Love Remembers
by Sarah Problem

SHSVS, Episode 612, Part 1

"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.

612-1 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."

"What's up?"

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.

612-2 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.

612-3 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..." 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.

612-2v.jpg 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.

On to Part 2