One on One
by Candy Apple

SHSVS, Episode 613, Part 2

Back to Part 1

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?"

613-4.jpg "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."

"What is?"

"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.

Time
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.

"Starsky."

"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."

"Let's go."

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.

"Rosalind Bennett."

"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.

"But what?"

"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.

"And?"

"Does the name Hank Norris mean anything to you?" Hutch asked.

"Should it?"

"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.

613-2S.jpg "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.

Paradise, indeed.

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