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