedic knowledge of fumaroles, but I do know the odds against Mount St. Helens erupting on the same date two months in a row."

"Hey, st--" Starsky's rejoinder was cut off mid-sentence by the hiss of Edwards' sharply in-drawn breath. "Bill?" He instinctively followed the other officer's gaze, but there was little to indicate the reason for the reaction. From Starsky's vantage point, Edwards' attention seemed riveted on the small, fifty-ish-looking man who had just entered their little corner of Metro: hat, light business suit, affable enough demeanor...totally unfamiliar. "Someone you know?"

"You mean you don't--? No, you wouldn't. I'll be damned." He shook his head as the stranger continued down the hall. "That's Chuck Addison. Used to be a detective in Bunco before he went..." Edwards elevated index finger to head and rotated it in the universally acknowledged sign for 'crazy.' "He makes a twice-annual pilgrimage to Homicide, begging to re-open this ancient case he's hung up on. Can't imagine what he's doing here."

Starsky nudged his partner, who had been scowling ever since the visitor had walked in, and was now staring at the comparatively empty hallway. "Hutch?"

The touch seemed to jar Hutch out of whatever trance he'd lapsed into, and he started, then shrugged. "I don't know. He's familiar, for some reason, but I can't place where I know him from. It's right--"

As if on cue, Addison wandered back into view, this time taking a detour into the squadroom and walking straight toward the threesome gathered at the desk.

"Hiya, fellas. One of you mind directing me to Captain Dobey? He's expecting me, but I seem to have taken a wrong turn somewhere along the way. Unfamiliar territory."

"Sure," Hutch responded, gesturing with a pencil toward the office door. "He's just in there. You say he knows you're here?"

"Sure hope so," Addison replied with a wink. "Thanks." Hat in hand, he sauntered over to the door and gained admittance on the first knock.

Edwards gave a low whistle and made a sprint for the exit. "'Bye, guys. It's been a great chat, but I'm outta here, and, if you know what's good for you and have anywhere else to be, I'd suggest making your way there post-haste."

"You wanna share with the rest of the class? He looked pretty harmless to me." Starsky glanced curiously at Hutch, who was now staring intently at the office door, tapping his pencil absently on the desk.

Edwards edged ever-nearer the door. "Just a hunch, and I hope I'm wrong. If not...well, you can always join me in R & I, if you should find yourselves in need of a place to hide out for a while."

Seriously doubting that Edwards could have escaped any faster if his shoes had sprouted wings, Starsky watched the egress for a moment, shrugged, then turned his attention to his equally off-kilter partner. "Hey."

"Huh?"

"Whatever you're trying to dredge up isn't going to magically appear on that door over there. How about we get the reports done first and then play 'Pin the Tail on the Memory'? Provided we can't find anything better to do by then."

"Yeah." Hutch drew a hand over his eyes, swiveled back toward the typewriter, and said more firmly, "Yeah." He had barely gotten the first form aligned properly when he suddenly sat up straight and snapped his fingers.

"Guasti!"

"Gesundheit."

"No, that's where I know him from. I knew I'd seen him somewhere! Addison...he's the guy who saved that six-year-old boy from the car fire in Guasti. You know, you read it, too--five-car pile-up just off I-10, a sedan burst into flames, the kid was trapped. You have to remember. His picture was in all the papers last week."

It wasn't hard to recall the story once he knew what to look for. Aside from being undeniably dramatic, it was also one of the few bright spots in a week of singularly depressing news. "Mom was thrown clear, but the kid was strapped inside. A Good Samaritan ran over, broke a window, and yanked him out just before the tank exploded." Starsky glanced toward Dobey's office with a newfound appreciation for the guest within. "That was him?"

"Yeah, he's still wearing a bandage on his right arm. I saw it beneath his cuff as he walked by, but it didn't register until now."

"That's interesting, but it doesn't explain what's bringing him over--" The sentence died before it even had a chance to fully form, killed instantly by the familiar voice booming through a rapidly opening door.

"Starsky! Hutchinson!"

Hutch grinned. "No, but it looks like we're about to find out."

The mood inside the office was strangely tense, and Starsky found himself instantly on edge: curious about what was going on, saturated with that feeling of foreboding that comes when you already know you're not going to like the answer. One glance at Hutch told him he wasn't alone, and he eyed Dobey warily. "Cap'n?"

"I don't believe you've all had the pleasure, so let me make the introductions. Detective Addison, this is Detective Starsky and Detective Hutchinson--two of my best."

"So I've heard."

"This is retired Detective Charles Addison."

"Chuck."

"Chuck," Dobey echoed, returning the pencil he'd been stabbing the air with to its favored spot behind his ear. "You two've probably seen him in the news over the past few days. Chuck gained some well-deserved notoriety last week when--"

"The car fire in Guasti," Hutch interrupted. "That was an exceptional act of bravery you performed."

Rotating the hat in his lap inch-by-inch by its brim, Addison smiled shyly. "Right place, right time. You know how it is."

A response common enough when spoken with false modesty, but there was something in the way Addison said it that lent an unexpected honesty to the words. Laudable, to be sure, but it still didn't offer a clue as to why they had been called in. Extending a hand, Starsky said softly, "Unless the news reports were completely fabricated, there was a lot more to it than that, but something tells me this isn't why we're here."

As all eyes shifted expectantly in Dobey's direction, the captain scratched his cheek and motioned to the chairs. "Have a seat. Where are you two on the Casten case?"

"It's all over but the paperwork."

"And the meetings with the DA," Starsky added, knocking his partner lightly in the ankle.

"Uh-huh. Well, type faster, and I'll hold the DA off as best I can. You've just been temporarily reassigned."

Both detectives lurched upright, almost as a single entity.

"To what?" Hutch asked.

"Now wait just a minute! We're still working MacGruder, and are this close to a breakthrough on the Steven's heist--"

Dobey held up his hand in an obvious bid for silence. "Thorpe and Flores are fully informed on the Steven's incident, and MacGruder wasn't your case to begin with." Shifting his weight in the mildly protesting chair, he added, "Anyway, unless you've found a lead I don't know about, you're still working your way through a phone book of suspects one-by-one. No shortage of people out there wanting to rid the world of lawyers--even the high-priced versions. Can't see this case being any colder in a week than it is right now."

"But--" Starsky was about to point out that not everyone with a grudge either had the expertise necessary to professionally sabotage a car, or the money to hire someone who did, but Dobey didn't seem to be in the mood to argue.

"Sit down, Starsky! This is a police department, not a democracy--you don't get a vote. You're being handed a cold case homicide with the intention that you approach it like you would any other case. You'll have access to everything from the original investigation: interviews, rec--"

"How cold?"

Dobey fixed a steely glare on Hutch. "What was that?"

"I asked how cold a case? What exactly are we dealing with here?"

"Darcy was murdered exactly eighteen years, one month, and seventeen days ago," Addison answered quietly. "She's had a long wait for justice, wouldn't you say?"

The stunned silence remained for several long seconds before Hutch came up with the next logical question, glancing briefly at Starsky before opening his mouth. "How long? How long are we doing this, and what exactly does it entail?"

His eyes darting briefly over to the quiet, solemn figure of Addison, Dobey picked up an official looking paper and fanned the air lightly. "Just what I said, one week. The commissioner has requested you be reassigned for one week only, just to see what you can make of the case in that time. All your other cases are cleared until then, and you'll be working with Detective Addison here, since he was the original investigating officer and knows more about the case than anyone. Any questions?"

One week? We're supposed to magically solve an eighteen-year-old murder case in one week, at the request of the commissioner? Starting where? Attempting to make sense of a picture he had the strongest feeling they were being shown only the tiniest portion of, Starsky found that he had little but questions, though one managed to ascend with alacrity above all the others. "Why?"

"Because the BCPD takes a dim view of unsolved homicides, and it's a tough case that's going to require some imagination. Naturally.…" The hint of a smirk crossed Dobey's face, but was quickly gone.

Terrific. Well, Starsky, you asked.

Hutch, happily, picked up the ball where his partner left it. "Yes, but why now? Has there been a break? Any new leads? Why the sudden renewal of interest in an old case? Unless there's something you're leaving out, nothing's happened, except--"

Deep in thought, Starsky drummed his fingers on the armrest. The heroic and widely heralded rescue in Guasti. A fairly unattractive shape began to assume recognizable form in the fog, and Starsky was reminded yet again how little he appreciated being used as a political pawn, even when the cause was not entirely without merit. As Dobey and Addison exchanged meaningful looks, Starsky and Hutch did the same.

"Look, Chuck," Dobey began amiably, "I need to get a report from my men, and tie up some loose ends here before we go any further. Go get the files, and I'll have Carstairs get you set up in the situation room."

Judging by Addison's humoring smile, the verbal sleight of hand fell somewhat short. "Sure, Captain." He bounced out of the chair with surprising agility. "Detectives, your reputations precede you, and I'm looking forward to seeing your skills in action, as it were."

The snap of the door closing was akin to the sound of a starting pistol in a race to see who would speak first. In this case, Hutch won.

"Captain?"

"I know. I don't like it any better than you do, but there's more at stake here than you realize. It's a sensitive situation."

"Don't tell me." Starsky slouched a little lower in his chair and sighed. "He's been pushing on this case for years, but everybody's been able to ignore him before now."

"Guasti gave him some media leverage," Hutch continued, "and he's threatening to use it. How close are we?"

Starsky flashed a wide grin--the pure, undisguised amazement on the captain's face making him wish he'd remembered to bring his camera to work. "I keep telling people, the meatloaf in the cafeteria's amazing stuff--gives ya superpowers."

"Edwards filled us in a little," Hutch clarified. "You want to fill us in on the rest?"

"You're close. Addison's been on this private crusade for years, and nothing's ever come of it. No offense, but no one's expecting anything to come of it this time, either. It's just that now he has the media in his pocket, and in an election year..."

"The commissioner can't afford to take the chance. That's just terrific," Starsky said dryly. "So he's willing to take us off the things we might actually be able to make a difference in, and put us on this?"

Dobey raised his hands in a gesture of resignation. "Addison already knows the ground rules. You two are in charge, you set the tone and make the decisions. Do what you can--let him know you're doing what you can--then call it a day. And try to keep him happy in the process, understood?"

"We're on hand-holding duty," Hutch said disgustedly. "To Serve and Appease."

"Well, if you don't like it, you can always surprise everyone and actually solve the case. Now get out of here."

**********

"You're just delaying the inevitable." Hutch leaned languidly against the wall, as his partner committed assault and battery on the vending machine. "Can't stay down here forever, you know."

"Yeah, but nothing says I have to go up there without some sugar back-up."

"You're actually enjoying this, aren't you?"

"You make it sound like a crime," Starsky teased. "Hey, I prefer to look at it as a paid break from the usual routine. Who knows? We do this right, maybe they'll give us Hoffa."

Hutch's mumbled, "And what would we do with him if they did?" was just a barely audible backdrop to the sound of feet hitting the stairs on the trip up.

The first to arrive at the door, Starsky knocked, then stopped mid-whistle and stared in awe at the room their third wheel was in the process of setting up. Gotta hand it to you, Addison, you know how to set a stage. Crime scene photographs had been neatly tacked onto the bulletin board, and stacks of boxed files awaited review from the floor--sitting patiently until the retired detective completed whatever it was he was writing on the chalkboard. Professional.

Acknowledging their arrival with a wave of chalk, Addison smiled warmly before returning to his notes. "Grab some chairs, fellas, or you can begin arranging the files if you'd rather. Either way, I'll be with you in two shakes."

Hutch quirked an eyebrow as both men began pulling clearly labeled folders from file boxes. Of the more than fifty present, Starsky soon realized, only a handful were official police records--the rest had been compiled by Addison, personally. Okay, so we know he's both dedicated and thorough...maybe it's time we found out why. "Mind if I ask you a question, Chuck?"

"Fire away, Detective. Any time."

Before Starsky had even formed the first word, he was stopped by a light nudge from his partner, who shook his head and pointed to himself. Fair enough. Of the two, Hutch was the man more likely to couch a phrase in diplomatic enough language to make even an insult sound like a compliment, and the current situation could only benefit from tact. Starsky willingly stepped back and gave Hutch first crack.

"You've logged in some long hours on this case, so it obviously means a great deal to you. Do you have some personal involvement we should know about?"

Addison froze in place for a moment, then put down the chalk in slow motion, drawing in a deep breath before turning to face his companions. "Didn't you ever have an assignment that got under your skin and steadfastly refused to let go?"

"Not eighteen years worth," Starsky replied.

Addison shrugged. "Be happy it's never happened to you, David. May I call you that?"

"Why not? Considering we're gonna be living in each other's back pockets for the next week, it seems only fair."

Deciding it was high time he entered the conversation, too, Hutch offered, "You can call me Ken if you like, but I usually go by Hutch."

"Great. All I was saying was, be glad. Having a case take over your life is no joke, but it happens sometimes. What can you do?"

Assuming the question to be purely rhetorical, Starsky joined Hutch in looking over the ME's report. Darcy Sandrow: twenty-three-year-old Caucasian female. Gunshot wound to upper left thoracic, resulting in a partially transected left subclavian artery, and death through exsanguination. Damn. Until Hutch's hand came up and stilled his own, Starsky was completely unaware that he'd been lightly massaging one of his own scars.

"Do we have any suspects?" Endearingly predictable, Hutch was always at the ready to change any subject that became uncomfortable, even if only for a few moments.

"Don't need any," Addison replied evenly. "We already know who the murderer is."

On the whole, it was probably a good thing Addison was no taller than he was, for both Starsky and Hutch would surely have suffered whiplash had it been otherwise.

**********

"Would you give that a rest already?" Starsky pleaded, more in amusement than irritation. "It's after midnight already. How much longer do you plan on playin' at this?"

"In a minute. Let's just go over it one more time, okay?"

"Hutch." Starsky sank back on the pillows with a puff and chuckled softly. "You been bitten by the same bug as Addison? What is it about this case, anyway?"

"It's a classic unsolved mystery. You can't honestly tell me you don't find that at least a little alluring."

"No, I can't. I just find other things a whole lot more alluring." Grinning at the almost plaintive look cast his way, Starsky added, "But I'm patient…within reason. All right, Holmes. One more time, from the top."

"Okay, we know that Darcy was working in the DA's office when she was killed. An assistant secretary to a prosecutor named Frank Win...? Wan...?"

"Wainwright."

"Wainwright. You have been listening."

"Yep, now play nice. Go on."

"Who she may or may not have been having an affair with."

Starsky reached for one of the myriad photocopies currently obscuring their bed. "Yeah, her diary wasn't clear on that. She liked him, and everybody thought there might have been something going on, but no one seems to know for sure."

"Now, Addison has successfully convinced himself that the killer has to be Wainwright's fiancée, Letitia Hamland, because--"

"Because Darcy's dying word sounded something like 'mantis,' and Letitia happens to have a praying mantis tattooed on her neck." Starsky shook his head. "That qualifies as interesting, but not much else. There's not one solid shred of evidence to even suggest that she was involved." Placing a hand on Hutch's shoulder, he deadpanned, "Hey, you don't suppose that's why she was never arrested, do you?"

"Maybe, but being the Chairman of the Board of one of the top three publishing houses in the country doesn't hurt, either."

Starsky considered that for a moment, then shook his head. "I give you that she comes from a nifty little family dynasty, and I'm sure her daddy could've paid her way out of a lot of trouble, but still. She'd have been, what? Around twenty-four or twenty-five herself at the time? An heiress to that kind of fortune is going to have a lot more going for her than a prosecuting attorney. Even if he was sampling the nectar from more than one flower, don't you think she'd just ditch 'im and move on? There are other, less dangerous ways to make someone pay, and--if you believe the interviews--no one who knew her even saw it as a possibility. No one's sure he was stepping out on her in the first place."

"Doesn't look like it's going to be easy to run him down and ask, either. Says here he died of natural causes just a short while after Darcy was killed." Hutch let his shoulders sag as he added, whispering, "Addison might be right, you know. It's one hell of a theory, and he's had enough years to work on it."

Resolutely starting to gather all of the papers into a dignified pile, Starsky leaned over Hutch's frame on his way to a crime scene report and lingered there for a moment, savoring the contact of his back against Hutch's chest. "Maybe he is, but we're not going to find out one way or the other tonight. By and large, I really think I'd rather go to sleep with something on my mind other than a young woman lying alone on her bedroom floor, coughing up her own lungs." While he hadn't intended to sound quite that affected by the case, neither did he object to Hutch's gentle answering embrace.

"Sorry."

"Don't be. I'd be lying if I said it didn't intrigue the hell out of me, it's just… I dunno." Starsky leaned fully back into the familiar warmth, and was once more amazed at how rapidly even the most tenacious of shadows were vanquished. Magic. "Did you notice that he didn't put one photo of the body up with the other crime scene shots?"

"Yeah, I noticed. Also saw that he wasn't the original detective assigned to the case. He must've transferred from Bunco to Homicide within a week after she was killed, though...then requested it?"

"Why d'you suppose Addison's so hung up on this, anyway?"

"Wish I knew. I'm certainly not buying his 'some cases just get under your skin' explanation, but that, as you said, can wait for another time. So, what would you like to do with the rest of our evening?"

Starsky smiled at the recognition of the beginnings of a very personal game. But surely game wasn't the right word? Dance, perhaps, would be a more appropriate analogy. From excitingly playful to almost hauntingly reverent, the specifics could vary considerably with the days, while the deeper meaning--the crux of what was communicated--remained more constant than the seasons themselves. He gave the arm about his waist a quick, appreciative squeeze and swallowed hard before offering the expected response. "There's always our old standby, Monopoly."

"Little early in the morning for that, don't you think? How about cards?"

"Nah. They get lost in the sheets."

"Huh. How about 'Klimbat'?"

Starsky laughed. "Don't think I know that one."

"Oh, no?" Hutch leaned forward until his breath caressed Starsky's ear with moist warmth. "Let's figure it out together, shall we?"

**********

Lunch had so far been the high point of the day, at least as far as Hutch was concerned. Chasing phantoms and leads that had dried up before he and Starsky had ever even entered the Academy seemed to add countless hours onto a morning that had already felt as if it would stretch into infinity. Hutch moved his plate over to make room for the freshly filled glass Huggy Bear set down, and smiled gratefully. "Thanks, Hug." Beer would have been far more welcome, but Hutch was happy enough with the soda.

"Sure thing, mes ami--especially when you exercise your right to introduce new members to the clientele of this fine establishment." With a dramatic nod aimed directly at Addison, Huggy asked, "So, how long is your duo likely to remain a trio? Is this a 'lease with an option to buy' sort of thing, or does it come with an expiration date?"

"Oh, they'll be returned to their normal lives, unharmed, after a week," Addison replied cheerfully, attention still riveted on the half-eaten hamburger before him. "This is a wild place you've got here. Bit out of my neck of the woods, but I may just have to become a regular."

"Music to my ears." Grinning broadly, Huggy leaned down and offered a conspiratorial whisper. "You've got a lot to learn about the other two wheels on your scooter here, though. Neither one has never known the meaning of the word 'normal'." Suddenly distracted by the alarming sight of white puffs of smoke billowing from somewhere in the recesses of the kitchen, Huggy departed as hurriedly as he'd come, leaving the occupants at the table in uneasy silence.

Tellingly avoiding eye contact with anyone, Starsky appeared to be aiming toward total communion with his lunch, very nearly keeping the smirk he'd been unsuccessfully battling for hours at bay. Hutch, on the other hand, found himself staring morosely at an apparently oblivious Addison, and pondering his own less-than-amused feelings regarding the investigation thus far. He'd not automatically bought into the assumption that their "partner" was crazy, but now? Several shared hours in the car were helping that theory look more than merely possible. It was hard to even know how to phrase the question... "That trip to Huntington Park?"

Addison blinked back, mouth too full to respond verbally.

"Why? I mean... Why?"

"Wanted you to see where Darcy lived. Get a feel for the area, you know. Used to be SOP when I was still on the job. I know a lot's happened in the fifteen years I've been away, but have things really changed that much?"

It was asked without even a hint of sarcasm, and Hutch was beyond relieved when Starsky finally opted into the conversation.

"Still is, but you took us to a Buy-Lo parking lot, Chuck. Kinda hard to determine much from little painted rectangles on concrete."

"Yeah." Addison shrugged and reached for the condiment rack. "They tore her apartment building down eleven years ago. Tried to stop them--told everyone it would impede an on-going homicide investigation--but no one listened. No one ever listens." He nibbled thoughtfully on a french fry. "She really loved that place, too. Said the fountain reminded her of the one back home in Tulsa. It was a feature of this little community park she used to play in almost every day, back when she was just a kid."

Exchanging another alarmed look with Starsky--about the twentieth of the day--Hutch took another bite of his sandwich while carefully formulating a non-threatening response. "Um, comments like that make it sound as though you knew Darcy very well in life, but you say you never met her?"

The only answer was a bright, infectious smile. Hutch leaned back against the booth, shooting a silent "help" Starsky's way in the process. Predictably, Starsky understood and picked up the thread.

"Are you sure you never met her, Chuck? It's one of those things that's really important to keep in mind."

He made a dismissive gesture with another fry. "No, no. I only got to know Darcy afterward."

"Afterward?" Hutch placed the drink he'd been holding back on the safety of the table. "You mean, after she died?"

"Hmm." Addison nodded. "She nudges me, you know. Keeps me on the right track, wouldn't let me give up if I wanted to. Great food here, fellas. Really do like this place, despite the name. So…" He rubbed his hands together eagerly. "...what do you want to tackle after lunch? Back to the interviews?"

Starsky wiped his mouth with a napkin, slowly extracting a notebook from his jacket pocket with his free hand. "Well, let's see who's left. Mrs. Anderson from the apartment downstairs--back when there was still an apartment--died in 1973, so she's not gonna be much use. Arthur Timmelson doesn't remember 1962 at all. Sarah Endels was fun but, considering that she mistook me for Nixon, I'm not sure how much stock we can put in her contention that Darcy was murdered by Communist aliens wearing purple fast-food caps." Shifting slightly in the booth so he could bring up one leg onto the seat, he glanced at Hutch. "Were you ever able to reach Social Services?"

"Yeah, they're working to contact her family. And you never know." It actually begins to look plausible after our little seance in the parking lot.

Starsky gazed mildly at Hutch. "True, you never know. Frank Wilson at least remembered her, but couldn't contribute anything that wasn't already down. That leaves--" He shuffled through a few pages before finishing, "--Jacob Werner, Alice Kendall, and Ted Samuels from the original canvass and follow-up. Not counting various and sundry co-workers at the DA's office--most of whom have probably moved on by now--the five people we haven't even been able to trace, and Letitia Hamland herself. Did I miss anybody?"

"Nope, that sounds about right. Darc doesn't have any family to speak of, and most of her friends have moved on. It's not that they don't love her, you understand, but she's always encouraged people to go forward, not dwell on the past. Just makes it hard when you're investigating, that's all."

The quickly escaping, quickly controlled grin that flashed across Starsky's face was something Hutch suspected only he would notice. In light of this latest comment, the most recent in a series of colossal understatements for the day, it was remarkably restrained.

"Well, I vote for Tish," Addison announced. "This being a Saturday, we won't find any joy at the DA's office, anyway, and it's time you met the person responsible for all this. She's a cagey one, I'll tell you. Just don't be fooled by her smoke and mirror routine, and we'll be fine."

A horrifying thought occurred to Hutch--one that was impossible to ask tactfully, but too important not to ask at all. "Letitia Hamland was one of several suspects in the original investigation--not even the primary person of interest--according to the official documents. Any chance at all she doesn't know you suspect her?"

"Oh, she knows--"

Naturally.

"--but at least she changed her mind about the restraining order, so we're good to go. Lucky for us, she's spending the weekend in her penthouse, so at least we don't have to make the grand trek to the beach. Hey, you want me to drive this time?"

If Starsky hadn't been actively choking on his last bite of food at the time, Hutch was confident he would have enthusiastically declined the offer, and gladly did so for him.

Letitia's apartment was only about a twenty-minute drive from Huggy's, but it could have been another world. Located in one of the more sumptuous of the newer downtown buildings, it came complete with uniformed doorman and the closest thing to a breathtaking view as Bay City had to offer.

"Feel like we took a wrong turn somewhere?" Starsky teased.

Shoulder to shoulder with Starsky against the warmth of the Torino, Hutch didn't take his eyes off the animated discussion taking place between Addison and the doorman about fifteen feet away. "Just keep telling yourself that there's no place like home. Our wallets aren't going to stand for you getting too used to this."

"Don't think we'll be here long enough for that. What're we gonna say, anyway? 'We'd like to ask you a few questions about a girl who worked for your long-deceased fiancé about eighteen years back. We know it was a long time ago, but do you have any recollection of having killed her'?"

Hutch watched Addison chat with the doorman, and idly wondered how many visits he'd paid to Letitia over the years. "Yeah, I know it's a long shot. One thing's for certain, though, he's convinced."

"And he might be right. Sure, it makes me a little uncomfortable that he seems to have forged one hell of a relationship with a dead girl, but I haven't seen anything to suggest that he's less than a great investigator, and you know how I feel about instinct. It'll take you a long way, but I get nervous when it's all you've got, and I'm not sure how happy Chuck is going to be when he finds out we're going to be exploring other possibilities."

"There's something about that 'mantis' comment that bothers me, too. I can't help but wonder--"

Any further discussion was delayed as Addison turned and beckoned them to come. "She's in for the rest of the afternoon, in preparation for some big do going on at the Grand Haviland tonight. Just Tish and her assistant are up there right now, and Al here will keep our little visit a surprise."

The doorman winked conspiratorially as they walked in the door, and helpfully pointed the way to the elevators. The building seemed a second home to Addison, though, and he wound them through the maze to Letitia's apartment with dizzying speed. Their knocks were answered almost immediately by a perky young woman, whose attitude changed from friendly interest to guarded animosity as soon as she caught sight of the older detective. "You again? Don't you ever get tired of harassing her?"

"Hello, Vera. How's Roger?" With a nod to Starsky and Hutch, he explained, "She has the cutest little Pekingese, very similar to Darcy's Peter Pan. Uncanny." Turning back to Vera, he added, "And no, I don't get tired of it at all. If Tish is honest, she'd tell you that she'd miss me terribly if I ever stopped coming--it's become part of our normal routine after all these years."

"Care to test that theory, Charles?" A tall woman--only a few inches shorter than Hutch, and every bit as blonde--appeared in the doorway to what Hutch assumed to be a study, and leaned against the doorframe with a sigh, studying Starsky and Hutch with an intensity that seemed designed to make its object blush. "Considering the delectable niblets you've brought along with you, though, I may just have to forgive this visit. So, aren't you going to introduce me to your friends?"

Starsky was the first to have his badge out and made the standard introductions to Letitia, who was by this time standing unnaturally close.

"Yum. You two almost make me wish I had done something frisk-worthy. You know, Charles, I've been expecting you. Read that wonderful article about you last week--noble deed, by the way--and just knew you wouldn't be able to pass up an opportunity to convert the notoriety into something to feed your obsession. So, everyone, please come into the living room, sit down, and tell me what I can do for you. I'd offer you refreshments, but I'm guessing you won't be here that long."

Hutch began, "As I'm sure you've already surmised, we're here to ask you a few questions about Darcy Sandrow. We're just having another look at the case and are trying to re-interview as many people as possible." Hutch had the oddest feeling that both he and Starsky were going to sink into the couch, never to be seen again. It was suddenly very clear why Addison had opted for the reassuringly non-upholstered George III open armchair. "How well did you know her? Can you fill us in on the last time you remember seeing her?"

Seductively arranging her legs on the body of the settee, she sipped at what Hutch assumed to be an iced tea. "I don't have any recollection of having met her at all." Turning toward the study into which Vera had retreated, Letitia called out, "Vera, dear, would you head down to Sasha's and pick up my gown? She said four o'clock, but you know how she likes to buy herself extra time. Scrummy."

"She just made up that bit about you in her diary then?" Addison's voice had taken on a low, serious quality Hutch hadn't encountered before, and he felt Starsky sit up and take notice, too.

Letitia fixed Addison with an unblinking, cat-like stare. "Perhaps I'm just more memorable."

"Assistant to the guy you were set to marry, and you never even met her?" Starsky's tone was non-threatening, but suggestively incredulous.

Letitia, oddly enough, neither blinked nor re-directed her gaze, and the tension in the room went up several notches. "Frank showed me her picture afterward, of course--plain, average sort of girl, though he was quite broken up by her death." She shrugged, as though that qualified as one of the great mysteries of the universe. "I couldn't even recall her back then, and my memory certainly hasn't improved in the intervening eighteen years." Finally, she cocked her head Starsky's way. "This is just a friendly chat, right? Nothing to call my attorney for?"

He nodded.

"Fine. Then let me pose a question to you. You both went to the Academy, I imagine? Well, can you recall the director's secretary?"

"Not offhand," he admitted.

Hutch jumped in to finish the thought. "But, to the best of my knowledge, she was neither murdered nor rumored to be sleeping with my fiancée at the time. If she had, I think I might remember her better."

"Touché." She raised her glass to Hutch, then returned her attention to Addison. "As Charles and I have discussed on numerous occasions, those rumors came to light only after Frank's passing. Poor dear. Everyone always assumed it was the stress from working on the biggest case of his career, but I expect the coronary had far more to do with the fact that he was playing doctor with everything in a skirt."

"Darcy believed that he was serious about her." Addison's face was still wearing the same harmlessly cheerful expression from earlier, but his voice carried a definite edge.

"And if he was, and I knew about it, that might have given me a motive to do her harm. But I didn't, no matter what you believe, and you certainly haven't met with much success at convincing anyone otherwise."

"Yet."

She smiled, and Hutch felt as though he'd been exposed to the air from a deep freeze.

"You're welcome to come tilt at my windmill anytime, Charles, but it's something of a masochistic hobby, don't you think?"

"It all depends on to whom you are referring."

It's like watching a chess match, Hutch thought. Maybe you're not so crazy, after all. A seasoned interrogator, certainly. Addison obviously knew enough to adapt himself to his suspect, even to the point of matching her speech pattern. Both Letitia and Addison were too wrapped up in giving each other the Evil Eye to notice the look Hutch exchanged with Starsky, at least until Starsky cleared his throat.

Letitia turned her head very slowly Starsky's way and blinked. "Yes, Detective?"

"Do you happen to remember what you were doing on the morning of the thirteenth of April, 1962?"

Her laugh wasn't much warmer than her smile. "Can you? Under any other circumstances, that would be too funny. However, considering that I memorized my alibi years ago, let me give it to you from the top. You may follow along on your paper, if you'd like. I'm quite certain that Charles must have furnished each of you with copies." Swinging her legs off the settee, she sat up, looked straight ahead, and folded her hands like a schoolgirl, easily reciting what sounded exactly like a prepared speech. "I was awakened at seven o'clock by a phone call from my brother, Andrew, as he was on shore leave at the time. Brushed my teeth, got dressed, telephoned Paul Jessup--he was Daddy's driver--and had him take me to the house in Redondo Beach. Andy met me there, we breakfasted together, then headed out to the marina and spent the day on the yacht. Didn't get back in until evening."

"And managed to do all of the above without any witnesses, save for your brother and driver, both of whom had a vested interest." Addison gifted Letitia with a salute. "Impressive, I must say, especially for someone so 'memorable.'"

"What can I say? I was feeling private that day. Now, I'm sorry to cut this short, gentlemen, but I'm really rather pressed for time. I'd have to check my schedule, but I believe Tuesday's free. Give me a call if you need anything further, and perhaps we can plan on lunch. You know what they say about breaking bread together."

Hutch shivered as Letitia's voice sent icy fingers up and down his spine. Not without a food taster, thanks, he thought wryly. "Generous offer, but I have a feeling we'll be otherwise occupied by then."

"Pity, and I wasn't being generous--I'd have insisted that you buy."

"Big event tonight?" Starsky asked, putting away his notebook and pointing toward the evening bag and other accessories decorating a side-table.

"The Howard Gala and Auction...for the famine relief fund, I think." She smiled coyly. "Would you two be interested in tagging along? One of you could be my date, the other a back-up. I could draw straws."

"Sorry." Hutch did his best to struggle free from the couch's hold. "Already spoken for."

"Both of us," Starsky replied to her hopeful glance.

"Naturally. The best ones always are."

Addison contained himself just until they hit the elevator. "You see what I mean? You've both got instincts--you can't tell me they weren't just screaming to you that she did this!"

Hutch stretched against the elevator rail and sighed, nodding at Starsky to answer. His would be the same reaction; he'd already seen it in Starsky's eyes.

"I like evidence, and right now we don't have any. Not one lovely piece to tie her into any of this, and I don't have the first clue how we're ever going to come up with any." Tapping fingers against the wall nervously, he stared back at Hutch. "Gut instinct, though? Yeah. She's the one."

Addison sank against the railing and emitted something very like a sob. "Finally! Finally...someone actually believes us."

The fact that both Starsky and Hutch realized immediately who the other half of the "us" was, didn't make it any less disturbing.


The remainder of the workday passed very much as the morning had, serving to add considerable wear to the soles of their shoes, but contributing precious little to the investigation itself. Starsky announced his intention to swing by his apartment at least long enough to shower and change clothes before meeting Hutch back at Venice for dinner, and Hutch took the opportunity to do some serious communing with the leafy residents of his greenhouse. Good place to decompress. Good place to think.

Although he was somewhat startled by Starsky's arrival a mere forty-five minutes later, he was not surprised in the least when his partner nonchalantly draped himself in the nearest chair and began browsing through the mail he apparently hadn't taken the time to read through earlier. Home had long ago become wherever both happened to be. Hutch pinched a dead leaf off of an otherwise healthy-looking Dracaena and continued with the watering, reveling in a relaxation and warmth that had been missing just minutes before.

"I think she paid for a hit."

"Huh?" Starsky's comment was continents removed from where Hutch's thoughts had just been, and it took him a moment to catch up. "So your theory is that she paid someone?"

"Well, that's my theory until someone comes up with a better one. Her alibi's not that tight, but she's kinda hard to ignore, and it's more than a little strange that no one noticed her walking in or out of a strange apartment building in the middle of the morning. Hey! The course catalogue from Jameson just arrived."

"Oh, yeah?" Hutch glanced up from behind the Ficus and took a quick peek. "I still can't get over that lady's smile. I know Addison's a bit eccentric…" Thwacking Starsky lightly on the back for the quirked eyebrow and grin, he continued, "But I think I can understand why he's so sure now. She gave me the chills; imagine what it must be like to have been around her for the better part of two decades."

"You won't hear any argument from me, but I still don't know what we're supposed to accomplish in six days that a team of Homicide detectives hasn't been able to crack since 1962."

Hutch picked up a young Maidenhair fern in an effort to reach a sad-looking Anthurium, then found he had no place to set the dripping pot of greenery. "Here…" He grabbed the hand of a Starsky still engrossed in the catalogue, manipulated his partner's arm until the hand was palm up, and deposited the fern there. "…be nice to her. She's sensitive."

"Aren't we all," Starsky murmured, not even bothering to look up. "Well, I can tell you one thing--at least at Jameson we wouldn't have to sell your body to science to afford the tuition. Their schedules are a lot more flexible than Littlefield, and they have some things here that actually sound interesting."

"Thought you had your heart set on a combination of Advanced Thermodynamics and Fencing."

Starsky grinned. "I've always wanted to buckle some swashes. Haven't you?"

"Nobody's but yours."

"Aw, good point, and we manage that without taking a class. Right now, it's a toss-up between practical and not-so-practical-but-fun."

"Sounds intriguing. What have you got?"

"How about Beginning Spanish for practical? It's getting to be that we need to understand it just to do our jobs properly. Imagine what it'll be like later down the road."

Hutch had moved over to his nest of what appeared to be idyllically happy Pileas. "Spanish is good, but I can teach you that myself."

"You'd do that?"

"Sure. We can get some books, flashcards, and I'll even bet Arturo would be happy to converse with you now and then. It helps to hear it from a native speaker, you know. It would be good for me, too--I'm about due for a refresher course."

"Cross Spanish off," Starsky said, scribbling in the corner of the catalogue with his free hand. "Okay, then, how about Legal Issues in Western Literature? I like literature, and already know a few things about law...whaddya think?"

"Law and Lit., huh? Who's teaching the class? Anyone we know?"

"Um...says here it's the playground of one Garner Manning. Ring any bells?"

"Not off-hand. Sounds interesting, though. I'd like to spend some time studying the contrast of law fiction versus law in real life. Besides, it's gotta be an improvement over Thermodynamics."

Starsky waved the pencil sternly at Hutch. "It's a sad thing when a man loses his sense of adventure."

"Yeah, I'm sure it must be. Hey--don't tip the fern! I told you, she's sensitive."

Starsky sighed, closed the catalogue, and swung his feet down to the floor, focusing all of his attention on the plant. "So, you're the sensitive type, yes? Let Ramon make you relax and forget all your cares, you beautiful green goddess. Yes. Yes you are, you--"

"Oh, brother." Hutch snatched the Maidenhair away with a scowl.

"Hey! We were having a moment there!"

Carefully returning the plant to its place of honor, Hutch took the time to mist its fronds before turning back Starsky's way and misting him, too. "I said to be gentle, not seduce it. If there's going to be any seducing going on around here, it had better not involve anything in a pot."

"Yeah, well, when that plant thrives--and it will--you're gonna thank me."

Hutch set the mister down, sank close alongside Starsky, and reached for a couple of Starsky's catalogues. "I'm not so sure about that. I don't like the idea of going up against a fern with a libido."

Starsky nuzzled Hutch's forehead and whispered. "I wouldn't worry about it. Ferns make me ticklish. Now, if we were talking about a Philodendron…"

He didn't get any further before Hutch had a firm hold on the mister once again.

**********

Starsky was grumpy. Slouched over a backwards-turned chair in the situation room, coffee in hand, he found he just couldn't help it. He consulted his wristwatch and groaned inwardly. Only eight-fifteen in the damned morning. Monday had come entirely too quickly, anyway--all the more so for a long, fruitless Sunday and practically no sleep the night before. He tried valiantly to hide the irritation that bubbled just below the surface and thought he was doing a relatively decent job--an illusion that shattered like glass as soon as he heard Addison's apologetic tone.

"Thanks again for coming in early like this, fellas." Addison busied himself at the borrowed coffeepot, filling cups for both himself and Hutch. "Yesterday, too, seein' as how it should've been your day off and all... Well, w-- I just really appreciate it. Means a lot."

Hutch stepped back from the chalkboard long enough to smile warmly at Addison. "No problem, Chuck. If we've only got a week, we probably ought to make the most of it, huh?"

Get it in gear, Starsky. You've been handed a challenge, mornings aren't usually fatal, and whatever else you might say about him, Addison's a hard guy not to like. Internal reprimand over, he sat up straighter and dismissed the earlier mood. "Besides, we owe ya after that great breakfast you bought us." Starsky patted his stomach appreciatively. "Two days in a row. I could actually get used to mornings, if I had that to look forward to every day." The bid to peer around Hutch's form and see for himself what his partner was scribbling so madly with the chalk met with no success whatsoever. "Hey, Picasso. How's it going up there?"

"You tell me." Hutch added one more flourish, moved aside enough to give both Starsky and Addison a chance to read everything, then returned to his place at the board. "This is a list of all the original suspects. Of the four people here who were never cleared, Gerry Leeds is dead, Ben Tyson has been living courtesy of our tax dollars for the past eleven years, Jig Ames lives in Tampa with his wife and three kids, and we've all had the pleasure of making Letitia Hamland's acquaintance." He pointed his chalk at Addison. "You say that the other six have ironclad alibis? No margin for error?"

"Anything's possible, but their stories always checked out, always remained solid--most with multiple witnesses to back them up."

"Okay," Starsky said slowly, "so let's assume we don't want to waste time going that way unless we run fresh out of theories. When and where did Leeds exit this world?"

Hutch grabbed a file from the nearby stand and briefly shuffled through its contents. "Twelve years ago next month, up in Quentin. He was doing life for a bank heist that went bad, but it looks like cancer made that a fairly short sentence. Tyson's still present and accounted for, though, so it's worth a call. Maybe even a visit, if he's willing to talk."

"I'll tackle Ames somewhere around...what? Three o'clock? That should be around dinnertime there, shouldn't it?" Starsky pulled out a notepad and flicked it open with one hand. "What's the number?"

"It's 813-555-1259," Addison responded without looking up. "And you might want to wait until around four o'clock--he likes to eat close to seven." Shrugging at the stereo stares, he added simply, "I've called him on a few occasions over the years, that's all. It's only natural to pick up on habits and things over time. You know."

"Moving on..." Hutch made check marks alongside the four names, then focused his attention on the notes below them. "According to Ballistics, Darcy was killed by a Browning 9mm automatic, fired from no more than fifteen feet away. From the trajectory, it was a right-hander, and someone taller than she was. No trace of the gun has ever been found?"

"None. Look, I appreciate your thoroughness, but this is all a waste of time. We already know who pulled the trigger. We need to keep Letitia in our sights and not get bogged down in all of this. It's irrelevant."

"I hear you, but we were told to investigate this just like we would any other case." Impatience was an emotion with which Starsky was intimately familiar, and he was careful to prevent his voice from betraying even the slightest hint of irritation. "And that means taking a long, hard look at all of the possibilities. You were a cop for too many years not to know that."

"Any standard investigation gives you a hell of a lot more than seven days digging time."

"You're right," Hutch said softly, "and we're keeping that in mind, but that doesn't mean we're going to gloss anything over. If this case means as much to you as I think it does, you don't really want us to be sloppy, anyway. There'll be time enough for Letitia--I promise."

Hutch's conciliatory and reassuring words seemed to do the trick, and Starsky moved on to the next point. "What do we think? Trained killer, or lucky shot?" Addison visibly flinched, and Starsky cursed himself for the choice of words. Sorry, Chuck, but we're trying to help here, and there are just so many euphemisms available.

"Oh, I think we have to go with the fluke theory." Hutch gave the chalk a rest and clapped its residue from his hands. "The subclavian artery isn't exactly your typical target, and if you were that good a shot, why not go for something you can be sure of?"

Starsky accordion-pleated a candy bar wrapper. "Not a professional then. That leaves revenge, prevention, accident, and random."

"Couldn't be a preventative strike, David--Darcy didn't have that kind of lifestyle, and she certainly wouldn't have attempted to blackmail anyone. Not in her nature. If you'd just read her diaries--"

"That's near the top of our 'to do' list, but that's not what I mean. The person doing the preventing wouldn't necessarily know that blackmail wasn't a likelihood. The Mafia has a long-standing tradition of hitting people who see something they shouldn't, even if the person who did the seeing is totally in the dark. We really should be able to rule out accident, though; a kicked-in door pretty much takes that one out of the running."

Hutch picked up the chalk and marked the board accordingly. "Random doesn't seem reasonable, either. It was hardly a stray bullet, although the shooter could've gone to the wrong address, I suppose."

"The Happy Eunuch theory," Starsky said with a laugh.

"I beg your pardon?"

Hutch chuckled, too. "That translates as 'plausible, but not probable.' Just a catch phrase we coined years ago."

"Clever," Addison declared, joining in the mirth. "How long have you guys been together? You seem...I dunno...different somehow."

Starsky glanced up to assess Addison's motivation for asking. A loaded question, under other circumstances it could also have been an alarming one, if not for the fact that they'd been fielding the same query since back in their Academy days. "We've been together for a full decade now, but finishing each other's sentences goes back to when we first met." The indelible memory of their very first encounter on day one at the Academy--when he found himself staring down at the tall, shy young man who had appeared at his feet without warning, just having taken a header over his own shoes in the gym ("That's an interesting approach to P.E."..."Yeah, well, I never have been a slave to convention.")--came back into sharp focus now and made him smile. Even then. Me and thee from the beginning. Starsky had the strangest sense that their connection had always existed, waiting to be discovered far more than needing to be forged. "It's either there or it isn't, y'know?"

"I know all about the 'isn't,' anyway," Addison replied softly. "At any rate, I took the liberty of calling Alice Kendall again, and she's more than willing to talk with us this afternoon. Just returned from a trip to Minnesota to visit her niece."

And there it was, that brief, oh-so-subtle-but-unmistakable look that Hutch reserved only for the most vulnerable people who fell into his orbit. Molly, Joey, Tommy Marlowe, Marianne Owens--all had been beneficiaries at one time, and now it was Chuck Addison's turn to be adopted into their ranks. Oh, Hutch... Starsky reached over and nudged his partner, doing his best to keep the brainstorming session rolling. "Let's hear it for common ground. Nothing like shared geography to loosen somebody up before questioning, especially when it reminds you of beloved family members."

Addison laughed. "You're from Minnesota? Nifty angle, but you might want to determine if the niece really is beloved before we travel too far down that path. Granted, it's been over ten years since I last spoke with Ms. Kendall, but I seem to recall that she wasn't exactly filled to the brim with familial warmth at the time."

Hutch seemed to almost literally shake himself free of whatever mood had begun to descend, and he started once more toward the board. "Okay, that covers the potential civilian witnesses, and we'll be tackling the DA connections today and tomorrow. What about the crime scene? Anything noteworthy there? Something missing, something left behind?"

Addison shook his head vehemently. "No, not as far as we could tell. As I said before, Darcy didn't have any close family and kinda kept to herself for the most part, so that was never definitively established. We had her best friend, Stephanie Whitcomb, come in to take a look around, though, and neither she nor anyone else ever came up with anything that had gone missing. Nothing out of place but the door; nothing added that shouldn't have been there."

"I went over most of the apartment witness statements last night," Starsky said, rubbing his eyes. "There were three sightings of what may or may not have been an unfamiliar person roaming around the morning of the thirteenth, but about the only common denominators are 'male' and 'tall.' Race, age, hair color, weight--all of 'em ranged from tubby middle-aged Chicano to one that sounds as though it could've been you." He extended a hand Hutch's way and adopted the "official" tone used for interrogations. "So, Mr. Hutchinson, where were you the morning of April 13, 1962?"

"Willing summer to hurry up and get here, as I recall, and still giving thanks for finally being in a co-ed school."

"We didn't put a lot of stock in those statements," Addison said with a shrug. "Too many variables, and most of them assumed the person was male because of the height."

"And Letitia must be at least six feet tall." Hutch nodded. "Yeah, the reports don't give us much to work with, do they?" All was quiet for a moment, save for the tap, tap, tap of chalk against board, then Hutch stood up a little straighter. "I did have--"

"Didn't you say you--?" Starsky made a solemn show of giving the floor to Hutch. "Two minds, one thought. Go on."

"I was just going to say that I did have a question about Darcy's supposed last word, 'mantis.' I know all the reports say that she spoke it clearly, but considering her injuries...couldn't it have possibly been something else? A name, a place, something?" He burrowed into the mound of files littering their small table, finally fishing out the desired form. "I noticed that there was an Arthur Mannis living in 33A. Isn't it possible--?"

Addison rose without warning and said sharply, "None at all. It was 'mantis,' and there was no mistaking it for anything else. I covered all of this years ago. What part of that don't you understand?"

"With all due respect, Chuck--"

Starsky's interjection was cut off mid-thought, when Addison swung his direction and snapped, "I am telling you, that's what she said! Are we clear on this now?"

Taken aback by the unexpected outburst, Starsky was still sifting through responses least likely to add fuel to the fire when Hutch's hand appeared on his shoulder. Closing ranks. Addison was well liked, but there were definite limits.

"This is probably as good a time as any for a break. Starsk and I have some phone calls to make, and weren't you going to set up a road map for the DA's office? We need to know who's still there, who's moved on, and where we can reach them before we go much further."

Addison took a deep breath and seemed to deflate a little. "Arthur Mannis was in Palm Springs at the time, attending a national convention of brush salesmen. He was far and away the prime suspect, right up until the evening I happened to catch sight of Letitia with her hair swept up and made the connection. I'm sorry, David. Really. It's just... I don't expect you to understand, but there are certain things in this I know to be true."

"And you know these things how?" Starsky asked gently, not really expecting an answer.

"I'd tell you to trust me, but I don't suppose I've earned that right yet. Unfortunately, it's all I've got." Addison proceeded to make his way through the doorway and down the stairs without another word to the pensive-looking pair of detectives watching him leave.

Starsky exhaled with an audible puff. "You thinkin' what I'm thinking?"

"That maybe we ought to run a background check on Addison while we're at it?" Hutch pulled up a chair and sat down opposite Starsky, resting his chin on folded hands. "Yeah, I'm afraid I am thinking what you're thinking."

**********

Telephone calls, an assortment of singularly unhelpful interviews, and an extended exile in Records delayed the trip to the DA's office until just after 1:00 that afternoon. Most of the people Darcy had worked with had moved on years ago, but they got lucky with Deputy Assistant District Attorney Philip Berman--a man who was not only their best chance at the DA's office, but was now officially their last.

Uncharacteristically congenial and laid back for a man in his position, he ushered them into his office the way one would with old friends and proceeded to order Chinese food for the quartet.

"Neat girl! As I'm sure Chuck here has already told you, I remember Darcy well. Both of us started here on the same day and were run through the orientation process together. We were assistants to the assistants back then--the legal equivalent of scullery work, basically. Not great, but it helped pay for law school, and I think Darcy was giving some thought to police work. Would've been good at it--she had the instinct, you know? Anyway, I was assigned to ADA Edmond Bromen, while she played file fetcher for Frank Wainwright. Try saying that four times fast."

"Not with a mouthful of Kung Pao shrimp, thanks." Hutch managed to corral a slippery mushroom with his chopsticks and quickly popped it into his mouth before it could escape. "We've gone over everyone's statements and--while we'd be delighted to hear you'd thought of a few new leads in the meantime--we're really just here to get some background on Darcy from someone who actually knew her."

"In life," Starsky added innocently.

"Sure." Berman frowned and leaned back in his chair. "Let me think...she was quiet. Not shy, exactly, but not someone you'd expect to see at all of the society parties in town. Attractive, in a sort of unconventional way. I hit on her a couple of times, but I must not've been her type. I got the impression she preferred the older set. Bright as a button, and I mean scary-bright. Didn't need to go over things more than once before she had them locked in that brain of hers; probably had at least close to a photographic memory." He shoveled a few more bites of steamed rice into his mouth before continuing. "One of the reasons they awarded her with placement in Wainwright's office--that was definitely the place to be back then."

"Why was that?" Starsky asked, engaged in a losing battle with a snow pea. "What was so special about Wainwright?"

"He was one of the top bananas in this place at the time." Addison, the only one who had eschewed chopsticks in favor of a fork, was already halfway through his lunch. "High profile cases. Definitely the person to be with if you were planning on climbing the ladder."

"Wainwright was amazing. I used to cut classes every once in a while just to go watch him prosecute a case. High art, I'm telling you. And to drop with a massive coronary at thirty-eight..." Berman shrugged. "Just goes to show, I guess."

Hutch was unsure what exactly that was supposed to show, and was still debating about whether to ask when Starsky jumped in.

"You say he worked high-profile cases--anything around that time that Darcy might have stumbled onto? Something that, if you stretched your imagination to the breaking point and didn't put any lights on, could possibly resemble a motive for murder?"

"I'd have to send somebody down to ferret out the case files, but I can't imagine. Everyone automatically assumed that Wainwright would be handed the Devlin Conspiracy and Fraud case--biggest name in Bay City retail at the time and a monster to prosecute--but he didn't officially get that until after her death, and died before it was even a third of the way through the process. Anyway, this must've all been examined and dismissed at the time. Right, Chuck?"

"We went over it with a fine-toothed comb," Addison agreed. "Devlin had the money, resources, and means to arrange a hit, but I'm not sure a date had even been set for the trial yet. It's highly unlikely he would've known Darcy existed; even less likely that he'd have cared."

"Just out of curiosity, who won in the end?" Hutch snagged his last shrimp with determination. "Bit before our time, and I don't actually remember hearing anything about it before."

"Devlin walked," Berman said sadly. "It was a weak case from the beginning. Had Wainwright lived, we might've made it, but no one else stood a chance in hell."

"Any rumors about a relationship between Darcy and Wainwright?" Starsky moved on to his fortune cookie, broke it open, and smiled mysteriously at the paper's prediction. "See any signs that her services might've extended beyond filing?"

Berman glanced uncomfortably at Addison before responding. "There are always rumors, but it's hard to tell. Was there mutual interest? Probably. Wainwright liked the ladies and didn't do much to hide that fact, even after he met the Society Page Amazon and got engaged. Never saw anything myself...but then, I probably wouldn't have." He grinned. "I wasn't his type, either."

With the exception of some pleasant conversation and a nice lunch, Berman didn't seem to have anything more to contribute to their rapidly evaporating information pool, and Addison excused himself to make the phone call to Alice Kendall. Another one to scratch off the list, Hutch thought dismally. "A Merry Heart Doeth Good Like A Medicine," read his fortune cookie. Like hell. Rolling his eyes, he was about to toss the offending paper in the wastebasket on the way out, when Starsky caught his hand.

"Hey! We have a pact, remember?"

"We have several, if I'm not mistaken. Which one says I can't throw paper in the trash can?"

Starsky folded his arms in mock annoyance. "The one that says we share fortune cookie fortunes."

Hutch surrendered the paper with a grin. "Be my guest. I hate to tell whichever deity wanted me to read that today, but my heart is anything but merry at the moment."

"Well, maybe mine will cheer you up." Handing it over, he positioned himself so he could peer over Hutch's shoulder as he read it.

"'You will have an enjoyable experience in the near future'?"

Patting Hutch lightly as he walked past, Starsky whispered, "I'm counting on it."

**********

Alice Kendall might not have handed them the dramatic break that would blow the case wide open, but her acerbic wit and dry sense of humor managed to turn Starsky's mood nonetheless. "Well, she's one sharp octogenarian. At least we should all be able to agree on that." Starsky whistled cheerfully as he bounded up the stairs to Metro, waiting patiently outside the door for Hutch and Addison to catch up. "And the peanut-butter/chocolate-chip cookies were terrific. Didn't ya like the cookies? The trip would've been worth it for those alone."

Hutch glared. "Call me unreasonable, Starsk, but if I'm going to take an hour's drive in the afternoon sun, I really would like more than a cookie for my efforts."

"I did warn you." Addison mopped his brow and leaned against the water cooler for a moment. "Whew. Sad to say, but Ms. Kendall was the best witness we had at the time. At least she took notice of Letitia's quick exit, even if she didn't notice a car."

"Got the gender wrong, too, if that's the case. She was awfully sure, though." Hutch handed a cup of water to Starsky, then filled one for himself. "A tall man came from the direction of Darcy's apartment just after the shot, jogged out into the street, and disappeared around the corner of the--"

"Buy-Lo," Starsky finished helpfully.

"--bakery." Hutch made a face. "I dunno. Maybe something helpful will rise to the surface when we get all this down on paper upstairs, but--"

"Hey!" Dobey's voice possessed the unique capacity to drown out all other sounds. "Any of you see--" He turned toward the water cooler as soon as Starsky leaned over into his line of vision, waving. "Oh, good. Need to see both of you in my office for a minute before you head back up. He nodded Addison's way, mumbling a quick, "Chuck," before slipping back into the privacy of his inner sanctum.

Clapping him lightly on the shoulder, Hutch did his best to quell the alarm that was rapidly spreading across Addison's features. "We'll meet you upstairs, Chuck. We probably forgot to dot an 'i' on one of the reports we turned in on Friday, and have to fix it."

"Either that, or he didn't like Hutch's request to be compensated for repairs on a car that should've been shot five years ago."

"My car was running fine until Harry side-swiped it! It's much more likely to be about the creative writing exercises that masquerade as Starsky's reports."

The subterfuge seemed to work, and Addison headed up to their room looking only slightly perturbed.

"I hate lying to him," Hutch said softly.

"Yeah, but it's better than telling him we're fishing for his psych reports."

Dobey motioned them to close the door and sit down, and focused a stern stare on both. "I don't know what you think you're doing, asking for something like this. You know those are classified, and there's no way I'm just going to hand over his file to you."

"We know that," Starsky began. "But we're the ones out on the street with him now. That's gotta give us some rights, too."

"We're not asking for any of the confidential reports--just if he was treated in a psychiatric facility, or let go from the force because he was deemed unstable."

"Has he given you reason to believe he is?"

There was a long pause while Starsky and Hutch engaged in a non-verbal form of communication that seemed to anoint Starsky as spokesman. "Depends, Cap'n. If you mean does he turn the lights down low and talk to the toaster? Then no. If you mean does he say some things that make you wonder? Yeah."

"You say things all the time that make me wonder, Starsky. How many of those do you think ever make it into your file?"

Starsky had the grace to look uncomfortable. "Not too many?" he asked hopefully.

"Damned right. You'd be working in the laundromat by now if I wrote even a fraction of those down. Addison's CO is a good man. I knew him personally, and he wouldn't risk the career of one of his men unless he was sure. Understand?"

Hutch nodded. "We do, but... There's a fine line separating eccentricity and mental illness. We're just trying to figure out where Addison fits on the chart, and only because it makes a difference in how we approach things."

Dobey sat back and looked down at the desktop for a moment, tapping the blotter with a paperclip. "First of all, you have to know that I wouldn't team you with someone who was thought to be a danger, either to himself or to you. I can tell you that there was some concern regarding his level of enthusiasm on this case, but that the reason for his disabled status does not mention that specifically. Good enough for you?"

"Good enough."

"Thanks, Captain." Starsky headed for the door just one step behind Hutch, but paused in the doorway before leaving. "Oh, one other thing. Do you know why he's so personally invested in this case? He's been living and breathing it for eighteen years. There's gotta be a reason."

"Did you ever bother to ask him?"

"Not directly," Hutch replied, from the other side of the door.

"Then I suggest you do. My understanding is that he still knows how to form sentences for himself."

They closed the door gently, taking a moment to check for notes that might have been left on their usual desks before heading up to meet Addison.

"Wow." Starsky pulled over a chair, straddling it backwards so he could rest his chin on the backrest. "I haven't gotten a scolding like that since I stuffed Jell-O down the back of Peggy McGilicutty's blouse back in first grade."

"You must've been a charming child."

"I was listed as: 'creative, in possession of the ability to amuse himself'."

Hutch rose wearily from the desk. "Some things never change, huh?"

"Watch it, or you might find Jell-O stuffed someplace other--"

"Hutch, there's a call for you on line two." Matthews, a veteran detective currently ensconced at the far desk motioned to the phone. "Shirley Everett from Quentin--said she's returning your call?"

"Thanks." Capturing Starsky's attention with a well-aimed eraser, Hutch reached out to snag the phone. "Why don't you head up to Cold Case Heaven and reassure Chuck that we haven't escaped out the back door. I'll join you in a minute, huh?"

Starsky gave a thumbs-up and slowly meandered toward the door.

"Detective Hutchinson speaking."

"Hello, Detective. This is Shirley Everett at San Quentin. I'm returning your call concerning Benjamin Tyson?"

"Yes, I appreciate that. Is he willing to talk to us?"

"Willing, yes, but he didn't seem to know the answers to any of the questions you sent over. He doesn't actually think he can tell you much of anything, even if it would help his cause."

Why should Ben mess up our average? "All right, thanks. It was worth a try. Have--"

"Better news for you on Leeds, however, but then you must already have his confession in your records, right?"

Hutch froze and felt a surge of adrenaline begin to rush through his veins at a pace normally reserved for high-speed chases.

"What did you just say?"

"Um, what? Perhaps I'm mistaken, but I thought that-- Well, this is about the Sandrow case, isn't it?"

"Yes! Yes it is. Now, what were you saying about a confession?" Hutch glanced up, saw that Starsky was still within sight, and frantically began snapping his fingers, trying to gain his partner's attention once more.

"Well, I was saying that I just assumed you must already have it, but found a chink somewhere, maybe? I mean, otherwise you wouldn't be investigating again. Right?"

"Could you hold on for just a moment, please?" Holding his hand over the mouthpiece, Hutch resorted to shouting to his partner. That, at least, got Starsky's attention, and he jogged back into the squadroom immediately.

"What?"

Hutch pointed wildly at the other phone, holding up two fingers to indicate the line, until Starsky picked up the extension. "I'm sorry, Shirley, but could you please repeat this so my partner, Detective Starsky, can hear, too?"

"Um...about the confession?"

Starsky visibly paled.

"That's right, about the confession. Um, we don't seem to have that in our records over here."

"Oh. Oh, my. Well, it's quite simple, really. When Gerry Leeds was in the infirmary--his last days, you know--he said that he wanted to confess to all of his crimes and die with a clear conscience. The shooting of Darcy Sandrow was one of the things he confessed to. Quite detailed, from what I can tell. Would you like me to send over a copy?"

"Yes! Yes, that would be very, very helpful, but could you read us the highlights now? It's...well, Shirley, I think you just made our evening."

About fifteen minutes later, Starsky and Hutch hung up the telephones, sank into chairs, and used the organizing of notes as a reasonable excuse to delay the trip upstairs to Chuck.

"I wish I had a clue how he's going to react to this." Hutch leaned precariously far back in his chair, nervously folding and unfolding a paperclip. "I mean, he should be happy. The case is solved; the killer's not going to hurt anyone else." He paused. "So why am I not buying this argument?"

"Because we both know that there's more than just a search for justice at play here. You can't tell me that you haven't arrived at the same conclusion I have--that this guy has a need to keep the case open. Like maybe it's the only reason left to get out of bed in the morning. Maybe even more than that."

"A cause?"

"I was thinking along the lines of 'reason for existing'."

"Oh, that's just great." Hutch snapped the chair back to its more commonly used position and grabbed his notes. "Well, there's no point in putting it off. He'll be down here in a few minutes to see for himself why we went AWOL, and I'd really rather not tell him here."

After a silent trip up the stairs, both paused in front of the door, taking a few deep breaths before actually entering. Addison, in typical style, was in the process of laboriously transcribing all of the day's notes into a more accessible format, but turned immediately and greeted both detectives with a broad smile.

"Hiya, fellas. Began to think you were being kept after school. What happened down there, anyway?"

Hutch cleared his throat. "Uh, we-- We just got off the phone with San Quentin, and we've got some news."

"Great news," Starsky interjected, as Addison's face became strangely unreadable. Resignation?

"Yes, great news that's mitigated by a bit of bad news, but not enough to worry about right now." Hutch pulled up a chair and sat down in fairly close proximity to Addison, while Starsky opted for the table to the left. "It looks like the case is solved, Chuck. Has been for twelve years, technically...but nobody knew, thanks to a screw-up with the paperwork."

Addison returned to his notes without comment, either feigning disinterest with remarkable skill, or being genuinely nonplused by the news.

"Hey, Chuck," Starsky tried. "I know that it's a shock. It shocked us, too, and we've only been working it for a couple of days. Look at it this way, though: Darcy can finally rest in peace. Her killer died behind bars. So, it's all over now, and everyone--including you--can finally move on. Aren't you even a little curious about the details?"

"I assume you're referring to the Leeds confession?"

That Hutch had not seen coming, and he felt Starsky's reaction mirror his own. It took several seconds to pick up his jaw from the floor, several more to form a coherent thought. "You knew? How long?" Anger slowly seeped into the equation and quickly became the dominant emotion...strong enough that Hutch felt the need to distance himself from Addison. He stood up and paced, rubbing the back of his neck, then returned, voice much louder than before. "You knew?! Did you just choose to ignore it, or had the case become some sort of a game by then?"

"I think you'd better start talking," Starsky said quietly, "because right now I can tell you that both my partner and I are feeling played."

Addison looked up, the calm of his expression a stark contrast to the agitation reflected on the faces of the other two men. "It's quite simple, really. I knew about it twelve years ago, and I didn't mention it because he didn't do it."

"He didn't do it," Hutch repeated, shaking his head. "And you determined that how?"

Starsky's hand gestures were as emphatic as his words. "And how in hell did you manage to keep the confession under wraps all this time?"

Addison smiled. "I didn't. Honestly, how could I? A close friend of mine worked up at Quentin, and I got the call within hours of Leeds' little chat. The stories were still being checked, so nothing was official yet. I asked that the confession be held to the side until I could put it under the proverbial microscope, and he agreed. It must've been forgotten because, outside of the copy I kept, it's never turned up anywhere else. Not until now."

"And you thought you could just--?" Hutch let the question hang, sinking into a chair and dropping his head onto the table with a groan.

"I wasn't really being deceptive," Addison protested. "It didn't have any tangible bearing on the case, anyway, since the statement is false."

"You keep sayin' that," Starsky challenged, "but how do you know?"

"I know, all right? Leeds didn't kill her--Letitia did!"

Hutch sighed heavily, lifting his head to make eye contact with Addison. "All right. I understand that it's hard. This has been your life for almost as long as Darcy was alive, but really, it's probably time to let go."

"No!"

"Why not? Do you have anything?" Hutch threw the chalk across the floor, judging that it was likely a better option than decking a man skirting dangerously close to the edge of mental illness. "Anything that might suggest his confession--a deathbed confession--was false? What's this really all about, huh? I'm trying--really--trying to understand, but you have to help me out here. Can you tell us? Do you even know anymore?"

"I can't." It was almost a whimper, uttered as Addison stood and turned his back on both detectives.

"Why?" Starsky's voice gentled to a tone of muted exasperation. "We don't subscribe to the school of thought that says you're crazy, Chuck, but you're not doing yourself any favors by--"

"I heard her die."

"What?" Hutch's voice was almost as hushed as Addison's.

Addison turned and sank dejectedly into a chair, whispering, "I heard her die. Those notes you read, they weren't taken by some rookie on the scene. She was on the phone with me...luck of the draw, I guess. Darcy called the station that morning, asked to speak to a detective, and got me. She didn't get much out before--" He stopped, rubbed his face, and sighed.

Hutch found himself shocked for the third time that night, and was beginning to find it more than a little unsettling. "You don't--"

"No! You need to know. She had one of those voices, y'know? The kind that just stay with you? Said she might just be imagining it, but had to get something off her chest, just in case. Never got any further than that, really. There was a crash as the door was kicked off its hinges, a shot, and a scream, all in a matter of seconds. Citizen report, to B & E, to a 246, just like that. I sent a unit out, didn't even know if she was hurt until she made her way to the phone again." An almost palpable sadness permeating his entire being, Addison appeared to be a person actually reliving a trauma from beginning to end. It reminded Hutch a little of someone strapped into one of those rides at a carnival, and he wasn't sure it was still within the power of the older man to stop the narration, even if he wanted to. "There was this sound to her breathing, and I knew... Even after all these years, I still hear that sound in my sleep."

The nightmare that you forge an uneasy co-existence with, because there's no other choice. For a moment, the room transformed itself into a police garage from a little over a year before, and Darcy into another tall, dark-haired gunshot victim who lay gasping for breath, dying. Suddenly wishing very much to be anywhere other than where he was, willing his feet to let him flee, Hutch found he was perversely rooted to the spot. If Starsky was aware of the impact the conversation was having on his partner, he gave no indication. Like Hutch, he, too, was solidly under the spell.

"I tried to reassure her, told her just to hold on, that help was on the way...but she was so scared. My God, she was scared. Begged me not to leave her, you know? And I was so far away." When he looked up, his eyes were not only haunted, but also glistening. "So I stayed on the line. I know--I know--I failed as a cop. Should've asked her for details, descriptions, obtained a statement. Couldn't." Addison shrugged and tried to smile as he shook his head. "Just cou-- I didn't want that to be the last thing she heard, that's all. The 'mantis' thing was a fluke: she volunteered that herself, right before she got all calm. 'It's all right now, Chuck'--I'd told her my name--'it's okay.' Then she thanked me for not leaving her alone. Thanked me. Her last words, can you imagine? And everything got quiet." Wiping his eyes with the heels of both hands, Addison seemed to finally extricate himself from the worst of the memory. "I promised her," he whispered. "Can you understand that? I gave her my word that I would see this through to the end."

**********

It wasn't until the trio had migrated to Huggy's and was comfortably working on the second round of beers that anyone felt like speaking again.

"Thanks for telling us," Hutch said in the softest, gentlest voice he possessed. "It explains a lot--your connection to this case, your certainty about what she said--but what makes you dismiss the Leeds confession out of hand? What are we missing here?"

"A number of things. Leeds was both an addict and a crank. He liked to press buttons and watch people react, and a lot of the time I'm not even sure he'd managed to keep track of the real truth. He used to do two-bit jobs, mostly--break-ins, drugstores, burglaries. No history of violence until that bank heist. Even then, he wasn't the brain, just the poor schmuck who ended up holding the bag."

"But he did shoot someone," Starsky reminded him. "Would've killed him, if the paramedics had been a minute or two later."

"True, but that wasn't his typical behavior pattern. Gerry liked to get in, get out, and have something to sell when he got back to the street. The gun was more protection from his 'friends' and a nifty piece of objet d'art than anything else."

"Even so, his confession said that he'd cased the apartment for days and wasn't expecting anyone to be home, that Darcy surprised him. He fired, then ran because he was scared. It doesn't sound all that implausible, and what possible motive could he have for confessing to a crime he didn't commit?" Starsky shook his head. "What does a dying man need that could make him lie at the very end, and who would be capable of giving it to him, anyway?"

"It happens," Hutch said, moving his beer in ever smaller circles on the tabletop. "A guy with a family who needs looking after, or anyone he's looking to protect. Is there any evidence to suggest that in this case, though? It's a big jump from theory to proof."

"Nothing definite, but maybe something will jump out as we continue to work--" Addison didn't miss much and seemed to sense the change--the discomfort--almost the instant the mood changed. His height actually seemed to decrease by a few inches as he contemplated a nearly empty glass. "But you won't be working on it anymore, will you?"

"I don't know," Hutch said honestly. "I really don't know."

"The problem is that even if we wanted to, there's the official record of the confession made when Metro received it tonight from San Quentin, so we don't have the luxury of pretending it didn't happen." Starsky rested his head on his hand. "Unless you can give us something--anything--to take to Dobey, I've gotta tell ya, this is going to be a really hard sell."

"I don't suppose he'd take Darcy's word for it either, would he?" Addison worked at balancing the coaster, edge-on, on one finger. "No, I don't suppose he would."

"I beg your pardon?"

Locking eyes with Hutch for a second before responding, Addison replied in the most serious of tones. "I talk to Darcy, and she talks to me. Oh, I don't hear voices, or see specters running around the house. She's just...here. I can feel her, and she pushes me to move ahead, nudges me in the right direction, doesn't want me to let go." He smiled softly. "Can't explain it even to myself, and I know how it sounds, but there it is. The veil, I think."

It was Starsky's turn to ask, while Hutch practiced looking incredulous. "Veil? Darcy had a veil?"

"No, no. I just don't tend to believe heaven's so far away, you know? Not up there at all. More of a paper-thin barrier that keeps it just hidden from view. A veil." Addison cocked his head for a moment, then laughed.

"Chuck?" Hutch was still clinging to the belief that Addison wasn't as far out there as everyone seemed to believe, but this latest bit was making that much more of a challenge than it had been.

"Hear that music coming from the back?"

"Perfidia?"

"Uh-huh. That's Darcy's song. It was made popular the year she was born, then enjoyed something of a renaissance again in '62. It was the record on her turntable when I flicked it on in her apartment that day. What do you suppose the chances are that song would be playing here right now?"

Not drunk, merely inebriated enough to gain a slightly altered perspective of the world around him, Hutch pondered the question. In a case where apartments had transformed into parking lots, witnesses baked cookies, and prosecutors sprung for lunch, why not a ghost with a penchant for Spanish music?

**********

Conscious thought didn't come easily for Starsky in the middle of the night. Never had. But since the shooting, he'd found that sleep came quickly and seemed disinclined to be dislodged for anything but the most urgent of needs. It took surprisingly little time to grasp the underlying problem tonight, though--he had room to sprawl. Room to sprawl meant he was alone; alone in bed equaled no Hutch. What the…? Both had spent Monday night in their respective apartments, but Hutch was supposed to be here now. Starsky felt around the perimeter with his foot for a few seconds before accepting the underlying idiocy of that plan. Unless Hutch had magically shrunk to the size of a poodle during the night, he wasn't hiding in a random corner of the bed. Sitting up helped for some reason, bringing with it the vague memory that his partner had opted to remain up "for a few minutes longer," while he himself turned in. Starsky glanced at the bedside clock. Three-thirty in the morning. Didn't you come to bed at all?

Groping blindly until his hand made contact with his robe, Starsky began to wend his way carefully through the darkened maze of room. The previous day had been fraught with difficulties from the beginning: Dobey wanting them back on regular duty as soon as the confession hit his desk; and Addison counting on them to completely dismiss common sense and join him on a Letitia-hunt--a strangely conceived search for 'justice,' if ever he'd encountered one. And their own ambivalence didn't help any. A deathbed confession was rarely off, and Leeds' statement made perfect sense, no matter how you looked at it. On the other hand, there was something more than just slightly amiss when it came to Letitia--nothing he could put his finger on, nothing tangible, but something. The woman set off every internal alarm he possessed, and Starsky had never before questioned his instincts, never had cause to. He frowned, debated for a moment, then shoved the project he'd been working on just before turning off the light firmly into his robe pocket. Further complicating matters was the battle between the draw of cases that were still theoretically solvable, and the siren-call of a tantalizingly complex mystery. He had been drawn in even without Addison's connection to the girl, and Starsky considered himself far and away the more pragmatic member of the partnership--Hutch's feelings on the subject were so much more intense.

The only light in the apartment was in the kitchen area--something Starsky acutely regretted when his foot connected unexpectedly with an invisible-but-remarkably-substantial potted plant. Limping slightly and mumbling a few choice words, he walked into the comparative brightness of the kitchen to find Hutch scribbling enthusiastically on a sheet of paper, a collection of its brethren and several files stacked in a neat pile alongside.

"A little early to be penning your memoirs, isn't it?" Starsky reached into the refrigerator, grabbed a root beer, and slouched in the nearest chair...opting to use Hutch's lap as a footstool. "Hell of a way to greet a perfectly good Wednesday."

"Did I wake you up? I was trying to be quiet." Hutch squeezed one of the ankles visiting his lap. "You should be in bed."

"So should you, Ma. You know what time it is? It's after three in the morning. What're you doin' out here, anyway? You find a pea under your side of the mattress, or something?"

Hutch laughed and shook his head. "No, just couldn't sleep. The day..."

"Doesn't want to leave you, huh?"

"I keep hearing Chuck's words. He's so certain that Leeds didn't kill Darcy, and something tells me he's onto something with Letitia, but he's also..." Hutch let that sentence trail off, too, and returned his gaze to the papers.

"Having regular chats with a girl who shouldn't be conversing with anyone. Yeah, I know." Starsky used the heel of his left foot to rub little circles on Hutch's thigh. "You gave Addison a good speech about letting go. Think it might be time to heed a bit of your own advice?"

"I might've, until about five minutes ago."

"You had an epiphany and I missed it?"

"Close. That phone call that woke you up--"

"What phone call?"

Hutch glanced up in surprise. "The phone call that came in five minutes ago. You didn't hear it?"

Starsky shook his head.

"I picked up on the first ring, but I'll bet some part of your brain registered it. Anyway, I've been sitting here for hours trying to come up with something that might lend a shred of credibility to Chuck's theory. Couldn't find anything on Letitia, but when I went over everything we have on Leeds? This popped out at me."

Starsky browsed a paper with names, dates, times, and locations neatly arranged according to an unfamiliar formula his brain simply didn't feel like deciphering at this hour. He set it down on the table, drew a hand over his eyes, and yawned. "Sorry, but you're gonna have to either wait until morning, or help me out a little."

"Leeds. According to his yellows, he was accused of holding up a gas station in Phoenix on the morning Darcy was killed."

"Yeah, but he was never charged. He never came up with a viable alibi to prove he'd been out-of-state at the time of the murder. Nobody did."

"I don't think anybody ever tried before." Hutch handed over an equally cryptic note. "I couldn't think of anything else to do, so I called the Phoenix PD and asked for information regarding the gas station robbery. They just returned my call. Didn't have a lot. The witness was either scared out of his mind or drunk at the time, and couldn't remember anything by way of description--but he did log the license number of the car. Leeds' car was there, Starsk. In Phoenix, at that gas station, on the thirteenth of April, 1962."

"Whoa, wait a minute." Starsky took a deep breath, followed by a swig of soda, and willed his tongue to work. "They had that, and they still weren't able to make an arrest? The DA's office gets convictions on a hell of a lot less every day!"

"Too circumstantial here, apparently. Leeds claimed his girlfriend stole the car and took off with her other boyfriend--the girl had a way of picking winners--then must've hit the station on their way to Texas. As I said, the attendant was no help at all, and Leeds did have one witness back up his story that he was here. But Leeds recanted the second he found out he was being investigated for Darcy's death."

"I'll bet he did. Wouldn't you?"

Hutch sighed. "I know. It's not even close to conclusive, and it doesn't give us much that we didn't have before, except maybe a bit of leverage."

"Leverage? What kind of leverage?"

"The kind we could use on Dobey to convince him to keep us on the case, at least part-time."

Starsky stared deeply at Hutch for a moment, knowing there were a few questions that simply had to be asked, because this situation was about so much more than just doing the right thing...it also had to be done for the right reasons. "You're sure you want to do this? How well have you really thought this through?"

"What do you mean?"

Starsky held up a hand, fingers splayed, to serve as a visual aid as the points were ticked off. "First of all, as you just said, what you have doesn't change anything. We still have a confession that holds water, a dead suspect, a closed case, and a questionable investigator." At Hutch's immediate protest, he quickly added, "Not you, dummy. Addison. He may not like this scenario, but he might be able to learn to live with it, maybe even move on. You really want to feed his obsession with something that may not even be relevant?"

Hutch looked genuinely taken aback. "Wh-what are you suggesting? We ignore this, sweep it under the carpet like he did with the confession? Pretend it never happened?"

"I'm not suggesting anything," Starsky replied calmly. "I'm asking if you've thought this through. I'm asking what you want to do. There are choices. Now, you know I'll back you up no matter what, but that doesn't mean you don't have to decide." Hutch turned slightly pink--one of the side effects, Starsky knew, of righteous indignation.

"Well, first of all, I didn't know this was my decision to make. Secondly, how could you even suggest keeping this from Addison or anyone else? We're still after the truth, no matter where it takes us, and burying information strikes me as--"

It seemed as good a time as any to retrieve his own project from the robe pocket, and Starsky deftly slid the notepad across the table without a word. If it didn't automatically diffuse the tension, at least it stopped the tongue.

"What the hell is this?" Obviously regarding it with some animosity, Hutch made no move to pick it up.

"Why don't you have a look? Just a couple of random thoughts I had before I went to bed last night--ways to make Dobey reconsider and keep us on the case." He smirked. He knew he was smirking, but couldn't help himself.

"You mean, you...? Then why? Why this?"

"Devil's advocate. We're diving into the deep end of the pool on this one, and it pays to keep the reasons why where you can grab 'em in a hurry. 'Sides," Starsky added with a grin, "I still owed ya after that misting you gave me."

Hutch's face softened and transformed with dizzying speed, the voice losing any trace of edge as it took on a decidedly warmer tone. "Oh, yeah?" Turning in the chair, he began to give Starsky's feet the full benefit of his attention. "Now let me see..."

"Hutch!"

"Ah-ah. No wiggling. I seem to recall someone saying something about a rematch back in the greenhouse." What started out as a tickle began to evolve into a slow, deliberate, powerfully sensual massage. "Care to make good on that now?"

Starsky caught his breath and waggled his brows teasingly. "And you wonder why I believe in fortune cookies?"

**********

It was only Friday, just over a day since they'd grafted Darcy's case to their current workload, and Hutch was already questioning the wisdom of working both hers and the MacGruder case simultaneously. Instead of marching--even slowly--down the path toward resolution, the investigations seemed to become suddenly and intractably tangled in a common quagmire. Judging by the expression on Starsky's face as he slammed down the receiver, Hutch gathered that no improvement was on the visible horizon, either. "I take it that the lab guys didn't come up with anything more on MacGruder's car?"

"Nada." Starsky stood gripping the chair back for a moment before settling down with a groan. "The final report says that the brake lines were definitely tampered with, most likely by a pro's pro who, for whatever reason, got rushed toward the end. Even then, it's barely detectable. Wouldn't have been at all if the car had done what the manual says and blown itself up on impact." Stretching the muscles of his neck one-by-one, he finally succumbed to a yawn. "I need some coffee. You?"

Hutch mutely declined.

"You notice how the explosions always work in the movies?"

"And guns don't jam, you never run out of clean clothes, and the bad guys always get caught. Makes you almost wish..."

"Yeah, it does." Starsky was somber for a moment, but, true to character, the mood was highly transitory. Less than a minute later, he had pulled himself up, snagged one of the relevant files, and was browsing it with an almost predatory enthusiasm. "Okay, let's see what we missed the first five times."

Sir Andrew Barton, Hutch thought with admiration, as the most famous quote from the poem came unbidden to his mind. "I'll lay me down and bleed a while, And then I'll rise and fight again." It might have been penned for a sixteenth century admiral, but it captured a small part of Starsky's indomitable spirit, as well, and Hutch found himself hoping against hope that this piece might be one of those covered in that Law & Lit. course. Or we could settle down some evening and read it at home... Delightful though they were, the images born of that thought were both dangerous and inappropriate at work, and he quickly banished them until a more suitable time. "Dobey's right."

"About what?"

"This guy did have too many enemies. Not going to be easy to short-list these, but I'm heading down to Records now to see if the next set's ready. Who knows?"

Starsky glanced up, then returned to the file. "No, you're not."

"I'm not what?"

"Goin' down to R & I."

"And how would you know--"

"You rang?" Edwards grinned at the reaction, and skillfully set about doling out files. Perhaps it was a natural by-product of working so long amongst records, but he seemed to possess an almost instinctive knack for knowing which folder was needed by whom, all without looking at the labels.

"Hey, Bill, you didn't have to bring these up," Hutch protested, though very mildly. "I was just on my way down."

"Sure, that's what they all say when they don't want to fork out for a tip." He grinned. "Nah, it's no trouble. I had to bring these up, too, then go next door and make a pick-up. Besides, I've been dying to ask, what did you think of your week with 'Crazy Chuck'? Was he a hoot, or what?"

His own reaction to the words caught Hutch completely off-guard. It was true that Addison had insinuated himself into their partnership in a myriad of ways, but still...the intensity of feeling was a surprise, and it was all he could do to not smack Edwards with the stacks of documents. "Don't."

"Don't what?"

"Charles Addison's a good guy, but more than that, he's a good cop. He's earned the right to some respect from all of us, y'know?" Starsky's voice remained level, but there was no mistaking the tone, and Edwards backed off immediately.

"Sorry, guys. Didn't mean to touch a sore spot."

"It's all right," Hutch said quietly, as the initial rush of anger abated and a deeper truth emerged. "A few days ago, we'd have probably sounded the same way."

Their file surfing had proceeded, undisturbed, for nearly two hours in silence when Starsky suddenly sat bolt upright, emitting something akin to a gasp.

"What? You okay?"

No response.

"Starsk? What--?"

Starsky held up a hand for silence, not even looking up yet--though the excitement rippling through his body was already extending icy fingers Hutch's way and sending bolts of electricity through his entire being. He had to nearly slap a hand over his mouth to keep from prodding.

"Take a look at this, and tell me if I'm seeing what I think I'm seeing."

The report handed him was a recent list of MacGruder's associates, nothing they hadn't already explored in-depth long ago. Hutch gave the names a cursory glance, but put it down when nothing jumped immediately off the page at him. "What?"

"Read the names, Hutch. One by one."

Starsky sat, still looking stunned, and waited on the edge of his seat for confirmation of something. Hutch complied, but the name didn't register until the third, more patient read-through.

"Vera Compton? What the--?"

Starsky nodded. "Exactly. What the hell was Letitia's private assistant doing working as MacGruder's private assistant five weeks before MacGruder ends up on the unlucky side of the cliff?"

"Coincidence?" Hutch drew a hand over his mouth and gave his mind free rein to click through every possibility it wanted to, none of which made any sense at all. "Has to be... doesn't it?"

"Maybe, but how many times have we come across actual coincidence in a case before? Anyway, what are we supposed to believe? That Letitia pays so low on the scale that poor Vera has to moonlight?"

"And does Letitia strike you as the kind of person who would rent her PA from an agency?" Hutch shook his head. "Never happen, but what's the connection? Why?"

Dobey happened by at that moment and greeted his two problem children with an expression that fell squarely between exasperation and genuine concern. It wasn't difficult to figure out the reason for the frown--Starsky looked completely flummoxed, and Hutch had no doubt that his own face was little more than a mirror.

"You two still spinning your wheels, or have you come up with something?"

"We've found something, Captain," Starsky replied carefully.

"What's that?"

"Damned if we know." Hutch returned his attention to Starsky. "Records?"

"Maybe. How about--?"

"No." Hutch drummed the piggy bank thoughtfully. "Take too long."

"Yeah, but we could always--"

"Addison!"

"Yes." Starsky pointed his finger at Hutch, then gave the desk a celebratory hand-slap, and turned to the captain, who had been watching the exchange like a spectator at Wimbledon, only with a somewhat higher level of bemusement. "Thanks, Cap'n! Any chance we could borrow the room again for a while?"

"Don't see why not. Now, I don't suppose you'd want to tell me what you're up to, would you?"

"We just found a link between Darcy Sandrow and Robert MacGruder," Hutch explained, nearly knocking over his chair in his enthusiasm to get away. "More accurately between the prime suspect's PA and MacGruder, but close enough, huh?"

"Besides the fact that they're both dead," Starsky added helpfully. "That's about all we know at the moment, but from our minds to your ears. Promise."

Mid-dash to the stairs, Hutch was only able to make out part of the captain's grumbled reply, but it seemed to have something to do with growing an ulcer and imploding without warning.

**********

Hutch didn't really want to know how Addison managed to transport himself from home to Metro in twenty minutes, but by the look of him, he could have flown there under his own power. Invigorated, enthusiastic, and quite possibly even possessing a renewed sense of purpose, the retired detective propped an elbow on the table and blinked incredulously at Starsky and Hutch. "I appreciate your creativity, fellas, but Vera? Why do you want to know about her?"

"Her name came up in connection with another case, and we're just trying to figure out why, what it means--if anything at all." Hutch ceremoniously handed the chalk to Addison.

"You don't mind a bit of mutual back-scratching here, do you?" Starsky asked with a wink. "I know that current murder cases aren't your primary specialty, but we thought you might be willin' to lend us a hand, anyway."

"Oh, sure." Addison beamed. "Just tell me what you want to know."

"For starters, how closely have you been keeping tabs on Letitia? If she made threatening noises about a restraining order, I'm guessing you've been keeping her on a fairly tight leash." Hutch smiled. "And I know you haven't done anything without keeping a log."

Addison pointed to the large box shoved to one corner of the room. "Ask and you shall receive, but that represents almost seventeen years of surveillance. Where do you want to start?"

"What did you say after our interview with Ms. Hamland? That Vera had been with her for nearly eight years now?" Starsky shrugged. "How about we start with the past few months and work our way back. What do you know about her, anyway?"

"Well, she started out as a secretary and worked her way up to personal assistant pretty quick. It wasn't long before she was Tish's right-hand man--er, woman. She seemed to be included in the day-to-day of just about everything."

"Does Tish ever loan her out?"

"'Rent-A-Secretary,'" Starsky clarified. "Doesn't really sound like a Letitia kind of sideline to me, but we have to ask."

Addison turned around to face Starsky and blew out his cheeks. "Oh, I really don't know the answer to that one. If she did, I never knew about it, but then I wasn't paying a whole lot of attention to Vera. She could've done private work for lots of people over the years, and I probably wouldn't have had any reason to know about it."

Hutch sat back and shielded his eyes for a moment, consumed by the sudden sensation that they were focusing their attention so narrowly on one or two details, they'd managed to get a good look at the hairs, only to miss the bear they were attached to. Fragments of conversations, a word here, a look there, Addison's Darcy, their MacGruder, Letitia's PA... His reverie was interrupted by the gentle nudge of Starsky's shoulder.

"Hey, what've you got?"

Hutch stood up and made a circuit around the room. "I don't know. I don't--" Wait a minute. Could…? Hutch swung abruptly to face Addison. "What did you say?"

Addison looked perplexed. "I didn't. Not just now, anyway."

"No, I don't mean--" Take a breath, Hutchinson. You're not talking with Starsky here. "What did you say before about a restraining order? That Letitia threatened it, but never followed through?"

"Yes, that's true enough." He rolled his eyes. "Made a lot of noise, and the threats were monthly events there for a while. Never did anything about it, though."

"Why not?"

"Hutch?" Starsky asked softly.

"You see it, too?"

Starsky considered a moment, then rested his head on his hands. "Maybe I'm starting--"

"What're you fellas talking about?"

"Sorry, Chuck." Hutch offered what he hoped was a reassuring smile. "Don't pay any attention to us. We don't know what we're talking about half the time, either. Go on. Why didn't Letitia ever follow through?"

"Dunno really. Always assumed it was just because she sort of liked the game, you know. Thrill of the hunt."

"What else did it do?" Starsky made a fist and pounded his lower lip a few times. "What else did she gain by having you there?"

There was a brief period of silence while each man seemed to retreat into his own thoughts, a lull that Addison was the first to break.

"A witness to her movements is the first thing that comes to mind, but that doesn't make any sense." He shook his head. "The crime had already taken place. She doesn't need an alibi eighteen years after the fact."

"Is it possible--even remotely possible--that your presence, your continued investigation, might have served some other purpose? Maybe inadvertently drawing attention away from something else she was doing?" Hutch began ferreting through the file boxes in search of those devoted to Letitia's extracurricular activities. "You've been looking so hard for connections to Darcy, could Letitia have been doing a variety of other things without you automatically picking up on it?"

"I don't see how." Addison spoke with the assurance of a man who understood his quarry. "After all these years, I know her--know her patterns. If she was doing anything untoward, I don't think it could've escaped my notice for this long."

"Maybe, but Hutch has a point. You might not recognize it even if you saw it. Seeing Vera's name among MacGruder's contacts didn't mean anything to us until after we'd been working your case, and the same thing could work in reverse, couldn't it?"

"Exactly!" Hutch snapped his fingers. "We saw everything from the point of view of the MacGruder case, you've been seeing things as they relate to Darcy's murder. It's not until we merge the two that we see even the beginnings of a possible pattern. Maybe if--"

"The lawyers!" Starsky shouted suddenly, upsetting the coffee cup on the table as he bounced upright.

"I beg your pardon?" Addison looked baffled. "What lawyers?"

"What about them?" If he and Starsky had been functioning on the same wavelength up until now, Hutch recognized that his partner had just made the leap to a divergent path.

"Think about it! You said it yourself; through Vera, we've connected the Sandrow and MacGruder cases. Isn't there an even stronger connection, though? Anybody find it odd that we also have two dead attorneys? MacGruder and Wainwright."

"Wainwright died of natural causes, David. It was just a coronary."

"Yeah, but MacGruder's death would've looked like just another accident, too, if not for the fact that the bad guy rushed and got sloppy, the car didn't burst into flames, and there was a witness who said it looked as though MacGruder was struggling for control before the car went over. Huh?"

Hutch relinquished the floor to Starsky, as he seemed to have the greater need to pace, and sank back down in his chair. "I dunno, Starsk. What are you saying? That Letitia kills lawyers on the side for fun?"

"Maybe not just lawyers," Starsky said softly. "Darcy may not be the only one functioning under a veil."

Letitia as some sort of high-society hitwoman? Unlikely, fantastic, and thoroughly chilling, but not--Hutch found--impossible to believe. After their interview with her, he could buy just about anything.

"But if Letitia didn't kill Darcy out of jealousy, then..." Addison slapped an open palm against his forehead and made a strange puffing sound. "She saw something she shouldn't have. And I never... Can you get a hold of the records she'd have been handling around March and April? All of the prominent ones are mentioned in her diary, so you should at least be able to tell them what you're looking for. Jiminy! Tish's been leading me willingly down the 'romantic triangle' path for so long now, that I just accepted it as fact. What an idiot!"

"At least you kept investigating," Hutch soothed. "No one else even did that, and if you hadn't..."

"We're gettin' ahead of ourselves, anyway." Starsky finally sank into a chair alongside Hutch, and took a deep breath. "This is still all guesswork. Interesting guesswork, but until we have something to tie everyone into this, that's all it will be. We need a clear link."

"And to do it right, we'll have to start from the beginning." Hutch chuckled wearily as the full scope of the project began to sink in, and visions of a painstakingly slow processing of material began to mock him--the side of police work always mysteriously absent from the movies.

Addison was in charge of his notes, Hutch took control of the boxes sent from the DA's office, while Starsky handled the MacGruder file and any other promising current cases. It took nearly three full days with overtime, research, comparison, double checking, and discarding, but in the end they had two things: a preliminary list of nine prominent people who had been caught in Letitia's circle of acquaintances and didn't survive the experience--all through unexpected "natural causes"--and one John "Buddy" Rowe, AKA Edgar Jaycel, Morgan Rowe, and Peter Rattan. Rowe was the one common thread connecting Letitia and/or Vera to at least three of the names on the list. With his exceptional mechanical background, he was also the likeliest candidate to fill the role of Hurried Car Saboteur from the MacGruder investigation.

**********

"You wanna run that one by me again?" Starsky swatted impatiently at the branch that seemed determined to become intimate with his nose.

"Let it go, Starsk."

"One more time. I just want to be sure I heard what I thought I heard." Huddled side by side in the bushes, optimally distant from the entrance to the hotel where Lowe was rumored to be staying, this stake-out--uncomfortable though it was at times--had already become the high point of a fairly dismal Monday. "We're going to be doing what on our next days off?"

Hutch sighed. "No, I didn't tell Chuck we would do it, I just thanked him for asking us, that's all."

"Asking us to go up north with him to fish? If we have to do this, is there some reason why we can't just kill the fish that swim down here in the south?"

"Crowds. People everywhere, remember? Chuck says he knows a private spot, one that's remote enough that you don't risk catching someone else's line every time you cast." Hutch put up a warning finger in a preemptive strike against any objections. "And 'remote' is not necessarily a bad word. Remember Pine Lake? Obviously, that wasn't remote enough."

"You, me, and Chuck?"

Hutch grinned. "You, me, and Chuck for the better part of one afternoon. After that, he's moving on up the coast and we get the cabin for the night. Then it's just you, me, and a secluded cabin with all the modern amenities. Some books, the guitars, a fireplace, the chance to just be...I can't honestly think of any way I'd rather spend my time."

Starsky smiled at both the sincerity of the words and the motivation behind them. "Keep talking. If we can negotiate a little on the food this time, I think I could warm up to it, but only--"

"Zebra Three. Be advised that the subject is approaching."

"This is Zebra Three. Ten-four," Hutch acknowledged, and tucked the radio back into its holder. "Well, here we go again. You suppose Chuck copied that in the Torino?"

"If he didn't play with any of the buttons, he did fine." Starsky drew his weapon, while Hutch prepared to play pedestrian, walk past Lowe, then double back. "He looked like a kid in a candy store when we left him. Hey," Starsky whispered, extending a hand. "See ya."

Hutch responded in kind and was off, setting into motion a series of events that seemed to unfold, as always, in a sort of fast-forward. Displaying a rare combination of mental and physical agility, Lowe made them and negotiated an impressive U-turn in the street, as soon as Starsky emerged from behind the bushes. Instead of running in the direction that was open to him, though, he drew the gun nobody knew he had, and chose to scale a wall. Hutch managed to dive, in plenty of time to avoid the shot Lowe squeezed off as he turned. He pursued but started off at an uncomfortable distance behind, while Starsky radioed the other units and attempted to cut off the fleeing suspect from the alley. Everything was going fine--or at least going roughly as expected--until Starsky caught the unmistakable sight of the Torino flying around the corner at an alarming rate of speed. Not a contingency planned for, and certainly not something desired, it took a moment for the reality of the situation to sink in.

Addison. In. My. Car. Starsky ran as fast as his body would permit and heard himself yelling, "Stop!" Aimed in roughly the same direction as Lowe was running, it actually had very little to do with him at all.

The Torino finally skidded to a sickening stop at the entrance to the alley, effectively cutting off both Lowe and several back-up vehicles simultaneously, but Hutch had caught up by then, and Lowe had no viable option left but to throw his gun down and surrender. Starsky waited until he saw their suspect secured and in custody, and both Hutch and Addison safe before slowly making his way to the beloved Torino. The front looked more than okay, surprisingly; the driver's side was a little abraded near the tire, but not too bad... Squatting down by the left rear wheel, he was still in the process of taking inventory when he felt Hutch arrive behind him, a hand on his shoulder eventually lending the physical touch to the unity that was always there regardless.

"He drove my car."

"I know."

"He spun it in the gravel. Did you hear that? He spun...my car...in the gravel."

Hutch knelt close to him and ran a finger over the just slightly distressed paint. "Yeah, I both heard and saw. He handled her pretty well, I thought, considering--" Raising his hands in mock-surrender, Hutch chuckled softly, then returned the hand to Starsky's shoulder for a brief squeeze. "She's okay, and so are we. We're all okay, huh?"

From the very beginning, Starsky had found it both comforting and a little disquieting to have someone know him that well--a person who understood that it was easier to focus on the replaceable than the irreplaceable, the anger instead of the fear. Not surprisingly, Hutch's proximity was doing wonders to assuage both. "At least he didn't run anybody over."

Hutch laughed. "No, and you should see him over there talking to the patrolmen. I think this took about ten years off him."

"Well, that's nice," Starsky quipped, "because I think it just added about ten onto me."

**********

Interviews, compromises, threats, lawyers, more interviews, and reports typed neatly in triplicate filled up the remainder of Monday straight through to early Wednesday. An interminable stretch to both Hutch and Starsky, Addison's take seemed very different, indeed. He gave all the appearances of relishing every single moment.

"I still don't understand how you turned Lowe so fast. Boy, that was quick! I know that he could only go up from where he was, but still. Great work!"

Hutch couldn't deny a wry grin at the level of enthusiasm being displayed by their "partner." Addison had never really come off the euphoria launched when he contributed to Lowe's arrest, and now, even on stake-out, he was practically percolating in the back seat. But for every action, there's an equal and opposite reaction. The high points were great--both he and Starsky had enjoyed more than their share through the years--but what would the letdown be like? Arresting Letitia, as they were sitting there poised to do, would fulfill an eighteen-year goal, but it would also mark the beginning of a major life change. Addison had claimed this as his raison d'etre for too long now, not to experience the vacuum its loss was bound to create. What would he find to fill it?

"Thanks for the compliment, Chuck, but Lowe ran out of options at the same time his fingerprints came in." Starsky shot a broad grin in Addison's direction. "With fifteen warrants from six different states, the guy would've sold his grandmother if he'd have thought it would've gotten him anywhere. We nearly ran out of interview tapes before he ran out of breath."

"Yeah," Hutch agreed, "but he also realized that Letitia had caught on to the fact that he was a major liability. That's why he ran outside the hotel--he was actually relieved when he finally got it through his head that we were the police."

"What a set-up, huh?" Addison leaned forward to get a better view of the apartment building. "And to think that a twenty-three-year-old girl managed to take one scrambled witness report in an old case file, remember the mention of a tattoo, and do the addition after seeing Tish's. Just a shame that I wasn't half as bright--there might be a few more people running around today if I had been."

"Aw, don't be so hard on yourself. As Hutch said a few days ago, you're the one who's kept this alive."

"Sharp instincts," Hutch agreed. "It's not your fault no one believed you."

Addison shook his head. "You know, it's funny. I've always been able to accept Tish as a murderess, but it's not easy to make the jump from a single crime of passion to a career of murder-for-hire. Never in a million years would I've thought her capable of that."

"No, I don't think it's the first thing to spring to mind for most of--"

"Zebra Three. Please be advised that Adam Six reports a ten-fifteen at their location."

"One down, one to go," Starsky said with satisfaction, as Hutch snagged the radio.

"This is Zebra Three. Ten-four."

"Vera?" Addison asked.

"Vera. We're not sure that she actually committed any of the hits personally, but Lowe named her as second-in-command under Letitia." Hutch sighed. "Question now is, will she keep her mouth shut like a good girl or go the enlightened self-interest way and hand over her employer?"

"Does the DA really need her?" Addison ducked back quickly as the doorman made another brief appearance.

"Probably not, but as you know, it's always good to turn someone near the top. If Letitia's been as prolific as she has been successful at hiding her little enterprise, they could be sifting through things for years tryin' to make sense of it all." Starsky glanced at his watch again and yawned. "Never hurts to have a tour guide."

"Starsk." Hutch nodded toward the window, as Letitia finally made her appearance at the front door, and alerted their back-up unit that the arrest was about to go down.

Letitia's expression went from amused at hearing the charges, to defiance when encountering both her Miranda rights and the cuffs. Hutch thought it strangely appropriate, however, that there was no deeper show of emotion until she caught sight of Addison standing by the car. Not anger, as he'd have thought reasonable--Letitia's face primarily reflected a grim respect. Nodding toward Addison, she turned back to face Hutch. "May I?"

"Of course." Following behind at a respectful but close distance, Hutch allowed her to forge a dignified path to her long-time rival.

"Hello, Tish."

"Charles. Congratulations. You're still wrong, but leave it to you to manage to pull something out, anyway. Who would've thought it?" She winked, then headed automatically to the transport vehicle, leaving a thoroughly perplexed Chuck Addison standing in her wake.

**********

Letitia Hamland exercised her right to silence all the way through processing, kept it up during the initial interview, and stubbornly maintained it right through hearing a selection of the most damaging of Lowe's statements. It wasn't until she found herself face-to-face with Vera Compton's detailed and thoroughly damning report that she finally opened her mouth, and, even then--as Hutch was beginning to believe was par for the course with her--it wasn't to say what was expected.

"You want to talk? Fine."

"Tish!" Barry Calder, the lawyer facing the twin joys of a client held dead to rights on the most serious charges possible and what sounded to be one nasty case of laryngitis, might actually have elicited a degree of sympathy from Hutch, had it not been for his voice. A cross between a whistle and a croak, it required the listener to summon a formidable level of restraint just to keep a straight face.

"Stuff it, Barry. I'll give you your statement, gentlemen, but I want something in return."

"Depends." Starsky's voice was even, despite the fact that the corners of his mouth still twitched slightly after Barry's latest protesting whistle.

"I'm sure that Charles must be lurking on the other side of that impressive one-way mirror over there, but I want you to bring him in. He and I have known each other a long time now--shared victory, shared defeat--and there are a few things I want to tell him personally."

Hutch shrugged his acquiescence when Starsky glanced his way, and Starsky nodded. "If you'll excuse us, we'll go see what we can do."

The last thing both detectives heard while exiting the room was Letitia's bubbly, "Barry, dear, go home. There will be more for you to do later, but right now you really are just in the way."

Though still pressed as close to the observation room's glass as he could get without risk of being seen, Addison spun toward the door as soon as it opened. "Can we do that?"

"Yeah, we can do that." Starsky propped himself casually against a wall, re-tying a shoelace as he spoke. "Just remember that you're the visitor, Hutch and me are in charge, okay?"

"You'll have to pay attention," Hutch cautioned. "You do or say something in there that her lawyer can use at the trial, and you might lose the chance for that justice you've been pursuing for so long. Something tells me that Letitia knows that, too, and I wouldn't put it past her to try and see if she can bait you. Are you sure you want to do this?"

Addison smiled, gripping Hutch warmly on the shoulder in passing. "It's been a while, but I still know the basic ropes, at least. Let's go hear what Tish has to say."

"Charles!"

In light of all the singular qualities of this case, Hutch supposed the fact that Letitia greeted Chuck with substantially more enthusiasm than she did her now-absent froggy attorney shouldn't have surprised him, but it did. "This should be interesting," he whispered into Starsky's ear, as they took up their positions against the far wall.

"You wanted to see me, Tish? What can I do for you?"

She beamed. "You must be proud--I could see it in your eyes when they arrested me. You'll miss me, though! I might even miss you. Just a little, mind you...I'm sure I'll adapt."

"Is there any point to this?"

"Oh, you know me well enough by now not to have to ask that. Of course, there's a point. I simply must know when you knew, what gave it away. I was careful and always covered my tracks. So, what'd I miss?"

Addison gestured toward Starsky and Hutch. "Those two, for a start. New eyes, I guess. That and the connection they found between you, your employees, and a couple of recent deaths. I should've been able to put two and two together way before this, but I just didn't see it." He pulled his chair closer to Letitia. "Now I have a question for you, a question about Darcy."

"Fair enough."

"Did you kill her yourself, or did you get someone else to do it for you?"

Letitia smiled sweetly, then leaned back in her chair and inspected her manicure. "Ah, yes. The other point I wanted to discuss with you." Sitting back up, she aligned herself so they were eye-to-eye. "I really don't know how to break this to you, Charles, but you got that part wrong. I'll probably go down for a number of deaths, but hers won't be one of them."

What the--? Hutch heard Starsky's sharply in-drawn breath as they both stood up a little straighter.

Addison sat stunned for a moment, then recoiled. "Of-of course, you killed her. I've always known--"

"Yes, yes. I know you have." She laughed, seeming to find amusement in the shock spreading across his features. "Poor dear. Really and truly, I had no idea the little mouse had figured out anything until you came to interview me. Made me nervous at first, but then I saw the beauty of the situation. Why do you think I never objected--really objected--to your continued presence in my life? As long as I could keep you busy looking for clues that didn't exist, there was a good chance you'd miss the few that did." Folding her arms, she leaned forward and stage-whispered, "You've probably been a bigger help to me through the years than anyone, you know that? Everyone assumed that if there was anything there, you'd have found it. Because of you, I think the police sometimes stayed in the distance. So, thanks."

Damn it! Both Hutch and Starsky moved in swiftly after that, but the damage was already done. Addison looked so pale and stricken that Hutch momentarily wondered if he would even be able to leave under his own power and, in the end, probably wouldn't have without Starsky's assistance. Damn.

Letitia watched the scene unfold with apparent disinterest, finally tapping on the table to gain Hutch's attention. "So, where shall we start? If you want my first hit, we'll have to go over that whole thing with Daddy when I was seventeen--"

Hutch slammed a legal pad and pen onto the table, and snapped a quick, "Write it out," before joining Starsky and Addison back in the observation room. When he reached the door, he realized he needn't have bothered. Starsky was already handling the situation with aplomb. On the floor near to where Addison had dropped, Starsky was sitting with his knees drawn up to his chin, not touching the other man, but speaking gently and listening with a sincerity that couldn't be faked. Moving in with the stealth of a cat so as not to disturb anything, Hutch maneuvered himself close enough to hear the partial conversation and more fully observe the endearingly comforting and empathetic side of Starsky's personality.

"--don't even know what she said is true," Starsky offered hopefully.

"It's true. I could see it in her eyes, and with Leeds' confession...it's true."

"Well, then the same things we said before still stand--Darcy's killer has already paid for his crime, and now, because of you, we've gotten a few more criminals locked safely away. That's not such a bad thing, is it?"

"You don't understand." Addison buried his face in his hands. "I really believed... Sounds stupid now, but I really believed it was what she wanted. That it was Darcy who was telling me to keep after Letitia. All these years, and now..."

A look of pain flashed across Starsky's face, as well, and he glanced up at Hutch.

Sorry, babe. Wish I had the answers, but I'm fresh out, too.

Starsky eventually broke eye contact and seemed to be grasping for something--anything--that might make Addison feel a little less shattered than he currently appeared. Hutch recognized the moment that something occurred just by the softening of Starsky's features.

"Hey." Starsky leaned slightly closer to Addison's bowed frame. "How do you know that she didn't?"

"What do you mean?"

"Well, if Darcy's the kind of girl you think she is, I have a feeling she would be a lot more concerned with stopping an active killer than she would with gaining some sort of earthly justice for her own. Huh? You know her better than anyone; maybe she has been nudging you all along."

No instant fix, the effect on Addison was nevertheless both palpable and encouraging. Hutch drew a hand over his mouth to cloak the determined smile that had formed there. Other people have a doctor in the family; I'm lucky enough to be in love with a healer of souls.

Epilogue

Filling his lungs with clean Northern California air, Hutch leaned against one of the cabin's deck posts and closed his eyes. Almost heaven. Though he didn't hear Starsky creep up from behind, he felt him there before the muscular arms encircled his waist in a whisper-soft lover's embrace. "It's beautiful up here, isn't it?"

"It's beautiful anywhere," Starsky amended, nuzzling Hutch's neck. More than content to exist in the moment for as long a period as possible, they luxuriated in both the quiet and each other until it seemed likely that Addison would have the boat ready.

Hutch glanced at the little pile of supplies awaiting transport off the deck. "We forget anything?"

"Try me."

"Tackle?"

"Check."

"Bait?"

"Check."

"Lunch and beer cooler?"

"Check. Check."

"Your fishing pole?"

Silence. Hutch grinned. "You forgot your pole?"

"Not forgot...I, uh, just kinda left it behind in the bedroom."

The grin turned to all-out laughter. "This really isn't your forte, is it, Tonto?"

Starsky did his best to look peeved, and failed miserably. "Shaddup. I'll be right back."

"Hey, only grab it if you want to. Personally, I'd much rather watch you catch them with your hands."

With that, Starsky reached over unexpectedly and snagged Hutch's cap, thus precipitating a spirited game of tag that only ended when they arrived at the Nereid--Addison's little fishing boat.

"Hiya, fellas. What took you two so long? Here, climb aboard. Looks like the ideal afternoon to be on the water, don't you think?"

"Looks great, Chuck." Starsky accepted the proffered hand, gaining a bonus push in the rear from a still-landlocked Hutch. "But you're talkin' to a landlubber, so I probably wouldn't have a clue even if it wasn't." He gestured to Hutch before extending a hand. "It's Captain Nemo over here you have to worry about. He was a Sea Scout and everything."

The early conversation mostly revolved around nautical and fishing themes: favorite bait, poles, tides, and the memory of unmitigated joy visited upon Addison, aged-seven, when, on his first real fishing trip, he watched the eyes of the trout he'd caught earlier pop entirely and dramatically out of the fish as it cooked on the hot griddle that evening. It wasn't until they were positioned at a full stop in deep water, near some shaded vegetation, that Addison broached the subject of work.

"I don't think I ever really thanked you two for everything: for working, really working the case like you did, like it mattered; for not immediately dismissing me as an old fool; for caring enough to fight for it through to the end. We appreciate it."

Hutch smiled. "You and Darcy."

"Yes." He looked Starsky's way. "Did a lot of thinking about what you said that day, and decided you were right. Darcy always did know what she was pushing for. I was the one who misunderstood, at least until she sent you fellas along. Smart girl."

"Our pleasure, Chuck," Starsky said warmly. "So what's next for you? Have any plans, now that you're free to pursue them?"

"I do. I'm going to stock my larger boat, make sure she's seaworthy, and head out on the open water. Just let the tide take me where it wants for a while. You know, explore a little."

"Sounds like a plan," Hutch said, not without a touch of envy. The thought of them having even a week of complete freedom sounded like bliss some days. No hiding, no fear, no pretense. Starsky seemed to sense where Hutch's thoughts had headed, and he edged a little nearer, the arm wound about his partner's shoulders casual enough to not set off alarms if anyone saw them, intimate enough to convey what it needed to.

"Send us a postcard every now and then from your various ports of call, okay?" Starsky gave the snazzy new fishing rod Hutch had given him a few taps and a tug. "And thanks for this! Great location, nice cabin, no--"

"--telephones," Hutch finished with a laugh. "Exactly."

"Well, I'm glad, because this is a celebration. Speaking of which, you wanna hand me that cooler?" Addison pointed toward a small ice chest on the port side of the boat. "Thanks. Now if you'll secure your poles for a moment…." Addison's hand emerged with glass flutes first, then pulled out a bottle of champagne with a flourish. "Ta da! Not Dom Perignon, but it'll do."

"I dunno about this, Chuck." Hutch made the effort to present the most serious visage possible. "I'm not sure that some fishing deity isn't going to smack us all upside the head for drinking champagne while fishing."

"Isn't done, hmm?" Starsky asked.

Hutch winked and shook his head. "Anathema."

"Well, I don't care." Addison carefully filled each of the glasses to the top. "I wanted to propose a toast, and it just never seems to sound right with beer." There was silence while Addison gathered his thoughts, then raised his glass. "To endings and beginnings, and mysteries solved. To new friendships, and...to Darcy."

"To Darcy," Starsky and Hutch said in unison.

"Hey," Starsky yelped a second or two later, showering Hutch with the contents of his glass in the mad lunge for his suddenly animated fishing rod. "I got a fish!"

To Darcy, Hutch thought with a smile.

**********

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