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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