"Thanks for letting us in, Lou. Hopefully, this won't take long," Starsky said, giving the older man his most polite smile. "Hutch and me have to get back to the station pretty soon."
"I know, I know, but I sure appreciate you boys coming to take a look around the place for me. Maybe I'm just gettin' old, and my hearin's going out on me. But better safe than sorry," Lou said, his voice trailing off as he fiddled with the old lock.
Lou Turpin, a tall, thin man in his early eighties, had long ago retired from the shipping industry, presumably a modestly wealthy man. He was well known for his charitable contributions. Last year, Lou had surprised everyone by buying the old, long-closed Travoy Theater. The landmark had been scheduled for demolition by the city, and Lou's purchase of the huge old building had given some small hope to those who owned the other empty, dilapidated buildings in the area. When the center of the city's art and entertainment district had moved, it had left this whole area behind.
Earlier that morning, they had gotten the call from Lou, who was concerned that the theater was being vandalized when he wasn't around. Lou, a dyed-in-the-wool theater buff, had taken on the tremendous project of restoration, and enjoyed spending his days puttering around the place by himself, fixing what he could, and making plans to hire out what he couldn't. With Halloween only a week away, Lou had told them he'd heard strange noises, and that unexplained things were happening. Starsky and Hutch had agreed to meet Lou and take a quick look around for him.
They had already made a sweep of the outside of the building, but hadn't seen anything unusual.
This alley sure looks a lot better than when Lionel Fitzgerald chased me down it, Starsky thought, as Lou fiddled with the keys to the stage door. Almost knocked unconscious at the time, Starsky still remembered trying to escape from the mad killer. Amazing how things look different when they're cleaned up and you're not half out of your head.
Lou got the door opened, and he and Hutch followed him through the back door of the old building. "You know how upsetting it is to think of someone coming into this place and messing it up? She's a sweet old lady who's just getting her second wind."
"Yeah, we agree with you, Lou," Hutch said. "It would be a shame to see all your hard work undone."
Coming in the stage door, Starsky found himself in a hallway with a high ceiling. From what he could remember of the place from a tour Lou had given them months ago, this area connected the public area with the actors' area back stage. To his right, would be the entrance to the auditorium and the orchestra pit. Going to the left, he'd find the stage and a puzzle of dressing rooms, a large technical panel with the controls for the lights and the raising and lowering of backdrops, and the huge prop room.
"Have you seen any signs of a break-in?" Hutch asked, looking around. "Any windows broken or doors jimmied?"
"Well, yes and no. Hutch, you've seen the outside. All the windows, what few there are, are on the second floor. There're only a few doors to lock up down here. The ones in the lobby are chained, the two in the back were bricked shut, and this is the only other way to get in. That's part of the problem I'm going to have with the fire inspectors. Not enough exits in this place to pass the codes they have in place today." Lou sighed and scratched his head. "I haven't found any other way anyone could get inside. But I'm tellin' you that things keep gettin' moved around on me, and I hear strange noises every once in a while." By the frown that took over Lou's face, Starsky realized that Lou really was bothered by what he'd seen.
"Just what kind of things are you talking about, Lou? What kind of noises? Has it happened before?" Starsky asked gently.
"Actually, it's been going on for a while now. Sometimes I'll do some work, then take a break. When I come back later, my cleaning tools have been moved around. One time I took a nap on my cot in the back, and when I woke up, my glasses weren't on the table next to the bed. Since I'm blind as a bat, took me forever to find them."
Hutch shrugged and scratched his chin, looking as if he were searching for the right words. "Well...Lou...things like that aren't all that unusual. We all have times we can't find--"
"You ever lose your glasses just to find them later, perched on the face of a mannequin?" Lou snapped. "I might be a touch off my best game, but I'm not senile, you know."
Starsky saw his surprise reflected in Hutch's face. That is weird. How do you put your glasses on a mannequin and then forget about them?
"And there've been other things I've found out of place," Lou continued. "I've found props where they shouldn't be and some of the costumes actually inside out! I'm tellin' you guys that someone is coming in here and messing around, and I want them kept out!"
Starsky put his hand on the man's arm, hoping to calm him down a bit. "Okay, Lou, we believe you. Like we said, we've checked outside the building, and everything seems to be tight as a drum. We'll give it a good look-see from the inside, just to be sure."
"What about keys?" Hutch asked. "Any of your friends have keys to this place?"
Lou raised his right hand. "I swear to you guys. There aren't any more keys out there! Just mine and the emergency set my daughter has. And there's no way she'd come out here to do anything like that."
Starsky looked at Hutch and shrugged. If Lou was sure, then there must be some other way people could get in. "Okay. How 'bout Hutch and I take a look around now? We'll give a yell if we find something."
"Sure. You boys want another tour?"
"Uh, no, that's okay, Lou," Hutch said hastily. "Probably best we look around on our own."
"Oh, okay." It was clear that Lou was disappointed. "I'll be in the back, stitching up some canvas backdrops. You find anything, you let me know."
"Will do, Lou."
They waited until Lou had turned left toward the back of the large building before saying anything.
"Glad you got us out of the grand tour," Starsky admitted with a sheepish smile. "We'd be here forever if Lou showed us around again. Dobey's not going to want us off the street for the rest of the afternoon."
"He's sure proud of this old place." Hands on hips, Hutch looked around. "Can't say I blame him. If I had the money, I'd have been tempted to keep it from being torn down, just like he did. You want the front or the back?"
"I'll take the front. We can meet on the stage after our look-see."
Starsky took another look around the large lobby. He had already checked the restrooms, the front doors, and the door to the ticket office. They all seemed secure enough. Not only were the handles themselves locked, but there was a chain and padlock through them as well. He knew that Lou entered and left the building only by the stage door, which made sense. From the look of the rusty padlock, Starsky didn't think the front doors had been opened in a long time.
Turning around, he admired the old lobby. Built in the late 1890s, the theater had been built to rival any theater in the country. The building was huge, with a large area behind the stage as well as in front. The whole lobby and gallery had been decorated with the best of that era, with artwork long gone and a long wooden bar that once had served champagne, but later was relegated to selling popcorn and candy. Opposite the bar, were restrooms that were added years later. Whoever supervised the addition made little attempt to match the decor in the other room, making the area stand out like a sore thumb.
The plush flocked red-and-gold wallpaper was faded now, and the ancient brass gas lamp fixtures that dotted the walls were either missing or broken. The pale pattern of golden leaves and vines that wove their way up the walls was barely visible in the worn and dirty carpet. Heavy, stiff-looking velvet curtains divided the large room into three sections. Brighter patches of wallpaper made Starsky wonder what pictures had hung there. The curtains themselves were stiff with dirt and old smoke, their golden tassels either ragged and dirty, or missing entirely.
This place was born to show off the city's wealth. Too bad it had to end up like this--forgotten and neglected.
At the other of end the room was a tall marble statue of a young woman in a graceful pose. She was draped in some sort of Greek tunic and was holding a small vase in one hand. She was dirty, scarred with nicks and scratches, and half hidden under some old drapery that had been thrown haphazardly behind her. On either side of her were the heavy wooden doors that allowed the audience entrance to the auditorium and the seats. If he squinted his eyes, he could almost imagine what the place had looked like decades ago, when it was new and full of people waiting for the curtain to go up on their evening's entertainment.
Top hats and tails for the men, their hair slicked back and large mutton-chop sideburns. Ladies in their finest, their hair piled high, white gloves hiding soft hands, and their full skirts sweeping the plush carpet. Wonder what it was like to be part of that crowd?
Eyes closed, he could almost hear the murmur of the well-dressed elite of Bay City, champagne glasses in hand, as they talked amongst themselves. The sound of the orchestra tuning up in the distance seemed to echo softly in the room. The sounds seemed so real, as if he could almost reach out and touch the faceless crowd around him.
Feeling eyes upon him, he looked toward the marble statue at the other end of the lobby. Only, instead of being dark and dull with dust and dirt, the statue was almost sparkling. Next to it stood a young lady dressed in a fancy blue dress. She was beautiful, with thick black hair piled high on her head and large curls that fell down her back.
The distance between them disappeared. As she lifted her midnight black eyes up to his, Starsky could see pain and sadness in them. A small tear ran down her face, as she looked passed him out to the crowd behind him.
Suddenly awash with cold, Starsky's eyes flew open as he stepped back to balance himself. A wave of dizziness washed over him, gone almost before he could react to it. Blinking in confusion, he looked around quickly, not feeling really alone in the room.
Boy, I think I need some time off! That was strange.
Walking toward the statue, Starsky felt odd, as if his daydream had something to do with real life. Close up, the statue didn't look any different than it had the first time he'd seen it, aged and worn.
When Lou gets this cleaned up, maybe she'll be worth something again.
He reached out and touched it, running a finger around the lip of the marble vase that accompanied the bare-breasted figure. As he did so, the scent of orange blossoms seemed to fill the room.
Hutch had made his way around the back of the theater, checking anything that looked like it might be a way for someone to sneak into the building. Built to keep the outside world away from the actors and audience, there were not many windows in the building. The few there were--necessary for the warm evenings in the city--were narrow and high. Hutch didn't see any easy way down from them, even if someone could have squeezed through.
He was still surprised at how big the inside of the building was. In the back, he had found a large area full of backdrops, where Lou was keeping himself busy, sewing up a hole in a painted canvas background. There was a hallway that went down one side of the building, which Hutch took to be a row of empty dressing rooms. Each one had been filled with odds and ends, but nothing looked like it had been touched or moved in ages.
Opening the door to a large room on the right of the building, Hutch turned on the old light switch and was glad to see a few bare bulbs come on in the room. He guessed that the large room was half the width of the theater itself. The first thing he saw was several rows of clothing racks, packed solid with hundreds of costumes. In the back where it was dim, there was enough furniture to fill several stores. To the right of the doors, past the clothing racks, were metal shelves that looked to be covered with thousands of objects that must have been used as stage props.
It didn't take long to see that the walls in the costume area held no other doors or windows. Walking toward the shelves in the back, Hutch reached out and touched some of the costumes as he passed.
I bet Hollywood is full of stuff like this. Maybe they'd be interested in all these costumes, if Lou would ever let them go. Not that he ever would. He's got his heart set on getting this place running again, one way or another.
As he approached the shelves of props, the lighting grew darker. One of the lights over that part of the room flickered and went out.
Great. Well, at least the other bulbs are still working. I should be able to see well enough to make a spot inspection. Maybe I should go back and ask Lou if he has a flashlight.
The light was pretty dim in the very back of the room. By the time he had passed the fourth set of tall metal shelves, it was almost too dark to see anything. Reaching the back, he was just about to turn the last corner when he saw a silhouette at the opposite end of the row.
Lou was right! There's someone in here!
Hutch ducked back around the corner of the shelves, straining to listen as he pulled his gun out of his holster. He had gotten just a second's look at the person. Tall, with red hair, the stranger seemed to have been dressed in some sort of strange costume. From the glimpse Hutch got, he was reaching out and doing something with the shelf in front of him.
Hutch tried to peek through the shelves to get a better look, but they were stacked too full of odds and ends. Hearing nothing, gun ready, Hutch squatted and peered around the corner of the shelving.
There was no one there.
Where did he go? Did he hear me? I didn't hear a sound!
Ready to react at any hint of movement, Hutch moved low in the narrow space between the shelves, careful not to jostle or bump anything loose. Reaching the end of the shelving, he came to the darkest part of the room. There was nothing at that end but a pile of old furniture, large pictures propped against the wall, and other theater props thrown in a corner by an old fireplace. There was no way out of that corner unless they crawled over the furniture, which would have been hard to do in the dim light. The temperature of the room seemed to be a lot lower in this spot, and, for some reason, the air seemed too still and quiet, making the image of a tomb flash through Hutch's mind.
He suddenly heard a noise behind him. Turning quickly, gun up and ready, he froze as he recognized the outline of the person at the other end. Hutch sighed deeply, then relaxed and put his gun back in his holster
"Hutch? You find something?"
"Well, I thought I did. But guess not. There's no way someone could get past this mess without me hearing it."
"I was getting worried. I've been calling your name for a few minutes, and you didn't answer." Starsky was walking toward him, and Hutch could see the concern in his eyes even in the dim light. "I was wondering if you'd run into trouble."
"I didn't hear a thing," Hutch admitted. For some reason, knowing that he hadn't heard Starsky was making him even more uncomfortable. "You sure you yelled loud enough?"
"Sure, I'm sure." The concern grew on Starsky's face. "You okay?"
"Yeah. I'm fine." He turned toward the door at the other end of the huge room. He had a strong urge to leave. "Must've been a trick of the lighting. There are a million pieces of junk on these shelves, and I must've seen something at the wrong angle."
"Yeah, same here."
They were quiet as they walked to the huge doors that opened into the other part of the theater. Hutch felt a bit silly now and realized there was something in Starsky's tone of voice, as well as his words, that meant something similar had happened to his partner.
Stopping at the door, Hutch turned to Starsky. "Guess this place is a little creepy. You see something strange?"
Starsky was silent for a moment, his eyes telling Hutch that he was thinking over his response.
"I don't know," Starsky finally admitted, a shy smile on his lips. "Guess I was just thinking about the past of this place and got to day dreaming. It's strange how real day dreams can seem sometimes."
On his way through the doorway, following Starsky, Hutch reached out to flip off the old electric switch, plunging the room into darkness. He listened for a second, but heard nothing.
Better shake it off. We've got work to do.
Hutch sipped his coffee, wishing for the hundredth time the station could afford better. Now, only a few days before Halloween, he knew they were going to be pulling long hours during the next several days and they would practically be living on the stuff.
Pulling the pages out of the typewriter, he scanned the second and third copies of the report he was trying to type out. Even carbon paper was getting to be in short supply, and the only ones Hutch had left were pretty close to being useless. No use turning in illegible copies that could compromise one of their court cases. They had enough hurdles to overcome in the court system without creating problems.
Okay, these'll pass. Now, if Starsky would just get back with those lunches, maybe we can find a secluded spot to have a few quiet moments to eat. Between our class assignments and the extra hours we're gonna be putting in the next few days, we'd better start grabbing all the quiet time we can get.
He signed the report, placed it in a folder, and surveyed the squadroom. The other detectives seemed to be just as busy as he and Starsky were. Not only were there more petty crime cases, but this particular holiday seemed to bring out the fear in people who had some sort of phobia about Halloween. People were more sensitive to ghouls, ghosts, and bumps in the night, not to mention the parties and heavy drinking that led some people to get loud, rowdy, and stupid.
Just as he was opening another file, Dobey's door swung open and he stepped into the room, looking cranky and ready to pin it on one of his detectives.
Maybe if I look like I don't see him--
"Hutchinson! Get in here."
Damn! I wish I could learn how to be invisible.
Hutch grabbed the completed files as he followed Dobey into his office, hoping the finished work would gain him some brownie points if Dobey was in a really bad mood.
"Where's your partner?" Dobey asked gruffly as he sat down. Hutch noticed that Dobey's desk was covered with reports--a sign that the increase in cases was working its way up the ladder. Hutch handed him the files, and Dobey tossed them on the desk with the rest.
"Coming back with lunch. What d'you need, Captain?"
"A suspicious death has just been called in." Dobey looked up at Hutch, his eyes telling Hutch that it must be bad news. His voice was gentle as he broke the news. "I'm afraid Lou Turpin has just been found dead at the theater. I need you and Starsky over there to take a look at what happened. There's some question if it was an accident or not, and since you two knew him, I thought I'd give you first crack at it. I'll need your report on my desk by tomorrow morning."
Hutch sighed, remembering the last time they had seen Lou. He'd been asking them for help, and there hadn't been anything they could do for him. "Anything we should know?"
"His daughter found him, she's waiting to talk to you. Better get going. The Forensic people won't move him until you've had a look."
Back in the squadroom a moment later, Hutch grabbed his jacked from the back of his chair. He was debating whether or not to go searching for Starsky, when the elevator opened. Hutch caught a glimpse of dark, curly hair at the back of the crowd.
Walking to meet him, Hutch reached out to take the large bag of food from Starsky's hand, just as he emerged from the elevator. "C'mon, we'll have to eat this on the way."
Hutch stopped and turned to Starsky; he leaned close so the words wouldn't be overheard in the crowded hallway. "Lou Turpin's dead. His daughter found him in the theater. May have been foul play." He saw the same look of surprise and the same hint of guilt in Starsky's face that he had felt. "Come on, partner. Let's go see what we can do for him now."
There were several police cars out front--lights bouncing off the few intact windows left in the buildings near the theater. As he and Starsky pulled up, Hutch noticed the ambulance sitting at the front of the alley. Getting out of the Torino, leaving their untouched lunch behind in the back seat, he let Starsky go on around the corner while he went to the large doors at the entrance. Using a handkerchief to prevent fingerprints, he tried them but they wouldn't budge.
Inside the stage door, he caught up with Starsky, who was off to the side with a crowd of uniformed officers and forensic technicians. Starsky's hand lay gently on the back of a sad looking woman. She was tall and thin, and Hutch guessed in her early fifties. She was holding a handkerchief to her face, and her eyes looked red and watery.
As he walked up, Starsky saw him and stood back a bit and gestured in Hutch's direction. "Mrs. Andrews, this is my partner, Ken Hutchinson. Hutch, this is Sarah Andrews. She's Lou's daughter."
"I'm sorry about your father," Hutch said, touching her arm gently. "He was a really nice guy. He meant a lot to everyone in this area."
She nodded, sniffling a bit. It was obvious that it wasn't going to be easy for her to re-tell what she had found, not after having given her story to the uniformed officers once already, but she seemed like she had herself mostly under control. "Thank you. I just started telling Detective Starsky how I found him."
"Why don't you go check it out?" Starsky suggested. "I'll talk to Mrs. Andrews and get the rest of the report."
Nodding, Hutch turned to one of the forensic technicians to ask about the body. They took him to the huge prop room. Remembering the substandard lighting, Hutch was glad to see someone had thought to bring a large portable stage light and turn it on the scene. The bright light didn't make it any prettier.
There were several people around the body. It didn't take much to see what must have happened to the older man. The skeletal remains of a large chandelier lay to the side of him. Crystal shards were lying all over the floor, reflecting diamond-like points of light around the room. Lou was on his back and covered with a white cloth, but the pool of blood showed where he had landed when it had fallen.
Hutch saw Ginny Simpson, the medical examiner, walking toward him. He nodded to her and tried to smile.
"Hey, Hutch." Ginny smiled at him, then nodded at the body. "We tried not to move him too much, but you know they have to check for signs of life. Watch where you step. They've taken pictures of the glass shards all over the floor, but they're awful sharp. Step on them wrong and they'll cut right through your shoes."
Before moving to the body, Hutch squatted and looked down at a few of the shards in front of him. "Not crystal?"
Ginny crossed her arms and shook her head. "No, just glass. Wouldn't expect the real expensive stuff back here, would you?"
Hutch shook his head as he rose. "No, guess you wouldn't. What's it look like, Ginny?"
"You know this isn't official, but it doesn't take a rocket scientist to see he was killed by a single blow to the head, caused by the chandelier. But..."
Hutch immediately noticed the hesitancy in her voice, and the slightly unhappy turn to her mouth. "But? But you're not sure."
"Just a feeling, really." Ginny shrugged. "I won't be able to tell until I get him opened up. I'm not sure there was only one blow to the head. That wound could be a lot more complicated than it looks. Maybe even two blows." Ginny gave Hutch a crooked smile. "More than one blow would be telling in this situation, wouldn't you think?"
"Yes, it would," Hutch agreed. "Guess I'd better go take a look, so you can take him away." Hutch moved toward the body, careful to watch where he stepped.
Hutch gingerly lifted the cloth covering Lou's head. He looked much older in death. Dressed in a pair of old jeans, a worn pair of loafers and a flannel shirt, Hutch realized it was pretty close to what he'd been wearing the last time they had seen him. Hutch only glanced at the wound on the top of his head. It had broken the skull and bled quite a bit, so there wasn't much detail he could see through the mess. The look on Lou's face was one of shock.
"His daughter found him face down, under the chandelier," Ginny said quietly, standing behind Hutch. "The paramedics said he was on his back, away from the impact scene, when they arrived. Uniformed officers arrived with the paramedics and confirmed their report. The daughter said she moved him, hoping he was still alive."
Hutch stood and walked carefully over to the chandelier. Looking upward, he saw what must be four dozen types of chandeliers of all shapes and sizes. They hung by various chains and wires from a latticework of metal poles suspended from the two-story-high ceiling. The ends of the chains were wrapped around the poles. Squinting, Hutch thought he saw small locks put through the links to keep them from unraveling and crashing to the ground. There was one empty spot right over where the chandelier lay. Squatting down, he looked at the tarnished, gold-colored chain that had held the lighting fixture up. A small key lock was still intact, but there was one link in the chain that was twisted and pulled completely open.
Standing up, he nodded to Ginny. "You can take him now. Starsky and I'll need a copy of the pictures and a full report on the autopsy. Have them take the weak link off the chain and test it out. I'll need to know if it rusted through or if it was tampered with." As he turned toward the exit, Ginny followed him. "Give us a call when it all comes together, okay?"
"I'm sorry," she said softly, her eyes sympathetic. "I heard you guys knew him. It's always harder when it's someone you know."
"Yeah, we did know him. He was a really nice guy." Hutch gave Ginny a small smile. If there was anyone in the office who would treat the dead with gentleness and the respect they deserved, it was Ginny. "Just let me know as soon as you can. And...thanks."
Ginny nodded and turned back to supervise the transportation of the deceased.
Hutch made his way through all the people in the hallway, looking for Starsky and Mrs. Andrews. Not seeing them, he took a quick look out onto the empty stage and saw that the house lights were on. Hutch opened the door to the seating area. Inside, Starsky was sitting in the front row with Mrs. Andrews, writing something down in his notebook. Mrs. Andrews looked up at him, and it was clear that she'd been crying again.
When Starsky saw him, he got up, excused himself, and walked with Hutch over to the door.
"I went over it with her a couple of times," Starsky said quietly, "but she's at the end of her rope. Her son is coming to get her and take her home. She's willing to talk to us again later and sign a statement when we get it typed out. How'd he look?"
Hutch shrugged. "Could've been an accident. He was hit on the head by a huge prop chandelier. Looks like one of the links holding up the chain gave way, and he was under it when it happened. It practically exploded when it hit the floor. Glass everywhere. Could've been an accident."
"Could have?" Starsky's eyes searched his face. "You're not sure."
"No, and neither is Ginny. She wants to get a look at Lou's skull. And I don't like the odds that the only chandelier in the bunch that decided to let go and crash chose the one moment when Lou was under it."
"Well, if you and Ginny say it doesn't look good, then there's nothing for me to argue with." Starsky glanced at Mrs. Andrews from the corner of his eye. "'Specially after what she told me. Seems that Lou hired two guys this past week to keep an eye on the place during the night. Both of them quit after a couple'a nights. She said her father told her that strange things were still happening and he was starting to get scared."
The news tightened a fist that seemed to find Hutch's stomach. "So...we missed something."
Starsky looked at him and shrugged tiredly. "Can't help but feel that way, can we? Wish he'd called us back in to check one more time. Maybe we could'a found something. Two guys just don't up and quit unless something seriously strange is going on. Maybe we should stay and search the place again."
"I know I'd like to give it another shot," Hutch admitted. "But I don't think Dobey is going to give us the opportunity to stake this place out, unless Ginny comes up with something to make it a murder. And she won't know until tomorrow." Hutch sighed. "What do you want to do?"
Starsky was quiet for a moment. "Let me see if Mrs. Andrews will let us have a separate set of keys. Nothing says we can't come back on our own time, with her permission. When everything has settled down again and all the cop cars are gone, maybe we'll get a chance to hear those noises Lou heard."
Hutch nodded. It would be a very long night, but if this was going to end up a murder case, then the answer might be in the theater itself. If it wasn't murder, then maybe he and Starsky would feel better after having a look around.
"You ask and see if she's willing," Hutch said. "I'll get some of the uniforms to take a turn around the place, check all the entrances, while they're getting the scene information down. Extra eyes wouldn't hurt."
The rest of the day had been hectic, and Starsky was feeling tired as quitting time neared. Lou's death had made him feel numb, which only added to the lack of interest he'd had for the whole Halloween season. After last year and their experiences at the funeral home, Starsky wasn't sure he was up to enjoying the season as much as he used to. Some things just shouldn't be messed around with.
Sitting at his desk with the last of his cup of coffee, waiting for Hutch to come back from R & I, Starsky hoped they would be able to get out of the building without any further demands on their time. Between the college class and homework, house hunting, and the full days on the job, they'd seemed to only have time left to fall into bed before their next shift began, or another assignment was due.
Nothing out of the ordinary had been found at the scene of Lou's death, and, as they'd anticipated, Dobey had been reluctant to tie up any of his men with a stake-out unless it was confirmed that the death wasn't going to be ruled accidental. So, tonight, he and Hutch would cover the place on their own time, after hours. If they didn't find anything and Ginny's report said it was an accident, their time would be all they'd lose.
And maybe a little bit of guilt, Starsky mused sadly. I know there wasn't much else we could have done at the time, and he did follow our advice and hire some night guards, but it still feels like we let Lou down. If we don't find anything tonight, at least we'll have Ginny's report sometime tomorrow. If she says it's murder, we can track down those guards he hired and find out what they heard.
"You ready to go?" The hand on his shoulder made him jump.
Starsky looked up at Hutch. Blue eyes and concerned face, framed by that mass of blond hair, was always Starsky's favorite view. "Uh, yeah. Let's get out of here before someone finds something for us to do. I'm sick of being here."
As they headed for Hutch's car, Starsky thought about the few hours they had before making the rounds of the theater. They could go to either home to spend the time, but Starsky knew they'd find either homework that needed to be done, or new real estate ads to agonize over.
"Let's go for a ride, huh?" Starsky suggested suddenly, as he slid into the passenger's seat. "I'm too tired to go home. I think I want to run away for a while."
Hutch nodded as he started the car, as if he understood exactly what Starsky was saying. "Yeah, me, too. You have any particular place in mind?"
"How about that scenic overlook on the way up to the lake? You know, the one where we can see the whole city?"
"It's an hour's drive," Hutch said, looking at him questioningly. "It's going to be really cool up there, and even colder once the sun sets. And what about dinner? Don't tell me you plan on going through the evening with an empty stomach."
Starsky gave Hutch a tired smile. "We've got our jackets, and you've got that blanket in the trunk. We can stop at a deli on the way and get a couple of thermoses of soup, sandwiches, and coffee. Park the car, watch the sun go down."
"Sounds like a plan to me. Be nice to get away for a while." Hutch's face lit up like a sunrise, and that view alone was worth the suggestion.
The air in the mountains was nippy as it came through the car windows, and Starsky was glad for the blanket across his lap that he shared with Hutch. The sandwiches had been pleasantly warm when they were unwrapped, and Starsky hummed happily to himself as he blew on the soup. He loved it when it was still hot enough to burn his tongue. Out here, with the sun only minutes away from setting, the cold breeze that blew through the car seemed to help clear the cobwebs out of his brain.
They'd been lucky that there was no one else at the lookout. They had found a corner where they could see the spread of the city, yet were out of sight of the highway traffic. It reminded him of the place they had visited up in the mountains over Reno. Where the view then had been of mountains, scrub brush, and stars, this one was a multi-colored display of city lights and a half moon on the water. Starsky mostly saw the city as full of smog, dirt, and corruption, but there was something about seeing it from a distance that helped put the bad in perspective. Sitting next to Hutch, feeling the warmth of their bodies merge under the blanket, it was easier to bring the good things to mind as he looked out over the vast terrain.
"Penny for your thoughts," Hutch said, smiling that shy smile that always threatened to make Starsky's heart skip a beat. Hutch had finished his meal and was now unscrewing the cap off the coffee, the scent of it filling the car as soon as it was opened.
Starsky smiled then took a sip of soup. "I was just thinking how nice it is up here and how strange it is to think that. I think you've corrupted this city boy. The old me would'a thought that comin' up here to look at lights and breathe cold air was pretty boring stuff."
"Unless you had a sweet young thing with you." Hutch chuckled, his smile wide as he looked at Starsky.
"Oh, I got my sweet young thing with me." Starsky gave Hutch a sly look. "But you'll notice I'm actually enjoying the view, not just enjoying you. For the moment, anyway."
Hutch laughed, the orange tint of the setting sun making him look as if he were glowing. Starsky reached out under the warmth of the blanket to slide a hand along the strong, warm thigh that was pressed against his own.
Hutch's voice was soft and he sounded shyly pleased. "I'm glad you get something out of it as well. It means a lot more when I can share it with you. Not that I wouldn't mind a little dessert to go along with it."
Hutch turned back to the sunset with his coffee, and Starsky sipped the last of his soup as they let the slight breeze and the sounds of the forest around them fill the silence.
As the sun slipped near the horizon, the sky was filled with a rainbow of multi-colored clouds. It wasn't long before they had the leftovers stored in the back seat. Soon they were sitting shoulder to shoulder, hand in hand, watching the sun's light disappear completely. The blanket covered them from the shoulders down, hiding the twining of their fingers and the gentle pressure of Hutch's thumb, as it made lazy circles on the back of Starsky's hand. The sounds of traffic on the highway, hidden by the thick thatch of trees behind them, had died down considerably. There were long minutes when it sounded as if they had the mountain all to themselves.
Starsky watched as the city came to life, individual flickers of light coming on at dusk, looking like thousands of tiny points of flickering candlelight. As the streetlights came on and the car lights of the freeways grew brighter, it seemed as if the city was like a butterfly finally free of its ugly caterpillar body. The lights never stopped moving.
Hutch's grip on his hand tightened and Starsky squeezed back.
"I miss the sunsets," Hutch said softly. Letting go of Starsky's hand, Hutch shifted to put his arm over the back of the seat. "We just seem to get too busy to see them. Each one slips past us, one after the other."
Starsky let his head loll back on the arm behind him, and shifted, once again finding Hutch's thigh with his left hand. Rubbing the warm denim, Starsky let his fingers slide to the inside of Hutch's thigh and gently cupped his hand over Hutch's warm crotch.
Hutch sighed huskily, turning smoky, hungry eyes toward Starsky. The sight made all of Starsky's warm places stir inside, the fire that was always burning for his lover stoked by that look.
Only a sliver of moon shone outside, barely adding to the city lights. Hutch looked at Starsky with light-softened features. Moonlight-colored strands of hair framed his even features. The fine strands seeming to have a life of their own--some flowed down to his collar, smooth and flowing as silk, while others seemed to float and tangle, ending in lazy curls around his face.
Pale brows and silver lashes, almost invisible in the daylight, crowned blue eyes that were almost glowing. Hutch's smile was boyish and sweet--one that Starsky only saw when Hutch was happy and relaxed. Under the blanket Hutch spread his legs, and Starsky could feel the growing firmness under the heavy fabric.
"Time for dessert?" Hutch asked softly. "Or are we taking too much of a chance?" Hutch's long fingers were toying with the curls at the side of Starsky's head. "We could get caught."
"We're outta sight of the highway," Starsky said, his hand moving to knead Hutch gently, enjoying the way the flesh underneath was growing hot and firm. "We'll see headlights before any car can get close. We've got a blanket, our badges, our dinner leftovers, and an excuse to be here." Starsky dug his fingers into the fabric, defining Hutch's cock and balls through the warm material.
"We do? And what excuse would that be?"
"We're up here as cops waiting on a snitch," he replied, knowing that the leer on his face would be a dead give-away in a real situation. "We could be waiting all night."
The fingers in Starsky's hair tightened suddenly, holding him firmly. Starsky found himself being drawn to Hutch, as they shifted closer together. He was held still for one long second, only inches from Hutch's lips, as his blue eyes looked dark and smoky in the dim light.
Hutch's voice was deep, raspy, and sweet. "Could take us days...."
As Hutch's lips met his own, Starsky's mind felt overwhelmed with the taste and touch of the lush lips. His arms wrapped around Hutch under the blanket. As he found his way inside Hutch's mouth, their tongues danced around each other. Starsky's hands moved down to Hutch's waist and pulled at his shirt until he found the warm, soft skin of Hutch's back and sides.
Starsky's hand felt, pulled, and stroked all of Hutch's chest that he could reach, as he worked his way up under the shirt. He loved touching Hutch, needed the feel of skin and the subtle, electrical hum of the living body in his arms.
Hutch pulled away and Starsky moaned.
"You are so hot," Hutch said huskily. His eyes were dark and stormy, the faint tint of desire coloring his cheeks in the dim light. "Part of me still can't believe you're with me. Another part wonders what took us so long."
Before Starsky could say anything in reply, Hutch pulled his head farther back, and his hot mouth found the crook of Starsky's neck. As Hutch devoured the sensitive skin, Starsky filled his hands with the golden silk of Hutch's hair and leaned back into his corner of the car. As they moved, Hutch buried his face under the edge of the blanket and inside Starsky's jacket, his mouth nipping at the skin over his collarbone.
One hand in Hutch's hair, Starsky ran the other down the nape of his neck, wanting to slide his hands under the jacket and shirt, but there wasn't much he could reach with Hutch nibbling away at him.
"Ah, Hutch, you're killing me! Can't get to any of you!"
A deep rumble came from Starsky's chest, like the purr from a large cat. Hutch's mouth was still working at the skin above the top button, his tongue swirling at a tuft of chest hair. "You're my dessert. You'll just have to wait for yours!"
Starsky was hot now, despite the open windows. He was drowning in clothing and fabric; his erection was close to being painful. Hutch's hands were on Starsky's hips, pulling him farther down the seat. Suddenly, under cover of the blanket, he felt Hutch's hands at his crotch and felt the zipper being pulled down, even before he heard the muffled sound of the action.
Starsky groaned, leaning back into the corner as best he could. Foggy, his mind on the hand that was carefully extracting his cock and balls from the opening of his underwear and jeans, he loosened his grip on Hutch's hair. He kept his eyes on the other end of the parking lot, trying to listen through the rush of his own heartbeat for any signs of interruption.
It was hard not to give up and totally focus on the sensations of Hutch's mouth on his cock. Hot and moist, Starsky felt lips gently trace the underside, and fingers gently knead his balls, making them feel hot and heavy. He was soon completely hard under the attention.
Starsky's fingertips lightly rubbed Hutch's scalp. The part of his mind that wasn't locked onto the wonderful sensations on his cock was enjoying the silky mass sliding through his fingers. Hutch was humming, and Starsky jumped as he felt Hutch's tongue at that sensitive spot under his glans. Then he moved on, touching tenderly the sensitive line of his scrotum, then back up to lick all the way from his balls to the head of his cock.
Panting, it was all Starsky could do not to squirm under the tender attention. Hutch pushed his thighs apart a bit more, and Starsky felt fingers ring the base of his cock and pull it away from his body. Hutch used his other had to grip his balls, and he started rolling them inside the soft sac. Just as he was starting to enjoy the movement, Hutch sucked in the head of his cock, and Starsky saw stars.
"Ah, Hutch... So good...so good..." It was all he could think to say, his mind full of the pleasure Hutch was giving him. Hutch knew him so well, knew every nerve and pleasure spot on his body, and was so intent on playing them all. All Starsky could do was groan and moan his feelings, and try to tell Hutch how much he was enjoying this through the touch on his scalp.
The tension was building up inside of him, the burn of desire taking over, making him pant as if even the air around him were on fire. His cock was now pulsing with his heartbeat, and he was coming up on the edge of what he could take. The urge to thrust was almost overpowering, but Hutch's strong hands kept his body still while driving him crazy.
About to come, Starsky found he no longer had much control. With his eyes shut, his own sounds loud in his head, Starsky threw his head back as he hit the peak. He came strongly, his whole body lost within it. He took a gulping breath of cool air, feeling dizzy and weak as the spasms flowed through and out of him. Hutch had held still when climax hit, and now was sucking very gently. Opening his eyes, he found it hard to focus at first, his mind still humming and uninterested in the outside world.
Hutch released him, and in the dim light Starsky could see he had a cat-ate-the-canary smile on his face.
"Guess you were right." Hutch laughed mischievously. "So far, no one's bothered us. Good thing, huh?"
Starsky wasn't fooled by the teasing. Hutch was hot and ready for his turn. Gathering up the last of his strength, Starsky leaned up, reached for Hutch's head, and pulled their lips together. He could almost taste Hutch's need mixed with the flavors of the evening and Hutch's actions. Hutch felt like a wound-up spring under Starsky's hands.
"Whatch'a want, hot stuff?" Starsky said breathlessly. "Want a return of the favor, or how about somethin' dangerous?" Starsky could see some uncertainty and hesitation in Hutch's face. Starsky smiled. "You've got somethin' special on your mind. C'mon, spill it!"
It looked like Hutch was getting even redder. "Outside, up against the car?"
Starsky felt his eyebrows lift as his mind raced. If they were careful... It could be pretty messy...but if it's what Hutch wanted... "Okay, let's do it."
Tucking himself in and zipping up, since he wasn't sure what Hutch had in mind, he wasn't surprised when Hutch grabbed the blanket and exited the car. Hutch came around to the passenger's side. Starsky got out and started to close the car door when Hutch stopped him.
Starsky watched as Hutch quickly spread one end of the blanket over the top of the open door and shut it. He then turned and grabbed Starsky's shoulders, placing his front against the blanket and his arms on the roof. Starsky was leaning forward against the car. The blanket between him and the door blocked the view from anyone who might drive into the only entrance to the lot.
"Man, I've wanted to frisk you more than just a time or two," Hutch said breathlessly in Starsky' ear.
Starsky, smiling to himself, got into "the stance." His feet spread far apart, he felt Hutch's hot hands first pat him down carefully, and then work their way up under his jacket to caress his stomach. Then Hutch leaned against him, his body feeling like lava against Starsky's when compared to the cool air outside. Hutch's hard-on was like steel against Starsky's ass.
Hutch pressed against him, his head at the crook of Starsky's neck, making him feel completely covered and protected from the elements. Sighing deeply and loudly in Starsky's ear, Hutch gripped his shoulders and rubbed his crotch against Starsky's ass.
Starsky relaxed, enjoying the erotic caress and the deep rumbling breaths across his neck and ear as Hutch pleasured himself.
"Love your ass," Hutch hissed. His hands moved to Starsky's waist, unsnapping and unzipping him. Then Hutch grabbed one of his arms and pulled it off the top of the car. "Here, hold them up. Don't want you freezing something off."
Starsky held up the front of his jeans and underwear with one hand. He could hear Hutch undoing his own zipper. The sigh Hutch gave as he was freed made Starsky sigh in sympathy. Then, gently, his shirt-tail was lifted and his jeans pushed down, so he could feel the cool air of night against his ass.
It didn't last long. Before he could even think about the temperature, Hutch settled against him, slipping his cock between Starsky's ass cheeks, the head of his cock angled up to rub against Starsky's tailbone. Then Starsky's shirt and jacket were released, covering most of them both. Hutch moaned deeply in Starsky's ear, and Starsky tried to clench his cheeks, hoping to give Hutch as much friction as possible.
Hutch thrust gently, the head of his cock rubbing the tender skin of Starsky's crack. Hands on Starsky's hips, Hutch pulled him back just a bit and then settled heavily against him, breathing hard as if he were close to losing control.
"Do it, babe. I want to feel you 'frisk' me!"
Hutch let go then, and Starsky tried to keep an eye on the other side of the lot. Hutch pressed so close that there was no space between them. Starsky could feel the oily slickness of pre-come spread between them. Hutch thrust against him, over and over, his quick breaths and deep grunts warming Starsky's neck. As the pressure varied and the thrusts became irregular, Hutch seemed to mutter to himself in a voice too low for even Starsky to make out.
The heat poured off Hutch, and Starsky knew he was seconds away from coming. Suddenly, Hutch gasped and moaned, twisting to one side as his hand came off Starsky's hip. As Hutch leaned sideways against him, Starsky heard the sound of flesh on flesh, and knew that Hutch was giving himself the final strokes that would finish him off.
Hutch relaxed against him almost completely. Starsky heard the slight sound of liquid hitting the dirt and wished he could have been there to finish him off. It was less messy this way, but part of Starsky missed not sharing that part of his lover's experience.
Starsky held still, allowing Hutch to use him as a brace for as long as he wanted. It wasn't long before Hutch turned toward him again, and Starsky's back was covered in weight and warmth.
"Man..." Hutch sighed, sounding relaxed and happy. "You drive me crazy, you know that? The things you make me want to do..." Hutch leaned in and nipped him slightly on the ear as he moved back, making Starsky laugh and jerk away.
"Well, if we got any guardian angels, we gotta keep 'em in practice," Starsk said teasingly, pushing off of the car and turning around to throw one arm around Hutch's shoulder, while using the other hand to try to pull up his jeans and underwear. He smiled up into the satisfied blue eyes that looked back at him with love. "How were you going to explain the blanket in the car door if someone came up on us?"
"Trying out a secret frisking routine?" Hutch said with a slight laugh. "Camouflage so our snitch wouldn't see us in the car? I don't know. Guess that's why it's a good thing we can think fast on our feet."
They leaned into each other and gave one another a gentle kiss in the darkness of the night.
I've got to take this guy parking more often, Starsky thought happily, zipping up his jeans as Hutch did the same. He really gets a charge out of this cold mountain air. But next time I want to be in the Torino. That back seat of mine has been unused for way too long!
As they entered the darkened theater and locked the door behind them, Starsky was glad that a few lights had been left on inside. There was just enough light in most areas to keep from running into things, but not so much that they couldn't find a place to stay hidden. He and Hutch had both brought flashlights with them, but using them would point out to intruders that someone else was in the building. He was glad they'd been able to bring a pair of walkie-talkies with them as well.
"So, where do you want to go?" Hutch whispered, sounding tense. "We'd better keep up with each other, because I don't want to end up pulling my gun on you by accident."
"I'll take the front of the building, from the lobby doors to the stage, " Starsky said. "Maybe I'll notice something different from last time."
Hutch nodded tensely, playing with the buttons on his walkie-talkie. "Okay. I'll take the stage and beyond. We hear anything, we let each other know, right away. "
Starsky wasn't sure what it was, but Hutch seemed to be more and more uncomfortable as the seconds passed. "You okay with this?"
The smile Hutch gave him was a tight one that didn't do anything about the seriousness in his eyes. "I'm fine. I just have this feeling that we really missed something obvious the first time around. I don't want to make that same mistake twice."
"It really could have been an accident, you know." Starsky knew he must be feeling the same twinge of guilt Hutch was. "Maybe it was just meant to be."
"Maybe so," Hutch said reluctantly, "but I'd feel better just to give it a few hours and see what turns up. If those security guards Lou hired want to give us a strange story, then at least we'll have seen the area one last time and can question them about the place. See how familiar they were with it. But I still have this feeling that there is something going on here. There was that guy I thought I saw that night..."
"And my day dream," Starsky added. When Hutch had later admitted to his vision, Starsky had felt the need to come clean about his own. He could understand why Hutch had sworn the guy had looked so real. "Let's give it a couple'a hours and see if we find anything. If the evening's a wash, then at least we gave it a shot."
Starsky turned to the door that opened to the auditorium. One small light on the stage to his left barely touched the rows and rows of seats that were spread out to the right of him. The balcony seats were invisible, hiding in the dark, and Starsky shivered for a second, almost feeling as if he were being watched. The moment passed quickly, so he shrugged it off as tired, over-worked nerves and moved on.
After a couple of hours of silence, Starsky was beginning to feel they were both mistaken. He had made the rounds of the front of the theater several times now, resting in a darkened corner once in a while to make sure that his own quiet movements weren't covering up any sounds in the background. There had been nothing to hear except Hutch's voice through the walkie-talkie, as they checked in with each other every twenty minutes.
He walked carefully, his eyes long ago adjusted to the dim lighting. He passed the stage and looked down into the slightly sunken orchestra pit. Coming to the wall, he started walking up the other side of the building toward the lobby doors. The room was a huge cavern that seemed to want to be filled. Old, worn velvet seats, heavy drapery on the walls, and the threadbare carpet under his feet made Starsky feel almost as if he could hear the murmur of the crowds and the sound of the orchestra as it tuned up, all waiting for the raising of the curtain.
He leaned back against a wall, letting his mind go as he listened for anything strange. Just as he was imagining the theater as it must have been when new, a coldness flowed over him, and the hair on the back of his neck stood up.
Closing his eyes against a sudden dizziness, he opened them again. The scent of orange blossoms filled the room.
A movement caught his eye, and, like a dream, he saw a dark form come toward him. Not able to move, he could only watch as it took the shape of a young woman. She was the same girl Starsky had seen before. This time she wore another dress, just as antique, but less formal. Her dark hair spilling down her back in loose ringlets, she turned, stopped just inside the door of the lobby, looked around, then slipped into the dark corner behind the last row of seats.
He could hear her breathing quickly, as if she was scared and excited at the same time. Just as he tried to focus on her features, another form flashed by. Starsky saw the back of a man, face turned away from him, tall, lean, and wearing some sort of strange costume. The only other thing Starsky could see was the man's red hair before the young girl caught his attention once again. Her expression on the other's arrival was one of pure joy and adoration.
Then, as quickly as it came, the scene faded away, leaving Starsky feeling confused and dizzy.
What was that? Am I seeing ghosts again? No, it can't be. I've just had a long day, and it's long past time Hutch and I were home in bed. This place is just playing on my mind, since it's the season for ghosts and goblins. I'm letting old memories get to me.
Flashbacks to last year--on the case they had worked during Halloween--made him feel uncomfortable. He'd never quite believed what happened last year was real. He'd spent too much time trying not to think about the deaths and what had looked like a ghost at the funeral parlor, to want to admit that there could really be ghosts. It was no wonder he and Hutch had never really talked about that night.
Shaking his head and rubbing his eyes, he realized how tired he was. Just as he was about to signal Hutch that they should call it a night, his partner's voice came over the walkie-talkie, barely a whisper.
"Starsky! I'm in the prop room. There's something going on! But keep it quiet."
"On my way." He turned and started moving quickly toward the back of the building.
At the start of his tour, Hutch had found that he'd had to turn on a few lights here and there to keep from using his flashlight too much. While he didn't think the area behind the stage was as big as it was in front, it had a lot of small changing rooms, hallways, and hidden corners that could easily hide a prowler. There were large rolls of canvas backdrops and the large prop room to maneuver through and around. For a kid, this place would be a paradise, a feeling that Lou himself would have agreed with.
I can see why he liked it here. Quiet, peaceful, and chock full of treasures from the past. I wonder if Lou had any acting in his background?
He spent some time here and there, flushing the darkness out of corners when he needed to, contacting Starsky on schedule to check in. All was quiet except for his footsteps and, once in a while, Starsky's.
Remembering the man he thought he had seen, Hutch decided to take a better look through the prop room. He was loath to turn on the dim room lighting, so used his flashlight. He'd covered the room a few times before, carefully sidestepping around the mess that was left behind after Lou was killed. Nothing had jumped out at him that time, but he was willing to give it another shot.
Walking down the last aisle, the room was so quiet Hutch could only hear his own breathing. The shelves were packed with all kinds of things. Covered under layers of dust, it all looked like items a person would find at a flea market or garage sale. There was a strange mixture of things, from picture frames to cookware. Most were either broken or worn, probably only worth the cost of having it all hauled away and dumped. If there was any system to their placement, Hutch couldn't see the pattern.
He tried to remember where on the shelves he had thought the man had been looking, but nothing looked like it had been disturbed. Reaching to the middle of the shelf, he held the flashlight up and moved a dark, soiled-looking piece of cloth.
Well, well! That doesn't look like it's been here too long.
In the bright beam of the flashlight, he saw a glint of gold from the case of a pocket watch. Clean and shiny, unlike everything else on the shelf, it was the only thing he saw that stood out.
He picked it up and instantly noticed that it didn't feel right. Looking at it closely, he played the light over it and had started to open it when a strange, soft sound came from behind him.
Startled, Hutch switched off the light and slipped the watch into his back pocket. It had been a dull, rolling sound, coming from the shelves and brick wall behind them. It couldn't have been Starsky. Pulling out his gun, he listened again.
He heard it a second time. Following the sound, he came to the far end of the aisle. Now, in the farthest corner of the room, Hutch eyed the layout as well as he could in the beam from his flashlight. It was an area filled with large pieces of furniture and other household items that had been haphazardly stacked. He carefully climbed over and between several pieces of furniture, until he came to stand beside a fireplace against the side wall. As the sound faded away, he turned his flashlight off, wanting to see if he could get a better sense of direction.
It was pitch dark and tomb quiet. He waited, unmoving, for several long minutes when he heard the noise again, this time a little louder than before. It was nearer this time, as if it were coming from behind the wall. Then it stopped. He brought the walkie-talkie up to his lips.
"Starsky! I'm in the prop room. There's something going on! But keep it quiet," he hissed.
"On my way."
Before he could turn on his flashlight, a beam of light low to the ground caught his attention. Leaving his light off, he squatted, surprised to see a faint rectangle of light.
It's the inside the fireplace. There's something behind it.
Scooting closer, gun ready, he leaned forward and placed his right palm against the middle of the door. It felt like painted wood. He leaned forward, watching as the faint light seemed to move and change intensity.
There must be a room back there. If I could find a latch or something that'll--
The wall under his hand disappeared and suddenly his balance was gone. Pitching forward, he tried to twist, landing with a thud on his right side, even as his eyes were stabbed with a bright light. Blinded, he brought up his gun and opened his mouth to yell for Starsky. As his head exploded in pain, he barely had time to wonder what had happened before everything disappeared.
Starsky debated with himself, every nerve in his body taut with tension. Standing just inside the doorway to the prop room, where he wouldn't be silhouetted by the light from the room behind him, he looked for any sign of Hutch. His partner had wanted him to come in quietly, but he had been at the entrance for a few minutes now, and had had no sign that anyone was inside. No sound or movement caught his attention nor gave him a clue as to what he should do next.
I don't dare use my flashlight if someone's going to see it. Do I chance the walkie-talkie, or let him contact me?
Every second that went by with no information made Starsky all the more anxious. Silently, he counted to sixty once, then twice, listening all the while for any sound or the hint of a light.
Carefully, he clicked the button on the unit twice, hoping that the split second of static would be enough to signal his partner without being loud enough to alert anyone else. There was no response.
He counted to sixty, one more time.
"Hutch?" he hissed, lips against the mouthpiece.
Still no response. Starsky's heart was thumping painfully, his whole body vibrating as if he were on a hair trigger. He tucked the walkie-talkie back into his jacket pocket and took out his gun.
Shit, shit, shit, shit! It's been too long. Where could he be?
With the beam pointed toward the ground, he switched on his flashlight. He had gotten a quick look at the area during the wrap up of Lou's death, but he wasn't very familiar with it. He knew from Hutch's description that it only had one entrance and exit, and that it was a maze of all kinds of things that could hide a person. Moving the light slowly, he could see the sparkle of broken glass that still littered the area where Lou's body had been found. Still no movement or sound beyond his own.
He held the flashlight away from him with his right hand as he played it across the floor. If someone were to shoot, they might get his hand but not do him any fatal damage. He moved quietly, trying to keep the light on the floor so he wouldn't trip over anything.
As he covered more and more ground, he found himself moving faster, growing more frantic as the silence and darkness seemed to be pressing in around him. Weaving his way through the crowded, dusty room, he came to the back wall, past row after row of shelving. One last flash of the light showed him that Hutch wasn't down the last aisle.
"Hutch!" The sound echoed through the cavernous room. The chill of fear made him jog quickly back to the front of the room. Totally throwing caution to the wind, he hit the light switch. Blinking as the dim lights came on, there was still no sound or movement.
If Hutch was still in here, he had to be hurt. If he was gone, there was no time to lose. Starsky had already wasted enough.
Making his way down to Lou's office in half a breath, Starsky picked up the phone and barked stern orders to a surprised desk officer down at the station. Barely giving time for the night-shift officer to confirm his orders, Starsky slammed the phone down and ran back to the prop room, ready to tear it apart, atom by atom.
As he struggled to wake, Hutch only knew that his head hurt and the side of his face felt sticky. One side hurt more than the other, but he couldn't think straight enough to figure out his right from his left. There was some kind of sticky tape across his mouth, and he found it hard to move.
Grimacing made it hurt worse, but the pain seemed to help clear his mind a bit. Carefully, he tried to take stock of his situation. Opening his eyes slowly, there was only pitch black. Not even a glimmer of light to give him a hint of where he was.
Cold. He noticed he was shivering. Need my jacket.
Shifting slightly, he became more aware of his extremities. His hands felt swollen and bruised. It took him a moment to realize his hands were tied tightly behind his back, and he was lying on them. His ankles were also tied. Shifting himself minutely, tensing and relaxing his muscles, he found that he was lying on some sort of hard ground that was either pavement or cement flooring. It smelled dark and moldy, as if the place hadn't seen the light of day in many years.
The silence was tomb-like. Hutch hadn't heard a sound the whole time, except for his own breathing.
That fireplace...there was a door hidden behind it. It opened up on me...
He tried to remember exactly what had occurred next, but it had happened too fast. He remembered the pain and the anger he'd felt at the attack, but his memory was pretty dim after that. He wondered how much time had passed. At least he'd already alerted Starsky.
Shit. Starsky is going to be twisting people's heads off, looking for me. Hutch felt embarrassment and guilt at the thought. He knew what Starsky must be going through on his behalf. Better get my ass out of here and get on home before he rips the town apart.
Hutch felt a sudden chill flow through him, and he tried to suppress a shiver. He felt as if someone were watching him, even in the darkness. Tensing up, he turned his head and was startled to see someone standing over him.
Hutch blinked, trying to bring the person into focus. The stranger seemed to be standing in a shaft of light that didn't touch any other part of the room. He was tall, with reddish curly hair and a small goatee. Dressed in a ridiculous costume, Hutch's first thought was that he was dressed up early for Halloween, as some sort of pirate or musketeer. It then struck him that this was the same man he had seen for a fraction of a second a week ago, when he had been in Lou's prop room. Just as the man seemed to notice him, looking down at Hutch with concern in his eyes, the figure was suddenly gone.
Oh, man, I must have been hit harder than I thought. I'm seeing things again. I've got to get hold of myself.
Rolling to his left and noticing that his holster was empty, he tried to keep his head up. Finding himself on his stomach, he tried looking around again, but there was still no light.
Okay, not much accomplished, but this room's got to have some walls somewhere. Or maybe even furniture. Might as well keep going until I hit something familiar.
He rolled three more times before hitting a wall. Resting for a moment, he listened for any sound that might signal movement behind it. There was still nothing.
Tired of rolling around, he twisted so that his knees were under him. The pounding in his head grew worse, and he tried not to acknowledge the pain. He didn't want to draw any attention to himself, in case the bad guys were still around.
Leaning on his face, his ass up in the air, he took a deep breath and tested his stomach muscles for weakness. There wasn't anything that was going keep him from moving, so he took another deep breath, held it, and pulled himself upright. Still on his knees, he let the breath out slowly, and, in one sudden movement, he rocked backward and tried to bring his bound feet under him.
It was close and he teetered precariously for a second, but leaned on the wall to keep his balance.
Okay, now what? If I could see where I am, I could figure out where I want to go.
Figuring he might as well see what he could find, he hopped forward a little.
Well, since I don't have anything better to do, I might as well take the scenic route.
With that, he prepared himself for another small hop into the darkness.
If the theater had been empty and quiet before, that had soon changed when back-up arrived--almost four hours ago. Uniformed cops now stood guard inside and out, and detectives were swarming the theater at Dobey's direction. The exits were still locked, every corner checked and rechecked, furniture and large props had been shoved aside to expose dark and unused corners.
I can't figure out how anyone could have gotten him out, Starsky thought tiredly. We've all been over this place with a fine-toothed comb. He's got to be here somewhere!
Sighing, he rubbed at his face as he stood in a quiet corner of the ravaged prop room. He was glad the lighting was so dim in this area, because it helped dull the ache in his head.
I was only seconds away! I know it! There wasn't enough time for anyone to get by me. I would've heard something. Hutch would've put up a fight....
Starsky shivered at the thought. Hutch would have fought and made a lot of noise, if he could. Starsky didn't like speculating about the reasons why Hutch might not have been in any condition to defend himself. Better to go over and over that last contact they'd had, when Hutch called him to the prop room.
He made the call. I responded. I was out in the auditorium. I put the walkie-talkie back in my pocket as I moved up to the stage. Ten seconds? Then I moved to the hallway behind the stage, past the scenery and all the junk back there, to the hallway. Maybe fifteen or twenty seconds more? There isn't any way out of this place that would allow them to get by me. I was only a moment away--
Starsky startled at the sound of his name. Turning, he saw Dobey standing in the doorway. He didn't like the look on Dobey's face. Dobey was going to pull them out, take the search to the streets.
Walking over to him, hands in his pockets and looking rumpled, Dobey looked almost as bad as Starsky figured he looked. For half a second, Starsky wondered if Dobey had even made it home before Hutch had gone missing. "Time to go home and get some sleep, son. There's not much more we can do here."
Starsky shook his head, trying not to let his fatigue show. "I need to stay here, Captain. There must be something we've overlooked."
Dobey grunted tiredly. "We've got an APB out on him, and if the word isn't all over the street yet, it will be in a few hours." Dobey reached out and put a hand on Starsky's shoulder. "Go home and I'll give you a call the minute I hear anything."
"I could make that an order." Dobey's eyes--although sympathetic--were serious.
Starsky sighed and shrugged, and Dobey's hand tightened on his shoulder. "I wouldn't be getting any rest there. I'd rather stay here and wait, than drive all the way back home. It's just a waste of time, when the trail is going to start from here. And if someone outside saw anything--"
"I get your point," Dobey said gruffly, looking as if he knew he was fighting a losing battle. "If I sent you home now, you'd probably end up wandering the streets, or back here. I'll leave a couple of officers here to watch your back, so you've got another few hours, but that's it. Then I'll send Thorpe and Flores to pick you up and take you home. You'll go with them, or I'll seriously think about locking you up, so that you'll pass out from boredom. You hear me?"
The smile Starsky gave him wasn't much, but he hoped Dobey would take it as the "thank you" that it was.
"You find anything..." Dobey gave his shoulder one last squeeze, turned, and left.
Starsky listened from inside the empty prop room, as Dobey gave his final instructions before leaving for the station. It wasn't long before the theater was once again quiet. Starsky looked around the huge room, feeling more than a bit lost.
Just hang on, Hutch, he found himself pleading silently. Whatever is going down, just hang on for me. I'll find you, babe.
With that, his head pounding and his nerves still on edge, he turned his flashlight back on, ready to go through the room once more.
If it hadn't been for falling over, Hutch probably would never have found the cord that hung down from the ancient light fixture. As it was, once he got back up off the floor--which wasn't getting any easier--it took him some serious balancing in the dark, leaning first one way then the other, until he felt the stiff cord hit him in the face once again.
It seemed to take forever for him to trap it between his chin and shoulder. If it had been much shorter, he would never have managed it. Finally trapping it, and praying that he wasn't pulling something strange and nasty down on himself, he got ready to yank on it as best he could.
The low-watt bulb wasn't much, but after total darkness, the flashing of the bulb in the ceiling was like needles through his eyes. He tried to get a good look at his location as the light flickered, and felt a wave of relief as it steadied and stopped acting as if it were going out any second.
Man, this place seemed a lot bigger in the dark!
The room he was in was about twelve by twelve and looked as damp and moldy as it smelled. The walls were covered in old, peeling wallpaper that was more gray than anything else. The floor was concrete, as if the room had only ever been used for storage and was never finished. There were no windows, and the one door to the room looked old and half-rotten.
If I could just--
The rattling of the door knob surprised him. Moving quickly, he hopped toward the door as he heard someone unlocking it. Barely making it to the hinge side, he waited until the door opened inward, hiding him, hoping for some advantage in surprise.
"Told you he'd gotten--"
Hutch flung himself at the back of the door, hoping to knock the guy out. Even as he hit it and sent it slamming into someone, he knew there were at least two of them. He couldn't stop himself from hitting the floor, and did so amidst a tangle of limbs.
"Damn it! Get him offa me!"
Hutch's surprise had knocked one man down, but the large, rangy-looking man behind him wasn't at such a disadvantage. Among a barrage of curses, the second man stepped over the first one. Hutch saw the kick coming and was able to twist his body just in time, so the kick hit his hip and not his crotch. He did his best not to grunt in pain, as he rolled over to protect his stomach. The second and third kicks were vicious.
"God damned, fuckin' pig!" the man on the floor hissed angrily, as he picked himself up. Hutch grabbed a look at him, careful not to roll over in case the second man started to kick again. "Dan, I told you we should'a just capped him!"
"Sure, you idiot," the man named Dan snapped. "We should'a just blew his brains out while someone was next door. That would've been real bright, huh? You think we've had pigs crawling all over us so far, then a nice, simple gun shot would've just pointed us out like a neon light! Joey, you're an idiot! If it hadn't been for you, we wouldn't be in this mess!"
Joey, who was much younger and smaller than Dan, walked over to a corner and backed into it, hugging his middle and looking like a chastised child. "What about now? Why can't we just--?"
Out of the corner of his eye, Hutch saw his gun in Dan's hand and understood why Joey had shut up. No one likes having a gun pointed at them.
"Shut up, asshole. We've got things to do."
Hutch could almost feel the temperature in the room drop as their attention turned to him. As the two men talked, Hutch had been testing his bonds, but nothing was close to coming loose.
The foot that had kicked him before nudged at his leg. "Well, cop, looks like curiosity has gotten you in a hell of a lot of trouble, don't it? Seems like you're bound to cause us trouble if left by yourself, so we're going to move you. Might as well give you the grand tour."
Hutch was pulled up painfully by an arm, but held still while Joey cut the rope from his ankles. There wasn't much he could have done with the gun barrel pressing painfully against the lump on the side of his head.
Once his feet were free, Hutch was shoved roughly toward the door. Once past the doorway, his eyes widened at what he saw.
The room he had been held in was at the end of what looked to be one long, narrow hallway, framed by two walls of thick brick. There was a set of long tables against the wall to his left. Down at the other end of the hallway was a set of narrow stairs that went up. In the center of the cement floor, closer to the room he had been held in than the center of the building, was a manhole cover.
This must have been an old alley between the theater and the next building. Some owner must've built over it and used this space for storage, then blocked it off later. These guys have been coming in and out through the manhole, and getting into the theater through the hidden door.
The ceiling was low, and the only light in the room was from a couple of bare bulbs that illuminated what was on the tables.
He had fallen into a methamphetamine lab. The tables were covered with leftover chemical bottles, bits of hose, and even a cylinder that had rolled under a table. Obviously, someone had made a hasty retreat with the goods and left the replaceable items behind. But it was clear from the clutter and mess, that the lab had once been a small but busy one.
The two men shoved him down the length of the building to the stairs. On this side of the wall, Hutch could see where the old door had been bricked back in, with the exception of a small rectangular door down at ground level. The fireplace must be on the other side, and that was where he fell in.
If someone is on the other side, maybe they'll hear me if I make some noise!
As they came to the narrow, rotten-looking stairs Hutch tripped the smaller man, ducking and turning to butt the larger man in the stomach.
The pain in his head exploded, and he kicked out as he fell, making contact with a body. He began thrashing, doing what he could to do damage and make noise. Aiming his feet at the small door to the prop room, he wasn't sure if he got in a kick before his head banged against the floor and the two men fell on top of him.
As he slipped away, still trying to fight, he wondered if he'd made enough noise to make a difference.
Starsky leaned back against the worn velvet of the lobby wall, closed his eyes, and tried to rest for a moment. Nothing he had done tonight had gone right. His last search of the prop room had given him nothing new to work with. Frustrated, he had to move and walk off his frustration, ending up in the lobby once again. It seemed to relax him somewhat. The officer on duty was more than happy to take a bathroom break, which gave Starsky time alone.
It was almost dawn, and he knew Thorpe and Flores would soon arrive to kick him out and drag him home. And he didn't have any reason to stay. Not one that would get past those two. And, if he were honest with himself, he knew he wasn't going to help Hutch if he drove himself into the ground. But honesty wasn't going to make leaving any easier. To go home without his partner...
I've got to be missing something obvious. A place like this must've been added on to during the years. Could be secret passages anywhere. Hutch was in the prop room, then he wasn't. Lou died in there. It's in there, somewhere. But with all that stuff blocking the aisles, piled on the shelves, how can we see anything? We need to empty the whole place out, get Lou's daughter to okay it and--
It was the sound that broke his concentration, the dim murmur of a crowd that seemed to get louder as he listened to it.
He opened his eyes and saw the same scene from a week ago, the scent of orange blossoms swirling around him. The lobby was once again filled with people who were dressed in the top fashions of a bygone era. None of them noticed him, and he looked past them, to the beautiful statue between the lobby doors.
The young woman he'd felt drawn to walked by him, turning to look in his direction, as if she could see him. In that quick glimpse, he thought her face looked older than before, as if she had been visited by tragedy. She turned away and continued to the statue. His view changed, and he was suddenly beside her, seeing the room and the crowd from the other side of the room from where he had last stood.
She lifted her hands, and Starsky watched with fascination as she pulled at the fingers of the long glove covering her left hand and forearm. When she pulled the glove off, he saw a small ring on her third finger. It wasn't much--a thin band with small lacey designs surrounding a tiny stone in the center. To Starsky, it didn't look like it was worth much, not when compared to the lady's obvious station in life, but he heard the heartbroken sigh that escaped her lips as she pulled it off. Starsky watched as a tear ran down her face as she looked at the ring for a second, then silently dropped the ring down the narrow mouth of the marble vase the statue held.
He jerked then, the sound of the ring landing at the bottom of the vase ringing in his head. Blinking, he saw the room as it was only moments before--dirty, neglected and now mostly forgotten. He was shaking, and he could feel sweat start to trickle down the back of his neck.
Before he could do anything, the officer who had been guarding the lobby came out of the bathroom. Starsky straightened, still feeling confused by what he saw.
"Thanks, Detective. I've got it now."
"Uh...that's fine, uh...Rogers," Starsky said quickly, hoping the officer hadn't noticed his confusion. "I'll just...just..."
As he looked around, trying to center himself again, he noticed some scraps of wood by the bar. Walking over, he could see that Lou had been working on repairing the wooden structure. One long round piece caught his eye.
"Hey, Rogers, you got some gum?"
Starsky didn't pay much attention to the confusion in the officer's voice. He picked up the long wooden rod and accepted the stick of gum. He gave it a couple of chews as he walked over to the statue, compelled to do this, as if Hutch's life depended on it.
Rogers didn't say anything; he just stood there, hands on hips, and watched as Starsky stuck the sticky gum on the end of the stick and then started lowering it through the narrow neck of the vase.
I know it's down there. Why it's important, I don't know. But for some reason, I need it!
As the stick hit bottom, he could feel what must be dirt and grit. He pressed the stick down firmly, then moved it slightly to one side and pressed down again. After the third time, he decided to try his luck and see if it had worked.
Carefully pulling up the stick, with Rogers practically leaning over his shoulder, Starsky almost laughed with relief when he saw the dull, tarnished circle of metal embedded in the gum with other bits of dirt and plaster.
"What's that, Detective? Something important to the case?"
Starsky tossed the stick and gum onto the bar, his attention on the ring he now held in his fingers. It was the same ring the lady in his vision had dropped into the vase. Only it was years older, dark, and tarnished. As he studied it, the overwhelming need to hold it faded, leaving him wondering what he was doing. How could he be so concerned over this when Hutch was still missing? He had to get back to the prop room!
"Don't know," he answered quickly, tucking the ring into his back pocket and heading back toward the auditorium. "But at this point, I'll take anything that might tell me where my partner is."
Dan dropped the cop's body in the center of the second floor in the hidden part of the building, giving the unconscious blond another vicious kick for good measure. The cop was heavier than he looked, and getting him up those narrow stairs hadn't been easy. Joey, the whiny asshole, hadn't been any more help than usual. If it hadn't been for the stupid kid making noises when he wasn't supposed to, they might have been able to wait out the old man's death and move to get the lab back into operation. The stupid cop blew those hopes when he discovered the secret entrance.
"Damned pig," Joey muttered angrily, swiping a hand through his long, grimy hair. "We oughtta stuff him in with that mummy and leave him there. That'd probably scare him to death, and then we wouldn't have to worry about him."
Dan grinned at the thought. He and Joey had used this place for their lab for almost a year, after Joey had found it by accident when playing sewer rat. It had been perfect for them, even gave the kid a thrill when they'd found the old mummified body in a trunk on the second level, buried under years of various theater trash and faded cloth. Whoever had killed that guy had even left the rope twisted around the neck. Dan figured that the old doorway between the two areas must have been closed up, and the secret entrance behind the fireplace put in, before the guy was killed. Otherwise, someone would have found the body and buried it before now.
"Yeah, it's a thought. He'd probably rot here just as long as that other guy has. But I think it's time we cut our losses, kid."
Joey looked up at him, and Dan could see the crazy part of the kid come to the fore. "You mean it? Really? Can I do it? You promised me I could do it! Right?"
Dan smiled at him. "Sure. Told you you could torch the place someday. We've got all our stuff out, and there's no coming back now, so why not now? Maybe we'll take out a lot more cops besides just this one. It'll be one hell of a show."
"Now? Can I get it started now?"
"Sure, just don't light it 'til we're ready to go."
Dan shook his head, as Joey ran to put the finishing touches on his favorite project. Joey had a thing for fires and had spent a lot of time up in the rafters, stashing old piles of papers, boxes, and other flammables in the roof, so that when the building was torched there wouldn't be a nook or corner that wasn't primed to burn quick and hot. He'd promised the kid that when this location became too dangerous for them, he could set it off and watch it burn. Now was the time.
Might as well go back down and get the cop's stuff. If they're found in his pockets, they can identify the body and they won't be snooping around any further, looking for him. No one will ever know we were here.
Turning his back on the unconscious form, Dan made his way down the stairs to do this one last task before the fireworks started.
Starsky had stopped by the stage door and check in with the officer left to guard it, just on the odd chance he had heard something. Getting nothing positive, Starsky made a beeline back to the prop room. Checking his watch, he knew Thorpe and Flores would be there soon. There was time to go through the room once more before he'd have to try to deal with whatever orders Dobey had given them.
For some reason, he turned off the light switch. He stood there in the doorway for a moment, just letting the darkness roll over him.
He came into the room, found something, then called me. Whatever happened took only a few seconds. It happened here. There must be a way in and out, or I'd have seen someone come and go. No movement. No noise. Must've been at the far side of the room.
Turning the lights back on, he made his way through the mess that had been compounded by previous searches. He passed the racks and racks of clothing once again, using his flashlight to get into the dark nooks under shelves and furniture, looking for any sign on the floor or wall of a secret entrance.
As he was flashing his light between a row of shelves, a wave of coldness flowed over him. Startled, he caught a movement out of the corner of his eye. The flash of long skirts disappeared between the last row of shelving. Orange blossoms again drew him forward.
Rushing over to the spot, he turned off his flashlight, afraid that what he'd seen would be washed out in the light.
There were two silhouettes at the far end, backlit by a light from nowhere. Starsky's lady and her tall, red-headed lover, held each other tightly before suddenly breaking apart and running, hand in hand, toward the mess of furniture at the back of the room.
She showed me the ring, maybe she's trying to show me something else!
Following quickly, Starsky lost sight of the vision before getting to the end of the shelves. As he came up to the haphazardly piled furniture, he caught a glimpse of movement from behind a table that had been shoved up against the old fireplace.
Turning on his flashlight, Starsky started climbing over the mess.
Hutch knew he should move, but wasn't quite sure how. His head was pounding, and, even though he could feel what must be the floor under his face, he felt as if the world were moving in circles around him. The faint smell of wood smoke felt like acid at the back of his throat and he fought not to throw up, the gag making suffocation all too real a danger.
Aw, shit. Where am I now?
He opened his eyes and found it dark once again. Taking a mental inventory, he found his hands still tied, and they had re-tied his ankles. Turning over, he grunted as his gun stuck him painfully in the side.
They gave it back? That's not good. Bet it's not loaded.
The smell of smoke grew a lot stronger. Before he could make another move, there was a sudden explosion that rocked the building, and a bright burst of flame flew up from the other end of the hallway. Hutch's heart jumped, as he realized that he had been dragged down to the far end of the second floor hallway, and it was the stairwell that was on fire.
Starsky had climbed over the mess of furniture and rugs that had been shoved every which way, until he came to the desk that had been pushed up against the fireplace. There was no place left to shove the large table, so he crawled underneath, looking for anything he might have missed before.
Chills ran up his spine, as he smelled the first hint of smoke.
Can't be a fire! This place wouldn't last a second! How many years has it been since those old sprinklers were installed, let alone tested?
It was then that he saw a slight flicker of light. Crawling hastily toward it, he realized he was looking at the inside of the fireplace, and at the back was the faint outline of an opening between the solid-looking bricks.
Before he could get close enough to touch it, there was a huge blast that shook the building. Falling to his knees, he could see sparks flying around the sides of the table, and he could hear and smell items around him catch fire in mere seconds.
Thankful for the table that protected him, Starsky crawled frantically inside the fireplace. He could hear a dim shout from the other side of the room. "Detective Starsky! Where are you?"
"Get out!" Starsky recognized the voice of the uniformed officer covering the stage door. "Both of you get out and call the Fire Department! I'm going after Hutch!"
Not waiting for an answer, the crackle of many small fires around him growing louder, Starsky reached out and pushed at the back of the fireplace. He could feel some slight give to the panel, but something on the other side was keeping it from opening. Twisting around, he leaned back on his forearms, lifted his legs, and kicked the panel with both feet. On the third try, he heard the splinter of wood, and the panel swung open.
Smoke rolled through the door, and behind it Starsky could see only see flames.
Damn it, Hutch, you'd better be okay in there! Don't make me rescue a corpse!
Pulling off his jacket quickly, he draped it over his head. Squinting his eyes, holding his breath, and aiming low, he dove through the opening into the dangerous area beyond.
Hutch rolled toward the top of the steep stairs, holding his breath until his face was once again close to the floor. As he neared the stairs, he could see flames licking the walls and wooden flooring of the second floor. Peering cautiously over the edge, he could barely see beyond the billowing smoke, but it looked as if the flames were mostly concentrated on the back wall. The stairs still looked intact. For the moment.
Now or never, Hutchinson. If I can just make it back to that hidden panel, I can get back to the prop room. Or at least pound on it to attract attention.
It wasn't going to be easy maneuvering the stairs with his hands and feet bound, but he wasn't about to stay stuck on a floor with no other exit.
Rolling into position, feet first and on his ass, Hutch took one last breath of clean air and started half sliding, half falling down the stairs.
It was hot and smoky, but not so bad that Starsky couldn't see that he was in some sort of long hallway. Just as he started to make out a stairway to his left, a large shape fell through a curtain of smoke, almost landing on him.
"Hutch!" Starsky yelled, grabbing at his partner and rolling with him, away from the stairwell.
As they rolled, Starsky felt a wave of heat and heard something splinter in the wall behind them. Getting his feet under him, Starsky grabbed Hutch under his armpits and pulled him away from that side of the building as the stairs started to collapse, throwing sparks everywhere. He saw, with a sinking heart, the secret door catch fire and start to smoke. Then the stairs collapsed completely, covering their escape route.
Hutch was moving, twisting frantically. Starsky pulled Hutch into a room at the end of the hallway, glad to have a moment away from the heat and smoke. Hutch was sooty, both eyes and nose streaming as he tried to breathe.
Starsky first pulled the duct tape off his mouth. Hutch drew a deep breath and started coughing. As he tried to clear his lungs, Starsky took out his pen knife and started cutting the tape around his wrists. Cutting as quickly as he could, Starsky was relieved to see that, although Hutch looked a bit beaten and bloody, he didn't look burned. If he had any other injuries, they'd have to find out on the move.
"You got a way out?" Hutch asked raggedly, wiping his face on his sleeve as Starsky cut through the tape at his ankles.
"Hoping you had one," Starsky admitted. He pulled away the last of the tape and helped Hutch sit up.
Starsky coughed as the smoke started getting thicker. The far end of the building was an inferno now, the dancing orange flames licking up the ceiling and heading in their direction. Starsky could only guess that the choking smoke that must be filling the second floor would soon be forced down to the lower level. If the smoke didn't get them, the fire eating at the upper floor's support beams would crash down on them. He guessed they didn't have much time left.
"I think I do," Hutch said. "C'mon."
Hutch grabbed a fistful of Starsky's shirt and practically fell forward, moving back toward the flames. Starsky, an arm around Hutch's waist, helped him move. It wasn't until they'd gone a few feet that Starsky saw what Hutch was headed for. In the center of the floor, set flush with the cement, was a manhole cover.
"Help me," Hutch gasped, grabbing at a metal chair.
Starsky knew what he wanted to do. Manhole covers were heavy, and without a crowbar they were going to have a hard time prying it up. If they could jam a foot of the metal chair into one of the holes in the top of the cover, they could use it as a lever to force the lid up.
Hutch held the chair foot in the crowbar hole and found an old brick amongst the leftover garbage to place under the leg. Holding his breath, hoping the chair leg was going to be strong enough, Starsky put all his weight onto the chair in order to pry the lid up.
For a horrible second Starsky thought the chair leg was going to fold on them. Even as a new section of the second floor fell at the other end, the manhole cover was pulled up.
"Got it," Hutch gasped, grabbing the edge of the heavy piece of metal with both hands, straining to shove the lid aside.
Cold air hit Starsky in the face, helping to clear his head, as he helped move the lid aside.
"You first!" Starsky yelled over the roar of the spreading fire. He pushed Hutch toward the opening, hanging onto him until Hutch found a purchase for his feet. As soon as Hutch's head disappeared into the darkness below, Starsky found the metal ladder embedded in the wall of the narrow opening. As he lowered himself, he grabbed the end of the cover with his left hand and struggled to pull it back over the top of them.
With a loud metal clink, the lid snapped into place above them, leaving Starsky just enough strength to climb the last few rungs down to the bottom, where the darkness and cold air came as a great relief from the growing inferno above them.
In the delicious coolness, Starsky found himself in Hutch's arms. Holding onto his lover for dear life, Starsky buried his nose into the crook of Hutch's neck. He could feel both of them shaking, their hearts still racing after their close escape.
"Where the hell you been?" Starsky said shakily into Hutch's neck. "Been lookin' all over for you. You're gonna give me gray hairs doin' stuff like this."
Hutch sighed, his hand rubbing up and down Starsky's back. "Fell into a trap. It's a long story, partner, and we'd better get moving. We could have company if we're not careful, and there's no telling what's going to happen if that building comes down on top of us."
"This is how they've been gettin' in and out, right? What were they doin' in there, and what was that place?"
Hutch pulled away a bit, but still held on. "Two of them, maybe more, were running a meth lab up in there. Looked to me like the old alley between the theater and its neighbor. They must have expanded the theater at one point and bricked in the alley, then built a second floor. I'd guess at some later date, the old doorway from the prop room was bricked up, except for that part inside the fireplace."
"Made for a nice hidy-hole. I didn't think I was ever going to find you." Starsky pulled Hutch to him for another hug, then let him go. "I think I lost my jacket and my flashlight," he admitted. "Which way do we go to get out?"
Hutch sighed, and Starsky wished he could see him. He had felt the tremors in Hutch's body that spoke of pain being controlled. "Hey, you okay? Do you need to sit down? I can find help and--"
"No," Hutch said quickly. "I'm fine. I just need to get out of here. The stairs were on the side of the manhole that faced toward the main building, so if we face the ladder, and go left, we'll come to the street in front. That is, if this section still ties up with the other part of the sewer system. I think."
"Sounds great," Starsky said, placing an arm around Hutch's waist as they both turned left. While it wasn't pitch black, because of the ominous glow from the area above them, Starsky felt as if it might as well have been. "Let's find our way out of this mess. I don't want anyone goin' inside that fire to rescue us."
It took them a few moments to get started in the right direction. Hutch kept one hand on the tunnel wall, and Starsky kept his arm around Hutch's waist to help him stay on his feet. The tunnel became lighter, which Starsky assumed was some daylight filtering down through the street drains from somewhere in front of them.
He tried to move them both along as fast as they could, but the sewer was filled with trash, and without a flashlight he was concerned that they'd trip easily. Hutch wasn't moving very well and held his side while coughing. Starsky was worried about what abuse he had suffered. He knew Hutch wouldn't admit to any major problems until they were safe. There's no telling what kind of internal damage he might have.
As they came to the junction, Starsky could hear various sirens from the street above. The sound grew louder and less muffled as they continued to move.
Police and at least one fire truck. We've got to get word that we're outside of that mess, or someone'll get hurt trying to save us. There's got to be another manhole we can climb out of.
The tunnel that crossed the one they were in was larger, but not by much, and the sound of running water grew louder as they got closer. The sirens were louder now, but muted by the water, which Starsky assumed came from the efforts to stop the blaze. As soon as they got to the junction they stopped, trying to see a way out in the dim light.
"There!" Hutch said, almost falling into the new tunnel in his excitement. "There's a cover up there!"
Starsky could see a round hole in the ceiling, dripping water, and a metal handhold embedded in the wall. They both moved over to it, splashing through water that was cascading down into the sewer from the street drains. The tunnel practically vibrated with the frantic activity that was taking place above them. Hutch leaned down under it, laced his fingers, and shouted over the noise, "Leg up!"
Starsky hesitated just a moment, mentally debating between using Hutch's strength as a boost or getting him out first.
"Go! I'm fine!" Hutch yelled impatiently. Starsky could see the strain in his face. "You'll need to get the cover off, and I'm not sure I can manage it."
Starsky put his foot in Hutch's hands, and, with one hand on his shoulder, he jumped as Hutch boosted him up. Grabbing at a rung, Starsky pulled himself up until he could get a foot on the metal ladder, then made the short climb to the top.
The manhole had a few holes in it, enough for water from the firefight to drip down coldly onto his head and shoulders. It was also making his hold on the metal rungs less certain. Hanging on tightly with his right hand, he reached up with his left and pushed. The metal didn't budge. Climbing up one more step, curling so that his head and the top of his shoulders were braced against the lid, he shoved upward. Starsky pushed as hard as he could, and, just as he was about to lose strength, the lid grated then moved upward, allowing more water to stream down around him.
Careful not to let it settle back into place, Starsky took a step upward, wanting to push the lid up far enough to slide it over to the side.
Amongst a confusing mix of excited voices and sirens, the weight was suddenly gone. Hands grabbed at him, pulling him up into the light of early morning. He heard his name yelled in surprise, and he blinked rapidly, trying to see through light sensitive, watery eyes.
"Starsky! You found him?" Dobey's surprised and concerned face hovered over Starsky.
"He's down there!" Starsky shook off the hands that had pulled him away from the manhole. "You guys gotta get him out. He's hurt."
Even before he'd started speaking, a man from the rescue squad had disappeared down into the hole. Dobey turned to talk to another fireman, and a blanket miraculously appeared around Starsky's shoulders. It took him a moment to realize how lucky he'd been. The manhole was on the street, between an ambulance and a paramedic vehicle. He would have had a hell of a time trying to push up that cover if there'd been a car parked on top of it.
Standing up, Starsky started to move toward the group of men who were gathering around the manhole, when both of his arms were caught by strong hands. Dobey and Flores steered him to the sidewalk instead, and he let them lead him when a cloud of smoke whipped by him, making his throat burn and his eyes tear. Behind them he could hear the frantic sounds of the firefighters and the crash and crackle of a fire out of control.
"Hutch is still--"
"They're getting him out," Dobey interjected. "You just come over here out of the way and tell me where in heaven's name you've been all this time!"
"They know we're out?"
"The fire chief is pulling his men out now. They were sent in to search for you two, but that end of the building was pretty far gone, and they couldn't get too close to it. Anyone else in there?"
"Not that I know of. Did the uniforms get out okay?"
"Yes," Dobey said. "You two were the only people we had left inside."
Starsky was directed to a spot down the street, toward a dry part of the sidewalk. Sitting heavily on the curb, he turned to watch and wait for them to get Hutch out. They'd gotten a stretcher ready, but Starsky was comforted by the fact that they hadn't sent any equipment into the hole after him.
"You stay here," Dobey ordered sternly. "I'll go see to Hutch. You'd better be here, where I can find you, or I'll be tempted to send you back to the station, with orders to have your report on my desk within the hour!"
Flores, who looked sooty and worse for wear, sat down next to him as Dobey hurried to look after his second detective. "What happened? When we got here, the uniformed officers were already outside, waiting for the fire trucks. One of them said you were in the back and he heard you order him to leave, right before most of the prop room went up. I tried to go in, but didn't get very far before the firemen pulled me out. I thought for sure you were a goner."
"Found a secret room in the back, inside the fireplace," Starsky said, eyes on the crowd around the manhole. "Where's Lizzie?"
"She thought she might have a lead on Hutch's location, so I dropped her off on the way here. She's going to be mad that she missed the real show." Starsky glanced at Flores, as he heard the slight amusement in his voice. "She's always complaining that she misses all the exciting stuff. Guess she's right." Flores smiled for a second, then became serious. "Dobey didn't call us until early this morning, or we both would've been here--"
"Yeah, I know. Guess Dobey knew we'd need you and Lizzie fresh and bright when daylight came. He figured he'd need someone to baby-sit me, as well."
Starsky tensed for a second, as he noticed something happening at the manhole, then relaxed as he saw several men lean toward the opening. He then got a glimpse of Hutch's blond hair, as the men started to pull him up. Starsky stood up, watching Hutch wave off the helping hands and walk to sit on the stretcher under his own power.
"You two must have one hell of a set of guardian angels, Starsky," Flores said softly, as a loud crash indicated that another part of the theater had caved in.
"Yeah," Starsky said, walking toward Hutch. The memory of the lovers in the theater, leading him to the secret entrance, came to mind. Without thought, he stopped and pulled out the ring he had put in his back pocket. It was still there, safe and sound. "Yeah, sometimes I think we do. Lucky us, huh?"
Hutch sighed as he slipped down into the clean sheets, enjoying the feel of a fresh t-shirt and boxers. It wasn't until he'd gotten home to his own shower, that he had felt able to get rid of that nagging smoky smell. It was wonderful to be home, after spending an annoying night at the hospital. Bumps, bruises, and scrapes would have meant spending yesterday and last night in his own apartment, but it was the possible concussion that had done him in. So he had spent the rest of yesterday under observation, and had been sent home to rest for a couple of days.
Starsky, on the other hand, had been given a clean bill of health and had been dragged back to the station by Dobey, who wanted a complete report as soon as possible. Once a basic report had been handed to his superiors, Dobey had driven Starsky to the hospital to visit Hutch. The three had spent a few hours going over the case, figuring out the Department's next move.
Dobey told them the ME's report on Lou's death had shown that the older man had died from a single blow to the head, caused by the chandelier. The link in the chain holding it up had been tampered with. Thorpe and Flores had been given the case of tracking down Dan and Joey and the possible location of their new meth lab. The theater was a total loss, and the fire companies on the scene had had no choice but to let it burn. It had been all they could do to save the buildings next to it. As it was, everyone was thankful that no one had gotten killed or severely injured. An investigation was already underway, starting with the hidden area, to find out exactly how the fire had started.
Starsky had then excused himself for the evening, keeping his promise to show up the next day, in time to take Hutch home.
Now that he was home, showered, and under the sheets, Hutch was feeling too good to spend the time resting or worrying about their homework. Starsky had gotten the day off, and Hutch couldn't think of a better way to recuperate than having that muscular, warm body snuggled up to his. Glancing over into the kitchen, where Starsky was putting something together for lunch, Hutch enjoyed the view.
Starsky's tight blue jeans were practically painted onto his ass and thighs, and Hutch enjoyed the way his blue shirt clung to his shoulders and biceps, showing off just how well built he was. Hutch just wished the stove were a little closer. Having Starsky all the way across the apartment seemed too far away.
"How're you feelin'?" Starsky asked, catching Hutch's eye. "You ready to eat? Soup and sandwiches today."
"The kind of lunch I'm ready for," Hutch began, trying for a leering smile, "is all dressed in blue. Why don't you put that away for a while and come sit with me?"
Starsky lifted the ladle out of the soup and shook it at Hutch, giving him a mock scowl. "The doctor said you're supposed to take it easy and stay in bed. If you don't, you could start having headaches again, and those bruises won't get any better. You're just lucky your skull is as hard as it is."
"I wasn't planning on getting out of bed."
Starsky smiled crookedly. "I know you weren't. And to change the subject, you wanna know what I did last night?"
Hutch sighed loudly, trying to look rejected. "I don't know, catch up on your homework? Go out and party without me? Pine away for my company?"
"Well, one out of three ain't bad," Starsky gave him a wink. "Remember when I told you about that vision I had last week, when we were looking through the theater for Lou? Well, I saw that lady again, while I was looking for you. In fact, I think I saw her with that red-headed guy you saw."
Hutch felt chills along his spine, remembering his own vision. "You did?"
"I went to the library and looked up the history of the theater. Did you know that Lou had donated most of his personal collection of theater clippings, letters, and business information to the library? They're still getting a lot of it catalogued, but the librarians were nice and let me look through what they had. I saw a picture of her."
"A picture? Of the girl you saw?"
Starsky nodded, growing serious. "Yeah. I saw a picture of her and some other 'bluebloods' at an opera opening, in the early 1900s. Her name was Elizabeth Montero Dacorrega, and she was the daughter of one of the original Spanish families of nobility in the area. She was considered a prime catch in her day."
"And you're sure she's the same girl?"
"It was her, Hutch." Starsky looked at him, and Hutch could see the certainty in his face. "I read more about her. She was receiving voice training lessons, under an opera coach. She spent a lot of her time there during the day and attended all the shows. She never did become a great opera star and, a few years later, married an older man who had money and prestige. She had several children, became a grandmother and a great-grandmother, and then passed away some years ago. She's buried with her husband in his family plot."
Hutch shook his head. "This just sounds too unbelievable, Starsk. Why would you see her at the theater? It sounds like she had a good life, nothing to stay behind for."
Starsky turned the burner off and set the soup pot aside. As he walked toward the bed, he dug something out of his back pocket. Sitting down on the side of the bed, he handed it to Hutch. It was a ring.
"I called Mrs. Andrews, Lou's daughter, and asked if she knew anything about the lady. She didn't at first, but she called me back later after doing some research of her own. Her dad knew everything about that place, and she remembered he talked about a scandal related to the theater, in its early days. She was able to find some old newspaper clippings Lou had filed under 'mystery.'
"It was rumored, in the papers, that a lady of impeccable breeding was having an affair with a lowly actor, and, at that time, they were secretly engaged. Guess her family caught on quick, because the actor disappeared right after that. Elizabeth herself insisted on a police investigation, which caused one hell of a scandal. He left the stage after his part one evening and was never seen again. He was dressed as a pirate, and no one saw him leave the theater. Even his street clothes were left behind in the dressing room. The proprietor at the boarding house where he was staying said he never came to get any of his stuff. The cops at the time closed the case, assuming he'd just cut out and run, afraid of her family."
Hutch turned the dirty looking ring in his fingers. Not silver but pewter, it had a small stone in the center. It may have been a diamond, but it was too small to tell.
Not a rich man's ring, that's for sure. Maybe all that an actor could afford?
"The last time I saw her, Hutch, she showed me where she put it. It was exactly where she showed me it would be. She wanted me to find it."
Hutch thought back to the image of the man he had seen those nights. "Starsk, where's that bag they gave me with my personal items? The nurse handed it to me, but I don't remember bringing it up."
They looked around for a minute, then Starsky got up and went to the bathroom, returning with it. The bag had held Hutch's smoky, singed clothing, his shoes, and the contents of his pockets. Hutch held his breath as he dug through the bag, the smell of smoke still overpowering.
"That guy I saw in the prop room," Hutch began, finding what he was looking for, "seemed to be looking at this watch on the prop shelves. I put it in my pocket, just before I found the secret door."
Hutch showed Starsky the pocket watch, which Hutch suspected was really only gilded metal. He knew at the time that it hadn't felt right, not when compared to his own pocket watch. Opening it up, he saw an antique clock face. It was not surprising that the hands had long since stopped moving. Looking closer, Hutch realized what was wrong with it.
They bent closer, as Hutch used a thumbnail to pry at a seam on the side. With a pop, the watch opened, and two small objects fell out of the back and onto the covers.
"It was empty," Hutch said quietly, amazed to see that his guess had been right. "Like a locket. It wasn't heavy enough, without its mechanism."
From the top of the bed covers, Starsky picked up a thick, dark braided ring and a piece of folded paper.
"Did you talk to Dobey this morning?" Hutch asked in a whisper, his eyes on Starsky. "He told me they actually found a body in the ruins of the hidden section."
"A body?" Starsky's eyes were wide as he looked up at Hutch. "But they told me--"
"It was in the remains of an old trunk. It was pretty burnt, but must've been protected by all the bricks that fell in and buried it. Dobey told me that Ginny's preliminary report is going to say the person died ages ago. Probably by strangulation, because of the knotted rope around his neck. A murder probably decades old. Dobey was just glad that mystery was from before his time."
Starsky didn't say anything, just looked at the soft ring and the folded paper in his hand. "It's a ring made of braided hair, isn't it? Her hair. She must've given it to him as a token of her love."
After a moment, he unfolded the paper, read it, then turned it so Hutch could see what was written.
"'Alma de mi Corazon.' The soul of my heart," Hutch said softly, after struggling for a moment to see the faint pen strokes.
"What do you think all this means?"
They were both quiet for a moment, then Hutch reached out to gently touch the ring--the token of love--that lay in Starsky's palm. "Did you get a name? The name of the missing actor?"
"James O'Connell. There wasn't much else about him, other than his disappearance was blamed on the fact that he was an actor. They didn't have the best of reputations to start with."
"Maybe..." Hutch shrugged gently, biting at his lip as he tried to bring it all together in his mind. "...she just wanted him to be found, so he could be buried properly."
"Or, maybe they both wanted someone to know what they had--and lost. She must've suffered with a broken heart for years, thinking he'd run out on her." Starsky looked up at him, his eyes holding a soft, knowing look. Starsky took the pewter ring, the braided ring of hair, and the note, then placed them into the hiding place in the watch. He snapped it shut. "It looked to me like she's with the person she loves."
"You think we ought to visit his grave? Make sure they get his name right, for the records?" Hutch asked. "Maybe...find a way to bury the watch with him?"
"I think they'd both like that." Starsky nodded, looking pleased at the idea. "They did us a big favor; it's the least we can do. And while we can't solve that case, at least Arturo and Lizzie are hot on the trail of Dan and Joey. When we get back in business, we can hit our own sources and get them put away for Lou's death. I'll bet if we can find this Joey guy, he'll know how that chandelier came to fall on Lou."
They were both silent for a moment, and Hutch knew that Starsky was thinking about how much Lou loved that place. His daughter had invited them to his funeral, which was planned for the next day. She had told Starsky that anything they could save from the rubble would be donated to the local museum, as would any monies from the salvage of the place and what was left of Lou's estate. In a way, the theater would still exist, through his efforts.
"Guess what else I found out?" Starsky asked happily, reaching over to slap playfully at Hutch's thigh. "While talking to Arturo, he told me that he and Carolyn are definitely expecting another baby."
"Hey!" Hutch said with a smile. "Really? That is good news. I've been hoping things would work out for them. I know they both were looking forward to having another child."
But now it was time to change the subject to something more personal. Leaning forward carefully, Hutch wrapped his arms around Starsky, snuggling his nose into the soft curls behind Starsky's ear. He smiled, as Starsky's arms wrapped carefully around him. "Now is it time for a nap?" Hutch asked, hopefully.
"Hutch, you need to behave yourself."
He heard Starsky catch his breath, as Hutch very gently licked at the soft spot behind Starsky's ear.
"You need to rest, and you have all those bruises...uhmm..."
A small groan vibrated his lips, as they softly skimmed Starsky's throat, just under the hinge of his jaw.
"And we both need to spend some time hitting those school books. We've got reports to write..."
Hutch nipped the smooth throat lightly, once, then twice, down to the crook of Starsky's neck.
"Uh...well...We've got that class coming up this week..."
Hutch pulled away slowly and leaned back to lie on the bed by himself. As he got comfortable, he spread his legs wide, knowing Starsky would notice how his cock was just beginning to fill. He looked up at the ceiling, one hand splayed across his chest, and the other down by his hip. He tried to look resigned to his fate.
"Well, maybe you're right," Hutch said casually. He moved the hand on his hip, pressing down on his boxers so his cock would be better outlined. "We can't afford to fall behind in class. After all, we've got a reputation to uphold."
Hutch could see how Starsky was trying to hide his amusement, but it was clear from the direction of his gaze and the flush to his face, that Starsky was having second thoughts about taking that nap. Hutch rubbed his chest through the t-shirt and could feel his nipples start to harden through the fabric. He winced as his hand brushed past a bruise on his ribs.
Immediately, Starsky's hand was around his wrist, pulling his hand away from the hurt area. "Now, see what I mean?" Starsky's voice was chiding. "You always have to push it. Can't give yourself time to heal."
Starsky brought Hutch's hand up and turned it so his lips brushed the center of Hutch's palm, sending shivers down his body.
Hutch smiled up at him, knowing Starsky could see the heat that was spreading across his cheeks. "Something tells me I'm not the only one in the room who can't seem to get enough of his lover."
Starsky chuckled and looked embarrassed, as his thumb massaged the center of Hutch's palm, as if rubbing in his kiss. "Yeah, guess we're both hot-to-trot and lovin' every minute of it. And I would love a pre-lunch nap, but by my rules, okay?"
"Whatever you want, hot stuff." Hutch reached up with his other hand and touched Starsky's lips lightly. "Just need to have you near me for a while."
Starsky's eyes softened, and the smile on his face disappeared as he leaned forward. Stopping just before his lips touched Hutch's, Starsky's face turned solemn as he looked into Hutch's eyes. "I need you, too, Hutch. In one way or another, I always have. Always will."
The bed shifted as Starsky's lips touched his, and, as Hutch cupped Starsky's warm face in his hands and kissed him back, he could feel the length of Starsky's body stretch carefully along his own.
They kissed gently, lips caressing each other's cheeks, nose, chin, and eyelids, Starsky carefully avoiding the bruise and lump at Hutch's temple. Hutch's fingers twirled, tugged, and carded through Starsky's thick, chocolate-colored curls. When he could finally stand to release them, moving a hand to Starsky's shirt, Starsky hummed and kissed him hard, then moved off the bed.
"Don't touch! You just relax and let me do everything," Starsky ordered, smiling wickedly. He slowly removed his shirt, and Hutch caught his breath as Starsky's shirt was pulled up, slowly revealing tanned skin, abdomen, ribs, chest, and muscular arms.
"Gorgeous," Hutch whispered. Involuntarily, he raised a hand toward Starsky, but was too far away to touch. "You make me want you. Always want you."
Starsky stood there a moment, eyes burning as he gazed at Hutch, drinking him in from head to toe. Placing his hand on his own chest, eyes on Hutch's face, Starsky ran his palms down from his nipples. He ran them slowly over his ribs to his hips, long fingers sweeping across the thick, artistic placement of hair that swept down from chest to groin.
Hutch felt like he was burning, every nerve hungry to be the one touching, stroking. His own cock was hard now, straining up against the thin fabric of his boxers. His heart was pounding, and it took all his willpower not to leap up and touch the vision in front of him.
Starsky's hand went down to cup his own crotch, outlining the tight swelling in his jeans. After a moment, he pulled down the zipper with his other hand, sighing as his bulge grew even larger. With his jeans and underwear now barely hanging on to his hips, Starsky reached inside the clothing and pulled out his cock. It was hard and thick with need.
Hutch groaned at the sight, his own cock complaining at the lack of attention.
Starsky rubbed himself once before letting the jeans drop to the floor. He stepped out of them, moving toward Hutch, his eyes almost black with desire.
"Now, it's your turn to get undressed."
The low, velvety purr of Starsky's voice made Hutch's cock jump and his breath catch in his throat.
Starsky moved to the bed, jostling it with his weight as he crawled on his knees up Hutch's body. He straddled him. Hutch yearned for the heat of the strong body over him and arched to rub against his skin, as his arms sought to bring Starsky down to him.
"No, not yet," Starsky whispered hotly, leaning on one hand to kiss the center of Hutch's chest, as he brought Hutch's hand away from his body with the other. "You just relax."
"Relax?" Hutch laughed shortly, desire stealing his breath. "With you? Like that?" But Hutch tried to obey, not wanting to admit he was still too tender in places for too much action. He'd take what he could get.
"What do you want?" Starsky said, raising the end of Hutch's shirt, kissing him feather-light on either side of his belly button before gently sticking his tongue into it.
Hutch gasped and gripped the sheets under him tightly. "I want you inside. Want to hold you."
Starsky pushed up, settling his ass gently on Hutch's hardness, his strong thighs holding most of his weight off of Hutch. He lifted up the rest of Hutch's shirt, and they soon had it off. Starsky's hands were on his chest, kneading and massaging, carefully avoiding bruises, scrapes, and sore spots.
Hutch sighed and arched up into the touch, his head back and eyes closed. He jumped slightly as Starsky's fingers found his nipples and pinched gently. Hutch pushed his hips up and tried to rub against Starsky.
Backing off, Starsky had Hutch's boxers off, and the room air felt cool against Hutch's hot and eager cock. Pillows were placed under Hutch's ass and knees, and lube was removed from the nightstand drawer. Sitting between Hutch' splayed legs, Starsky leaned forward, and Hutch tensed as Starsky's breath touched him only seconds before his lips carefully caressed the head of his cock.
Then hand-warmed lube was carefully circled around his opening. Starsky's tongue lapped first softly, then more firmly around Hutch's balls, encouraging Hutch to pull up his legs more so he was totally available for his lover's ministrations.
Just as he was starting to despair of it ever happening, Starsky positioned himself at Hutch's center.
"Ready?" The word was soft, but Hutch could hear the desire struggling behind it.
"Past ready," Hutch panted, aching to have Starsky inside him.
Starsky pushed past the first ring of muscle, then paused, waiting for Hutch's sigh before slowly sliding in the rest of the way.
Hutch, his eyes closed in bliss, focused on every second of Starsky's movement into, and within him. What had been somewhat of a strain to get used to at first, was now something his body looked forward to. The fullness inside him was a welcomed intimacy, one that was all the more special because it was one he only shared with the person who had his heart.
As Starsky filled him completely, then paused, the only sounds Hutch heard was their breathing, both of them breathing deeply, both trying to hold that first moment as long as they could.
But the urge to move filled Hutch, and he flexed his legs, feeling Starsky's hold on them tighten.
"Easy, lover," Starsky crooned, reaching down to stroke Hutch's cock. "Leave it to me, and we'll get there."
Hutch felt his cock swell and pulse in Starsky's practiced fingers. He groaned loudly, wishing he could thrust. Starsky's thumb rubbed at Hutch's glans, collecting and encouraging the thick, oily pre-come that he spread around Hutch's cock and his own fingers. The motion caused flashes of pleasure behind Hutch's eyes and made all the nerves in his body hum happily.
With long, slow strokes, Starsky's hands made a tight tunnel for Hutch's pleasure, drawing out the sensations, even as he slowly thrust and withdrew from Hutch's ass. Before long, Hutch found himself shaking, the tremors of electric need making sweat run down his body. He could only bite his lip helplessly, as Starsky's slow, steady pace wound him up so tightly he was almost afraid he'd snap. It was almost torture, and Hutch's hands ached to bring Starsky down to him--to make him move faster and harder. All he could do was grip the sheets tightly and murmur his love to his captor.
Then, as if Starsky knew exactly where his breaking point was, the strokes on his cock became faster, harder, and the grip tighter. Just as Hutch felt he was coming to a boil, his mind full of nothing but the thudding rhythm of his own heart and the touch of Starsky's body against his, Starsky angled his cock and started to rub at that sweet spot inside.
"Please...! Please...! Oh...ohohoh...!"
The rhythm was undeniable, the nerves growing to overload, and, with a thrust that was deeper and harder than the others, Hutch groaned as it all came together. His orgasm hit his cock first, then spread to his insides, making them feel as if they were burning. He felt the first wave of pleasure.
"Starsk!" Hutch hissed, feeling the wet, warm splash of come on his stomach as his mind shorted out. All that was left of his world was the thrill of his body, the wild beat of his heart, and the beloved body that had made them one.
He barely noticed as Starsky's hand left his cock and found his hip, steadying them both as Starsky pulled out and pushed back in. Hutch forced his eyes open, needing to see his lover move inside him.
"God, Hutch!" Starsky said breathlessly, his head thrown back and eyes closed. Beads of sweat ran down his neck and tangled in the damp hair that curled invitingly on Starsky's chest. "You're so sweet, so damn sweet to me! S-so good...lover...lover...my love...always...always...."
His thrusts grew harder, more forceful, and Hutch relaxed with it, wishing he had the strength to clench around Starsky even harder.
Wish I could hold you this way, forever. Then we'd never be apart.
Starsky was flushed, his complexion almost bronze as he neared completion. Hutch watched, enjoying the look of utter pleasure on Starsky's face, the damp glow of skin, the little trickle of sweat that made its way down the center of Starsky's chest.
Starsky, eyes closed, head thrown back, panting heavily was pushing deeply into Hutch now. Hutch could almost feel Starsky's cock flair one last time before climax. With only a few strokes, Starsky's body tightened, his hand gripped harder, and his face clenched as he thrust one more time before freezing in place and uttering a deep moaning word. "Huuuutccchhh...."
Eyes open to slits, Starsky gazed at Hutch. Hutch could see the pleasure on his face, the far away look in his eyes as his hips flexed gently with ejaculation.
It was that look that Hutch wanted, needed to see over and over again for the rest of his life. Holding his arms open, Hutch kept himself curled so that Starsk fell into his arms while still inside Hutch. As Starsky collapsed upon him, Hutch held the shaking body. Soon, they would be separate again, lying entwined with each other as they slept in the aftermath.
It was this moment--when both were satisfied and still together, one within the other--that Hutch longed to always remember. No matter what the future held, when remembering love, he knew that would always be his favorite memory of all.
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