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.
"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."
"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.
"Mushbrain." Hutch yawned widely.
"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."
"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.
"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.