The Veil
by Ellis Murdock

SHSVS, Episode 604, Part 2

Back to Part 1

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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