Hutch slammed a hand against the closing elevator door and gave a sharp whistle. The elevator's other occupant managed a vertical leap of at least a foot and, head thrown back in surprise, made contact with the back elevator wall. Rubbing the back of his head, Starsky bent to retrieve the tiny book that had captured his undivided attention. Hutch grinned and shook his head as they walked down the hall to the squadroom.
"Starsky, tell me something."
"Ye-ah?" Starsky asked absently, eyes trained on the book as he flipped one of the miniature pages with difficulty.
"You say you don't want people at work making a big deal about us taking a college class. Or, more specifically, making a big deal about you going to school. How do you plan to avoid that when you walk around the station with your nose buried in a book of pocket Shakespeare?"
Starsky didn't deign to glance up. "I'm gonna have this memorized, Hutch."
Hutch steered a still distracted Starsky around two female officers deep in conversation and guided him, one hand on his shoulder, around the corner. "I don't think the point is to memorize the text. And we're supposed to be discussing 'Antigone' tomorrow night. 'Measure for Measure' is next week."
Starsky shrugged. "I'll read through 'Antigone' again tonight. The version our prof assigned is written in good old plain English. Shakespeare's a whole 'nother ball game with all that Elizabethan fancy-schmancy language. Besides, this is longer. I figure he'll give us something to write for next week and want us to have this read, too, so I better get a running start."
Hutch laughed. "Don't let 'Antigone' fool you, Starsk. Straightforward text doesn't necessarily mean straightforward content. I think someone's just developing a crush on Shakespeare and won't admit it."
"Sure, you can afford to be lackadaisical about it. You read 'Measure for Measure' back in that ritzy private school. It's old hat for you." Starsky wet the tip of his finger and wrestled the uncooperative page once more. Rolling his eyes, Hutch brought all forward momentum to a halt with a clasp of Starsky's elbow, jerking the engrossed reader back when he would have continued.
"That was my senior year in high school, partner. I'll have to reread it, too, you know. But this is your third read-through since we got the syllabus in the mail last week."
Starsky finally lifted his gaze. "What's the problem? You're not starting to regret taking the class, are you? It hasn't even started yet!"
Hutch seized the pocket-sized book and wagged it beneath Starsky's nose. "No, I'm not regretting it. Just didn't know I'd have to--" he lowered his voice to a whisper and leaned closer, "--do a damn strip-tease last night to get your attention away from Good Ole Will."
Starsky laughed and the sound carried its own heat, bathing Hutch's cheeks in a flush. "Was ni-i-ice once you had my attention, though."
"New subject," Hutch said, flustered, and cast a wary look at the temporarily empty stretch of hall.
"All right. Tell me again why we're back at the station for our lunch break?"
"It's simple, Starsk. Getting paperwork out of the way means a better chance of getting home and having a nice evening to ourselv--wait a minute; this is not a new subject." Hutch frowned at Starsky's triumphant and slightly lewd grin. "And here, put this book in your pocket before Dobey catches you with it. He's been supportive of this college thing so far, but if he gets the impression your mind's more on Medieval Vienna than twentieth-century Bay City, we might get a Saturday stint of traffic duty."
Starsky shot him a mock-glare and shoved the book obediently in his jeans back pocket. Hutch had to look elsewhere to avoid viewing the spectacle with wide-eyed astonishment, knowing all too well just how tight the jeans were and how much trouble he had slipping a hand into one of those alluring pockets.
He couldn't resist a question. "Isn't that going to get uncomfortable driving around?"
Starsky tossed a look over his shoulder and then said out of the side of his mouth, "You let me worry about my own ass." He winked and pushed the squadroom door open, and Hutch had to figure out how to close his gaping lips before he could follow suit.
He found Starsky, shoulders slumped, staring down at the coffeepot. "Why the downcast look, Starsk?"
"Not one drop left in the coffeepot." Starsky searched the room, his eyes narrowed as he shook the coffeepot for everyone to see. "Okay," he said loudly, "which'a you guys drained the pot and forgot to make some more?"
"I did," boomed a voice behind them, and Starsky whirled, nearly dropping the obnoxiously empty carafe. Dobey folded his arms over his midsection and looked his sternest. "Since when are you so desperate for coffee in the middle of the day?"
Hutch burst out laughing and Starsky turned an evil eye on him. "Late night, busy morning," he answered the captain, though still looking meaningfully at Hutch.
"The afternoon's going to be even busier," Dobey said dryly. "No time for coffee. I need you and Hutch in my office. Now."
After Dobey vanished into his room, Hutch relieved Starsky of the coffeepot and set it down gingerly with a sympathetic headshake. "Today is just not your day for sudden noises, buddy."
"I'm edgy without breakfast," Starsky grumbled, "and now it looks like I won't get any lunch either."
Hutch paused halfway to Dobey's door and turned, wicked smile in place. "Thought a milkshake was your favorite breakfast," he queried innocently, confident that no one in the room could interpret their code, even if paying attention.
Starsky's face and neck promptly matched his red cotton shirt as he marched past Hutch, whispering, "Oooh, you're gonna pay for that one, smart mouth."
"Name your currency, hot shot--" Hutch would have continued the challenge, but Starsky's raised hand quieted him. Hutch joined him in the doorway and knew immediately the reason why--Dobey was on the phone, and he didn't look at all pleased.
"Flores! Dammit, Flores, answer me! Don't give me that jazz; I've been on to that little scam for years. Flores…Thorpe…Lizzie! Dammit!" Dobey slammed down the phone and looked ready to snap the pencil in his hand between two beefy fingers. He shoved it into his breast pocket with a force that left some doubt as to how he didn't draw blood.
"Get your butts in here!" Dobey shouted. When they'd taken their usual seats, Dobey frowned at each of them for a full minute before he sat back in his protesting chair.
"Which of you two clowns taught them the radio static trick?"
Hutch snorted and Starsky assumed the expression of a six-year-old cherub. "I have no idea what you mean, Cap'n." He shifted in his seat. "You know what he's talking about, Hutch?"
"Not a clue, I'm afraid."
"Right. And I'm Ella Fitzgerald. How the hell am I supposed to run this department if I can't keep constant contact with my detectives? It's for your protection, too, you know. Or have you ever thought--?" Dobey waved a fist at them and sank down in his chair. "Might as well be lecturing a brick wall. Don't have time for it anyway--"
"Something come up, Captain?" Hutch leaned forward in his chair expectantly.
"Just got the call a few minutes ago. A body found in a car over on Chandler down by Twelfth. Female in her mid-thirties, well dressed. Keys were in the ignition, drug paraphernalia in the car." Dobey leaned across the desk and raised his hand in his favorite gesture of emphasis. "The car is parked in front of a vacant house, and this is the wrong kind of lady to be in that neighborhood, much less with a pricey little bag of cocaine in her purse. Something smells bad."
Hutch vacated his chair for a perch on the arm of Starsky's. "So you want us out there to see if we can identify the odor."
"I want to know if we're dealing with accidental death, homicide, or something for Narco to get their teeth into. I want to be able to tell this lady's next of kin why she was found dead on an inner city street."
"Aye, aye, Cap'n." Starsky popped out of the chair and hustled to the door. Tapping the heel of his sneaker against the door, he folded his arms and whistled an impatient tune.
Hutch waved a hand at him. "Hold your horses." He turned back to the captain. "Patrol unit found the body?"
"Yes, Officers Kyle and Hudson. They're still at the scene so you'll have a crack at 'em first thing. They're young but efficient. What's on your mind, Hutch?"
"Keys in the ignition, purse containing drugs still in the car, middle of the day on Chandler?" He brushed a hand through his hair absently. "Something--I don't know. Can't put my finger on it."
Once out of the squadroom, Hutch took an opportunity to scan Starsky's profile. His partner was fairly buzzing with energy, straining for an outlet. The low rumble of leashed power filled Hutch's specially tuned ears, and he nudged Starsky in the side. "What's your big hurry?"
Starsky's look was pensive as he delved into his pocket for the keys. "I've got that feeling that we're barking up a big tree and we chased more'n a cat up it."
Hutch couldn't hide his developing smile. Starsky's enthusiasm for the more challenging, far-reaching cases had always made their partnership--and their careers--more interesting. On the other hand, he felt a shiver threaten his lower spine. Starsky's instincts were often as unerring as the North Star, and far-reaching equaled danger, risk.
"Any week now, Blondie."
Hutch glanced up and discovered that in an odd reversal of minutes ago, he was the one lagging behind while Starsky waited for him in an open elevator, toes tapping.
"Twelfth and Chandler," Hutch half-yelled over the roar of the Torino gunning away from Metro. "Now I know why you're really so eager to--"
"Hutch, don't start with me."
"Hey, come on, you have to know our relationship sits on firm ground when I can tease you about a woman."
"Yeah, but teasing me about that woman is bad for my image."
Hutch gave him a scolding frown. "Starsky, that's cold. So, she might not be Miss America, but--"
"'S not that," Starsky said firmly, concentration locked on navigating the morning rush-hour traffic. "That woman is a quack."
"She's been there almost five years; must be doing something right." Hutch was rewarded with a riled Starsky glare and felt his own temperature escalate without any help from the August sun. This is a game best played by two.
Hutch groaned, exaggerating the effect. "Okay, what changed your mind about her abilities?"
Starsky sat up straighter in the seat and reached one-handed for his shades. "I went to see her a couple weeks after the armored car case. Thought I'd give her crystal ball a whirl. She said my future was to be married within three years. How's that for lousy fortune telling?"
Baiting me, Starsk? You want to hear me say it again? Can't have it on paper, so you want the words whenever I'll give 'em? I can live with that.
Hutch laughed, a sultry rather than amused chuckle. "Well, except for her timing being a little off, I'd say she nailed it, wouldn't you? And maybe the timing was our mistake, not hers."
The glare transformed immediately into a soft smile, and Starsky visibly fought the urge to ignore traffic in favor of his partner. "Ah, babe. Man, you're playing hardball today. What's with all the at-work seduction this mornin'?"
Hutch smiled lazily and yawned. "I figure I'll make sure you pounce on me this evening instead of 'Antigone'." He laughed at Starsky's strangled, throaty noise. Game, set, match, partner. I'm calling the shots tonight!
Conceding defeat with a grin, Starsky grabbed the mic. "Zebra Three to control. Log us out for investigation."
"Roger, Zebra Three. Logged unavailable."
The young man stood across the street from the Mercedes-turned-tomb and watched the milling uniforms and other authorities. Shaking, dressed in tatters, and black, he was invisible to most people and visible to the people across the street only when they needed a convenient scapegoat. Man, he needed a fix. Couldn't go back to his normal source; he'd burned those bridges when he cooked up this scheme. And why the hell was he trying to do something for the cops anyway? What had they ever done for him but make his life a complete shit-hole since he was old enough to catch their attention? No, not for the cops. He wasn't doing jack for the cops. This was for Candace and now Michelle, who shouldn't have been where they were, doing what they were doing, who had fancy pictures of smiling toddlers in their purses. Shit, he needed a fix now. More importantly, he needed a place to hide.
"Hudson says the car wasn't here when they pulled through the neighborhood at six a.m.…what? What you got?"
Starsky was alternately leaning into the open driver's side door and backing out, his arms outstretched and measuring space. Hutch stepped out of his way and tried to decipher his partner's actions. "How much has she been moved?" Starsky asked.
"You'll get the photos soon as they're ready, Detective, but if we've moved her an inch, I'd be surprised. We worked hard to dig in the car around her." The Forensic team member gestured at an approaching dark-colored wagon. "But here comes the SQ, so we'll be moving her shortly."
"SQ?" Hutch asked, wondering if he was the only one missing something. Starsky's face, though neutral and blank to an outsider, told Hutch he hadn't a clue either.
"Slab Queen," a female Forensic team member whispered behind Hutch. "Price Ginny pays for being a female coroner in this male-dominated workforce. She's a good sport about it, though. The first guy who called her that got chewed a new set of ears for five minutes, and she concluded the lecture by saying, 'And that's Doctor Slab Queen to you'."
"Dr. Slab Queen." Hutch covered his mouth as Ginny made her way over to the Mercedes. Starsky gave her his brightest smile, sympathy glowing in his eyes. She stared at both of them, looked down at her pants and blouse, and shrugged.
"What? Sorry I'm late to the party. I got tied up in the lab. What?"
Starsky cleared his throat and turned his attention back to the woman in the driver's seat. Hutch followed his gaze and tapped him on the shoulder. "What'd you have in mind, Starsk?"
"Look at her, Hutch. She's short. She didn't drive here like this; her feet don't have a shot at reaching the pedals. Looks to me like the seat's been adjusted to accommodate a much taller person. Now, unless--"
"Unless she adjusted the seat herself after she arrived, or someone walking by decided to do the honors, both of which stink as possibilities, then she wasn't alone," Hutch finished, stroking his chin thoughtfully.
"Doesn't mean she was dead before she got here, or that we're dealing with murder with a capital M, but my guess is someone drove her here, moved her over to the driver's seat, and high-tailed it."
"Keys in the ignition, Starsky. Houses up and down the street. If she'd been alive, she could have gotten help for herself, surely."
"That's my guess," Starsky agreed. He turned to Kyle, who stood three feet away adjusting his cap over his wavy black hair, wiping sweat from his brow, and staring at the sun with murderous intent. "You canvassed the area, asked if anyone saw or heard something?"
"Yeah." Kyle blew out a forceful puff of air. "Big fat zero on all counts. Nobody we talked to had any information, two of the houses were unoccupied as far as we could tell, and the big one on the corner there, nobody answered the door."
Hutch smiled. "Oh, that one. You have to know how to summon Madame Yram properly, right, Starsky?"
"And how's that?" Kyle asked, looking defensive at the implication that he'd failed in his mission.
"You just walk right in the front door," Starsky answered, grinning.
"Can I please do my job now?" Ginny demanded, and both Starsky and Hutch jumped out of her way.
"By all means." Hutch snagged eye contact with Starsky and pointed at the neglected gray wooden house with the ridiculous cupola. His lips curved into a wicked smile at Starsky's reluctant shrug, and Starsky's expression changed accordingly, threatening future reprisal. Hutch bit back the smile.
As always, the heavy front door opened with little pressure, and Hutch made a disapproving "tsk" sound. "Got to be brave--or stupid--to trust an open door in this neighborhood even in the light of day."
"Madam Yram!" Starsky yelled, scanning the foyer.
"Who's botherin' Madame Yram when she don't wanna be bothered?" called a weary voice reminiscent of crowded city streets, hot dog stands, and brownstones.
Starsky smirked and snorted; Hutch swatted him on the arm and moved toward the large front room where Madam Yram doled out fortunes. "There wasn't a closed sign up," he said loudly.
"Is there ever?" Starsky whispered.
"You're s'posed to feel the unwelcome aura. Aw, come on in and quit wastin' my valuable time."
Madame Yram, aka Mary Polanski, brightened considerably when they entered the dimly lit room. She wore a ludicrous concoction of orange lace and satin that clashed horribly with the bright pink and blue silk scarf tied around her dark curls, but the effect was imposing rather than absurd. She opened her arms wide. "If it ain't Studsky and Hunk! Tell me this is a social call and you're here for your futures. If I got to hold both of you by the hand I just might die a happy woman."
Starsky took his usual place across the round table from the fortuneteller, and Hutch stood his ground off to the side. "'Fraid not, Mary. Here on business. Did you notice anything unusual happening across the street this morning?"
She peered across the table, probing Starsky's face as if reading between the lines of his question. "What exactly would ya define as 'unusual' for this neighborhood?"
Hutch smiled. "Fair enough. Did you happen to notice the arrival of a beige four-door, late-model Mercedes down the street? Hear anything out of the ordinary? Police found the car parked there this afternoon--"
She shook her head and yawned. "Sorry, can't help you. Got in from Sacramento about eleven o'clock and haven't budged from this table. I'm about to hit the sack for a nap."
"Sacramento?" Starsky asked. The surprise in his tone must have come across as an interrogation to Mary, because she frowned.
"Yeah, I was at a fortunetellers' convention. What, ya think I'm lyin'? People in my business are facing a crisis, lemme tell ya. Before long, there'll be a bunch of fakes advertising on TV. Dial-a-Psychic, Fortunetellers Unlimited, and crap like that. Us old school, legitimate types gotta stick together. Anyways, I got up in the wee hours to drive home. Weren't no Mercedes on the street when I pulled in at eleven, but that's all I can tell you."
"That's actually very helpful, Mary, thanks. Helps us narrow things down."
"Why so interested? Can I ask? Maybe I can keep an ear out?"
Starsky turned in his seat for a few seconds of silent consultation with Hutch. After a shared nod, Starsky directed his attention back to their hostess. "A woman was found dead in the car," he said softly.
"Damn. God, I'm sorry." Mary looked floored, her face pale, eyes wide and flashing. "I mean, this isn't Beverly Hills, but we don't usually have that sorta thing goin' on around here."
Hutch placed both hands on the table and leaned on them, so he could look Mary in the eye and convey the importance of his next question. "Do you know anything about the blue and white house down the street?"
Mary stroked a hand through her curls and slowly shook her head. "Other than it's been for sale for two months now? No. Hey, look, I'll keep my eyes and ears perked, okay?"
Hutch smiled. "That'd be great, Mary. We'll let you get some sleep. Oh, and you might want to keep that front door locked. We're not sure what we're dealing with here." He nodded at Starsky, the signal for departure, but Mary's enthusiastic voice halted Starsky's rise from the chair.
"Hold on a minute. Long's you're here, I can at least do your futures."
Hutch backed away, hands up in a declining gesture. "Uh, thank you, but I--uh--had mine done recently. Starsky's due for an update, though, aren't you, partner?"
Starsky had no time to answer before Madame Yram seized his hand and waved her other one over the crystal ball. She draped a scarf over the ball, removed it, closed her eyes as if in pain, and hummed loudly. Finally, she released Starsky's hand. "Your future is…you and your loved one will gain great wisdom, but you will face powerful storms." She grinned at Starsky. "Of course, if those storms get too bad, I'll shelter you, gorgeous."
Starsky's ingratiating smile turned into nervous laughter, and he almost succeeded in upending his chair. He glared at Hutch's smile and took him by the elbow, yanking him toward the hall. "Thanks for the fortune, Mary. Let us know if you hear something interesting. We'll be leaving now."
"What a mess! What a stinkin' mess!" Starsky shouted, kicking the Mercedes' rear tire. "Dammit, Hutch, I like the thought of pulling a high level scumbag off the street, but I'd sure as hell rather not do it this way."
"I hear you, partner. And not to knock your famous radar for these things, but we don't have any evidence that a high level scumbag is behind all this. Could just be garden-variety nastiness." Hutch's hand came down on Starsky's shoulder, as they watched the body bag being wheeled over to the coroner's wagon.
Michelle Danbeck had looked even more like a little girl when placed in the body bag atop the gurney. An artist's rendering of a little girl playing dress-up in an adult, perfectly matched linen business suit. Starsky had choked and looked away from the sight. Hutch had simply felt the chunk of ice such cases developed in his gut expand to freeze his chest.
Ginny looked cool and refreshing, though humanely disturbed by what she'd seen. Her approach snapped Hutch back to reality and seemed to positively impact Starsky, also. One final glance at the gurney, and Starsky focused on the coroner. "Words of wisdom?" he asked, voice hopeful.
Ginny closed her bag and brushed back a tendril of dark hair from her forehead. "You know the drill. Prelim guaranteed by the close of business or your money back."
"Ginny, can you--?"
She smiled at Hutch and halted his question without a word. After a moment of silence, her smile turned apologetic. "You know I don't hand out guesses, guys. This isn't a cut-and-dried case. There aren't wounds or visible trauma in critical places that readily identify a cause of death. I have a feeling body chemistry's going to give us the answer on this one, and I need my lab for that."
Starsky nodded, impatience taking over, and said, "What about time of death? Any chance she was still alive at eleven a.m.? As far as we can tell, the car showed up on this street sometime between eleven and one."
"Well, it must be a prototype Mercedes that drives itself, or she had a driver, because the answer is no. Even taking into account warming of the body from the morning sun since the car's been sitting here, I'd say there's no way she was still breathing at eleven. Unofficially, I'd say she died between six and ten a.m. Considering that a person or persons unknown could arrange her in a natural pose in the driver's seat, I'd say far closer to ten than six. How's that?"
"Beautiful, Ginny," Hutch praised, and Starsky's smile indicated his own gratitude. Ginny yanked off her remaining glove with a snap and threw one hand up in a jaunty salute before she made her way to the wagon.
The young man was shaking now with the intensity of a brain-damaging fever, though fever wasn't the culprit. Fear mixed with withdrawal made for a potent and dangerous chemical cocktail, and he could barely dial the number on the payphone. His body screamed for a fix, but his brain knew he wouldn't be alive to enjoy the high if he didn't find shelter soon. He threw hunted looks around the dark alley behind the closed strip joint and shimmied with impatience as the phone rang in his ear. "Come on, man. Pick up the phone."
"Rowell," a deep, cheerful voice answered on the fifth ring.
The young man sagged in relief. "Nathan, glad you're there. Listen, I need t-to call in a f-favor like right now, man. You got a place I can lay low for a while? Somewhere outside my usual orbit, if you dig me?"
"Who is this?"
He couldn't believe his ears. The voice on the other end of the line was suddenly severe, adamant in denial. "It's LeRon, fool. LeRon Markus? Ring any bells, college boy? I-I got i-in a little over my head with some nasty dudes, and I need major shelter in the immediate future or you'll be comin' to my funeral. I went to Marcel's club, but th-their car was outside and I th-think they a-already got to him. And Th-The A-Angel's moved again. Can't find her. So I'm turnin' to you. You're my last hope, man."
"I don't know who this is, but I'm going to hang up now. You've obviously dialed the wrong number."
LeRon held the phone away and stared at it like it had turned into a crawling insect in his hand. He'd never wanted to play the ace up his sleeve, but desperation demanded it. "Look, you wanna play games? Fine. I know you took my papers when you thought I was too high to know m-my own name. Never cared, bro, 'cause I knew I couldn't do nothing with 'em, but now I figure, I can exact a little payment. Call it royalties, right? You help me disappear for a little while and I'll forget I ever saw you lift 'em."
It took LeRon half a minute to realize he was talking to a dial tone. He shook the phone and then yelled into it, not caring that his intended audience had departed. "It'll come back to you, you pasty-assed fink! One of these days, it's gonna come back. And I hope I'm still alive to see it!"
"I can't stand facing the families, y'know? That has to be the worst part of this job," Starsky said numbly, staring down at a small pothole next to the Torino's front tire. "A man finishes performing a four-hour heart surgery and has to hear that his wife's been found dead. Damn, being a cop sucks sometimes."
"The worst part," Hutch agreed, his own gaze still locked on the sparkling and austere white expanse of Memorial Hospital. "He won't have a spare moment the rest of the afternoon for it to really sink in, though."
"Yeah, but would you want to be his patient? I know he said they can't reschedule this next one, but how the hell does he concentrate when--?"
"He doesn't have a choice, Starsk. The other thoracic surgeon in his practice who performs this procedure is away at a conference. Dr. Danbeck has to do his job, and do it well. We sh-should know something about that." Hutch hated the tremble in his voice, but couldn't stifle it.
Walking the corridors of Memorial never ceased to freeze Hutch's blood, no matter how much he focused on the miracle he'd been given. Today, listening to the doctor talk about his duty as a surgeon when faced with the death of his wife, Hutch had felt his own pulse throbbing in his head. I had to find the person who would dare try to take you away from me. You were lying there. I didn't want to leave you...had to...had to....
Warm fingers danced along the back of his neck. Hutch snapped to attention and found Starsky standing less than two inches from him, a mixture of concern and adoration in the deep blue eyes. Starsky was taking a chance interacting with him this way in the wide-open parking lot, but he obviously deemed it a worthwhile risk. Hutch smiled.
After a parting caress up into the blond hair, Starsky dropped the fingers and said, "You okay? Thought you'd turned to stone for a minute there."
Hutch nodded. "I'm fine. I'm just trying to piece it all together. What was Michelle Danbeck, who was married to a cardiologist and had two small children, involved in that could land her dead in her own car on Chandler? Doesn't make sense!"
"You're thinkin' what I'm thinking, right?"
Hutch tapped one hand on the Torino's roof. "Homicide. Yes, that's what I'm thinking. Proving it--even to Dobey's satisfaction--is going to be the tough part."
"Hutch…" Starsky reached out and tugged discreetly on the hem of Hutch's beige-and-green plaid over-shirt. "This place still gets to you."
Hutch looked away from the warm, loving face staring into his. "Yes. It's been long enough, you'd think I--"
"Shh. Anything I can do to make it better?"
"Not here." Hutch grinned. "But tonight you'll get your chance."
"Count on it," Starsky promised, tugging on the shirt a final time before resuming his all-business expression. "Next step, we put our ear to the street."
"As usual. Only thing to do until the prelim gives us more direction."
But the street was quiet. So quiet that Zebra Three made themselves available for calls, while they tried to track down anyone who could shed light on how the Mercedes ended up on Chandler. After hours of frustrated dead ends and minor calls in which they scored assists rather than baskets, Starsky turned the Torino toward Metro, hoping the lab could offer solid answers.
It was a little after 9:00 p.m. when they gathered in Dobey's office. Frustrating paperwork and a lengthy consultation with Ginny had kept them well past shift's end, but neither detective complained because a painful interview with Dr. Gregory Danbeck reminded both men how fortunate they were in comparison. The doctor had turned up at the station after his final rounds and had seemed a lost soul in need of something Starsky and Hutch couldn't give him. Closure was never possible this early in a case.
Hutch immediately filled a paper cup with water and shoved it into Starsky's hands. His partner sat with the posture of an overcooked noodle, half-sprawling in the chair and looking incredibly weary. Hutch thanked some anonymous benefactor that Starsky's weariness matched his own: mental, emotional perhaps, but no more physical than usual after over twelve hours of work. Hutch perched on the arm of his partner's chair, giving in to eagerness for proximity and unafraid that Dobey would think anything amiss.
"So, tell me what you've got," Dobey said without preamble, as he nibbled on a late supper of two ham-and-cheese sandwiches.
"Fact or opinion?" Starsky asked, turning the water cup around in his hands.
"Both, same as always," Dobey said through a mouthful and dabbed at his chin with a messy napkin.
"Cause of death is definitely a cocaine OD. Lab work is firm on that, and there's concrete evidence that this wasn't her introduction to the drug." Hutch rubbed viciously at his knees, signaling his own frustration. "That hit her husband like a two-by-four to the jaw. He--of all people--should've been able to spot the signs of drug use, yet, he had no idea. Or so he insists, and I for one believe him. He looked--" Hutch glanced down at his partner, who nodded.
"Sucker punched," Starsky finished. "He was in the dark all right. But he wasn't surprised that she was in the city. Apparently, they have this agreement. Twice a month, they ship the kiddies to the grandparents, who live close by, for a couple days, and Mrs. Danbeck comes into town to shop, get her hair done, generally give herself the royal treatment, and then they have a quiet evening all to themselves when he gets home from the hospital. Marriage insurance, Dr. Danbeck called it."
"Sounds plausible that might have been when she made her connection. That fits someone whose drug habit is recreational." Dobey scratched at his hairline and frowned. "So, you're thinking--?"
"Murder," Hutch said firmly. "But here's where we cross right into the realm of opinion."
"Meaning you have no evidence."
Starsky nodded and exhaled sharply. "No evidence, Cap'n, but lots of unanswered questions. Biggest one is who drove her to Chandler? Danbeck is out of the picture. He was called into the ER last night about three a.m. and ended up sleeping over at the hospital to be ready for his early morning surgery."
Dobey waved the napkin dismissively. "Plenty of explanations for that one. Could have been someone who shared her drug habit. Someone equally high isn't going to deal rationally with an OD. She dies; the person finds a place to ditch her and the car rather than seeking help."
Hutch stood and paced in front of the other chair. "Ditched her, but went to all the trouble of arranging her in the driver's seat? And then neglected to re-adjust the seat so it would at least look feasible that she drove herself? Sure, somebody on a high might be that irrational. You can force scenarios to fit the facts, Cap'n, but that doesn't mean they're right."
"Doesn't add up to homicide either, Hutch. She wouldn't be the first upper class woman who's died from a nasty, expensive habit."
"It's not just the drug thing," Starsky said. "It's where her body was found and the fact that nobody we questioned saw anything. Didn't see the car arrive…didn't see anybody leave the car. And there are some desperate turkeys hanging around that neighborhood who wouldn't let a dead body stop 'em from making off with the purse, the drugs, hell, the car if they thought they could manage it--leaving the body on the damn street. But everything was there, neat and tidy, waiting for the right person to find it."
"We have a theory about that," Hutch said softly. He finally stilled the pacing and lowered himself slowly into the chair.
"Well, let's hear it," Dobey barked, ham sandwich halfway to his mouth and temporarily forgotten.
"We think somebody wanted us to find Michelle Danbeck exactly how and where we did." Starsky crumpled the now empty water cup and tossed it back and forth in his hands. "Let's face it, if she'd been found in her condition at home or even in a hotel room, she'd probably be labeled an accidental OD and that'd be the end of it. Now--"
"Now we got enough red flags for a slalom course in Switzerland," Hutch continued. "Why would someone go to all that trouble if there weren't something worthy of investigation? And if our theory is right, then the person who drove her to Chandler probably isn't the killer. That's our key: finding the other person in that car."
"Touchy situation," Dobey said absently into his long waiting sandwich. "You think Dr. Danbeck is going to sit calmly by while we lay out a full press appeal?"
"Yes, he will," Starsky asserted. "He's broken up, but he's definitely more concerned about finding out exactly what happened to his wife than he cares about--"
"Scandal," Hutch supplied, smiling at his partner. "Starsky's right. This guy wants the truth. He wants to understand."
Starsky shot out of the chair and deposited the crumpled water cup on Dobey's desk. "Like you said at the beginning, Cap'n, this one smells bad. Let us run with it. We'll have the full autopsy results tomorrow; we'll know about prints from the car. We'll crawl every inch of street until somebody pops up and gives us the info we need. That's the only way we're gonna solve this one."
The captain regarded his half-eaten sandwich with unsuccessfully concealed disgust. He dropped it quickly on his plate and rubbed his hands together. "All right. You're officially off whatever isn't essential and on this. But if I get the sense that you're chasing a bunch of dead ends and an accidental death, I'm pulling you off. Right now, Thorpe and Flores are still carrying a light load. I have another team out with a stomach bug. I'll be running out of detective teams, and I don't need to be wasting a good one on a non-case. You got it?"
"Flawlessly spelled out, Captain," Hutch answered, rising to his feet, hoping the briefing had neared its conclusion.
"And take your trash with you, Starsky!" Dobey yelled.
Starsky was yawning his way through the sentry's first long speech to Creon, King of Thebes, when the book was snatched from his hands and weight descended on his lap.
"Ooomph!" he groaned as Hutch straddled his thighs.
"Are you insinuating something, Starsk?"
"Insinuating nothing. You weigh a ton!"
"Gee, thanks, partner. Nice to know all that time at Vinny's is keeping me in shape."
Starsky laughed at the wounded look on Hutch's face. He could tell the expression was only partly feigned, so he reached up and traced Hutch's lips with his pinky finger. "You look good enough to eat, babe." He closed his eyes as his pinky finger fell victim to Hutch's tender mouth.
"Smooth try, hot lips, but no sale," Hutch said around the finger he licked gently.
"I'm serious. All the working out's paying off; you're in top form. But y'know, all those muscles," he used his other hand to squeeze Hutch's right bicep, "these long, strong legs," his hand dipped down to caress Hutch's thigh, "and especially what you're carrying around here," hand moving from thigh to crotch and cupping the plentiful mound that awaited his touch, "all of that's gotta add up to some body weight, lover."
"Keep talking like that and you'll have me right where you want me." Hutch breathed through a slight gasp, his eyes darting down to Starsky's fingers tracing him through the robe's terry material. "Or better yet, stop talking," he suggested, and with one hand bracing against the couch cushion on either side of Starsky, he dipped his head and nipped at Starsky's upper lip.
Starsky reluctantly pulled away from the teasing lips. "Um, man, what's with your timing, hm? You've been throwing X-rated looks at me ever since we got home tonight, but you wait 'til I sit down with 'Antigone' before you act on 'em?"
Hutch laughed and waved the book in front of Starsky's face. "Watching you study makes me horny. Who knew?"
"Wow, if I'da known that, I'da signed up for four classes."
"And lost your job in the process," Hutch said, laughing again. "Or flunked out. Twelve credit hours and a full-time career spell disaster even for someone of your many talents."
"Speaking of flunking out," Starsky muttered, reaching for the book that Hutch held just out of his grasp. "Need to finish reading, babe."
"No you don't." Hutch held the book high above his own head. "Bet you can recite this by now."
"Not quite, Hutch. Come on. A few more minutes then I'm all yours."
"I'm impatient. I'm hot as hell for you. I want intimate contact with every inch of your body and I want it, NOW."
"How'm I supposed to concentrate on literature with you talkin' like that? If I'm gonna take this class, I need to take it seriously..." He trailed off at Hutch's change in expression. The seduction in the fair, handsome features had given way to sympathy and understanding. Strangely, Starsky felt his cock pay more attention to that response than he had to Hutch's come-on lines.
"Summary," Hutch said softly. "Give it to me. Right now. Off the top of your head."
"Sum--you mean, of the play?"
"Yep. Summarize Sophocles' classic for me in less than ten sentences."
Starsky blinked. He registered the texture of Hutch's robe and smooth skin on his legs, his own cut-off jeans were growing painfully tight, and above the shoulders, Hutch looked like an expectant professor. The combination was like an inhaled aphrodisiac, and Starsky thought for a second that he couldn't summarize the Miranda speech.
Then the fog cleared and he grinned. "Thebes is attacked by invaders, but Creon's army wins. So, King Creon decides he'll make a grand power statement. His two nephews fought on opposite sides in the battle and killed each other. Creon lays down the law that the one on his side gets a proper funeral while the other one has to rot unburied. But Creon's niece, Antigone, has other ideas, and she breaks the law to bury her brother so he'll have honor in the afterlife, for which Creon sentences her to death. The blind prophet Tiresias tears Creon a new one for being so cruel and stubborn, so he has a change of heart, but it's too late 'cause Antigone has killed herself insteada dyin' slowly, buried alive. After Creon's son--Antigone's fiancé--commits suicide over the situation, Creon loses his wife to suicide, too, and he ends up one doomed and miserable guy. End of story."
Hutch laughed out loud. "Maybe I'm biased because you're the sexiest man alive, but I think you managed to improve on Sophocles. Now list five themes in the play."
"You know, five things you would say the play is about…deeper than the surface plot."
"Love. That's definitely in there. Couple different kinds of love, actually. Power. Abuse of power? Yeah. This is a 'law and lit' class so I guess law has to be a theme, right? I'd say law versus conscience. The real world versus spirituality. Pride, too. How'm I doing?"
Hutch threw the book over his shoulder and grinned as it hit the floor. "You're more than ready for this class tomorrow night, so please give me some of your undivided attention?"
"What'd ya have in mind, besides damaging books? You oughtta be ashamed of yourself," Starsky half-growled, massaging Hutch's lower back.
"Getting you naked and making you scream, among other things."
But Starsky didn't scream. They lingered on the sofa through a heated session of foreplay, but while Hutch voiced his appreciation loudly at every touch of Starsky's lips on his body, Starsky was stunned into silence by Hutch's capable, gentle hands and breathless kisses. The fire in those soft blue eyes surpassed anything Starsky had ever seen throughout their relationship, and the knife-edge desire directed at him stole his capacity for thought. Stripped of all clothing, he found himself led by the hand to their bed.
"I want to get lost inside you," Hutch whispered in his ear, and Starsky opened his arms, welcoming the blond into the bed and onto his body. He was mesmerized, but he wasn't incapable of movement, and he locked his legs firmly around Hutch's waist even as he locked their lips together and held the blond head at the perfect angle to drive his lover beyond reason.
He had always appreciated the equality of their loving, but Starsky knew that tonight equality had been thrown out the window. As he released Hutch's mouth and felt those wide lips descend on his throat, he realized what had stifled his usual groans and shouts. Hutch seemed transformed and worshiped him like a lover he'd won through dangerous battle and great cost to himself. Starsky discovered a need to actually listen to Hutch's nearly continuous litany of love words and endearments. His body was being tenderly manipulated and prepared, but he barely felt the slick, warmed fingers. He only noticed that Hutch would pause occasionally and kiss his inner thigh, resting his forehead against the heated skin and breathing deeply.
Finally, on one such pause, Hutch looked up into his eyes and said, "Have to have you. Now, please?"
Starsky could only nod mutely and assist in the lifting of his legs over Hutch's shoulders. So Hutch really did want to get lost inside him. Starsky had no complaints. Not when Hutch blinked pure adoration at him as their bodies worked in tandem at joining.
"That's it, lover. So strong...you're so strong. Take all I've got," Hutch panted.
Starsky took and gave. He let his hips speak for him, giving each of Hutch's frantic thrusts a passionate counter-reaction. Hutch braced his hands against Starsky's chest and Starsky delighted in the pressure of those hands, so intimate and slippery with sweat against his body, and he returned the favor by grasping Hutch's forearms until he knew his fingernails would leave tiny half-moons that Hutch would have to cover with a long-sleeved shirt.
"So right…that you're my man…so right," Hutch gasped, strain and pleasure breaking the last word in half as he moved a hand down Starsky's stomach. Starsky interpreted the movement and stopped the action, returning the hand to its previous location with a soft shake of his head. He wanted those hands on his chest and Hutch's concentrated passion unbroken. He took himself in hand instead, and watched as that gesture created a new sheen of sweat on Hutch's forehead and put a glisten in the baby blues staring down on him.
Euphoria first seized Hutch, whose eyes grew impossibly wide and then snapped shut as his entire face tensed. He could only manage a broken version of Starsky's name to voice his orgasm and that finished Starsky. Gasping harshly, Starsky bit down on his lip, drawing blood, and flung his arms around Hutch, yanking him down against his body as he lurched in the throes of climax.
Still breathless, Starsky found upon separation that he could actually move, and he used his remaining strength to fetch a warm, damp cloth from the bathroom. He tended to Hutch in smiling silence and swallowed a moan of appreciation as Hutch hugged him and snatched the cloth, bathing him tenderly. Hutch flung it off to the side, but refused to break the embrace.
"Did I do something wrong?" Hutch asked, his voice still tense with the after-effect of lovemaking. "Were you really not in the mood tonight, or something? I didn't mean to come on so strong if you--"
Starsky closed his lover's mouth with soft, slowly moving lips and lowered them both to the bed. "You were beautiful," he said when he pulled back. "Why?"
"You didn't make a sound. Usually, you--" Hutch smiled sleepily. "Usually I worry about them hearing you downtown."
Starsky laughed. "It was…intense tonight, Blondie. I loved every minute of it. I guess I-I got caught up in you. Too busy trying to hear and notice everything you were doing to make a bunch of my own noises. Now, go to sleep."
"I can handle that," Hutch mumbled, eyes closing. "Love you."
"You, too. Always," Starsky replied in a yawning whisper, and he snuggled in the warmth of Hutch's arms until he found the perfect position for sleep.
Hutch's body registered the cold discomfort of empty arms, and he woke with his chest aching, though not with physical pain. Sitting up, Hutch saw that Starsky sat on the edge of their bed, his posture so childlike and endearing that Hutch's breath caught in his throat. Starsky had his knees pulled up tight against his chest, his arms wrapped around his legs, and he curled over so that his chin propped on his knees. Hutch felt a sweeping gratitude that Starsky's body had the agility and range of motion required for the position.
"Can't sleep, babe?"
Starsky turned his head without lifting his chin and smiled. "Nah."
Vehement wagging of curls. "'Course I'm not nervous. Why would I be nervous? Don't have anything to be nervous about."
Hutch kept his responsive grin to himself. The answer's speed and determination contradicted its content. He leaned over and stroked playfully at Starsky's bare calf.
"Oh, really? Nothing to be nervous about? Nothing at all?" His fingers moved to tickle the skin in the crevice of Starsky's bent knee.
Starsky's smile turned defensive and he swatted at the teasing fingers. "Just can't sleep. That's all."
Hutch crawled across the bed and sat beside his partner, pulling his legs up into a matching pose. They made an interesting couple, sitting side-by-side like two bored children waiting for the clown to show up at a birthday party. "So," Hutch began, voice altered because his chin rested on his knees, "this wouldn't have anything to do with our starting class tomor--er--this evening?"
Starsky must have decided that he'd carried the burden alone far too long because he heaved a sigh of admission followed by a resigned nod. "How'd you guess?"
Hutch laughed. "I know you inside and out, lover. Up, down, and sideways. Diagonal even. And sometimes twisted like a pretzel when you--"
"Trying to distract me, aren't you, Hutch?"
"Well, that was my first option. Didn't work, obviously, so on to the next one. Tell me what's on your mind?"
"I don't think I'm ready to be Johnny College Boy."
Hutch couldn't hold in a snort of amusement. "Johnny? I haven't heard that saying in--"
"See!" Starsky interrupted, lifting his chin and unfolding, dropping his feet to the floor. "That's a perfect example. Here I am closer to forty than thirty, going to class with a buncha kids who probably never even heard that saying before."
Hutch choked down immediately on his humor reflex. When his confident, go-get-'em partner started talking about being outclassed by youth, it was time for seriousness and understanding. "Starsky, for the fifteenth time, we're taking an evening class. You'll probably be surrounded by non-traditional students."
"That's what we are. We're older-than-average entering college students taking a course, non-degree status. A traditional student is one who enters college following high school and pursues a degree. What I'm trying to say is that you won't be alone. I can almost guarantee you I won't be the only other thirty-something in the room."
"Yeah, well I expect the professor to be our age or older."
Hutch grinned. "That's not what I meant, clown, and you know it."
Starsky looked unconvinced. He studied Hutch's face closely, and Hutch knew that the active, calculating brain was probing his every facial twitch for signs of humoring him. "Yeah, maybe," Starsky said finally.
"So, being a little older than some of the students in the class isn't the only thing bothering you."
"Well, aren't you a mind-reader tonight?"
"Just trying to be here for you."
Starsky leaned over in a move that spoke volumes and Hutch unfolded immediately, opening his arms in a silent invitation. Starsky curled up in the offered embrace with a sigh of contentment. Nestling his head in the curve of Hutch's neck and shoulder, Starsky cleared his throat and said in a voice that defied argument, "I'm not an academic, Hutch."
"Just stating a fact. That's not who I am."
"Starsky, we've been through this before. There's not a damn thing wrong with your brains."
"Didn't say there was. I can kick your ass when it comes to picking apart a case or…or getting us out of locked boiler rooms." Starsky grinned, but the light in his eyes faded quickly. "You remember how it was for me in the Academy--late night study sessions for even the easiest exams. You'd crack a book for maybe fifteen minutes and then it was night-night, lights out. Me, three hours and I still felt like I was swimming in deep water. Next day, you'd ace the damn thing and I'd end up with a 'satisfactory'."
"Not going to peddle me that line of bull, buddy. Not when I was there and saw the classes you tore through like a tornado, just like there were subjects I worked harder on, too." Hutch lowered his head and nibbled at the bed-tangled dark hair.
Starsky squirmed. "Tryin' to distract me again."
Hutch lifted his head and sighed. "Starsk, college isn't about having a genius-level IQ. It's really about work ethic. And you have always had a top-notch work ethic. Just look at the last couple nights, for example. The class hasn't even started, but you've read the first reading assignment twice and the second one--"
"I'm not following you."
"I had a kid in one of my classes at Minnesota. Name was Aloysius Frampton." At Starsky's snort, Hutch laughed. "I'm not kidding. That was his name, and he got pissy when anyone tried to call him 'Al.' Aloysius had an IQ to rival Einstein's. We all thought he was building a rocket in his parents' garage. Anyway, he failed the class. It was a simple history survey course and he deep-sixed the thing."
Starsky reared his head back and searched Hutch's face. "Really?"
"Really. Wanna know why?"
"Yeah, gimme the punch line."
"Because he didn't give a crap about the class, and he tried to get by on his brains without studying the material. He wanted to spend time on his hobby science projects. The professor of our class wasn't impressed by sheer intellect. He wanted to see some devotion to historical study. So, my point is--"
"Yes, I'm getting it."
"Besides which," Hutch continued, smiling, "I'm not worried at all about your intellect, either. I have firsthand proof that all your synapses are firing properly."
"And how do you figure that, Blondie?"
"You knew to snag me off the market, didn't you?" Hutch asked solemnly. Starsky growled and play-punched him on the arm. Hutch laughed. Then he turned serious, staring down into Starsky's upturned face with love and desire speeding his pulse. "Starsky, I--"
"Yeah?" The Brooklyn accent lent an extra huskiness to Starsky's come-on voice.
"I'm so proud of you. I'm so proud to be with you. I'm--" Hutch's words died under the sudden impact of Starsky's lips. He tilted his head and palmed through Starsky's hair as the kiss deepened. Starsky stroked his cheek, then caressed the jaw line just prior to their pulling apart.
"I love ya, Hutch."
"Enough to lie back down with me?" Hutch asked breathlessly. "We both need sleep. It's going be a never-ending day."
Starsky smiled and left the circle of Hutch's arms, but he remained seated, shoulders slightly down, on the bedside. "In a little while. You go on, get some rest."
Hutch shook his head. "No. Why don't you tell me what's really on your mind so we can both rest easier."
"Got to thinking about that talk I had with the Jameson admissions counselor. You know, the lady who told me about the continuing education program--the--" Starsky waved his hand, "--the Intro to College Program. Hutch, you're taking this class for fun. What was it you said?"
"Enrichment," Hutch said softly.
"Right. For me, it's different. This is a damn dress rehearsal. I do well in this class and it eases my entry into degree status if I choose to go that route. Since I'm taking it for a grade, I can even count the course as an--"
"Yeah, in the Criminal Justice Program."
"So what's the problem? I think it's a perfect set-up. You get to 'experiment' with college with no obligation except the money you paid for the course, and you might actually be making progress toward a degree. It's nice to be able to test the water before you jump in."
"The problem is…aw, hell, this is hard to put into words. I don't want to need this."
"Need what?" Hutch asked, watching Starsky clench and relax his fingers and noting the twitch in the strong jaw that often accompanied his partner's internal battles.
"I don't wanna get in there, find out this ain't my scene, and end up feeling like I'm missing something--lacking something--just 'cause I don't follow it through and get a piece of paper with my name on it."
"For ten years I've been a cop. I'm a damn good cop. I have a gorgeous, smart, passionate lover. I have friends I can count on. I have a good life. Granted, it's not perfect, but nothing is. I don't want to lose sight of all that and start thinking I can't be who I wanna be without making the grade."
Hutch reached out and took Starsky's hand in his. "It's harder for some people to face academic pressure than any other kind of intense situation out there. The thought of tests, papers--making the grade, as you say--can really get under your skin. I imagine it's even more daunting if you're going back into that environment after being out of school for so long. I understand, believe me, babe."
"I thought you enjoyed your college years."
"I did. But I'd had my fair share of it after four years. I think that's why med school didn't work out. You have to be hell-bent on ending up a doctor to push through all the stress and pressure of the first couple years, and I realized I didn't want it badly enough. The Academy wasn't a diploma-mill and the first two years in police work bust your ass, but we pushed through it all because we were both hell-bent on making Detective and working together. We had a goal that made it all worthwhile. Trust me, Starsk, if you find you want this degree, you have the determination, drive, and brains to get it."
"And if I don't?"
"Don't want it," Starsky clarified.
Hutch smiled. "Then I'll remind you what a good life you have, how many friends you can count on, what a good cop you are. Especially how lucky you are to have such a gorgeous, smart, passionate lover."
"Smart ass." Starsky laughed and lunged at Hutch's neck, teeth bared.
Hutch jumped at the sharp sensation against his skin. "Easy there, fangs. Actually, I'm glad to hear you say that."
"I'll have to call you 'smart ass' more often," Starsky purred, nibbling over to an earlobe, which he pulled delicately between his lips.
Hutch hissed and twisted away from the erotic teasing. "Cut it out, Romeo, and listen. I'm talking about what--"
"I know what you meant. Why are you glad?"
"Because it means you're going into this with your eyes open. I think it's healthy to approach a difficult task with the attitude that you like who you are already. And it means you've...you've come a long way from thinking I was better off with 'college-boy' Flores as a partner."
"You're right," Starsky said in his solemn tone. "I have come a long way." He grinned. "Come on, lay down, Socrates. My turn to hold you."
"Hey, isn't that Fleet Feet?" Hutch asked, voice rising with hope as Starsky pulled down a street known for cheap bars and black-market sidewalk vendors. They were four hours into their Wednesday shift and had concurred that they'd never seen their district's well of information quite so dry.
"About damn time," Starsky muttered, catching sight of the young, flashily dressed Puerto Rican who'd earned his nickname by outrunning police bent on breaking his purse-snatching habit. "I was thinking we'd have to put you on the curb with a 'Will Strip for Info' sign before we'd get anywhere."
Hutch burst into laughter. "If you even think--. Starsk, he's spotted us. What the--?"
"Why the hell would Fleet Feet run from us? I'm slowing down."
Hutch jumped out of the Torino just as it slowed within reason and waved a hand in the direction that the snitch ran, his other hand gesturing toward a side alley. Starsky nodded. "Go!"
Starsky watched Hutch take off at breakneck speed, weaving expertly through the clusters of people. Then he slammed his foot down on the accelerator and roared in the direction of the side alley that would lead to the back end of another shady space between two of the bars. Hutch was a master at "steering" his prey to a specified location where Starsky could cut them off. It was a technique they'd perfected over the years.
Sure enough, Starsky had just sealed off the exit of the "designated" alley when Fleet Feet rounded the corner, Hutch in hot pursuit, and raced blindly toward him. Fortunately, the ex-purse-snatcher put on the brakes, because Starsky had no intention of backing out. He hopped out of the car, leaving the door open, and folded his arms over his chest as Fleet Feet instinctively raised his hands to the sky.
"I ain't done nothing!" the young man shouted, swinging frantic looks at the two detectives who had him pinned in the alley. "Been clean ever since the day you--"
"Ever since the day we caught you. Yes, Fleet Feet, you say that every time we try to start a conversation," Starsky said, grinning at Hutch, who stood tall, shoulders barely moving as he breathed, while Fleet Feet's chest heaved.
"Except he usually doesn't try to break the world's sprint record before he gets down to business," Hutch commented. "What was that all about?"
Fleet Feet glared at them and straightened his purple polyester jacket. "I needed exercise."
"Oh, really? Wish we'd'a known. Hutch coulda chased you much farther, couldn't you, partner?"
"Of course. I'm not even breaking a sweat."
Fleet Feet grimaced. Shoving his hands in his pockets, he tapped one foot restlessly on the pavement. "All right, all right, tough guys. So what's new? Whaddaya want with me?"
Starsky tapped his forehead and looked with exaggerated wide eyes at Hutch. "Hey, ya know somethin'? Doesn't our friend here usually hang out around Chandler?"
"Hey!" Fleet Feet's voice rose to a near squeal. "I told you already; I'm clean. I sweep floors for Mr. Luiz in his grocery mart on Eighth--"
"That's funny, Starsk. I wonder why your mentioning Chandler made Fleet Feet think he needs some sort of alibi?"
"Good question, Hutch. Here's another one for you. How in the world was our favorite purse collector able to resist such a designer article as the one sitting in the front seat of that unlocked car?"
"Go you one better. He works for Mr. Luiz, right? Well, it's nearly noon, and he's out roaming the streets? You think Mr. Luiz lets him keep banker's hours?"
Starsky nodded with dire solemnity. "I'm starting to think these questions could lead to some pretty heavy stuff going down for Fleet Feet unless he decides to play nice."
"Look, I don't know nothing 'bout a car on Chandler yesterday, all right? So lemme go. I called in sick today to spend the day with my aunt. She broke her leg and she needs some help 'round the house."
"Such a stand-up guy, isn't he, Starsky? You think we should let him go?"
"Nah. Not until he tells me how he knows the car was on Chandler. We didn't say the car was on Chandler."
"Or that the car was there yesterday," Hutch added, smiling.
"You just said--" Fleet Feet screeched. He frowned and scratched beneath the shaggy bangs on his forehead. "I read about it in the paper this morning."
Starsky laughed, but Hutch merely shook his head and said, "Nice try, amigo, but it won't wash. You're forgetting we have memories of things that happened before you were born. Last I recall, you were bragging about making it to twenty-three without the benefit of reading. You join a literacy group in the last year?"
Fleet Feet looked totally dejected. He glanced quickly between the detectives and obviously decided that flight wasn't a possibility. Nearly whimpering, he hung his head and bounced nervously on the soles of his feet. "Okay, look, I'll lay it out for you, but you gotta play square with me. I know what you wanna hear, but the guy I'm gonna tell you about is hanging with some muscle who'd do a helluva lot more than break my legs if they even thought that I know something to flap my lips about."
"Fair enough," Hutch said. "We're all ears."
Starsky nodded politely at a girl who strolled past, eyeing him from sneakers to curls, but his own eyes were full of the sunlight beaming on Hutch's windswept hair and the blond's lounging grace. Hutch leaned against the driver's side door and made humorous facial expressions in counterpoint to Captain Dobey's barking over the mic. Finally, Hutch cleared his throat.
"Fleet Feet's a reliable source, Captain. If he says this guy was driving the Mercedes when it pulled onto Chandler, I'm willing to make book on it. He's never once handed us bogus info. Yeah, that's LeRon Markus, black, age twenty-seven, six-foot-two, around 185. We want an APB out on him as soon as possible. Thanks." Hutch reached in the open window and re-cradled the mic.
"This is the place," Starsky announced, peering over the rim of his shades at a building painted in an unassuming cream with chartreuse tinted windows. "Prism Palace. Not your average watering hole. I didn't know the Green Parrot had a competitor, did you?"
"Sure, Starsky." Hutch shot a brief glance heavenward. "You know me and my cruising habits."
Starsky laughed at the heavy sarcasm. "This must be the Parrot's classier cousin."
"If you're that enamored with the décor, we could always make this our daily lunch stop," Hutch teased.
Starsky grinned, loving the sparkle that danced in Hutch's smile. "You kiddin' me? I'd have to fight over you every day."
Much to their mutual surprise, the bar doubled in the daytime as a fairly sedate restaurant, though clearly catering to gay clientele, judging from the same-sex couples who populated the cozy tables for two. Starsky and Hutch sat down casually at one such table, and Hutch busied himself glancing through the colorful lunch menu.
When a waiter appeared at the table, Starsky ordered a round of soft drinks in deference to their on-duty status and asked for one Marcel Blue. The waiter sauntered away and Starsky fidgeted. "These are uncomfortable seats."
"I'd say their purpose at night is to force people to get up and mingle and dance," Hutch mused, shoving the menu away with a frown of distaste. "This place serves your kind of food, partner."
"Your drinks, gentlemen," the waiter said loftily, depositing two tall glass goblets on coasters bearing the bar's insignia. "And I'm afraid Mr. Blue isn't here today, which is odd to say the least. He's always here on Wednesdays to have lunch with Rudi."
"Rudi?" Starsky asked, sipping the coke.
"Our manager. They're quite good friends."
"I think we'd like to talk to Rudi, then," Hutch said in the no-nonsense manner that few people ever challenged.
"I'll see what I can do," the waiter replied and whisked the tray under his arm.
Starsky looked around, ever alert and instinctively checking surroundings, before he grabbed the discarded menu. After a cursory glance through it, he looked up and made a smacking sound with his lips. "Menu looks pretty good to me. I could go for one of those Sante Fe burgers about now--"
A hand on Starsky's shoulder nearly sent his hand into his over-shirt for his gun. He resisted the impulse and forced himself to relax and look casually up at an ash-blond, well-dressed man in shades of gray and black, a fetching mixture of denim and leather that showed off his sculpted physique to perfection.
Starsky was grateful when the hand moved and the stranger, presumably Rudi, leaned over to slide a chair from one of the nearby tables. He effectively situated the chair between the detectives, and his slow-motion descent into the seat emphasized the second-skin nature of his jeans.
"You wanted to talk to me? Same here. I want to know why you're so interested in Marcel Blue."
Hutch folded his hands on the table in a "no-threat" gesture. "Simple really. We were told he could help us locate a mutual acquaintance of ours. Our business is with him, not with Marcel."
Starsky decided instantly that Rudi was not destined to be a friend. The man's charcoal eyes were undressing Hutch from the shirt down. Faster than a blink, Rudi's hand had cupped Hutch's cheek as if it had a standing invitation.
"You," Rudi extended the word to three syllables, "have to be the most ravishing man I've ever seen. I could get by happily for weeks with just the memory of you and my own imagination. Unfortunately..." He dropped his hand with equal speed. "...you and your friend here both reek of cops, and I'd rather go without cock for a month than have anything to do with your species. Still, I have to say, what a crime on the part of genetics to put a mouth like that on a straight man." Rudi lifted his hand again, the thin fingers reaching for Hutch's lips.
Starsky had had enough. Before the manager's fingers met their goal, Starsky slapped his own hand around Rudi's wrist with the force of a handcuff and slammed the man's arm down on the table. Rudi jumped in the chair and partially whirled, but Hutch took his chin in an equally tough grip and twisted the startled face back in his direction.
"Let me spell a few things out for you, Rudi. Looks like you run a fairly tight ship. It's managed to escape our attention, and this is our territory, which means you must have done a remarkable job keeping brawls at a minimum and the drugs out. My partner and I don't get our kicks hassling gay establishments. We're homicide detectives primarily, and putting a thorn in your side isn't in our job description."
"But," Starsky piped up, tightening his grip on Rudi's wrist, "it wouldn't be good for business if Vice started snooping around for any hint of the sex trade. So why don't you change your mind about law enforcement, and we'll keep our good opinion of your business practices, and everyone goes home happy."
"A-all right," Rudi mouthed awkwardly. Hutch released his chin, and Starsky eased the punishment on the man's wrist. "Truth is, I don't know where Marcel is today. He's a singer in a jazz club. Used to be GW's but new ownership renamed it 'Sax and Strings.' You know the place?"
Starsky and Hutch exchanged a smile. "Yeah," Starsky answered. "We know the place."
"He has a furnished place a few streets down from the club. Belfair Apartments, 6B. But I've called both places and can't get a hold of him. He hasn't missed a lunch date with me in months. He--he's not in some kind of trouble?"
"No, we don't have reason to think he is. As I said, our business isn't really with him. We were told he could help us locate LeRon Markus. Has Marcel ever mentioned him?"
Rudi nodded. "He grew up with LeRon. He, LeRon, and this white guy whose name I can't remember--they were like the three musketeers until their late teens. People in their neighborhood called them 'the Oreo Club'--a miraculous friendship in that day and time. I don't know where LeRon hangs out, but Marcel would."
"D'you have reason to believe Marcel's in trouble?" Starsky asked, the electricity of instinct making his palms itch each time Rudi's face darkened with obvious concern at the mention of his friend's name.
Rudi hesitated and then emitted a half-sigh, half-grunt. "Until a couple years ago, Marcel and LeRon shared a nasty habit. Heroin. As much as I like to think I'm responsible for Marcel kicking it, I think the truth is he turned to gambling as a substitute. So many addicts do, you know? It's just another form of addiction, and you don't make lifelong, watch-your-back pals in the gambling world."
"Yes." Hutch offered audibly heartfelt agreement. "And LeRon? Does he share the gambling bug?"
"No. As far as I know, LeRon's never managed to break away from the heroin. I gather he doesn't have time for a second addiction."
"We were told LeRon is hanging with a heavy crowd. Do you know anything about that?"
Rudi shook his head at Hutch's question, and, after a brief silence, seemingly aware that he should provide more information, he ran a hand through his hair and mumbled, "I don't know much about LeRon. Marcel's his pal. Not me. I do know that Marcel hasn't talked about him as much lately." He frowned, face pensive. "They aren't lovers," he said wistfully, packing a paragraph of meaning into the sound. "LeRon's straight as far as sex is concerned; I know that much."
So you aren't Marcel's lover either, but you want to be. Starsky felt his dislike for the bar manager begin to fade. "Look, we'll keep an eye out for Marcel, and if we're able to track him down, we'll let him know you'd like to hear from him."
Rudi thanked Starsky with his eyes and a tight smile. "I'm sorry we got off to a bad start, Detective--"
"Starsky. David Starsky."
"And does Tough-and-Beautiful have a name?" Rudi swung his smile over to a reddening Hutch.
"Hutchinson. Call me Hutch."
"No hard feelings about the anti-cop jazz, okay? You two don't seem like a lot of your brothers-in-arms, and God knows, I'm sick of being stereotyped just because of my lifestyle. You...you know...won't put this place on the map in a negative kind of way?"
Hutch smiled. "Starsky and I don't give any bar trouble unless people start getting hurt or we get the sense that more crime is going on than anything else. You keep the place clean, we won't have reason to bother you. If Vice starts poking around on their own, there's not much we can do about it, but we won't give them a roadmap."
"I'm startin' to share Rudi's unease," Starsky commented an hour later. They'd found no hint of Marcel. Standing side-by-side on the curb outside the Belfair Apartments, each braced his hips against the Torino's passenger side. He gently elbowed Hutch's arm. "'Course, I already share his great taste in men."
"Men?" Hutch's eyebrows couldn't have climbed any higher.
"Man, to be precise, Mr. Literal. Jeez, try to pay you a compliment and look what I get."
"Glad you've taken it in stride," Hutch laughed. "I thought you were going to break his arm. His wrist'll be sore for a week."
"He's lucky I didn't." Starsky shot him a quick apologetic glance. "Guess I got a little carried away."
Hutch inched closer until their sides touched with the slightest pressure. "My hero."
"Yeah, yeah," Starsky grumped, squinting in the sun at Hutch's profile. "You're a big boy; you can take care of yourself. I know that, but--"
"True, but I'm not complaining about your instinct to intervene. I'd have reacted just as strongly to some guy putting a move on you."
"Don't worry about appearances," Hutch murmured discreetly, and Starsky smiled at his partner's bull's eye instinct. "You came across as a frustrated cop determined to get information and 'looking out' for his partner."
Starsky scuffed the toe of his sneaker against the edge of the sidewalk and rested his palms against the car door so that his left pinky lined up perfectly but with the merest contact against Hutch's right. His smile broadened when Hutch briefly twined the two pinkies together. A fleeting movement that wouldn't have been noticeable to anyone walking by, but that meant the world under the circumstances.
"So," Starsky said, getting back to business. "You have any fresh ideas? Full autopsy report's still not in; Forensics is working on the car; the APB has netted us zero. We have a couple hours before we're due at the Danbecks'--"
"God, I wish we could spare him the search."
"Only way we have a shot at pinpointing what her movements would have been while she was here in the city, Hutch. Besides, you heard Danbeck say he'd tear the house off its foundation if that would help us figure out what happened to her." His mind replayed images of a big Texan car dealer, who had died avenging his wife. "You know who Danbeck reminds me of?"
"Zack," Hutch finished for him. "Minus the vigilante impulse. Right. As for ideas, I'd say our next bet is to track LeRon through his fixes--" Hutch snapped his fingers. "The Angel! It's been a long time since we last tapped into her mental database, but maybe…"
Starsky slapped him on the back. "Let's swing by Huggy's and see if he can make us an appointment. I'm starving anyway."
"You could've had a Sante Fe burger at the Prism Palace," Hutch snorted. Starsky glared at him.
"Rudi's an okay guy, but that doesn't mean I wanted to give him any longer to drool over you."
Though Starsky soothed his appetite at Huggy's, the rest of the shift was a mixture of frustration and painful surprise. Huggy found locating The Angel wasn't as easy as usual and could only promise to call as soon as he could make a connection. The Bear wasn't familiar with either LeRon Markus or Marcel Blue and hadn't heard a whisper on the street related to the body in the Mercedes.
The formal autopsy report revealed that Michelle Danbeck had been six weeks pregnant and Starsky and Hutch, when forced to break the news to her husband, worried that they'd face the ultimate irony of a forty-year-old cardiologist dropping with a massive coronary. The search provided nothing of help. Mrs. Danbeck's daily planner only listed the name of a fashionable, expensive boutique and a hair appointment that she'd been unable to keep due to her untimely demise. They found nothing to indicate what might have filled the morning hours prior to her death.
By the time they logged out, they had to drive straight to Jameson for their seven o'clock class and were grateful that they'd thrown notebooks and their class texts into the Torino's back seat just in case. Both men were tired, burdened by the tragedy of their profession, and in need of a hot meal and even hotter shower, but they talked animatedly about the course and sought comfort in the few moments alone and off-duty, even in the confines of the car and restricted to unobtrusive caresses and suggestive eye contact.
Starsky tried to hide his developing case of nerves about his first college class session. He lost himself in Hutch's nearness and the brush of fingertips against his upper arm and thigh while Hutch talked to him in that 'only when we're alone' voice.
Finding the classroom posed little difficulty and they arrived at Wetherby Hall, Room 124 with five minutes to spare. The door was invitingly open, and Starsky, striving for his take-what-comes expression, peered inside. One sweeping look and he backed into the hall, grabbing Hutch's elbow and jerking the blond over to the side of the door with him.
"What the--?" Hutch eyed Starsky with mild alarm on his face.
"They've all got briefcases," Starsky whispered through clenched teeth.
Hutch smiled and shook his head, gentle amusement replacing the alarm. "Come on, buddy, you're not going to be put off by what they use to carry their books--"
"Did you know looking like a junior prosecutor in the DA's office was required for the class?"
"I'd say this class is probably home to more aspiring defense attorneys than anything else." The amused smile threatened to evolve into laughter, but Hutch's face turned stern instead. "Starsk, I guarantee you that no one in that room has seen half of what you've seen, done a quarter of what you've done in your life. You'll be teaching them a thing or two. Ready?"
Surveying their surroundings, Starsky deemed the hallway safe for him to lean closer and say under his breath, "You're one in a million, Blondie. If I survive the next two-and-a-half hours, I'll make ya real happy when we get back to my place." He stood tall and clutched his notebook and "Antigone" text with renewed confidence, and the smile that he carried into the classroom was genuine.
Starsky had to stifle a headshake as he examined the room closely. Instead of rows of desks, a massive round table that could easily sit twenty dominated the room. The prerequisite chalkboard took up one wall, but there was no accompanying 'professor's desk' or lecture podium. About fifteen people had already taken seats at the table; some were nibbling on snacks. That drew Starsky to the table immediately, his stomach rumbling at the sight of several trays containing an array of cookies, trail mix, and chips.
"Soda or fruit juice?"
Starsky turned to the voice and felt an instant sweep of relief that Hutch was right--at least one other thirty-something student shared the class. The man holding an ice-filled cup wore an engaging smile, blue jeans with patches depicting a summer's backpacking tour through Europe, and Moccasins that matched his suede shirt and seemed a natural blend with his shoulder-length brown hair. "Soda or fruit juice?" the man repeated.
Starsky started and chuckled, realizing that he'd been sizing up the fellow student like the subject of a stakeout, cataloguing details for future use. He mentally shrugged out of cop mode. "Soda, thanks."
Laughing as he poured the carbonated beverage, the self-appointed host mused aloud, "Guess you're probably not the trailmix type, either, then."
Starsky shook his head and jerked a thumb over his shoulder at Hutch, who was already in conversation with a young man on his other side. "Nah, but my partner'll be glad to see it. I'm all for the cookies, myself."
"You must be Detective Starsky. First name David, right?"
"I may be a Lit geek, but I do read the newspapers on occasion, and I have a memory for faces," the man answered, handing over the soda with a grin. "Plus, I have the benefit of the class roster to back up my guess. I'm Garner. Nice to have you and Detective Hutchinson on board with us."
"Gar--Dr. Manning?" Starsky nearly dropped the soda before he had a chance to even sip it.
"Garner, please. The dean's the only person who calls me Dr. Manning, and only when I refuse to wear a suit to colloquia." He looked down at his watch and scanned the room. "We're still missing a couple folks, but it's just about time for liftoff."
"Wasn't expecting to be fed," Starsky laughed, hoping he concealed his sudden discomfort at the thought of being measured academically once a week by a peer in age.
Garner nodded and pulled one of the cookie trays within Starsky's reach. "Looks like a nursery school snack time, doesn't it? I've learned from numerous semesters of teaching evening discussion classes that drops in blood sugar aren't conducive to thought-provoking debate."
"Debate?" Starsky swallowed the mouthful of cookie a bit prematurely and fiercely repressed his instinct to choke and sputter. Garner must not have noticed his alarm, because the professor merely smiled again.
"Yes, this is an upper level discussion course. I won't be boring you all senseless with my horrible lecturing voice, for which you should thank me. Believe me, if I launched into a lengthy monologue, it would take more than cookies and soda to keep you awake." Garner looked away and Starsky followed his gaze as two people entered the room. One of the newcomers couldn't have been younger than fifty and she had a ratty book-bag slung over her shoulder. Her age obviously didn't hold her back; she chatted amiably with the young girl at her side.
"She's--" Starsky fell silent, wondering if he should be probing Garner for details about fellow students. He needn't have worried. Garner's perception was acute enough to interpret his aborted comment.
"Bet you thought you'd be the oldest student? That's Angela Carter. The young lady with her is her daughter, Camille. Camille's a junior in the English Department, but Angela is pursuing a degree in Biology. They're a fascinating mother-daughter team. Each semester they take a class together. Last semester, Camille attended one of her mother's science courses to fulfill her lab requirement."
For some reason he couldn't even explain to himself, Starsky felt his chest expand and his shoulders grow considerably lighter. Garner favored him with a parting smile and moved to his own seat. Starsky sat down and tapped Hutch's foot lightly.
Hutch turned and gave him the bright, best friend grin that could still heat Starsky's blood more than some of the blond's more sultry expressions. "Enjoying the refreshments?"
"I think this is gonna be okay, Hutch," Starsky whispered back and popped the rest of the cookie into his mouth. Movement in the corner of his eye caught his attention, and he looked down the table as their professor rose to his feet and cleared his throat.
"Good evening, everybody. I know a few of you from the English Department, but some of you are brand new faces, so in a minute I'm going to ask everyone to give a brief introductory speech. I'll start. I'm Garner Manning, but I don't want you to consider me your professor in the strictest sense of the word. Through the Great Books method, our texts will be teaching all of us. I'm here to take care of the housekeeping duties, mediate the discussion, and stir the pot when the debate slows. I'm going to take center stage for a few minutes to discuss the syllabus and the objectives of the class, and then I'd like to move right into dissecting 'Antigone.' First things first, though, I'd like to make a special introduction."
Manning nodded across the table, and Starsky turned his head again as the man Hutch had been conversing with earlier stood.
"This is Nathan Rowell," Manning said. "He's sitting in on the class as a fun break from his postdoctoral research. During his senior year at Jameson, he suffered through a stint as my research assistant--"
"Come on, Garner, I wouldn't call it suffering," Nathan laughed easily, though Starsky noted that his face showed signs of disliking the spotlight. He was as tall as Hutch and twice as lanky.
Garner waved a hand at him. "The man's too generous, people. He put up with my eclectic and patently weird tastes in music, and that alone makes him worthy of sainthood. Dr. Rowell is following the wise principle that man can't live by scholarship alone--don't let it slip 'round the department that I said that or they'll drum up a way of revoking my tenure--and he has a novel fresh out in the bookstores. Take it from me, it's a killer read and speaks to a finely tuned social conscience that isn't moralistic or self-important. I consider it of a quality to serve as supplemental reading for this course, but Nate said he wouldn't let me use the class to pad the book's sales."
"Now who's too generous?" Nathan shot back, smiling, and sat down again.
"Shaddup, St. Nathaniel; take advantage of some free publicity."
Starsky joined in the laughter that rumbled around the table. When the laughter died, Manning held up a piece of paper and waved it in the air.
"All right, back to Legal Issues in Western Literature. Yank out your syllabus if you brought it with you. While you look for it, here's a secret for you: I'm not a lawyer. My field of expertise is comparative literature. Now, before you think you deserve your money back, let me tell you why that's a good thing. This class isn't supposed to be part of your future law school education if you're headed in that direction. I don't want you to show off how much you already know about habeas whatever and modus whatnot. What we want to do in here is pick the minds of some brilliant writers and thinkers, and come to terms with how we feel as lay people about the concept of law and all its corollaries--justice, ethics, conscience, law enforcement, and government. Anyone want to run yet? Be my guest. Once we crack the book on 'Antigone,' you're officially my prisoners."
More laughter broke out and Starsky kicked back in his chair. He could hack this, after all. Manning was no stuffed-shirt legal eagle waiting to pronounce judgment.
"Did anyone not receive a syllabus in the mail? I know it's not standard practice to expect you to begin reading prior to the first class session, but with a once-a-week class, I really need to jumpstart text debate on the first night. Level with me. If anyone hasn't had a chance to read 'Antigone,' now's when I need to know."
No one raised their hand and Garner heaved a sigh of relief. "Ah, damn, that's good. I stink at Plan Bs. Okay, let's run down the nuts and bolts of the course, and then get to the fun stuff."
Starsky took advantage of briefcase openings, papers shuffling, and other background noises to whisper to Hutch. "Remind me why I was nervous?"
A late-middle-aged man sporting the newest Brooks Brothers' fashion adjusted the napkin in his lap and savored the last sip of the excellent Bordeaux. His dining companion had just exited the restaurant with perfect timing as usual because his next appointment had arrived.
A younger man with considerably less fashion sense sat down at the table and waved away the waiter who descended immediately. "Was that who I think? Was he--?"
The older man set down the wine glass and steepled his fingers under his chin. "Yes, you are correct both in identifying the gentleman and assuming that he was with me. We're old friends."
"You're--? Then with all due respect, Mr. Chandler, if you're old friends with...I mean, why the hell're you so worried about damage control? Can't you play it from inside the police force?"
"No. I've maintained my friendship with him because he knows nothing about this part of my life. He's a straight arrow, with principles; you have to understand. Now, tell me where we stand."
"I think we've got the lid down, sir. Marcel lit out for Vegas the minute we paid up, and we're going to contract somebody there to take care of him. Won't even be traced back here, much less to the situation with LeRon and the Danbeck woman."
"And what about our friend, LeRon? Am I correct that I should be holding you responsible for hiring him?"
"Sir, I... Look, it's a rule on the street that if you supply a junkie's fixes, you own his soul. He followed through like he was supposed to with the Courtney woman, how was I supposed to know that he'd--?"
"Obviously, he reserved some of his soul for his own use! He should have been eliminated after Courtney. Candace Courtney was the possible leak. The Danbeck woman was no threat; she should not have been killed."
"Sir! She could've identified the operation--"
"No! At best, she could have pointed to the boutique, but we're well insulated from that tiny corner of our operation. You need to learn to identify what poses danger and what doesn't. I repeat, what has been done about LeRon?"
"Live by the sword; die by the sword," the younger man quoted inaccurately. "By the time he's found, there won't be any indication that he didn't administer his own horse for the final space ride. His habit is well known on the street."
"And what of Starsky and Hutchinson?"
"They'll be spinning their wheels far, far away from you, sir. Can't get anywhere if they keep running into dead ends. Eventually, they'll be pulled off the case and--"
"That's well and good, but if they start getting even close enough for my hound to sniff them, you remember the leniency I'm showing you about Mr. Markus, and you make sure you repay me for that kindness."
"Y-yes, s-sir, Mr. Chandler."
Starsky stole another look at the clock above the chalkboard--8:30. He didn't need to be reminded now why he'd been nervous. The first thirty minutes of the class had been devoted to what Garner called "housekeeping," but the last hour had focused on what Sophocles intended to say about law and justice in his own time, and Starsky found himself tongue-tied and unable to break into the debate. Hutch had contributed several remarks on the classical concept of "hubris" and seemed at home in the high-speed discussion.
As disappointed as he was in his own performance, Starsky had to marvel at their professor. Manning appeared to know just which three sentences thrown in here and there could steer the students into a direction that generated fifteen minutes of non-stop conversation. He could also insert background information without appearing to be anything more than another participant in the debate. Starsky wondered if this kind of teaching wasn't actually harder than lecturing from a podium.
At that moment, the chatter dwindled and Manning sat forward, reaching for a handful of trail mix. "All right, I have to say I'm impressed. We've covered Sophocles, Plato, and Aristotle. There's certainly intrinsic value in understanding the impact 'Antigone' would have had on the ancient world, but I'd like to take the next hour and consider what Sophocles has to say to us here in 1980 Bay City. How timeless is Sophocles' work? What parallels exist between his world and ours? What issues are we still dealing with as a society? Anyone care to kick-start that discussion?"
Silence filled the room for perhaps a minute. Then, the young woman with a unique cluster of raven braids--Janet?--tapped her pen on the table and said, "I think 'Antigone' is a stern warning for us to adhere to the separation of church and state. Even today, there are attempts by the government to restrict the practices of certain non-mainstream religious societies."
"How exactly are you suggesting we improve as a society?" Angela Carter asked. "I think freedom of belief is one of our country's greatest assets. Prejudice is out there, sure, but our government's laws are designed to protect religious freedom."
"Then why are certain groups forced to practice in secret?" Janet countered. "Because once they earn the title 'cult,' they are subject to closer scrutiny and persecution by the mainstream, be it government officials or law enforcement." She threw a sharp look across the table, and Starsky wished Manning hadn't requested "introductory speeches."
"Law enforcement has nothing to do with 'freedom of belief' and 'religious practice'," Starsky said firmly, surprised when all eyes turned his way. "There's a big difference between freedom to believe or worship whatever you want, and using that belief to commit crime."
"That's the whole point, though," the young man beside Janet spoke up. "What's considered a crime in man's eyes might not be considered a crime in the belief-structure of a particular religious group. In today's society, if church and state are separate, what right does the government have to determine what's a 'crime' when connected with religious practice?"
"Do you really want to live in a society that allows people to rape, murder, kidnap, and commit human sacrifice because they're simply following their view of spirituality?" Starsky shook his head. "I don't. I'd say government always has a right to protect the innocent."
"I agree with David," Camille said. "What good is the freedom to practice religion if someone's dangerous practices take away someone else's basic rights?"
"Such as?" Janet asked.
"Life, liberty, pursuit of happiness, to name a few," Hutch answered quickly. "The right to walk around without fear of being used as the sacrificial lamb in someone's ceremony."
"But that's the age old problem of conflicting rights if you take that argument too far," another student said. "Like with censorship. Freedom of speech and press are sacred, right? But someone could argue that what one person says or writes takes away their right to 'pursuit of happiness'."
"The difference is the restriction of free will," Hutch argued. "Someone can choose what they read or listen to. If a person has a problem with a belief being expressed, he or she can always--in this country, at least--find a way to avoid it. If a cult is committing bodily harm as a ritual, its victims have no choice in the matter."
Starsky said, "The point I get out of 'Antigone' is that she broke the law because the afterlife and her duty to her brother meant more to her than Thebes. Granted, I don't think Creon's law was fair or even good sense, but the point is, what should happen to a person who breaks the law even for so-called right reasons?" He felt warm inside when several people around the table nodded.
"Exactly!" Camille agreed. "I think the main point is that the punishment didn't fit the crime. Antigone burying Polynices posed no threat. It was certainly not an act that deserved the death penalty."
"I disagree," said the boy beside her, who'd introduced himself as Jeff. "What Antigone did was an act of treason. Thebes had just repelled a massive attack. The place would have been in chaos if Creon hadn't exerted control. What she did could have started a civil war."
"Oh, I suppose you'd have sanctioned the government summarily stringing up the war protestors during Vietnam?" Janet asked, back to pen tapping. "Some people believe they were committing treason."
Jeff looked uncomfortable. "N-no. Peaceful assembly and protest are part of our country's tradition. But even things that seem right can have negative consequences. The protesters impacted government policy, and soldiers ended up dying in Vietnam because of it."
"Catch-22," Starsky said. "That's the…what'd you say, Garner? Timeless? Yeah, the timeless thing. Nothin' good ever comes out of keeping people from doing the right thing, but you can't have law and order if you don't have consequences for breaking the law. That's as true today as it was back then. Camille's right, though. The consequences have to match the 'crime.' Creon was determined to break Antigone any way he had to. That's not justice; that's revenge."
Starsky noticed that Hutch visibly flinched, but he couldn't spare a thought for the reason because Janet's flashing dark eyes had pinned him once more from across the table.
"That's an interesting viewpoint for someone with the power behind a badge and gun," Janet commented. "What consequences do you ever face for operating 'above' the law?"
Funny, she doesn't pick on Hutch. "Above the law? The only cops who think they're 'above the law' usually end up losing their badges."
"So you've never used your badge to bend the rules? Not even once?" Janet persisted, and Starsky wished she'd just cease with the pen tapping.
"Wait a minute," Hutch spoke sharply, but Garner held up a hand.
"You don't have to answer that, David. Defending your arguments logically and thoroughly is appreciated, but Socratic discussion does not need to include personal questions about your life outside this classroom."
Starsky smiled and included Janet in the smile. "That's okay. I've had to answer tougher questions under oath. She's got a point, and it's relevant. Yeah, I've been known to get creative with regulations--for good cause. Usually to keep somebody breathing, if you want the truth. Do I think I'm above the law? Hell, no. Antigone didn't get away with what she did even though she was Creon's niece, and my badge doesn't keep me from facing consequences. And if Hutch or I ever did break the law, Internal Affairs would shred us and then throw us to the mercy of civil law. Cops don't get the benefit of 'innocent until proven guilty.' We gotta work under a higher standard than you do as an ordinary citizen every day of the week."
Camille held up the nearest tray of cookies. "Well said, David. I'm sure this isn't what you normally associate with 'policemen's barbecue,' right?"
Laughter broke out and even Janet joined in. She tucked her pen in her jacket pocket and grabbed a cookie off the tray Camille held. "Thanks for answering my question."
Starsky nodded. "Sure, anytime."
Hutch carried two heavily laden plates, beer cans tucked securely under each arm, into the living room and dropped down on the sofa beside his robe-clad partner, who was studying a piece of paper as if it held the answer to their current investigation.
"The syllabus?" Hutch asked, setting up their late-night meal on the coffee table.
"Yep. Man, Hutch, that looks good. I could eat the plate, too." Starsky snatched one half of the impressive cold-cut sandwich and chomped into it. Hutch laughed.
"If you hadn't jumped me the minute we closed the door behind us, we'd have eaten before now."
"Imgghr lifkfjump youmff…."
"I can usually break your code, Starsk, but not when your mouth's full."
Starsky swallowed. "I like jumping you."
"So I noticed--not that I'm complaining." Hutch bit into his own sandwich and after a moment, said, "What did you think of class tonight?"
Starsky pointed the sandwich at the syllabus now resting in his lap. "Eleven papers, Hutch, plus a big one at the end. How'n the hell--?"
"Eleven small papers," Hutch clarified. "Would you rather a couple of those papers be a midterm or final exam instead?"
"Nah. I hate exams. A five-to-eight-page paper might be small to you, but it sounds like a novel to me right now, especially when the first one's due Monday."
"Monday before the department office closes. I think he's being more than fair. He's allowing almost a week to write each paper, but he's only giving himself two days to grade them."
"And we have to be ready to discuss 'Measure for Measure'. Told ya I needed a head start." Starsky shook his head and bit down on the sandwich. "Anf dicschfmm is--" He stopped and swallowed quickly. "Sorry. Discussion is thirty percent of the grade. Didn't notice that until Garner mentioned it tonight."
Starsky popped the top on his beer and took a long draught.
"Back to my earlier question. What did you think of class?"
Starsky put the can back on the table. "It's not as bad as high school or even some of the Academy classes. You know, the teacher calling on you and making you feel like a chump if you don't know the answer right off the top of your head. But I get the feeling that Manning knows exactly who's not talkin' much and who didn't read, or who's not payin' attention. He's got it together. He might look more like a student than a professor, but that doesn't fool me."
"You like him, don't you?"
Starsky nodded. "Yeah, but I'm trying hard not to."
Starsky's face was deadly serious when he said, "Because in school whenever I actually liked a teacher, I ended up with a lower grade. Figure that one out. What about you? What you think of him?"
"I think he's ideally suited for this kind of course. I'm actually glad he's not a lawyer. Can you imagine what it would've been like taking a class under some slick, silver-tongued lawyer? I'd rather work in Supply for a month."
Starsky laughed and scrunched his nose in amused distaste. "Well, Professor Hit Man wouldn't have been any fun, either."
Hutch shivered dramatically, grinning. "Ugh. You're right; Professor Gage was definitely one of those 'put you on the spot' kind of teachers. I walked in the room and got attacked right off the bat." He nibbled at the sandwich, lost in a memory of his undercover experience at Jameson. He shrugged the unpleasant thought off and smiled at his enthusiastically chewing partner. "Sounds like you're okay with the class, then?"
Starsky nodded. "Yeah." After a sip of beer, he added, "I think so. The first hour was--" he pointed a thumb downward-- "but I guess I redeemed myself in the last half. As long as every week's not open season on cops, I can handle it."
Hutch reached over and caressed Starsky's knee. "You reacted like a professional, babe."
"Oh? So I concealed how much I wanted to get in her face?"
Hutch threw his head back and roared at the image Starsky's comment produced. "Oh, yeah. Yeah. Starsk, I know that look, and if hardened felons back the hell down from it, what do you think it would've done to a twenty-year-old college kid? You concealed it nicely, trust me."
"That damn pen tapping. We need to use that in interrogation sometime. It's effective. And why wasn't she picking on you, Detective?"
Hutch brushed fingertips on his t-shirt and puffed out his chest. "I'm her type, I guess. What can I say?"
"You're trying to get me started," Starsky accused.
"Finish your sandwich."
"Hutch, something I said tonight bothered you, didn't it?"
Hutch frowned. He'd hoped that Starsky hadn't noticed. Right, he was in love with one of the most observant individuals on the planet. "What you said about Creon and justice as opposed to revenge…."
"You were talking about me, too. I'd have broken Gunther, brought him down any way I had to, my philosophy about murder having nothing to do with justice be damned if you'd--" Hutch averted his face from Starsky's bright eyes.
"You arrested him, babe. Sent him on a one-way ride into hell courtesy of the American justice system."
"Yes, but the other way was there, thrumming in me, too," Hutch argued, looking back at Starsky and murmuring, "Without the hope of knowing you were alive and healing, I'd have given in to it."
"In the heat of the moment, maybe, if he'd given you a chance to draw down on him, not cold with time to think about it."
"Heat of the moment or not, Starsky, what's the damn difference--?" Hutch felt his chest tighten as Starsky's raised eyebrows silenced him.
"I know what you're thinking about, and it's apples and oranges. Lieutenant Slate planned a murder. Going after Biggs in the squadroom was heat of the moment, but planning a murder? That's a different story. Not only that, he was using his badge and the weight he carried on the force to have his cake and eat it, too. He wanted to get the ultimate revenge on his daughter's attacker and still walk around a free man himself. You're not capable of premeditated murder, but if I hadn't come back to you and you'd killed Gunther in cold blood, what would've been your next move?"
Starsky nodded. "Exactly. You'd've turned yourself in the next minute, or…or…" Starsky let the sentence hang and he gripped Hutch's hand, for his own sake as much as Hutch's. "Like I told Janet, we don't expect our badges to protect us. You 'n' me both have done some crazy things when pushed to the limit, but we've always faced up to the consequences. We're not gods, Hutch, but we don't go around leveling iron fists on people. We're not in Creon's camp for sure."
"Oh, to have your clarity of thought," Hutch marveled.
Starsky snorted. "One of my two main purposes in life is to keep you from wallowing in self-examination."
"Yeah? And what's the other one?"
"To supply your daily quota of orgasms," Starsky said without hesitation, winking, and ducking as Hutch hurled a crumb of bread at him.
The next day's heat index was exceeded only by Hutch's frustration. He'd decided by lunchtime that scaling a sheer rock wall in ballet slippers would be an easy task compared to finding a lead in the Danbeck case that didn't end in a blind alley. Less than a minute after Starsky polished off the last bite of a chiliburger that gave Hutch sympathetic gastric pain just from proximity, the car radio blared with a patch-through landline call from Huggy. Mouth full of turkey salad sandwich, Hutch gestured wildly at the mic. Starsky waved fingers shiny with grease at him and Hutch rolled his eyes, thrusting a napkin at his partner and grabbing for the mic himself.
"Hutch? Glad I caught you. I made contact with The Angel. She's willing to entertain you two gent'men whenever you want."
"Finally! Much appreciated, Huggy. We've been running in place on this thing."
"Uh, Hutch, if I was you, I'd have that cannon out of my holster and in full view for intimidation purposes. She's moved into a neighborhood that don't take kindly to heat, you catch my drift? Her new pad's a one-room over on Farrington. Town View, Number 13."
Starsky grimaced and leaned over to share the mic. "Sounds like she stepped down a few rungs on the ladder."
"Yeah, Curly, her fortunes ain't what they once were, but she's still got an unlimited supply of brains and her spirit would do Ali proud, so don't go showin' her none of your bright-eyed sympathy. She thinks you 'n' Hutch both walk without the formality of stepping on the ground. I guess everyone's gotta have a blind spot."
"Bad day at the bar, Hug?" Hutch asked, grinning at image of The Bear in his "mean mistreater" role.
Starsky took the mic from Hutch and said peaceably, "Thanks for the connection, Huggy."
"Yeah, yeah. Pay some on your tab and call it even."
"Who's he kidding?" Starsky laughed as Hutch cranked the car.
"Can't blame him for trying," Hutch shot back, wanting to wipe the chili smudge from Starsky's chin with a lingering fingertip, but settling for tossing another napkin into his partner's lap and pointing at the offending spot. "I think he's still not over being kept in the dark about us."
Thursday lunch-hour traffic was heavier than usual, and the drive ate twenty minutes of their shift. Hutch pulled in front of the first ramshackle apartment building, and Starsky patted the glove compartment in front of him fondly.
"Glad we're in your car. I wouldn't want to subject the Torino to the hubcap hungry sharks in this neck of the woods."
Hutch groaned. "Right. Like you haven't taken that precious car into worse areas of town than this. The only reason you haven't had trouble before now is the common knowledge that you'd rip the balls off anyone who even had a larcenous thought in the Torino's vicinity."
At Starsky's heated grin, Hutch lifted a finger. "And don't even walk into that big open door I provided you, because these pants are the only ones I had clean today, and they're two sizes too small and tight enough already!"
Starsky laughed. "Why else do ya think I've been following you all day?" He made a show of allowing Hutch to take the lead.
Hutch kept one hand beneath his jacket within a second's reach of his Magnum, but the derelicts hanging out on the front steps and in the hallways and stairwells of the apartment building showed no sign of wanting a confrontation.
The door to Room 13 was wide open as if The Angel had been expecting them any moment. Despite the obvious invitation to enter, Starsky, hand beneath his light jacket, too, peered with one eye into the room and called, "Angel?"
"Ye-ah, I hear you. See you, too. With my mind."
Hutch smiled at The Angel's standard greeting and took the first step into the room. He pulled up short so suddenly that Starsky plowed into his back. Flushing at the faux pas of staring, Hutch looked off to the side at the dingy bed tucked away in a corner and tried to compose his thoughts. He heard Starsky's intake of breath and hoped his partner would equally salvage the blunder. Too late. The Angel had burst into her knowing laughter.
"Not what you were expecting? Don'tcha recognize The Angel?"
Hutch forced a smile and watched as Starsky did the same. No, she wasn't what they'd expected. The black woman in the rocking chair looked even less like the sequin-gowned lady in the photo on her table. Gray nearly dominated the dark curls and she'd lost weight, the unhealthy weight loss of someone sickly. Her dress looked like a hand-me-down from someone twice her size. Huggy was right, as usual, about her spirit. Despite the thinned face, the chocolate eyes were capable of warming smiles or slicing a man in half.
"Thank you for seeing us," Starsky said, bowing low over her hand. She giggled. Starsky released her hand and moved over to the side, his intent clear; it was Hutch's turn to pay homage.
Hutch noticed, chest burning, that Starsky unobtrusively slipped a newspaper over the needle and spoon on the side table by the rocking chair. Hutch decided against embarrassing Starsky by letting on that he'd seen the subtle movement. He bent over The Angel's other hand and kissed it with a bright smile. She giggled again.
"Why don'tcha quit making fresh and tell The Angel what you here for? I'm guessin' you chasin' another hype?"
"We're hoping you could help us locate someone, yes. His name's LeRon Markus. Do you know him?" Instead of letting her hand go, Hutch tightened his grip because The Angel's face had twisted in acute pain.
"The Angel knew… Lord knows, she knew there'd come a day. Yeah, I know him. Known him for years. What's he done?"
"We're not sure. We only want to ask him some questions."
"Give it to me straight," she snapped at Starsky.
"Angel," Hutch said soothingly. She flashed her eyes at him with equal fervor.
"You think I'm gonna get word to him that he needs to blow town? If I's gonna do that, I'd do it anyway. What's the harm in telling me why you want him?"
Hutch glanced at Starsky and then leaned closer to The Angel, speaking softly. "We have reason to believe he has information about an abandoned Mercedes on Chandler and the dead woman found in the car."
"Dead? You mean, killed?"
"At this point it's definitely a suspicious death," Starsky said.
"LeRon ain't murdered nobody. He's not capable. Even strung out, he's not capable. You can take The Angel's word on that."
"We'd like to, Angel, but we can't. If LeRon had nothing to do with her death, he has nothing to fear from us."
The Angel snorted scornfully at Hutch's reassurance. "Hah. Right. A young, black junkie with nothing to fear from the po-lice? That's a laugh. LeRon had to fear everybody. How many times did he try to go straight--kick the habit? Lemme tell ya something. Everyone who's had one--even one!--horseback ride bears the mark. A big 'H' like that 'A' in old-timey book…what was it? 'The Scarlet Letter?' Some people manage to hide it better." She closed her mouth and looked away from Hutch, who released her hand as if bee-stung and stumbled back a few steps, trying to ignore the look of blatant alarm on Starsky's face.
"LeRon couldn't hide it," The Angel continued, looking at Starsky. "Stuck out all over him. Even when he'd go off it for weeks, he couldn't keep an honest job. Somehow the boss'd figure out what he'd been, and LeRon'd get booted out. I watched him go through that cycle more times'n I wanna count. He's a good boy! Bigger heart than any man in this godforsaken city."
"When's the last time you talked to him?" Starsky asked.
"Couple months ago, right before I moved over here. He was working again, but he wouldn't talk about it, so I'm sure it was something I'd've been worried about. Most likely running errands for somebody willing to take advantage of his habit."
"Do you know where we can find him?"
The Angel sighed. "After his mama kicked him out, he didn't have a proper home, poor boy, and was too damn proud to do anything about it. I'm only telling you this 'cause I know if he's done got himself hooked up with killers, he'll be safer with you. Last I heard, he'd set himself up a little squatter's pad in an abandoned warehouse at the end of Marshall. He went to the Mission every day for a shower and a bowl of soup. If he's not either'a those places, I don't know how else to help you." She looked in immediate danger of crying, but her face turned harsh instead of soft with sadness and she closed her eyes. "Go now. The Angel is tired."
Starsky kissed her hand again. She smiled through the rough mask. Hutch backed away without repeating the gesture of chivalry, and The Angel's closed eyes flew open. She watched him warily.
"Swiiing lo-o-w, sweet chariot," she crooned suddenly in that incredible voice that shook Hutch's soul. "Comin' for to carry me home. Swiiing lo-o-w, sweet cha-ariot, comin' for to carry me ho-o-me…."
Hutch smiled and walked up to the chair, seizing her hand and planting a soft kiss on the palm. She laughed. "Knew you couldn't resist."
When they reached the door, her voice halted their exit. "You find LeRon, you tell him I wanna see him."
Hutch felt Starsky's eyes on his profile all the way down to the car. He felt the dark blue stare as he drove away from the apartment building. The concerned sideways glances didn't cease until he snapped, "I'm fine, Starsky!"
Unfortunately, LeRon wasn't fine, and Hutch spent the rest of the afternoon in a numb daze. He'd seen countless dead bodies in every imaginable condition, but nothing prepared him for the blow to his equilibrium from the young man seemingly at perfect repose on a dirty mattress in a warehouse corner. Only the syringe at his side told a different story.
Hutch heard Starsky talking to him, but he made no effort to respond. Starsky eventually disappeared and some corner of Hutch's mind knew his partner had gone to call in. The first black-and-white unit arrived just moments later. Part of Hutch flared back to life when a young officer made an off-color remark about heroin addicts and wound up with an irate Starsky in his face.
"What?" the officer shouted. "What'd I say? It's the truth. It always kills 'em in the end. Once a junkie, always a damn--"
Hutch had to intervene, pulling Starsky back by the shoulders.
"What's his problem?" demanded the officer's partner. Hutch glared at the uniformed cops.
"The man's dead!" Hutch answered, his voice more in control than he felt. "I'm sure you have more important things to do than stand around passing judgment. We want this treated like a crime scene." He felt the tension in Starsky's shoulders give way beneath his hands. When the officers moved well out of earshot, still shaking their heads in unison, Hutch breathed a barely audible, "I love you," and released his partner.
Hutch kept his composure during the next six hours only through years of learned discipline and meditation. Everywhere he turned, he faced a grim reminder of the nightmare he'd narrowly avoided. He and Starsky endured a harrowing session with LeRon's mother, who exhibited next to no signs of mourning, merely a resigned acceptance of a fate she'd foreseen years ago for her son, whom she hadn't seen in ten years. She'd kicked him out so his "nasty habit" wouldn't be a bad influence on his younger brother.
Hutch still felt the remnants of the odd daze when he followed Starsky into Dobey's office an hour later. He sank into a chair, grateful for a minute to catch his breath, and listened to Starsky update the captain on where they stood in the Danbeck investigation.
The captain's skepticism about LeRon's death being anything other than a self-inflicted drug overdose, whether purposeful or accidental, should not have surprised Hutch, but he sat forward in the chair and interrupted their superior mid-sentence.
"Captain, believe me, Starsky and I aren't trying to manufacture a case out of thin air. We have enough to do without creating more work for ourselves. But look at the facts: a wealthy homemaker is found dead of an OD in a section of town she has no business in; we have an eyewitness who could ID the driver of her car as LeRon Markus, a street hype who should have no plausible reason to be with Michelle Danbeck--"
"And who apparently ran with a nasty set," Starsky interrupted, "that our snitch refused under any circumstances to discuss."
"The same snitch," Hutch continued, "who made us chase him into an alley. Fleet Feet's one of our best, Cap'n. He puts up a tough show whenever we track him down for info, but he'd do anything for us; he knows he owes us for his second chance. Something had to seriously spook him into running the minute he caught sight of the Torino."
"Add that to the fact that LeRon's longtime pal has gone suspiciously AWOL and LeRon turns up dead. I'm seeing a fuzzy picture here, Cap'n, that needs some clearing up."
Dobey shook his head. "He's a junkie. Even if he's involved with something shady, there's still no hard evidence of--"
Hutch threw his hands in the air and jumped to his feet. "What is this? Connect the dots, all of a sudden? Come on, Captain, there're a lot of unanswered questions here. Do you--?" Hutch took a deep breath. "Do you have any idea what kind of will power, what strength of purpose, it took for a junkie to walk away from a purse filled with credit cards, cash, and cocaine, not to mention the jewelry she was wearing? Do you? No? Well, I do. I. Do."
Starsky neared and a warm hand pressed against Hutch's back, and Captain Dobey looked ready to raise his fist and lecture. The phone shrilled. Dobey grabbed the receiver, growled into it, and fell immediately silent. He hung up the phone. "Get down to the lab; Ginny has something for you. Looks like you're on target. She's leaning toward ruling homicide in the Markus death."
They found Ginny in her small anteroom office off the main lab. She looked up from a file and smiled. "That was fast. I don't usually have such luck tracking you two down."
"What've you got, Ginny?" Hutch asked sharply. He felt Starsky's hand brush against his elbow and calmed. Ginny gave no sign of noticing an undercurrent. She reached over and took a file from a stack, opening it and glancing through it.
"On the surface, it looks like a garden-variety heroin OD. I'm not the detective around here, but I'd say that's what it was supposed to look like. Unfortunately for person or persons unknown, somebody made a mistake. There were no fingerprints on the syringe. None."
"When LeRon's or--"
"Yes," she interrupted Starsky. "Not picking up LeRon's prints wouldn't have set off the alarm bells. Hypes often travel in pairs precisely because sometimes they need help with the tourniquet and injection. But in this case, someone either used a brand-new needle and wore gloves, or the syringe was wiped clean. Why? That's not standard procedure for addicts; I know that much. That got me looking a bit closer. I found barely noticeable with skin tone, but easily identified bruising on the right temple. That's evidence that Mr. Markus was held at gunpoint, I'd say shortly before death. The sum of those parts is a forced injection--at least, that's my humble estimation."
"If he was held at gunpoint, why wasn't he just forced to inject himself?" Starsky asked. "His prints would've been on the syringe and we wouldn't be standing here right now talking about murder."
"He may have passed out, or under those conditions, he may not have been able to manage the physical dexterity required for injection," Ginny answered. "Panic does strange things to people."
"And the gun was just a bluff," Starsky said, continuing her line of reasoning. "As long as someone wanted us to write it off as a heroin OD, they couldn't go putting bullet holes in him."
"He might have called that bluff," Hutch said. "A junkie who walks away from that stash in Michelle's car is capable of refusing to shoot himself up. God!" Hutch left the room at a brisk stride.
Starsky glanced up from his copy of "Antigone" and frowned. He'd known all afternoon that Hutch was battling demons, and had been powerless against them. Right now, Hutch was sitting at his kitchen table, staring aimlessly down at the newspaper spread in front of him. Starsky closed the notebook in which he'd been scribbling down notes for his paper and threw "Antigone" down on the sofa beside it. He'd had enough. Only a distracted, hurting Hutch would chew absently through the spaghetti sauce and meatball sandwich Starsky fed him without protesting the concoction. It was only a miserable Hutch who'd snap at him for asking what Garner meant precisely by a "reaction paper," and who would insist on washing off the day's grit and grime without someone to scrub his back and other parts.
Starsky crossed over to the table and bent down, arms sliding around Hutch's shoulders, lips seeking out his smooth cheek. "Why don't we call it a night, Blondie?"
"Starsky," Hutch said with a note of warning.
"Shh," Starsky ordered softly and tilted Hutch's head back so he could kiss his hurting blond, admittedly from an odd angle, but successfully nonetheless, judging by Hutch's soft moan.
Hutch clung to his lips and Starsky smiled into the kiss. He would make up for the last several hours. He'd see to it that Hutch melted into a dreamless sleep. He'd-- Starsky opened his eyes. Hutch had pulled out of the kiss and was staring at him.
"Starsk, I'm not--"
"You think I don't know you're not up for a grand seduction? What, you think I was kissin' you like that just so I could have my way with you?"
Hutch grinned. "Considering that your sex drive is more durable than a fall-out shelter, yes."
"Sorry, that's not what I had in mind."
"What did you have in mind?"
"Why don't you let me take you to bed and show ya?" Starsky wheedled, slipping his fingers through Hutch's hair with just enough pressure to massage the scalp. Hutch reached up and seized the busy hand and kissed the palm lingeringly. Starsky closed his eyes. "Hey, don't mess with my resolve. Are you coming or am I gonna have to drag you?"
"By the hair, caveman?"
Starsky cursed the flush of color he could feel taking over his cheeks. "If I hafta."
Hutch laughed and Starsky decided the joke at his expense was more than worth it.
"I should really water--"
"Forget the damn plants for once," Starsky growled, and tugged on his partner's hand until Hutch rose and embraced him.
"Been an asshole tonight, haven't I?" Hutch murmured into his ear.
"All part of your charm." Starsky laughed. "I get off on you playing hard to get."
"Oh, is that what I was doing?"
"Yeah, but now you're just being irritating."
Once Starsky had maneuvered Hutch to the brass bed, he quickly divested him of the shorts and jersey, and stepped back so Hutch's wandering fingers could locate his belt buckle. "I'm supposed to be doing the work here," Starsky protested.
Hutch pulled the zipper down slowly. "I like undressing you." His hand shifted, searching, and Starsky bit down on his lip. "Getting that first peek of…" Hutch's thumb tickled across his crown. Starsky grasped the knowing hand and tugged.
"Stop. I got definite plans and you're messin' with 'em."
"You're in charge," Hutch said, smiling, and raising his hands in surrender. Starsky nodded firmly, shed the rest of his clothes, and pushed the already nude Hutch back on the bed.
"Oooh, yeah, love it when you get like this," Hutch purred.
"Not what you think," Starsky corrected, climbing on the bed with him.
"You're not going primal on me?"
"Nope," Starsky said. "You're way too tense tonight. It'd be more pain than pleasure. I wanna drown you in pleasure." And with that, he took Hutch's lips in a gentle kiss. He pulled away quickly and kissed the hollow of Hutch's throat. "I want to put you to sleep so maybe tomorrow you'll talk to me."
"I'm not exactly mute right now."
"You know what I mean. You won't get past it until you talk, but you're not ready. I know you better'n you know you," Starsky said sagely, punctuating the words with a sloppy kiss in the center of Hutch's chest.
"You do," Hutch said softly, his hands finding purchase in Starsky's hair.
Starsky arranged his partner as comfortably as possible down to the perfect fluffing of the pillow behind the blond head. He warmed his hands with the scented oil on the nightstand and devoted himself to the expanse of silky skin that waited, the glisten of anticipatory sweat stirring his own need.
With discipline he didn't know he had, he covered nearly every inch of Hutch's body with his mouth and hands, instinctively knowing which part needed lips and which benefited most by fingers. He knew he was driving Hutch insane, could tell by his body's twitching, by the strangled sounds emerging from pursed lips. He offered no mercy or respite. Only when Hutch lay mindless beneath him, the day's painful associations obliterated in erotic haze, would Starsky transfer his attentions and guide him over the threshold.
He knew when the moment arrived. Hutch arched taut, exhaled in a breathless scream, and pleaded with foggy eyes. Starsky smiled and took his lover's needy erection in hand, but his touch was soft, caressing, and Hutch whimpered rather than shouted his way to climax. Starsky bathed him eagerly with open lips, thrilling at the sounds of Hutch's satisfaction.
He twisted out of Hutch's reach, when a large hand sought his own neglected cock. "No, go to sleep. Don't want you to even breathe hard."
Hutch frowned. "But--"
"Sleep," Starsky repeated. "I'll accept an IOU."
Hutch shook his head. "You're a stronger man than I am," he mumbled, his eyes already closing. Starsky smiled.
"Never been in love like this before," Starsky whispered against Hutch's forehead, stretching out and pulling the snoozing blond into his arms.
Starsky nearly fell off the bed when the phone blared in the darkness. For a second, he thought about tossing caution to the wind and answering it himself. He shook his head in disgust. No, Hutch would be more upset at the risk than having to wake up. This was yet another problem that sharing a house would solve. He woke Hutch and moved so his partner could reach the phone.
"Hutchinson. Hey, no problem. What're you doing there? Oh. How's Lizzie holding up? Right. So, what's going down? Um hm…yeah. Jesus! No, no this is critical info. Thanks. Hold on." Hutch leaned farther across the bed and rummaged in the drawer for a pen and pad. "Got it. Okay. 555-7890. Thanks."
Hutch hung up the phone and paused in mid-stretch. Starsky stroked his back. "What?"
Hutch sat up and turned around. "Flores fielded a call at the station--"
"Their case has them on the graveyard shift tonight. Anyway, Rudi called wanting to get in touch with us. He won't talk to anyone but us. Arturo said he sounded scared out of his mind."
Starsky sat up, rubbing his eyes, and looked at the clock. "Almost two in the mornin'. Got to be something to do with Marcel."
"That's what I'm thinking." Hutch's smile was starlight in the relative darkness, and Starsky knew it had nothing to do with the phone call. "Come'ere, you."
Starsky leaned forward at the soft command, only to be wrapped in strong arms and kissed tenderly. "What was that for?" he asked when Hutch released him.
"For giving me what I needed earlier." Hutch's smile faded as he looked at the phone. "I have a feeling we're going back to work after just two hours of sleep."
Twenty minutes later, Starsky led the way up a rickety fire escape in an alley between two three-story buildings. Like Venice Place, Rudi's loft apartment was situated above what was a flourishing restaurant during the day. Standing off to the side on the narrow top step, Starsky rapped on the door and flashed a nod at Hutch, who waited on the opposite side of the third step down, weapon at ready.
The door opened a crack, and a frightened face peeked into the night. The fear gave way to a relieved half-smile, and Rudi waved a welcoming hand, stepping back to let the detectives inside.
"Where is he?" Hutch asked, looking around and holstering the Magnum.
Disheveled, clothes wrinkled, Rudi's appearance reflected his state of mind. "In the bedroom."
Starsky turned around. He had taken in their surroundings in one observant glance and had seen nothing in the large, faux-Oriental studio apartment that resembled a separate room, much less one with a bed.
Rudi sighed and flung an arm out, gesturing across the wide-open space at the wall painted to give the appearance of bamboo. "Behind the partition," he clarified. "It's wall-to-wall. Just push it gently; you'll see the handle. I'm going to fix him something to eat and make him eat it, dammit."
Hutch located the handle and pushed. The room revealed was no gaudy Shangri-la, but a modest sleeping area with Spartan furnishings except for a king-size bed that swallowed the slender black man curled into a near fetal position in its center.
Marcel uncurled in a startled explosion of arms and legs and scrambled back toward the headboard. "RUDI!"
"Hey, easy, Rudi called us. We're here to help." Starsky fished out his badge and flipped it open for the frightened man to see.
Pounding footsteps heralded Rudi's return. He pushed by Starsky and dropped a tray of bread and cheese on the nightstand before he practically leapt onto the bed and pulled Marcel against him. "Shh, I'm right here. Right here, hold tight. These are the cops I told you about. We agreed to call them, remember?" He cradled Marcel's head against his chest and looked up, wide-eyed. "See, you believe me now? Look at him! You think he'd be in this shape right now if he didn't know someone was trying to kill him?"
"We never said we didn't believe you, Rudi. We're here, aren't we?" Hutch sat down on the foot of the bed and tried to make eye contact with Marcel. "Marcel, I'm Hutch, and the man with no fashion sense is my partner, Starsky."
"Hey!" Starsky protested, playing along and knowing full well what Hutch was doing.
Marcel raised his head and managed a small laugh. "Ain't neither of you candidates for GQ."
Hutch grinned. "Well, we can't all have Rudi's taste in clothing."
Marcel smiled. "Nobody dresses better than Rudi."
Rudi rolled his eyes, laughing. "Got to live up to the stereotype, right? The sacrifices I make for the sake of gay pride."
Marcel gave him a shove and moved out of the protective hold and a few feet away on the bed. "Watch your mouth, Rudi. This ain't happy hour at Prism."
Rudi grinned at his friend. "Don't worry. I gave them the litmus test."
"Litmus test?" Starsky asked, watching the two men share a private smile and wondering if Marcel's close shave had changed the nature of their relationship.
"Yeah. When you two didn't conjure up an excuse to arrest me after I pulled my butch Romeo routine, I figured you were okay."
Starsky winced, remembering his reaction. "Sorry about the wrist."
Rudi smiled and rubbed his arm. "No harm done. Damn, you got one hell of a fine grip, though." His tone labeled the last remark a sincere compliment.
Starsky was mildly alarmed at the vivid flush spreading across Hutch's neck. Before the tide of color could reach his partner's cheeks, Starsky rushed to intercept the dangerous conversation. "It's late and I'm sure Marcel needs some sleep, so why don't we hear the story? What happened?"
Marcel looked at Rudi, who nodded. With a practiced eye, Starsky catalogued Marcel's body language and appearance. The man could have been Huggy Bear's twin in size, though not in mannerism or style. Starsky figured he was probably quiet and unobtrusive as a rule outside of his stage performances. His clothes were in worse condition than Rudi's; one black pant leg was ripped and coated with street dust, and his beige shirt had obvious sweat stains. Starsky guessed that Rudi's clothing had come by its wrinkles through constant physical comforting, similar to the telltale signs his own clothing had worn after a bout of holding Hutch. His mind flashed on the image of a needy, addicted Hutch clinging in his embrace, and he banished the thought quickly. Rudi was talking in low, reassuring tones, urging Marcel to tell everything.
"I left for Vegas Wednesday morning."
"Marcel," Rudi said firmly.
"All right!" Marcel shouted. Rudi reached over and clasped one slender black wrist and Marcel calmed immediately. "Rudi says you guys came round the Prism Wednesday asking for me, looking for LeRon."
"Yes," Hutch said, face blank and giving away no hint of what had transpired since then.
"Tuesday afternoon a couple of well-dressed Johns came in the club while I was practicing for the night show. Bought me a drink, wined and dined me real fancy nice, you know? Told me they wanted to hire LeRon for a snatch-and-run job. The mouth of the two offered me what he called a facilitation fee if I could help them find him. I told 'em all I knew--where LeRon's crashing lately, where he hangs out. 'Bout an hour before closing, one of them came back and laid five hundred big ones on me. Thanked me like a gentleman and said he'd liked my act. He even gave me a card for a dude in Vegas who runs a jazz club and told me if I ever wanted to branch out, I should look this guy up."
"So you just dropped your job here and headed out?"
Marcel's lips twisted into a grimace, and he looked quickly away from Starsky. "I didn't drop it. I just switched with Kayla for Wednesday and Thursday nights' shows. I'm s'posed to sing tonight and Saturday for her. Look, this was a chance I couldn't pass up. Clubs in Vegas shell out some righteous dough for the right act and it's close enough I can double up and triple my weekly take. I got--"
"Debts," Hutch said with ferocity in the one word that caught Starsky's attention. "Five-hundred dollars in your pocket must have been burning quite a hole."
"Yeah, so? I get lucky in Vegas. I owe money to two bookies and one card-runner here, so yeah, I thought I might clean up out there and get out from under it."
"All right. What happened in Vegas?"
"The first day, nothing. I played around the slots and tables, went to see the man at the club. Classy joint. I sang for him and he liked what he heard, so he asked me to come back this afternoon so his partner could hear me. I told him I would." Marcel's face changed and he started to shudder. Rudi moved closer.
"Something happened on the way to the second appointment, right?" Starsky asked, already seeing the pattern fall into place.
"I-if you c-call someone taking a sh-shot at me at the same time I nearly got r-run over right outside my m-motel something happening, y-yeah."
"Double jeopardy," Hutch said, eyes fixed on Starsky, who nodded.
"What? What's that?" Rudi demanded, bouncing a look between them.
"A hit technique that's usually foolproof," Hutch replied. "Professional, precise. The driver and sniper synchronize so that the sound of the shot stuns a target and leaves an opportunity for a clean, fatal hit-and-run, which is what usually goes down in the books. It might sound like overkill, but it's ninety-nine percent accurate. Marcel must lead a charmed life. How did--?"
"I dunno. I guess I--" Marcel took a deep breath and rolled his shoulders several times. "I tripped over a pothole in the street. I-I heard the shot and I-I think instinct took over. I'm not even s-sure how I m-missed the car, but I just kept running and didn't stop 'til I spotted a cab. Had him take me to a fleabag and c-called R-Rudi."
"I dropped everything and went to get him," Rudi said. "He wouldn't hear of going to the Vegas PD, and I didn't really wanna deal with the unknown, either, so I brought him back here and talked him into letting me call you."
"W-why would someone wanna...I'm…I'm nothing."
Starsky stared at the checkered bedspread to avoid meeting Marcel's eyes until he could relocate his cop's impartiality. "Offhand, I'd say the same people you sold LeRon to are not taking any chances on you living to tell tales."
"Wait just a damn minute!" Rudi barked.
"Starsky--" Hutch began, but stopped at the hand Starsky lifted.
"Sold?" Marcel threw uncertain looks around the room, one for each man. "What're you--? What the hell are you trying to say, man?"
"Come on, Marcel, you've been around," Starsky said with dangerous neutrality. "You really expect me to believe you thought these guys offering you a fee were LeRon's fairy godmothers?"
"What should I have thought? They'd heard about his rep for quick, in-out deals. He'd make one helluva professional thief if he could stay off the horse."
"Yeah?" Palms down on the bed, Starsky leaned forward and said, low and tight, "He won't hafta worry about that now!"
"What's...what's he talking about?" Marcel whined at Hutch.
Hutch turned to face him. "LeRon was found dead this afternoon. Evidence suggests that he was murdered and someone used heroin to do it."
"LeRon. D-dead?" Marcel's voice had diminished to a mere whisper.
Starsky threw up both hands and turned his back on the bed.
"Where was he? Where'd you--?"
"Oh, God. If they f-found him there, he died th-thinking I...no one else knew where he was crashing at night."
"The Angel knew," Starsky said without turning around. "That's how we found him."
"Th-The Angel! You been to see The Angel? She know LeRon's dead?"
"No, we're planning on breaking the news to her later today," Hutch said gently.
"She don't have to know a-about m-me, right? I mean, what good would that--?"
"Why not?" Starsky asked, swinging around again. But Marcel clamped his lips together and trembled. "No, we won't be telling anyone outside our chain of command that you're here or what you've told us. We have no intention of letting you end up like LeRon."
"Marcel," Hutch said with a slight headshake at Starsky, "has LeRon said anything to you recently about his activities? How he's been affording his fixes?"
"No…he said about a month ago that soon he'd be able to skip this town and get a fresh start somewhere, but he wouldn't spill any details. I-I haven't seen much of him lately. He did say something kinda out in left field…about a week ago. We were having a drink before one of my numbers, and he said he hated a world where rich white, married women figure they gotta have drugs to be happy."
Starsky exchanged a meaningful look with Hutch. "Do you know of anyone else LeRon would turn to in a jam? Someone he'd confide in?"
Marcel chewed on his bottom lip, shook his head slowly, and then bit down on his lip again. Rudi squeezed his shoulder. "What about that guy you two grew up with?"
Marcel's head snapped up and he blinked at Rudi. "Nathan? Nah, he'd never go to Nate."
Hutch stood up and folded his arms. "Right now we're willing to follow up the longest shot you got. Who's this Nathan?"
"Nathan Rowell. We were tight as kids. Stayed close until he got himself a scholarship to college and then went on to grad-u-ate scho-ool." Marcel's smile turned into a sneer. "We wasn't good enough for him anymore. LeRon tried to keep us all in touch but he eventually gave up on that lost cause. He'd rather drink from the sewer than turn to Nathan."
"Aw, shit," Starsky said with feeling. "Shit. What a lousy time for it to be such a small world." Just our luck--we take a college course and end up having to interview the postdoc about a homicide victim.
Marcel and Rudi both stared at him. He decided to ask another question rather than volunteer information. "You and Nathan grew up together?"
"Yeah. Nathan don't even know who his real father is. His mama committed the unpardonable sin of fallin' for a brother when Nate was a baby and they moved in with him in our neighborhood. 'Least, that's the story I heard. Mr. Wallace was one hell of a dad, if you ask me, but Nathan didn't give a shit about that when he got on his 'I'm white and I'll prove it' kick. When he turned eighteen, he stopped calling the man anything but 'mother's friend.' How's that for a slap in the face?"
Rudi sighed as if sorry he'd introduced the subject. He looked at Hutch. "Look, what's the next step?"
"The next step is to get Marcel into protective custody. If we're dealing with people who have the connections to set up a hit in Vegas that quickly, then you can't guarantee his safety here. We'll need a full description of the men who came in the club and more information about the club in Vegas, too."
"Mind if I use the john first?"
Hutch waved a hand at Marcel with a smile. "Yeah, we'll give you a chance to catch your breath and eat. It'll take us a little while to get things squared away."
After Marcel disappeared into the bathroom, the door slamming behind him, Rudi stretched his legs out and folded his hands behind his head against the headboard. "All right. Lay your cards on the table. How much trouble is he in?"
Starsky fielded that query. "He's dancing awfully close to an accessory rap, but a lot of that has to do with intent. It's in his favor that we're gonna have an interesting time proving that LeRon's injection was really forced. It'd be an even cuter trick to prove that Marcel's information led directly to LeRon's death."
"Detective Starsky, you might think he knew what he was getting LeRon into, but I don't. Not because Marcel's naïve, but because he wasn't thinking beyond the money. He heard the money offer and his brain shut down. I'm telling you he's as addicted to gambling as he was to the heroin, and as much as I'd like to think this close call might break his habit, I'm not holding my breath."
"You should definitely encourage him to cooperate fully with us from here on out," Hutch said. "His information could prove vital in helping us find who killed LeRon. More importantly, we suspect LeRon's murder is tied up with another suspicious death, and the hit on Marcel supports that theory. Anything Marcel can do to help us will help his cause in the long run."
"Fine. Whatever goes down, I'm sticking with him, so wherever you plan to stash him for safekeeping, you better make sure it's big enough for two."
Starsky couldn't restrain a furtive, fond glance at Hutch, whose lips curved into a slight smile.
Three hours had passed before Starsky climbed into the passenger's seat of Hutch's car and said, "Home, Jeeves. We can at least flirt with sleep before we hafta be up and hitting the streets."
Hutch complied as far as cranking the car and pulling onto the nearly empty pre-dawn street, but he didn't laugh at Starsky's tired joke. Starsky turned in the seat and studied the equally exhausted driver. Hutch's mouth was tight, a clear indicator that he was biting down against something he hesitated to voice. His eyes blinked rapidly, but he didn't smile over at his passenger the way he normally did when he felt Starsky's eyes on him.
"What's wrong?" Starsky asked, soft, though not hesitant. "We have Marcel and Rudi settled in, and within a few hours we should have some real leads in this case. Granted, I hate like hell having to tie in the Vegas PD, but it'll still be our show."
"You were out of line with Marcel, don't you think? Every chance you got the last few hours you made it clear one way or another that you think he's lower than scum."
Starsky stared and opened his mouth to find that words were stuck in his throat. With a slight cough, he said, "What are you talking about? He sold his childhood friend for gambling money and I'm s'posed to be his best pal?"
"I'm not saying he's a stellar specimen of humanity, but you're practically accusing him of having full knowledge that he was selling LeRon to his murderers. We have no proof of that."
"You're right, we'd have a helluva time proving it, but Christ, Hutch, you think someone who's seen the wrong side of the street as much as Marcel didn't have the first idea what those goons were after? He knows LeRon's involved in whatever'll pay for his next hit of dope. He knows five hundred dollars on the street ain't just buyin' information. The only thing I think he didn't know is that he was signing his own death warrant. God, Rudi deserves better. Marcel's a dangerous commodity. Rudi better hope he never has people looking for him and willing to shell out green for a nudge in the right direction."
"Rudi can take care of himself," Hutch said, still not breaking his concentration on the road ahead for the quickest sideways glance.
"Sure he can. Doesn't mean he doesn't deserve someone better'n a--"
"Like Jeannie deserved someone better than a junkie who'd sell her for a fix--who would've sold you if you'd been the one on the auction block?" Hutch shouted. "I'm a dangerous commodity, Starsky. You heard The Angel. I've got the scarlet H on my chest!"
"Good God!" Starsky shouted, though in shock rather than anger. "Pull over."
"Pull the damn car over NOW!"
Hutch never argued with that tone of voice. He didn't now. He turned down the next side street and stopped the car in front of a closed thrift store. The minute the engine faded with a grunt and rattle, Starsky flung himself across the car seat and gripped Hutch's shoulders, forcing him into a tight embrace.
"I wanted you to talk, but hell if I was expecting this! Hutch, Hutch, it's been five years, haven't you figured out by now that you were a casualty of war? A POW facin' an enemy as low down as any Cong enforcer. God, you shed blood to keep from giving away anything. What you went through came out in all your nightmares and I heard 'em. I got an idea what went down, and I know you pushed them to the limit before they had to change your damn body chemistry to get what they wanted. You and Marcel aren't even the same species, my friend. My strong, brave love."
Hutch's shoulders shook violently, and he didn't even voice a complaint about the semi-public embrace. Starsky felt the ferocity of his partner's hold on his back, the long fingers grasping at his jacket, and he tightened his own arms around his partner.
"Don't let Rudi's talk of 'addiction' blind you, babe. He's trying to redeem somebody he loves. I've been there; I've done that myself, you know. Spent years trying to redeem my dad, make it all about his job, the pressure he was under. Rudi's tryin' to excuse Marcel, but it doesn't wash with me. Gambling might be a hard habit to break, but it's not in the same league with coming down off heroin."
"The Angel…" Hutch breathed into Starsky's shoulder.
"What about her? You're not taking that stuff seriously, are you? Sheesh, not to knock her, but the poor lady talks about seeing people with her mind, Hutch, you think she's rowing with both oars all the time?"
"She knows. I saw it in her eyes. How'd she know unless...unless it's been on the street all these years. Everyone out there, knowing, seeing me and knowing--"
"Hutch, stop! That's your own guilt talking, and you're not guilty of anything. You took something she said while riding a white wave and applied it to yourself. God, if I ever figure out who taught you to slap the shit out of yourself every now and then, I'll rip 'em apart with my bare hands. What the street does know is that you got snatched and worked over like a piece of meat, but you made it back on your own and you brought down Forest's whole organization."
"Not on my own," Hutch said in a steadier tone. "Never alone."
Starsky smiled and allowed a few inches to creep between them so he could see Hutch's face. "Tough case, tough memories, huh? We're gonna get through it together, babe. I have a feeling the iceberg we just uncovered is big, and somebody's gonna hate the day they tangled with the toughest cop in the city."
"Second toughest," Hutch said, echoing a running joke.
"Yeah, well, if you insist. I was gonna let you have the honor for the rest of the night."
"Rest of the night? Gee, thanks, Mr. Generosity. For your information, it's already--"
"Time for us to slip between the sheets for at least a few minutes. If we didn't have to have a little sleep to function, I'd screw you out of your mind and make you forget we ever had this conversation."
"That's what I love about you, Starsk. You're ever practical and so concerned about my welfare."
Starsky laughed at the sound of healthy Hutchinson humor. "Hey, you can't blame me for wanting to take care of you any way I can."
"God, when I think of all the great comfort sex I was missing out on before we got our act together…."
Starsky laughed again and released his lover, patting Hutch's cheek and sliding back over into the passenger's side. "I'll make it up to you for the next five decades. I love you, Hutch."
"Yeah, I somehow got that impression," Hutch whispered, cranking the car, and the peace in his smile put a lump in Starsky's throat that forced him to look out his window.
With only a couple hours of sleep, a drowsy shared shower, and breakfast on the run, Starsky and Hutch reluctantly greeted Friday. Hutch knew that if he was not looking forward to questioning Nathan Rowell about LeRon Markus, Starsky downright dreaded it. Just what Starsk didn't need--having to mix business with this class.
"We can make a start on the other leads before we head out to Jameson," Hutch suggested out loud, watching Starsky inspect the Torino's back tires. It was, honestly, an inspiring sight. In his softest faded jeans, the tight red jersey, and only a thin black jacket to conceal the gun and holster, Starsky was all fluid motion, clean lines, and accentuated masculine curves. He bent down to each tire like a mother inspecting a child with a scraped knee, and Hutch felt his own body respond as the worn denim stretched nearly threadbare over a strategic area in the process. He quickly adjusted himself and made a mental note that laundry had to be done. Too-tight cords in August made for prolonged discomfort.
Starsky straightened and favored the Tomato with a fond pat on the rear fender in passing. "I was hoping you'd suggest that. I think it's too early to catch him at the college anyway, but we'd better not postpone the inevitable for too long. I don't wanna spend all weekend trying to track him down away from school."
Hutch opened his door. "Right. So we touch base with the Vegas PD, follow up on those composite sketches, and then hit the college mid-morning?"
"Sounds like a plan."
Setting other wheels in motion took longer than expected. By the time they turned the car in the direction of Jameson College, they had already shoveled down a quick lunch at The Pits while consulting Huggy about the sketches.
"Not ringing any bells, but that ain't to say I can't help you," Huggy had said. "I can ask around." He waved the sketches. "Do some discreet flashing of the artwork."
"The computer isn't spitting out anything helpful, and that tells us we're dealing with someone who's filling his employment roster out of town, maybe even out of state," Starsky said, popping the last bite of hamburger in his mouth.
"High class imported henchmen, the wave of the future," the Bear sighed dramatically. "I hear ya."
Hutch smiled. "Also, Hug, we need anything you can dig up on LeRon Markus. Try to screen the info. We're willing to hear anyone's story, but you have an ear for what's hot air and what's substance, so don't be afraid to make some judgment calls before you contact us. And if you hear any whispers about Marcel Blue, we want to know the next second."
"From my ear to yours, Blondie. You thinkin' drugs are the serpent in this garden?"
Starsky nodded. "Our best guess, but Narco's doing back-flips, insisting that nothing new and big has hit town without showing up on their radar screen."
Huggy stroked his chin. "Maybe big, but not so new. Lots of snakes still under their rocks in this fair city."
"Right. That's the angle we're working," Hutch agreed, wiping his mouth with a napkin and pointing at his left wrist to signal the slipping away of time. Starsky took the hint, rising and patting Huggy on the shoulder.
Huggy regarded them both as if relearning them from the outside in, and finally a slow, disbelieving smile brightened the unusually solemn face. "I knew you cats were good undercover, but da-a-amn. You come in here and I tell you the truth, if I hadn't seen the evidence myself, I'd never believe it. Sometimes, I still think it's a colossal put-on and you'll tell me when I can start laughing, too."
Hutch smiled at Starsky's embarrassed study of the barroom floor. Then he turned a more serious smile on Huggy. "That's how we survive, Huggy. If we could keep you in the dark, we have a shot at keeping our badges and our partnership."
Huggy raised both hands and cocked his head to the side defensively. "Be still, brother. You know a freight train running downhill couldn't drag it outta me. I know more's at stake here than your jobs."
Starsky slipped a hand across Huggy's back as he walked past. "Easy, Hug, we weren't asking you to repeat your oath of secrecy. We know we can trust you."
Starsky found a visitor's space in the Liberal Arts faculty parking lot and spent two full minutes drooling over the bright red two-seater sports car in the neighboring spot. Hutch groaned and snagged Starsky's arm, pulling him away from the temptation.
"Aston Martin," Starsky whispered, looking back. "Wonder who she belongs to?"
"You're a cop, Starsk. You'd have to be doing something very illegal and very dangerous on the side to afford one of those."
"A guy can dream, can't he?" Starsky groused.
Hutch grinned and smacked his partner on the back. "Dream? Sure." He lowered his voice, "But you were developing non-artificial padding in the front of your jeans and it's distracting."
"Ass," Starsky accused.
"Yeah, that's distracting, too."
They decided to check in at the Liberal Arts main office, where a haggard secretary juggled two phone calls and rapidly sorted three stacks of papers simultaneously. She slammed both phones down in unison and took a deep breath. "Can I help you?"
"Yes, we'd like to speak to Nathan Rowell."
"His office is 217." She glanced at the wall clock across the room. "But Dr. Manning has office hours right now so you might find Dr. Rowell there. Room 225." Without a second's pause, she grabbed one of the phones and dialed a number, her other hand already busily sorting papers.
"Can this get any better?" Starsky griped when they stepped into the hall.
"You're nervous about seeing the professor outside of class?" Hutch asked.
"No, I'm not nervous, dummy. I just don't want him asking us how our papers are coming--the one I haven't even started yet. Funny, Dobey's paperwork deadlines never made me feel like I'm sitting on a time bomb."
"Relax, Starsky, I'm sure he has--"
"David! Ken!" a familiar feminine voice practically shouted behind them. "This is convenient; I didn't want to call the police station to find you."
Hutch could have laughed at the dismay on his partner's face that Starsky controlled just in time to turn with him and face the approaching Janet. Clutching several books, she wore an odd combination of overalls and poet's shirt, and her coiled braids had given way to a sleek hairstyle that turned the young Cleopatra into the girl next door.
"You, um..." Starsky cleared his throat. "You were looking for us?"
"Yeah. Most of the class members are gathering at New Wave Rage tomorrow night to hash out 'Antigone' and what we think of the 'authority of the state over the individual.' Some paper topic, hm? Believe me, 'Antigone' looks a lot better after a couple Suicide Swallows. Personally, I can only handle Creon's rampant chauvinism when I'm half-plastered."
"Suicide Swallows?" Hutch scratched his forehead and raised his eyebrows at Starsky, who looked struck dumb. "I'm guessing that's a drink?"
"Of course. I'd have to kill you if I told you what's in it, though. It's Carnivore's trade secret."
"The bartender," Janet informed Starsky.
"Sounds like a great time, Janet," Hutch said, straight-faced, "but we're in the middle of an investigation and our free time's limited."
Janet's smile turned persuasive and sparkling, but she focused the effect on Starsky rather than Hutch. "We'd love to have you drop by if you change your mind. There won't be any drugs--not even pot--promise! The bar is right across the street from the Student Union, just off campus. We'll be there at ten." With a demure flutter of eyelashes, she held up her wrist and checked her watch. "Damn, got to get to class. Nice to see you guys."
Hutch watched Starsky stare after her until she disappeared around the corner. Finally, he laughed out loud. "I'd be jealous," he whispered, "if the look on your face wasn't outright shock and panic."
Starsky shot him a warning glare. "Thought you were her type--tall, blond, and brilliant."
Hutch laughed harder. "Nope, guess not. She must have this antagonism as foreplay thing going on."
Starsky smiled, the crooked flash of teeth reserved for Hutch alone. "I prefer honest lust and worship."
"Does that mean you don't want to check out New Wave Rage tomorrow night?"
Starsky snorted. "You kiddin'? That crowd would make me feel my age." He grinned and poked a finger into Hutch's chest. "And I don't know if you can handle a twenty-one-year-old stud."
Hutch decided there was no reply suitable for their surroundings and started down the hall, Starsky's laughter trailing in his wake.
Dr. Manning's office was open and the mingling of voices reached Starsky and Hutch a few feet away. Nathan Rowell's slow, enunciated baritone suddenly dominated the conversation, and Starsky frowned and rolled his shoulders.
"Take it easy, Starsk. It's not like we're going in there to read him his rights in front of Garner."
"I know. I just…don't you think it's awkward?"
"Yes, I do, but it's the nature of our job, partner. We can't stop being cops, and Garner's equally professional. He's not going to hold our having to ask Nathan a couple questions against us."
Starsky smiled. "You're right." He proved his newfound poise by taking the lead and knocking softly on the doorframe.
"David, Ken, come on in!" Garner rose from behind a large desk made two feet taller by the clutter of books, files, papers, and assorted bags of nuts and trail mix.
The professor was a living clash of culture in jeans and a colonial-era "hunter shirt" trimmed in Native American beadwork, and Hutch noticed a poster on the wall behind him extolling the virtues of the American Indian Movement. Another poster demanded that all "Remember Wounded Knee 1890-1973." Hutch briefly wondered what the connection was for a man with a definitive Anglo-Saxon name and appearance.
"Here for an 'Antigone' jam session?" Garner asked after a polite exchange of greetings.
It hit Hutch like a flashbulb in the eyes. Starsky was right--this was far too awkward. They should have called, they should have chased down Nathan's home address. His memory fed him instant inspiration. "Actually, no. Nathan told me I should stop by sometime and he'd show me his record collection. This is the first spare moment I've had."
Hutch received three varieties of smiles: astonished and grateful from Starsky; surprised from the postdoc; and a relaxed, beaming one from behind the messy desk. Garner shifted the smile to include his former research assistant. "Yes, Nathan's musical tastes are much more widely accepted than mine."
Nathan laughed. "Garner, your problem is that you refuse to listen to any song with a single word of English in it."
"What about you, David? Are you the third blues and folk enthusiast in the room? I'd have pegged you for classic rock-and-roll."
Starsky nodded. "Classic rock's my first choice, but I like to keep my options open."
Nathan rose to his feet. "Normally, Garner would ply you with papaya juice and cashews, but since he teaches in ten minutes, you want to come down to my office for a mini-concert?"
"Sounds good," Hutch said, tremendously relieved by their fortunate timing and the opportunity provided by the offer Nathan had made during their conversation before class on Wednesday. "We'll, uh, we'll stop by for a literary jam session some other time, Garner."
"See that you do," the professor said, smiling.
Smaller but equally cluttered, Nathan's office, fitting for Nathan, was an ordinary room with no distinguishing features. Even the posters and pictures on the wall were generic, the subject matter sufficiently tame for a doctor's office or library.
"Glad you could come by," Nathan said. "I don't often have a chance to show these off to someone who would really appreciate them."
Starsky shut the door and took a seat, but Hutch wandered over to the corner where Nathan opened a small black cabinet. Hutch crouched beside him and examined the contents, taking Nathan's sweep of the hand as indication that he could explore to his heart's content.
He pulled out several albums, fingered them reverently, and looked up. "These are originals. First releases, right? Quite a collection."
"Yes, they were left to my mother, and she gave them to me. Garner swears I'm begging for office theft, but I can't help it. I enjoy having them here to make the paper-grading go by faster. Amazing how good music makes busy work seem worthwhile."
"Yes," Hutch agreed. "And this is good music."
"So, what's your pleasure? Want to sample them in chronological order or by genre?"
Hutch coughed against a fist and looked over at Starsky, who shrugged and left the transition from pretense to business in Hutch's hands. Replacing the albums with care, Hutch remained in the crouch so he could manage eye contact with the younger man. "Let me take a rain-check on the music when I can give it my full attention, Nathan. To be completely honest, Starsky and I are here in an official capacity."
"Official capacity?" Nathan stumbled back on his heels but regained his balance and stood without the aid of Hutch's extended hand. He dropped casually into his desk chair and toyed with a geode paperweight. "What can I do for you, Detectives?"
Starsky arched an eyebrow and rolled his eyes to the side at Hutch, making plain in their special communication that he preferred to be the "silent" partner. Hutch felt a tremor of electricity at the base of his neck. His loquacious partner stayed on the sidelines only when he wanted to focus his bloodhound instincts.
"We're investigating LeRon Markus' death," Hutch said.
The geode paperweight fell out of Nathan's hands, and the clunk on the desk rang loud in the quiet. "LeRon? How? I mean--"
"Complications from heroin overdose."
"I don't understand. Do you--?" He pointed at both detectives. "Do you investigate every drug OD?"
"No, but the ones that may involve foul play fall into our jurisdiction."
"You're saying he was killed?" Nathan turned his chair to the side and leaned back in it, rubbing his knees with his palms and rolling his head from side to side. "God. LeRon."
"We were told you knew him."
Nathan barked out an ironic laugh. "Oh, wonderful, you probably heard that from Marcel. Let me guess. Mr. Blue, who used to be plain old Marcel Jones before he hit the nightclub circuit, was on his 'Nathan Rowell's a racist' kick?"
Starsky didn't abandon his slouch but Hutch noticed that his deadly serious expression and intimidating silence were wearing on Nathan, who fidgeted under the scrutiny.
"We're trying to establish LeRon's recent activities. Work, friendships, his movements in general." Hutch ignored the question about Marcel.
"I can't help you, sorry. I haven't seen LeRon in years."
"No contact with him at all?" Hutch pressed.
"No, none. Harsh, but true. Our friendship didn't survive his addiction. Trying to be friends with a heroin addict is a Herculean task under the best circumstances. I worked a part-time job to make up what my partial scholarship didn't pay as an undergrad. There wasn't much time left over for someone who had to arrange his schedule around a needle."
"How many people know about your past ties with LeRon?"
"Not many, I'd imagine. Some of the people from my old neighborhood, Marcel, a few others. No one here at school does. Why?"
"We're still putting the pieces together, but it's safe to say that LeRon got in over his head with dangerous people. Anyone thought to be a close connection could well be in a vulnerable position while we're investigating this case."
Nathan looked at the still silent Starsky and then at Hutch. After a prolonged stare that swooped down to concentrate on his lap, Nathan said, "Are you saying I'm in danger?"
"No," Starsky said, and Nathan practically jumped at the sound. "We're not trying to scare you. You haven't seen him in years; you've had no contact with him. Odds are the people we're after don't even know you exist."
Nathan opened his mouth but bit down hard again.
"To be on the safe side, though, let me give you our contact information. If anyone contacts you, asking about LeRon, you give us a call immediately. Same goes for any questions about Marcel." Hutch pulled a card out of his badge holder's other pocket and handed it over the desk. Nathan snatched it and propped it against his telephone.
"Um, thanks for not…I mean, Garner doesn't know about my life before Jameson, and I'd like to keep it that way."
"He wouldn't approve of where you came from?" Starsky asked, both eyebrows raised this time and an edge in his voice. Nathan jerked the chair around and shook his head.
"Oh, no, he's not like that. No, that's not the problem. I just...it's a chapter I had to close a long time ago, and I can revisit it in my writing, my fiction, but not in real life."
"Don't worry; we have no reason to discuss any of this with Dr. Manning," Starsky said with a smile. Nathan visibly relaxed.
"And the next time I visit this office, it'll be in the role of music lover," Hutch said.
Nathan smiled. "Any time, Ken."
They left the building in silence, but when they reached the car, Hutch laid a gentle hand on Starsky's arm and stopped him from opening the driver's door. "All right. Tell me what triggered the Starsky radar back there."
Starsky turned and squinted in the radiant afternoon sun at the building they'd just left. "He's scared. He's trying to keep it under wraps, but something has him looking over his shoulder."
"I agree that he didn't enjoy being questioned by the police, even that informally. That's nothing new or unique to Nathan, Starsk."
"No, it's more than that. And I didn't like the way he reacted to the news about LeRon. I didn't expect him to sob like a baby, but, I dunno. He's more concerned about keeping the lid on his roots than he is about his childhood friend's death. I think there's probably some truth in what Marcel said and not just bitterness."
"Bottom line--do you think he knows something about LeRon that he's not telling?"
"Could be. I don't know. Just don't be surprised if he calls us after he's had a chance to gnaw on the danger possibility."
"Back to the station." Hutch walked around the car and paused halfway into his seat. "What do you want to bet the Vegas PD can't turn a damn thing on that jazz club or the owner?"
"Hey, give me a sporting bet, will ya?" Starsky laughed.
They were halfway to Metro when the radio interrupted their discussion of the case. Hutch adjusted the volume in time for the dispatcher's repeat to come through loud and clear. "All units in the vicinity of Farrington. Disturbance reported at Number 13, 211 Farrington."
"That's The Angel's--"
"Close connection!" Starsky shouted. "We've been worried about the wrong person!"
Hutch made a wild grab for the Mars light and juggled it as he rolled down the window.
"Step on it, Starsk."
"Foot's glued to the floor. Hang on!"
Mars light successfully attached, Hutch slid back into his seat and lurched forward as the Torino executed a right turn on less than four wheels. Hutch snatched the mic and shouted into it over the motor's roar. "Zebra Three. We are responding to the Farrington call." He was slammed against the door, as Starsky blew through a caution light to make a left. "If we live," he amended.
True to their pattern, they beat any responding uniform unit to the scene. Hutch spared no time to call in their arrival. As it was, he had to trip over the open door to catch up with Starsky, who seemed to have leap-frogged the hood in a mad sprint for the building's entrance. One second's pause at the bottom of the stairwell for a silently exchanged 'be careful; I need you,' and Hutch led the way up the stairs, a very familiar female voice in distress speeding their ascent. At the top of the stairs, each man cocked his weapon, and Starsky held his aimed high as Hutch kicked in the door. When silence, and no gunshot, greeted the assault, they went in--one high and one low--and Hutch immediately recognized the scenario. He'd once been the man throwing furniture, smashing whatever was glass and noisiest, a junkie on the verge of desperation.
Starsky wasted no time asking questions. He had the burly black man pressed up against the nearest wall, arms pinned behind him, before Hutch even reached The Angel, who huddled in a corner. He fell on his knees in front of her and took her gently by the shoulders, sweeping a glance over her to assess her physical condition.
"No!" The Angel screamed, and Hutch looked over his shoulder. Starsky had the cuffs out. "No, don't put them fool things on him."
"Angel, honey, he hit you," Hutch said, touching light fingertips to a knot developing on her cheek.
"No, he did not. I just didn't duck fast enough and got in the way of a flying lamp," she argued.
"We heard you screaming like your immortal soul was threatened," Hutch protested.
"That's because he was about to break my mama's rosewood jewelry box, and I'da had to break his head. Damn that busybody nextdoor. She'd call the police if a cat meowed too loud for her taste."
"Angel, you were huddled in a corner--" Starsky began, struggling against the man's frantic gyrations.
"No! He's so close to kicking it. He thought I'd give him some help, but I'm not gonna let him score when he's this close to climbing over the fence for good. You put him in jail or detox, even for a night, and you'll drive him all the way around the bend. I know what I'm talking about, dammit!"
"Angel, we have him on disturbing the peace at the very least. Assault and battery if--"
"No!" she interrupted, flailing her arms against Hutch's loose hold. "Could you--could you have stood--? You know. You know what it's like, damn you, have a heart! I've never been able to get to the point he's at. Don't take it away from him now."
Hutch's head drooped and his eyes fell from her piercing stare. "He can't stay here with you, Angel," Hutch heard Starsky say in a jagged voice that echoed his own inner pain.
"Take him down to Sam in Number 6. He's big and strong enough to get Ronny through this rough patch. He'll be glad to."
Hutch turned his head. "You're gonna need some help, partner."
"Nah, I've cuffed him, and I won't let him loose until I have a look at this Sam. You stay with The Angel."
Hutch shot to his feet and met them at the door. He shoved a finger in the addict's face and snarled, "If you ever come near her again in this condition, I'll break both your arms and you'll have to shoot up with your toes. You clear on that?"
Starsky bundled the man out of the apartment, and Hutch contemplated sinking down on the floor. The Angel's needs came first. He helped her to her feet and steered her over to the unmade bed in the corner. She curled up on top of the rumpled sheets and he touched her cheek. "You really need someone to look at that."
"I've had worse. No harm done."
He covered her with the frazzled blanket and adjusted her head on the pillow. Although she was probably in her late-forties, she looked all of sixty-five, and he felt his heart breaking anew. He sat on the edge of the bed. "How did you know?"
"No one told me if that's what's eating you. I don't know details. But I knew the second time you ever came to see me. You were a different person than the innocent angel boy who'd come round before. You stayed all the way across the room from my stash, and you wouldn't even look at my bare arms, although from that distance and with my dark skin, you'd've had to have telescope eyes to see my tracks. Your partner watched you like you'd break into a million pieces the whole time y'all were here. I ain't no de-tec-tive but I got brains."
"I was abducted and forced. Some mob boss decided to use H as his own form of truth serum. Starsky hid me away and helped me kick it. I've been clean for five years. Never would've done it without him."
"Yes, I can tell he's always been the ah-choo to your every sneeze." She smiled. "If I'd had someone like that, I might not be where I am right now. Now, it's too late."
"It's never too late, Angel. There are people who can help you, too."
"No, no. My time's almost up. I know it. I got a couple things left to do before that chariot swings low for me, and I need the drug in my veins just a little longer."
"Sam is the equivalent of two Turbos' linebackers with the demeanor of Mary Poppins," Starsky announced from the open doorway. "I think he'll be just fine with Ronny. Now, as for you, Angel…."
Hutch took The Angel's hand in his and squeezed. "I have some bad news. I don't want to break this to you now, but we have to talk about your own protection. Starsky and I were afraid we were already too late today. LeRon was found dead yesterday. I'm so sorry."
"Oh! Oh…no, no, no, no."
He pulled her slowly up into his arms and held fast. Starsky came and sat down on the bed beside them. "Angel, someone got to him, and your ties to him put you at risk, too."
"I'm not...not going anywhere. I'm comfortable here."
"We can have someone placed outside your door," Starsky insisted.
"No! I have people who depend on me. They won't come to me with their troubles if there's a po-lice man waiting out there." She turned her face against Hutch's shoulder and sobbed quietly.
"Let her cry it out, and then sweet talk her into a guard on her door. Car on the street for now," Starsky whispered to Hutch. "It's better'n nothing. I'll call it in."
Ink pen clutched between his teeth, papers in one hand, Starsky stomped from the sofa over to the fridge in search of another beer. He was pissed. Truthfully, he was rattled. He'd chased down armed felons carrying howitzer-sized weaponry; he'd helped crack cases that had stumped other detectives for months, years; he'd created entire identities with backgrounds stretching to Noah's Ark for undercover ops. He'd gladly repeat any of the above right this minute rather than compose an "introduction" paragraph for his "Antigone" paper.
What a hell of a way to spend a Saturday evening, he grumped silently, popping the top on the beer can and chugging two swallows to the backdrop of Hutch's typewriter key-clicking. Hutch had dragged out an ancient machine from God knows where and set it up on the table at Venice Place, and now he happily pecked away, looking perfectly at home and good enough to eat with his brow scrunched thoughtfully and his mouth slightly open.
Starsky took his beer and notes out to the greenhouse. If he sat on the sofa and stared at half-dressed, studious Hutch, he'd just get a hard-on and that was no way to progress his paper. Note to self, he laughed quietly, sipping the beer, beware the hazards of taking a class with your gorgeous lover.
At least this was a distraction from their case--make that multiple cases in one sense. Hutch's instinct about the jazz club in Vegas had proven true. The PD swore the establishment was legit, no hint of criminal activity, without even a parking ticket to the credit of the owner Marcel had met, or his business partner. No evidence of a botched professional hit, although a witness from Marcel's motel remembered seeing the young black man trip and nearly end up squashed on the pavement. She couldn't, however, remember hearing anything like a gunshot, but then, that area of the city was so noisy, she'd admitted.
Starsky stared at the paper topic one more time: Reaction Paper 1-- "Antigone" presents multiple views of the state's authority over the individual. Which viewpoint did Sophocles intend as the ideal, and which one, if any, do you see as the ideal for our society? Is your ideal applicable beyond the United States? Discuss in five to eight typed, double-spaced pages.
He and Hutch had talked at length that afternoon about fact and opinion, right and wrong answers, and nuts and bolts like including textual quotes.
"It isn't about right or wrong," Hutch had said earlier. "This isn't one of those Academy papers that ask you to regurgitate a bunch of black-and-white facts. This is a reaction paper. It's about developing a logical, convincing argument for your opinion. It's about making a case and convincing a jury of one--your professor--that even if he doesn't agree with your view, he can't knock what you've said because you've backed it up well with evidence from the text. You're damn good at that already, Starsk. The DA's office wouldn't be nearly as successful in prosecuting our cases if we, and that means you, too, hadn't built strong cases with the evidence we collect."
Starsky let out an explosive groan. He had papers of scribbled notes and random thoughts that he could discuss out loud for an hour, but when he thought of stringing them all together on paper, he wanted to run screaming from the apartment.
The clicking ceased. Starsky listened to the satisfying sound of paper being yanked from the typewriter and heard the scraping of the chair against the floor. "Your turn!" a happy voice called out in the sudden stillness.
Starsky remained seated on the bench. Hutch appeared in the greenhouse and smiled. "Ready to write? I'll throw together a knock-out dinner while you work on your paper."
"You better be fixin' marinated London Broil, then, 'cause it's gonna take me hours to write this thing."
Hutch laughed. "Won't take as long as you think. You've been writing down notes the last couple nights, and all you have to do is type them into paper format. You can practically recite the whole work backwards. You could be a saga singer from three millennia ago."
"A what? Never mind. Hutch, I--" Starsky flipped through the pages and finally threw them to the side on the bench. "This is nuts. We're involved in one investigation right now, and look at the time crunch. What's it gonna be like when we're juggling cases and--No way. No way can I get the job done as a cop and carry a course load, too."
"Hey, hey," Hutch shoved the papers aside and sat down on the bench. "Isn't this a switch? I'm usually the one worried about things fitting in place, and you just jump fully clothed into the pool without a second's thought."
"Isn't that a mixed metaphor?" Starsky said, grinning. Hutch swatted at his head.
"Yeah, so every now and then I'm not perfect, either. You can do this, Starsk, even if it's just one class at a time. When things get crazy at work, I'll just take up a little more of the slack. You've done that for me before. There are things we can do separately if necessity demands it."
Starsky took a swig of beer and swirled it around in his mouth, swallowing slowly. "You're right. Okay. Yeah. Paper. Now."
Hutch chuckled. "Give me a sip."
Starsky held out the can, but Hutch shook his head. "You know my favorite way to drink beer."
Starsky grinned and filled his mouth with the beverage, turning to face his partner. Hutch pushed hungry hands into Starsky's hair and drew his face forward. Timing the joint opening of their mouths was the key to this game, but their partnership had always been about synchronicity. Seconds later, Starsky didn't care about the trail of beer dribbling down his chin. He was capsizing in Hutch's kiss, in the fingers scratching at his scalp, in the brushing of knees against his own.
"Paper," Starsky said after he'd pulled back, opening his mouth wider to drink in air.
"Just giving you some incentive," Hutch said, winking. "There's more where that came from when we have two complete papers sitting on the kitchen table."
"You know, with just one nudge in the wrong direction, you could have made a prize-winning sadist."
Hutch laughed out loud and squeezed Starsky's shoulder. "Write. Eat. Write some more. Sex. In that order."
"What happened to lovemaking?" Starsky teased as Hutch walked out of the greenhouse.
Hutch paused and looked back with smoldering eyes. "I don't want romance tonight, partner. I want wild, raw s-e-x, and I want you behind the wheel."
Starsky gulped. "And you want me to write now?"
"Incentive, incentive," Hutch chanted on his way back to the kitchen.
The combination of the "incentive" and Hutch's baked salsa-chicken worked wonders. No less than twenty crumpled paper balls littered the floor around Starsky's chair after several hours' passing. Hutch peered over his shoulder for part of the process, whispering proofreading suggestions about structure and nuzzling at his neck, laughing when Starsky squirmed. Finally, Starsky shooed him away so he could concentrate, though Hutch disappeared for only an hour.
He returned just as Starsky lined up the pages, tapping the edges on the table to smooth the tiny stack. Hutch made an "ahem" sound and held out his hand, wiggling his fingers suggestively. Starsky muttered under his breath and dropped the paper into the waiting hand. Hutch stood back and commenced reading. Starsky tapped nervous fingers on the table while he watched Hutch read.
"I'm proud, babe," Hutch pronounced as if delivering a verdict. "That's certainly a creative way of looking at it, but you've got grounds for your opinions, and there's nothing comic book about this writing. I think Garner will be impressed. I am."
Starsky couldn't tone down his smile. He knew it had to be a spotlight. "Does that mean you don't think we should drop in on the New Wave Rage study group session? It's just a quarter 'til eleven; I'm sure they're still hanging out and knocking back Carnivore's specialty."
Hutch placed the paper on top of his own. He pulled out Starsky's chair from the table, with some help from its occupant, and dropped down on bended knee in front of him. "What do I want with Suicide Swallows?" Hutch asked, and Starsky's eyes closed involuntarily as the searching fingers connected with his zipper. "I have something better to swallow."
"Ah, man, now," Starsky pleaded. "Touch me…touch me…yes."
Starsky had to grip the edges of the chair seat under the passionate force of Hutch's hands and lips. His blond knew better than anyone how to stroke him ready, soothe with puffs of air, and burn him down to cinders with an open, working mouth. It still amazed him that they could share this intimacy.
"Gotta say…" Starsky gasped. "If Rudi only knew…genetics got…your mouth right, after all. Ah, Hutch!"
Hutch pulled his mouth away briefly and said that what Rudi didn't know wouldn't hurt him.
"Or make him jealous," Starsky added, chest heaving.
Hutch pulled back again. "Will you quit? Breathing, sucking, and laughing--three's a crowd, understand?"
Starsky surged forward and grasped Hutch around the waist, hauling him up, spinning him around, and bending him over the table. "Good, because you were pushing me right to the edge and I have other ideas."
Hutch groaned and Starsky rubbed insistently against the white cotton shorts Hutch wore. "Going primal on me now?" Hutch asked harshly, his happiness evident in the movement of his body.
"Yes," Starsky said and went to work removing the cloth barrier to his pleasure. "I don't want you to think about anything else but your most basic instincts out in the wild."
"Not a good idea, Starsk," Hutch breathed raggedly. "As a fellow alpha male, out in the wild I'd throw you off my back and go for your jugular vein with my teeth."
Starsky laughed, thrilled that their humor infiltrated even their most passionate couplings. "How about your basic instincts as the happily spoken for love of my life?"
"Better choice. Now stop talking and do me, dammit!"
"Stuff. Stuff. Need the lube--"
"I took a shower while you were finishing the paper," Hutch whispered.
Starsky let out a snarl of appreciation and, sliding his hands firmly down Hutch's sides and hips, he knelt behind his lover. "Good. We'll get you ready the natural way, then."
"Oh, man," Hutch moaned. "I was hoping you'd say that."
Starsky woke with no recollection of how they'd made it to bed. His last memory was of collapsing in a tangled heap on the floor at the kitchen table and barely managing to save Hutch from banging his chin on the way down. Hutch's impassioned shouts and near howling still rang in his ears, and the feel of the smooth-skinned body under him was kept fresh by the arms and legs that wrapped around him now. Hutch clung to him like a climbing vine.
The primal lover, however, was awake and restless. He couldn't nail down the nagging thought in the recesses of his mind, but there would be no more sleep until it quieted. A snack usually did the trick, and Starsky never knocked a tried and true method. With considerable skill and much practice, Starsky slipped out of Hutch's embrace and plodded out to the kitchen in a quest for leftovers. Aunt Rose had never been able to make baked chicken sing the way Hutch did.
Plate full, root beer in hand, Starsky sat down at the table and laughed softly as he remembered their wild encounter. Hutch was beautifully predictable at the most crucial moments, even at stage critical in lovemaking, he had managed to keep their table sanitary. How he did so was beyond Starsky, who'd been senseless in a wave of rapture, but Hutch crowed about his presence of mind as soon as he could breathe again.
Thinking of Hutch drew Starsky's eyes over to the two papers resting on the other end of the table. Starsky wiped his hands and reached across the table to snag Hutch's paper. After Hutch had demanded a read-through of Starsky's, he could hardly blame Starsky for wanting a peek at his.
By page three, the root beer and chicken were forgotten. By page five, Starsky felt a new kind of despair. Yet, the unaccustomed feeling of inadequacy shared space with honest pride in his lover. He had always recognized Hutch's verbal talents, but he hadn't realized he was sleeping with a professionally talented essayist. He looked at his own paper with sudden loathing and a bit of embarrassment. If Hutch had been so quick to praise that elementary school piece of writing, it must be because he knew the truth: that Starsky would never in a million years produce the equal of the paper he held in his hands now.
Starsky hastily dropped the stapled paper before he could squeeze it in tightening fists. He didn't want Hutch to know he'd read it, and he knew he couldn't face Hutch with his self-doubts. He honestly didn't think he could handle a round of Hutchinson reassurances, not when the evidence right in front of him spoke loudest.
He folded his arms on the table and buried his head in their cradle. His worst fears were realized: he needed to do well in this class, needed to measure up favorably against the other students--even, on some level, against Hutch--and his abilities were going to fall woefully short of the mark.
He hated this sense of lacking the right equipment to get a job done; it was so foreign to his nature. Sure, he'd felt out of place before. Basil Monk's high society party sprang immediately to mind as just one example. With a wince, he remembered how little Hutch had enjoyed "steering" him through that experience, but then that was the other Hutch, the one Starsky hadn't seen in over a year.
Yes, Starsky had felt out of place, especially with his tuxedo ripped, but even surrounded by Bay City's crème de la crème, he'd never felt lacking. He'd never believed those people to be better, worthier. He wouldn't start feeling that way now about a class of college-age kids. Nor would he let Hutch babysit him through the ups and downs of school.
Fragments of a memory coalesced into an idea, and Starsky's head and shoulders popped up like a jack-in-the-box. He and the admissions counselor had talked about writing during their phone call. She had said something about a writing lab that many freshmen and continuing education students turned to for help with papers. He'd read about it in his "Welcome to Jameson College" packet. What did he do with the flyer? His notebook! He rushed over to the sofa where he'd left his main class notebook and had to restrain a whoop of relief that he hadn't thrown away the paper advertising the writing lab. Run by upperclassmen in the Jameson chapter of the Phi Beta Kappa Honor Society, the writing lab was open seven days a week with varying hours.
Starsky brought the flyer to his lips and gave it a resounding smack. He pulled a perfect John Travolta "Saturday Night Fever" pose and boogied around the coffee table to inaudible music. He might never write on a par with Detective Sergeant Kenneth "Hemingway" Hutchinson, but nothing would stop him from turning in a paper that could pass Garner Manning's inspection. Decision made, solution found, Starsky yawned and realized he missed the warmth of Hutch's body. He shoved the flyer into his notebook and hustled back to clean up his snack before returning to bed.
The uncommon patter of rain and Hutch's lips on his neck filtered through Starsky's deep sleep and convinced him to face Sunday morning. He yawned and stretched, one eye partially open, and moved his hand to cradle the crown of gold bent over his shoulder blade now.
"You made me feel so good last night," Hutch murmured into the shoulder he kissed.
"You give twice as good as you get, babe," Starsky said.
"Do I? You're a lot of man to satisfy, Starsk."
"Animal sex last night, hearts and flowers this morning, huh?"
Hutch laughed and turned his cheek against Starsky's upper arm. "Yeah, okay, you caught me. But it's true."
"We should hit the shower," Starsky suggested, stroking Hutch's cheekbone with his thumb.
Hutch sighed, but the sound was distinctly happy. "Sometimes I think this terrifying need I have for you will paralyze me from head to toe one day."
"Hey, where's that coming from? That doesn't sound so good," Starsky said, still sleepy.
"No, I want it. I want it. You know me. You know it's a damn good thing that I can need someone like this and be perfectly fine with it."
"The need is mutual, Hutch. Come on, my early morning philosopher. Shower."
"Wish I could just take you outside and make love to you in the rain," Hutch said.
"We can pretend the shower's a rainstorm," Starsky laughed and sucked in his breath because Hutch had latched, moist-lipped, onto his nipple.
"You're the philosopher," Hutch said without moving his head. Starsky twitched at the lips in motion on his skin. "Your paper shows all the hard work and deep thought you've applied to this class so far, love."
"Thanks, partner." Starsky detached himself from the loving lips by rolling over and vacating the bed. He heard the bed creak as Hutch sat up behind him.
"Something wrong, buddy?"
Starsky shook his head and smiled over his shoulder. "Nope, but if I think I stink, I know you can't be having any fun."
Hutch grinned and reached for him. "I have an invisible rose-scented nose clip. Come back to bed."
They eventually showered and scrounged a halfway decent breakfast, over which they discussed the case and the multiple brick walls they had run into. Huggy called and reported no luck so far, tracking down anyone who recognized the men in the composite sketches.
"There's something vital about where LeRon left the car," Hutch said, dropping their dirty plates in the sink. "Anywhere in the greater area would have sent up the same red flag, but he picked that street, and I can't believe that's random."
Starsky drained his coffee cup and kicked back in his chair. "I agree, but we're getting nowhere with that. Narco said Chandler Street's got a bad reputation, but the drug scene there is petty at best. We've established the history of the vacant house back fifty years and found nothing shady."
Hutch propped against the counter and twisted the dishcloth in his hands. "You do agree with me that the whole Danbeck set-up--the crime scene--was LeRon's way of communicating with us. Not with us specifically, but--"
"Yes, I think you're dead-on with that. It fits with LeRon's profile. I don't think he had anything directly to do with her death. I think he was someone's janitor and he decided he didn't want to do the cleanup, but he's not the type to have a lot of faith in the justice system. He'd rather go it alone than drop a dime on the cops and ask for help."
"And that's why he's dead." Hutch banged a fist back against the counter. He shook his head and expelled a puff of air through pursed lips. "Speaking of cleanup." Hutch looked down and tugged on his gym shorts. "I have to do laundry right now."
Starsky brought his cup over to the sink and hugged his partner. "Why don't we divide the labor? We need groceries and…um…incidentals, too, and I have some errands to run. ."
Hutch kissed his neck and squeezed him gently before letting him go. "Okay. You tackle that and I'll handle the mountain of laundry. A nice long run would do wonders for me too. Want me to meet you at your place after lunch?"
"Be there for an early dinner at five, lover boy, and I'll have something waiting on the table that will knock your freshly washed socks off."
"With you cooking, I have no doubt," Hutch said with a fond, teasing laugh. "I'm still regretting that spaghetti-meatball sandwich."
Starsky flushed and grunted. "That's what I get for introducing you to the finer things in life. I know when I'm not appreciated. I'll go now and slave away gathering all the modern conveniences that make your life easy."
"Bullshit artist. I'll see you at five, babe," Hutch said, and snagged Starsky's hand, turning him around and into a kiss that promised evening delight. They drew apart slowly by centimeter increments and Hutch left, presumably to gather the laundry. Starsky grabbed his paper from the table and his notebook from the sofa and slipped quietly out of the apartment.
At the first traffic light, he turned in the direction of Jameson College.
Chief Ryan of the BCPD paused in the church's elegant cobblestone courtyard and stopped his wife with a hand on her arm. "Mary, I thought I spotted Kevin in Mass today. I'm going to see if he's free on Tuesday to have dinner with us." He removed his glasses, wiping them free of smudges, and smoothed the stray strands of his thinning gray hair.
She tweaked his tie's knot and smiled. "Okay, dear. I see Loretta and I need to check with her about the bake sale. Why don't I meet you at the car?"
Ryan crossed the rain-dampened courtyard and joined two men deep in conversation, one in clerical garb and the other in a classic gray suit that spoke of breeding and good taste. "Good to see you at Mass today, Kevin. How about that mission report?" Ryan included the other man in a bright smile. "Father, I thought Mary was going to let out a cheer at the news of the new clinic in Belize."
"You can thank Mr. Chandler for that," Father Sullivan said proudly.
Chief Ryan gaped at his friend. "What?"
"You didn't know?" Father Sullivan looked surprised. "Mr. Chandler's generosity made the clinic possible."
"Kevin Chandler, you sly dog! How'd you manage to hide that from your good buddy?"
"He's the soul of discretion when it comes to his charitable nature," Father Sullivan said and excused himself to mingle with the other parishioners.
"Kevin, I ought to hold that one against you for a year," Ryan said sharply, but his eyes were smiling.
"You keep your fair share of secrets from me, Chief of Detectives Ryan."
"Ah, fair enough. Listen, you remember the woman I told you about at dinner on Wednesday? Glenda Burke? She's going to have dinner with us on Tuesday night and Mary and I thought you should join us if you're free."
Kevin Chandler laughed. "I'm ashamed of you both. Trying to set me up--at my age!"
"You're not much younger than I am, my friend, so watch how old you make yourself sound! You're the most eligible bachelor in Bay City, and Glenda really is a lovely and sweet woman. Mary's totally smitten with her."
"Mary's an excellent judge of character. Perhaps I should make an appearance. I could do with some cheering; it's been a rough week."
Ryan's face showed warm sympathy. "That's right. The Danbeck memorial service was yesterday."
"Right. You should have seen poor Gregory. He's one of our up-and-coming brightest stars in thoracic surgery at Memorial, but this has aged him twenty years if a day."
"Nasty business," Ryan agreed. "We're doing all we can. We have our best team on the case."
Chandler smiled. "Your problem children?"
Ryan snorted. "Arrogant. Cocky. They present no sort of image for the Department--especially Starsky, going around looking like a street urchin in that ridiculous car, but he's quickly becoming a folk legend on the force. Some of the rookies think he's immortal."
"Of course. Details of his survival made it all the way up to my office, and the CEO rarely hears the good news about an individual patient. I usually field word of impending catastrophic lawsuits. It was refreshing to celebrate a miracle."
"Well, you'll be celebrating another miracle if he and Hutchinson can unravel this mess. I can't give out details, of course, but some of our leads stretch to Vegas. Still, if any two men in the Department can make heads or tails of it, they can, and I'll give them my full support."
Chandler's smile disappeared. He glanced at his watch. "Sorry to run, but I have a business luncheon and I--"
"On Sunday?" Ryan asked. "Do you ever stop working?"
"Do you?" Chandler retorted, already turning to leave.
"Touché. See you on Tuesday, then?"
"Yes, of course. Thank Mary for me."
"The man never slows down," Ryan said as he watched his friend hurry away. "No wonder he's never been married."
Starsky slammed a hand against the closing elevator door and gave a sharp whistle. The elevator's other occupant managed a vertical leap of at least a foot and, head thrown back in surprise, made contact with the back elevator wall. Rubbing the back of his head, Hutch bent to retrieve the tiny book that had captured his undivided attention. Starsky grinned and shook his head as they walked down the hall to the squadroom.
"Hutch, tell me something."
"Yeah?" Hutch asked without looking up.
"Why'd you swipe my pocket Shakespeare?"
"Didn't finish reading last night. I need to refresh my memory and I'm not sure when I'll have another chance before Wednesday night."
"Admit it; you're hung up on the whole Isabella-Duke-Angelo triangle, aren'tcha?"
"I am not! Anyway, that's hardly a love triangle. Shakespeare's whole point is--"
"Just don't let Dobey catch you with it. I don't want a Saturday stint of traffic duty."
"You're a pain in the--" Hutch didn't complete the retort.
Starsky followed his gaze through the glass in the squadroom doors and whistled again, a totally different whistle. "What's he doing here?"
"I don't know, but he looks like he'd prefer hiding under our desk."
"Welcome to Monday morning," Starsky said.
They pushed through the doors and were greeted halfway to their desks by a pale and trembling Nathan Rowell.
"Nathan, what's wrong?" Starsky reached out and steadied the young man with a hand on his shoulder.
Nathan resorted to wringing his hands. Hutch made a beeline for the coffeemaker and nodded for Starsky to settle the frightened man into a seat. After a sip from the cup Hutch handed him, Nathan opened his mouth and said with chattering teeth, "I think someone wants to kill me."
TO BE CONTINUED IN PART 2...
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