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.
"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.
"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."
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."
"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.
"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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