Freeze-Frame
by Candy Apple

SHSVS, Episode 702

**********

It was a nearly perfect day in the park, with a mild breeze and warm sunshine. There were children playing in the distance and people riding bikes on the winding path where Starsky and Hutch often jogged. Today, though, even the obligatory exercise was put aside in favor of some simple, much-needed relaxation. Starsky couldn't have been more relaxed, stretched out on the picnic blanket, dead to the world. Hutch snorted a little laugh, going back to his reading. He was leaning against the trunk of a big old tree, his long legs stretched before him and crossed at the ankles, a fairly engrossing novel not really holding his interest when he had the option of watching Starsky.

It was a nearly perfect day except that he couldn't slide down and stretch out next to his partner for a nap, he couldn't have Starsky's head resting on his lap as they relaxed there, and they couldn't even steal a kiss or two while they shared their picnic lunch.

Refusing to spoil his serene mood by dwelling on the injustices of society and the bigotry of a large percentage of the world's population, he yawned and went back to his book. And thought about a house. A house with a yard. A yard where they could have a picnic outdoors and do whatever they damn well felt like doing. Of course, that would mean a large yard, and a large privacy fence. Add that to the cost of the house itself, and they'd probably have to live in the yard and sublet the house.

"What're you worrying about, Blondie?" A sleepy voice startled him out of his thoughts. Starsky stretched languidly, and Hutch tried not to concentrate on the lithe body in the t-shirt and cut-offs. Tenting his shorts before he had to walk to the car didn't really appeal to him all that much.

"I'm not worried," Hutch responded, setting his book aside.

"Sure you are. That little line between your eyebrows is deeper." Starsky sat up, landing shoulder to shoulder with Hutch. The proximity probably looked odd to passers by, but Hutch had never worried about that before they were lovers, so he resolved not to concern himself with it now. He was enjoying it too much anyway.

"Just thinking about how much I'd like to kiss you. Make out right here, like other couples do," Hutch responded honestly. "About the size of the fence we're going to need to do what we want to do in our backyard someday." The last line made Starsky laugh.

"I'm not sure they make twelve-foot soundproof fences. Even if one of us was a woman, we could get arrested for doin' that outside."

"I suppose," Hutch agreed, smiling.

"It's been a great day, babe. Let's not spoil it thinking about what we don't have."

"There's nothing that matters that we don't have," Hutch responded, looking into Starsky's eyes with all the love he felt inside. They might not be able to kiss, but they couldn't be harassed for simply looking at one another.

"Maybe we oughtta go home where we have a little privacy."

"Yeah, you're right. We've got an early call in the morning, and I still have to fix those two broken windows on the side of the greenhouse from the earthquake, and I need to write some checks yet tonight."

"One thing I gotta say for you, Blondie." Starsky started picking up their supplies. "You sure know how to have fun."

"You won't be having much fun if the utilities have been shut off," Hutch stated calmly.

"Can't argue with that logic." They gathered up their things and headed for the parking area. Hutch opened the trunk of the LTD so they could load it. "Plus, that big corn plant you've got in the corner is probably getting pissed off with those windows boarded up, and I don't want to get on the wrong side of a plant that's taller than me."

"I should have known you were afraid of it when you re-named it 'Audrey'."

"Feed me, Hutchinson," Starsky growled in Hutch's ear, doing a perfect imitation of the man-eating plant in "The Little Shop of Horrors."

**********

"You done givin' away all your money?" Starsky called from the sleeping alcove, where he was stretched out on the bed, ostensibly reading.

"I've got about as much in there now as I had before we got paid yesterday," Hutch called back to him, writing the final, meager balance in his checkbook register. "Makes me wonder why I bother depositing it at all."

"Really." Starsky closed his book and tossed it aside. "I put another two-hundred dollars in the savings this week. It's not much, but Ma's rent just went up again so I have to send her a little more. At this rate, we'll be retired before we can buy a house."

"Well, that'd solve worrying about people 'talking'."

"People 'talk' anyway. You think they're not talking now? That they haven't always?"

"Never used to bother me. I keep telling myself not to worry about it any more now than I did then." Hutch abandoned his checkbook at the table and joined his partner, stretched out on the bed. Starsky was in a clean tank-shirt and shorts, having showered as soon as they got home. Hutch had followed him shortly thereafter, not bothering with anything more than a robe.

"Probably that guilty conscience'a yours. Knowing you're corrupting your innocent partner, plundering his virtue at every turn."

"'Plundering his virtue?' Did you start reading bodice rippers again, Starsk?"

"Hey, I only read that one while I was in the hospital, and I was desperate." Starsky rolled his eyes. "Really desperate." Starsky grinned. "So, when does the plundering start, or do you still have to fix the windows in the greenhouse?"

"Plunder," Hutch said, grinning, moving over until he rolled Starsky on his back and lay atop him. "Plunder," he added, kissing his lover thoroughly. "Plunder, plunder." More kisses.

"You can't plunder me wearin' a robe," Starsky complained, untying the belt on the offending garment.

"Can't plunder you with your clothes on, either."

As Hutch's robe fell open, he pushed the red track shorts down over the swell of Starsky's ass, his partner lifting up willingly to dispose of them by the side of the bed. The tank-shirt went next, hurled to the floor about the same time as Hutch's robe.

They rolled together on the bed, kissing, hands roaming wherever they could reach. Then Starsky rose up to straddle Hutch, backing down until he was in the right position to lean forward and engulf Hutch's cock in his mouth. Hutch's hands moved instinctively to Starsky's hair, enjoying the soft, springy feel of the curls while he tried to hold his partner's head right where he wanted it. Starsky sucked eagerly, his tongue teasing the slit, one hand moving down to cup and roll Hutch's balls.

"Oh, God, babe, that's good," Hutch moaned, arching into the hot wetness. When he thought Hutch was nearly there, Starsky drew back, releasing the rigid shaft with a wet pop.

"I got plans for that big tree trunk'a yours," Starsky teased, reaching for the nightstand drawer, bringing out the well-used tube. His own cock was standing at attention now, fueled by the thought of what was about to happen. While he was momentarily distracted with the tube, Hutch flipped them over and pinned him to the bed.

"Not so fast, buddy."

Releasing Starsky's arms, Hutch began kissing and licking his way down Starsky's chest, lingering to feel the healthy rise and fall of breath that never ceased to delight him. Listening to it reassured him that whatever horrible close call Starsky had suffered, he was strong and healthy now. And alive. Most importantly, he was alive, and he was there to share a life they would have never even glimpsed without a second chance.

As he neared Starsky's groin, he bypassed the hard cock that was fast reaching full hardness and moved lower, pushing up on his thighs until Starsky grabbed his knees, holding himself open for Hutch. Using his tongue, Hutch teased the sensitive balls, then sucked them each in turn, making Starsky shout and pull his knees back even farther. Then he let his tongue dance along the sensitive skin of Starsky's perineum, and when he had his partner writhing in pleasure, he sucked the soft skin, leaving his mark before dragging his tongue over the clenching opening below.

"Hutch," Starsky gasped. "Oh, shit, give me that tongue," he pleaded. Moved to action by that passion-fogged voice, Hutch began licking and sucking at the little pucker, listening to Starsky's moans of pleasure and feeling his hips bucking at the stimulation. He darted his tongue inside, past the tight ring of muscle, and Starsky shouted his name, his knuckles going nearly white where they held his legs up and apart.

Before Starsky reached his climax alone, Hutch moved away and grabbed the lube, squeezing some out on his fingers. Starsky was already quite relaxed and excited, but Hutch didn't want to risk it with spit alone. He eased one lubed finger inside and massaged Starsky's opening and his passage, getting him ready.

"I can't take it, Hutch. You gotta get in there now," Starsky panted, bearing down on the moving finger.

"Your wish, babe," Hutch responded with a grin, withdrawing his finger and liberally coating his cock. He pressed the blunt head against Starsky's center and pushed inside. The first moments of that slippery set of contracting muscles squeezing him was always nearly more than Hutch could take without coming. Watching Starsky's flushed face, eyes closed, a few damp curls sticking to his forehead with passion-induced sweat was almost his undoing.

"Do it, Blondie. Come on, move."

"All in good time." Hutch wrapped one large hand around Starsky's cock and pumped it, sliding inside him the rest of the way. When he was satisfied Starsky's body had adjusted, he pulled back and pushed forward, loving the cry of pleasure that earned him. Next, he aimed for Starsky's prostate, and when he hit his target, Starsky's shout was almost an animal growl of ecstasy. Maintaining his angle, he began pumping rapidly.

Starsky wrapped his legs around Hutch's waist and encouraged the driving rhythm, letting go of all his inhibitions and letting the naked pleasure show on his face and come out in incoherent, garbled vocalizations. Each time Hutch's cock hit his prostate, it was so intense it was nearly unbearable. Pleasure so exquisite it bordered on pain.

Then Hutch pulled out.

"Turn over, babe. I'm coming in the back door."

Hutch waited while Starsky turned over and got up on all fours, then dropped to his elbows, offering his slick, loosened hole to his partner, who plunged inside again. Then pulled all the way back out. Then re-entered him. Then pulled all the way back out. And entered again. Starsky squeezed the pillows, not sure if he was feeling pleasure or frustration. The stimulation and repeated stretching of his opening was driving him wild, but he longed to have the big cock all the way inside him.

As if reading his mind, Hutch abandoned his teasing and slid back inside to the hilt, resuming the driving pace he'd started when Starsky was on his back. Starsky met each thrust with a counter-thrust of his own, the bed shaking beneath them, springs creaking rhythmically. Feeling the first waves of orgasm sweeping over him, Starsky cried out Hutch's name.

Hutch needed no warning, because he felt those wonderful muscles clamping around his cock, squeezing and milking it. Starsky's movements became erratic, and he was gasping and shouting his pleasure, burying his face partially in the pillows. Hutch gripped Starsky's hips even tighter and rode out the waves, calling out Starsky's name as his own climax overtook him and he spilled his seed into his partner's now pliant, relaxed body. When he finally gave up and slipped free of Starsky's body, Starsky slumped flat on the mattress with his face still in the pillows, and groaned.

Hutch flopped on his back and grinned, breathing heavily. He rolled on his side and placing his thumb on the eyelid that wasn't hidden in the pillow, lifted it to see if Starsky was still alive.

"I'm dead. A 187. You fucked me to death."

"You say the sweetest things. It was good for you, too, then?" Hutch teased, letting go of the eyelid and running his hand over the curve of Starsky's well-loved ass.

"Too good to live through." Starsky grinned and purred with pleasure as Hutch slid his finger into the still-slick opening and began massaging it.

"I love you, in case I didn't mention it."

"I got the message," Starsky responded impishly.

"I didn't hurt you, did I?"

"Let's just say I'm glad we don't have a long stake-out planned for tomorrow." Starsky emitted a throaty chuckle. "I'm fine, darlin'. Felt great. You didn't strain anything, did ya?" Starsky asked playfully.

"Just my voice when I came."

"Somebody'll call a cop."

"Dobey'd love that."

"Do me a favor, Hutch?"

"Anything, babe." Hutch kissed Starsky's cheek, his finger still massaging.

"Don't talk about Dobey while you've got your finger up my ass, okay?"

**********

Starsky shifted in his chair, blushing when he realized Hutch was watching him. It wasn't really pain. His muscles were tired and some very private places were a bit tender. He knew his blush was deepening as he thought about what it would feel like to repeat last night's activities with an already sensitive, tingling passage.

"Your car's not the only thing that's candy apple red," Hutch muttered quietly, looking up from his paperwork. "I'd give a month's pay for your thoughts," he added.

Starsky didn't reply, but wrote Hutch a note and slipped it across the desk. Hutch unfolded it and read it silently:

"If this squadroom was empty, I'd drop my drawers and bend over the desk for you. Bring your giant pulsing rod of man meat to my place later?"

"Damn it, Starsky," Hutch swore, tearing up the note, unable to stifle the traitorous laughter that bubbled up at the absurd, vulgar phraseology. Starsky could only imagine that Hutch Junior was making a ninety-degree salute under the desk. The other detectives just spared them a quick glance and chortled, shaking their heads at two grown men passing notes and laughing like little kids.

"I think if we play our cards right with Dobey, and not too many of the good people of Bay City kill each other between now and then, we'll get the Fourth off," Starsky said, placing his signature at the bottom of a police report with proper flourish.

"What for?" Hutch asked, not looking up from his own report, which he was busily typing.

"Whaddya mean, 'what for?' To pack a picnic lunch, go to the fireworks. You know, stuff normal people do who get holidays off every year. Last year, we had to work, and the year before, I didn't much care about it--I think you had to work, anyway."

"I don't really remember," Hutch mumbled.

"Well, this year, I feel good, and we can probably get the time off, and I wanna go see some fireworks."

"Oh, for God's sake, Starsky, will you grow up?" Hutch snapped, yanking the report out of the typewriter as its roller screeched in protest at the violation. "Once you've seen one set of fireworks, you've seen them all. A bunch of loud noises and some flashing lights." Hutch scrawled an angry signature on the bottom of the report and snatched Starsky's along with his own and strode into Dobey's empty office to toss them in his inbox. When he returned, Starsky was still staring at him, wondering where his good mood had gone.

"Is there any holiday on the fucking calendar that you like?" Starsky asked, his voice a bit hushed in deference to the detectives who were still working in the squadroom.

"Plenty, but sitting out on the grass until my back stiffens up so I can watch a bunch of stupid fireworks doesn't do it for me, pal." With that, Hutch picked up a note from his desk. "I have to go pick something up from R & I." He walked briskly out of the squadroom, leaving a somewhat stunned Starsky to try to figure out what exactly was so wrong about wanting to watch fireworks on the Fourth of July.

**********

Starsky stole glances at Hutch's profile as he drove toward his apartment. They were trying to make it a habit to spend the night at whichever apartment belonged to the partner who was driving. That way, the car being parked out front all night was normal for appearances' sake, as long as no one made note that two men got out of it and spent the night there. The neighborhood around Venice Place, especially with the restaurant downstairs, was busy enough most evenings that no one really noticed them coming and going. When they worked late, the street was nearly empty when they arrived. That suited Starsky just fine. It was bad enough having to hide and worry about prying eyes, but actively snoopy neighbors would be even worse.

Looking again at Hutch, Starsky noticed the set of his jaw, the seriousness of his expression, and most of all, the utter silence that hung in the air like a fog between them.

"You want to pick up anything on the way home?"

"Like what?"

"Like dinner, Hutch. All I've got's some cold chicken that's been in the refrigerator way too long."

"All right. Chinese?"

"Okay. Chan's?"

"Fine, whatever." Hutch looked out the passenger window now, as if trying to avoid eye contact with Starsky.

"Are you mad at me about something?" Starsky finally asked. "It's gettin' pretty cold in here, partner."

"I'm not mad."

"Then why the silent treatment?"

"I'm tired, all right?" Hutch snapped.

"Look, if you don't wanna go see fireworks, we don't have to."

"What are you talking about, Starsky?" Hutch's voice was steady and would have convinced any stranger, but Starsky knew he'd hit the heart of the problem.

"Ever since I brought up the fireworks thing, you've been pissed off at me."

"We can see them from the greenhouse if you really need to see them."

"Okay, fine, whatever. Forget the fucking fireworks. I wanna know why you're mad about it."

"I already said I wasn't mad!" Hutch shot back angrily. "But I'm getting there."

"Because I wanted to go to the fireworks?"

"Don't be ridiculous. I said I didn't want to go. Beating the subject to death is making me mad."

"Okay, I'll drop it."

"Thank you."

"But I still wanna know."

"Starsky, I don't care about it. It's annoying. It's loud. It gives me a headache. The mosquitoes think of me as their own personal picnic buffet. Should I go on?"

"Nope, I got it. Consider it forgotten." The rest of the ride was silent, including the tense little wait for the Chinese food order to be prepared, and neither man was sorry to see their journey home come to an end. Starsky parked the car and they went inside, Starsky locking the door and sorting his mail while Hutch went into the bedroom and started shedding his clothes. "I was gonna open my mail first," Starsky said, grinning at his naked partner.

"Shower," Hutch said by way of explanation. There wasn't a tone of invitation in his voice.

"Okay. I'll read the mail and water the plants.

**********

Hutch turned on the shower and let the water get warm while he relieved himself. He stepped under the spray and lathered up quickly. He knew his feelings were illogical. He knew a shrink would have a field day with them. He'd probably end up on some sort of leave until he got them sorted out. All that notwithstanding, he couldn't bear the thought of going to that damn fireworks display. Telling Starsky why wasn't a much more attractive prospect. Sure, he'd be understanding, he'd be forgiving...but if Starsky didn't have a problem with fireworks, why should Hutch?

After toweling off, he pulled on a clean pair of shorts, not bothering with a shirt. Starsky was sitting hunched over the kitchen table, laboriously following the absurdly detailed multi-step process to enter a sweepstakes he'd gotten in the mail. Hutch walked up behind his chair and ran his hand gently over the soft curls.

"Sorry, babe. I guess I'm just tired. It's been a long couple weeks." They had worked a lot of hours, that much was true. And Bay City's residents seemed much more inclined to kill each other in the hot weather.

"It's okay, Hutch. I just wish I knew what was really bugging you, that's all." Starsky completed his entry and was about to put it in the envelope.

"You missed one." Hutch pointed at an outline where yet another sticker from the enclosed sheet of magazine offers was supposed to go.

"Must be why I'm not winning," Starsky joked, finding the final sticker and then putting his entry in the envelope.

"Yeah, I'm sure that's the reason," Hutch responded, rolling his eyes and chuckling.

"There." Starsky patted the envelope. "If we win this one, we can retire and buy ourselves a nice little house in the country."

"In the country? Did I just hear you right?"

"No neighbors," he said, waggling his eyebrows. "Besides, I didn't say anything about it being some godforsaken cabin with spiders and bears comin' over for dinner every night."

"Speaking of which, you want to heat up the food?"

"Soon as I grab a shower. You leave me any hot water?"

"Enough to get you by," Hutch responded, grinning as he took two plates from the cupboard and then a couple beers from the refrigerator.

By the time Starsky emerged from the shower, Hutch was warming up the food in the microwave. He'd finally made friends with the appliance and had to admit the convenience beat the conventional oven by a mile, though he still refused to cook anything from scratch in it. Wearing an old tank-shirt and shorts, Starsky joined him in the kitchen. Hutch was leaning forward to watch the container of food as it heated--he wasn't convinced that it wouldn't explode if left untended--and he felt Starsky behind him, a firm cock pressing into the crevice of his clothed behind.

"We need to eat, Starsk," Hutch admonished, his willpower already slipping.

"Right now?" Starsky teased, running his finger around the waistband of Hutch's shorts. Just then, the phone rang.

"Better answer that," Hutch said, moving away.

"If we don't, they'll just think we're not home."

"If we don't, and it's Dobey, he'll hunt us down to the ends of the earth and ultimately find us here at your place, not answering the phone."

"All right," Starsky agreed, grudgingly. He picked up the phone, and sure enough, their captain's voice boomed over the line at him.

"I need you two to meet me at 1249 Fairview, now."

"What's up, Cap'n?" Starsky shot Hutch a disdained expression, and Hutch shrugged, setting the re-heated food on the counter. They'd be lucky to grab two bites of it on the way out the door.

"It's a homicide. There's something at the scene you should see."

"What?"

"Just get over here on the double," Dobey concluded, and then left Starsky with a dial tone.

"Homicide case. Dobey said there's something he wants us to see at the scene, over on Fairview."

"Nice area. We don't get too many calls over there." Hutch headed for the bedroom, eschewing the clothes he'd worn earlier to pull out some clean ones he kept in Starsky's closet.

"Wonder why he was being so cagey on the phone?" Starsky pulled on his jeans, and grinned when he caught Hutch admiring the view. He was guilty of watching every move when Hutch slid out of his shorts and dug around in the drawers for clean underwear.

"He said there was something we should see there?" Hutch shrugged. "I guess we won't know until we get there."

**********

The murder scene was a pretty little yellow bungalow on a quiet residential street. A well-manicured lawn was accented with equally well-manicured shrubs, trees, and flowering plants. A bright yellow 1980 Chevette was parked in the driveway.

"Somebody likes yellow," Hutch commented, chuckling. They passed a couple uniformed officers on their way inside, where Dobey was standing in the living room, talking with Ginny.

"The victim's in the bedroom," he stated, turning their way. "Thanks, Ginny," he said to the medical examiner, as she headed for the door.

"I should have that prelim on your desk first thing in the morning," she responded. After exchanging greetings with Starsky and Hutch, she left.

"Doesn't look like she was too careful about keeping her doors and windows locked," Dobey began. "There's no sign of forced entry, but it appears the killer came in through the side door off the driveway. It was standing open when the neighbor lady came over to check on her. She thought she saw the door swaying open in the wind, so she came over to investigate." Dobey stood aside so Starsky and Hutch could pass by him to enter the small bedroom where a frail white-haired woman lay dead on the floor, dressed in a pink and white flowered caftan. An area of dried blood spread from beneath her body. "Ginny said it looks like two bullets in the back. She probably never even saw it coming."

"You want us to take the case, Captain?" Hutch asked, squatting close to the body for a closer look. "Hell of a shame. Live to be this age and then some jerk blows you away in your own bedroom."

"You don't recognize her?" Dobey asked.

"Should we?" Starsky frowned, joining his partner to get a closer look at the dead woman's face.

"Elizabeth Markham," Dobey stated flatly. "Ring any bells?"

"Not really," Hutch said, standing. Starsky lingered there a bit longer.

"Not the photographer? The one who's had all those coffee-table books published?"

"That's the one."

"Aw, man." Starsky straightened up now, too, and shook his head sadly. "Hutch, you remember me showing you some of those photography books at my place? That one with all the urban scenes in it?"

"That's Elizabeth Markham? I thought those photographs were just taken in the last few years."

"They were," Dobey spoke up. "Elizabeth Markham was known for her black-and-white photography of urban street scenes. She's been displaying, publishing, and selling her work for over forty years now. And she never backed down from visiting inner-city locations to take pictures. She was quoted as saying one of her favorite things was getting underprivileged children interested in the arts, especially photography. She donated all kinds of equipment to community centers and spent time there teaching the kids how to use it."

Dobey motioned to the attendants from the coroner's wagon to go ahead and remove the body. Guiding his two detectives toward the hall, he steered them into what was intended to be the house's second bedroom. Instead, the windows had been securely covered and, since the room was next to the bathroom, a sink had been added that presumably shared the same plumbing. This small, unimpressive makeshift darkroom was the birthplace of some of the most famous and respected photographs in the world.

"She could've been living in a mansion, famous as she was," Starsky speculated, looking at the numerous photos hanging from little clips suspended from a cord strung across one end of the room, above the pans and trays used to develop them.

"Now you know why I called you two over here tonight," Dobey said, as Starsky and Hutch found a series of photographs of the two of them in the park, eating lunch together, laughing, Hutch playing his guitar, Starsky reading and eating an apple...and a series of photos of a single moment--the moment they'd looked into each other's eyes with all the love in the world--captured on film.

"She must've just been taking pictures in the park the day Starsky and I were out there for a picnic. That's how we spent our last day off." Hutch was enraptured by the images in the photographs, as was his partner. Especially that one moment when they thought they were still being so discreet. And they weren't doing anything IA could hang their hats on. You can't accuse two men of being lovers just because they look at each other affectionately. Not when they've been partners and best friends for over ten years. Still, she'd captured something in the photo that was so real and visible it was unnerving.

"You never saw her taking photographs, never met her at all?" Dobey prodded.

"No, Captain, we didn't see her. We didn't know anyone was taking photos."

"Doesn't look like much is disturbed. Camera equipment is still here," Starsky said, looking at the array of top-flight photography gear.

"Her purse and jewelry are gone. The cameras and other equipment would be harder to fence and easier to trace. Whoever did this knew enough to avoid stealing the stuff that would ultimately link him easily to the crime," Dobey said.

"Take a look at this," Hutch said, motioning to Starsky and Dobey to join him at the file cabinets that lined one wall of the room. "The core is gone from the lock. They're all gone," he said, gesturing at the three cabinets. The cores had been removed from the locks on all four file cabinets.

"You go to the trouble to break into the file cabinets, but you don't take the camera equipment," Starsky summarized. "Sounds like the stuff that was stolen was just a distraction from what the killer was really after--something he thought he was gonna find in one of these." He gestured at the cabinets.

Hutch was already pulling on a pair of latex gloves as they talked. He opened the top drawer and the three of them gathered around it as he flipped through the neatly labeled, alphabetically filed folders. Many of them contained photographs, some contained personal papers, and a few contained news articles or other clippings. They were organized alphabetically by subject and would be easy to peruse for the person who filed them. However, her system of naming the files made it impossible for an outsider to walk in easily and pluck from the cabinets precisely what he might be looking for. For example, the photos of a group of children playing in the spray of a fire hydrant were filed in a folder marked "Whitmore"--the name of the street where the photo was taken--rather than something more obvious like "children" or "summer."

"We're probably not gonna know if anything's missing just by looking through these," Starsky said. "You think she might have an inventory someplace around here?"

"Good thinking," Dobey agreed, nodding. "Keep looking, and put some gloves on like your partner," Dobey added, sounding more like a scolding father than a police captain. He glanced behind him to be sure the other police personnel in the house were out of earshot before adding, "You two could be a little more careful when you're out in public."

"More careful than what, sir?" Hutch asked. "We didn't do anything inappropriate. We know better than that."

"I've seen newlyweds look at each other with less obvious interest than you two did in that photo," Dobey said, shaking a finger in the direction of the photo in question. "IA might not be able to take it to the bank, but they're not blind. I'm telling you right now, watch your step. Take a couple girls along on your next picnic."

"What for?" Starsky persisted. He knew perfectly well what Dobey was driving at, but he still didn't care for it, and he had no plans to lead some girl on and then dump her at the end of the day and never call her again.

"You're detectives. I think you can figure it out."

"You want us to start going out on fake dates, is that it?" Hutch asked in a hushed voice. "Captain, I'm glad you know the score, and we both appreciate your support, but there are some things we're not prepared to do, even in deference to your friendship. That's one of them."

"I didn't say you had to cheat on each other," Dobey whispered back, shooting a glance toward the door of the room. There were only a few other cops still around, and they were otherwise engaged, not within earshot of the conversation. "Just watch your step and remember that a picture," he pointed toward the photo of the two of them, "is worth a thousand words. That one speaks volumes."

"Point taken," Hutch conceded.

"The chief is probably not going to be convinced you two should be taking this case, being you were two of her recent subjects--"

"If we were gonna kill her, we sure wouldn't have had to look far for the photos, would we?" Starsky retorted.

"That's just what I'll be telling the chief. That, and the fact that there's nothing about the photographs she has of the two of you that would be any cause for concern, to you or the Department." Dobey turned to leave.

"Captain?" Hutch waited until he paused. "Thanks." Dobey smiled slightly and walked out the door.

**********

An exhaustive search of Elizabeth Markham's house didn't produce an inventory of the file cabinets exactly, but it did provide an inventory of her photos by subject matter, and it appeared to be organized by the same filing system as the photos in the files. Starsky and Hutch figured they had a long day in the dead woman's house to look forward to, matching file names with the inventory list, and cataloging how many photos were in each folder, as Ms. Markham had done.

"These files are all so neat," Starsky said, counting out the photos in one of the folders and then putting it back in the cabinet, checking it off the list. "Can't believe the killer really looked through them. I mean, think about it, Hutch. You just killed an old lady in cold blood, and you're looking for a photo. Don't you toss the place?"

"Not if I'm making it look like a burglary."

"The cores were gone out of the cabinet locks. That's not too subtle."

"Maybe he hadn't banked on her locking up her stuff. Maybe he killed her, loaded up some of her stuff, and then came back in to go through the files."

"She was really brilliant. At first glance, there's not much to some of these pictures, but the more you look at them, the more you see. All kinds of little details."

"Glad you like her work, because something tells me we're going to be staring at it for days on end," Hutch opined dismally. "Once we determine that nothing's missing from the cabinets, you know damn well we're going to have to go through all these to see if there's anything the killer missed."

"The thing is, Hutch, it could be anything. It could be one'a these cars on the street here," Starsky said, pointing to a photo of children playing in a spraying fire hydrant, several cars visible in the shot. "It could be this guy standing by the door of this apartment house," he said, holding up another photo. "The only person who would know is the one who came after the picture."

"I think we can eliminate the old photos for now," Hutch said, scanning the inventory list. "Why don't we just concentrate on, say, the last two weeks' worth? She was very prolific, so that should give us quite a bit to work on. If the killer was after a photo and not something else she had stashed in one of her other file folders in here, he probably knew she took it. If he was anxious enough to kill her over it, he wouldn't wait very long to come after it."

"These are the most recent." Starsky pulled out two folders and set them on a small table near the file cabinets.

"Those are the most recent," Hutch said, pointing at the wall where their own images looked back at them. "She hadn't even inventoried them yet."

"What do you suppose she was going to call us?" Starsky queried, moving closer to inspect the photos.

"Based on her other titles, I wouldn't even hazard a guess." Hutch chuckled a bit. "Too bad these are all evidence."

"If the killer was looking for part of this series, he's already got it. It's not like she was hiding it."

"Unless he overlooked something. You know the way photographers take shots of things. You've done it yourself. Snapping a number of different shots of the same thing. Plus, if there was something the killer readily identified in one photo, it might be in the others, too, just not as obvious."

"Maybe we ought to pack up some of this stuff and take it back to headquarters. We know what we want to focus on for now."

"Good idea. I'm thinking lunch on the way in would be a good idea, too."

"Your place or a burger place?" Starsky asked, grinning.

"Better stick to the burger place. We don't have time to go to my place. Even if it is on the way," Hutch quipped, swatting Starsky on the butt with a file folder, kissing him on the cheek at the same time.

"You think there'd be anything against regulations about us getting a copy of her photos of us?"

"Probably. I don't know as there's anything in the rules that covers something like that. Maybe her family would part with them after the case is wrapped up. Right now, they're evidence."

"They're evidence that my partner's gorgeous," Starsky said, smiling at the photo of Hutch with his guitar.

"Ditto, babe," Hutch responded, smiling as he felt the warm blush creep over his cheeks.

"Hey, check this out," Starsky said, handing Hutch a tidy stack of receipts he'd found impaled on a small message spike.

"Bayside Photo Supply," Hutch read aloud, scanning the receipt. "So?"

"What if they do photo developing as well as selling supplies? I wonder if there's anything she might have given them to develop instead of doing it herself? Or maybe she said something about what she was working on?"

"Worth a shot." Hutch bagged the receipts. "Looks like she handled most of the developing herself."

"Maybe, maybe not. Everything's dry and tidy in here. Maybe she's just real neat about cleaning up her chemicals and photo trays, or maybe at some point, she stopped doing her own developing."

"I guess I just assumed with all this equipment here, she was handling it on her own. Now that you mention it, though, there's a pretty healthy coat of dust on these shelves," Hutch observed, looking at the shelves holding the photo developing supplies. "The way these newer photos were hung looked like she'd hung them after developing them, to dry."

"Maybe she just put them up there so she could decide which, if any, she was putting in her next collection. She just had her last one published about a year ago."

"Guess we better check out the photo shop."

**********

Starsky leaned back in the chair and massaged the kink in his neck. He blinked a few times, trying to adjust his eyes to not staring at a photo through a magnifying glass. He'd set aside every photo that had anything in the background that might have troubled someone who was up to something illegal, mainly cars or people who were not the primary subjects of the photos. Hutch had visited the photo shop on his own, since that wasn't really a two-man job, and wading through the reams of photos was a huge project that really needed to be done as soon as possible. Starsky had lost the coin toss, but figured he'd make up for it with a reward later. A little whining about his miserable day would surely earn him something worthwhile.

"Hey, Starsky, having fun yet?" Flores teased as he entered the squadroom, sifting through the papers in a file folder he was carrying.

"Tons. Wouldn't be bad if I could just look through these without the magnifying glass. She was an amazing photographer."

"No kidding. Carolyn bought one of those coffee-table books for her mother for Christmas last year. Damn shame. What a waste." Flores sat against the edge of the desk. "Any leads on a motive yet?"

"No, not really. We're thinking maybe somebody was after a photo she took, but we can't find anything missing from her files. Assuming her inventory is perfect. I'm going through the most recent photos to see if the killer might have missed something. Like maybe he found the obvious shot but missed one he was only partially in."

"Wow. Quite a job." Flores looked through a few of the photos Starsky had finished reviewing. "Who's this lady here?" He handed a photo of an elderly woman to Starsky. It wasn't Elizabeth Markham, but the woman in the photo was about her age. She had dramatically upswept gray hair and glasses. Starsky imagined she'd been very pretty when she was younger, as she still retained an air of refinement and elegance about her. "She's in more than one picture."

"Hey, you're right." Starsky dug through the pile until he found some much older photos, and found a shot of the woman that must have been taken thirty years earlier. "A sister, maybe? We're still checking on her family, but it doesn't look like she has any. Her will leaves everything to charity, and her lawyer doesn't know of any living relatives."

"Oh, man, I gotta run. I'm supposed to meet Lizzie over at the courthouse with this file," he said, standing and tidying the stack of photos. "Hey, thanks for covering the Fourth for us! Carolyn and I and Lizzie are going to take the kids to see the fireworks. Carolyn's mom's watching Kenny. The noise is a little too much for him yet."

"Whoa, what about the Fourth?"

"Hutch said you guys would cover for us." Flores paused, looking a little uneasy. "Uh...he said it was fine. I just figured you were okay with it."

"If Hutch said we'll cover, we'll cover," Starsky responded, looking back down at his work.

"Not if you had plans. I assumed he checked it out with you."

"No, I didn't have plans," Starsky responded, trying to keep the despondency at that thought out of his voice. It was stupid to put so much weight on a silly fireworks display, but he'd been looking forward to it for months now and figured since he and Hutch had been stuck with working last year and he'd been recuperating the year before, they'd be about due for a holiday off. He'd miscalculated his partner's aversion to the occasion, but that wasn't Flores' fault, and fireworks were made for kids anyway.... "No, it's fine. Hutch probably just forgot to mention it. No big deal."

"You're sure?"

"Sure." Starsky smiled. "Besides, you'll cover us for a long weekend later this summer, right?"

"Absolutely. Name it."

"Okay. And bring some new baby pictures with you tomorrow. I think Kenny's aged about four days now and we haven't been updated," Starsky teased. Flores blushed a little and laughed at the good-natured teasing. He'd gone through more rolls of film in the last several weeks than he had in the last several years.

"Maybe you guys ought to stop in and see the genuine article."

"Maybe we will. See ya later," Starsky said, waving slightly as Flores hurried out the doors of the squadroom. "Thanks a lot, Hutch," he mumbled under his breath, examining another photo.

**********

"Hard to believe Ellie won't be coming in here anymore," the elderly man behind the counter at the photo shop said sadly. "She was a special lady--one hell of a photographer, that's for sure." A tall, slightly built man with thin white hair and silver-framed glasses, William Foster, owner of Bayside Photo, didn't look much younger than the victim herself.

"How long has she been shopping here?"

"Since we opened," he said. "My wife and I started the business forty years ago, and Ellie was one of our first customers. I'll tell you, it was a real honor for us to develop some of the film she shot during the war. She won quite a few awards for those pictures."

"So you developed some of her work here? It's obvious from her set-up at home that she handled a lot of the developing herself."

"True, she did. She was bringing more and more to me as she got older." He chuckled. "None of us are as young as we used to be."

"That's the truth," Hutch agreed, smiling as he made a couple notes on his notepad.

"Nothin' you have to worry about for quite a while, young fella like you."

"You'd be surprised. All the old injuries start making themselves known every time it's gonna rain."

"Just wait 'til arthritis sets in."

"Thanks. That's something to look forward to," Hutch quipped. "Did Ms. Markham leave anything with you recently to be developed?"

"Yes, she did. Just finished it up last night," he said, then paused, looking a bit stricken. "My God, I was probably developing her photos about the time..."

"Were you good friends?"

"Oh, more like old friends. We didn't really socialize outside the store, but when you've been seeing someone pretty much once a week for the last forty years, they're sort of a friend, you know?"

"I understand," Hutch said, nodding. "You mentioned your wife...?"

"She's been gone almost ten years." Mr. Foster grinned. "I asked Ellie out a time or two, but that was one lady with a single-minded determination to stay single. I used to think it was because she traveled so much, but when she got older and settled down in one spot, she still kept to herself." He sorted through the envelopes of developed photos. "Here we go." He handed two fat envelopes to Hutch.

"What do I owe you?"

"No, no need for that. I'm glad to help out if I can." He frowned. "Say, you don't think whoever did her in would come here, do you?"

"I doubt it, but do you usually work here alone?"

"All day. My son comes in to work with me in the evenings. We're only open three evenings a week."

"Good. Just report anything suspicious, or anyone you're uneasy about. Even if it seems silly. Here's my card. Don't hesitate to call me at that number. My partner's name is Starsky--I wrote that on the card. Just ask for either one of us."

"Thanks. Hope you find something that helps in the photos."

"Me, too. Thanks for your time." Hutch smiled as he left the store, popping on a pair of sunglasses to combat the glare of stepping out into the bright sunshine from the somewhat murky little store. Hoping he had something worthwhile in the envelopes of photos, he slid behind the wheel of the LTD and started back for headquarters.

After a swing by Taco Bell to assuage Starsky's mood and his stomach after a long stint of poring over photos, Hutch arrived in the squadroom with the bag of goodies and set them in front of his partner, who was still hunched over the desk, engrossed in his project.  

"Anything interesting?"

"No, not much," Starsky responded, his voice conveying his fatigue with the project. "I've set aside a few we can send to the lab to get enlarged to look at license numbers, get a better look at faces, but there's no reason to assume they mean anything. They were all pretty obviously visible, so if the killer was looking to remove evidence, he'd have taken these with him." Starsky gestured with the pile of photos, which he tossed back on the desk. "There is this lady here, who shows up in several different photos over a span of about thirty or forty years, but I can't find any reference to her name." Starsky sighed and leaned his chin on the heel of his hand. "How about you?"

"Another two sets of photos she had developed there. Apparently she was having the photo shop do more and more of her work as she got older."

"Those new pictures are all yours, partner," Starsky said, looking in the top of the take out bag and grinning. "I knew there was a reason I loved you so much," he said quietly, reaching into the bag and pulling out a beef burrito.

"Only someone who loved you would buy you one of those, the way you fart from them."

"I do not!" Starsky retorted indignantly, his voice rising an octave.

"Don't worry about it, partner. I borrowed a gas mask from the Hazmat guys."

"Asshole," Starsky said, chuckling as he started eating the burrito. "You know, one'a these days, we're gonna have a little talk about what happens when you put oat bran in that weird breakfast shake of yours."

"Let's just try not to do both things on the same day, huh?" Hutch said, snorting a laugh himself now.

"And then go on a long stake-out."

"In the rain with the windows up," Hutch added.

"Might be a good way to get a snitch to talk, though."

"That'd be a switch--one of them paying us to let him out of the car."

"Flores stopped by earlier," Starsky said, wiping his hands on one of the napkins he'd found in the bag.

"How's our boy doing?" Hutch asked, beaming at the thought of the baby they'd helped deliver.

"Flores said we should stop by and see for ourselves. I was givin' him a hard time about having new pictures." Starsky's smile faded. "He told me we were covering the Fourth for him and Lizzie."

"They were looking for someone to cover, and we didn't have any plans, so I told them we'd do it."

"We don't have any plans because you wouldn't make any. Did it ever occur to you I might want to go to the fireworks, too?"

"How could it not occur to me when you periodically whine more effectively than Alicia on her worst day? Starsky, you're a grown man. We don't have any kids, and this'll give some people with kids a chance to take them as a family to the fireworks."

"I'd just like to be asked next time you volunteer us for holiday duty."

"Okay, fair enough. Next time, I'll ask."

"So you really wouldn't go to the fireworks with me?"

"We're working, Starsk."

"Yeah, since you signed us up. But if we weren't working, and I wanted to go, you really wouldn't go?"

"I just think we could find better things to do with our night off," Hutch said quietly, hoping the seductive approach would deflect Starsky's questions. "We've had fireworks quite a few nights as I recall."

"Nice try, Hutch." Starsky's tone was defeated, and he didn't push the matter any further. "I'm gonna take these down to the lab and see if they can blow 'em up for us." Starsky gathered up the photos he'd selected from the larger assortment and left the room, a definite slump to his shoulders.

"Nice going, Hutchinson," Hutch berated himself, tossing his pen on the desk and leaning back in his chair.

**********

Simmons and Babcock were on their way in for the night shift as Hutch was on his way out for the day. Starsky had taken a brief detour to the men's room before leaving. Hutch stopped the two men, and despite all his machinations to work on the Fourth, found himself negotiating his way out of it now.

"I was hoping maybe you guys could cover the Fourth for us."

"I thought you were covering for Flores and Thorpe," Babcock said, frowning.

"We are, but something's come up. They're planning this big outing with the kids to go to the fireworks, and I don't want to leave them high and dry, but this is important."

"I don't really have anything goin' on," Simmons volunteered. "We could get something to eat and watch the fireworks from the car. We wouldn't even have to leave our beat."

"I guess that's okay," Babcock agreed, shrugging. "Sure. Whatever. But you guys are covering for us for the Labor Day weekend."

"Deal," Hutch said, smiling. "Thanks. I really appreciate this."

"No problem. Whoever she is, I hope you have a great time." Simmons nudged Hutch as he walked past him.

"Blonde, brunette, or redhead?" Babcock teased.

"Brunet, with a body you wouldn't believe," Hutch boasted truthfully.

"Not that stewardess...oh, what was her name?" Simmons' brows knit together in concentration.

"You'll have to be a little more specific," Hutch quipped.

"Get outta here, Hutchinson," Babcock said, laughing.

Hutch walked into the hallway and saw Starsky headed toward him from the men's room.

"All set?"

"Yeah, let's grab some dinner at Huggy's, huh?"

"Sure." Starsky didn't seem angry, but he was subdued.

"You got any big plans for Saturday night?" Hutch asked as they emerged into the fresh evening air and went to the LTD where Hutch had parked it near the front entrance.

"Yeah, I'm working, remember? Is this one of your weird jokes that really isn't funny?" Starsky slid into the passenger seat while Hutch got behind the wheel and started the car.

"No, I'm serious," Hutch said with a smile.

"Saturday night is the Fourth of July, that you signed us up to work for."

"I just got Simmons and Babcock to cover for us covering for Lizzie and Arturo. If you want fireworks, babe, they're all yours," Hutch said softly. "I'm sorry I was such an asshole about it earlier. I didn't realize how much it meant to you."

"It's dumb, I know. It's just one of those things on my list, I guess."

"Your list?" Hutch watched for an opportunity to change lanes and pull up in front of The Pits.

"Yeah, you know, the mental list I made while I was counting ceiling tiles in the hospital. All the stuff I was gonna do if I ever was able to do anything again. We were usually working and the best we could do was try to park somewhere we could see them. I just wanted us to go together. Especially now." Starsky paused. "Why the change of heart? You were dead set against this earlier."

"I told you. I didn't realize it was that important."

"You really didn't want to go, Hutch. I wanna know why not. And don't hand me that crap about mosquitoes, either."

"Sitting on the ground so long bothers my back, and then we won't be able to do certain other things we like to do with a night off."

"We can use lawn chairs."

"Like the old people, huh?" Hutch asked, chuckling as they got out of the car and approached the door of The Pits.

"I don't mind gettin' old with you, Blondie. Besides, my old bones aren't what they used to be either. Is that what was bothering you?"

"Well, yeah. My back's not getting more flexible with age, Starsk."

"Could'a fooled me," Starsky retorted, grinning lecherously.

The Pits was doing a fair weeknight business, but fortunately, a booth was empty near the back of the restaurant. After claiming it, they flagged down a waitress to take their order. With burgers on the way, they kept an eye out for Huggy and soon spotted the proprietor charming an attractive young woman perched on one of the bar stools.

"I'll bet ya dinner he doesn't get her phone number," Starsky said, watching the exchange with great interest.

"Okay, you're on. I think he's on a roll." Hutch took a drink of the cola the waitress had served him while he watched Huggy's progress. A few moments later, a man walked up behind her and put his hands on her shoulders, giving Huggy a somewhat ominous look. Some nervous smiles were exchanged and she left with the man, giving Huggy a somewhat regretful backward look.

"Hmm...maybe I oughtta change my order to a steak," Starsky teased.

"She looked back. That's gotta count for something."

"Yeah, you're right. I'll buy dessert."

"I usually don't order dessert, Starsk."

"Well, if you change your mind, it's on me."

"Swell," Hutch responded, laughing a little. "Struck out, eh, Hug?" Hutch said as Huggy slid into the booth next to him. "I was counting on you, pal. You just lost me dinner."

"You were bettin' on my action over there? You have no shame," Huggy chided.

"This from the chief bookie at Mouse Downs," Starsky said. "'Course, that's not half as bad as the sweat race we had at the Marlborough that time--remember in the sauna with that guy...what was his name again? The one who bet on everything?"

"I remember him. Don't remember his name right off hand, though."

"A sweat race? That somethin' kinky you do after hours?" Huggy asked, grinning devilishly.

"No, but it's a thought with potential," Starsky replied, nudging Hutch's leg under the table with his foot.

"Word is you got that big murder case--the old lady photographer?"

"Word is right," Hutch confirmed. "Anything else interesting on the streets about that one?"

"Everybody's real sorry she's dead. She did a lot for the kids." Huggy snickered a little. "How d'you think she got so many up-close pictures of gang members for those fancy coffee-table books'a hers? Most of those guys hung out at community centers where she'd go show the kids how to take pictures. They grew up knowin' her, trustin' her. She's the only little old lady I know who could walk down First Street on Saturday night without gettin' rolled for her purse."

"No word on anybody who might not have liked her taking their picture?" Starsky asked.

"Nothin' like that. But I'll keep my ears open."

"Any thoughts on who we might talk to at any of those community centers? See, she was a single lady, no close family...we've got an appointment book with some phone numbers we're going to work through, but no real indication of anyone she was close to." Hutch shrugged. "Seems like a lot of people knew of her, but not too many of them really knew her well."

"Try the Horizon Center on Whitmore Street. The lady who runs that place has been there for years."

"Thanks, Hug. We'll look her up tomorrow." Hutch looked over at Starsky. "Weren't there pictures of kids from Whitmore Street in the files?"

"Yeah. The fire hydrant pictures."

"I hope there weren't dogs in those pictures, too," Huggy said, sliding out of the booth to return to the bar.

"Spoken like a true art patron," Hutch quipped, chuckling.

**********

Hutch fought a yawn and read a bit more of the book he'd been nursing along for a few weeks now. Since Starsky and he had become lovers, it seemed his mind wasn't really focused on reading when he was in bed, and with their caseload, he usually couldn't keep his eyes open for such a sedentary activity for more than a few minutes. Tonight, Starsky had gotten embroiled in a long phone conversation with his mother about Nick's chances for an early parole, and now he was in the shower.

Trying not to dwell on Nick and just how much trouble he seemed to consistently cause for Starsky and his mother, Hutch forced himself to focus on his book. The uncharitable part of him hoped Nick didn't get paroled any sooner than originally anticipated, because he found himself believing a wheeler and dealer like Nick would never learn anything if he kept getting breaks. It was likely, though, that even the months he'd already put in behind bars had taught him something. Probably the names of more sleazy characters and the methods for making more and bigger scores. Maybe a few violent tendencies to throw into the mix.

Prison was something of a mixed blessing, in Hutch's opinion. It got criminals off the streets and taught them a lesson of sorts, but what sort of lesson was often the problem. Putting his book aside, he rubbed the bridge of his nose. Nick went into prison as a small-time hood who got in over his head. Decent-looking guys Nick's age never have it easy in prison, and holding your own is a bloody business at best. Hope he's not a bigger heartache to his family when he gets out, Hutch thought dismally.

"Solving the great problems of the universe?" Starsky asked as he walked into the bedroom, stark naked, but with the riot of curls on his head perfectly tamed and styled. Hutch somewhat regretted that Starsky had been standing in the bathroom buck naked long enough to blow dry and tame his curly hair, and he had been wasting his time on a book.

"Might as well try that. I was thinking about Nick. What's up with this early release thing?"

"He's got a shot at an early parole. I guess the prison's kind of crowded, and he's been on his best behavior. They even gave him a job in the library, which is one of the best jobs you can get." Starsky paused, sitting on the edge of the bed. "He's really trying, Hutch."

"I hope things work out for him. I really do. I just get tired of seeing him put you and your mother through the wringer every time he screws up."

"Yeah, well, he's paying for this screw-up." Starsky sighed. "There's gonna be a hearing next week for Nick and a couple other guys with similar offenses."

"Do you want to go to South Carolina for it? Is your mother going?"

"That's what I was talking to Ma about. She's going, and Sol and Anna and some of the cousins are going with her in my cousin, Angie's, van. I guess Nick's lawyer said my deposition about the case would be just as good, and them being able to ask me about his involvement with some of the gang from our old neighborhood would do him more harm than good. He named a lot of names when he came here for that visit a few years back. If I'm under oath, I've gotta tell 'em that if they ask. The release is pretty much based on the charges, Nick's behavior in prison, and his chances for rehabilitation. Which won't look too good if they know he still plays pool with Spider McGinniss on Friday nights. He never broke the ties with the rest of the small-time hoods back home, and that doesn't really make his chances of keeping his nose clean with friends like that look too good to a judge."

"So you don't need to go out there for it. Do you want to?"

"The last several months have been hell for Ma. Nicky's her baby, you know, and it doesn't matter how old he is or how many times he messes up, she's just goin' nuts that she can't protect him and make things right for him." Starsky leaned back on the pillows on his side of the bed, stretching out with a little grunt as some irritable muscles protested the change in position, the time of night, and the fatigue that came with the end of the day. "I don't want him to screw up again and do this to her. Ruin the rest of her life. If I go out there and see him, I know I'm gonna tell him that, and it'll be a big fight, and that'll ruin the party if he gets out. Besides, I think Ma's the only one in the family who still wants to see me."

"It wasn't your fault that Sol had a heart attack."

"Yeah? Well, my aunt doesn't see it that way, and neither do quite a few of my cousins."

"Isn't the real problem that you're sleeping with a man?"

"That doesn't help, either. They could'a probably taken the heart attack better."

"I wouldn't be with you on this trip."

"Which is a big part of why I don't want any part of it. It's different with Ma. She accepts what we are together, and she loves me, and she loves you, too. But if things go well, she'll be pretty wrapped up with Nicky and wanting to hurry back to New York and have homecoming parties with all the relatives.... The thing is, if you're not welcome with the rest of my family, then I don't need to be there either. I'm part of a package deal now, and if they don't like the package, they can kiss my ass."

"No they can't." Hutch moved over and pulled his partner into his arms. "That's my job." He smiled as he felt Starsky's arms tighten around him. He buried his nose in the soft, clean curls and inhaled the scent of shampoo, aftershave, and Starsky. He reached between them and undid his robe, shaking it off and resuming the embrace. He could feel a little difference in texture when his hands skimmed over the faded scars of the exit wounds on Starsky's back. He shuddered and pulled him closer, never ceasing to be horrified anew by how close he'd come to being alone, to all of this being an unrealized dream of what might have been.

"Hey, babe, I'm not trying to escape," Starsky said with a definite smile in his voice. Hutch loosened his hold a bit and moved back so he could rest his forehead against Starsky's.

"I was just thinking about how much I love you," he admitted softly. "I didn't say anything because there weren't enough words."

"I'm okay, Hutch. I'm gonna live to be an old man. We're still gonna be together when our teeth are in matching cups on the nightstand."

"I guess I was just remembering...thinking about how close we came. Sometimes I can't help it."

"I know what that's like." He kissed Hutch lightly. "Don't you think I ever look at you and remember what it was like when you were dying from that damn plague and I couldn't do anything about it?"

"You did something, all right. You brought in Callendar."

"Only because he wanted to come in and help a sick kid he had a soft spot for. If he hadn't felt that way..." Starsky swallowed. "I couldn't have saved you. We both just got real lucky, a whole lot of times."

"Maybe we ought to celebrate our good luck," Hutch said, running his hand along Starsky's side down to his hip and then his thigh.

"You wanna do it both ways?"

"'Sixty-nine was a good year," Hutch joked, grinning.

After a bit of shifting around, each man's cock was enveloped in wet warmth as they mirrored each other's movements. Starsky parted his legs to give Hutch better access, while Hutch took the cue and did the same. Starsky fondled the heavy balls, gently massaging them as he sucked the hardening shaft.

Hutch was returning the favor, only sparing his mouth for a moment to wet one long finger, which soon found its way to Starsky's center, wiggling its way inside. Starsky groaned in pleasure, alternately thrusting back on the invading finger and forward into the hot suction. He slid his hand under Hutch's ass, kneading the soft flesh there. He freed his mouth a moment to spit in the palm of his hand, and then, engulfing Hutch's cock again in his mouth, he used the moistened palm of his hand to rub along the crack of Hutch's ass, teasing the flexing hole there but not quite satisfying it. He kept up the rubbing motion from the tip of Hutch's tail bone to the back of his balls. He released the cock with a wet slurp and moved back farther, shifting his position until his tongue could travel the path his hand had already explored.

Finally giving in to the pleasure of what Starsky was doing, Hutch reluctantly released the hard cock in his mouth and continued to pleasure it with his hand, his broken moans of pleasure goading Starsky on from teasing licks along his perineum to more intense attention to his center. Starsky's tongue was darting in and out of him now, his cheeks held apart by hands squeezing hard enough to make him feel completely possessed and opened, but gently enough to bring only pleasure at the sensation.

"God, Starsk, more..." Hutch slid his finger deeper into Starsky's body as if to underscore his request. He didn't feel sufficiently in possession of his faculties to figure out how he needed to change positions. He just knew he wanted Starsky buried deep inside him, satisfying the desires he was kindling with his tongue.

"Keep those beautiful legs apart, Blondie," Starsky panted, getting up on his knees and moving into position so his cock was aimed at Hutch's saliva-slicked hole. Hutch shifted all the way onto his back and pulled his knees up. Starsky grabbed the lube from the nightstand drawer and coated himself, then positioned himself against his partner. He let Hutch feel the large invader as it simply pressed against the entrance to his body, announcing its intentions. And then he pushed forward, easing himself slowly but steadily inside.

Hutch groaned at the stretching of his muscles by the large, slick bulk invading him, but he relished the sensation of feeling too full, of straining to accommodate his lover. Starsky was as gentle as ever, giving him time to get used to the sensation before starting a steady rhythm of thrusts that, more often than not, grazed Hutch's prostate.

He grabbed the sheets with both hands, his legs wrapping around Starsky's body, pulling him in tighter, urging him to go deeper. Starsky was moaning now, panting and gasping his pleasure with each forward thrust. The rigid cock was pumping steadily in and out of Hutch's passage, and he was losing himself in the sensations, gasping and muttering half words, not caring if they made sense.

The pace slowed for a moment, and as soon as Hutch could find some functional part of his brain to focus on his partner, he found Starsky hovering closer over his face.

"I love you, Hutch. I love every part of you," Starsky said breathlessly, covering Hutch's mouth with his own, his tongue mimicking the motions of his cock as it plunged between Hutch's lips and claimed his mouth as passionately as Starsky was claiming his ass.

"Love you, babe," Hutch said against Starsky's mouth before they kissed again. Then the pace of their movements picked up and Hutch felt himself shuddering and the wonderful rush of his climax sweeping over him. Starsky was close behind him, his shout of Hutch's name coming just before he slumped forward into his arms, their mouths meeting again. As Starsky slipped free of Hutch's body, they shifted positions until they lay on their sides, arms and legs entwined.

"I think," Starsky began, out of breath, "that your back's still real flexible, you gorgeous big blond."

"Depends on my incentive." Hutch let out a long breath and settled himself comfortably against Starsky's chest.

"You fallin' asleep on me, darlin'?" Starsky grinned, kissing the silky blond hair near his face.

"You wore me out."

"A 187?"

"Yeah, 187," Hutch said, chuckling.

"Okay. Just dream about me, okay?"

"I usually do."

"Mushball," Starsk chided, kissing Hutch's temple.

"Better than a dirtball," Hutch mumbled.

"Rather be a dirtball than a turkey."

"Who're you callin' a turkey, turkey?" Hutch shot back, a smile obvious in his voice.

"You, turkey."

"Mushbrain." Hutch yawned widely.

"Moron."

"Hey, that's my line," Hutch joked.

"Then you better be a little quicker on the draw, sleepyhead."

**********

The Horizon Center was an unremarkable old storefront that had long served as a community center for inner city youth. The windows were decorated with paintings done by the kids, and the exterior brick walls bore much of the graffiti that characterized many of the surrounding buildings.

Inside, a large main room boasted such amenities as a ping-pong table, a beleaguered old television with video games attached to it, a pinball machine, and a number of large activity tables surrounded by a mismatched collection of chairs. Some children were coloring quietly at one of the tables, while another pair argued loudly over a board game a few feet away.

"Simon! Daniel! Pipe down or I'll wash your mouths out!" A tall, heavy-set black woman with salt-and-pepper hair ambled out of what must have been a small office. "Where's Jennifer?" she asked, obviously annoyed.

"Her boyfriend came and got her," one of the children said, looking up from her coloring book.

"Well, it looks like we have visitors," she said, noticing the two detectives apparently for the first time. "You're either cops or Social Services," she said, bringing a chortle or two from the boys with the board game.

"Cops," Starsky said, flashing his badge. "I'm Detective Starsky, this is Detective Hutchinson. Are you the manager here?"

"Betty Jackson," she said, nodding. "Sorry, but it looks like my volunteer took off on me before her shift was over. I don't usually leave the kids out here like that."

"We'd like to talk to you about Elizabeth Markham," Hutch spoke up.

"Oh, my Lord, that poor woman. She didn't deserve to die that way."

"We understand she did a lot of work with the kids at centers like these throughout the city," Hutch explained. "She enjoyed spending time with the kids?"

"She was just wonderful with them--even the older boys. And let me tell you, sometimes we have a terrible handful with them. They're in the gangs, and it's all about bravado and putting on a show. But a lot of those kids grew up with Elizabeth being here with her cameras, and they respected her just like they do their grandmas." She led the way to a large bulletin board on the wall covered with photographs, each one with a name, age, and caption under it. "These are photos the children have taken in the last few months. Elizabeth always labeled them with the child's name and age, and made the child name the pictures. She always told them they should name their pictures." Betty smiled fondly. "She was just a tiny little thing, but she'd come sashayin' in here with all'a these big, bad gang members, and you know what? They got outta her way and held the door for her."

"Some of these are really good," Starsky commented, taking in the panorama of black-and-white photos. "Why all black and white?"

"You aren't very familiar with Elizabeth's work, are you?"

"We've become very familiar with it during this investigation," Hutch responded.

"Some of us more familiar than others," Starsky said pointedly, referring to the time he'd spent studying all the photos.

"I mean her philosophy, what made her tick. She would only use black and white because she said color was a distraction. If you see a little girl at play and she's in a bright blue dress, you're going to look at her bright blue dress first, not the joyful smile on her face, or the toy she's holding, or the old woman sitting on the porch of the house watching her. Your eye's going to be drawn to the color. She said if you keep the color out, people will pay attention to the real meaning of your picture."

"Did Elizabeth ever mention anyone who was giving her problems, harassing her, anything like that?" Starsky asked.

"No, not really. She was a pretty private lady. She spent some time here, worked with the kids, passed a few words with me, but she didn't really tell me anything. She knew all about my kids, my husband, my life, but I didn't really know much of anything about her, except she was a famous photographer with a soft spot for kids who have it rough." She paused. "Have you talked to her boyfriend?"

"Boyfriend?" Hutch asked, having problems associating the word "boyfriend" with a woman well into her eighties.

"One day about two weeks ago, when she was here, she got roses from somebody, but she didn't seem too happy about it. Threw them in the trash. After she left, I took them back out and put them on my desk," Betty admitted, her voice lowering a little as if she were confiding a great secret.

"You never saw a card, though?" Hutch probed. "Or maybe the delivery van?"

"No, I didn't see the card, and I don't remember seeing a van or truck. I was in my office, and when I came out, she was tossing them in the trash. She took the card with her, and she didn't say anything about who sent them. She just said she didn't want them."

"Does this woman look familiar at all?" Hutch asked, showing her the most recent photo of the mystery woman Elizabeth had photographed at various times over the years.

"Mmm... No, sorry, I can't say she does. Who is she?"

"That's what we're trying to find out. Ms. Markham had several photos of her in her files, so we thought she might be a friend or a relative," Hutch explained.

"Could be, but I never saw her before."

"If you think of anything else, Mrs. Jackson, please give us a call." Starsky handed her a business card.

"I sure will. I'll ask around with the kids to see if they know anything."

"Thanks, that'd be great," Starsky responded, smiling. "Thanks for your time."

Back out on the sidewalk in the late morning sunshine, Hutch popped on his sunglasses.

"Boyfriend, huh? We didn't see anything at the house that pointed to her dating anyone. No notes, gifts, cards, nothing. If someone was sending her unwanted gifts, she was obviously destroying them or returning them as quickly as they arrived."

"What about that old guy you talked to at the photo shop?" Starsky asked. "Didn't he say he asked her out a few times?"

"Yeah, he did, but he didn't seem too concerned about it. Still, wouldn't hurt to rattle his cage a little more." Hutch climbed into the passenger seat while Starsky gunned the engine and pulled away from the curb. "Besides, maybe he'd know who our mystery woman is."

It was a typically quiet weekday at Bayside Photo, and Mr. Foster was behind the counter as usual, sitting on a stool, neatly placing a stack of photos into an envelope and putting it in a pile of similar envelopes.

"Good morning, Mr. Foster," Hutch greeted. The old man looked up and smiled.

"Detective Henderson, right?"

"Hutchinson, but you were close," Hutch responded, smiling. "This is my partner, Detective Starsky."

"Glad to meet you," Mr. Foster replied, nodding toward Starsky.

"Likewise, Mr. Foster. This is a nice shop you've got. I'll have to come by sometime when I'm not on duty and check out those zoom lenses," Starsky said, eyeballing a display of expensive lenses.

"You're a photographer?"

"A total amateur, but I like to dabble with it."

"He's really very good," Hutch spoke up, drawing a pleased smile and a slight blush from Starsky. "We found something among Ms. Markham's photos we'd like you to take a look at." Hutch produced the photo of the woman and handed it to Mr. Foster. The man paused a moment, just looking at the photo, then handed it back to Hutch with a shake of his head.

"Nope, sorry, can't help you."

"You're positive?" Hutch persisted, having noticed something in the man's demeanor that made him uneasy.

"Yes, I'm positive."

"Well, then, I guess we'll just have to keep searching. Sorry to have bothered you again," Hutch said, tucking the photo in his pocket.

"Oh, there is one other thing, Mr. Foster," Starsky said, as if it were an afterthought, and not largely the purpose of their visit. "Apparently someone sent Ms. Markham some flowers not long before she died. That wouldn't have been you, would it?"

"N-no, it wasn't me," he said, a bit falteringly.

"Oh," Starsky said, nodding. "Any idea who might have been sending her flowers?"

"She didn't mention anything to me, no."

"Thanks again for your time, Mr. Foster," Hutch spoke up.

"Anytime, Detectives. Any leads on the case yet?"

"We're following up on a couple of things right now, but we've got a ways to go yet," Starsky replied. "Nice meeting you. Great store--glad I had a reason to stop in and discover it."

"Come back and see me soon about those lenses. I'll even let you test one outside the store if you like."

"That'd be great. Thanks." They walked out the door and to the car, getting in and heading back toward headquarters.

"He recognized that photo," Hutch said, pulling it out again to look at it himself.

"So what do you wanna do about it? Lean on him some more?"

"I want to know where those flowers she got at the Horizon Center came from. If we can trace them back to him, we'd have something to go on to pull him in for questioning."

"Great. We can play good cop, bad cop on a little old man."

"Someone put two bullets in that little old lady. And a spurned little old man seems like a pretty good suspect."

"I guess. Maybe you just never are on the job long enough that this stuff doesn't surprise you. I mean, you live to be in your eighties, and you end up in a passion-killing situation? You'd think eighty-some years of living would've taught you something more than that."

"Crimes of passion are just that, Starsk. Eighty-year-olds can feel something passionately, and all the life learning in the world can't necessarily deter them."

"I hope he's not guilty of anything. I kinda liked the old guy."

"You liked him because he offered to let you play with the toys in the shop."

"Hey, that's not fair. I'm talking superior police instincts here." Starsky paused, grinning. "And the fact he's gonna let me play with the zoom lenses."

**********

Hutch sighed heavily and dialed another number. Starsky was just finishing with another dead-end call to a florist who had not delivered flowers to the Horizon Center, and began dialing another number as Hutch started giving his spiel to the florist on the other end of the line. He gestured to Starsky to wait, then wrote a few lines on a notepad as Starsky hung up his phone.

"We got it," Hutch said, hanging up the phone. "Miller's Flower Shop on Hanover Street. They delivered a dozen long-stemmed red roses to Elizabeth Markham at the Horizon Center two weeks ago Monday. The person who placed the order was a black teenage boy, but he had everything written down, including what to say on the card, and it was obvious he was buying the flowers on someone else's behalf. He paid in cash. We need to get a full description of him and start circulating it around that neighborhood. Chances are he lives in the area near the flower shop."

"What was the message on the card?"

"'There isn't much time left. Let's spend it together.' And that's it--no name, just that message."

"That's cryptic." Starsky leaned back in his chair. "If you were planning on killing someone, it doesn't seem like you'd send that sort of message."

"When you're eighty-five, it's reasonable to think there isn't a lot of time left. If the flowers came from another elderly person--like Mr. Foster, for instance--that message makes a lot of sense."

"She rejects him and then he goes off the deep end and kills her? Do we know if this guy even owns a piece?"

"There's nothing registered to him. I had Minnie check it out. But he does have a son who works with him in the shop a few evenings a week, and he might have an unregistered gun to protect the shop."

"According to Ginny," Starsky began, opening the file and flipping papers until he reached the autopsy report, "the slugs were from a .38 revolver. That's a pretty common sort of gun. Something that would likely be used for self-defense or home defense. You want to bring Foster in for questioning?"

"Couldn't hurt. He's looking like our best bet right now."

"I took a call from the lawyer for the Markham estate earlier. They're doing a graveside memorial service tomorrow. No funeral home, no big funeral, nada."

"Private service?"

"No, they're including information on it in the obituary that'll be in today's paper. Should be a big turnout."

"Probably not as big as it would've been if they'd given people more notice," Hutch said. "She had a lot of admirers and I would imagine former colleagues and friends who would have made the trip."

"There's no word on any surviving relatives, so it looks like she was on her own. I guess this is what she wanted. The lawyer said he had made the arrangements according to her wishes."

"Well, let's get Mr. Foster down here to have a little chat."

**********

William Foster sat silently at the table in the interrogation room, arms crossed over his chest. He regarded the two detectives with obvious suspicion and no lack of annoyance at having been dragged into police headquarters like a common criminal. Even the cup of coffee Starsky brought him didn't appear to assuage his mood.

"Mr. Foster, you realize you have a right to an attorney, and you're not obligated to answer any questions."

"Detective Hutchinson, I may be old, but I'm not senile. I know what my rights are and I don't need an attorney because I didn't do anything."

"We've obtained more information on the flowers Ms. Markham received before her death," Hutch stated.

"Congratulations."

"Mr. Foster, this really isn't a good time for sarcasm. We're just trying to find out who killed a lady who was very talented, very good to her community, and didn't deserve to get two slugs in the back in her bedroom," Starsky stated firmly. "You seemed to think a lot of her, so I would think that would be important to you."

"It's plenty important, but that still doesn't mean I want it pinned on me," he said, taking a drink of his coffee. "I don't even have a gun. And if I did, why would I kill Ellie?"

"Does your son own a weapon?" Hutch asked.

"Not that I know of. No one in our family has ever believed in keeping guns in the house."

"About the flowers, Mr. Foster. There was a message on the card: 'There's not much time left. Let's spend it together.' You were trying to date Ms. Markham, weren't you?" Starsky asked.

"Son, I'm eighty-three years old. Have you looked at the selection of single women available to you when you're eighty-three? Ellie was an attractive lady, sharp as a tack up here," he said, pointing to his temple, "and she was good company. So you're damn right I tried to date her. I also wasn't surprised when she turned me down flat. She got through eighty-five years without a husband, so I sort of doubted she was gonna change all that for me."

"When we showed you this picture earlier, I think you did recognize this woman." Hutch slid the photo of the lady who appeared in a number of pictures in Elizabeth's files.

"I told you I didn't know her."

"I know what you told us," Hutch said, his voice level and quiet. "But frankly, sir, we don't believe you."

"That's your problem, then, gentlemen." Mr. Foster stood up and took his beige jacket off the back of the chair where he'd hung it. "If that's all you can come up with, I'm going home. Unless you want to charge me with murder because I tried to get lucky with a nice-looking old lady?"

"No one's talked about charges here, Mr. Foster. We were just hoping you'd want to cooperate with this investigation."

"I have, but you don't like the answers I'm giving you so you don't listen. I don't know that woman and I didn't send Ellie any flowers. Period. You can ask me a dozen times and I'm still gonna give you the same answers." He strode out the door, leaving the two detectives a bit speechless.

"Well, he was tougher than the last three-time loser we interrogated," Starsky joked, snorting a little laugh. "Either we're losin' our touch, or he's telling the truth."

"Or he's a damn good liar."

"What makes you so sure he's lying?"

"The way he reacted to that photo. He knows that woman, Starsk. I just know it."

"Well, we can't beat it out of the old guy, so let's get that florist down here to work with the artist so we can get a good sketch of the kid who bought the flowers. He's our best lead right now."

**********

Things were moving in slow motion. They were walking toward the Torino, and Starsky was laughing, saying something, but Hutch couldn't make out what it was. Metal ground against metal, and it felt as if his whole body was sculpted from wet cement as he tried to force his limbs to move, his hand to close around his gun, his uncooperative voice to shout a warning to Starsky.

Then it was all the flashes of gunfire and the awful repeating sound of bullets flying. Of bullets tearing into Starsky's body as he slid down the side of the Torino, falling in a heap beside his beloved car, the life running out of his body from too many holes. His gun was still clutched in his hand. He'd never had a chance to get off even one shot.

He never had a chance. He doesn't stand a chance. Blood is running out of him like a river, through my fingers, through bullet holes that look too close to his heart and his lungs and his spine. I don't have enough hands to stop the blood... Oh, God, where is everybody? Why doesn't someone stop? Why doesn't someone help us? For God's sake, HELP US!!!

**********

"Help us! For God's sake, somebody, help us!"

Starsky sat bolt upright in bed, shaken suddenly out of sleep by Hutch's wild thrashing in the bed next to him and the agonized shout for help.

"Hutch, come on, babe. It's me. It's a nightmare."

"Too much blood..." Hutch mumbled, agitated, still tossing and turning.

"Hutch, damn it, listen to me. Wake up! It's a nightmare, Hutch. Come on, partner, it's not real." Starsky got a hold of Hutch's shoulders and began shaking. "Hutch, come on, it's over. It's not happening now. I survived, Hutch. I'm alive. Wake up!" Starsky knew only too well what the dream was about, and he hoped his words would cut through the fog of the nightmare.

"Starsk..." Hutch finally opened wet eyes to look up at Starsky. Blond hair was stuck to his damp forehead, and he was breathing like a locomotive.

"Yeah, it's me, partner. You're okay. I'm okay. It was just a dream." Starsky pushed the damp hair off Hutch's forehead.

"No, it wasn't just a dream," Hutch said in a weak voice, reaching up to trace the thin line of a surgical scar with his finger. "It was real."

"Not tonight it wasn't, babe. It was a long time ago." Starsky smiled affectionately. "In a galaxy far, far away." He leaned in to kiss Hutch's nose. "Take some deep breaths, buddy. Try to calm down." He was relieved when Hutch finally relented and smiled a little at his joke.

"It was so fucking real. I could hear the gunshots, one right after the other, and I knew they were hitting you, and I couldn't do anything to stop it. Just those shots over and over again." Hutch sat up and covered his ears, as if he could get away from the memory that way. "Sometimes I think I'm going crazy. I know it's over. Why can't I just let it die?"

"You're not going crazy, Blondie." Starsky shifted closer and rested his chin on Hutch's shoulder. "You were scared shitless and sometimes you can't help remembering stuff like that, even if you don't want to."

"I know," Hutch admitted quietly. He didn't even try to fight the tears that came then. They were part relief that it was all a dream, that even though it was all too real, it was over, and Starsky was alive. Alive and sharing a bed with him. A reality that was much stronger and sweeter than any nightmare.

"C'mere, buddy." Starsky pulled Hutch into his arms and held him tight, rocking slightly. "It's okay now. We're okay."

"This isn't normal, Starsk. It isn't healthy. I should be over it."

"Can I tell you a secret? I never got over Forest. Or those awful days when you were missing and Slater had run you off the road. And I sure as hell didn't get over watching you dying slowly from that fucking plague...or seeing you look death in the face from eating that stupid, gross cold soup you were so fond of."

"That would've figured. Survive how many gun fights and be taken out by a can of clam chowder," Hutch said, chuckling a little. "Another one of my bright ideas."

"Stop beating yourself up about everything, Hutch. We almost lost everything in that parking garage. Every time we had a close call, it scared the hell out of both of us. We got through most of them together. When I was fighting that damn poison, or had a slug in me in that restaurant, we were facing it together. But when I got shot that day, you were all by yourself, Hutch, and you and I both know there's no way I should've lived through that. And if I did, there's no way I should be up and moving around. I should be dead or sitting in a wheelchair dribbling my oatmeal down my chin. We got a miracle. But that doesn't make it any less scary."

"No, it doesn't," Hutch agreed, swallowing hard and wiping at his eyes. "I could survive anything else in this world as long as I have you. But if I lost you..."

"I know. Me, too." Starsky laced his fingers with Hutch's. "You're my light, Hutch. If anything happened to you, I might still be alive, but all the lights'd be out. It'd be like groping through the dark for the rest of my life with no interest in gettin' up every morning. You can't love somebody as much as I love you, and you love me, without being scared to death of losing each other."

"But you can't let that rule your life," Hutch said, his voice a bit fatigued. "I keep telling myself that. I've tried so hard to stop overprotecting you on the job, or stopping you from lifting heavy things, but there are days I just want to...take care of you. Make sure nothing like that can ever happen again."

"If anything happens to me, Hutch, it's not going to be because you weren't willing to lay down your life to stop it. I never, for one second, thought that you didn't do everything you could that day in the garage. It was just one'a those things. And if anything ever did happen to me, and you couldn't stop it, or didn't stop it because you were trying to let me live my life and do my job the way I wanted to do it, it would never be your fault. I know that you'd step between me and a bullet--or several--without even stopping to think about it. And I'd do that for you. You can't ask any more than that outta anybody."

"If anything happens to you, it won't matter why, or what I did or didn't do. I just hope we go out together."

"Yeah, I know. I'd like to think it would go down that way, too. Not because I wouldn't want you to live on and survive me, but because I don't want to survive you."

"God, I'm depressed now," Hutch said, looking up at Starsky with a little smile. Then they both laughed.

"We've got a real knack for gettin' morose, don't we?"

"Well, it's only three in the morning. We've got a while to cheer each other up."

"C'mere, you sexy big blond," Starsky said, pouncing on Hutch and pulling the sheet over both their heads.

While Starsky was making enthusiastic love to him, Hutch couldn't help but remember the day that would soon dawn was Friday, which meant the next day was Saturday, and they'd be going to the fireworks.

He wondered if a fully grown, seasoned homicide detective could actually suffer a panic attack over fireworks.

**********

After the nightmare of the previous night, attending a graveside memorial service was the last thing Hutch felt like doing. Still, here they were, dressed in suits and ties to blend in with the other mourners, at the graveside of Elizabeth Markham while a minister said prayers over her flower-drenched casket.

It was a large gathering, spilling over the grassy hills of the cemetery on a sunny July morning. Fortunately, this day wasn't sweltering. There was a light breeze and the temperature was in the high seventies. They'd put up with a hot snap during May and June, causing poor Carolyn some real miseries in the final days of her pregnancy. Thinking of little Kenneth David almost brought a smile to Hutch's face despite his surroundings. In a bizarre sort of way, it was as close as he and Starsky would ever come to having a child together. They were both there for the birth, both included in the boy's name, and if they were lucky, they'd have the chance to be included in his life for quite a few years to come.

"Hutch." Starsky's voice was still in a whisper, but sounded agitated. Hutch wondered how long his partner had been trying to get his attention.

"Yeah, sorry," he said, leaning in toward Starsky.

"Look who's here," he said, subtly inclining his head in the direction of a tall, elegant elderly woman wearing a black dress, heels, and a stylish black hat at an angle atop upswept hair. Her hands gave away her age, a bit gnarled by arthritis, but even those were perfectly manicured, her nails painted red and expensive rings on each ring finger. She held a single red rose and had made her way to the front row of standing mourners.

"Elegant old girl, isn't she?" Hutch commented.

"Maybe we can fix her up with Mr. Foster," Starsky quipped. Hutch stifled a grin.

The rest of the mourners were an eclectic mix of elderly people, businesspeople, a group from the Horizon Center accompanied by Betty Jackson, and a few more unusual, colorful characters who, on first glance, appeared to be artists, or maybe other free-lance photographers.

When the service ended and the mourners began dispersing, the mystery woman approached the casket and placed her single red rose among the multicolored flowers adorning the casket. She rested a well-manicured but aged hand on the cool metal for a moment before stepping back and starting to walk away.

"Excuse me, ma'am," Hutch spoke up, following her with Starsky at his side. She paused, hesitating a moment before turning around.

"If you are reporters, I have nothing to say," she said flatly in a British-accented voice.

"We're not reporters, ma'am." Starsky pulled out his ID. "We're detectives assigned to investigate Ms. Markham's murder."

"Then I wish you the very best of luck, but I really must be going."

"How were you acquainted with Ms. Markham?" Hutch persisted.

"Am I obligated to submit to an interrogation in the cemetery, or could this be done at a more civilized time and place? I don't feel up to it at the moment."

After a brief exchange of glances with Hutch, Starsky answered her question. "I'm afraid we'll have to ask you to come with us, ma'am. We've been trying to locate you, and we can't risk losing contact with anyone who could shed some light on this case. I'm sure you want to see her killer brought to justice."

"All right. But I'm afraid I won't be able to tell you a great deal. Elizabeth and I weren't in regular touch for years now." She looked down a moment. "I'm so glad now that I made the effort to visit last week."

"Anything you can tell us will be appreciated, Ms...?" Hutch prodded.

"Devon. Regina Devon."

"Ms. Devon," Hutch concluded.

**********

Under the unforgiving light of the interrogation room, and with her large hat set aside, Ms. Devon looked all of her eighty-plus years. Still, her make-up was impeccably applied, and her silver glasses with the small rhinestones adoring the points of the frames looked more like a fashion accessory than a necessity. For a woman of such advanced age, she was still quite statuesque and attractive.

"I'm sorry we have to ask you these questions at such a difficult time, but as you know, Ms. Markham didn't leave any family, and finding people who were closely acquainted with her has been a challenge," Hutch explained.

"Elizabeth was a very private person. She kept mostly to herself. Her parents died when she was a young woman. She was an only child."

"How did you know her?" Starsky asked.

"I met her in London during the war." She smiled, then added by way of explanation, "That would be World War II. She was there to take pictures for a magazine. It was one of the major American publications...Life, Time, or something like that. I don't really remember now. I was a singer. I had quite a career on the European nightclub circuit, and I recorded two record albums that sold quite well there." She smiled slightly, as if savoring that memory. "As you can imagine, there were a lot of soldiers coming to the clubs during the war, and Elizabeth was making her utmost effort to capture images of them both at war and at play, so she spent a considerable amount of time in the clubs. She asked my permission to shoot photos of my performance, and I, of course, granted it. I was never camera shy," she admitted with a slightly self-deprecating smile.

"You're very photogenic, Ms. Devon," Hutch said, sensing that feeding the woman's ego might be a good strategy.

"Thank you, Detective." She looked at him somewhat piercingly, then added, "You remind me of a dashing young RAF officer who used to come into the club. He was very enamored with me. Unfortunately, he was killed in action."

"I'm sorry to hear that."

"No need to offer condolences. We didn't really know each other. I knew his name, what unit he was from, but that was all. Just a superficial infatuation with a man in uniform," she added, still smiling. "But oh, my, he was handsome, and tall, with hair the color of sunshine."

"About Ms. Markham," Starsky said, barely suppressing a grin at the blush creeping across Hutch's fair skin.

"Elizabeth took quite a few photographs of that performance, and since she was traveling alone, I asked her to join me for dinner. She was an attractive woman, and wandering among crowds of homesick, love-starved soldiers isn't the wisest place for such a woman to be moving about alone. It turned out she had been educated in England, at Oxford University. We had a great deal in common, and we became friends. We corresponded over the years, visited one another occasionally. I lived in London until about ten years ago, when I moved to San Francisco."

"Any special reason for the move?" Starsky asked.

"I visited San Francisco on a vacation and was absolutely enchanted by the city. I've always enjoyed my travels to the United States, so I decided if I was going to experience something different while I still had some time left to enjoy it, I should make the move. And with Elizabeth so close here in Bay City, I hoped we would see much more of each other. I've been retired for years. I gave music and voice lessons for a long time after my singing career waned, but on my seventieth birthday, I sent my last student home and decided it was time I retired." She smiled a little sadly. "Elizabeth never retired. She was always traveling, always landing another assignment from another major magazine, or out gathering more images for one of her books. I saw very little more of her than I did when I lived in London."

"On any of your visits with Elizabeth, did you ever meet a man named William Foster?" Hutch asked.

"Bill Foster from the photo shop? No, I never met him face-to-face, but Elizabeth spoke of him often. Not too kindly, I might add."

"How do you mean?" Starsky asked.

"He was very persistent about foisting his attentions on her, and she was very uninterested in receiving those attentions."

"What, exactly, did she say about him?" At her raised eyebrow, Hutch added, "I know it sounds as if we're prying, but it really is important to know how she felt about him, and what was going on with that relationship."

"There was no relationship. He developed some photographs for her, sold her film and camera equipment, but she had no interest in him whatsoever. I believe she told him so a good number of times. He would call her, or send flowers, or give her gifts, or try to give her the film developing services for free. She refused every gesture."

"Did he send flowers often?" Starsky asked.

"Fairly, yes."

"Did you ever see which florist they came from?"

"As a matter of fact, yes, I did. The Flower Petal. It was always the same logo on the cards."

"You saw quite a few of the bouquets, then?" Starsky prodded.

"Some of them, yes."

"When was the last time you spoke with Elizabeth?" Hutch asked.

"About a week before she died. I flew down from San Francisco for a visit. I was trying to convince her to move. I have a lovely Victorian townhouse there, and it gets a bit...empty at times. I thought it would be nice to share it with a friend. But she was independent as ever, and not even remotely interested in giving up her own home here in Bay City."

"Did Elizabeth mention anyone, besides Mr. Foster, that she had any...stressful relationships with?" Starsky asked.

"Not that I recall. I know she was concerned about the situation with him. She wasn't even particularly fond of going in to pick up her photos anymore. She used to go when his son was working."

"Would you say she was afraid to be alone with him, or just annoyed by his advances?" Hutch asked.

"I'm really not sure I can tell where the line was between annoyance and fear. All I know is she avoided any time she would be alone with him in the shop."

"Ms. Devon, could we have a phone number where you're staying now, and a home address and phone number where we could contact you later if need be?"

"Of course." She opened her small black clutch bag and took out a business card. "That's my permanent address. I'm staying at the Bay City Towers Hotel, Room 743. I will be there until tomorrow morning."

Hutch wrote the information on the back of the business card.

"Thank you again for your time, Ms. Devon. We'd be pleased to give you a ride back to your hotel."

"That would be delightful, thank you."

**********

"You buy her story?" Starsky asked as he pulled away from the front entrance of the Bay City Towers Hotel where they had just dropped off Ms. Devon.

"Which part of it?"

"The part about old man Foster being a predator Elizabeth was afraid of."

"There's one part of this that bothers me," Hutch said.

"Just one?"

"Well, okay, more than one. But one thing that really struck me. Either Foster was sending that woman buckets of flowers regularly for months, years even, or Ms. Devon is lying about how often she saw Elizabeth."

"Or she's lying about the whole thing where old man Foster's concerned."

"You don't seem to want to see anything bad about that guy," Hutch remarked, frowning.

"My gut tells me he's not the kind of guy this Devon woman is making him out to be. What I can't figure out is why she's trying to make him look bad."

"Unless she did it," Hutch suggested.

"But why? Seems a slightly extreme reaction to someone not visiting you enough."

"We really need to find that kid who bought the flowers. At least we've got two photos to show him if we can find him."

**********

Louise Miller was a heavy-set woman in her fifties with neatly styled brown hair and glasses. Dressed in jeans, a blouse, and a smock with her flower shop's logo on the back, she had come directly from the shop to work with the sketch artist in developing a good likeness of the black teenager who had purchased the flowers. At the end of almost two hours, they had a sketch in hand and knew that the youth, who was described as being between 5'8" and 5'9" tall, had a long scar on the back of his right hand.

Armed with the sketch and the new information, Starsky and Hutch headed for the Horizon Center to see if Betty or any of the kids there might recognize the teenager. Their search was short-lived when they walked in and saw a boy who matched the sketch almost exactly playing with the video games.

"What can we do for you today, Detectives?" Betty asked, emerging from her office. At the word "Detectives," the youth they were seeking tossed the game control aside and made a run for the rear exit of the building.

"Get the car!" Starsky shouted at Hutch, taking off after the boy. Hutch didn't hesitate to make a run for the Torino to head the kid off at the end of the alley between the buildings, but he fought the part of him that now always wanted to protect his partner. After last night's dream, it was even harder to leave the foot chase and encounter with a panicky youth who could be armed to his partner while he remained in the relative safety of the car.

As he sped around the corner, he cursed in frustration as he saw the boy darting among the traffic and Starsky right behind him, both of them having already passed the end of the alley and now on their way to another one. Resolving he wouldn't be too late for the next head-off, Hutch took off in a squeal of tires, barely missing a number of other cars he passed more recklessly than usual with the single-minded determination to make it to the mouth of the next alley.

As the Torino came to a screeching stop across the opening of that alley, the boy, who was running full tilt and spending way too much time looking behind him, slammed into the front fender of the car and fell forward onto the hood. Before Hutch could get out of the car, Starsky was upon the youth, slapping cuffs on him.

"I didn't do nothin', man! Why're you bustin' me?!" the boy challenged. Dressed in a t-shirt and jeans, he was very neat and clean, and looked more like an average high-school kid than a street hood. He reminded Hutch of Cal Dobey, just a little.

"If you didn't do anything, why were you running?" Hutch asked, watching Starsky with some concern as he moved out of the boy's view, leaning heavily on the car, his whole body in motion with the labor of heavy breathing. He swallowed a time or two, then rested a hand over the left side of his chest.

"Why were you chasin' me?" the kid asked. Despite his breathless condition, that response actually made Starsky chuckle a little unevenly.

"He's got ya there, Hutch," he gasped. Seeing the worry on Hutch's face, he added, "I'm good."

"You fit the description of a possible witness in a homicide case we're investigating. Not a suspect at this point, just a witness. We just want to talk to you."

"I didn't kill anybody," the boy said, as Hutch pulled him up from his hunched position over the car.

"What's your name, kid?" Starsky asked, his breathing becoming a little less labored now. "Just your name, man. Nothing major."

"George Hollis. But look, man, I didn't do nothin'. I didn't kill that old lady."

"We never said anything about an old lady," Hutch said calmly.

"Look, all I did was do a favor for some old chick in a big car who had lots of cash. All she wanted to do was send some roses to Ms. Markham. I liked Ms. Markham. She taught me how to use a camera real good last summer. I didn't think it would hurt anything to send her some flowers for this lady. Honest."

"George, we need you to come downtown with us and tell us as much as you can about the lady who ordered the flowers, maybe look at some photos to see if you can ID her for us. You're not under arrest, you're just a witness. No need to cut and run, okay?" Hutch said, holding up the key to the handcuffs. The youth nodded, and Hutch released his wrists. He got in the back of the Torino without incident.

"You live around here, George?" Starsky asked as they headed toward police headquarters.

"Yeah, I live with my grandma over on Brighton Street."

"You need to call your grandma to let her know where you are?" Starsky spared a quick glance in the rearview mirror at the boy.

"Nah, she's at work anyway. Won't be home for another couple hours yet. You said I'm not in trouble, right?"

"We just need some information, that's all," Hutch confirmed.

"This is a great car, man. How fast does it go?" George asked, leaning over the seat for a closer look at the dashboard.

"About one-twenty, pushed all the way," Starsky said proudly. "You into cars?"

"A little. My cousin's got a great body shop."

"Oh, yeah? Who's your cousin?"

"Merle. He's like my third or fourth cousin or something. He's a lot older than me."

"Not Merle the Earl?" Starsky asked, smiling.

"Yeah, that's him."

"He does all my work. He's the best!"

"So he keeps tellin' us," George said, laughing and rolling his eyes. "Grandma thinks I oughtta learn the business from him, but I don't know. I wanna try for a scholarship, maybe go to college. I don't wanna live in that neighborhood all my life."

"Good for you, George. College is a great way to move up," Hutch said.

"I'm goin' back to college," Starsky said. "He's got his degree but I don't."

"No kiddin'? I didn't know cops had college degrees."

"Some of us do," Hutch responded, chuckling.

"They got college degrees for that?"

"Criminology, Criminal Justice...Pre-Law can be good."

"Wow."

When they arrived at headquarters, Starsky and Hutch escorted George to their desks, feeling it would be a friendlier atmosphere than an interrogation room. Once he had a bottle of Coke in front of him, Starsky handed him a stack of photos, with the photo of Regina Devon mixed in the middle.

"Do any of those ladies look like the one who paid you to buy the flowers?" he asked. George was silent as he sorted through the pictures, but froze on the photo of Regina Devon.

"That's her, right there." He set the photo aside, pointing at it.

"How did you happen to run into her?" Starsky asked.

"I was walking out of the Horizons Center, and she was pulled up at the curb. She called me over to the car. I almost didn't go, but seein' it was a lady, I didn't worry about it. I thought she wanted directions or something."

"What did she say to you?" Hutch asked, taking notes.

"She asked me if I knew Elizabeth Markham, and I said I did, and then she asked if I would help her surprise her with some flowers, that she was trying to help get Ms. Markham set up with an old boyfriend she hadn't seen in years. I asked her why she didn't do it herself, and she gave me some rap about her bein' old and it bein' hard to do all of it herself. She looked pretty healthy to me, but when she offered me a fifty just to go in and order some flowers for her, I wasn't about to refuse."

"Fifty dollars just for you, not including the flowers?" Hutch clarified.

"Right. She gave me money for the flowers first, and then said I could have the fifty when I came back with the receipt. She gave me a piece of paper with the message on it."

"What happened to that paper?" Starsky asked.

"Sorry, man, I pitched it in the trash."

"So why did you run when we saw you today?" Hutch asked.

"I know she's dead, and I didn't have anything to do with that. I have a couple of old juvie raps from three or four years ago, before I moved in with Grandma and got straightened out. I was afraid you were gonna pin somethin' on me."

"We don't want to 'pin' this on anyone. We want to find out who did it," Starsky stated.

"You think that old lady did her in? That'd be weird--one old lady doin' in another one."

"Stranger things have happened, but at this point, we're still keeping open minds about everyone," Hutch replied. "Did the woman say anything else?"

"No, not really. She just thanked me and then she drove away. That's the last I heard about it."

"I suppose the fifty she gave you is--"

"History, man," George completed Starsky's sentence. "Sorry."

"Did you ever talk to Ms. Markham after she received the flowers?"

"Yeah, but she didn't say anything about it. I saw they ended up on Mrs. Jackson's desk," he added, laughing.

"Thanks a lot for coming down and answering these questions, George. We may need to reach you in the future, so we'll need your address and phone number and your grandmother's name, too," Hutch said, sliding a notepad and pen his way.

After they'd dropped off George at home, they returned to headquarters with a bag of burgers and a couple of shakes. Lunch had whizzed by unnoticed, and dinner was about to go in the same direction.

"Looks like we need to bring Ms. Devon back in for another chat," Starsky said, attacking his hamburger with gusto. "Man, I was gettin' hungry."

"You feeling okay? You were holding onto your chest after you ran..." Hutch let the sentence trail off, a little sorry he'd even brought it up, since Starsky seemed perfectly fine now.

"I'm fine. I thought I was gonna buy the farm, though, if that kid made it down one more alley," he added, chuckling. "Guess the old body doesn't hold up as well as it used to." Starsky didn't seem inordinately disturbed at that thought, and Hutch accepted that with some relief. Starsky had gone through so many ups and downs fighting his way to recovery and then accepting some of his new aches and pains.

"Why would Regina Devon send flowers to Elizabeth Markham with a message like that on them? You think she was trying to set up old man Foster, to make it look like he sent them?"

"If she was doin' that, she'd have signed them from him," Starsky said. "I think they had a thing."

"A thing?" Hutch asked, raising his eyebrows.

"You know. A thing." Starsky gestured back and forth between them.

"You think they were lovers?"

"Same sex best friends becoming lovers has happened, you know," Starsky quipped quietly, looking around to make sure it was safe to make the remark.

"You think maybe Regina is the one Elizabeth was rejecting, not Mr. Foster?" Hutch asked.

"Could be. A lot of what she said didn't add up. She's supposedly hardly seen her friend over the years, except for a visit last week sometime, and yet she's been with her often enough to have seen multiple bouquets from Foster. That makes me think she's settin' him up. Elizabeth's not here so she can't correct her about whether or not he was harassing her. Regina relocates to the United States--to the city with the largest gay and lesbian population--and wants Elizabeth to move in with her. The only recurring subject in Elizabeth Markham's photographs is Regina. It's not a for-sure thing, but I think it's pretty likely."

"Well, I guess we should bring the lady down for more questioning, then."

"Let's have Minnie run a check on her, see if she has any weapons registered to her name first. That could make things a lot easier."

"You think she'd be dumb enough to shoot Elizabeth with her own gun?"

"No, but if she was, it'd be a break for the good guys, wouldn't it?" Starsky asked, picking up the phone to call Minnie.

The weapons registration check came up empty, and Regina Devon appeared to have no criminal history whatsoever, not even a parking ticket. A check of all the airlines with flights between San Francisco and Bay City or any other nearby major airport turned up empty as well. A bit disappointed but not surprised, Hutch suggested bringing William Foster back in to put a bit of pressure on him about his knowledge of Regina Devon. It was obvious to both of them he had recognized her picture, and both detectives hoped that a less antagonistic interview with him might yield that important bit of leverage that would force Regina Devon to talk. At this point, all they could prove was that she sent flowers to a friend, even if the message was weird. None of that was illegal.

Seated once again around the table in the interrogation room, William Foster seemed just as reticent as he had been before, but slightly less irritated.

"Mr. Foster, we are asking you to reconsider your response regarding this photograph," Hutch said, showing him the photo of Regina Devon. "We've had contact with the lady since we last spoke to you, and we have good reason to believe you know her."

"I know who she is, but it's got nothing to do with this and it's none of your business."

"Mr. Foster, everything about Elizabeth Markham's life is our business until we put her killer behind bars," Starsky stated.

"I went to Ellie's house to deliver some photos she'd forgotten. I admit it was kind of an excuse to stop and see her. She had company."

"Ms. Devon?"

"I didn't meet her, but I saw her. So there you are."

"Mr. Foster, it seems like you're omitting something significant here. What exactly did you see at Ms. Markham's house?" Hutch persisted.

"Elizabeth is dead. There's no need to smear her memory now."

"We aren't interested in smearing her memory. We're interested in finding her killer, that's all," Hutch reiterated.

"They were kissing like lovers," he spat out with disgust.

"Who was?" Starsky asked, already knowing the answer.

"Ellie and that...woman. The one in the picture. They didn't see me, but I saw them through the dining room window that looks out on Ellie's driveway. Sure explains why she wouldn't give me the time of day."

"Why were you so intent on not telling us this before?" Hutch asked.

"Because it was none of your business. I may not have liked what Ellie was doing, but I didn't want to see her memory ruined, and all this...sordid stuff spread all over the cheap grocery store newspapers."

"Elsewhere in our investigation, we've uncovered evidence that indicates you were harassing Elizabeth Markham. That you were repeatedly sending her flowers, and that she was uneasy being around you," Starsky stated.

"Probably that lying perverted witch I saw through the window that day. I never did any such thing. I sent Ellie flowers exactly once. I can probably find my credit card bill that lists it. That's all. I do have some dignity, and I didn't have any plans to beg or bribe her into seeing me."

"When did you see these two women together?" Hutch asked.

"The day before she was killed."

"You never confronted Elizabeth about it?" Starsky probed.

"Why would I? It didn't take an Einstein to figure out what was going on there."

"When you did send Elizabeth flowers, which florist did you use?" Starsky asked.

"The Flower Petal. It's only two doors down from my shop."

"Okay. Thank you, Mr. Foster. Hopefully this will be the last time we need to bring you in for questions," Hutch said.

"Hopefully," Mr. Foster echoed.

**********

Drained from yet another session with the police, William Foster was relieved to retreat to the sanctuary of his store. His son, Richard, had covered for him while he went to headquarters, and was now sitting behind the counter, waiting for his father to return. The forty-year-old man had his father's tall, slender build, but his hair was still brown, and he wore no glasses. His usually genial, pleasant expression was gone, and he appeared very grim as he stared at his elderly father.

"Cat got your tongue, son?" William Foster joked, before his son silently set a .38 revolver on the counter.

"We have to talk," he stated flatly.

**********

The Bay City Towers Hotel was one of the finest hotels in the area, boasting ten floors of luxurious rooms and suites, and an award-winning restaurant. Starsky and Hutch rarely had occasion to go there, and when they did, it was unfortunately usually on business. Today was no exception as they rode the elevator to the seventh floor to pay Regina Devon a visit.

"This is a surprise," she said as she opened the door. Dressed in a flowing silk hostess gown in rich shades of purple and magenta, and wearing heeled slippers with large feathery puffs on the insteps that matched the magenta in the gown, it was obvious she even relaxed in style. Starsky found himself reminded of the movie stars of the old days, who even draped themselves across divans in style, versus tossing on a pair of sweats and sprawling on the couch. "Come in."

"Thank you," Hutch said, smiling nervously and nodding a little. Starsky followed him in, feeling his feet sinking into the padded carpet. The patio doors leading out to the balcony presented a panoramic view of the city and the ocean beyond it.

"You have more questions for me, I assume?" she asked, sitting in a tapestry wingback chair that had the audacity to clash with her outfit. Starsky and Hutch took seats on the matching couch.

"Yes, ma'am, we do." Starsky paused. "We have evidence that you and Elizabeth Markham were more than friends and that you were with her the day before she died."

"Oh, my God," she said, closing her eyes. "How ironic." She didn't reopen her eyes for a few seconds, and when she did, they were bright with tears. "Elizabeth spent the entire time we knew each other terrified someone would find out, and it kept us from ever being together. Now, when it doesn't matter, everyone is going to know anyway."

"So you were with her the day before she died?" Hutch asked.

"Yes, my driver brought me down here...often. I lied to you about that, and I'm sorry, but it was important to me to honor Elizabeth's wishes. I would arrive late at night, stay for a few days, and then leave either late at night or just before dawn. It was an old pattern, gentlemen. Our times together were never anything but...discreet. I left late the night before she died."

"Can you prove that?" Starsky asked.

"Yes, Detective. My driver can testify to my departure time, and I had dinner with friends that evening, in San Francisco. I can provide you their names and phone numbers."

"How long had this gone on?" Hutch asked.

"Since we first met in London. Elizabeth had never...she was very shocked by what was happening between us. I have had occasion to...well, I was briefly married as a very young woman, but I also had a relationship with a woman before I met Elizabeth. Maybe it's being in the entertainment business, or maybe I could just accept it better than she could, but it never troubled me the way it did her. She was conflicted, feeling that what we were doing was wrong. That it was a sin. Beyond that, it was imperative to her that no one ever find out her 'secret'."

"So you stayed with her even though you only had occasional...times together?" Starsky clarified.

"When you love someone, Detective, a single day with them is worth years with someone else. Of course I stayed with her, as much as she would allow." She smiled. "I suppose you've talked to the young man about the roses."

"Yes, we did," Hutch confirmed, the sentiment of Regina's last words still echoing in his heart as he thought of his own lover.

"Elizabeth would have never stood for flowers being sent to her from another woman, not with that kind of message on it. I sent her flowers often, so that much is true. But I always paid cash, and always found someone to buy them for me--usually my driver—and I rarely indulged in putting such a personal message on the card. I usually didn't even sign my name, but she knew they were from me."

"Why the boy this time?" Starsky asked.

"Because my regular driver was ill, and I didn't want to trust the temporary driver with so personal an errand. So I saw the boy, and he seemed very clean-cut and respectable. I figured someone from the community center where Elizabeth volunteered would know where to find her. It was the boy who suggested having them delivered to her at the Horizons Center, and I thought it was a lovely idea. A total and utter surprise. Elizabeth was not pleased. Even though I didn't sign the card, she was irate I had used the boy to send them, that all the people at the Center would know. I assured her I'd told him a different story, about an old flame of hers, but she was still furious. I suppose it was silly. I'm not getting any younger, and I just wanted..." She paused and swallowed, looking down. She dabbed at her eyes with a tissue she plucked from a box on the table next to her chair. "I just wanted to have the chance...for us to be together. We were at the end of our lives. What would it hurt? Who would care? Who would have even thought anything of two old ladies living in a house together?"

"When you told us about all the flowers and the harassment from William Foster, were you being one-hundred percent truthful with us?" Hutch asked.

"Yes, of course. Elizabeth was very nervous about him, and that was partly why I kept urging her to move to San Francisco, or at least change photo developers, for God's sake. But she was stubborn, and she wasn't going to let 'one crazy old man run her off'--her exact words." She dabbed at her eyes again. "You thought I lied about him? That I killed her?"

"We have to keep open minds in cases like this," Starsky said.

"I loved Elizabeth. I've loved her for forty years. There's nothing on earth that could make me want to harm her. Without her, there's precious little reason for my life to continue. You can investigate all you want, but you won't find me hiding anything more. I was only trying to save Elizabeth's reputation, to keep people's memories of her focused on her work, on all she accomplished...not on the fact she had a female lover stashed in another city...in another country for most of our lives."

"I know this has been difficult for you, and we are sorry for having to expose so much of your personal lives," Hutch explained. "But murder cases don't leave us with much choice."

"Is William Foster your best suspect, then?"

"At this point, he's certainly still in the running. We'll need that information from you on your friends and your driver, so we can verify your alibi."

"Very well," she said, rising to go to her travel bag, where she extracted her date and address book and proceeded to give the detectives the information they requested.

**********

Starsky and Hutch walked back into headquarters, still talking over the revelations they'd gotten from Regina Devon, when they spotted William Foster and his son, sitting on a bench in the hall not far from the Homicide squadroom. Upon seeing the detectives, Richard Foster stood and handed Starsky a small but substantial object wrapped in a towel.

"My father is here to turn himself in," he stated grimly. The elder Foster didn't speak at first, so his son prodded him. "Dad, you know you have to do this."

"He found the gun in the store room. I...I shot her."

After advising Mr. Foster of his rights, he waived the presence of an attorney as long as his son could be present while his taped confession was taken.

"I think I fell for Ellie the first time she brought film into the shop to be developed. I loved my wife, I swear I did, but there was something about Ellie that just...captivated me. And when my wife passed away, I hoped maybe...after a respectable time passed...maybe Ellie would consider going out with me. We had been friends for years. I think I'm the only one who called her 'Ellie'," he said, smiling fondly. "I sent her flowers, gifts, tried to do her work for free, though she usually insisted on paying anyway. It seemed the more I tried to let her know how I felt, the angrier and more distant she became. I know I'm not a dashing young man, but even though she was an attractive woman, she wasn't a young woman, either. I thought maybe we'd have a chance together."

"Didn't it occur to you to stop sending her flowers and gifts when she was so obviously unreceptive to your advances?" Hutch asked.

"Oh, sure, it occurred to me. But I kept hoping she'd come around. It's sort of funny, but when I was courting my wife, she was kind of hard to get, too, so I thought maybe it was just one of those female things, and that one of these days she'd give in." He sighed. "And then I saw her with that woman. I saw my Ellie with that...woman. I was so angry. I was...I was never that angry in my life. I didn't know what to do. I didn't do anything that first night, but I didn't sleep, either. I couldn't sleep, not with the pictures that were going through my mind. I didn't really plan to do anything about it until I came across the old revolver in the storage room. Before Richard was born, my wife used to work in the store, and when she was alone, she felt safer having the gun under the counter. It's an old gun, and when she stopped working in the shop, after our children were born, I just put it away and forgot about it."

"What made you decide to use the gun, Mr. Foster?" Hutch prodded.

"I don't know. I wish I could go back and undo it. It was so...wrong and...and senseless. But you have to understand how I felt about her, and seeing her with that woman just made me crazy. I couldn't eat, I couldn't sleep, and all I could think about was what they were doing in there. I've never done a violent thing in my life. My son will tell you, I never even spanked my children. I never raised a hand to their mother. I wasn't myself." Richard put a hand on his father's shoulder.

"He's right. My father's never been a violent person. I knew something had to be terribly wrong to make him do a thing like this."

"What happened after you found the gun?" Starsky asked the older man.

"I took it with me to go see Ellie that night. I thought maybe I could reason with her, and I don't know why I even took the gun, because I didn't want to use it. Unless that other woman was there. Maybe I was thinking...maybe I really wanted to hurt her, and that's why I took it." He paused, taking in a deep breath and expelling it slowly. "I took some pictures I'd developed for her. I was kind of distracted, so I missed those two sets I gave you, Detective Hutchinson. It was a good excuse to talk to her. She came to the door, and as usual, she wasn't very happy to see me, but she did let me in. She was in her robe, and said she was just about to go to bed. I gave her the photos and told her they were on the house, but she insisted on paying for them. I meant to confront her, to ask her about that woman, and what they were doing, and how she could do something like that...but I never did. I followed her into the bedroom. I honestly didn't mean to shoot her. I had the gun out, and when she turned around from looking in her purse for the money, she started yelling at me to get out, and asking me what kind of 'crazy old coot' I was for coming at her with a gun." He swallowed, his eyes filling. Richard squeezed his shoulder. "She said she was going to call the police, that I had harassed her for the last time, and she turned to reach for the phone on her nightstand, and I..." His voice broke but he continued, "...I squeezed the trigger, and the shot was fired, and she fell, and then I...I fired again, because I knew she was badly wounded, and I know how this sounds, but it seemed inhumane to do that to a woman like her and then leave her there to live like a vegetable, or die slowly. I knew that since I had started it, I had to finish it. So I did."

"There were some items missing from Ms. Markham's home," Starsky said.

"I took them. I thought if it looked like a break-in...I thought the police would just think someone had broken in and she surprised them."

"What about the file cabinets?" Hutch asked.

"What about them?" Mr. Foster frowned.

"The cores were removed from the locks," Hutch explained.

"I did that," Richard spoke up, and both detectives looked at him, surprised. "No, no, not the night of the murder. Before that. They were old cabinets, and she'd lost the keys. I'm a locksmith--I don't do that anymore for a living, I work at a bank now--so when she complained about locking herself out of the cabinets accidentally, I offered to put new locks on them for her. She said she didn't really need locks, but if I could just fix the old ones so they wouldn't lock accidentally, that would be sufficient. So I removed the cores from the locks. That was probably six months or so ago."

"What did you take from the house?" Starsky asked Mr. Foster.

"Her purse and most of her jewelry that would fit in the purse. I figured that's what a burglar would take." He paused. "Then I just...left."

"You didn't worry about the neighbors hearing the shots?" Hutch asked.

"I didn't really plan to shoot her. I don't know what I thought I was going to do with that damn gun. I didn't even think about the neighbors. Even after I shot her, I...I was too upset to worry about neighbors and who heard what. Later, I realized it was odd that nobody had heard anything."

"The neighbors on one side were out of town, and the neighbors on the other side had a stereo playing at the time of the shooting," Starsky explained. "Otherwise, you probably wouldn't have gotten past them without being seen."

"I didn't know that. I didn't pay attention to the neighbors. My car was parked in the driveway, so I got in the car and drove away. I didn't know what to do. I stopped at a phone booth on the way home and almost called the police, but then I figured Ellie was dead and I couldn't help her by doing that, so I just went home. I didn't know what else to do." He sighed shakily. "I know this sounds insane, but I loved her. I really did. And when I knew what she was doing, what she was, I couldn't stand it."

"Detectives, I know you have to take my father into custody, but is there a way he can be arraigned tonight? He's never going to make it thrown in with the general jail population."

"We'll put him in a holding cell by himself for tonight," Hutch said. "What happens after that is up to the judge."

**********

Starsky stirred and rolled over, disappointed not to find Hutch there next to him. He checked the clock on the nightstand. It was a little after 4:00 a.m. Taking a moment for his sleep-fuzzy brain to acclimate itself to which apartment he was in, he realized he was at Hutch's place and figured his insomniac partner was probably in the greenhouse. Getting up, he pulled on his robe, since he'd gone to bed naked, and wandered out to the greenhouse, where Hutch was sitting on the bench, staring straight ahead like a zombie.

"You awake or did you sleepwalk out here?" Starsky teased, sitting next to him.

"I was just thinking."

"Want some company?"

"Sure," Hutch responded, smiling as Starsky slid his arm under Hutch's and laced their fingers.

"What're you stewing about tonight?"

"A lot of things."

"Thinking about that old guy in the jail?"

"Sort of. But he deserves to be there. I'm sure Elizabeth Markham would prefer not to be dead, but that didn't stop him from killing her just because she angered him, so if he's not happy in jail, I guess it's his own fault."

"You know what bothers me most?" Starsky asked.

"What?"

"That the killer didn't break into her file cabinets and I spent all that time staring at those photos with a magnifying glass." Starsky grinned as Hutch snorted a laugh at that. "You think he can get off on some kind of diminished capacity plea?" Starsky asked.

"I don't know. Depends on the judge and the jury, I guess. He knew what he was doing. He found the gun, took it with him, pulled it out and shot her, and then tried to make it look like a robbery. All because she had the audacity to love another woman."

"So that's what's really got you sitting up here like a zombie."

"Partially. Sometimes the degree of hate people have for people who love someone of the same gender just...stuns me. And scares me a little. I mean, we're looking at buying a house together, making a life together, and yet if most of the people around us knew what we were really doing together behind closed doors, we'd be pariahs. We'd be in constant danger."

"Dobey and Huggy know. I think Rosie's got us pretty well figured out," Starsky added, grinning at the thought of Rosie Dobey and what a sharp little girl she was. Her brother, Cal, seemed blissfully oblivious that there was anything different about the relationship between the two men, but Rosie seemed to just know. When she sent them a single Valentine last Valentine's Day, they'd taken it as an omen that she was more perceptive than the adults around her gave her credit for.

"Those are our friends. I'm talking about the rest of the world. We're even getting mixed reviews from our families."

"I know, babe, but we knew this was gonna be a rough road. It doesn't really matter, though, because they don't know what we do when we're alone, and it's none of their business. I never invited my friends into my bedroom to watch what I was doing and who I was doing it with before, so why should this be any different?"

"The hate is dangerous, Starsk. That's what worries me sometimes. I don't care what people think of me, or even what my family thinks about my choices. It's just that a case like this one brings the point home really clearly."

"What? That a lot of people out there hate gays? That's not a newsflash, Hutch. We just have to play our cards close to the vest and choose our real friends carefully, and we'll be okay."

"I know." Hutch sighed.

"You wanna level with me now about the real reason you're sittin' here when you should be sleeping or making love to your partner?"

"Sorry about that," Hutch responded, chuckling. "I didn't know you were feeling neglected."

"Badly." Starsky dropped his head on Hutch's shoulder. "I figured you didn't love me anymore, that's all."

"Well, as long as you didn't take it too hard," Hutch said, still smiling. "God, this is going to sound so stupid."

"That's never slowed you down before."

"Gee, thanks, pal."

"Anytime," Starsky replied cheerfully.

"I don't think I can handle going to the f-fireworks, Starsk." The statement was quiet, and the appearance of the stutter tugged at Starsky's heart.

"Can you tell me why?"

"That day, in the garage...God, Starsky, all those bullets flying, all that gunfire...all I could think of was how much it all sounded like some kind of...obscene parody of fireworks. Now, when I hear fireworks, even in the distance, that's all I can think about. That rapid popping sound, with flashes and smoke and the echo of it bouncing off the walls in the garage..." Hutch gestured a bit helplessly. "I know it's not logical. We've heard a lot of gunfire since then. Been in gunfights. But that sound. It's the sound."

"Hey, it's okay, babe. We don't have to go to the stupid fireworks." Starsky reached up and smoothed a few wayward strands of Hutch's hair off his forehead. "I was a prick for pushing the issue when I knew something was wrong. Something more than your back getting stiff from sitting on the ground."

"I should probably thank you for not laughing." Hutch leaned forward, his elbows on his knees. Starsky rubbed his back gently, waiting a while before he spoke.

"Trusting somebody with what you're afraid of is one of the hardest things to do. One of the hardest kinds of trust. You're telling somebody else where your weak spots are. If the person you're with laughs, then you made a mistake."

"I've laughed at you before."

"Over dumb little stuff like spiders, but not over the big stuff. When I told you the things I was afraid of when I was trying to recover, when I was full of poison tearing up my system and I was afraid...you didn't laugh at me. You made me feel better. I could tell you I was scared, or I could reach out for you, and you were there. That's what love's all about. Do you have any idea how little fireworks mean to me in comparison to you?"

"We should be able to go. I should be over this now."

"Yeah, well, we should be over lots of things, but they still bother us."

"I don't know what to do about this."

"You want to talk to somebody? To a shrink?" Though the slang was there, so was the gentleness in Starsky's tone that made it clear it was a serious suggestion with no judgments attached.

"No, not really. I just don't ever want to hear that sound as long as I live, and I know that's not rational."

"Maybe not, but we don't have to hear it tonight," Starsky said, referring to the Fourth of July fireworks that would be taking place that evening. "You said yourself we could see them from here, right here on this bench. And I bet all those beautiful colors would go just fine with one of those classical records of yours and a bottle of decent wine."

"And a little wild sex in front of my plants," Hutch added.

"Exhibitionist," Starsky chided, grinning. Then he became more serious. "I might've gotten hurt that day, but you're the one who has to remember the whole thing. You heard all the shots, saw me fall, had to sit there on the ground and try to keep me from bleeding to death...I was out of it for all that. Once I was hit, I was down for the count. I remember knowing I couldn't get my piece out in time but trying anyway, and the sound of shattering glass. And that's it."

"I'm glad you don't remember it more clearly."

"But you do. And that's a whole other thing to get over." Starsky slid his arm around Hutch's back and leaned his head against Hutch's. "Why didn't you just tell me what was wrong, babe? Did you think I'd laugh at you, or that I wouldn't understand?"

"I knew you'd be great about it, just like you're doing. It was just so...nuts that I didn't want to give in to it."

"Listen to me, Hutch." Starsky waited until Hutch faced him. "There's nothin' in this world that I want badly enough for it to be worth hurting you. Or making you really unhappy. Or making that stutter show up." Starsky punctuated the last comment with a light kiss on Hutch's lips. "You're the most important thing in the world to me, darlin'. Don't ever be afraid to tell me something. 'Cause there's nothing you're gonna say that'll make me stop loving you like I do."

"I don't deserve you," Hutch said softly.

"Nah, you don't. You deserve something better, but I'm all you're getting, so get used to it."

"There isn't anything better."

"So, you free tonight to share a bottle of wine, some of that longhair music of yours, and a few fireworks of our own?"

"You know I am, Starsk. I'm always available to share anything with you."

**********

"The fireworks should be starting pretty soon, Starsk," Hutch said, setting an ice bucket on the table in the greenhouse. Perched amidst the ice was a bottle of Beaujolais. He placed two wine glasses next to it and the plate of assorted cheeses, meats, and crackers. The classical music was already playing in the background, sure to drown out all but the slightest trace of the sound of the fireworks.

"Coming!" Starsky called out from the kitchen. "I'm just waiting for those little frozen pizza rolls to finish heating up." The phone rang. "I'll get it," Starsky offered, being closest to it.

Hutch turned off the lights in the greenhouse after lighting the candles that would give them enough light to find their way around. He walked back into the apartment in time to hear part of Starsky's conversation.

"The parole board wouldn't buy that story, Ma." Starsky leaned against the wall, closing his eyes. "Ma, listen, I know you're upset, but he should'a kept his nose clean." Starsky shook his head, a sad smile spreading across his face. "Nick never knows when to keep his mouth shut, and when you're in prison, that's something you better learn or someone'll shut it for you." Starsky sighed. "Was he in mortal danger and can he prove it?" Starsky noticed Hutch was back in the apartment, and just gave him a defeated look, pointing at the phone and shrugging. "Ma, listen, I know how much it meant to you for Nick to get out of there early, but there's nothin' you can do about it if he messed up. Some guy whistling at him is not justification to start a prison yard brawl. It just isn't. If the guy attacked him, or has attacked him in the past, that's different, but that's not what he's saying." Starsky waited for what seemed like a long time before he could get a word in edgewise. "I'm not worried about Nick, Ma. I'm worried about you. Sol and Anna are with you, right?" He waited. "Good. Are you feeling okay?" Another pause. "Good. Look, if you wanna come out for a visit, I'll send you tickets. Change of scenery might do you some good." Starsky waited again. "Yeah, right, gotta hang around there and wait for the next visiting day." Another pause. "No, I'm not being sarcastic, Ma. I'm just a little tired of Nick's stunts, and every time, they hurt you, and I don't like it." Starsky nodded. "Okay, Ma. You take care now, and if you need me for anything, call me, and let me know when you get home safe and sound. I'll be either at Hutch's place or mine, or the station. You've got all the numbers, right?" Starsky waited. "I know. I love you, too. I'll call Nick tomorrow. 'Night, Ma." He hung up the phone and sighed.

"Didn't sound good."

"Some guy in the prison yard whistled at Nicky, and he called the guy some name Ma won't repeat, and it started off a whole prison yard brawl. Nick's in solitary, and his early parole is shot to hell. Damn it, Hutch, I could wring his miserable little neck!"

"Maybe there's more to the story than what he's telling your mother."

"You mean like the guy did more than whistle? Yeah, I thought about that. But even so. Unless he jumped Nick, to jeopardize an early parole just to shoot off his mouth? That's just stupid. I've asked Nick every time I talked to him if he was okay, what was goin' on."

"Would he tell you if he was getting hit on by the other cons?"

"I hope so. I don't really know. I knew he would be hit on by the other cons, just because he's young and a first-timer. I'm not kidding myself that he hasn't had some bad experiences, or that he'd admit every single situation to me. I do think if it was bad, or ongoing, he'd tell me. I think he'd try to get help from somewhere. Nick's not that stoical."

"I'm sorry, Starsk. I know how much this meant to your mother, and to you."

"I just want to see him clean up his act, and this sure doesn't make it look hopeful. They probably won't let him have a phone call if he's in solitary. Dumb kid."

"You wanna have a glass of wine and unwind a little?" Hutch asked, laying a hand on Starsky's cheek, his fingers straying back into the soft curls.

"Yeah, that sounds good, babe. Besides, we've got some fireworks to watch." Starsky's expression brightened at that thought as he leaned into Hutch's touch.

"And if we're lucky, a few to make, too."

**********

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Coming August 12, 2003 on Starsky & Hutch:
"The Mirror Crack'd," by HutchRules3

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