"Stuff like this shouldn't happen in a school," Starsky said, shaking his head as he crouched near the dead man's body, lifting the bloody sheet for a closer look. "Thank God it wasn't one of the kids who found him like this." He replaced the sheet and stood.
"The custodian's pretty shaken up," Hutch responded, glancing over at the older man who had been the school custodian since the building opened nearly forty years earlier. Popular with the children, he had been nicknamed "Grampa Joe" by students and teachers alike. "What kind of psycho kills a man with a shotgun blast to the head in a school gym? There are no signs of robbery or vandalism. All the athletic equipment is still here and there's a strongbox with money in it from Friday night's junior high basketball game still in the Athletics Office."
"As soon as you find the guy, you can ask him," Dobey's voice boomed from behind them. "And that better be soon. This is Rosie's school."
"That's right, you moved her here from the public school last year," Starsky recalled, recovering from the surprise of their superior sneaking up on them from behind. No matter how heavy Dobey got, he still had the ability to sneak up stealthily behind his men and scare a few years off their lives.
"Does Rosie know what's going on?" Hutch asked.
"She just knows the school was closed for today. Edith's taking her shopping. Who's the victim?"
"A teacher," Hutch responded. "Matthew Redmond, age sixty-one. Math teacher," he added, looking up from his notes. "I just finished talking with the principal before you arrived, Captain. Redmond was planning to retire next year. He was popular with the kids, seemed to get along all right with the parents--at least she didn't know of any major altercations."
"There are no signs of robbery or vandalism, though one of the uniforms found a window open in a first-floor classroom. The crime lab guys are checking it right now."
"Was it forced?" Dobey asked.
"Didn't sound like it. I guess the teacher who uses that room likes some fresh air, so he usually leaves it open all day and shuts it at night. He might've just forgotten it," Starsky said, shrugging.
"The custodian found Redmond," Hutch spoke up, nodding toward the stocky gray-haired man who was sitting on the bottom bleacher, still looking more than a little shaken. "He was lying right where he is now, and there's a basketball the lab boys bagged that we think he might have been using to shoot hoops. Bennett--the custodian--says Redmond used to come back in the evenings and shoot hoops. Once in a while, he and Bennett would play a little mild one-on-one if Bennett was working at night."
"Bennett--he must be the one Rosie keeps calling 'Grampa Joe'."
"Joe Bennett," Hutch confirmed. "He's been doing the after-hours work in the morning lately because his wife is ill and her visiting nurse is there during the day, but he's needed home at night."
"No signs of a struggle?" Dobey asked, as Ginny approached them after having her final look at the crime scene.
"Not as far as I can tell," Ginny said, joining them as she peeled off her latex gloves. "I'll know more later, but a preliminary exam of the body doesn't show any serious bruising around the face or upper torso. Given the splatter pattern and the position of the body, and the location of the wound, it looks as if someone just walked in and shot him right between the eyes before he knew what was happening."
"No one heard the shot?"
"The uniforms are talking to the nearest neighbors, but the school has a good-sized parking lot on one side and the playground behind it. There're a couple of houses near the west side of the building, but they'd be the only ones in earshot," Starsky explained.
"This one's top priority, you understand me?" Dobey said, pinning all of them with a penetrating stare.
"Fortunately, this is the only one I'll have on the table this morning, so I should have a report on your desk by noon," Ginny said.
"Thanks, Ginny," Dobey responded, seeming pleased with that reply.
"I'll be in touch later," Ginny directed to Starsky and Hutch before excusing herself to oversee the transportation of the body.
"What about the Gregory case?" Hutch asked, referring to the murder case that had kept them busy for the last two weeks. A successful attorney in his thirties, Martin Gregory, had been stabbed while napping on the couch in the study of his home, and so far, all they had were a long list of suspects and a long record of irate phone calls from the man's affluent parents and grieving widow demanding a solution to the case.
"Follow up any serious new leads, but I want this top priority."
"Got it, Cap'n," Starsky replied. "You seen all you need here, partner?" he said to Hutch.
"I figured we'd offer Joe over there a ride home and we need to check with the lab boys to see if they found anything around that open window."
"I'll take him," Dobey spoke up. "I like to get to know the people Rosie talks about, so this'll give me the chance."
"See you at the station, Captain," Hutch said, as Starsky and he headed out of the gymnasium and down the hall leading to the classroom in question.
The school building was aging and looked as if it could use some paint and repair. That wasn't unusual for parochial schools that continually fought the battle of insufficient budgets for things like building maintenance and updating. The school appeared to be immaculately clean and the bulletin boards outside the classrooms were adorned with a panorama of lopsided, slightly deformed student-made turkeys and pilgrims. Student lockers were freshly painted bright green, one of the school colors, and each individual classroom appeared to be tidy and cheerfully decorated for fall and Thanksgiving.
"Hey, this is one of Rosie's," Starsky said, stopping to check out a large construction paper turkey that was the centerpiece of that classroom's hallway bulletin board. "He's a little lopsided, but not too bad," Starsky commented with an affectionate chuckle.
"Well, poor kid, what do you expect? Being left-handed and all," Hutch said, stifling a grin as he resumed his trek down the hall toward the classroom where the crime lab team was finishing up with the window.
"When we get home, let's see you make a perfect paper turkey, Mr. I'm-Hot-Shit-Because-I'm-Right-Handed."
"Is that what you really want me to do with my right hand when we get home?" Hutch raised an eyebrow.
"Thanks, I do my best."
"Got anything interesting, Luke?" Starsky asked one of the technicians. A tall, wiry man in his forties, Luke was one of the crime lab's sharpest analysts.
"It wasn't forced. If the killer got in through this window, he didn't force it."
"'He?' You know it's a man for sure?" Hutch asked.
"Okay, so sue me, I'm sexist. Most of the time, ladies don't like shotgun blasts. They're too messy. I'll give you odds your killer's a man."
"Really? What kind of odds?" Starsky asked, pulling out a twenty.
"Starsk, you never win when you bet against Luke."
"Look, if it's a man, I get your twenty. If it's a woman, I'll pay you five to one. How's that for a deal?" Luke offered, smiling. There was something slightly predatory in it as he eyed the twenty Starsky held.
"I think it sounds like a great way to make a fool part company with his money," Hutch responded.
"Killjoy," Starsky retorted. "It's a deal."
"Now don't go out and arrest some woman just to win the bet," Luke joked, packing up his supplies.
"Nah. Have to be ten-to-one odds for us to do that," Starsky responded, grinning.
Matthew Redmond's home was a modest ranch-style house in a quiet suburban neighborhood not far from the Dobey residence. He was survived by his wife, Glenda, who was understandably grief-stricken and overwrought when Starsky and Hutch arrived to interview her. Uniformed officers had notified her of her husband's murder earlier that morning, and now as it neared 10:00, she still sniffled and dabbed at swollen eyes as she spoke with the two detectives.
"I know this is a cliched question, but it's one we have to ask," Hutch explained. "Do you know of anyone who would have a reason to hurt your husband?"
"No, especially not now," she said, sniffling. A petite woman with short dark hair, she was a complete physical opposite of her lighter-haired, husky-framed husband.
"What do you mean by that?" Starsky asked, frowning.
"Matthew used to teach math and coach basketball at Bay View High. He was tough, and not all the kids liked him. As he got older, he got tired of fighting the older kids' apathy, and with the drugs and drinking problems...he became very disillusioned with high school students in general. The little ones are much more willing to learn. Matthew was certified to teach at both the elementary and secondary level, so he decided to take an elementary teaching position at a smaller school where academics were stressed. The cut in pay was an adjustment, but Matthew was much happier."
"How long has he been teaching at St. Stephen's?" Hutch asked.
"Almost five years. He really enjoyed it, and he was popular with the kids. He helped coach the seventh and eighth grade basketball team on a volunteer basis."
"Were there any serious run-ins he had with kids in the high school in more recent years that you can recall?" Starsky probed.
"Not by name. There were different kids, especially some of the boys, who would get angry when they were failing and in danger of being kicked off a team...I don't remember their names. Matthew usually dealt with those situations and kept as much of it from affecting me as he could." She paused, wiping at her eyes. "Everyone at St. Stephen's liked Matthew. I just don't understand why someone would..." She let the sentence die unfinished, biting her lip. "I'll show you to the door," she said as they all rose.
"We're going to do all we can to find the person who did this, Mrs. Redmond," Starsky said as they approached the house's small foyer. "Our captain's daughter is a student at the school, and it's a special priority with him."
"What's your captain's name?" she asked.
"Dobey. Harold Dobey," Hutch responded.
"Rosie Dobey's father?"
"That's the one," Starsky said, smiling.
"I remember the name because she won one of my husband's math competitions this fall. Very bright little girl. Sweet personality." Mrs. Redmond forced a slight smile.
"Yeah, she's a pretty neat kid," Hutch agreed.
"Guess who left another message?" Starsky sat at his desk, while Hutch got coffee for both of them before going to his own seat.
"Cheryl Tiegs. She's decided she wants to be the meat in our sandwich," Hutch quipped, taking a drink of his coffee. Starsky snorted a responding laugh.
"Close. Laureen Gregory. You know, if she didn't have such a nasty streak, she'd be somethin' special," Starsky said.
"You know, Starsky, it's a good thing I'm secure or I'd find it annoying, you lusting after a sexy young widow."
"I'm not lusting after her, and why would I go out for a decent-looking steak when I've got filet mignon at home?" Starsky whispered under his breath. He was rewarded with a slight flush tinting fair skin. "Filet mignon I'm in love with," he added.
"I've always been crazy about your meat, too, babe," Hutch whispered back, making Starsky choke on the drink of coffee he'd just taken, drawing some curious looks from the detectives who were seated well out of earshot of their conversation.
"I'll get you for that," Starsky said levelly, mopping the few drops of coffee that had come out through his nose.
"You know where to find me. Now, what did the dragon lady want this time?"
"She just asked for a call back," Starsky said, handing Hutch the message. "Here. She's gotten me in enough trouble for one day."
"You just don't want her reading you the riot act because we haven't solved her husband's murder yet." So far, the only conclusion the investigation had reached was that the killer had apparently slipped in through an unlocked patio door, if in fact the crime was not committed by someone who had a key to the house.
"And the only decent suspect we have is her, which always pleases her to no end."
"I don't think she did it, even if she seems like she could." Hutch picked up the phone and began dialing her number.
"She's got the best motive and the opportunity. I like his business partner myself, but his alibi is airtight," Starsky responded, referring to the attorney who had been delivering a keynote address at a Bay City Bar Association dinner when his junior partner--with whom it was rumored he did not get along--was murdered in his home. The bone of contention between the two men was Laureen, who'd had an affair with the elder attorney shortly after Martin Gregory joined his firm.
"Mrs. Gregory? Detective Hutchinson," Hutch began. Starsky could see his partner's body stiffen as he did his best to force courtesy into his tone. "No, ma'am, we don't have anything new at the moment. We're following up on a couple of leads, and as soon as we have something new to tell--" Hutch rolled his eyes upward and then attempted to break into a flow of words Starsky could hear from his side of the desks. "Mrs. Gre--" Hutch tossed the pen he had been holding on the desk and leaned back in his chair. Finally, he made a swirling gesture with his hand as he shook his head. "Mrs. Gregory, I--" Obviously talked down again, the slow boil was beginning. A part of Starsky felt sorry for the woman on the other end when the boiling point was reached. Then it happened. "Truthfully, ma'am? You are still our best suspect, and we're thoroughly investigating your alibi for that night, which is frankly far from airtight," Hutch said tersely. There was a moment of stunned silence before another torrent of words, which Hutch endured with a sort of satisfied smirk. "I'm sorry you feel that way, Mrs. Gregory. We're very committed to finding your husband's killer, whoever she may be." Hutch stifled a grin. "I'm sorry. Or 'he'. Yes, ma'am. We will call you the moment we have something new." Hutch was quiet a moment. "That might be wise in any case, and we'll be happy to talk with him about the case any time. That's right." After a few more words were exchanged, Hutch hung up and shook his head.
"I heard most of it, but who are we going to talk to about the case?"
"She threatened to contact her attorney about our handling of the case and our 'unfair concentration' on her as a suspect. I told her it would be wise for her to call him in any case, and we'd be glad to talk with him."
"You're a wicked man, Hutchinson." Starsky chuckled a bit as he sorted through the rest of their messages and assorted other paperwork.
"Don't you forget it," Hutch said, still snickering as he opened the ever-growing Gregory file to add a few notes about his conversation with the angry widow. "Hey, I never noticed this before. Well, not much reason to notice it, I guess."
"Martin Gregory. Guess what school he went to?"
"Not St. Stephen's?"
"No, Bay View High, where Matthew Redmond used to coach. It also says he lettered in basketball." Hutch shrugged. "I doubt that's significant, but it's worth keeping in the back of our minds."
"Two people connected to Bay View High wind up dead in three weeks? Well, I guess that's not too unusual. The school's been around quite a few years, and every year, what, five or six hundred or so kids graduate and then go out into the world, not to mention all the teachers, coaches, administrators..."
"Dobey'd say we're grasping at straws." Hutch closed the file and set it aside.
"And he'd probably be right."
"Probably." Hutch frowned. "You up for making a visit to Gregory's folks again?"
"About the school?"
"At least it's something. Might give the old man something to appease him that we're working the case. At least Laureen calls us. The old man calls the chief."
"Good point. Maybe we can slide into The Pits for a bite to eat on the way back?"
"Sounds good to me."
The Gregory home was a stately mansion set on a large, well-manicured lot with a circle drive, and an ornate fountain in the center of the lawn inside the drive's arc. The house itself was a large Tudor style, its rounded, turret-like foyer giving it a distinctive look. Starsky rang the bell and both men waited the short time it took for the uniformed maid to appear at the door.
"Are Mr. and Mrs. Gregory at home, Trudy?" Starsky asked, remembering the maid's name from the three or four previous visits they'd made. The slender older woman smiled.
"Detectives Starkey and Hutchins, right?" she asked, smiling pleasantly.
"Starsky and Hutchinson," Hutch corrected, smiling back. "You were close."
"I'm sorry. Please come in. Mrs. Gregory isn't in, but Mr. Gregory is in his study." She led the way across a polished tile floor, down two steps into a slightly sunken living room. Decorated in various shades of tan, beige, and brown, the room was accented with dark woodwork and obviously expensive pieces of art. "If you'll please have a seat, I'll let him know you're waiting to see him."
"Thanks, Trudy," Hutch responded, as they sat in matching chairs in front of a massive fireplace above which hung a family portrait, painted in oils and surrounded by a heavy gold frame. It featured a much younger Mr. and Mrs. Gregory, their then-teenage son, Martin, and their younger daughter, Samantha, who was now an aspiring attorney in San Diego.
"Detectives." Mr. Gregory's commanding voice caught their attention and both men rose. "Please, sit down, gentlemen. Would you like some coffee?"
"No, thank you," Starsky answered, and Hutch shook his head with a slight smile.
"We noticed something in your son's file. He lettered in basketball at Bay View High."
"Martin was very talented," Mr. Gregory replied, looking, as always, as if his hold on his grief was tenuous. His chiseled features, white hair, and silver-framed glasses gave him an imposing air. Somehow, grief softened the rough edges and made him seem a bit more human. "Is that significant to the investigation?"
"Truthfully, sir, probably not, but a man was murdered this morning who used to coach basketball at Bay View during the time Martin was a student there," Hutch explained.
"Not Matt Redmond?" Mr. Gregory looked genuinely horrified.
"Yes, he was found in the gymnasium of St. Stephen's Academy, where he's been teaching and volunteer coaching the last several years," Starsky said. "It's a minor connection, but it is a connection."
"What possible connection could there be? My God, I can't believe that. Someone murdered him in the school? How?"
"It was a shooting," Hutch replied.
"Martin was stabbed."
"There isn't much to it. Probably just a coincidence," Starsky said. "We just don't want to leave any stones unturned. Was there anything remarkable about Martin's contact with Mr. Redmond or his time at Bay View, beyond his being an excellent player?"
"He was always a top student, and he loved sports--played football, too, but basketball was his passion. He was approached by a few talent scouts in his senior year, but of course, that was out of the question. He'd already been accepted at Princeton. Matt Redmond was a good man, though we didn't see eye to eye on Martin's future. He felt Martin should accept a basketball scholarship to UCLA and then turn pro. I felt he had a better future as an attorney. With athletics, you torture your body until it no longer endures, and by thirty, you're a has-been. Law is a bit more enduring."
"Martin got along well with Redmond?" Hutch asked.
"Very well, yes. He was tough on the kids, and a lot of them didn't like that, or couldn't measure up to it. I've always set high standards for my children, and they're used to excelling and reaching their fullest potential. Martin responded very well to Matt Redmond's approach to coaching. Tough, no-nonsense...rewards for excellence and no tolerance for failure."
"Sounds a little rigid," Hutch said, thinking that what it actually sounded was familiar. Martin Gregory's father didn't sound much different from his own father, at least in his attitude toward effort, excellence, and tolerance of failure.
"Soft coaches, teachers, and parents raise mediocre children. Children need direction, discipline, and a clear set of goals to work toward. Martin always had that at home, and he responded well to it in school."
"Do you recall anything unusual Martin might have told you about Mr. Redmond, or about other team members or students who might have had a reason to dislike Redmond or hold a grudge against him?"
"Detective Starsky, if one of those students were going to kill Matt Redmond, why would they wait seventeen years to do it?"
"We admit this is a longshot, but we don't want to leave any possibility unexplored. Well, we appreciate your time, and we're sorry to have bothered you with what is probably a wild goose chase," Hutch said.
"I appreciate you running down the odd leads," Mr. Gregory said, as the three men rose and walked to the front door. "I hope my daughter-in-law isn't causing you too much trouble."
"She's not exactly pleased with the way the investigation is progressing," Hutch said.
"If I may be candid, Laureen Fowler is a gold-digging little opportunist who is probably only sorry Martin was murdered before he was able to make more money to leave her. I never could make Martin see that. He was determined to marry her at all costs. Unfortunately, the cost was higher than any of us expected."
"You think Laureen is capable of something like this?" Starsky asked.
"Of course she is. I doubt she did it herself, but I would never be surprised to find she was behind it."
"Well, anyone with access to your son who doesn't have an airtight alibi for that night is still a suspect, including Laureen," Hutch said, leading the way out the door. They stopped on the porch, Mr. Gregory still standing just inside the door.
"While it's reassuring to know that you're following up on the obscure leads, I realize that means there are no real promising leads, or you'd be pursuing those."
"Sometimes cases go like this--slowing down for a while without a significant lead. All of a sudden, something breaks, and you make an arrest," Starsky said. "We're not giving up on this one, by any means. We're just running down all the details."
"If you have any other questions about Martin, don't hesitate to ask us. I don't trust you'll get an accurate picture from Laureen."
"We'll verify to the best of our ability any information we receive from any source," Hutch responded.
The Pits was doing a good lunch trade, as usual, and the proprietor was behind the bar, helping serve beverages. As two stools were vacated, Starsky and Hutch claimed them.
"Hey, Hug, looks like business is good," Starsky said, accepting the root beer that was automatically poured and set in front of him. Next was a cola for Hutch.
"People in this town have good taste," Huggy responded with his usual air of self-confidence. "What brings you two in here? Thought you were finding other ways to spend your lunch hours these days."
"Huggy," Starsky admonished in a voice barely above a whisper, feeling like his face probably matched the red t-shirt he was wearing beneath his leather jacket. Hutch just chuckled.
"Catching up on paperwork, mostly," Hutch said, still smiling.
"Paperwork. I see," Huggy said skeptically. "Two specials? I have a new sandwich called Afternoon Delight. I think you'll like it." Huggy headed back to the kitchen.
"I'm gonna kill him," Starsky said under his breath.
"Relax, Starsk. See, it's right here," Hutch said, showing him the lunch menu. "Afternoon Delight" was an oversized hero sandwich. "Besides, we're at the end of the bar, and with all this noise, nobody cares what he's talking to us about."
"We could've done that, you know."
"Gone home for...uh...lunch." Starsky waggled his eyebrows.
"What, and miss all this?" Hutch gestured around him at the smoky, noisy environment.
"What was I thinking?" Starsky rolled his eyes, shaking his head with a smile.
When Huggy returned with the two monstrous sandwiches, Hutch decided to put out a feeler with him about the Gregory homicide. While they felt pretty confident it was Laureen and they just hadn't found the damning piece of evidence yet, they had to keep the field open.
"Need you to keep your ears open for us," Hutch said.
"So it's not just the haute cuisine that brings you here?" Huggy feigned insult.
"Well, that, too," Starsky replied through a mouthful of his sandwich. "This is good stuff, Huggy."
"Told you you'd like it." There was a devilish twinkle in Huggy's eye as he turned back to Hutch. "So what's up?"
"You've heard us complaining about the Gregory case?"
"More than once. I thought you said his old lady did him."
"That's the leading theory, but we haven't been able to nail her for it. There's no physical evidence, and you can't convict on a theory," Starsky said, taking a drink of his root beer.
"I'll keep my ears open. Hotshot lawyer, just elected to the county commission...gotta be somebody who didn't like him."
"He was a corporate lawyer, so it makes it a bit tougher to tie back in to one of his cases." Hutch tried navigating the huge sandwich, and after one messy bite, felt he could calculate the fat and grease he was ingesting from the overload of meat and cheese in that lone mouthful.
"You never know. Those white-collar types do their share of dirty deeds. Or they hire a mechanic."
"This is a little messy for a professional hit." Hutch washed down the first bite with some of his cola.
"Not if they wanted to make it look like the wife did it," Starsky said, still munching away happily.
"True," Hutch conceded. "Just let us know if you hear anything, okay?" he directed to Huggy, who nodded.
"Consider it done. So, does it live up to its name?" He gestured at their plates. Starsky was already starting on the second half of his sandwich, while Hutch had not progressed past the first bite.
"It's great, Hug," Starsky mumbled as he chewed. "Might be my new regular."
"Not if I can help it. That thing should have a warning label on it from the American Heart Association," Hutch said.
"Do me a favor, Starsk," Huggy said, leaning on the bar toward Starsky. "Next time, take your partner to that health food joint for lunch."
"Huggy, there aren't many things I wouldn't do for ya, pal, but eating in that weed factory is one of 'em."
Starsky walked into Hutch's apartment, while his partner shut and locked the door behind them. He was unprepared for the tackle that came from behind, sending them both onto the couch, Hutch's weight pressing him into the cushions.
"Guess we know what you want for dinner," Starsky said, laughing as Hutch's hands were already busy pulling up Starsky's t-shirt. "Mind if I take off my holster?"
"I'll get it," Hutch responded brusquely, loosening the holster before pulling Starsky's stubborn t-shirt the rest of the way out of his pants. The intensity of the sensuous assault was making Starsky hard before Hutch even touched his cock. Hutch was working at getting shirt, holster, and jacket off all at once, and Starsky finally had mercy on him and raised up, only too happy to help him achieve his goal. He reached up to return the favor, but Hutch took a hold of both his hands and gently pushed them back against the cushions. Then he released them and looked at Starsky with a hopeful, questioning look.
"However you want it, babe, it's okay by me," Starsky said affectionately, and honestly. His jeans were uncomfortably tight, and suddenly, the thought of being stripped naked by his clothed partner was more of a turn-on than anything else he could think of. Hutch's nimble fingers were at his buckle now, and before long, the zipper was giving way and he lifted his rear while Hutch peeled jeans and briefs down in one smooth motion.
"Shit," Hutch muttered when he got stuck at the shoes, as if they were an unforeseen obstacle in his well-orchestrated seduction. Starsky toed off one shoe, then the other, rescuing them from the impasse so his jeans and underwear could go flying to join the rest of his clothing in a haphazard pile on the floor.
Hutch ignored the rapidly hardening cock and pushed at Starsky's thighs, encouraging him to pull his knees back and expose himself fully. Resting one leg on the back of the couch and holding the other against his chest, Starsky found himself splayed open and ready before his fully-clothed partner. Hutch hadn't even taken his jacket off. He couldn't stifle a groan as the whole scenario made him even more eager.
He'd initially thought this was all spontaneous lust until Hutch pulled a small tube out of his jacket pocket.
"You were carrying that around all day thinkin' about this?" Starsky's eyes widened, and Hutch had the good grace to blush a little, though he laughed softly even as he squeezed some gel on his fingers.
He slid one long finger inside, spreading the gel quickly. Starsky writhed on it, groaning and savoring the rapid motions while he was still so tight. Quickly, Hutch eased in the second finger and began seriously stretching and lubricating.
And he was still dressed. For a bizarre moment, Starsky wondered if Hutch had a dildo in the other pocket, because he still hadn't so much as unzipped his fly.
A brush over his prostate chased away all rational thought, and Starsky let out a cry of pleasure, bearing down on the fingers inside him. He felt like he would come any minute, and Hutch had never even touched his straining cock that was now leaking a bit of pre-come. The massaging fingers were suddenly withdrawn, and Hutch finally unfastened his belt and unzipped his fly. His cock sprang free, no underwear in sight. No wonder Hutch had worn a jacket all day, and no wonder he'd "run late" getting ready for work so Starsky wouldn't see him finish getting dressed. He'd run around all day with no underwear and managed to hide that from his usually observant partner. There was very little about Hutch's ass that Starsky didn't notice, and Hutch knew it.
Hutch coated his length with the gel, and positioned the slick head at Starsky's eager opening, thrusting inside in one long, firm stroke that dragged a scream of pleasure and surprise from Starsky. Hutch usually eased in more slowly, but tonight, he was changing the pattern in a deliciously enticing way. As soon as Starsky had adjusted to the bulk inside him, Hutch began thrusting hard, setting a fast, steady rhythm that grazed Starsky's prostate and made him scream out in pleasure, grabbing the sofa pillow under his head. He writhed and groaned with each slide of Hutch's cock into his passage, arching up to meet the thrusts.
And Hutch was still fully dressed, with just his fly open, his cock the only part of him bared. Starsky felt a ridiculous little twinge of embarrassment at being totally naked and spread open this way while Hutch could but zip his pants and look as if nothing unusual had happened. They'd made love a thousand different ways a thousand different times, but somehow Hutch had found a way to make it seem newer, hotter, and naughtier than it ever had before.
The powerful cock pulled out, and Starsky almost arched upward anyway, so lost in the sensations that it took him a moment to realize they'd stopped. Hutch was pushing at his hips, urging him to turn over. Eager to comply, Starsky got on his hands and knees on the couch, then lowered himself on his elbows. Hutch thrust into the yawning opening again, the steady rhythm of their sex echoed by the couch springs and the slap of Hutch's denim-clad thighs against Starsky's bare ass.
A particularly energetic stroke to Starsky's prostate was his undoing, and he shouted Hutch's name, coming furiously all over the couch, too lost in sensation to wonder why they hadn't even bothered throwing an old blanket down first. Hutch was still moving fast inside him, clutching his hips now with those large hands, thrusting as deeply as he could as he stiffened and cried out, spilling his fluid deep into Starsky's body.
Though he was gasping and it seemed as if he would land on top of Starsky in a heap, Hutch maintained his part of the fantasy to the end, tucking his softened, sated cock into his jeans and zipping them. He pushed his blond hair back and then crouched by the side of the couch, where Starsky was unabashedly sprawled on his stomach, recovering.
"Oh my God," Starsky gasped, still wondering if his heart would ever slow down, if his cock would ever fully calm down, and if tomorrow, he'd be able to sit down.
"Enjoy yourself?" Hutch asked impishly, unable to completely conceal the fact he was as out of breath as Starsky was.
"You're evil. Wicked. You're a bad boy," Starsky panted, then grinned. "You've been planning this all day?"
"I had the idea a couple days ago, but I was waiting for just the right moment." Hutch smiled more genuinely now, eschewing the role he'd played and running his hand up and down Starsky's bare back. "I love you, you know."
"I know. I love you, too, you big blond lug. Even if I can't move," Starsky groaned as he pulled himself back up on his knees. Hutch offered him a hand to stand up. Then he pulled Starsky's naked, flushed body against his clothed one. He covered Starsky's mouth for a searing kiss, and one hand strayed down to Starsky's ass, a long finger slipping back into the sensitive passage. Hutch's breath was hot against his ear.
"Want me to take you to bed and do it all over again?"
"You put too much vitamin E in your shake this morning? Oh, yeah, that feels good." Starsky enjoyed the feeling of the massaging finger. The thought of being taken to bed and having Hutch inside him again wasn't entirely unappealing. Hutch was moving them in that direction, kissing and licking at Starsky's mouth, finger still unevenly moving in Starsky's ass, until they fell back on the bed together. This time, Hutch left him there long enough to hastily strip off his clothes, climbing back into bed so they could continue kissing, licking, stroking, and exploring. Starsky couldn't believe he was already getting hard again, and now Hutch moved down to take the recovering cock in his mouth, sucking diligently while his hand found Starsky's balls, rolling and massaging them.
Starsky grabbed the rails of the brass headboard, thrusting into Hutch's willing mouth, his arousal fueled by the delicious sucking and the thought of what was going to happen next. Just as he reached the edge of his climax, Hutch's mouth moved slowly off his rigid shaft, and those big hands were pushing his thighs up again. Hutch stroked himself a few times, then plunged into Starsky's still-slick hole, pumping in and out, more slowly this time, letting the sensitized tissues feel each backward pull and forward push. Starsky was groaning with every movement, feeling a little sore now, but his tingling prostate was insatiable, craving every contact. He came, shouting Hutch's name just before Hutch reached his own completion, thrusting a few quick, final times.
They lay there together, Hutch moving up next to Starsky and pulling the fatigued body into his arms.
"What brought that on? Not that I'm complaining," Starsky said tiredly, smiling and kissing the smooth skin of Hutch's chest.
"Long hours, not enough time to do more than a quick hand job before sleep. That ass of yours in those skintight jeans you know damn well drive me crazy."
"Which jeans are those?" Starsky asked with very badly feigned innocence. He was guilty as charged, having spent the last few days wearing jeans that actually defied gravity, they were so tight and molded to his body.
"Like you don't know."
"Someday, I'm gonna do it to you that way. You're never gonna see it coming, but I'm gonna get ya."
"You got me, Starsk. Any time, any place." Hutch leaned in for another long kiss. "Just wanted to do something special for you, sweetheart." He kissed Starsky's forehead.
"It was great, darlin'. Just perfect. Like you."
"I wasn't too rough, was I?"
"I had a great time, you big softie. I might have to drive standin' up, but it was sensational."
"I want to see that."
"You don't think I could do it?"
"No, I think you could do it--that's what makes me nervous."
Starsky ignored the ringing of the telephone. Hutch and he were still wrapped around each other in a wonderfully warm, slightly sweaty tangle of sated flesh. His stomach growled ominously, reminding him that its needs had not been met and it was not pleased with that situation. The phone rang again.
"Shit, fuck, and damn," Hutch groaned.
"You used up all the good words." Starsky was quiet a minute. "Son-of-a-bitch."
"I knew you'd think of something." Hutch rolled toward the phone. "This better be a goddamned emergency or I'm gonna kill the bastard, whoever it is."
"Kill 'em even if it is an emergency," Starsky mumbled into a pillow.
"Hutchinson," he grumbled into the phone. "I was asleep," he responded, barely containing the irritation in his voice. Starsky looked at the clock and saw that it was only 9:00. He poked Hutch's thigh and pointed at the bedside table. Hutch recovered nicely. "I was watching an old movie. Guess I dozed off. What's up, Captain?" Hutch listened carefully. "With all due respect, Captain, why us? We've got the Gregory and Redmond--" Hutch stopped, obviously being informed why they were getting yet another call, presumably for another dead body somewhere, when they already had two major new cases pending. "I'll find Starsky. Right. We'll be there." Hutch hung up the phone.
"They found the body of a woman in her thirties on the football field at Bay View High. Apparently, there was some sort of note attached to her body."
"Dobey thought the connection between Redmond and Gregory was pretty thin." Starsky reluctantly pushed himself up into a sitting position, annoyed that he couldn't just relax and enjoy the lingering sensations of their marathon lovemaking. He was in no mood to go back on the job. "Sounds like something's goin' on here."
"I think his exact words were, 'that theory is anemic'. I guess he doesn't think it's that anemic anymore."
SHE'S NOT LAUGHING ANYMORE
The bold words were written with a thick black felt-tip marker on a piece of standard typing paper and attached to the dead woman's jacket with a large safety pin. But that was not the most extraordinary thing about the murder scene. The victim, whom Ginny estimated to be between the ages of thirty-three and thirty-six, was dressed as a Bay View High School cheerleader. The jacket and uniform looked new, or nearly new, the only visible alteration being the removal of the class year from the shoulder of the jacket.
The victim had long blonde hair, perfectly shaped features, and appeared to have a stunning figure with long, shapely legs.
"She must'a been a knockout in high school," Starsky opined, shaking his head. "What do you wanna bet we're going to find out she graduated from this place?"
"I sure wouldn't bet this week's paycheck against it," Hutch said, checking the woman's jacket pockets, frowning as he pulled out a crumpled piece of paper. On it was written a name and phone number: Jason Houghton, 555-3479. "I suppose it's too much to hope for that this is our killer."
"Wishful thinking. Probably a friend of the person who owns the jacket."
"At least it's something." Hutch flagged down one of Ginny's people and after copying down the name and number, asked him to bag the slip of paper.
"I'd guess strangulation," Starsky said, looking at the deep bruising around the woman's neck.
"Where's Ginny?" Hutch looked around to find the medical examiner talking with two men in jeans and sweaters before motioning to the two detectives to join them.
"This is Mr. Nolan, the school principal, and Mr. Scott, the football coach. Detectives Starsky and Hutchinson," she introduced. After the men had shaken hands, Starsky asked if either of them recognized the dead woman.
"I think she's Patty Schuster, but I can't be a hundred percent sure," the coach said, shaking his head. "Not exactly what I expected, I tell you that." A stocky man in his mid-fifties, Calvin Scott looked every bit the part of a former football star-turned-coach.
"Who is Patty Schuster?" Starsky asked.
"Patty was the head cheerleader, oh, must be sixteen, seventeen years ago now. Maybe longer. She was real popular, a real knockout. I haven't seen her since graduation."
"Do you remember the year she graduated?" Hutch was taking notes as the man spoke.
"Hmm. You remember her, don't you, Stu?" he said, looking over at the principal, whose brow knit in concentration.
"The name's familiar. Vaguely. Had to be what, '63, '64?"
"That sounds right," Calvin responded, nodding. "This is strange. I think she used to run around with that lawyer who just got killed...what's his name? He was a big shot on the basketball team, remember?" he asked Nolan.
"Marty Gregory. Yes, I remember him. Excellent student, top athlete...a real loss. Such a waste."
"Mr. Nolan, we may need to have a look through the school records for that period of time. It could be just a coincidence, but with two deaths in the last three weeks from the same graduating class, and the death of a former staff member, we feel it's worth checking," Hutch said.
"You'll need a warrant, purely to satisfy the privacy and confidentiality rules we have to obey."
"I'm sure that won't be a problem," Starsky responded. "Either of you know Matt Redmond, who used to coach the basketball team here?"
"Sure did. Incredible, you know? A guy leaves one job because he's having trouble with the kids, and goes to work in a little private grade school and gets his head blown off. Incredible." Calvin sighed.
"What brought you out here tonight?" Hutch asked.
"I got a phone call from one of my players asking me to meet him out here."
"Which player?" Starsky asked, pen poised.
"Steve Ryan, our quarterback. He's a good kid, good player..." The man shrugged. "He said it was important, and he needed to talk to me right away, so I came. When I got here, no one else was here--well, no one but the lady over there," he said, nodding toward the corpse.
"Can you give us Steve's number?" Starsky jotted down the information as the man recited it from memory.
"He works with me on a volunteer program on the weekends, coaching inner city youth. I have to call him, or he calls me, to coordinate the times," he explained.
"Looks like this is pretty open out here," Hutch commented. "Anyone can just walk onto the field any time."
"That's right. We have a security guard, but he concentrates on the building itself. If kids want to monkey around out here, they can't hurt too much," Nolan replied. A tall, more slightly built contrast to the coach, Starsky thought Nolan fit the role of high school principal as if he'd been cast to play one in a movie.
"One more thing. Does the name Jason Houghton mean anything to you?" Starsky asked. Both men nodded, but the coach spoke first.
"Jason's one of our best basketball players. Great kid. Why?"
"His name and phone number were in the pocket of the jacket the victim is wearing," Hutch explained.
"Then I can tell you whose uniform that probably is--Charlene Isackson's," the coach added. "They've been an item for a year or so now."
"Great," Hutch said, making a note of the name. It occurred to him to question why, if they'd been an item for a year, Charlene would need to write down Jason's phone number. Hutch's best guess was that it was not Charlene's, but a different girl's uniform, and Jason was playing the field. He didn't share that theory with the two men from Bay View. Instead, he simply smiled when he finished writing and said, "We'll be in touch with that warrant."
"You may expect our fullest cooperation, Detectives," Nolan responded.
Starsky shifted again in his seat, and Hutch flashed him a wicked smile. Starsky's face colored, and it was more than the reflection of the red traffic signal.
"I should have really let you drive," Hutch said, starting away from the corner as the light changed. "I wanted to see you do it standing up."
"Are we still talking about driving, Blondie?"
"Driving...in and out and in and out--"
"Knock it off, Hutch, or Dobey's gonna have a fourth homicide on his hands."
"I bet those jeans fit nice and tight between your cheeks, with the seam rubbing right on --"
"They are tight jeans, Hutchinson, and if you keep talkin' like that, you're gonna make me damage somethin' you might want to enjoy later," Starsky shot back.
Hutch grinned wickedly as he steered the car toward Winchester Street, where Patricia Schuster Carson lived with her husband, Michael, and their ten-year-old daughter, Julie. They needed a little humor to sustain them through what promised to be a very painful notification of the next of kin.
Michael Carson took the news of his wife's death as badly as they had predicted. She normally arrived home from work just before 6:00, but tonight they'd been frantic with worry, calling everyone who might have seen her. Michael finally left their daughter with the next door neighbor and was about to start out on a driving search of the city. He was in the garage, keys in hand, when Starsky and Hutch pulled into the driveway behind him. His wife's car had been spotted by her employer, still parked in its usual spot at the accounting firm where she normally worked until 5:00 and then left for home. It had been that phone call that prompted her husband to begin searching on his own.
"I don't know how I'll explain this to Julie," he said, some signs of composure returning. The three men sat in the attractively decorated living room of the two-story home. Michael Carson was significantly older than his wife, appearing to be in his forties. He had a thick head of salt-and-pepper hair and handsome features. While the home was far from opulent, the late model Corvette in the garage and the impeccable furnishings spoke of financial comfort. Numerous family photos on the fireplace mantel and the walls spoke of a happy family life. "What kind of maniac...? Patty got along with everyone. Everyone loved her. Why would someone do a thing like this?"
"The killer left certain...messages behind," Hutch began, not sure how to explain to the grief-ravaged man that his wife had been dressed as a cheerleader with a note pinned to her jacket. "It's possible her death may be connected to some incident from her high school days."
"Her high school days?" he repeated, incredulous. "That was years ago!"
"In less than a month, three people who were closely connected to Bay View High School have been murdered," Starsky explained. "Two members of the same graduating class--Patty and Martin Gregory--and just this morning, the body of a former basketball coach was found in the gym at St. Stephen's Academy."
"You think some psycho is killing people from Patty's old school?"
"It's a theory. At this stage, nothing is carved in stone. Did Patty talk much about her school experience?" Hutch asked.
"Not really. She showed me a few old yearbooks, and Julie used to get a kick out of looking through them. They were very close," he said, swallowing hard.
"Do you know where those yearbooks are now?" Starsky asked.
"Sure. She has them in a box in the closet. Do you think there's something in there that will help with the case?"
"We don't want to overlook any possibilities," Hutch responded. "Mr. Carson, there's no easy way to say this. Your wife was dressed in a cheerleader's uniform when we found her, with a note pinned to her jacket."
"Sick son-of-a-bitch," he muttered bitterly. "What did the note say?"
"I'm sorry, Mr. Carson, but we are not at liberty to reveal the contents of the note at this time," Starsky said. "It's important we have something confidential in the case that only the killer would know. What we can tell you is that it leads us to believe it may be related to someone she knew in high school."
"I'll get Patty's yearbooks." He rose and left the room quickly, his footsteps barely audible on the carpeted stairs as he went to the master bedroom to locate the yearbooks.
"Hard to believe some sicko could nurse a grudge all these years," Hutch said, shaking his head.
"The elite crowd from Bay View could be real assholes. I mean, it's tragic what's happening, and nothing justifies it, but they were the spoiled rich kids with the fancy cars and powerful fathers who could get away with anything and usually did. I went to a party with a couple friends from my school once, and thought it was a big deal because it was at some fancy house out in the same neighborhood where Martin Gregory's parents still live. Those kids were just plain mean, Hutch. They had it all, they were popular, and they were mean as hell to anyone who wasn't on their 'level'."
"I take it you didn't have a great time at the party."
"I had the wrong last name, the wrong accent, and my clothes weren't expensive enough. I didn't know anything about sailing or spending the summer in Europe...I think I was there all of about thirty minutes." Starsky shook his head. "I'll tell ya, Hutch, I was lucky. I had friends at my own school, and I was pretty confident about myself. I was popular at my high school, so I just walked out of that house thinking they were a bunch of stuck up assholes--not that there was something wrong with me. But mean kids like that can do damage to other kids. Serious damage if they see them every day and work 'em over good with names and nasty jokes."
"Probably not much different than the crowd Jack Mitchell and I used to run with. The popular kids with lots of money."
"There's no crime in being rich or popular, Hutch. It's only bad when you use it to hurt kids who aren't." Starsky didn't say any more because Mr. Carson's footsteps could be heard on the stairs.
"Patty's yearbooks are all in here. There's probably some of her other high school stuff in the storage room over the garage, but it'd take me some time to dig that out."
"This'll be a good start," Hutch said, looking through the medium-sized carton Mr. Carson had set on the floor at their feet.
"You can borrow what you need. Just...please be careful, and bring it back when you're finished. Patty's folks will want some things..." He looked stricken for a moment, then walked briskly out of the room.
"Poor guy," Starsky said, joining Hutch in poking through the box. Most of the items were standard high school souvenirs: yearbooks, a couple framed certificates from spelling bees, a few old notebooks, and some photos.
"Maybe we can get in touch with some of these folks and see if they can point us toward someone that Patty and her friends might have laughed at," Hutch suggested, paging through one of the yearbooks. The pages were loaded with the usual messages and notes from friends. Most of the kids in the pictures looked affluent. It was in the perfect haircuts, the clothes, the late model cars they posed with in some group shots. Patty was in the center of it all, usually in her cheerleading uniform, looking eerily similar to the way she did lying dead on the football field seventeen years later. The pretty, smiling blonde in the photos was, indeed, not laughing anymore.
After Hutch shared his theory with Starsky about Jason Houghton's love life, and found they agreed wholeheartedly, the two men planned to check with the cheerleading coach first thing in the morning to find out if any of the girls had reported a uniform stolen. It was unlikely Jason would be straight with them if he didn't want his girlfriend to find out, and both men were sufficiently convinced it wasn't Charlene Isackson's uniform. The fact that the phone number with the boy's name turned out to be a home telephone number confirmed their theory.
Shortly after midnight, the two men returned to Hutch's apartment. Having made a preliminary report to Dobey complete with their plan of action for the next day, they'd been excused to go home and get some sleep--provided they were back bright and early in the morning to get started.
Starsky grinned as he picked up the discarded clothes in the living room and eyed the stain on the couch.
"You know, we'd've been in real deep shit if anybody had come in here," Starsky said, chuckling a little.
"No reason for anyone to come in here. Besides, just because someone knocks doesn't mean we have to let 'em in," Hutch said, taking two beers out of the refrigerator and handing one to his partner.
"Y'know, seeing you with all your clothes on, just that big tool of yours sticking out...never saw anything so hot in my life, babe," Starsky said, sliding an arm around Hutch's waist and nuzzling Hutch's neck. He nipped at an earlobe.
"Unless it was you, buck naked on the couch with that prize-winning ass up in the air," Hutch responded, moving in for a beer-flavored kiss.
"I owe you one," Starsky responded. "Or three."
"Didn't know we were keeping score," Hutch said, chuckling into another kiss.
"Hey, that's okay, if you wanna just go to bed and get a good night's sleep," Starsky twitted, reaching down to squeeze one of Hutch's buttocks through his jeans.
"We had a nap earlier."
"And we can take another one later." Starsky flexed his eyebrows, moving Hutch back toward the sleeping alcove.
Deciding they'd had enough acrobatic clothes wrestling earlier, both quickly stripped and stretched out on the bed together, their languid stroking and kissing a stark contrast to the lusty urgency of their earlier encounter. Starsky kissed his way down Hutch's chest, pausing to lick and suck at the small nipples, taking his time building his partner's arousal. He groped for the lube that was stashed in the nightstand and held the well-flattened tube in one hand, while the other still stroked from Hutch's chest down to his stomach. When it closed over the rapidly hardening cock, Hutch groaned in pleasure and spread his thighs a bit wider to give Starsky more room.
With his hand wrapped around the base, Starsky teased the sensitive head with his mouth, licking and sucking but not really satisfying. He had plans for his lover, and a quick finish wasn't among them. He withdrew his mouth and began working at getting some lube on his fingers.
"Is there enough?" Hutch asked, his breathing more than a little ragged, as he watched Starsky diligently teasing each remaining drop of the gel to the top of the tube.
"There'll be enough slippery stuff if I have to go get the butter out of the fridge," Starsky responded, his voice equally breathless. His cock was aching to sink into that tight heat. He'd been delighted with the wild sensations of earlier, but it seemed to fuel his own desire to be inside Hutch, as if he needed to give back some of the sensation he'd received. In a remote part of his brain, he figured there was probably some deep psycho-sexual explanation of a need to reassert himself after having been thoroughly fucked senseless not once, but twice, but he ignored the thought. All he knew was he'd gotten it good and now his body wanted to give some of it back.
And he felt unbelievably lucky to love and be loved more than life itself by the person who drove him this crazy with lust. He counted himself among only a select few in the world who were that lucky.
"Gonna make you feel real good, babe," he said, still squeezing frantically at the tube that wasn't cooperating. He wondered if an empty tube of lube could have as devastating an effect on his masculinity as a failed erection.
"Where's the tube from before?" Hutch raised up on his elbows now, looking around.
"Living room?" Starsky gave up on the current tube and went to the couch, digging frantically around the cushions. Soon, Hutch joined him. The two of them, naked and fully erect, began ransacking the living room.
"Got it," Hutch said triumphantly, reaching deep into the cushions of the couch. He was bending over the back of it, legs spread, writhing in rhythm with the movement of his arm as it reached for the elusive tube.
"Freeze," Starsky said, moving up behind the perfectly presented target. "You've got such a great ass, babe. Can't believe it's all mine." He massaged the twin globes with eager hands.
"Oh, it's yours, is it?" Hutch teased, looking over his shoulder.
"You bet it's mine, darlin'. Every sexy inch of it," he responded, still massaging.
Hutch was rocking against the back of the couch now, his stiff cock rubbing hard into the throw. He handed the tube to Starsky and thrust his ass out even farther, rubbing more obviously against the couch. Starsky's heart skipped a beat at the sight of Hutch wantonly pleasuring himself on the couch, offering himself so eagerly.
Starsky coated his fingers and carefully slid two into the eager passage. In his aroused state, Hutch needed only a little stretching and lubrication to be more than ready for the main event. Starsky coated his cock and pressed the head against the slick pucker, pushing inside carefully but steadily, stilling the movement while he accepted Hutch into his body.
"I want a mirror," Hutch gasped. "Over there," he gestured awkwardly at the wall across from the couch.
"You wanna watch, too, huh?" Starsky grinned at the wickedness of it, thinking how much he'd like to see the whole picture--Hutch bent over the couch, his ass in the air, Starsky plunging in and out of him, both of them transfixed by the pleasure. He groaned at the thought and began thrusting, watching Hutch brace his hands on the couch cushions. In this position, gravity was by far in Starsky's favor, and he used his advantage to slow down and tease Hutch a little, sometimes grazing his prostate, sometimes not. He didn't want Hutch to know what to expect, and the surprised shouts of pleasure every few strokes let him know he was succeeding in that goal.
"I'm in no hurry," Starsky responded, kissing his way along Hutch's spine while he rocked inside him gently. Two orgasms earlier that evening had made him not only languid in his movements but a tad slower on the draw. He knew they'd both come eventually, but they had the endurance to make it last this time. "Love being inside you, babe."
"Love having you in there," Hutch admitted, thrusting back against him.
"Never was like this before. Never this good." Starsky rubbed his cheek against Hutch's back, gently, knowing the stubble on his cheek scratching at the skin would send a little shiver down his lover's spine. "Only you, Hutch."
"Only us," Hutch agreed. "Just you and me." Hutch groaned. "Come on, Starsk, harder...oh, yeah, right there...that's it, babe."
Unable to deny Hutch what made him feel good and unable to resist his own urge to speed up his movements and take what his body was demanding, Starsky thrust faster and harder, feeling his climax building, steadying Hutch's hips with his hands, having the absurdly amusing thoughts that if someone were to dust Hutch's ass for prints, Starsky would be busted in a heartbeat.
Hutch stiffened and cried out, his internal muscles clenching and milking Starsky as they both came, writhing more frantically as they rode the waves of a nearly simultaneous climax.
Starsky steadied himself on the back of the couch to avoid falling forward on his partner, who was busy keeping himself balanced. Easing out gently, Starsky kissed one buttock and patted the other.
"Come on, you big blond beauty. Bedtime." Starsky gave his partner a helpful pull, and Hutch stood, turning so they could embrace, their mouths seeking each other immediately.
"Love you," Hutch muttered against Starsky's mouth before kissing him again.
"Love you, too." Starsky gave him a little tug and they walked slowly and a little unsteadily toward the bed, grateful to crawl under the covers and spoon together, their thoroughly sated bodies too exhausted to move. "You ever think about how incredible it is to be this hot for the person you love so much?"
"You mean when the person whose ass you ogle every chance you get is the person you go home with every night?"
"Well, yeah, somethin' like that," Starsky responded, laughing. Hutch kissed his neck.
"Yeah, I think about it. Nobody deserves this much love, but I'm sure glad we've got it."
"Me, too. 'Night, Hutch."
"Sleep tight, babe." Hutch yawned widely, the heat of it tickling Starsky's ear. Starsky let his eyes drift shut then, soaking up the closeness and warmth of Hutch's body pressed against his.
Figuring they could accomplish quite a bit of their follow up on the case at Bay View High School, Starsky and Hutch arrived there bright and early the next morning. The principal willingly called Steve Ryan and Jason Houghton out of their classes to the office to talk with the two detectives. Since it was his phone call to the office that brought about the discovery of the body, Steve Ryan was sent for first.
A nice-looking boy with dark hair and blue eyes, Steve was average in height with a solid build. Seated in the principal's conference room, Starsky and Hutch attempted to put him at ease.
"I understand Mr. Nolan announced at assembly this morning that a body was found on the football field last night," Starsky said, and the young man nodded. "This is just a routine discussion, Steve. We're trying to speak to anyone who might have information that would help us out."
"I will if I can. I was home last night. My mom can back me up," he said, his tone not particularly uneasy or nervous.
"Did you call any other students or faculty last night?" Hutch asked.
"My girlfriend, Kelly Richmond. I think we talked for a half hour or so. I don't remember exactly what time, but it was before eleven, because I watched the news downstairs with my mom."
"No one else? No teachers, coaches, anyone?" Hutch probed. "It's important."
"No, nobody else. I had a paper to finish, and the only reason I called Kelly was because she was sick yesterday and I wanted to know how she was doing and if she was gonna be back today."
"You never called Coach Scott?" Starsky asked.
"No. I mean, I do sometimes because we work on an inner city youth sports program together, but I didn't last night. What's this about?"
"Someone called Coach Scott and claimed to be you, asking him to meet them at the stadium," Hutch said.
"Weird." Steve shuddered almost visibly. "And that's where the body was?"
"Yes," Hutch responded. "Can you think of anyone who would use your name, or would want to tie you in to something like this?"
"To a murder rap? Hey, I may not be everybody's favorite guy, but I don't think I've got any enemies like that. I really can't think of anybody. Could it be a coincidence? I mean, could someone have done the phone call as a prank on the coach, and the body just happened to be there?"
"Anything's possible, Steve. We're just starting the investigation, so we need to get all the facts before we can start making assumptions or guesses," Starsky said.
"Well, I didn't call, and I don't know anything about the dead body. Who was it, anyway? Mr. Nolan said it wasn't a student or a teacher."
"It's on the morning news anyway," Hutch said at Starsky's hesitation. "Her name was Patty Schuster Carson. She used to be a student here in the '60s."
"How'd she die?"
"Strangulation," Hutch said, quoting what was now the official cause of death, and undoubtedly plastered all over every TV station and newspaper by now.
"Man, that's rough. Never thought of this as being a real dangerous place at night. Think I'll pick up Kelly from her cheerleading practices from now on instead of letting her walk home. Her dad's got this thing about getting her a car. They're loaded but he wants her to save up for it so she knows the value of a dollar, or something like that."
"Imagine that," Starsky commented, shooting Hutch a partially stifled grin.
Jason Houghton was slightly taller and a bit leaner than Steve, and was built more like a basketball player. He had short blond hair and wore wire-framed glasses. Once they were seated, Hutch asked the boy what his sport was.
"Basketball and track," he responded, smiling a little, though he still eyed them warily.
"That wasn't a trick question, Jason," Starsky said, and Jason had to chuckle.
"Guess I'm a little nervous talking to cops. My dad'll have a stroke if he finds out I got questioned."
"If you think your father would be upset by us talking to you, you're more than welcome to call him," Hutch said. "We're not here to question you as a suspect. We're just looking for information to put a few pieces together."
"I got nothing to hide," he said, shrugging. "Shoot. Uh, I mean, go ahead."
"Do you recognize this handwriting?" Hutch asked, sliding the bagged slip with Jason's name and phone number written on it.
"Am I going to get someone in trouble here?"
"We really don't know that yet, Jason. It may or may not be significant to the investigation," Starsky said.
"That's Kelly Richmond's handwriting. She wrote down my number a week or so ago."
"And you remember that because...?" Hutch prodded.
"You obviously never saw Kelly Richmond if you have to ask."
"Ah," Starsky responded, nodding. "Why did she write it down?"
"I gave it to her."
"We figured that much," Hutch responded, smiling slightly. "But why?"
"I asked her to go out, but she's seeing somebody else. She said she'd give me a call if she could make it. She wrote down the number and tucked it in her jacket."
"Which jacket was that?"
"Her cheerleading uniform jacket. It was after a game. I think she was worried her boyfriend was going to catch her talking to me, so she wrote down the number and took off." A look of horror crossed his features. "It's not Kelly that's dead is it?"
"No, it wasn't a student. I thought Mr. Nolan told that to the students at the special assembly this morning?"
"Yeah, but I thought maybe he was lying to keep everybody calm."
"When was the last time you saw Kelly wearing that jacket?" Starsky asked.
"That night. I saw her at school a couple times after that, but not in her uniform."
"Thanks for your time, Jason. If your dad has any concerns about us talking with you, have him give us a call at this number, and we'll be glad to answer any questions he has."
"It's cool," he said, taking the card. "As long as I'm not a suspect or something."
"We're just gathering information, nothing more. Thanks for your help."
"Sure." Jason headed for the door of the conference room. "Did Kelly lose that number?"
"It looks that way," Starsky said. "Probably why she didn't call you," he added.
"Yeah, probably," Jason agreed before leaving the room and closing the door behind him.
"Ah, the interludes of the young and the restless," Starsky said, resting his chin on his palm. "I remember those days."
"I don't know how young we are, but if we were any more restless, we'd be hospitalized after last night." Hutch's remark evoked a snort of a laugh from Starsky.
"Well, I guess we need to find out from Kelly Richmond what became of her uniform and who might have had access to it."
"Hope poor Steve didn't give her his ring yet," Starsky said, shaking his head. "Never trust your heart to a fickle little cheerleader."
"Sounds like the voice of experience." Hutch laughed a little as they stood and headed for the door.
"Well, it wasn't exactly my heart I was interested in givin' 'em."
"Why does that not surprise me?"
"Oh, sure, and you dated every girl you ever went out with in high school because of her good grades."
"Of course I did. Couldn't very well bring anything less home to the folks." Hutch grinned evilly. "'Course I never took the best ones home to meet the family. Which made me promise myself that if I ever had a daughter, she wouldn't be allowed to date until she was thirty."
The Richmond home was a sprawling multi-level contemporary, set back from the street and accented with perfectly trimmed, geometrically shaped shrubs. When Starsky rang the doorbell, he almost expected to be greeted by a uniformed maid. Instead, the door opened just a crack, and a teenage girl with long blonde hair looked suspiciously through the opening permitted by the tramp chain. Starsky didn't bother explaining to her that if she really didn't want intruders it was best not to answer the door at all, and let her feel secure on the other side of the flimsy chain.
"Detectives Starsky and Hutchinson, Bay City Police," he said, holding up his badge as Hutch did the same.
"How do I know you're really cops?" she asked, her voice thick with congestion that coordinated well with her red nose and puffy eyes.
"Well, you can have a closer look at our ID, or you can call the police and check us out," Hutch responded. He pulled out a card. "If you want to call this number and give the person who answers our badge numbers, they can verify us."
"I guess I don't need to do that," she said, looking at the card. She closed the door a moment and then opened it again, minus the chain. "Is this about the murder at the school?"
"How did you find out about that?" Starsky asked.
"Morning news. I've been watching TV all morning. I'm really sick, so I'll try not to breathe on you. Come in." She stepped back and let them in, closing the door behind them. They were in a large foyer near an open staircase with a wrought iron railing and flights leading up and down to the upper and lower levels. "The living room's up here," she said, leading the way. Though simply dressed in a t-shirt and jeans and ravaged by what appeared to be a bad cold, she was still a pretty girl. "Have a seat," she said, sitting in a big leather chair and resting her stocking feet on the edge of a matching ottoman. Starsky and Hutch took seats on opposite ends of a matching black leather couch. The whole room was done in gray, black, and white with chrome and glass accents.
"We'll get right to the point, Kelly, so you can get back to your rest," Hutch said, smiling.
"That's okay. I'm going a little nuts cooped up in here anyway. I still have a fever, so my mom won't let me go back to school. She's a doctor." Kelly rolled her eyes.
"Great house," Starsky commented, and Kelly just shrugged.
"It feels like my mom's office."
"Kelly, are you a cheerleader at Bay View?" Hutch asked.
"Yes. I have been for two years now. Hey, did somebody find my uniform?"
"You lost it?" Hutch asked.
"No, some creep stole it. Probably Charlene Isackson. Little witch probably found out Jason wants to go out with me."
"Charlene's also a cheerleader, isn't she?" Starsky clarified.
"Yes, but she'd do something like this just to get back at me because Jason's interested in me."
"Where do you ordinarily keep your uniform?" Hutch asked, trying to ignore the teenage equivalent to Peyton Place that was unfolding before them.
"Sometimes at home, but it was stolen out of my locker in the girls' locker room. I came out of the shower and it was gone. Which was really terrific since it was the only thing I had to wear. Luckily Mrs. Foster was still in her office, and she loaned me a pair of sweats."
"Mrs. Foster?" Starsky raised his eyebrows.
"She's the gym teacher and cheerleading coach. She's really nice."
"She was nearby when your uniform was stolen then?"
"Mm-hm. Her office is just off the gym, and luckily not too far from the locker room," she said, laughing a little, then covering her mouth to cough. "Why all the interest in my uniform? I mean, not that I'm complaining that they sent two great-looking cops over to question me about it, but I didn't think it was that big a deal."
"Well, it could be. We can't really go into details right now, but it could be very significant to the case," Hutch explained, smiling. Being classified as "great looking" by a pretty, popular teenage girl was always good for the old ego. "Was there anyone else around the gym or the locker room that day who didn't belong? Anyone who stood out, or who might have been hanging around after everyone else was gone?"
"I wouldn't have gone in to take a shower if I thought there was some creep hanging around. I didn't see anyone. But as far as the uniform goes, I bet Charlene did it. I had Jason's number in my pocket, so she's probably really mad at me now. Probably drop me the next time we do a pyramid."
"Did you see Charlene there?" Starsky asked.
"No, not after practice. I was late getting to the showers because I had to talk to Mrs. Foster about my schedule and practices. I do some candy-striper work, too, and I had to get that and my cheerleading practice coordinated."
"Kelly, could you positively identify your cheerleading uniform if you saw it again?" Hutch asked.
"That's a weird question. Could you identify that shirt you're wearing? Sure I could."
"I mean since the uniforms are all alike except for some variations in size," Hutch responded, smiling faintly. "It could be important for you to be able to identify the uniform as definitely being your own."
"I sewed a name label in it, so unless someone ripped that out, I can identify it. Even if they did rip it out, I could tell if it was mine."
"Okay. That's what we needed to know, Kelly. Thanks for your time today," Starsky said. "You have our card. If you or your parents have any questions, or if you think of anything else, feel free to call us anytime."
"Okay, I will." She followed them downstairs to the front door. Starsky couldn't ignore his protective instincts any longer.
"Oh, Kelly? While you're here by yourself, it's better if you find out who's on the other side of the door before you open it. Those chains don't always hold up that well."
"Really? Geez. Thanks. I'll be careful. Good thing you guys weren't weirdos, then."
"Well, I don't know about him, but I'm okay," Starsky quipped, and the girl giggled.
"Bye. Oh, hey, am I going to get my uniform back?"
"I wouldn't count on it, Kelly. I think you better plan on getting a new one," Hutch responded.
With burgers and fries from a nearby fast-food restaurant spread out on their desks, the two men began to thumb through Patty Schuster Carson's old yearbooks. Neither was sure exactly what he was looking for, but both hoped they'd see a photo or read a message or something that would somehow tie in with the cryptic message pinned to the body.
"I think we're wasting our time with these," Hutch said. "I think we should just pick out a few names of people who signed her yearbooks and see if we can track them down. If there was somebody back then with a grudge, we have a better chance of hearing about it from the crowd she ran with."
"I've been trying to pick out nerds," Starsky said, spreading out photocopies of the class picture pages. He had several unfortunate youths circled. "These are kids who would have gotten laughed at when I was in school, and we're only a couple years older than the victims--well, except for Redmond."
"Kids laugh at other kids for a lot of reasons, especially at Bay View. You got laughed at in a way by that crowd, and no one would pick you out of a line up as a nerd."
"If you keep saying romantic stuff like that to me, you'll get me all misty-eyed," Starsky quipped under his breath. Hutch grinned but didn't reply as he looked at Starsky's nerd gallery.
"Just wait until we get home tonight," Hutch finally replied softly.
"Oh, yeah?" Starsky arched an eyebrow, looking at his partner. They were both leaning across their desks to look at the pictures, their faces way too close for comfort. It was almost impossibly difficult not to close the distance and kiss, and yet it was completely impossible to do so given their location. If anyone in the room even knew they were thinking about it, they'd be in serious trouble.
"You'll just have to wait until tonight," Hutch responded coyly. Starsky tried to remember Hutch being "coy" ever in his life. Love does funny things to a guy, Starsky thought fondly.
"Hey, check this out." Starsky frowned as he noticed, for the first time, a photo separated from the others with an ornate border around it. "Poor kid. Wonder what happened to him?"
"'In Memoriam, Edward Bennett, 1947-1963'." Hutch frowned. "Bennett...where'd I just hear that name?"
"Grampa Joe, the janitor at St. Stephen's."
"Bennett's not an unusual name, so we can't jump to any conclusions. Besides, look at this kid. He's not in your nerd line-up."
"Nice-looking boy," Starsky said. "Not much reason for anyone to be laughing at him. Besides, if your dad's a janitor, you don't go to Bay View. You don't even get invited to the same parties. It's gotta be a different Bennett."
"Let's check it out. If it was anything other than natural causes, say from an illness, with a kid that age, the cops would have at least done a routine check on it."
"Time to go see Minnie and her computer?"
"Yup," Hutch agreed, sticking a sheet of paper in the yearbook to mark it and leading the way out of the squadroom. "She's not going to give up trying to teach us to use that monster ourselves."
"I just figured out the electric typewriter, Hutch."
"It's just an electric typewriter with a screen," Hutch said, shrugging a little, though he didn't sound convinced. "They're doing a lot of amazing things with computers."
"Yeah, like screwing up your phone bills."
"It's progress, Starsky. You can't fight it."
"Sure you can. Doesn't mean you'll win, but you don't have to go down easy."
Minnie greeted them cheerfully, her day so far in R & I not having been too exciting. She took the photocopied page of the yearbook and typed Edward Bennett's name into her computer. Before long, the small, dark screen came to life with a myriad of green words.
"Looks like an accident," she said. "Car accident. He went off the road into a ditch, and the car burst into flames..." She shook her head. "Poor kid. Hope he was knocked out by the impact." She shrugged. "That's it, guys. Nothing exotic or sinister."
"Damn," Starsky cursed quietly. "Man, that would'a been too easy."
"Well, now don't give up so fast," Minnie said, scrolling through the information. Starsky marveled at how she stared at that thing all day without going blind. "The paper file will have the details. All we have in the system is the basic report. The investigating officers' notes and other information are all still in the files." She got up and walked over to the bank of file cabinets and began searching in the Bs. "Bennett, Bennett, Bennett," she muttered, flipping through the folders. Finally, she pulled out her prize. "Edward J. Bennett," she finally said, bringing the file with her to her desk. "Here you go, gentlemen."
"Thanks, Minnie." Hutch took the folder, flashing one of his most charming smiles.
"Don't thank me, just put in a good word for me with Dobey."
"We already did that," Starsky protested.
"Well you wouldn't know it by lookin' at where I'm sittin', would you?" she needled, a grin tugging at the corner of her mouth. "I thought you two had some kind of pull up there."
"Then you were misinformed," Hutch said. "The day we have pull with the brass is the day pigs fly."
"You just want to keep me down here to do your bidding," she said, tapping a few more keys on the computer. The information disappeared off the screen.
"Well, that's not all bad, either," Starsky responded, grinning. "If this pans out, I'll bring you one of those big doughnuts from the Sunshine Coffee Shop tomorrow."
"I don't want a big doughnut, Starsky. I want a transfer," she responded, smiling back at him.
"Dobey just doesn't want to transfer you because he's afraid I'll engage in lewd and lascivious conduct with a fellow detective if you're right up there workin' with us." Starsky leered, flexing his eyebrows.
"Starsky, what am I gonna do with you?"
"You wanna drop by my place later and I'll give you a few hints?"
"Get outta here, both of you," she said, laughing and making a dismissive gesture with her hand.
"I don't handle rejection well, Min. You know that," Starsky added, kissing her hand.
"You should be good at it by now. It's not like you don't get enough practice."
"Ooh." Hutch winced and covered his heart with his hand. "She got you that time, partner."
"Women. They're just plain cruel," Starsky concluded, winking at Minnie as Hutch and he headed for the door.
Walking down the hall, Starsky watched the flow of traffic, while Hutch had his nose stuck in the file.
"Parents were Edward and Rosalind Bennett, 364 Hilliard Court. That is definitely not Grandpa Joe the janitor's neighborhood."
"You know, tying this in to the murders is turning into more and more of a longshot, and folks in that neighborhood squawking to the chief about us rattling their cages isn't going to go over too well."
"Wait a minute," Hutch said, stopping in his tracks. "There are notations in here that there was evidence another car was involved--skid marks, and some scratching and streaks of white paint on the side of Edward's car that wasn't destroyed by the fire." Hutch looked up from the file. "That's it. After that, there's no more discussion, and not long after, they closed the case and called it an accidental death."
"You suppose his folks know about what's in the file?"
"If they did, don't you think they would've gone after the Department for not following up on this? I mean, it's not even particularly smooth. It's just...all of a sudden they just say 'case closed' and stamp 'accidental' on it, without ever reconciling this evidence."
"Kids aren't always the greatest drivers. Maybe he sideswiped somebody, or maybe another car was out there. Didn't you ever drag race with somebody when you were that age?"
"Not too often, no," Hutch replied, closing the file.
"Well, I did. And if one of us had ended up dyin' in a ditch, it's not likely the other guy would've stuck around to get caught."
"You think it's worth seeing the parents about it?"
"To dredge up this case or solve the one we're working on?"
"You don't see any possible connections?"
"Hutch, the kid obviously isn't Joe Bennett's son--he comes from rich people, he was a nice-looking kid who doesn't seem like the type anybody'd make fun of, and he's dead. Dead men don't kill people."
"All right, all right," Hutch said, closing the file.
"You've got a gut feeling about this?"
"I feel like we need to look into this. It's the only catastrophic thing we found in the yearbooks. If it doesn't pan out, we can always start with your nerd gallery and contact former classmates."
"Okay. Let's see if we can talk to the parents, then."
As soon as Rosalind Bennett heard that it was regarding the investigation into the accident, she readily agreed to meet with the detectives at her home. She still lived at the same address, in a stately brick colonial with all the amenities. A tall, elegant woman in her early sixties, whose husband had passed away less than a year after their son's death, Mrs. Bennett greeted them at the door herself and escorted them to a beautifully appointed living room that featured a number of expensive paintings and antiques. The furniture grouping where they sat was a Victoria-era sofa and two ornate matching chairs. Mrs. Bennett took up residence on the sofa and directed their attention to a silver tea service and a plate of small cookies.
"I hope coffee is all right. I never have been much of a tea enthusiast," she said, pouring three cups. Her silver hair was upswept, and her nails were perfectly manicured and polished red. Her diamond jewelry was tasteful but obviously valuable, and accented her dark two-piece jacket dress perfectly.
"Coffee's fine, ma'am," Starsky responded. After they were all served, he continued. "We don't want to mislead you that we are investigating your son's accident specifically. It's come up as part of another investigation."
"Oh, I see," she said, looking a bit disappointed. "I was hoping you were re-opening Eddie's case."
"If we find sufficient evidence to contradict the conclusions of the original investigators, that's not impossible," Hutch said. "According to the file, he lost control of the car and crashed into a ditch."
"Yes, that's what the file says, and I'm sure he did. I just don't think he was going that fast or driving that recklessly because he enjoyed it." She noticed the slightly skeptical faces of her visitors. "Detectives, I know that teenage boys like fast cars and fast girls. Eddie was no exception. He just wasn't a wild boy. All he ever really wanted was to fit in and have friends." She smiled sadly. "Isn't it ironic how, in this life, the one thing you want the most is usually the very thing you can't have?"
"Eddie didn't fit in?" Starsky asked, frowning.
"Eddie had a severe stutter. We had all the top specialists work with him, all sorts of speech therapy, and he could still barely control it. The children were horribly cruel to him. It only got worse in high school."
"Was there any group in particular who harassed him or made trouble for him?" Hutch asked.
"Where are you going with this, Detective? I don't understand why dredging up all this pain about my son's death is of any value if you aren't investigating his case."
"Two of your son's classmates were murdered recently, along with Matthew Redmond, the coach--"
"I know who Matthew Redmond was," she cut Hutch off mid-sentence. "Maybe he thought he was going to scare Eddie out of stuttering by making a fool of him in front of the team, but all it accomplished was making it worse. If Eddie got nervous, he could barely speak at all."
"I've always had a slight stutter myself, Mrs. Bennett, so I can sympathize," Hutch revealed, somewhat to Starsky's surprise. "Being extremely overwrought or nervous can still bring it out for me even now."
"Then you understand how a coach berating him and making fun of him didn't help the situation." She crossed her legs and rested her hands in her lap. "What makes you think these other deaths have anything to do with Eddie?"
"They probably don't, but his was the only tragic, premature death we discovered in the yearbooks, and we have reason to believe the deaths are tied to some unfortunate incident from those years. Especially an incident where one kid was ridiculed or harassed," Starsky explained.
"Well, they certainly did that. Everyone from his classmates to that coach of his. The only thing Eddie ever had that made him a little bit of a star with his peers was his basketball. He was a good student, also, but what made him even a little popular with some of the kids was his talent with basketball." She sighed, smiling sadly. "Coach Redmond took care of that, too."
"You mean by ridiculing Eddie's stutter?" Hutch asked. Mrs. Bennett nodded, looking as if she were unable to speak out loud at the moment.
"Mrs. Bennett, is Joseph Bennett any relation to your family?" Starsky asked.
"Why, yes, he's Edward's brother."
"He's the same Joseph Bennett that's employed at St. Stephen's Academy?" Starsky clarified.
"Yes, that's right. I know Edward and Joe are somewhat unlikely brothers," she said, smiling. "Edward didn't come from a wealthy family, he made his own fortune. Joe would never accept a penny from us, not even from me when Virginia became so ill and needed nursing care at home. He's a very proud, independent man."
"Your brother-in-law works at the school where Matthew Redmond worked--and where he was killed," Hutch said. Mrs. Bennett frowned.
"You don't think Joe did it because of Eddie?" she asked, appalled.
"We don't have a theory right now, but we have to explore all the possibilities. Do you remember Eddie talking about a Martin Gregory or Patty Schuster?"
"Oh, yes," she said, nodding, her expression not a happy one. "Eddie was very taken with Patty. For a time, it almost seemed mutual, and we were very happy for him because it seemed like they were going to be dating. Martin Gregory was the star player on the basketball team--well, except for those games when Eddie upstaged and outscored him," she added, obvious pride in her voice. "He was also Patty Schuster's boyfriend at the time, so Eddie was always convinced he didn't stand a chance with her." She smiled fondly. "It took him weeks to work up the courage to even speak to her, let alone ask her out. I suppose he should have known better when she accepted."
"What happened?" Hutch prodded.
"They went out a few times. Everything seemed to be going well, and she told Eddie she had broken it off with Martin Gregory. Eddie was on cloud nine over that," she said, her smile widening.
"Something obviously went wrong," Starsky said, and she nodded.
"All of a sudden, after about two months, she broke it off with Eddie and told him she was going back to Martin. It broke his heart. Especially the way she did it."
"How was that?" Hutch asked.
"Even though they were dating, Patty usually ate lunch with her girlfriends. Eddie had a few friends at school, and he'd sit with them. One day, she came over to the table where he was sitting with his friends and told him to leave her alone. The only thing that puzzled Eddie was that she made it seem like he'd been harassing her. She became very angry and vocal about it, and told him to stay away from her." Mrs. Bennett's mouth twisted in an ugly approximation of a smile. "Oh, she was a fine actress, that one. He brought her here three or four times, and she always acted very happy to be with Eddie and was very polite to me."
"Did she ever laugh at him?" Starsky asked. "I ask because that concept is key to tying these cases together."
"Oh, yes. When she left his table, he went after her and begged her for an explanation. Of course, you can imagine how much trouble he was having with his stutter in a situation like that, and they were in the middle of the cafeteria, with all eyes on them because they were arguing. She started mocking him, calling him names, saying she couldn't believe he'd think she'd be seen dead with Porky Pig. She managed to get most of the kids laughing at him. He came home early that day and locked himself in his room. He didn't speak a word out loud for three days. He barely spoke at all after that the rest of his life--only when he absolutely had to. It affected his grades, destroyed what little self-confidence he had..." She shuddered. "For years I wanted to have my say to that vile little witch."
"Did you?" Hutch asked.
"No. Eddie wouldn't have wanted my interference while he was alive, and after his death it seemed trivial. But I was never comfortable with the whole situation. There was something else beneath the surface."
"I don't understand," Starsky said.
"I saw those two together. They dated for more than two months, and she was always ready to go when Eddie called. He barely stuttered at all around her after a while. Sometimes less with her than with us," she added. "That's why I was so appalled by what happened."
"You think someone put her up to what she did?" Hutch asked.
"I think that Martin Gregory was used to getting what he wanted. He'd harassed Eddie a few times after he started going out with Patty, and he was more than a little unhappy to have someone like Eddie competing with him for the number one spot on the basketball team. Martin ran with a very influential bunch. The jocks, I supposed you'd call them. They were all good-sized muscular boys who quite frankly behaved like expensively dressed thugs, and I doubt Eddie would have run with that crowd even if they'd accepted him." She fingered the small pearl necklace she wore. "This was a gift from Eddie," she said, swallowing a wave of emotion. "He never had a chance to give it to me. I found it in his things. My birthday was a week after his death. It was wrapped, with a card. He was always so particular about things like that. He planned ahead."
"Did you ever witness any unpleasant encounters between Eddie and Martin or his friends?" Starsky asked.
"No, but Eddie told me most everything. We were very close. He was unusually honest with me for a boy that age, and he would tell me when he was having problems. Martin and his friends made threats, even slashed his tires. Eddie wouldn't back down from dating Patty. It's a shame she never returned that loyalty."
"If we showed you the class pictures from the Bay View High yearbook, would you be able to point out any of Martin Gregory's friends who might have harassed Eddie?"
"I would know their names, probably not their faces after all these years. I only saw them from a distance a few times when I attended a couple of basketball games at the school."
Hutch pulled out a folded sheet with the photocopy of the picture page from Eddie's graduating class and handed it to Mrs. Bennett, who examined it carefully.
"Gavin Anderson and Kurt Heinemann. There were others, but they were his most constant companions I recall Eddie talking about," she said, handing the sheet back. Hutch circled the two names. "I still don't see how this is solving anything."
"Do you think someone else was involved in Eddie's death?" Starsky asked.
"Eddie was a careful driver and a good boy. I'm not saying he wasn't capable of ever doing anything wrong, but why would he go off speeding down a back road alone and crash the car? There were skid marks from another car and signs of another type of paint on the side of Eddie's car. He was run off the road, and you'll never make me believe that Martin Gregory and his friends weren't in that other car." Mrs. Bennett surprised them a bit with her knowledge of the evidence. "I went to see the car for myself. Edward was appalled that I would do that, but I didn't believe what the police were telling us. After seeing the car, I knew they were lying. By the time I raised questions about it, the car had been destroyed. They claimed it was a paperwork error, that they thought we had signed the necessary permission for them to send it to a scrap yard."
"The police closed the case at a point--"
"Oh, yes, they closed the case," she said, cutting Hutch off again. "We may have been affluent, but Gavin Anderson's father was mayor at the time, and Arthur Gregory was a city councilman. The paint on Eddie's car door was white. Martin drove a white Cadillac convertible. At least, he did until Eddie's death. The next time we saw him, he was in a red Thunderbird. Interesting timing on his car change."
"Is Joe aware of any of this?" Hutch asked.
"All of it. He was very close to Eddie. My husband was always very busy, and he wasn't really an athlete by nature anyway, so Eddie used to enjoy getting together with Joe. They'd play a little one-on-one, or go to a game together. Joe often came to Eddie's games when Edward was tied up with meetings and couldn't make it. He was like a second father to Eddie." She frowned. "He's a good man, Detectives. He wouldn't hurt anyone. He certainly wouldn't commit a series of murders."
"We're not jumping to any conclusions, ma'am," Starsky said, but she still looked skeptical.
"Joe is not your killer. He doesn't have a violent bone in his body."
"We really appreciate you taking time to talk with us, Mrs. Bennett," Hutch concluded as they stood, and their hostess did as well.
"I don't suppose you'll be reopening Eddie's case?" she asked, sounding defeated.
"We're going to discuss it with our captain. We'll do what we can," Starsky responded.
"Well, that's something. It's more than I've had for the last seventeen years."
Dobey was only too happy to meet with his two detectives for an update on the case. He'd been hoping for some progress he could discuss with the chief, and something to assuage the public outcry for a solution to the grisly shotgun killing of a teacher in an elementary school gym. He wasn't expecting the revival of a seventeen-year-old closed case.
"You really think these cases are connected?" Dobey prodded.
"Given the note the killer left on Patty Carson's body, and the fact he dressed her up like a cheerleader is a pretty good indicator that it had something to do with her high school days and someone she ridiculed," Starsky explained. "It's a real strange coincidence that the dead boy's uncle works at the school and plays one-on-one with Redmond. Especially when you figure he knew about how Redmond treated his nephew."
"I think there may be a connection, but frankly, the whole Joe Bennett thing is too tidy for my taste. It's too easy," Hutch commented. "I have this feeling we're grabbing an easy answer."
"Just 'cause it's easy doesn't mean it's wrong," Starsky responded.
"And just because it all fits doesn't mean it's right, either. There's something here that just doesn't feel right."
"All right, you two. Do you agree that this Bennett situation is likely tied in to the new homicides?" Dobey asked, tiring of sitting on the sidelines while Starsky and Hutch debated the merits of the case.
"Yes," both said in unison.
"Frankly, looking at this file, you have my blessing to reopen this case. It should never have been closed with this kind of evidence of foul play involved. The captain who signed off on closing it is retired, and I seriously doubt the current chief is going to stifle a valid murder investigation. But--solving the new cases comes first, and if you work on this one now, I expect it to be directly tied to those. Understood?"
"Understood," Hutch answered for both of them.
"I think we should talk to Joe Bennett," Starsky said.
"That would seem like the next logical step. What makes you uneasy with this, Hutch? Starsky seems pretty comfortable with it."
"Call it a gut feeling. Starsky's right--it does all fit and there's no reason not to pursue it. I just find it odd that Joe Bennett would play one-on-one off and on with Redmond for two or three years before deciding one night to blow the man's head off, and that he'd wait all these years to go back and murder Martin Gregory and Patty Carson. Why wait seventeen years?"
"Who knows what sets someone off to kill somebody? Martin Gregory just got elected as a county commissioner. Maybe the anniversary of Eddie Bennett's death came along and triggered something." Starsky sighed. "It is a hell of a long time to wait to go out for revenge, isn't it?"
"It's been done before," Dobey said. "Go talk to Joe Bennett, see what he has to say, what kind of alibis he's got. How about the mother? You think she could do this?"
"Kill someone with a shotgun, stab another, and strangle a third? I don't think she's that strong, even if she is that angry," Starsky said. "She could hire someone, but why would she cooperate like she did?"
"Maybe she wants the message connected with their deaths to get through. If she were making a point, and felt it wasn't being taken, she might risk being caught just to get the message across," Hutch theorized.
"So we've got Joe Bennett and Rosalind Bennett," Dobey summarized.
"Maybe together. Maybe she has the ideas and he carries them out," Hutch suggested.
"Well, you're not going to figure it out sitting here in my office," Dobey said, leaning his elbows on the desk.
"Guess not," Starsky agreed, rising as Hutch did the same. "Was worth a try, though," he added, high-tailing it out of Dobey's office before the captain could formulate a fitting reply.
"You're awfully quiet," Hutch said, driving toward the modest home shared by Joe Bennett and his ailing wife, Virginia.
"Can't help thinkin' about that poor kid. He was a good-looking boy, a good athlete, a good student. They crucified him over a stutter. I know it's crazy, but I kept thinkin' about you and when you were a kid, and I was real glad you didn't have a bad time of it like that."
"My stutter was never as bad as Eddie's apparently was, but I had a few problems with it. Jack Mitchell really went after me about it, and I was furious with him when he'd do that, but it did make me work hard to control it." Hutch shrugged. "Of course, he was my best friend at the time, so he didn't get me out in a group of people and humiliate me. My friends were part of the in crowd, but we were all pretty loyal to each other. If someone made fun of how I talked, they had Jack, myself and a couple other guys to deal with."
"Makes me think about some of the times I teased other kids when I was growing up, and it didn't seem like such a big deal. I never meant anything by it."
"Something tells me you weren't sadistic about it, Starsk. Kids are mean to each other. That's a sad fact of life. They don't always have the maturity to look past someone's flaws or differences to see the person inside. Looks and superficial stuff--that's everything to kids."
"I guess it's because it was a stutter...it just makes me want to do something about it. It's dumb."
"It's not dumb." Hutch reached over and took Starsky's hand, lacing their fingers. "It's love."
"Oh, yeah, no question about that, babe."
"If it makes you feel better, I didn't have a miserable, tormented youth because of the stutter."
"I'm glad. Because I'd have to go back and find all those kids and make 'em eat their teeth for lunch." Starsky grinned, as Hutch laughed then became serious.
"Maybe that's how the killer felt."
"Scary. I can get in his skin on that level. I know if someone hurt you...if they caused your death, got their kicks making fun of you...I'd rip 'em apart with my bare hands."
"Don't take it so personally, buddy. It's not me. But I love you for caring that much."
"These stuck-up little shits killed that boy because he stuttered. How can anyone not take that personally?"
"Well, they might have killed him because he dared to date the wrong girl, or was too good on the basketball court. And maybe she dared to like him more than her hotshot boyfriend." Hutch paused. "And maybe it was an accident. Kids messing around in fast cars sometimes get killed or kill someone else without meaning to."
"That's it right there," Starsky said, pointing to a small blue house on the left.
Joe Bennett was surprised to see the two detectives at his door and asked them to have a seat in the small living room, while he went back to the bedroom to tell his wife who was there and assure her nothing was wrong. They had heard the elderly woman calling to her husband as soon as they were admitted to the house.
The living room was cluttered and a bit stuffy. The furniture was well-worn, but clean and not threadbare, though the strategically placed doilies might have hidden the trouble spots. Done mostly in shades of blue and accented with ruffled white tiebacks in the front window, it was obvious Virginia Bennett had chosen the decor before falling ill.
"Sorry about that. Virgie worries about who's out here and who I'm talking to if she doesn't know. You want some coffee? Don't suppose you can have beer on duty."
"No, thanks," Starsky said, smiling. "We have a few questions we need to ask you regarding the case."
"Sure, anything I can do to help." He took a seat in an old overstuffed rocker.
"Were you aware of the connection between Matthew Redmond and your nephew, Eddie?" Hutch asked. Joe stopped rocking in the chair and stared at him.
"How did you know about that?" he asked, seeming unable to stop himself.
"Mr. Redmond used to be a coach at Bay View High, and two former students have also been killed within the last three weeks. We were looking through some old yearbooks and found the information on Eddie," Hutch explained. "We've also spoken to your sister-in-law, Rosalind."
"Rosalind badly needs to move on from Eddie's death. It was awful and it was tragic, but it's over. Matt Redmond may have acted like a horse's ass with Eddie, but he didn't run him off the road. I talked with him about how he treated Eddie. The very first day he showed up at St. Stephen's to teach, I confronted him in the gym that night. He said he felt badly about Eddie's death, and looking back, he figured harassing him about the stutter wasn't a smart thing to do. He said he thought it might motivate him to control it." He paused, then added, "I was convinced from our discussion that he didn't do it to be mean or malicious."
"So you spent time playing basketball with this guy who gave your nephew such a rough time?" Starsky asked.
"Matt Redmond was a good basketball coach, and he brought out the best in Eddie on the court. He also didn't mean anything cruel in what he did. I don't agree with it, and I'm sorry Eddie went through it, but I know his intentions were good."
"Patty Schuster and Martin Gregory are both dead," Hutch stated.
"I saw the story on the Gregory killing. Now there was a self-satisfied little prick. I'm not surprised someone had the course with him and finished him off. And no, I didn't do that either. I didn't know about Patty Schuster," he added, looking almost sad.
"You can account for your whereabouts on October twenty-first?" Starsky asked.
"Well, not off the top of my head, but I imagine I was here, taking care of my wife. I don't go out in the evenings because the nurse isn't here, and Virginia can't be left alone for more than a few minutes at a time. She has cancer." He swallowed, then took in a deep breath. "It's in her bones. She can't walk unassisted. I couldn't leave her long enough to go out and kill people in the evenings."
"You're awfully cavalier about this," Hutch observed.
"Because it's ridiculous. Eddie's dead. I can't bring him back if I go out and kill his entire graduating class. The whole situation killed my brother. He let it eat him alive until he blew his brains out. I don't suppose Roz told you that?"
"No, she didn't."
"Edward shot himself after the police case was closed. He tried to get it reopened, but when he had no luck with that, and Eddie was dead and no one was doing anything about it, and Roz could talk about nothing else to anyone who'd listen...he finally had all he could take and he killed himself. I always thought it was a selfish stunt to do it in the house where Roz would find him. Luckily, the maid found him first and called me. I got over there before Roz got home and headed her off at the door."
"If you could document the night of Matthew Redmond's killing, the twenty-first of October and the tenth of November, that would be helpful," Starsky concluded.
"I can tell you I was here taking care of my wife. I don't have anyone but her to back it up, and the nurse, of course, who left when I got home." He smiled a little ironically. "And I can tell you if I'd been doing the killing, I wouldn't have killed that girl. None of this mess was her fault."
"She laughed at Eddie, made him a spectacle in front of the whole school when she dumped him," Starsky said. "That's not exactly total innocence."
"I saw those two kids together, and it was not one-sided. She was crazy about Eddie. When she showed up at his funeral, she was wearing sunglasses. At first, I thought it was because she'd been crying. I saw her just before everyone left the cemetery that day. She took off her sunglasses, and she had a real shiner. It looked like it was a couple days old. All she said was, 'whatever happened, I really did love him.' Then she took off, almost running away, as if she expected whoever gave her that black eye to pop out from behind a tree."
"Did you ever try to talk to her again? About the bruise or what she said at the cemetery?" Hutch asked.
"Eddie died in April. The police were investigating--or at least pretending to--so I left it to them. Just before graduation, she left for Europe with her mother. She didn't show up back in town again for years. I don't really know when she did come back. I just remember seeing her in a grocery store once several years later, after she was married. She looked incredibly sad when she saw me, and said she still thought about Eddie all the time. That was the last time I saw her, and that was probably ten years ago now."
"We appreciate your time, Mr. Bennett," Hutch concluded, standing up as Starsky did the same.
"I'm not under arrest, huh?" he asked, a trace of humor in his voice.
"Our captain likes us to have something a bit more solid before we bring the cuffs out," Starsky said, smiling.
"That's reassuring," the older man said, chuckling as he escorted them to the door. "The Schuster girl...I hope she didn't suffer too much. I always felt sorry for her."
"She was strangled," Starsky responded.
"Damn. I hope you get the bastard. I know how Eddie felt about her...how they felt about each other."
"Maybe they're finally together," Starsky said, not sure why he made the remark. There was something on the other side, and if Patty and Eddie were really star-crossed lovers pulled apart brutally all those years ago, it only seemed right they'd be together again.
"That's a nice thought," Joe said, nodding. "If you have any other questions, feel free to come by or give me a call. I'm always home in the evening."
"Will do. Thank you," Hutch responded as they walked out the door and down the front steps.
Once back in Hutch's car, they stared out at the twilight sky and mapped out their next move. Starsky's hand slid across the seat and found Hutch's, their fingers lacing as they had before.
"Something wrong?" Hutch asked, concerned.
"Guess all this talk of death and doomed lovers... I was thinking about the girl I saw in the theater." He paused. "About us."
"We aren't exactly doomed, Starsk," Hutch said gently.
"We almost were. More than once. When I was shot, that was just the closest we came. I guess... It's stupid."
"I keep feeling like...sometimes..." Starsky sighed, then looked Hutch in the eyes. "I just get scared sometimes that it's too good and it can't last."
"It's too good, but it's going to last a lifetime, babe. I promise."
"You can't promise that. Neither can I."
"Starsk, I don't know what brought this on, and I know we can't promise each other nothing will happen to either one of us, but we're going to do our damnedest not to let it."
"I know," Starsky said, nodding. "You think we could sign out? I'd really like to go home and get in bed with you." He forced a little smile, but the melancholy was still there. It was a depressing case, but then Homicide wasn't known as the PD's cheeriest division. Hutch disentangled his hand with a pat to Starsky's and radioed them in as off duty.
Starsky didn't question why they were heading to Venice Place for the third night in a row. It really didn't matter anymore where they ended up at night. They had moved sufficiently into each other's apartments until both seemed like home. Hutch hoped the time would soon come when they could think about looking for a home together. As good as things were, making a home together could only make it better.
Hutch pulled out some simple foods to make sandwiches, while Starsky looked through the record collection. Hutch smiled as he took out the bread and got to work, thinking how nice it would be to have a quiet dinner, soft music, and Starsky...not necessarily in that order. He glanced back at his partner and felt that twinge again. It was a cross between overwhelming love and fear and the very unease Starsky himself had felt earlier. Starsky had been snatched from the Angel of Death at the eleventh hour. Sometimes Hutch found himself living in fear of that angel coming back to claim what was rightfully his.
Starsky must have sensed the scrutiny, because he looked up and their eyes met. Starsky smiled.
"Got just the record," he said, taking it out of the jacket and putting it on the turntable.
"Should I put the sandwiches away?" Hutch joked.
"It's not 'Kiss You All Over' again," Starsky responded, grinning. With that song playing, they'd ended up on the couch acting out the lyrics before the second refrain.
"Can't win 'em all," Hutch said, finishing his food preparations and setting the plates on the table. The soft strains of one of his Barry Manilow records came from the stereo speakers. One thing those albums could be counted on for was setting a romantic mood. In the spirit of the occasion, Hutch set a candle on the table and lit it.
"This is nice," Starsky said, sitting down to the simple meal in the light of the single candle, as Hutch turned out the kitchen light and then turned out one of the lamps in the living room. Starsky pulled his chair close to Hutch's, and they ate from each other's plates, fed each other bites of sandwich, and shared a single bottle of beer.
Starsky's earlier bout of melancholy seemed to lift, and before long, they were sharing jokes between kisses and relishing the quiet warmth of simply being close and enjoying each other's company. Hutch finally stood and reached for Starsky, who joined him readily as the first strains of "Somewhere in the Night" began to play. Hutch's voice was husky and soft, but so close and warm against Starsky's ear, it easily outshone Barry Manilow's best efforts.
You've found time enough to love
And I've found love enough to hold you
So tonight, I'll stir the fire you feel inside
Until the flames of love enfold you...
Starsky leaned back long enough to steal a kiss before resting his head on Hutch's shoulder again and swaying gently to the music. Hutch nosed the soft curls near his face, kissing the ear partially hidden there before singing softly into it. He wondered if any other singer had a more devoted fan.
You're my song
Music too magic to end
I'll play you over and over again
Lovin' so warm, movin' so right
Closing our eyes and feeling alive
We'll just go on burning bright
Somewhere in the night.
As the song faded, Hutch moved back a little, and as Starsky raised his head, Hutch brought their foreheads together.
"We're music too magic to end, babe. Remember that." He kissed the end of Starsky's nose, smiling at the grin that earned him. "Bed?"
"Oh, yeah," Starsky agreed, his voice a little husky with emotion. Hutch took the single candle with them, setting it on a small stool in the corner of the sleeping alcove.
They slowly undressed each other, pausing to kiss and nuzzle each little bit of revealed flesh as clothing fell to the floor forgotten. Sliding under the covers together, they wrapped around each other, mouths clinging eagerly in urgent kisses, hands skimming gently over rapidly heating skin. The music and the candlelight made it all seem surreal somehow, as if the world had fallen away and all that existed was the two of them, wrapped around each other, one heart, one soul, one body.
"You're my life, Hutch," Starsky whispered against Hutch's mouth. "Everything there is...everything there ever will be for me."
"I wish I had words, but I don't. You're my heart, babe. Love and life and what I live for."
Starsky covered his mouth with eager lips, their legs twining together and mingling until they rubbed against each other, the friction not intense, but enough to bring about a long, slow journey to climax. There was nothing hurried, nothing that would require them to move a single inch of flesh out of contact with one another. When they finally came, it was within moments of each other, slightly sharper moans of pleasure mingling with the last strains of the record as it finished its final rotations.
"I'm sorry I got so morose on you earlier, babe. I didn't mean to," Starsky said, snuggling against Hutch. "I just love ya so much I couldn't live without ya. That's scary sometimes."
"I know. For me, too. But you know, it's really no different than it's ever been. Before we made love the first time, I couldn't have lived without you anyway. I knew it in that dirty back alley behind Janos Martini's sleazy studio, and I knew it when Dobey told me to get to the hospital right away...when...when you..."
"Survived?" Starsky supplied, kissing the worry line between Hutch's eyebrows.
"Yeah, when you survived," he repeated, smiling and kissing Starsky again. They nestled together and fell asleep sharing lazy kisses and relishing the love they had both survived to share for a lifetime.
Hutch took another drink of his coffee and continued to study the autopsy report on Patty Schuster Carson. She'd suffered a serious blow to the back of the head that would have rendered her unconscious, though the cause of death was strangulation. Still, the blow to the head would have made her quiet and easier to manage. Easier to kill... Easy enough for an aging man, or even a woman, to wrap the red scarf around her neck and squeeze the life out of her unconscious body. Ginny had found red fibers on the dead woman's neck, and had surmised that she was probably strangled with a piece of red cloth, like a long scarf. It wasn't real silk, but a sort of polyester blend that a woman might use as an accent with a coat or suit. Mr. Carson had no memory of his wife ever wearing such a piece and stated that she never wore scarves. A search of her personal effects at the family home proved she only owned one, and that had belonged to her grandmother and was merely a keepsake.
Older women were more likely to wear scarves over their hair or with their coats. Hutch frowned, wondering if Virginia Bennett owned such a scarf.
Or maybe Rosalind Bennett.
"You figured out whodunit yet?" Starsky sat across the desks from him, setting a bag from the cafeteria between them. "Muffins and doughnuts."
"Did they have those oat and honey ones?" Hutch asked, digging into the bag.
"Yup. And the banana nut. I got you one of each."
"Thanks, buddy." Hutch took a bite of the oat and honey muffin. "You should eat something like this in the morning instead of those rings of fried lard you scarf down."
"Gee, thanks for that imagery, Hutch. You know that muffin's the same color as--"
"Don't you dare," Hutch said, holding up a warning finger. Looking at the reddish golden brown color of the muffin, he knew what substance it was about to be compared to, and he didn't want to hear it. Starsky just grinned evilly. "If Patty was unconscious, it changes how much strength the killer needed to strangle her."
"Like an old man or a woman? Well, it sure broadens the field to include all our players. Her husband has their daughter for an alibi, though kids have been known to lie for their parents. I just don't find any motive for him to kill her."
"And even if he did, that would leave us at square one for the Redmond and Gregory homicides. I think they're a package deal."
"Yeah, so do I." Starsky rested his chin on his palm. "We could go talk to Gavin Anderson. Rattle his cage."
"Why would he do it?"
"He wouldn't, but maybe he'd know who would want to besides our current list of suspects."
"I just keep feeling like the answer's right in front of us." Starsky spread out the now well-worn photocopy of the yearbook page bearing Eddie Bennett's picture, along with the rest of his graduating class. The ringing of the phone was a welcome intrusion.
"I think I might have somethin' for ya." Huggy's voice was on the other end of the line.
"Music to my ears, Huggy."
"I'm at the bar, so come on down, as they say on the game shows."
"Be right there." Starsky hung up the phone. "Huggy's got something for us."
When they arrived at The Pits, they went to the back door, since the bar was still closed. Anita was in the kitchen, polishing glasses and putting them on a tray, while Huggy's dishwasher was busily washing more.
"Huggy's out front," she said, smiling.
"Thanks, sweetheart," Starsky said, intentionally brushing against her as he passed.
"You keep flirting with me like that, and I'm gonna make you deliver one of these days."
"Your place or mine?" Starsky winked at her, as Hutch gave his jacket sleeve a yank to pull him toward the bar.
"'Morning, gents," Huggy greeted, pouring coffee for all three of them. They took their cups to a booth in the back.
"What've you got?" Hutch asked.
"Well, I got this friend who works down at the Bucket of Blood, you know the place."
"Yeah, great clientele they've got there," Starsky responded. Hutch and he had met more than one sleazy snitch there, and more often than not, they were unreliable or worse yet, the types who would have no qualms about slitting a cop's throat if he didn't pay well for the information.
"Seems this guy was in there last night, bragging about gettin' into the girls' locker room at a fancy high school and stealing a cheerleading uniform for some 'rich old broad.' His words."
"A 'rich old broad?' You're sure that's what he said?" Starsky asked.
"He was sure."
"How old was the guy doing the bragging? I mean, how old would the woman have to be to be an 'old broad'?" Hutch took a drink of his coffee.
"Pretty old. This guy's been around the block a few times, he's no kid. Does a lot of messy little jobs. Nothing major. He's not a leg-breaker. Guess he was bragging about getting a look in the girls' shower at some little blonde."
"It fits," Hutch said, looking at Starsky, who nodded. "Any way we can get in touch with this guy?"
"Well, maybe, if he knew he wasn't gonna go down for stealin' the uniform or sneakin' a peek at the girl."
"If he can hand us a killer, we'll do our best with the DA for him. But you can tell him that if he doesn't cooperate, and we find him--and we will find him--he's an accessory to murder. Possibly to multiple murder," Starsky added. "He never made mention of the 'old broad's' name, did he?"
"No. Just said she lived in a fancy big house with a lot of antiques. I think he was plannin' to go back one'a these nights and help himself to a few of the goodies."
"This is gold, Huggy. Thanks," Hutch said as they got up to leave. "We owe you one."
"You owe me several, but who's counting?" Huggy retorted, leaning back in the booth.
"How soon can you get us a name?"
"Whoa, whoa, slow down, amigos. I gotta be careful with my sources."
"Do what you can, huh? It's important." Hutch's expression must have conveyed how important it was, because Huggy pushed himself up out of the booth and headed to the phone.
"I'll see what I can get you." He dialed a number and before long, was engaged in a hushed conversation. The two detectives sat down in the booth again and waited. Huggy was on the phone quite a while, and it didn't seem as if he was meeting with much success. Finally, he wrote something on a slip of paper and after a few more words, hung up the phone. He returned to the booth and handed Hutch the slip of paper that bore a name. "Be real careful about sayin' how you got this. This guy's not much, but he has some big shot friends, and my buddy over at the Bucket of Blood's gotten real fond of livin'."
"We'll be careful, Huggy. We'll try to get something more on him before we pick him up for questioning," Starsky said.
"Rosalind Bennett," Hutch muttered as they got into the Torino.
"Fatal error of the rich and famous," Starsky stated. "They don't want to get their hands dirty, so they hire low-lives to do their jobs for 'em. And low-lives sell you out every time."
"You think she had a different scumbag do the killing?"
"If this guy is really small potatoes, like Huggy says, then she probably did. Maybe this one had a way into the school." Starsky started the engine.
"You mean like a custodian?"
"Could be. Of course, schools are unlocked and open through the day. Anybody who really wanted to could get in and hang around someplace until after hours and then snatch the uniform."
"Better run a check on our friend here, see if we can get an address and go pick him up. I think with a little pressure, he'll sell out good old Roz in a heartbeat." Hutch called in to R & I to ask for the information. Within a short time, they received an address on their suspect, Burt Rockwell.
Sitting around the table in an interrogation room, Starsky, Hutch and Burt Rockwell seemed to be in for a long afternoon together. The short, slightly built man with greasy black hair and chain-smoking, compulsive coffee-drinking habit was now visibly twitching, fidgeting almost painfully. While Starsky had happily supplied the jittery man with as much water as he requested, they had refused to let him smoke and had not offered him coffee. Nowhere in the rules of police conduct was it stipulated that either consideration be given to a suspect, and both men felt it would only be a matter of time before this torture by omission resulted in the information they were seeking.
"Let me lay it out for you, friend," Hutch said, sitting down closer to the man. "Right now, all we know is that you stole a cheerleading uniform that ended up on a dead body, and that you like to peek at underage girls in the shower. But we're this close to nailing the rich old girl who hired you," Hutch said, showing a minuscule space between his thumb and forefinger. "Do you really think when the heat's on, she's going to defend and protect you? And do you know that when we bust her, you're going to be an accessory to murder? You never know. If the DA is looking for something to boost his popularity, he might even go for conspiracy. Do you know that multiple murder and conspiracy are special circumstances? Do you know what special circumstances are?" Hutch waited while the man shook his head, looking more than a bit nervous now. "Those are the conditions necessary to turn a murder case into a capital murder case. And that means the prosecution goes for the death penalty."
"For stealing a cheerleading uniform?" the man asked, incredulous.
"That's what it is right now, pal, but if you keep giving us the silent treatment, it wouldn't take much to argue it up to conspiracy to commit multiple murder," Starsky chimed in. "Now you can do a little time--for a guy like you, should be no big deal. With this list of priors," Starsky said, looking in his file, "you're no stranger to the joint."
"If you cooperate with us now, you'll probably be back on the street before the woman who hired you is sentenced," Hutch stated calmly.
"I didn't know what she was gonna do with it. I swear. All she said was she wanted one of those uniforms, and could I get her one. I didn't know why she wanted it, and with what she was payin', I didn't care."
"Who hired you to steal the uniform?" Starsky asked directly.
"How'd you get in touch with her?" Hutch asked.
"I did some repair work around her house. A friend of mine works for the landscaping company that does her lawn. When she needed some odd jobs done, he knew I was out of a job right now, so he gave her my name. I did a lot of fixer-upper things around the place, and every time I thought I was done, she kept comin' up with something else for me to fix. Pretty soon, she started asking me how I was fixed for money, if I had a regular job. I said I'd worked as a janitor at the high school, but I got let go when they had budget cuts. When I said I really needed the cash from odd jobs like she was having me do, she asked me how much cash I'd like to make. She offered me $10,000 to steal that stupid uniform, since she figured I knew my way around the school." He shrugged. "Ten grand is a lot of money. Got me out of debt. So I got paid half up front, and the other half when I brought her the uniform."
"Sneaking a peek at the girl while you were at it," Starsky accused.
"I wanted to be sure she wasn't gonna come outta the shower and catch me. I had to jimmy the lock on the locker. Thanks to the money I made on this job, I don't have to settle for peeking at little girls in the shower. I can get some real action." He paused. "Look, I wasn't gonna hurt her. I wouldn't do something like that. So I wanted to be real sure she wasn't gonna catch me messing around in her locker."
"So all you did for Mrs. Bennett was steal the uniform?" Hutch asked.
"That was all," he said, but his tone wasn't convincing.
"But?" Starsky prodded.
"There's more to the story. Now either you can be on our side and cooperate, or we can lump you in with your employer and go for the conspiracy charge," Starsky persisted.
"When I got her the uniform, she wanted to know if I would be willing to do something...heavier." He shrugged. "I said maybe, depended on what it was. She was real cagey at first, and then...then she said it would involve getting my hands dirty, and it would be risky. She also said the pay would be six figures."
"You agreed to do it?" Hutch asked.
"I said I might be interested, but I had to know what it was. She asked me if I'd ever killed anyone before." He leaned back in the chair. "Can I have some coffee? A smoke? Come on, I'm answerin' your questions."
"You are, indeed," Hutch admitted, rising and going to get coffee. Starsky slid the man's pack of cigarettes within his reach. Hutch was back a moment later with the coffee. With his cigarette lit and after a gulp or two of the dark beverage, he continued.
"I told her that was too heavy for me. She was real disappointed, and I got to thinking there might still be something in it for me if I could put her in touch with someone who would do the job. I mean, a lady like that doesn't go to the right places to meet up with people who do jobs like those. I told her if she'd give me $50,000, I'd give her a name. Guaranteed. She said she'd have to think about it, but the next day, she called me back and asked me to do it."
"Whose name did you give her?" Hutch asked, scribbling notes as the man spoke.
"Oh, man, I don't know. If I give you that name, I'm as good as dead."
"You're in jail, Burt. Once we nail him, he'll be going down for multiple murder. If he doesn't get the death penalty, he'll be in maximum security the rest of his life," Starsky explained.
"Hank Norris. It's not the first job like this he's done, and he's good. He's done some jobs for the mob, but if you think I'm gonna tell you what I know about those, you're crazy. They'd kill me. They probably will anyway," he babbled, taking another long drag on his cigarette.
"What do you know about her contacts with Hank Norris?" Starsky asked.
"Not much. I know she made contact, and he agreed to do the job. He told me that himself. She paid me half up front, and the other half after he did the first job for her. I didn't wanna know which jobs he was doing, and once I had the rest of my cash, I never talked to her again."
"You know how we can get in touch with Norris?" Hutch asked.
"Oh, man. He's gonna kill me."
"Only if you don't tell us where he is and he's out there running around. Once he's in custody, he won't be killing anybody," Hutch added.
"Okay. Last time I talked to him, he had an apartment at the old Sunset Hotel. I doubt he's still there, though. I think the old lady paid him pretty good, so he's probably moved uptown by now."
"We'll track him down," Starsky assured.
"Nice piece of work with Rockwell," Dobey said, smiling as he read over the transcript of the formal statement Rockwell had given in the presence of a stenographer. "Any leads on Norris?"
"Nothing so far. We talked to the desk clerk at the Sunset, and Norris checked out a week ago and left no forwarding address. We've got an APB and our best snitches on it." Hutch took a drink of his coffee just before a hand reached out for it. He relinquished the remainder of it to his partner.
"We've got a search warrant for the Bennett house, and hopefully she'll crack under a little pressure."
"The DA's not going to want to go to trial on Rockwell's testimony alone. The Bennetts are a respected family. They've got clout, and she'll have a top flight lawyer."
"Are you telling us not to play hardball with her?" Hutch asked.
"No, but I'm telling you to be damn sure you've got your ducks in a row. Rosalind Bennett is very prominent in the community, and if the search comes up empty, the word of a small-time hood like Rockwell isn't likely to convict her."
"We'll get something. She did what she did to make a point, send a message. I don't think she'll be able to resist telling us all about it." Hutch stood, and as Starsky did the same, he snagged his coffee back and finished it.
"This is outrageous," Rosalind Bennett fumed as the four uniformed officers who had accompanied the detectives spread out in various directions to begin their search. "You can expect a significant lawsuit on your hands for this...travesty!" She stormed through the foyer and down a hallway, Starsky and Hutch behind her. "I'm calling my lawyer."
"That might be a good idea, Mrs. Bennett," Starsky said as she picked up the phone on the massive mahogany desk in the beautifully appointed room with its heavy woodwork and burgundy plush carpeting. Both men wondered if this was where Edward Bennett had shot himself. "We just had a fascinating conversation with Burt Rockwell."
She paused, the phone midway between the desk and her ear. She replaced it on the hook and turned to face them.
"Does the name Hank Norris mean anything to you?" Hutch asked.
"You tell us," Starsky prodded.
"Burt Rockwell is a handyman I hired to do some odd jobs. He proved unreliable, so I fired him. I'm sure he has less than flattering things to say about me. Hank Norris may be the name he gave me of some other itinerant friend of his who needed work. I recall him recommending someone, but the name escapes me."
"So if we were to check your bank records, we wouldn't find any recent large transactions? No large liquidations of your assets that might show up in your portfolio?" Hutch asked, smiling slightly.
"It's not a crime to spend one's own money. You might well find a number of those things, Detective. I'm not getting any younger and I have no heirs. There's little reason for me to hoard my assets now."
"Sergeant Starsky?" One of the young uniformed officers appeared in the door with a red scarf in an evidence bag. "You said to let you know if we found this." He handed Starsky the bag.
"Thanks, Stan," Starsky said, taking the bag. "Looks like a nice scarf. You know, we found red fibers stuck on Patty Schuster Carson's neck." He looked up from the bag at Mrs. Bennett's horrified expression. "Well, like you were saying, it's no crime to spend your own money, so even if you have a bunch of recent withdrawals or liquidations that line up with alleged fees paid to a thief and a hitman, and you happen to have a red scarf in your possession that's about the right size to wrap around someone's neck and strangle them, it doesn't mean you're guilty of anything."
"We can match fibers, you know," Hutch added. "If this is the scarf that was used to do the deed, we'll know it."
"I asked him to bring it back when he was finished," she said flatly. "Eddie gave me that scarf as a Christmas gift the year before he was killed. I wanted to avenge him, to make her suffer for the suffering she caused him. He was never the same after she left him, after she humiliated him that way in front of everyone..." Mrs. Bennett's voice broke. "It was so hard to get Eddie to come out of his shell because of the stutter, and in one moment, she undid a lifetime of progress. She shattered him. Destroyed him. It was the only way I could think of to let him have the last laugh."
"Do you really think Eddie would have wanted her dead?" Hutch asked.
"Eddie was a sweet boy. He probably would have forgiven her. But I couldn't, and year after year, the police did nothing. Not a single thing. They took my son, my husband...left me with nothing. Do you think for a moment any of this matters without them?" She gestured at the elegant room. "My son and my husband were my life. None of this matters without them."
"That explains Patty Schuster, but Martin Gregory and Matthew Redmond?"
"Martin Gregory was probably driving the car that killed my son. He'd threatened him before. When I heard he was elected county commissioner and was being groomed for a fast track political career...I just couldn't stand it. My son is dead and buried. He'll never realize any of his dreams. And that man was getting ready to climb the political ladder. A filthy, rotten, murdering bastard!" She shook her head. "And all the while, the police did nothing."
"Matthew Redmond didn't kill Eddie. Even your brother-in-law forgave him for any hard times he gave Eddie," Starsky said.
"Joe was close to Eddie, that's true, but Eddie had some pride. When he was so frustrated and miserable that he was driven to tears over it, it wasn't Joe's shoulder he cried on. He came to me. I know how they hurt him, and I know how miserable he was at that school, and yet he didn't want to leave it, to go to a private school. I wanted to send him to a good boarding school, or maybe a parochial high school, where they might teach the cretins in their classes something about kindness and understanding. Eddie didn't want to be driven out of his own school, away from the few friends he had. He didn't want them to win, and no matter how hard he tried, they still did."
"You hired Hank Norris to commit these murders," Hutch stated.
"I wasn't about to go out and do it myself. I don't know the first thing about guns, and I'm hardly in a position to engage in hand-to-hand combat with a thirty-five-year-old man, or to abduct a young woman from a parking lot and do away with her."
"Did you tell him how to do each one?" Starsky asked, still barely able to reconcile the elegant older woman in front of them with the mastermind of three homicides.
"No. I told him to kill Matthew Redmond on the basketball court. That was important to me. And I told him I wanted Martin Gregory and Patty Schuster to suffer. And suffer a lot. I left the grisly details to him. He didn't seem to mind."
"You gave him your scarf to kill Patty Schuster," Hutch recalled.
"He said he'd probably strangle her. So I gave him the scarf. It was symbolic." She sighed. "My life hasn't had much meaning to me since I lost my family. Going to prison...even dying...that doesn't frighten me. There's only one thing that matters to me anymore."
"And that is?" Hutch prodded.
"Reopen Eddie's case. It doesn't matter that Martin Gregory is dead. Gavin Anderson and Kurt Heinemann aren't, and I know they were involved. I just want the record set straight."
"Were you going to have Anderson and Heinemann killed, too?" Starsky asked.
"No. They weren't worth the trouble to do that. I hoped someone would make the connection between Eddie and the murders, that maybe it would prompt the police to reopen the old case. I think it's only fair that Eddie's name be cleared. He wasn't a wild boy, he didn't go out and race that car down a back road and lose control of it by himself. He wouldn't have done that to me. To his father. To himself. He was a good boy, and he cared about the people who loved him. I just want that known. If that much comes out of this, then it's been worth it."
"Probably not to Patty's ten-year-old daughter," Hutch said. A look of horror passed over Rosalind Bennett's features, as if she'd never thought of the victims as human beings with families. Only instruments of her son's torment. "Sometime, when you can have visitors, talk to your brother-in-law about Patty and Eddie. Might be a real revelation."
The arrest of Rosalind Bennett was a media event that kept reporters swarming around the PD and the courthouse. To avoid being followed by reporters, Starsky parked the Torino in the police garage and borrowed an unmarked sedan for them to take home. There was an APB out on Hank Norris, but with Rosalind Bennett's confession, finding the actual hit man was a technicality in prosecuting her. Norris would no doubt face death penalty charges once he was apprehended, and since most of his connections were in Southern California, the police were confident that arrest would not be long in coming.
Eddie Bennett's case was reopened, but Lizzie and Arturo were selected to follow up on it. Though Starsky and Hutch would have normally objected to that, the strain of chasing their tails for so long on the Gregory homicide and then unraveling the twisted web surrounding the other killings had left them perfectly willing to hand off the loose ends to another team. There was little doubt of the outcome now that the investigators weren't hampered by politics. Charges being filed against Kurt Heinemann and Gavin Anderson were unlikely, since the car that was most likely involved was Martin Gregory's. Still, it seemed only just that the whole situation had come to light after all these years.
Starsky drove the sedan toward his place, knowing he had a pile of bills to pay and feeling a bit homesick for his own surroundings. Hutch was perfectly content for the change of scenery, and since they hadn't had time to visit a drug store since making the frightening discovery they were out of lube, going to Starsky's place made perfect sense. He might be out of groceries, but at least he'd be well stocked on what was really important.
"I'm still trying to get used to the idea of that elegant old lady being a killer," Hutch said, slipping out of his jacket and flopping on the couch as Starsky closed the door and locked it. There was something reassuring about knowing the world was kept at bay on the other side of the door for these nighttime hours they would share.
"Love does some weird things to the mind, Hutch. Love and hate are the most intense things you can feel. When one drives the other..." Starsky shrugged, sorting through his mail. He tossed his jacket aside and sat close to Hutch, smiling as Hutch moved his arm so Starsky could snuggle against him while he continued going through the mail. "Hey, looks like my rebate check from the new refrigerator," Starsky said, tearing into the envelope. He'd finally had to replace the old refrigerator in his apartment after it sprang a leak that nearly flooded the small kitchen. "Fifty bucks. You know what I think we oughtta do with this?"
"Buy more lube?" Hutch suggested. Starsky snorted a laugh.
"Go away someplace, maybe over just one night. We could throw a few bucks with this and get a really nice room."
"Or you could order that ship model you keep drooling over in that catalog." Hutch squeezed Starsky's shoulders, kissing his temple.
"I wanted to do something for both of us."
"Order the model. We can make love right here as well as we can in a hotel someplace. I don't need a fancy room to make being with you special."
"You mean it?"
"You need me to prove it?" Hutch asked, chuckling.
"No, I mean about the model. You really think I should order it? It's expensive, and you said yourself that it's too big. I mean, it'll cover my whole desk when it's done."
"Maybe when we get our house, we'll have just the right spot for it. Its own table to display it."
"That's a nice thought," Starsky sighed, tucking the check back in the envelope and tossing it aside.
"We don't have to be in 'til noon tomorrow," Hutch said, nuzzling Starsky's curls until Starsky turned so they faced each other and shared a long kiss. "And you've got lube."
"Sounds like the recipe for paradise to me," Starsky responded, laughing. Hutch silenced the laughter with more kisses, and soon they were making slow love on the couch.
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