The music resounded in the room, causing the entire second floor of the house to throb with the beat. At least there were no more interruptions, no more intrusions with demands to turn it down.
The music was pure and perfect, even if the blasphemer who produced it was a traitor to the Master. The work he had done in Satan's name would live on forever, even if he now disowned it. But he would pay, and he would learn the price of defying the Master.
It was only fair to give him some warning, some opportunity to recant his denunciation of Satan, and make it right, return to the fold.
Frowning, the young man hunched at the small desk struggled to find just the right words for the letter. He had an address--the home address, no less. He smiled as he wondered how much his classmates would pay him for that information. He idly wondered what some of the girls who laughed at him and talked about him would do to get that information. He paused to ponder that fantasy before returning to more serious issues.
Yes, the imposter would pay dearly, and this was just the beginning....
Starsky stirred, not really wanting to give up on sleep just yet. Still, the other side of the bed was cooling, and Hutch wasn't where he was supposed to be. Yawning, he rolled over and sat up, blinking tiredly at the morning sun filtering in through the curtains.
Between their incredible lovemaking the night before and his early morning stupor, he'd almost managed to forget that damn window envelope that held the truth about Hutch's fate. They had left it on the counter downstairs, coiled like the serpent that lurked in Dobey's refrigerator up at Pine Lake, just waiting for them to happen upon it again.
Maybe he already opened it.
Pushing that thought aside, Starsky pulled on his robe and padded down the hall, then downstairs. Hutch was sitting in the living room in Starsky's rattan chair, clad in his white robe, blond hair still bed-rumpled. The Envelope lay in wait for them on the coffee table, unopened, holding their future hostage in its cheap paper confines.
"I didn't mean to wake you," he said, his eyes not moving from the envelope. "I couldn't sleep any longer. I have to know, Starsk."
"I shouldn't've made you wait all night. I just...I wanted us to have a little more time without knowing...."
"In case it's positive. Yeah, I know. It's ironic when you really think about it. That's just a piece of paper. Whatever it says, it doesn't change anything. Whatever's inside me is there, whether I open that or toss it in the trash. It isn't going to make me sick to open it. I'm already sick or well, no matter what it says."
"That's true," Starsky agreed, moving closer.
"So why am I afraid to open it?"
"Because as long as you don't know, you've got a fifty-fifty shot at it being negative." Starsky sat on the arm of the couch. "Same reason I didn't want to open it last night."
"Here." Hutch handed Starsky The Envelope.
"You want me...?" He gestured with The Envelope, and Hutch nodded.
"Whatever it says, I want to hear it from you, not a piece of paper."
Starsky looked down at the enemy in his hands, and decided it had held them hostage long enough. Tearing it open, he tossed The Envelope on the table and opened the tri-folded lab report. When he saw that one lone, single, momentous word, he didn't know whether to laugh or cry.
"You're as healthy as those old guys in Azerbaijan, babe. It's negative," he said, not sure why a lump was rising in his throat and his eyes were filling. This is what he'd prayed for, what they both wanted so badly. Hutch was the one who'd had the scare, but Starsky was the one shaking so hard he could barely hold the lab report.
"That's what we call 'good news,' Starsk," Hutch teased gently, sitting next to Starsky on the couch. "I'm okay," he said, sliding his arm around Starsky and pressing their foreheads together. "We're okay," he added, his voice a little shaky with relief and emotion.
"I love you, Blondie." Starsky pulled his partner into his arms and held on tightly, feeling the pressure returned. "We should celebrate."
"I've got a few suggestions," Hutch responded. "I love you, too, by the way." Hutch pulled back enough for a kiss, their mouths sealing together, lingering, tongues tasting each other as robes were pushed aside and discarded.
Last night had been beautiful, but almost desperate. It was both an affirmation of their love and a way to escape the unknown truth that lurked inside The Envelope, which now lay torn and forgotten on the coffee table. This morning, it was a celebration of being alive and strong and healthy, with the whole future lying before them.
Starsky kissed every part of Hutch he could reach, moving from his mouth to his neck to his chest and back again. He licked a hot trail down Hutch's chest to his belly, and then engulfed the long, hardening cock in his mouth. Hutch gasped and arched into the stimulation, a large hand resting gently on Starsky's head, encouraging the wonderful suction. Soon, Hutch's body was shaking with impending climax, and as he came, Starsky drank him down hungrily, relishing the knowledge that Hutch was healthy, and that there need be no barriers between them.
As he straightened, his own body craving release, he savored the sight of his breathless, flushed, sated partner, lying on the couch with his legs spread in utter relaxation, one long leg hooked over the back of the couch, the other bent at the knee, Hutch's foot on the cushion. He caught the small tube that Hutch tossed him before pulling the knee that was not hooked over the couch, back toward his chest. The little hole that was exposed lured him, and Starsky was soon spreading liberal amounts of lube in and around it, using his fingers to make Hutch writhe and groan with pleasure, despite his recent orgasm. He'd purposely avoided Hutch's prostate before, but now he sought it out, rubbing over the little nub and loving the cry of pleasure it drew from his partner.
Coating himself, Starsky slid slowly but steadily into the slick heat of Hutch's body. When they were fully joined, he paused, waiting for Hutch to tear his concentration away from the physical to look into Starsky's eyes.
"We got forever back, babe. Love you," he said, leaning in for a long kiss.
"You, too," Hutch responded, his voice a little strained with emotion and restrained desire.
Knowing Hutch was ready for motion and unable to hold still himself any longer, Starsky began thrusting in and out of the slick channel, unsure what was driving him faster toward completion: the wonderful tightness surrounding him, or the sight of Hutch stroking his long cock in time with their sex.
Their rhythm built to a rapid, wild pace until Starsky let out a scream of Hutch's name, shuddering, filling Hutch, his cries broken by the spasms of Hutch's climax, milking him at the very moment of his most intense pleasure.
Starsky reluctantly slipped free of Hutch's body, and the two men shifted until they were in each other's arms, kissing and caressing, hands roaming, enjoying a little after-play while their bodies recovered.
"I'm gonna feel that later," Hutch said, not seeming to mind that idea one bit.
"All day, sittin' in the car, you'll be thinking about me, darlin'." Starsky flexed his eyebrows, looking fairly pleased with himself.
"Enjoy yourself, buddy. Just remember that when you least expect it, your ass is mine." Hutch punctuated the remark by squeezing Starsky's buttocks in both large hands.
"That's nothing new, Blondie. My ass has been yours for quite a while now. Along with the rest of me."
"Now that's what I call a great package deal," Hutch quipped, his hand straying to Starsky's now-flaccid, sated cock and balls.
They spent a long time on the couch before succumbing to hunger of a different sort and having breakfast.
She was pretty, even prettier than she was in the magazine photos. Possessing her had been transcending. All the girls who had laughed at him and ignored him and went out with their big dumb jock boyfriends...well, they could all go to Hell for all he cared. The only thing better than hearing her scream for him was the look on her boyfriend's now-dead face while he watched.
Even now, hair disheveled, mascara hopelessly streaked from hysterical tears, hands bound above her head on the altar in the woods, she was beautiful. It would be hard to see this through, to plunge the knife in the final time, to watch the life drain out of her body. But this wasn't about her, and it wasn't even about him...this was about the Master and a debt that was owed. A debt that was now being collected, little by little.
The believers who surrounded the altar were chanting. All dressed in hooded black robes, silver pentagram necklaces around their necks, they repeated, "Praise Satan, praise Satan, praise Satan..." until it was a dull, soothing monotone. The light from the nearby fire cast an eerie glow on the trunks of the trees around them, on the figures who swayed in unison, and on the flesh of their intended sacrifice.
He placed the thin black scarf with the red pentagram painted on it over the shivering girl's chest. She made a silent plea, mouthing, "Please, don't," as she saw him reach for the knife. She knew better than to speak aloud, to desecrate the moment. As he grasped the dagger in both hands, the terrified look in her eyes almost eroded his resolve. If he were to save her life, to spare her now, she would be grateful. Maybe possessing her would be adequate revenge on the unbeliever.
No, then he would be mocking the Master, going back on his vow. This girl was a temptation, and one to which he would not fall prey. She must die tonight, she must be sacrificed, and the fact that it was hard, that he didn't really want to do it, made it that much more of a gift to Satan.
He raised the dagger high above his head and plunged downward....
"She's young. If she's over eighteen, it's just barely," Ginny said, shaking her head as she examined the slightly decomposed remains discovered in a shallow grave in the woods. "Whoever did it didn't even strain himself carrying her very far from the road or burying her very deep."
"What's all this stuff?" Starsky asked, squatting next to where Ginny was crouched. It occurred to him that it was a flawlessly beautiful day, the sun filtering through the trees...nature had made this a wonderful place, but the killer had made it a place of horror. The shallow grave was lined with fabric, but not the ordinary type one would expect to find wrapped around a body disposed of in a shallow grave. It wasn't an old tarp or a blanket, but a rich red and black velvet tapestry.
"Maybe it was evidence he wanted to be rid of," Hutch speculated. "She had to have bled pretty profusely from that throat wound," he added, referring to the ear-to-ear gash that decorated the corpse's neck with a macabre black second grin.
"Well, I won't know much more until I get her back to the lab," Ginny said, straightening and pulling off her rubber gloves.
"Detectives!" A young officer hurried over a small hill that was covered with a tangle of weeds and gnarled tree roots. "You better come see this," he said, jerking a thumb over his shoulder.
"What is it?" Starsky asked, frowning as the three of them followed the officer.
"Looks like another one," he said, pointing to a mound of earth that looked suspiciously like the grave they'd just uncovered containing the corpse of the young woman. "And that's not all. If you go beyond those trees over there," he said, pointing, "there's some kind of weird formation of rocks...like someone built a fire in the middle of them."
"Show me," Hutch said.
"I'll stay," Starsky said, gesturing at the possible grave. Cops armed with shovels were on their way to join them. Tucking his hands in the pockets of his jeans, Starsky added in his best country sheriff impersonation, "Get your teaspoons out, boys. The lady wants you to be careful." Ginny snapped one of the rubber gloves against his t-shirt covered belly. "Ow!"
"Jerk," she said, laughing and shaking her head. "It's called preserving evidence. Don't you ever watch Quincy?" she teased.
"I'd rather watch you, schweetheart," he said in his best bad Bogie voice. "Besides, you've got better legs than Jack Klugman."
"I don't know when I've been so flattered. You really know how to make a woman feel beautiful."
"Anytime, Gin, anytime," he replied, grinning unrepentantly.
After a brief flurry of careful digging, one of the officers paused, holding up a hand to the others. A middle-aged cop with a retreating hairline and advancing waistline, he crouched over the spot less than gracefully and began hand-digging around something their shovels had impacted. A human arm became visible.
"Damn, it's another one," Starsky said.
"Careful, gentlemen," Ginny cautioned as they worked at removing the dirt around the second body, that of a young male, killed in the same manner as the girl in the other grave. A tapestry similar to the one found beneath the girl was beneath this corpse as well.
"The killer either has a weird velvet fetish, or we've got something ritualistic on our hands here."
"You don't need a fire and a circle of rocks for a velvet fetish," Ginny said, launching her preliminary examination of the body. "He struggled a bit. We've got defense wounds on his arms, bits of rope still imbedded in his wrists."
"Get some photos," Starsky directed, pulling on a pair of rubber gloves. Kneeling on the ground by the open grave, he probed the dead boy's jeans pockets for any sign of a wallet. He could find nothing. "How long d'you figure they've been out here?" He got up and moved out of the way for the crime scene photographer to do his work.
"A week, probably. I'll know more after the autopsies." She straightened, looking down at the young man's body regretfully. "I would guess he's about the same age she is. I really hope we don't have a serial killer on our hands here."
"Or a cult," Starsky added, shivering a little as the wind stirred the trees, sending a few dead leaves into the open grave. The corpse stared pleadingly at him. Its lifeless face held a kind of desperation on its decaying features that haunted him. "He looks scared."
"A lot of slit-throat victims look scared. It's not a nice way to die," Ginny said. "Is it okay to move them?"
"Start with the girl. I want Hutch to take a look at this one and the grave before your people move him."
"Okay. I'll be in touch with the prelims this afternoon. Just let my guys know when to move him," she said, gesturing at the corpse.
"Will do. Thanks, Ginny."
"Oh, no thanks necessary. After that Jack Klugman remark, I'm putty in your hands," she quipped.
Starsky was still chortling when Hutch returned with a couple of uniformed officers.
"What did you find?"
"The carcass of an animal that looks like a goat. Some planks of wood and rocks in a heap not far from it. The planks are badly stained--looks like blood stains. I hate to say it, Starsk, but this looks like some kind of devil worship thing."
"At least he's dressed for it," Starsky commented, noting the second victim's t-shirt. It was dirty and faded, but the red background still provided a dramatic backdrop for the 666 logo in black across the chest.
"At least he's dressed," Hutch remarked, referring to the fact the girl's body was nude. "I guess that cinches it," Hutch said.
"Not necessarily. Hutch, 666 is a band. They do this wild act with fake blood and skulls and toss some animal parts around. It's really disgusting, and the Moral Majority is all over them. Thinks they're really Satanists."
"How should I know? Sounds like they're just doing a more gruesome Alice Cooper act."
"You would know."
"Hey, he puts on a good show. Better than the late show."
"Maybe Cal would know something about them," Hutch speculated.
"Dobey would have a heart attack if Cal was listening to that stuff," Starsky said through a chuckle. "Kids wear rock band t-shirts all the time. I don't think that's enough of a connection to investigate the band."
"I don't think they killed him. I meant maybe if we understood better what was up with these kids and that band, we might get some insight into why he was killed. Once we get an ID, we can talk to the families and maybe figure out what these kids were into."
Jake Miller yawned and scratched his chest, stretching like an old cat in the late afternoon sun. It was almost 5:00, and he felt almost human. He had been off the road two days, and his body was still trying to figure out what time zone it was in. Sitting up on his rumpled king-sized bed, he pushed his mane of black hair away from his face, stuffing it unceremoniously behind his ears. Never blessed with the cast-iron stomach of his band mates, he'd lost ten pounds from an already lean frame in the last eight months on the road, and he looked a bit gaunt. His pallid coloring, handsome features, and striking dark hair made him look like a good candidate to play Dracula.
He finally made the commitment to get up, and looking around the lavish bedroom, wondered how long his money would last if he retired and bought the kind of house normal people buy. Still, the opulence was fun, and the three sports cars in the garage were even more fun. The groupies would have been lots of fun if most of them weren't underage. That didn't always bother the other guys, but considering he had a sixteen-year-old sister, the thought of himself at twenty-six screwing some girl that could be in class with his sister made his skin crawl. That wasn't even addressing how many ways he'd dismember any other musician who touched his teenage sister at one of the inevitable backstage orgies. At least for now, she was safe at school, under the watchful eye of the uptight staff of an upscale girls' school in Northern California.
Pulling his red silk robe around himself and tying it, he slid into a pair of flip-flops and shuffled down the wide hall with its Italian-tiled floor. Jake and his elderly grandmother, who occupied a suite of rooms and generally lived like a queen in the elaborate mansion, were its only occupants, except for a housekeeper, driver, and groundskeeper who all had their own quarters separate from the main part of the house. The mansion was originally built by some obscenely wealthy movie star from the silent film era who longed to live just a bit apart from the glitz and glamour of Hollywood by living in the affluent suburbs of Bay City. Yes, Jake, his sister, Jessica, and his grandmother, Ida Miller, had come a long way from a little bungalow in a blue-collar neighborhood where she'd finished raising the children after his father's untimely death from cancer, and his mother's decision that finding a replacement husband was easier without two kids in tow. He wondered if his mother now lived as well as his grandmother, who had struggled so much to make ends meet and make the rest of their childhoods happy.
"Jake?" his grandmother called to him from her room, then appeared in her doorway. He stopped there to greet her. "You look tired," she said, patting his cheek. "You need to eat. Build up your strength. Your ulcer always acts up on these tours."
"Yeah, I know. I'll live. Gina can fix me something," he said, referring to their cook. "You gonna have dinner with me?"
"I've been waiting eight months to have dinner with you, so I think I can fit you into my schedule," she quipped. At only five feet tall, the little white-haired lady was the polar opposite of her six-foot-tall, black-haired grandson, but the two had built a bond after Jake's mother left that remained unbreakable.
"If you don't mind my not dressing for dinner, you've got a date." He offered his arm and she linked hers through it, walking with him down the winding staircase to the first floor.
Gina, the sweet-natured, plump Italian woman who kept the members of the household well fed on expertly prepared cuisine, smiled when she saw the master of the house make his first appearance in the kitchen since returning from the tour.
"Welcome home, Mr. Jake," she said in a heavily accented voice. "What will you have for dinner?"
"Something light and mild," he said. "Any chance you've got some tiramisu in the fridge?"
"I made it this morning," she said. "I had a feeling you would be asking for it. Would chicken and fettuccine Alfredo be satisfactory?"
"Try chicken and some rice, no sauces, okay?"
"The ulcer is bad tonight?"
"Been lousy for the last couple weeks. We ate a lot of junk on the bus. Tony loves Mexican. Taco Bell at three in the morning is murder on the ulcer, but it sure does taste good when you haven't eaten since lunch."
"Tony doesn't have an ulcer," Ida chimed in.
"Nah, but he's catching up," Jake quipped. "Paper here yet?"
"It's on the table in the entry hall," Gina replied.
"Thanks. I'll be back, Grandma. I want to grab the paper and go find Spike. Where is he, anyway?"
"Taylor's watching him," Gina said. "He's probably following him around while he does the trimming."
Jake's purebred, all-black Great Dane had starred in more than one photo shoot with the heavy metal singer. The dog's ominous appearance belied a warm, friendly demeanor. Bypassing the newspaper on the entry hall table, Jake went outside, squinting at the bright sunshine, and calling to the dog. Within moments, the huge animal was bounding with all the enthusiasm of a new puppy toward his owner. Always viewing that quality with a mixture of affection and terror, Jake moved to the grass so when the large dog bowled him over, he had a softer landing. Man and dog wrestled and roughhoused on the ground briefly before Jake got up, brushed himself off, and headed back into the house, grabbing the paper on his way to the dining room, Spike trotting happily in behind him.
"Aw, shit," he muttered, flicking an apologetic glance at his grandmother before sitting down. "Did you see the paper yet?"
"No, dear, I haven't been downstairs since it came."
"This is just great. Like it's my freakin' fault this kid happened to be wearing one of our t-shirts when he had the bad luck to get himself killed."
"What on earth are you talking about?"
"Big headline story is about these two teenagers who were found dead in the woods about ten miles from here. One of them was wearing a 666 t-shirt, which, of course, just has to be why he ended up dead. Son of a--" He cleared his throat. "--uh, gun," he added, absently stroking Spike's head while shrugging at Ida, who shook her head.
"You and your friends swear more than drunken Marines on shore leave," she said. "Now don't get all worked up about this. It'll only make your stomach feel worse."
"It's not enough we have these religious nuts burning our albums and spinning our records backwards. If we'd meant for the damn things to be played backwards, we'd have laid the tracks that way."
"You told me yourself you put some messages on the last album."
"Yeah, because all these kids are shelling out their money and then ruining their records for nothing. Since they're determined to spin them backwards looking for subliminal messages, I figured we oughtta give them what they paid for. But I never told anyone to go out and get murdered and dumped in a shallow grave."
"Did the article blame you or the band?"
"No, but if some guy gets shot in a honky-tonk bar wearing a Charlie Daniels Band t-shirt, do they mention that in the article? Nope--just if they're wearing anything relevant to heavy metal." Jake tossed the paper aside on one of the empty dining room chairs. "I'm sorry something awful happened to this kid, whoever he is, but I'm really sick of being painted as the antichrist every time some discontented teenager blows his head off or ends up dead."
"I thought you were cultivating an image as the antichrist," she quipped, smiling, taking a little of the bluster out of her grandson's tirade. "It could have something to do with the kind of show you put on."
"Grandma, it's a show. You made my first stage costume when I was in high school. You thought it was funny--like a musical horror movie. It still is."
"Some young people aren't well adjusted, or they don't have parents who care about them, or they get involved in drugs or alcohol... Parents look for someone to blame."
"I guess. I'm just tired. So tell me what's been going on while I was gone." He knew the statement would evoke a long and somewhat soothing monologue from his grandmother about a lot of people he barely knew--or didn't know at all--and every worthwhile detail about household activities over the past eight months.
And still, his mind wandered to the dead boy in the 666 t-shirt, and he found himself wondering if the gory, sensational spectacle that was his band could have in any way led to his demise.
Ginny's reports were as meticulous as ever, unearthing at least one tidbit they hadn't managed to observe at the scene. Both victims had stab wounds and slit throats, both had bruises and cuts that Ginny categorized as defense wounds and evidence of a struggle. The striking finding was that the stab wounds were in identical patterns on both bodies--five of them, forming a sort of circle on the chest. Fabric fibers were found in the wounds. The girl had been sexually assaulted, and both had been dead about a week.
"'Evening, gentlemen," Rick Lucas, a Missing Persons detective, greeted. He plunked a stack of file folders on Starsky's desk. "My recent missing teenagers. I can go back further if none of these check out, but these are the ones reported near the time the victims supposedly died." In his mid-twenties, Rick was a nice-looking man with hair that fell over his collar, and a conspicuous hole in one ear that was filled with a dangling pierced earring on weekends. His light tweed sport coat was pushed up at the sleeves, his collar open with a skinny tie around his neck. It occurred to Hutch that he looked like an escapee from the latest Duran Duran video. Rick played in a band in his off time, and the brass was on his back regularly to look more like a cop than a rock star. So far, their efforts had failed miserably.
"You know anything about 666?" Hutch asked.
"The Number of the Beast, eh? Or are we talking about the band?" Rick asked, sitting on the edge of an adjoining desk.
"The band," Hutch clarified.
"They've been around about six or seven years, made it really big in the last three years or so. They do a lot of blood, guts, and devil worship stuff in their live act. The evangelists use them for dartboard targets, I think," he added with a laugh, stealing a doughnut out of the box Starsky had on his desk, ignoring the withering glare it earned him. "A lot of kids are wearing their t-shirts. That doesn't mean it had anything to do with the band. Jake Miller, their lead singer, said he got the idea for the band's name from watching The Omen. You remember how the kid that was supposed to be the antichrist had the three sixes on his scalp?"
"Great movie," Starsky said, remembering fondly how utterly creepy it had been the first time he'd seen it. The demonic-sounding choir they'd used throughout the film for the score had given him goose bumps. "How serious are the fans about all the devil worship in the act?" Starsky asked.
"Not as serious as the evangelists and the parents, I'll bet you that. It's all a show. An act. Sure, some of the kids dress up in black and wear pentagram necklaces, but I think it's more to freak out their parents than it is to worship Satan."
"Have you been to one of their shows?"
"Sure. A couple'a times. It was loud, chaotic, and I definitely wouldn't get close to the stage next time."
"Why not?" Starsky asked, frowning.
"Let's just say if they ever add 'distance blood spitting' as an Olympic event, Jake Miller's got a gold medal sewn up."
"Blood?""" " Hutch asked, taking a sip of his coffee, trying to dispel the image of being hit with spit and stage blood at a concert. The image suddenly juxtaposed in his mind with the last symphony concert he'd attended with his parents back in Duluth, and he found himself grinning.
"It's fake stuff. I've got their last couple albums at home. I can bring them in if you want to borrow them."
"That might be helpful. Thanks, Rick," Starsky said.
"Hey, no problem. Just get a raspberry bismarck in the box tomorrow, and we're even," he said, finishing off the last bite of the chocolate glazed doughnut. "If you really want to know about 666, just pick up this month's issues of Hit Parader and Circus. They're on the cover of both of them. I gotta go," he said, checking his watch and sliding off the desk. "We've got a gig tonight."
"Need time to do your hair?" Hutch joked.
"Yeah, mostly," he responded, laughing. "I'll worry about tuning the guitar if I have time," he added, hurrying out the door.
"You ever see his act?" Starsky asked.
"I don't usually go out at night without you, so you'd know if I had," Hutch responded, casting an eye around the nearly empty squadroom to be sure they weren't overheard.
"I saw him at a crime scene once when you were on sick leave. They'd called him in from his off-duty time, and he came right over to the scene from the club where his band was playing. Hair teased up to here," Starsky said, gesturing above his head, "zebra-striped spandex pants, black leather boots with silver chains, red mesh tank shirt that was all torn up, big feather earring in his ear, and a BCPD windbreaker over the whole ensemble," Starsky concluded, chuckling. "The guys ribbed him for weeks, but I'll tell you something, I'd have paid good money for a snapshot of him playing hardball with one of the suspects at the scene in that get-up."
"Maybe the albums will give us more insight into all this." Hutch leaned back in his chair. "Long day."
"Let's go home and get some sleep." Starsky checked his watch. "We could turn on MTV, see if one of the 666 videos come on."
"Yeah, okay. Think Dobey would count that as overtime?"
He'd been lying on the floor with the stereo speakers on either side of him turned toward his head. His heart seemed to pound with the beat, the bass reverberating inside his head somewhere. There was no definition of where he ended and the music began. They were a single entity now, and the music flowed in and out of him like the air he breathed.
It was getting easier, making the final cut. The first time was hardest. Like most things, your first attempt is rarely your best, and with experience, you become swifter, surer, and more effective.
He rose from the floor and walked to the mirror. Black hair dye had obscured his normally ordinary brown hair, and the hours at the gym were building his body into something more substantial than his previously scrawny, nondescript physique. The new tattoos helped, too. A serpent that ran the full length of one arm, and a dragon on the other.
He was a leader now. They all looked up to him, either with respect or fear or some combination of the two. He glanced up at the poster on his wall. Jake Miller and 666 were playing games, but he was for real. His power was for real. His favor with Satan was for real. Human sacrifice...the apex of real devil worship. It had been surprisingly easy to offer this ultimate tribute to his Master, and thoroughly satisfying to know he was punishing the false disciple as he did it. And it was getting easier. Yes, Jake Miller was pretending, and what better way to honor the Master than to sacrifice to him the pretender who made light of his name?
"Tomorrow night's Halloween," Starsky said, turning on the TV and slumping on the couch, resting his stockinged feet on the coffee table. "You'd think this psycho with the rituals would've waited for the big night."
"Actually, that would be in April anyway." Hutch walked into the room, having changed into his favorite old jeans and a well-worn t-shirt. He tossed a book in Starsky's direction.
"Since when do you read books on witchcraft?" He started thumbing through the pages.
"Actually, I found it among some of the junk in the attic. I got interested in it."
"Do I wanna know why the previous owners had a book on witchcraft in the attic?"
"Probably because they thought it looked interesting. Or they performed dark rituals in the garden when the moon was full." Hutch handed Starsky a beer, then sat next to him, taking a long pull on his drink.
"That's not funny," Starsky retorted.
"Maybe not, but the look on your face was priceless," Hutch replied, grinning. "Anyway, the big night for witches and devil worshipers is Walpurgis Night, or April 30th. But there's another Witches' Sabbat around Halloween. I just can't recall the date."
"You think that has anything to do with it?"
"Not all witches are devil worshipers, and not all devil worshipers are witches. For a dime-store Satanist, Halloween probably has more meaning than for a real practitioner."
"I suppose." Starsky turned up the volume. "Speak of the devil." He chuckled a little as the 666 video began, a live stage performance clip with plenty of fog, red spotlights, and a lead singer clad in red-and-black leather, belting out the vocals, getting more intimate with his mic stand than Starsky had been with the last girl he'd dated.
"They're better than I thought they'd be."
"Say, are you gonna do that with the mic stand at the next Department picnic? Now that I'd pay good money to see." Starsky snorted an evil little laugh.
"I wonder how long it takes him to do his hair in the morning?" Hutch joked. "Or how many gallons of hair spray they use between them in a month?"
"Look at those girls. I'm tellin' ya, Hutch, we were using the wrong approach all those years. They're ready to rip their clothes off for these guys. I shoulda just grown out my hair." As Starsky spoke, a well-endowed girl hoisted her t-shirt up to her chin, the video blurring out the exposure into a flesh-colored smear where her chest was.
"There goes the blood," Hutch said, taking another drink of beer, watching the lead singer projectile-spit a stream of stage blood into the frenzied crowd while raising both arms in the air, fingers in devil-horn salutes. "Rick was right about avoiding the front row," Hutch added.
The music was thunderous and loud, the stage show ominous and gruesome in parts, but the musicianship was surprisingly solid, and the lead singer's voice was powerful and clear. These guys weren't just flashy and controversial, they were good. It was no wonder they graced the cover of most rock magazines, had the guys emulating them, and the girls....
"So what'd that tell us?" Starsky said, hitting the mute button on the remote as an enthusiastic announcer appeared to share the latest music news.
"That the TV speakers vibrate when you turn the volume up that high," Hutch responded, deadpan. "I don't think we're going to learn anything about these guys until we talk to them. They never lingered on a close-up long enough to get a good look at them."
"You mean to see if they were high?" Starsky asked.
"Right. If they're spending enough time on a buzz of some sort, they might start to believe their own press, but I tend to think they're putting on a show, and our kid with the 666 t-shirt was just that--a kid with a 666 t-shirt." Hutch yawned and leaned back on the couch. He smiled when Starsky took that as an invitation to move closer and rest his head on Hutch's shoulder.
"Kids who were already interested in this stuff would definitely go for this kind of music, though."
"We'd be looking for a needle in a haystack. You saw the crowd in that video. They've probably got crowds that size in every arena they play." Hutch paused, grinning. "My parents were horrified by The Beatles and The Doors." He shook his head. "I broke them in with The Beatles, and then Cathy fell in love with Jim Morrison and devoured anything related to The Doors she could get her hands on. My father hated it. He said Jim Morrison was a drug-crazed degenerate."
"He sorta was, even if he was brilliant," Starsky said. "I still remember seeing them on The Ed Sullivan Show. He wasn't supposed to sing that one line in 'Light My Fire', but he did it anyway."
"I liked his unwillingness to compromise on what he believed. Maybe that's what I don't respect about guys like these with the fake blood and the pentagrams. What do they believe, and what are they proving? I mean, Jim Morrison might have been so high or drunk he had his head up his ass most of the time, but underneath all that, he was highly intelligent and he had convictions. Some of the ideas in his poetry are really pretty profound if you can sift through the parts that are mostly the drugs talking."
"So if..." Starsky picked up one of the magazines to see the lead singer's name again, "Jake Miller here writes profound poetry, you won't mind that he projectile-spits into the crowd?"
"If Jake Miller has a thought more profound than the next bare-chested girl or royalty check, I will stand corrected."
"Bare-chested women and money. Yeah, those are horrible things, Hutch. What would a healthy guy in his twenties want with that, anyway?" Starsky teased, grinning.
"I prefer bare-chested, hairy Jewish cops, myself," Hutch said, finishing off his beer.
"I'm into blonds, myself."
"You're into this blond every chance you get," Hutch retorted.
"You want to watch any more of this stuff?" Starsky asked, holding the remote aimed at the TV.
"No, thanks. If I'm going to watch a man gyrate, I have someone specific in mind."
"There's a movie on in a half-hour," Starsky said. "Horror of Dracula. Oh, man, Hutch, that's the first one Christopher Lee did. It's great. It's even better than Brides of Dracula, which was good, because Peter Cushing was still in it, but it just wasn't the same without Christopher--"
"All right, already," Hutch interrupted. "Just tune in to that station, and we'll see if we can't figure out something to do with that extra half-hour."
"Just enough time to make popcorn!" Starsky leapt from the couch and rushed to the kitchen, a spring in his step.
Hutch sighed. It was official. They were an old married couple. Strangely content, though somewhat sexually frustrated, Hutch settled in for an evening of vampires and sucking of a type entirely different than he'd originally planned.
Jake lay in the shade of his favorite trees, the hammock swaying almost imperceptibly as he dozed. His stomach was considerably less annoyed with him than it had been the night before, and all he concentrated on now was the feel of the light breeze skimming his body and toying with his hair. And it was blessedly quiet. Even Spike slept on the grass nearby, and the loudest noise he could hear in the distance was the faint buzz of some lawn tool the gardener was using. All this peace and quiet and solitude would slowly erode his sanity until he'd break down in a day or two and call Tony and the guys to come over and jam for a while. Or, at the very least, he'd spend some hours in his home studio doing a little song writing. But for now, this was nirvana. This was perfection.
"Jake!" His grandmother's voice held a note of panic that jerked him out of his stupor quickly. "Jake, Jessie's school is on the phone!" she said, walking to the edge of the patio that was about twenty feet from his spot in the hammock.
"What's wrong?" Jake was on his feet now, hurrying toward the house, Spike following him at a languid trot.
"Mrs. Walling said they think she's been away from the school for over a week!"
"What?" Jake bellowed, striding into the living room and picking up the telephone where it lay on an end table. "Mrs. Walling? This is Jake Miller. What's going on up there?" he demanded angrily. "Where's my sister?"
"Mr. Miller, we believe Jessica ran away. We thought you had authorized her leaving with her cousin--"
"Her cousin? You mean you let her leave the school grounds with someone a week ago, and this is the first I'm hearing about it?"
"A young man arrived here a week ago Friday, saying he was her cousin, and presented my secretary with a hand-written permission slip signed by you. Or, she believed it was your signature. She compared it to your signature on Jessica's admissions forms, and it matched."
"It couldn't have matched because it wasn't my signature," he shot back. "Have you talked to her friends? Do they know who this guy might be?"
"Her friends said the description matched Jessica's boyfriend, a young man from one of the local high schools here. She had mentioned leaving school with him, that they were going to travel to some concert in Los Angeles. The note authorized her absence for a week. Now that the week is up and she hasn't returned, and we've heard no more from her or from you, it prompted us to call."
"I don't believe this." Jake dropped into an overstuffed chair, feeling the serenity of a few moments earlier drop away like a discarded cloak, and the familiar searing feeling in his gut returning full force. "Who is this guy she goes out with? And how did she meet him, anyway? I thought the girls were supposed to stay on campus."
"This isn't a maximum security prison, Mr. Miller. We allow the older girls to go into town on the weekend--daytime only--and we take the whole student body on certain field trips and other excursions to museums or other educational sites, occasionally in conjunction with other area schools. She could have met him under those circumstances."
"Do you know his name?" Jake repeated.
"Matthew Proctor. We checked with the high school, and he hasn't been in classes since your sister left our school, and his parents reported him missing the same time he picked Jessica up here."
"None of her friends have heard from her?"
"No, but they didn't expect to. She's probably fine, and is just on a little unauthorized adventure--"
"Mrs. Walling, you've lost track of a sixteen-year-old girl. She got away from you with a teenage boy, she's been gone a week, and this is the first time you thought to verify any of this with her guardian?"
"I wasn't aware of any of this until my secretary brought it to my attention that she was due back in classes today," she responded. It was now Monday.
"I'll be up there by this evening--sooner, depending on the traffic. Call the police up there."
"I am sorry about this, Mr. Miller. We're very careful--"
"Sorry? If anything's happened to my sister, lady, you're going to learn a whole new meaning of the word, 'sorry'." Jake slammed down the phone.
"Why would they let her leave with some boy that way?" His grandmother dabbed at her eyes with a Kleenex. "She's a good girl, Jake. She wouldn't leave this way, without a word."
"Teenagers do crazy things, Grandma. Let's not jump to any bad conclusions until we get all the facts, okay?" he said, rising to hug the elderly woman. "We'll find her. I'm sure she's fine. Just hanging out with her boyfriend somewhere."
"I'll go with you to the school," she said. "No objections," she added, pulling back before he could say anything. "I want to be there."
"Okay," he responded, smiling. "Have Gina pack a bag for you. We might be up there a day or two. I'm going to throw some stuff in a duffle bag."
"Jake, what will we do if...if...?"
"She's fine, Grandma. She has to be, okay?" With that, he turned and headed for the stairs. She has to be....
"We're down to two possibles as a match for the girl, and one for the boy," Hutch reported to Dobey as they sat across the desk from him. "Five of the girls who are missing had prior juvenile records, so we had prints to compare. Two of them are clean, no records. We're waiting for comparisons on dental records. Same story with the boys. Only one had a clean record, and had reasonably similar physical characteristics. His dentist was providing Ginny what she needed to check him out."
"Minnie's checking with other departments statewide for missing kids in the right age group and time frame," Starsky added. "So far, we know they were stabbed five times in the chest, and their throats cut. The girl was sexually assaulted, and there were all the trappings of a Satanic ritual nearby--a makeshift altar, dead goat, blood--and they were buried wrapped in red and black velvet."
"One interesting thing about the stab wounds," Hutch said, laying an autopsy photo of the boy's chest on Dobey's desk. It was taken to show the wound pattern, prior to the autopsy incisions. "This is a copy," Hutch clarified, as he uncapped a red felt tip marker. "Watch what happens when we play connect the dots." He carefully drew lines from one wound to the other until they formed an upside-down five-pointed star, an unmistakable, classic symbol of devil worship.
"See what you can find out about the cults in the area. And you might want to talk to Milhaus in Juvie, see what she knows about what the teenagers are into now. I can't believe the way the kids next door to us dress. Makes me nervous to leave Rosie and Edith there alone sometimes."
"How do you mean?" Starsky asked, frowning. "I thought you had pretty good neighbors."
"They have two teenage boys, and they're always in black, hair spiked out to here," Dobey said, gesturing over his head. "Studded wristbands...you name it. They used to speak when we saw them outside. Now they glare at us."
"Don't you think it's just a phase, Captain?" Hutch asked.
"Not a phase I'd let my kid get away with for long, that's for sure." Dobey sighed, leaning back in his chair. "Our minister's convinced it's all this...heavy metal stuff. Bands like this 666 that was on the dead boy's t-shirt. Glorifying the devil and all kinds of weird things."
"Alice Cooper was doing the same thing years ago," Starsky said. "Not to mention Black Sabbath, and KISS, with the whole spitting blood and fire routine. None of this is really all that new, Cap'n. It's just a little gorier than it used to be."
"Besides, what good is rock and roll if it doesn't upset your parents?" Hutch quipped.
"Oh, and check out the band while you're at it. It's a long shot, but who knows what kind of weird stuff these guys do with their fans?"
Once they'd left Dobey's office, Hutch sat at his desk, and Starsky pulled up a chair next to him. They dumped the magazines they'd bought at the convenience store out of the paper bag onto the desk. A dizzying array of teased hair and wild colors was spread before them. Three of the five magazines featured 666 on the cover, two of them focusing on lead singer Jake Miller, an ominous-looking character with shoulder-length black hair, dressed head to toe in red-and-black leather, arms crisscrossing his chest, his fingers in devil-horn salutes, kept company by an equally intimidating jet-black Great Dane, teeth bared, wearing a red leather collar decorated with inch-long silver spikes.
"Wouldn't want to run into him in a dark alley," Starsky commented.
"No, the dog," Starsky clarified. "You think he keeps that horse on a leash around the house?"
"Here. Read the article. I'll read this one."
"I think Dobey's taking all this a little seriously, don't you?"
"We do have two dead teenagers killed as part of some Satanic ritual, Starsk."
"I don't mean the case isn't serious. I mean all this," he said, gesturing at the magazines. "The older generation has always condemned whatever the teenagers were into as being sinful or harmful or too sexy or too dangerous or too violent, or too something."
"You think these guys just decided to ratchet up the shock value and there's nothing more behind it?"
"Could be. I never really thought Alice Cooper went home and sat around his house with all that black eyeliner on, drinking blood out of skulls. Or that the guys in Black Sabbath were actually sacrificing babies between concerts."
"I tend to think investigating the band is a waste of time, too, but if Dobey wants us to check them out, I guess we're stuck. It's not like we have any other good leads to work with at the moment."
Just then, Minnie walked in, carrying a file folder.
"You've got a lot of reading ahead of you, and I don't mean those magazines," she said, handing Starsky the folder. "Lots of missing kids in the state of California."
"Apparently," he said, flipping through the pages. "What time frame did you run this for?"
"Last three months, but they're sorted by date. I figured a runaway could have been gone a while and still just ended up dead in the last few days."
"Okay, Min. Thanks."
"I thought you were more of a John Denver fan," she said to Hutch, looking through the magazines on his desk.
"One of our victims had a 666 t-shirt on. It's probably nothing, but Dobey wants us to check out the band."
"Lots of kids wear t-shirts. I've got an Earth, Wind, and Fire t-shirt, but I don't sing with the band," she quipped.
"The band incorporates a lot of devil worship images into their concerts and on their album covers. We think the murders were ritual killings," Hutch clarified. "The stab wounds are in the pattern of an upside-down five-pointed star, and we found a dead goat and a makeshift altar nearby."
"You really think the band would get that crazy, to kill their own fans?" Minnie asked, looking at the cover of one of the magazines.
"No, but maybe they know how into it the kids are. Or how into it the band really is," Starsky explained. "Or maybe we can find ties to some kind of cult that might be responsible."
"I suppose next you'll be wanting me to search the database for cult activity."
"Well, it would help to know what kind of arrests we've had recently relevant to cults or devil worship," Starsky replied, flashing his most charming smile in her direction. "I could make it worth your while, Min."
"You've been promising me that for years, honey. Besides, you're already taken," she added quietly, with a quick wink in Hutch's direction before leaving them both to ponder her response.
"Dobey wouldn't have told her," Hutch said in a whisper.
"Nobody has to tell her. Sometimes I think Minnie's a better detective than all of us put together," Starsky whispered back, then paused. "Does it bother you, her knowing?"
"Minnie won't make any trouble for us. She's a friend."
"What do you want to do first? Read this report or go talk to this guy?" Starsky pointed at a particularly ominous photo of Jake Miller and his fierce-looking dog.
"We'll pick up a raw steak on our way there," Hutch joked.
The Miller mansion didn't look anything like what either Starsky or Hutch had imagined, though neither could be entirely sure what it was he was expecting. Something along the lines of Dracula's castle would have been more in keeping with the musician's dark image. This home was a sumptuous example of Florentine architecture, a symphony of stone and arches that lay behind trees and a winding drive that obscured it from the road. Even now that the mansion was in sight, they were not able to proceed to the entrance without first calling the house from outside a pair of black iron gates.
"May I help you?" a woman's voice, thickly Italian-accented, came over the small speaker.
"Detectives Starsky and Hutchinson, Bay City Police, to see Mr. Miller," Starsky responded.
"Do you have an appointment?"
"No, ma'am. We're investigating a case and we need to speak to Mr. Miller."
"Is it about Jessica?" she asked.
"Jessica?" Starsky replied.
"Hold your identification up where the camera can see it," she said.
Starsky dug out his ID and held it up to the security camera. There was a buzzing sound as the gates began opening slowly. Once they stood fully open, Starsky drove the Torino the rest of the way up the winding drive, following it until it circled in front of the house. The man they hoped to question was just walking out the door, with a little white-haired woman holding onto his arm. He looked considerably different from the photos, his long hair pulled back in a pony tail, dressed in jeans, a white shirt, and a leather jacket. The pair were heading for a black Porsche parked just ahead of where Starsky had stopped.
"Mr. Miller," Hutch said, as he got out of the car.
"You're from the police?" the elderly woman asked immediately as Starsky and Hutch approached them. "Did you find her?" she asked, a frantic look in her eyes.
"I'm Detective Hutchinson, this is Detective Starsky. Who's missing?"
"My little sister, Jessica," Jake responded. "She's at a boarding school upstate...at least, she's supposed to be. She left there a week ago with some fake permission slip, and they just called... Look, if this isn't about Jessie, it's gonna have to wait. We're on our way up there."
"Actually, the reason we came out here is the investigation into the deaths of two teenagers--"
"And one of them was wearing a 666 t-shirt," he said, completing Hutch's sentence. "Look, I don't have time for this witch-hunt shit right now. My sister's missing, and if you don't have anything to do with that, you can make an appointment with my housekeeper for when I get back."
"How old is your sister, and where did she disappear from?" Starsky asked.
"She's sixteen, and she was at the Chadwick School for Girls in Aspen Hollow. It's a little town not far from San Francisco," the elderly woman replied.
"This is my grandmother, Ida Miller," Jake belatedly introduced. He rubbed over his mid-section with his free hand, then seemed to realize he'd been doing it and stuffed his hand in the pocket of his jeans.
"This may have nothing to do with your sister, given the location, but one of the victims is a sixteen-year-old white female with dark hair," Starsky said. Ida gasped and covered her mouth.
"Grandma, wait in the car. We'll be done here in a minute."
"This isn't about Jessie. She's up north, probably running around with her boyfriend somewhere. Please wait for me in the car, okay? I'll just be a minute."
"All right," she agreed, nodding. When she had slipped into the passenger seat and closed the door, Jake turned a glare on the two detectives not unlike the one he usually sported on magazine covers. "Is that your new tactic? Scaring little old ladies? What the fuck was that? My sister is missing somewhere up north of San Francisco, and you're trying to tie that to this case because of a t-shirt?"
"Mr. Miller, there were signs of a devil worship ritual having taken place near where the bodies were found, and given your stage shows--" Hutch was cut off by another angry response.
"Given our stage shows, what? You think I sacrifice teenagers in my spare time? My own sister, for God's sake? You can get as shitty with me as you want to, but leave my grandmother out of it. She's an old woman and she doesn't need the stress. I don't worship Satan. My band mates don't worship Satan. I don't have an altar in my house, and I don't perform Black Masses. I don't take drugs, and I can't drink very much because I have an ulcer. If you want to search the house for drugs or dead sacrificial animals, you're welcome to do it. But right now, I just want to find my sister."
"What about your parents?" Starsky asked.
"What about them? My father died when we were kids, and my mother dumped us on my grandmother. I don't know where she is. I haven't seen her in twelve, thirteen years now. I'm Jessica's legal guardian because my grandmother is getting old and we didn't want Jessie ending up in foster care if something happened to her. Is there anything else you need to know, or can I go now?"
"Has your sister been reported missing?" Hutch asked.
"Yes, the school reported it a few hours ago."
"Has she been in any trouble before?"
"Never. She's a good kid. A little wild sometimes, but a good kid. Grandma and I put her in that school because she's a straight-A student and that place is supposed to be a ticket into an Ivy League college, and she needs more supervision than someone who travels eight months a year or an elderly woman can give her."
"I only asked about her being in trouble because if we had fingerprints to compare, we could eliminate your sister as a possible match for the female victim," Hutch explained. "I didn't want to say this in front of your grandmother, but our victim has been dead about a week."
"Oh, my God." Jake pushed a few stray strands of hair out of his face. "But why down here? It doesn't make any sense." Jake paused. "Oh, man."
"What?" Hutch asked.
"At the school, they said her friends said something about her going to LA with her boyfriend to see a concert. Bay City would be on their way."
"Do you know anything about him, or have a photo of them?" Starsky asked.
"I have photos of Jessie, but I've never seen her boyfriend. I didn't even know she had one. At the school, they said his name was Matthew Proctor. The little prick. I'm gonna kill him when I do find them, so stick around. You can arrest me then."
"Okay, we'll check into it--and I hope you're joking about killing him," Starsky added. "That's trouble you don't want to bring down on yourself, trust me."
"Depends on what he's done with my sister." Jake sighed. "No, I won't kill the bastard."
"Do you have something of hers that would have her prints on it, something we could compare?" Hutch persisted.
"Yeah, there's stuff in her room upstairs. Like a hairbrush or something?"
"That would be great. The hair samples would help us, too," Starsky said.
"Should we...should we wait until you check...?" Most of Jake's bluster seemed gone now, and he looked stricken at the possibility of his sister's identity being matched with the dead girl.
"We can call you up in Aspen Hollow if you like," Starsky offered. "Like you said, it's all pretty unlikely to be related to your sister."
"We'll wait here. Could you do me a favor, though?" Jake laughed humorlessly. "I piss you off and then ask for favors."
"If we can help with your sister's disappearance, we'll be glad to do that," Hutch offered.
"Would you call the cops up there? I mean, they've got to be this little one-horse department, and they probably don't even know what they're doing...or they just think she's this airhead teenager who took off with her boyfriend..." He paused, swallowing. "She wouldn't do this to us. Not to her grandmother. She's no saint, she's a typical kid...but she wouldn't leave like this of her own free will. I don't want to say things like this in front of her," he said, nodding toward the car. "I just know something bad's happened to Jessie, and I was going up there because I don't think they're taking it seriously enough. Or even if they do, will they know how to investigate it?"
"We'll call the PD up in Aspen Hollow, and if they're willing to work with us, we'll see what we can do," Starsky said.
"Thanks, man. Sorry about the attitude before," he said, extending his hand, which each of them shook. "Tell Gina, my housekeeper, that I said you could look around Jessie's room and take what you need. And if you want some coffee or something, or want to make any calls from here, help yourselves. I'm going to get Grandma and tell her we're waiting a while."
"Thanks," Hutch said, smiling slightly.
The interior of the house was as grand as the exterior. The large foyer boasted a tile floor, with a large round mosaic in the middle in soft shades of gray and green, forming a floral pattern. The house appeared to be furnished in antiques that perfectly fit the home. A massive open staircase wound gracefully up to a second-floor hallway that partially overlooked the main floor. A stout dark-haired woman dressed in jeans and a loose blue shirt met them just inside the entrance, and they asked to see Jessica Miller's room as her brother had instructed. Apparently, Jake Miller didn't demand his staff wear uniforms.
"Her room is upstairs," she said, leading the way up the stairs.
"Music business must be the way to go," Starsky said, looking around at the large ornate chandelier, the elegant paintings on the walls, and the rich colors and designs on the tile floors.
"Mrs. Miller chose the paintings herself. She has a very good eye for art," the woman said.
"How long have you worked for the Millers, Gina? It's Gina, right?" Hutch asked.
"I have been here for three years, since Mr. Jake bought this place."
"What is he, about thirty now? Can't picture anybody buying a place like this in their twenties," Starsky commented.
"He is twenty-six. He will be twenty-seven next week. This is Miss Jessica's room," she said, pushing open a pair of double doors to reveal a sprawling bedroom decorated in shades of fuchsia, pale pink, and white. The colors were very girlish, but the furniture was not the white-finished stuff of children's bedrooms. Jessica's room contained a number of antiques, including a huge four-poster bed in a dark, rich wood. "She decorated it all by herself. When they moved in, he told her she could do whatever she wanted with it."
"She has classy taste for a teenager," Hutch commented, noting that the posters on this girl's bedroom walls were tastefully framed, her stereo system cleverly ensconced in a large antique cabinet, records and tapes neatly stacked and organized in a nearby wall unit.
"Most of Miss Jessica's current things are at her school, but she has a few items on her dresser, and a lot of clothing in the closet. Mr. Jake spoils her with the credit cards. She shops and shops and shops," Gina explained, opening a large walk-in closet that looked more like a small boutique. Two long clothing rods were packed with clothes, a full wall of transparent drawers contained countless pairs of shoes, and more drawers and shelves above and beneath the clothing held purses, sweaters, jeans, and numerous other accessories.
"Do you mind if we look around?" Starsky asked.
"No, but please, unless you have to, don't mess things up. Miss Jessica is very particular, and very private. She would be upset if she knew strange men were going through her things."
"We'll be careful, Gina. At this stage, we just want to find something with her fingerprints on it, and maybe a photo and a couple of personal items."
"Would you like a bag? I can get you a freezer bag from the kitchen to hold her hairbrush," she said, moving to the dresser. "She uses this one sometimes. She took her favorite to school with her." She gestured at a silver dresser set that included a brush, comb, and mirror, all engraved with a large swirling "J." "A gift from Mr. Jake."
"He must love his little sister a lot," Starsky said, picking up a photo of the two of them together, Jake looking sweaty and bedraggled but all smiles in his stage attire, and Jessica dressed up like a typical teenager at a rock concert--band t-shirt, jeans, and leather vest, hair teased and sprayed into a puffy style, large earrings dangling from her ears.
"They are a close family," Gina said. "I hope this dead girl...is not our Jessica."
"We hope not, too, Gina," Hutch said. "The bag will be a big help."
"Yes, of course," she replied, turning and heading back down the hall.
"I don't know if all this equates to loving a kid or spoiling her." Hutch sighed, looking around the opulent room.
"The guy bought the house when he was twenty-three. When you're that age, piling on things probably seems like love. Besides, I was thinking more of this picture. She looks like a happy kid."
"She looks like our dead girl," Hutch said grimly.
"Do you mean that?" A man's voice startled them from the doorway. Jake Miller stood there, watching them with horrified eyes.
"She had dark hair, too, and she looks to be about the same build as Jessica," Hutch said. "It was a thoughtless comment," he added.
"I thought...I came up in case you needed help figuring out what to take, or to find anything specific." He smiled when he looked at the photo Starsky was holding. "That was taken at Madison Square Garden last year. We did a sold-out show. I took her out of school for it, you know, because it was the first time we sold out there, and she wanted to shop on Madison Avenue," he added, his voice shaking. "Take what you need. I'll be downstairs." He strode out of the room quickly, then headed down the stairs at the same pace without looking back.
"This must be mom and dad," Starsky said, picking up a framed photo of a middle-aged man with dark hair, and a pretty blonde woman about the same age, and what looked like a teenaged Jake and a very young Jessica.
"Let's borrow the photo and the hairbrush and get downtown. I think this family needs an answer pretty soon," Hutch said.
"What did you find out at the Miller place?" Dobey asked when he saw his detectives returning to their desks.
"Not what we expected. A missing girl." Hutch handed Dobey the framed photo of the musician with his sister. "She's a pretty good match for our female victim. They're checking her hairbrush for prints, see if they're a match. If so, we'll get her dental records..." Hutch sighed.
"You think he had something to do with it?"
"No," Starsky said with certainty. "He's crazy about her. His grandmother lives out there with them, and they seem like a pretty close-knit family."
"He's not really what we expected, Captain," Hutch said.
"What were you expecting?" Dobey asked, looking at the rock magazines stacked on Hutch's desk and shaking his head.
"That guy," Starsky said, pointing to one of the photos. "Instead, we get Ward Cleaver with big hair and attitude," he added. The summation made Dobey chuckle.
"He's clean, no priors," Dobey said. "Didn't it occur to you to check him for priors?"
"Sorry, Captain. I guess we were distracted by the...fanfare around the guy. Or maybe we just assumed he'd have priors for tearing up hotels or something," Starsky said, wondering if he'd fallen prey to making the same assumptions about the man that the evangelists and Moral Majority mouthpieces were likely to make. He had a wild image, therefore, he must be wild and lawless.
The phone rang, and Starsky picked it up. A moment later, his face fell.
"Right. Thanks, Mike. No, it's not good news, but at least it's an ID. Right. Yeah, I'm sure we can get the dental records." Starsky hung up and looked at Hutch. "The prints are a perfect match with our Jane Doe. Ginny's going to compare the hair samples from the brush, and we'll get the dental records from the dentist, but he said it's a good match. It's Jessica Miller."
"We need to place that call to Aspen Hollow and find out more about Matthew Proctor. I'll give you odds he's the dead boy in the other grave."
"Man, I don't want to go back out there with this news," Starsky said, sitting in his chair and leaning back.
"His sister turned up missing at her boarding school up north. She left with her boyfriend on some phony permission slip a week ago, and hasn't been heard from since," Hutch explained to Dobey. "Apparently, he's a local boy from the high school in Aspen Hollow."
"See what you can find out. You want me to dispatch a black-and-white to the Miller place to tell them?" Dobey said.
"No, we'll do it," Hutch responded. "First, I want to talk to the folks at the Aspen Hollow PD and get a photo and ID information on the boyfriend. If he has priors, they may have prints for us."
"Keep me posted. But don't neglect to investigate the brother. We don't know anything about this guy, and his band doesn't exactly have a good reputation."
"Right, Captain," Hutch said, waiting until Dobey closed his door to continue. "I don't think Miller had anything to do with this."
"Probably just a sick coincidence."
"Maybe it's some psycho evangelist trying to prove a point--you know, hit him where he lives."
"That's really twisted," Starsky said. "I can't believe anyone who's even remotely tied in to some kind of religion could want to kill an innocent girl just to prove a point."
"Worked for the witch hunters. I wonder what Miller meant about a witch hunt earlier?"
"I don't know, but I think we oughtta ask him," Starsky concluded.
The detective at the tiny Aspen Hollow Police Department was less than thrilled, but also less than surprised, to hear from "big-city" cops regarding the disappearance of Jessica Miller. The prestigious girls' school was in a bad position with a potential high-profile disaster, and Jake Miller had already telephoned them and interrogated them about their investigation. He willingly provided information on Matthew Proctor's record of minor juvenile offenses. The photograph he wired to them strongly resembled their John Doe. Neither doubted that the prints would match.
"I think we better head out there and break the news to the family," Starsky said. "We know it's her. The rest is details."
"Yeah, no point in putting it off. I'll never get used to this part of the job," Hutch said, tucking the borrowed photo, along with the photo of Proctor, into a manila envelope.
After ringing the main house from the gate, Starsky and Hutch once again made the journey up the winding drive to the front of the mansion. The housekeeper, Gina, had answered their call and now stood inside the open front door, awaiting their arrival. She looked at them somewhat questioningly, and a bit desperately, but wordlessly led them to the living room.
In the elegant and impeccably decorated living room with its antiques, large arched windows and rich draperies, were seated all five members of 666. Jake Miller was sitting in the corner seat of an ornate brocaded sofa, deep in conversation with another man about his height and build with long brown hair that went beyond his shoulders, dressed in a blue t-shirt and jeans. Two more chairs were occupied by tall shaggy-haired blonds, one in jeans and a black shirt, the other in jeans and a 666 t-shirt. Another man with long black hair, clad in a faded blue denim shirt and jeans, stood at the bar in the corner of the room, pouring a tall glass of milk. The milk was almost incongruous enough with the image of a heavy metal musician at a wet bar to make the detectives laugh under less dire circumstances. A moment later, the man crossed the room and handed the glass to Jake, who took a couple sips of it before he noticed the detectives and his housekeeper in the doorway of the room.
"The detectives are here to see you, Mr. Jake," she said, her voice shaking.
"Thank you, Gina."
"Should I get your grandmother?"
"Let her rest," Jake said, setting the glass on the coffee table and rising. "You can stay if you want," he said, and the woman nodded gratefully, sitting in a chair not far from the doorway, apart from the grouping of furniture the band occupied. "This is the rest of my band." He averted his eyes from Starsky's and Hutch's grim expressions, as if he were putting off the inevitable horror a few moments longer, hiding behind amenities. "Tony Patterson," he pointed to the brunet on the sofa, "Nick and Steve Mallot," he pointed to the two blonds, "and Doug Byrne," he concluded, indicating the man who had poured him the glass of milk and was now sitting in a chair near the couch. "Sit down, please." He gestured at a small, unoccupied couch and went back to his own seat. He rested one arm on the arm of the couch, his hand clenching in and out of a fist, the only visible outlet of his stress, except for the ashen color of his face.
"Thank you," Hutch said, feeling the five pairs of eyes focused intently on them, six pairs counting Gina, who looked absolutely panicky, a hand over her mouth.
"We checked Jessica's prints against those of the girl we found," Starsky began. "I'm sorry. There's no easy way to say this. They match." An audible sob escaped Gina, and she fled from the room, her crying carrying to where they sat until she had disappeared somewhere behind a closed door.
"There's no way this can be a mistake? You don't need dental records or something?" Tony asked, resting a hand on Jake's shoulder.
"We will certainly compare the dental records, and the lab is checking the hair samples. We don't make an identification like this lightly, and under the circumstances, even if we'd started with a visual ID, we'd have wanted verification of it," Hutch explained. "But we didn't see the need to prolong the waiting. The prints match, and we have no reason to question the validity of that result."
"How did she die?" Jake asked, his hand staying clenched in a fist now, the knuckles turning white.
Starsky and Hutch exchanged glances. It was a gesture not lost on the other members of the band.
"Hey, man, do you really want to hear that now?" Tony asked, his hand still on Jake's shoulder.
"She was my sister. I have to know how she died," he stated firmly.
"There were multiple stab wounds," Hutch responded, his voice gentle and yet clinical, trying to give the man the information he wanted in the least emotional, and yet least brutal, way he could. "There are indications, as we mentioned, that it was a ritualistic killing. We think the young man we found with her may be Matthew Proctor. As they told you at the school, he was a student at Aspen Hollow High School. We'll probably have confirmation on his ID when we get back to headquarters."
"Did the bastard rape her, too?" Jake asked, unclenching his fist long enough to swipe his hand past his eyes.
"Yes," Starsky responded, feeling Hutch shouldn't be the one to deliver all the bad news. "And you should know before you hear it somewhere else...her throat was cut."
At that, Jake sprang from the couch and rushed out of the room.
"I'll go," Tony said, hurrying to follow him.
"He's probably sick to his stomach," Nick spoke up, shaking his head. "We try to keep an eye on him, in case his ulcer starts bleeding. He's not always straight with us when he's sick, and we've had him wind up in the ER a couple times on the road."
"You didn't have to get so damn detailed with him. You just told him his sister was murdered," Doug said.
"Like Jake would have accepted it and left it at that," Steve retorted. "He's a fucking bulldog when he wants to know something."
"We should probably go," Hutch said. "We'll be back in touch. There are some questions we need to ask Jake and Mrs. Miller, questions about Jessica, for the investigation."
"She was a good kid," Nick said. "A little wild, but smart, good in school, and not into drugs or anything. She did a little drinking with her girlfriends, and she mouthed off at her grandma once in a while, so that's why she ended up at that boarding school. Jake thought they would keep track of her, curb the partying, and keep her focused on getting into a good college."
"He's always been real responsible about Jessie, since they were kids," Steve said. "This is gonna be rough on him. He'll blame himself for it."
"How into all the devil worship themes do your fans get?" Starsky asked, figuring this was as good a time as any to talk to the band.
"Mostly I think they get that it's just an act," Doug said. "And before you ask, it is just an act. A few of them get a little obsessive about it. We get some seriously weird fan mail," he said, smiling.
"Anything you'd consider threatening?" Hutch asked.
"Sure, but mostly from religious freaks. Those are the threatening ones," Nick said. "We've had a number of people tell us we were going to burn in Hell, and those were the mild ones. But then any bunch of people who'll spend their day burning albums and dancing around the fire aren't playing with a full deck anyway."
"So the threats come from the religious fanatics, morality watchdog types?" Starsky asked.
"Yeah, but I'm not saying they all sit around and write threatening notes. I just mean we've gotten threats, and mostly because people are against what we do, not because they like it or are into it."
"Except that weirdo who sent Jake that sick letter. Man, he was seriously crazy," Steve said.
"What was the letter about?" Hutch asked.
"The guy was all worked up because Jake said the whole devil worship thing was just an act, a stage show and that was it. It was in a magazine interview several months ago, and the interviewer asked Jake outright if any of us really worshiped Satan. Obviously, he laughed it off and said we didn't, that it was just a show. Then he gets the letter, and this nut went on and on about him defying the Master or mocking the Master, or something, and all those 'Masters' were with capital M's." Doug sighed. "I've seen some weirdos at our shows, and we've gotten some sicko mail before, but that guy scared the shit out of me."
"Were there any follow-ups to the letter? Phone calls, weird guys hanging around backstage...?" Starsky asked.
"You'd have to be a little more specific," Steve said, chuckling. "A lot of the guys hanging around backstage are weird. The girls aren't too bad, though."
"I'm gonna go see what's up with Jake," Doug said, rising and leaving the room.
"Does Jake still have the letter?" Hutch asked.
"He might. He was a little unnerved by it, but he might have tossed it by now. When he's feeling better, we can ask him," Steve offered.
"That'd be great." Hutch stood, and Starsky followed suit. "Please tell him again how sorry we are about his sister. We'll do everything we can to find the person responsible for her death."
"Thanks," Jake said from where he stood in the doorway, his voice husky. He walked slowly back into the room and extended a hand to Starsky, who shook it, and then to Hutch, who did the same. "Thanks for coming back out." His eyes were red and puffy, and his face pale. "I want to see her."
"Once we get the dental records, we can confirm the ID--"
"No," he cut Hutch off. "She's my little sister. I...I want to see her. I need to make arrangements, you know?"
"We're gonna help you with that, man. Just take it easy," Tony said, running his hand lightly over Jake's upper back. "You don't need to go down there tonight. Besides, Ida's gonna wake up and wonder where you are."
"I want to see her. Look, you've done what you need to do...haven't you? I don't want her stored in a drawer like a lab sample," he said, fresh tears filling his eyes.
"We don't know exactly when the body will be released. Our medical examiner is a very efficient lady, so I'm sure she'll release the remains as soon as possible."
"She's not 'remains'," Jake shot back angrily, clipping off Hutch's explanation. "She's my sister, and she deserves a decent burial."
"We couldn't agree more, and we'll do all we can to expedite the process," Hutch said.
"I want to see her tonight."
"What about Mrs. Miller?" Hutch asked.
"She's sedated. Her doctor came over. She got really upset after you left. She won't come around until tonight sometime, maybe even morning. At least, that's what he said."
"Gina's here. She can look after Ida, and we'll go downtown with you," Tony said.
"Okay. I need my jacket." He looked around, confused, until Doug appeared with the jacket, handing it to him. He slid into it, shivering a little.
"I'm sorry if we told you too much, too soon," Starsky said. "We thought it would be easier hearing it from someone in person than on the news. We've kept some of the details out of the press intentionally, but it's only a matter of time before more explicit details come out."
"No, it's okay. My ulcer's acting up," he said, feigning more composure than he obviously felt. "Not your fault."
"This isn't easy to say, but you need to keep in mind that she's been dead a week, and there's been some...decomposition in that time," Hutch stated. "You might want to reconsider."
"It's not right for her to be there in a drawer, with nobody...nobody coming there that's family. She doesn't need to get identified by fingerprints and hair samples. She'll get identified by family. I'm not changing my mind."
"Okay. You guys want to follow us there?" Hutch asked, and Doug nodded.
"I've got my Caddy. We can all fit in that."
"Your 'old man' car?" Jake teased him, forcing a little smile, and Doug laughed, looking relieved that his friend could manage even a little humor.
"Yeah, that's right, buddy, the 'old man' car," he responded, putting an arm around Jake's neck and pulling him into a brief, playful headlock before releasing him.
Starsky's eyes flicked up to the rearview mirror. The black Cadillac with its dark tinted windows followed close behind them, eerily resembling a funeral car.
"Were they what you expected?" he asked Hutch.
"After meeting Jake, I'm not sure what I expected from the rest of them. I guess I thought they'd be swizzling booze, smoking pot, and sitting around with three or four underage girls clinging to them."
"They probably do that backstage," Starsky quipped. "I'm not kidding myself these guys are choirboys. And they could be BS'ing us along with all this 'it's just an act' stuff. I'm just having a hard time picturing Jake and his friends dancing around naked drinking goat's blood."
"His grandmother wouldn't let him do that in the house," Hutch joked, and Starsky chuckled, then became serious again.
"When I was with Simon Marcus's goons, they were seriously sick people. It's true they worshiped Marcus more than Satan, but they were into that, too. These guys...they're healthy. At least, they seem like healthy, normal people. You couldn't spend time with those psychos in Marcus's cult without knowing they were seriously sick."
"Not all Satanists are brainwashed nutcases. There's a Church of Satan, and there are some well-known Satanists. You and I might think they're crazy, but they're not the types that you'd pick out on the street as devil worshipers, or even as nuts. There's even a Satanic bible."
"Do I want to know how you know this?" Starsky asked.
"When we were involved in the Marcus case, I did a lot of reading. I was hoping something would click...something that would help me see what made them tick. What I did see is that there's a side of Satanism that works like any other religion, and not all people who follow it are outwardly or obviously insane. Jayne Mansfield got involved in it, you know."
"Devil worship? No kidding."
"One rumor was that the car accident that decapitated her was part of a curse put on her for trying to break away from it. There have been claims that she still haunts her mansion."
"That's creepy," Starsky said, shuddering.
"I have a book of 'true' haunted house stories. You probably read it before. I think you've checked out just about everything in my collection at one time or another."
"Yeah, I check out your collection every chance I get," Starsky responded, flexing his eyebrows. "I woulda remembered that story, though."
"We'll look it up when we get home. Light the pumpkin, read a scary story, screw around a little...."
"Forget lighting the pumpkin. We'll start screwing around, forget the candle burning in the pumpkin, and burn the house down."
"You're still interested in the scary story and the screwing around, though, right?"
"Not necessarily in that order, babe," Starsky retorted, reaching over to ruffle the back of Hutch's hair.
More than one surprised look was cast in the direction of Starsky and Hutch and their visitors. Behind the detectives, all five members of 666 walked down the hall toward the morgue. Though they weren't in stage clothes, five fully grown men with substantial manes of long hair were enough to attract some attention in a county building.
"Wait out here. We'll make sure things are ready," Starsky said. They'd called in to alert Ginny's staff that the victim's brother would be coming in to ID her, but they didn't want to bring five visitors into the morgue without making sure things were ready. They were surprised to see Ginny herself standing next to the slab bearing the girl's corpse.
"There's not much we can do with her, but we'll keep the sheet up as much as we can to cover the wound in her neck."
"You did something with her, Ginny. She doesn't look as bad as she did," Hutch observed.
"I just combed her hair a little, fluffed it a bit, and brought it around her face a little more. It covers that bad spot where the decay is most visible over here," she said, gesturing to an area on the left side of Jessica's face. "That won't disturb any vital evidence." She looked at the girl regretfully. "You told him we could ID her from the dental records?"
"Yeah, we told him. He wants to do it himself. He thinks family should do it," Hutch said.
"Her brother brought friends. We've got five guys out there. Any problem if they all come in?" Starsky asked.
"No. We're ready." Ginny pulled the sheet up to cover Jessica's face. Starsky nodded and led the way back out to the waiting area.
"They're ready when you are," he said, standing aside from the door as Hutch did the same, holding it open.
Jake stared at the open door for a moment as if it were the gateway to Hell itself.
"You don't have to do this," Doug said.
"No, I do have to do it."
"Then we're all doing it," Nick spoke up.
"You don't have to--"
"Yeah, we do. We're in it together, pal, remember?" Tony said.
"Okay." Jake nodded, then took in a deep breath, wincing a little as it seemed to bother his stomach. Then he walked forward, determinedly, his friends right behind him. Starsky and Hutch waited just inside the doors as Ginny introduced herself.
"I'm so sorry for your loss, Mr. Miller," she added. "Just let me know when you're ready," she said, indicating the covered form on the slab.
"Is anybody ever ready for this?" he asked her, and she shook her head slowly.
"Not when it's someone close."
"Go ahead," he said quickly, as if he had to get the words out before he changed his mind.
Ginny pulled back the sheet just far enough to expose the dead girl's face.
"Oh, God, no," he said in a choked voice. "Oh, Jessie." He reached out toward the form on the slab, then pulled his hand back.
Steve turned his head away, appearing unable to look at the face of death any longer.
"Whoever did this needs to pay for it. In a big way," Doug stated. His voice was flat, cold, and ominous.
"That's our job," Hutch said.
"Then you fucking well better do it right, or we'll handle it," he shot back.
"Jake?" Tony was watching his friend intently, as he'd fallen completely silent, staring at his sister.
"They won't let me see her again after this. This is the last time..." He finally reached out and touched her hair with the tips of his fingers. "I love you, Jess. I'm so sorry, kiddo," he said, his voice breaking. "I thought you were safe. You should have been home. I should have been there to protect you, but I wasn't. I was your guardian, but I didn't guard you."
"It's not your fault, man," Nick said, resting a hand on Jake's back. "Don't hang this on yourself."
"She's dead! I wasn't there for her. I sent her away...she didn't want to go, but I sent her anyway and now she's dead and it's my fault!" Jake turned and walked briskly out of the room, slamming the swinging doors open on his way out.
"When can he bury her?" Tony asked quietly.
"We won't hold her any longer than we have to, I promise," Ginny said. "I know how much it means to the family to be able to move on. A day or two at most."
"Thanks," he said, and with that, led the other three band members out of the morgue, Starsky and Hutch close behind them.
"Doug," Starsky said, waiting until the musician turned to face him. "Think real hard about what you said in there. I know this is a tough time, but vigilante tactics never get you anywhere. We want this sicko, and we'll get him. You've got to let us do our job."
"I've known that girl since she was a little kid. Jake was crazy about her right from the start. Like a second dad with her. Whoever did this, I don't want to see them in jail. I want to see them on a slab, looking ten times worse than she does. Then, I'll be happy."
"You can be as happy as you want, just don't make it happen. It won't bring her back, and you'll be stuck behind bars the rest of your life," Hutch said.
"So what do you do to investigate something like this?"
"We question friends, family, classmates, teachers... We'll work with the Aspen Hollow PD to investigate Jessica's death, and Matthew Proctor's death. This case is our top priority."
"If we call and ask for you, you're gonna update us on what you're doing, and what you've got?" he persisted.
"We'll tell you whatever we can without jeopardizing the investigation," Starsky said firmly, starting to bristle at the questioning. Doug seemed to pick up on that, and backed off a bit.
"We're just looking out for Jake. He's gonna take this hard, and he's already blaming himself. If you don't nail the SOB who did this, I'm not sure how he'll deal with that. Nothing personal."
"We really do want this creep. He's killed a least these two kids, maybe more. Nailing him is a departmental priority," Hutch said.
Jake, who had been arguing rather vociferously with Tony, Nick, and Steve while Doug was talking to Starsky and Hutch, seemed to be running out of steam. He was venting his pain and anger, and his friends knew that. Once the storm had passed and he was standing there, his body shaking a bit with repressed grief, Tony pulled him into an embrace while the others stood nearby, offering a few words of comfort, hand on his shoulder, or simply the support of their presence. Doug went to join the group, which now resembled something like a football huddle.
"We could get him some water or something," Hutch said, suddenly feeling they were intruding on something very personal.
"Sure," Starsky said, walking with his partner toward the water cooler. "You think they'll be a problem going out and playing Lone Ranger?"
"I'm more worried about what they'll do if we arrest someone. I doubt they know the first thing about going out and finding the perp. I think it's mostly hot air and grief."
When they returned, the group were sitting on the couch and chairs just outside the morgue. Jake seemed to have pulled himself together and was nodding as Doug said something to him.
"We thought you might want this," Hutch said, handing him the paper cup of water. "There's some toxic coffee down the hall," he said, and a couple of the guys snorted a laugh at that.
"We'll pass on the coffee, thanks," Nick said. "We should get back home in case Ida wakes up," he said, and Jake nodded.
"Thanks for the water," he said after finishing it. "Sorry I lost it. Tell the lady in the morgue...God, I can't remember her name...."
"Ginny," Starsky said. "She's our medical examiner."
"Tell her thanks and I'm sorry I made a scene. I didn't really mean to."
"I'm sure she's seen worse, but we'll tell her," Hutch said. "We have some questions, but they can wait until tomorrow. We'll come out to the house in the afternoon. Will you all be there?"
"Yeah, we're staying over tonight," Tony said.
"I'll be okay," Jake said, shaking his head.
"You're out-voted four to one, so shut up," Steve retorted, the friendliness in his tone taking the harshness out of the words.
Jake stood, and the others followed his lead.
"We'll be expecting you guys tomorrow afternoon. Whatever you want to know...we'll do anything we can to cooperate. Earlier, when I told you you could search the house? I was being a smart ass, but I mean it. If there's anything you need to look at or take for evidence, don't waste time getting warrants. I'll sign waivers or whatever, but you know, anything I've got, you can have access to it."
"Thanks. That's helpful. We'll be in touch tomorrow," Starsky responded.
"You've got a knot the size of a football back here," Hutch said as he knelt on the bed behind his partner, massaging his neck and shoulders. Starsky sat on the side of the bed, his nose buried in the book on haunted houses, reading the Jayne Mansfield story for himself.
"You suppose any of this is true?"
"I don't know," Hutch said, with a smile in his voice. "The only things in the story they can really verify are that she died in a car crash, and they had trouble getting other paint to cover the pink color of her house. They can't prove it was a curse, or that the problems they had painting over the pink color was anything more than a paint issue."
"Still...it's weird. You think Jessica could've been into something her brother didn't know about?"
"She was away at school. Anything's possible. All we know about her so far is what Jake and his friends have told us, which isn't exactly objective. We need to go up to that school, talk to the Aspen Hollow PD."
"You think Dobey'll let us take a drive up there tomorrow after we question everybody at the Miller place?"
"Probably. The Aspen Hollow PD already agreed to cooperate with us and share information. We need to see where our victim was from, who she was hanging out with. Her friends are probably a better source of information than family a few hundred miles south of her." Hutch sighed, continuing his massage. "I don't know what I'd do if that were Cathy on that slab. And when she was that age..."
"Pretty horrible thought, isn't it?"
"I don't blame those guys for wanting to kill the bastard who did it. I wouldn't mind taking a few swings at him myself."
"Can't you come up with anything better to rub than my neck, Blondie?"
"You have problems with tense muscles in other places, too?" Hutch asked, a smile in his voice, his hand sliding around Starsky's side to his stomach, the fingers inching beneath the towel around Starsky's hips. Starsky angled his head back for a kiss, his tongue plunging into the soft, wet depths as Hutch's hand found his cock, surrounding it and squeezing gently--too gently to satisfy, but not too gently to arouse.
Pulling away, Starsky tossed the towel aside and climbed onto the bed with his partner, who shed his robe so the two could fall together, skin-on-skin, in the middle of the bed. For a long while, they indulged in the simple pleasures of kissing and petting one another, relishing the intimate closeness. Soon, Hutch's hand found its way back to where it had begun, pumping Starsky's cock, bringing it to a fuller hardness.
When Starsky reached between them, he found Hutch already hard, his hips thrusting at the stimulation of Starsky's hand. With his free hand, he groped for the lube and smiled when he found it under the pillows. Hutch, the eternal Boy Scout--always prepared. Handing it to Hutch, he rolled onto his belly, perfectly content to lie there and enjoy himself and let Hutch do the driving.
Hutch nudged his side with a couple of pillows, and Starsky lifted up so they could be carefully positioned beneath him, supporting his body and raising his ass at the perfect angle. He sighed contentedly, but wiggled with a bit of frustration, too, at the feeling of his needy cock plunging into the softness of the pillows. He grinned when he realized that Hutch probably intended to take his time, wanting Starsky to come from the sensations in his rear rather than his cock.
A long slick finger circled his hole, then slid the rest of the way inside, spreading lube and relaxing his passage. He shifted a bit, spreading his legs a little more and thrusting his ass out farther, both reacting to the stimulation and knowing he was giving Hutch a show that would wear down his resolve to go too slowly. He smiled a little evilly when he felt the first finger withdrawn and the second added hastily.
"Gettin' a little antsy there, babe?" he teased. Hutch responded by kissing and nibbling at the nape of Starsky's neck while his middle finger brushed over Starsky's prostate, eliciting a surprised yelp of pleasure.
"I've got all night," Hutch whispered hotly against his ear.
The two fingers were withdrawn and replaced with the slick head of Hutch's cock, pressing insistently against Starsky's entrance. Carefully, Hutch slid inside, and Starsky concentrated on relaxing as the large cock filled him. When they were fully joined, Hutch began a maddeningly slow rhythm, sliding almost all the way out, then slowly back in again.
Starsky groaned and thrust backward, trying to increase the sensations. But Hutch was ready for him and matched his backward movement.
"You're killing me here, Hutch," Starsky complained, but knew there was little point when he heard the evil chuckle behind him.
"Just relax. I'm just giving you your massage from the inside out. Nice and slow and easy."
Starsky groaned low in his throat, admitting, if only to himself, that what Hutch was doing felt pretty damn good. Incredible, in fact. So incredible that it was almost more intense than when they went at it hard and fast. With Hutch pulling almost all the way out each time, and plunging back in, he was giving the tightest muscles in Starsky's passage an amazing workout. It was like dozens of entries, over and over, as if claiming him once wasn't enough. He moaned at that thought, gripping the sheets, crying out as Hutch grazed his prostate with that same slow steady pressure.
Strong hands on his hips steadied him as Hutch shifted a bit, angling his entry to rub more aggressively over the little nub inside his lover's body. He started moving faster and harder, pumping in and out of Starsky, giving his prostate a workout that would leave him tingling for hours. He knew he was screaming like a madman, babbling nonsensical half-words and obscenities, focusing exclusively on that pounding rhythm and the electric jolts his little gland was sending throughout his body.
Hutch was moaning now, too, his own body obviously demanding satisfaction. Still, he kept his hands braced on the bed, forcing them both to draw pleasure only from the union of their bodies.
Unable to hold back any longer, Starsky let out a series of gasps and cries, his body shuddering, his climax coming over him in waves as Hutch's rhythm continued, the pace finally faltering and becoming more erratic as Hutch cried out Starsky's name and the sensations became slicker and wetter as he emptied his completion into Starsky's body.
Slumped together, feeling boneless and unable to move, bodies still joined, they rested a few minutes before Hutch carefully eased out and rolled to the side.
"I don't think I'll ever walk again," Starsky said, snorting a laugh.
"I think I wore out my equipment," Hutch joked.
"You shoulda gotten an extended warranty on that thing if you were gonna use it that way."
"Not my fault my partner's ass should be registered as a lethal weapon," Hutch retorted, rewarded for his sparkling wit with a pillow in the face.
Dobey granted his approval for a visit to Aspen Hollow and the Chadwick School the next day. A visit to the Miller house was first on the agenda to talk to Jake about the threatening letter, and also to ask a few follow-up questions of him and his grandmother regarding their knowledge of Jessica's friends and activities.
When they arrived, Gina escorted them down the hall past the living room to a room with rich, dark woodwork and bookshelves lining the walls. There was a piano in the middle of the room, and a grouping of burgundy leather furniture near full-length arched windows that overlooked the back of the property. Jake was asleep on one of the couches, dressed in an old suit of sweats and socks, his face pallid under his dark hair.
"I'm sorry. I thought he was awake," Gina said quietly.
"He is," Jake said, blinking a time or two. "I couldn't sleep last night. I guess I must've just passed out. I knew you guys were coming out here, so I wasn't planning on pulling my Sleeping Beauty act. Gina, could you please get me some milk?"
"Of course, Mr. Jake. Would you like anything?" Gina asked Starsky and Hutch.
"We're fine," Hutch said.
"Actually, you got any chocolate milk?" Starsky asked, and Jake snorted a laugh.
"We better," he said. "Gina, make that two. Then give us about ten minutes and go get Grandma, okay?" He paused while Gina nodded and left the room. "Have a seat, guys."
"This is a beautiful room," Hutch commented.
"Thanks. I could never decide if it should be a library or a music room, so I just stuck the piano in it along with all the books. I've always loved this view of the grounds."
"Looks like a pretty extensive garden," Starsky commented, looking out the window.
"Grandma's passion. She had a little garden when we were growing up, but she never had much room. She's been building that masterpiece since we moved in here three years ago."
Gina returned with the milks and, after serving them, left the room.
"How is Mrs. Miller handling all this?" Starsky asked.
"She had a bad night last night. Didn't sleep at all. We finally sat up all night and went through old photo albums. Old pictures with my dad in them, and Jessie and me, and Grandma. Remembering good times seemed to help. She went to bed a little after dawn. She's an old lady, and I worry about what this'll do to her, if she'll get through it okay. But she's tough. Sometimes I think she's tougher than I am."
"We would like to search Jessica's room while we're here. Maybe do a walk-through of the house. We're mainly concerned at this point with any parts of the house Jessica might have used or where she would store things," Hutch said.
"That's fine. You want me to sign anything?"
"Your consent is enough," Hutch replied.
"What do you want to know about Jessie?" Jake took a few gulps of the milk, and while Starsky did the same, he did so with a lot less obvious discomfort.
"If you're not feeling well, we could come back," Starsky said. Hutch looked a bit surprised but said nothing.
"You'd have a long wait, then. Don't worry about it. My stupid ulcer is just giving me trouble. If I can do a two-hour show and a backstage party while it's acting up, I should be able to handle being questioned by the cops for a while."
"Where are the rest of the band?" Hutch asked. "I see their cars are still out front."
"I sent them out to play in the studio," Jake said, a wry smile on his face. "I have a recording studio out back. I appreciate the way they're sticking around, but I needed some time on my own."
"Is there any question in your mind that Jessica could have been playing around with the whole devil worship thing, maybe because of a friend or a boyfriend?" Starsky asked.
"No. Jessie did a few wild things that made me think she was a little too much for Grandma to handle alone while I was on the road, but it wasn't anything related to that. She thought our shows were fun, that the whole thing was, to use her words, 'like a B-movie set to music.' She was always a smart ass," he added, the assessment completely fond. "A couple of her friends would raid their parents' liquor cabinet, and they'd have house parties wherever they could get away with it. One of Jessie's friends was picked up for a DUI while Jessie was in the car. She had been drinking, too, but they let her off with a warning. I sent Grandma in alone to talk to the cops. If they'd seen me, they'd have probably put her in Alcatraz."
"Why do you say that?" Hutch asked.
"Oh, come on. If you picked up a car full of giggling, semi-drunk teenage girls, and I showed up as one of their guardians, wouldn't you assume the worst of her and her home life?"
"Maybe," Hutch said. "Unfortunately, appearances matter when they shouldn't."
"Anyhow, it was shortly after that we found out about the Chadwick School."
"How did you find out about it?" Starsky asked.
"Grandma made friends with the lady on the estate next door, and her daughters both graduated from there. One went to Harvard Law School, and the other went to some other fancy college and is a doctor now. Plus, she said it was a really nice place and the girls actually liked it, even though it was pretty strict. So we went up there and looked at it. Jessie didn't want to go, but even she didn't hate it, so we enrolled her. She'd only been there about two months. I was going to go up and see her when I got home from the tour. Shit." He took in a shaky breath, and then drank a bit more milk before brushing his hand past his eyes.
"What about Jessica's friends here in town? Who should we talk to?" Hutch asked.
"She has an address book. She was almost compulsive about entering stuff in there, making notes, keeping track of her friends and their birthdays and when she last talked to them...she used it almost like a diary." He got up and walked to the window, his back to Starsky and Hutch. "She had a boyfriend last year. I didn't like him."
"I have a younger sister. I didn't approve of her choices, either. None of them were good enough," Hutch added, and Jake was silent a moment.
"I knew why he was taking her out. He was always after tickets and backstage passes. He was a senior, and turned eighteen while they were going out--she was fifteen at the time. I walked in on them once, right in front of that fireplace," he said, turning and pointing behind him to the elegant brick and carved wood fireplace. "After I beat the shit out of him, I threw him out the front door into the bushes with his pants around his knees, the son-of-a-bitch."
"Were there any repercussions from that?" Starsky asked, barely restraining a smile at the mental image of the offender landing bare-assed in the substantial shrubs near the front door.
"He was screwing a fifteen-year-old girl. He knew enough to keep his mouth shut. Besides, I told him I'd cut his dick off and feed it to Spike if I ever saw him again within a mile of my sister. It didn't hurt that I was dressed a little more threateningly than I am now, and I had Spike with me."
"Yeah. He's around here somewhere. He's a great dog. Still thinks he's a puppy instead of a small horse."
"Did Jessica write you any letters while she was at the Chadwick School? Mention any friends by name?"
"She sent me a birthday card and a couple of postcards she bought at one of the card shops in town, but she was never a big letter-writer. Grandma always had to pound both of us over the head to get us to write a thank-you note once in a while. She was real general in her notes. She said she felt like she was doing okay in terms of her grades, she missed her friends back home, missed her room, but she liked some of the girls there. I probably have the notes in my suitcase. You can see them if you want."
"Maybe we should, just in case we pick up on something," Starsky said.
"Just keep track of them and give them back when you're done. They're the last things I have that she wrote."
"We won't enter any of them into evidence unless there's something worthwhile in them," Hutch said, and Jake nodded.
"I'd like to get that old boyfriend's name. You never know how long people can hold a grudge," Starsky said, pen poised on his notepad.
"Mike Ingalls. No relation to the 'Little House on the Prairie' gang." Just as Jake finished speaking, there was the patter of four feet on the hardwood floor, barely giving Starsky warning before the large black Great Dane enthusiastically approached him where he sat in a leather chair, its giant paws on his shoulders, its large head just inches from his own. A moment later, Spike licked his cheek and neck enthusiastically. "Spike, come on, get off him." Jake grasped the back of the dog's collar and tugged gently. Spike obeyed, barking a couple times and jumping up on Jake instead, who seemed prepared for the assault and patted the dog affectionately. "He must've liked your aftershave. He goes after perfume or aftershave until he figures out it doesn't taste as good as it smells."
"He's huge," Starsky said, still frozen in place. Small, cuddly dogs were cute. Big black dogs who were taller than he was standing on their hind legs were animals he had no interest in getting to know better.
"He was a huge puppy. That's why I picked him out. When he was little, he was all feet." The dog finally tired of its up-stretched position, and got down on all four paws again. Jake stroked his head. "When I brought him home, he started running in the upstairs hall, and he slipped and slid on all four paws almost down to the door of Jessie's room. It was a toss-up who was more scared--her or him."
"He makes quite a prop in all those photos," Hutch said, stroking the dog's large sleek head when it approached him. "My partner here isn't too fond of big dogs," Hutch added, earning him an irritated look from Starsky.
"Oh, you've seen the latest round of magazine covers." Jake made devil horns with both hands and crossed his arms over his chest, glaring at them the way he had been glaring on the cover photos. He snorted a laugh, though it failed to resound with any real happiness. He relaxed his pose and sat down again. "Nothing like making an ass of yourself and having it captured on film."
"The kids like that stuff," Starsky said.
"Yeah, well, who cares? I'd give all this shit back and move back into that crummy little house of Grandma's if I could have Jessie back, alive."
"When we were here before, one of the guys mentioned a letter from a fan that was disturbing and threatening. Do you still have that?" Hutch asked.
"Oh, yeah. Nick said you wanted that," Jake said, rising and going to a roll-top desk situated against the nearby wall, not far from the windows. He raised the roll top to reveal a rat's nest of papers, unopened mail, and other assorted items. "I'm not good about opening my mail," he said, rummaging through it until he found what he was looking for, handing the envelope with its tattered upper seam to Hutch. "There're lots of prints on it now. We all handled it at the time, plus I have a secretary who does my fan mail unless it's something really unusual. You don't seriously think this nutcase has anything to do with Jessica's death?"
"Probably not, but we can't leave anything to chance," Starsky responded, reading the letter over Hutch's shoulder. "He's one seriously ill young man, isn't he?"
"The letter gave me the creeps. He even found the home address, which isn't easy to do." Jake returned to his seat on the couch.
"That's a point," Hutch said, checking the envelope. "How would he get it? Who else has it?"
"My family, but that's pretty much Jessie, Grandma, and a couple of cousins in Seattle. I haven't heard from my mother in years. I don't know if she has it or not. The guys in the band have it, my manager, my secretary, my household staff, obviously, and the administration at the Chadwick School, but that's about it. Otherwise, I get my bills at a PO box, and my manager receives anything else that demands a street address. I'm a very private person. I don't want fans camped out on my front lawn or climbing the fence, and I don't want Grandma harassed or frightened by any of that when I'm not here."
"We got it through the DMV," Starsky said. "Wonder if this kid has access to records like that? Jake Miller is the only name you operate under, right?"
"If I were going to have a stage name, I think I could have come up with something more exciting," he said, smiling. "Nope, Jake Miller is it. My parents named me 'Jake,' so it's not a nickname for 'John.' I never saw a reason to turn into somebody else when I finally did make it."
"Are you ready for me?" Ida Miller's voice came from the doorway of the room. "Gina said you wanted to speak with me." The elderly woman was dressed in a rich paisley velvet hostess robe and matching slippers, her white hair neatly styled, a hint of lipstick dispelling a bit of the pallor of her coloring.
"Yes, thank you, Mrs. Miller," Starsky spoke up as all three men rose. She sat on the other end of the couch Jake had occupied, and Spike ambled over to her, collecting his pat on the head.
"Jake's been giving us a little more information about Jessica's friends, her school...details like that," Hutch explained. "You were with her every day before she went to the Chadwick School. What can you tell us about her friends, any boyfriends, unwanted admirers...?"
"Jessica was popular. She was very pretty and there were boys calling the house quite often, especially if they knew Jake was on tour. None of them wanted to get him on the phone."
"Any special reason?" Starsky asked.
"Probably because he gave every one the Spanish Inquisition before he'd call Jessica to the phone," she said, casting an affectionate look in Jake's direction. "He was worse than his father would have been." She paused. "Jessica was very selective with her friends, though, because she wanted to weed out the ones who were just interested in getting close to Jake or the band."
"Do you know if any of her friends were into anything strange? Any kind of...Ouija boards, devil worship--even if they were just playing around at it?" Starsky asked.
"I never saw anything like that, and Jessica never mentioned it. She talked to me about most everything, with the exception of kissing and sex, because she seemed to feel I had become a grandmother without learning anything about the subject," she added, smiling. "But I suppose that's natural for young people."
"Don't feel bad, Grandma. She didn't think I knew anything about it, either," Jake said, smiling faintly. "Or much of anything else, for that matter. When I became her guardian, I lost all my credibility," he said facetiously.
"When boys called the house, were there any she ever told you she didn't want to talk to? Anyone who was pursuing her that she seemed afraid of or wanted to avoid?" Hutch asked.
"Occasionally she'd tell me that if so-and-so called, she wasn't home, but the most she ever said by way of explanation was that 'he's a nerd' or 'what a creep'--it was nothing specific, and she never seemed afraid. The only time she seemed really nervous was in the first letter I received from her after she started school at Chadwick."
"You never said anything about that, Grandma," Jake said, looking puzzled.
"She asked me not to. She thought you'd overreact and want to bring her home, and she was making friends there and wanted to stay."
"What was she afraid of?" Starsky probed, sensing an impending family squabble.
"The school is within walking distance from a lovely little business district with a lot of shops and a movie theater and a few restaurants. If the girls have permission from their parents to leave the grounds, they are allowed to go into town unchaperoned during the daytime hours on the weekends."
"I didn't give Jessie that permission, Grandma," Jake said.
"I did," she admitted. "Before you get all upset with me, think about it. Jake, you were putting her in prison."
"Damned expensive prison with nice accommodations."
"When you were sixteen, would you have wanted to be cooped up on a private school campus all weekend? She was too far away to run home every weekend, like some of the local girls did, so she'd have been sitting there with nothing to do."
"So you just gave her permission to wander around a strange town by herself?"
"The girls have to sign out and back in, and they have to go in a group of at least three. It's a sort of forced buddy system. They've allowed it for years without any problems. Jessica didn't disappear from one of those trips."
"Mrs. Miller, what did Jessica say in her letter? And do you still have it?" Hutch prodded.
"She mentioned that while they were in town, someone she described as a 'psycho-looking guy' followed them around, tried to talk to her. She didn't say a whole lot, but the very fact she thought to mention it...she seemed unnerved by it. She said he was dressed in black, with dyed-looking hair. I have the letter upstairs. I'll get it for you."
"Did you talk to her by telephone about him?" Starsky asked.
"I asked her if she'd seen him again, because she'd gone into town a couple of times since she mentioned it in the letter. She said she'd seen him around, but he hadn't approached her or her girlfriends again."
"That could be helpful," Hutch said. "We would also like to see Jessica's address book if you have it."
"She took her address book to school with her. But I'll get you the letter." She rose from her chair and left the room.
"Son-of-a-bitch," Jake muttered, standing up and pacing.
"Being confined to the grounds is a little rough for a kid her age," Starsky said.
"Oh, give me a break. That's like saying being confined to Club Med for a week is a little rough. You haven't seen this place. Beyond that, every other weekend, I sent a driver for her to bring her back here so she could hang out at the mall with her friends, visit grandma, do whatever she wanted. The only thing I asked was that she stay put on the weekends she was there."
"I'm sure your grandmother didn't mean any harm," Hutch said.
"I love my grandmother dearly, and I'm sure she didn't, but sometimes I wish she'd have let me be the fucking guardian here and not keep going around behind me and loosening up the rules. Nobody knows better than I do what's out there for an underage girl to get into--and it's not just boys and sex. It's the drinking and drugs, and Jessie's spoiled little rich pals were into all of the above up to their necks. I didn't want my sister getting into a bad situation before she was ready to handle it. That worked really well, didn't it?" Jake shook his head. "I'm going for a walk. If you need to talk to me again, just give me a call. Come on, Spike." With that, man and dog exited the room through the glass doors that led onto the patio. A few minutes later, he was walking briskly across the grounds, the dog trotting happily beside him.
"We should probably head up to Aspen Hollow," Hutch said, checking his watch. "We're going to be late getting up there to meet with the detective on the case, and visit the Chadwick School." After Mrs. Miller returned with the letter, Starsky and Hutch took time to search Jessica's room thoroughly, but elected to forego lingering longer for a more extensive search of the house at that time, and started driving north toward the posh girls' school.
The drive north was picturesque on the sunny autumn day. The farther north they drove, the more they saw of fall color still clinging to the trees on Halloween. Mostly muted shades of gold and brown now, it was set alight by the sunshine. As they approached Aspen Hollow, just a short drive north of San Francisco, it was almost six o'clock. Starsky had utilized the Torino's big engine to make great time on the freeway, despite their late start.
"We'll have to find some quaint little inn to stay over," Starsky said, relishing the thought. He'd spent the entire drive there trying to ignore the sensations prolonged sitting was evoking as the seam of his tight jeans rubbed over his somewhat tender opening.
"Dobey'll only approve money for a cheap motel, and you know it," Hutch stated flatly.
"So what? We'll pay for it. Not every day I get a chance to stay someplace romantic with my partner in the line'a duty," Starsky replied, grinning at his partner. Hutch had to smile.
"Can't argue with that logic, but we'll have to get separate rooms or one with twin beds, being it's on the job, so to speak."
"Twin beds are no problem. When we're doing it, we don't need any more room than a twin bed."
"When you put it that romantically, how could anyone refuse you?"
"Facts are facts, Blondie."
"You missed the turn."
"I was thinking about having sex with you in a twin bed. You're lucky I didn't drive on the sidewalk." Starsky pulled over near the curb in front of a little dress shop, probably one of the places Jessica Miller had visited with her friends not too long ago. Turning the car around, he followed the tree-lined street back to the corner and turned off Main Street onto Aspen Drive, where the police station was located. Pulling around back to the small parking lot, they were not surprised to see that the building was about a hundred years old, and the two cop cars parked out back looked like they were not much newer. There were a few other unmarked cars and a couple of empty spaces. Starsky parked and cut the engine.
"Not exactly a metropolitan PD, are they?" Hutch observed. "Well, we're almost an hour late, so we should probably get going."
"I have a feeling Jake Miller was right about this department. Wonder when the last homicide case was investigated?"
"When those cars were new, probably," Hutch said, jerking his head toward the twenty-year-old cars they were passing on their way to the door.
There was a portly, aging uniformed officer with gray hair and granny glasses at the front desk. He looked up at them, his eyes narrowing.
"Detectives Starsky and Hutchinson, Bay City PD. We're here to meet with Detective Tanner," Starsky said, showing his ID as Hutch did the same.
"Have a seat." The man indicated a few worse-for-wear plastic chairs about ten feet from the desk. "I'll ring his desk."
"Thanks," Hutch said.
They waited while the man called Tanner's desk, and the detective himself came downstairs and greeted them. Tanner was about ten years their senior, with neatly trimmed dark hair, wearing a white shirt and loosened striped tie with dark dress pants and well-polished shoes.
"Starsky and Hutchinson?" he asked, and the two men rose to greet him. After handshakes were exchanged, he motioned to them to follow him upstairs. "The Bay City PD must be a lot more relaxed than Aspen Hollow," he said.
Dressed in jeans, their favorite leather jackets, and casual shirts, Starsky and Hutch definitely didn't fit the image of formally dressed detectives.
"The kind of beat we work, it would be hard to keep our suits tidy," Starsky retorted, and Hutch stifled a grin. "Besides, we do a lot of undercover work."
"In a bright red car with a white stripe? The perps in Bay City must be even dumber than the ones here, and that's going the distance," he said. "Coffee?"
"No, thanks," Hutch replied, tiring of Tanner's snide comments. "We've got some questions about Matthew Proctor," he added.
"I've got some questions, too, about how Jessica Miller and one of our kids ended up in your morgue."
"Jessica Miller was technically one of your kids, too. She was in school here," Starsky said.
"Matthew hooking up with that girl was probably what got him killed. It's no secret what kind of stuff her brother's into."
"Meaning what?" Starsky asked, feeling a little defensive of the musicians they'd gotten to know beyond the flashy, ominous facade they showed the world.
"Spewing blood, glorifying the devil? I'd just like to know what kind of judge would give custody of a child to someone like that."
"Maybe one who took the trouble to look beyond a little flash and fake stage blood," Hutch responded. "We have what we need for now about Jake Miller and his associates. They've been fully cooperative. The missing piece, for us, is Matthew Proctor."
"Matt was seventeen, a senior. He's been in some minor scrapes with the law. Mainly since he started dressing like a delinquent and listening to that heavy metal crap all the time. Beth and Jim have had a real time with him lately," he said.
"And Beth and Jim are?" Starsky asked.
"His parents. I've known the family for years. Went to school with Beth and Jim both. They're a nice family. Matt was a good kid, just misguided."
"What do you know about his relationship to Jessica?" Hutch asked.
"According to his parents, they would see each other on weekends when she'd come into town with her friends. He didn't leave any notes for them or indicate he was going out of town with her, but he did take his mother's car to do it, and he talked to his friends about a Judas Priest concert in Los Angeles he wanted to take her to. They were going to drive down there, go to the concert, do whatever it is teenagers do when they're away from home, and then eventually come back and 'face the music' with his parents and the schools."
"So he did go pick Jessica up with the fake note?" Hutch asked.
"Yes. I showed his photo to the secretary at the Chadwick School, and she said that was the young man who'd picked Jessica up. He presented a note that was a damn good forgery of Jake Miller's handwriting." He opened a thick file and handed them a bagged note. "This is Jake Miller's signature on Jessica's admission records." He slid a copy of the form closer to where they sat near his desk. "See what I mean?"
"It's a good fake, that's for sure," Starsky said.
"If it's a fake. We're having a handwriting expert verify that."
"You think Jake wrote that note?" Hutch asked, frowning.
"Given what his band is into and how the kids died, maybe he's got more to do with this than you think. He gets the girl out of school, gets her and her boyfriend into the middle of something kinky... Matt was bragging he had backstage passes to the Judas Priest concert. Maybe Miller got those for him."
"You got an awful lot of maybes going on there, Tanner," Starsky said. "Jake Miller was on tour when his sister died." Starsky flipped back through the notes he'd taken during a conversation with 666's tour manager. "His whereabouts can be documented from the time she disappeared until she was found. He was in an arena in Phoenix in front of 20,000 people at the estimated time of her death." Starsky looked up. "I think your theory is a bit shaky. I hope it wasn't the foundation for your investigation."
"It was one possibility. I haven't gotten such direct access to her brother and his management as you apparently have."
"Did you ask him? I understand he called here?" Hutch probed.
"Oh, he called. Interrogating me like he was interviewing me for my own damn job, arrogant asshole."
"He's the first family member of a murder victim who ever had an emotional reaction with the cops here?" Starsky asked. "Or is this the first murder case the Department's had in a while?"
"Are all you big-city people this rude? Miller was convinced we didn't know how to find our own asses with both hands and a roadmap. I believe he said something to that effect."
"You didn't answer the question," Hutch said evenly.
"This is the second murder case I've investigated. I'm sure you've dealt with dozens more and have all the answers on how we should handle this."
"If we had all the answers, we wouldn't be here," Starsky said. "You've got half the puzzle, and we've got the other half. Now we can waste a lot of time pissing each other off, or we can pool our resources and figure out what happened to these kids."
"I'm all for that," Tanner said.
"Have you investigated Matthew Proctor's family?"
"Beth and Jim? Are you serious? He was their son."
"But you were pretty convinced Jake Miller could have ritualistically raped and murdered his own sister," Hutch said.
"I didn't say I was convinced he did it himself, but he could have been the connection that got them into the bad situation. That's all I said. The Proctors aren't into anything like that. Matt was an honor student, and he has two sisters who graduated with honors before him. Even after he started getting into scrapes here and there, he was a good student. His problem was mostly attitude."
"Before she disappeared, Jessica wrote a letter to her grandmother about a weird guy who followed her around when she was in town with her friends. Did the school contact the Department about that?"
"No. This is the first time I've heard about that."
"Any thoughts on who that weirdo might be? I'm hoping Jessica's friends have a description for us, because the letter isn't very specific. She said he was dressed in all black, with dark hair that looked like it was dyed, and that he had 'creepy eyes'," Starsky recalled from the letter in Jessica's fat, ornate teenage penmanship.
"Did you happen to find an address book among Jessicaís things in her room here at the school?" Hutch asked.
"Yes, I did. More like a diary, but it didnít say anything about any weird guy. She had all sorts of entries and observations about her friends, but they were all pretty superficial--typical teenage girl stuff." He opened a desk drawer and pulled out the address book, tossing it on the desk. "You can read it if you want, or take it back with you to go in your case file."
"Thanks," Starsky said, taking the book and flipping through the pages. "Anyone around here fit her description of the creepy guy?"
"There are a few kids at the high school that could fit that description. We can take a trip over there tomorrow, when school's in session. That is, if you're staying over."
"Can you recommend a good place?" Starsky asked.
"There's a bed and breakfast not far from the Chadwick School. They do a big business whenever there's an event there the parents come to town for. Should be pretty quiet on Halloween."
"Thanks, we'll check it out," Hutch said. "You coming with us to Chadwick?"
"I can. I've got things wrapped up here for the day."
"Let's go," Starsky suggested. "Sorry we kept you waiting. We stopped off to talk to the Millers again and we got a late start."
They headed out to the old blue sedan Tanner drove, and all piled in, Tanner driving, Hutch in the passenger seat, and Starsky in the back seat.
"You feel pretty good about Miller? That he's not involved?" Tanner asked.
"If he's involved, I'm hanging up my instincts as a cop," Hutch said. "He's about as destroyed as any family member of a victim I've seen."
"We're a pretty conservative community. These are mostly decent, church-going people. The kind of music he's involved with, the violence and the Satanism...families around here worry about the effect of that on their kids."
"Yeah, well, kids like to make their parents worry about rock and roll; that's nothing new," Starsky said.
"This isn't the same thing as Elvis or The Beatles," Tanner said.
"No, but each generation's got to go further to shock the one before it," Hutch observed. "Parents who grew up with Elvis and The Beatles aren't going to be shocked by long hair and a little gyration. Parents who grew up with Alice Cooper aren't going to be shocked by a little gore on stage."
"You have any kids, Tanner?" Starsky asked.
"Two boys and a girl. My oldest is fifteen. I never thought I'd be happy that he wanted to wear eyeliner and lipstick and tease his hair, but I guess if he wants to be like Duran Duran, or the Flock of Turkeys or whoever they are, it's better than getting into this stuff."
"I think you mean Flock of Seagulls," Hutch corrected, snickering.
"Whatever," Tanner responded, smiling in spite of himself. "My daughter is twelve and my younger boy is nine. How about you two?"
"We're married," Starsky responded, smiling to himself at Hutch's flustered glance at him in the rearview mirror. "To the job," he added. "We've had some mistresses on the side, though."
"Probably more job to be married to in the city," Tanner said, turning off the main road to pass between two brick pillars with an arched sign overhead that read "Chadwick School for Girls."
In the faint light of dusk, the happy faces of carved jack-o-lanterns greeted them at the school's main entrance. The buildings were obviously at least a century old. The main administration building was a red brick structure with white pillars in front. Three other buildings comprised the school's campus, all of similar style. One was a dormitory, another housed classrooms, and a third was alight and abuzz with the sound and activity surrounding what appeared to be a Halloween party. After parking the car in the small lot in front of the administration building, they got out and climbed the cement steps to the doors. Two teenage girls dressed as witches came hurrying out the door, excusing themselves for nearly bowling over the visitors, giggling again as soon as they were down the steps and headed for the party.
"Her classmates seem real torn up about her death, don't they?" Starsky said.
"Maybe the administration thought they should stick to their plans for the party, keep things normal for the rest of the girls," Hutch said.
"When one of my classmates died in a car accident, we closed the high school for everyone to go to the funeral, and we postponed homecoming," Tanner said, sighing. "Guess these spoiled little ladies can't be troubled to postpone their party."
There was very little activity in the building that housed the administrative offices and the library, but a light burned in the office in the front corner of the building, and the door to the reception area was left open for them. Tanner tapped on the door frame.
"Mrs. Walling?" Tanner called from the door. A moment later, a tall, statuesque woman with upswept graying hair walked out to greet them. Dressed in a blue business suit, she looked every bit the part of a girls' school headmistress.
"Gentlemen," she greeted. "I was expecting you some time ago."
"That was our fault, ma'am," Starsky said. "We were held up questioning other witnesses back in Bay City, and it took us longer to get up here than we expected." Tanner introduced Starsky and Hutch, and after the amenities were complete, Mrs. Walling's demeanor seemed to relax a bit.
"Don't worry about the time. You've only saved me from standing amidst two hundred squealing girls and a lot of loud music--I was able to delegate that pleasure to a few of my staff. We're having our annual Halloween party tonight. Please, come in, sit down," she said, directing them back to her private office. Decorated in shades of blue and white, with French provincial furnishings, the office was stylish proof that the administration put those tuition dollars to good use for their own comfort as well as for their students' education.
"We'll get right to the point, Mrs. Walling," Hutch said. "What can you tell us about Jessica Miller and her departure from the school?"
"I've arranged for some of Jessica's classmates to meet with us when our private interview is over. They are the girls who routinely went into town with her. I hope you won't mind that some of them are in costume for the party."
"No, we wouldn't want to interfere with that," Starsky said. "It doesn't appear that Jessica Miller's death cast much of a pall over the festivities."
"The Halloween party is an annual tradition. The girls prepare for it for weeks. We felt it best to allow them to continue. They're planning a moment of silence for Jessica at midnight." Mrs. Walling opened a file folder on her tidy desk. "Jessica was an all-A student, or she would have been. She was only here long enough to earn midterm grades. She was a bit on the wild side, but given her family background, that didn't come as a surprise."
"Meaning?" Hutch asked.
"I thought you'd met her brother?" she asked, confused.
"Yes, we've met him. He seemed pretty strict where Jessica was concerned," Hutch replied.
"Well, in any event, she was not opposed to sneaking off the grounds at night to meet her boyfriend from the local high school. She was caught twice, but heaven knows how many other times she got away with it."
"How free are the girls to go and come?" Starsky asked.
"This isn't a maximum security prison with searchlights and guard towers, Detective Starsky. We have rules, and the girls are disciplined for breaking them, but a certain amount of their conduct is reliant on their honor. Jessica had very little when it came to doing what she wanted. She was a spoiled girl with little regard for the rules. So if her brother appeared strict to you, it was only in connection with screening her boyfriends. She was frankly very overindulged and expected a level of luxury that even this school didn't quite live up to."
"She came from a very privileged home life, that's obvious," Starsky said. "But I assume most of your students do."
"Yes, they do. Jessica was highly intelligent and creative. She enjoyed art, and showed promise with her painting. Her teacher was quite impressed. She was a fine singer and joined the choir as soon as she arrived. I don't mean to speak ill of the dead. She was a sweet girl in a lot of ways, and a very promising young woman. I think with a little more self-discipline and a bit of structure, she would have gone far in her future endeavors. Unfortunately, we had very little time to work with her."
"You didn't see her leave?" Tanner asked.
"No, you know I didn't, Detective. My secretary accepted the note and approved her absence. Elaine overstepped her authority, and she has been reprimanded for that. I have already been informed by Mr. Miller's attorney that the family will be suing the school."
"Jessica mentioned in a letter being bothered by a strange man while she was in town. It's not really clear if he was a high-school-age kid, or a grown man, but she said he was dressed in black and had dyed hair, and she described him as a 'psycho' type. Have any of the other girls made similar complaints?"
"No. We would have investigated it or called in the police. The girls wouldn't have been allowed to go into town if we'd known such a problem existed."
"Doesn't that policy of letting the girls move around on their own cause problems periodically?" Starsky asked.
"In our entire fifty-year history, it has led to two unfortunate incidents. This one, and a pregnancy situation fifteen years ago. Letting the girls have some freedom that is approved and within the rules makes them less likely to sneak out at night when it isn't nearly as safe."
"May we speak to Jessica's friends now?" Hutch asked. "They might be able to shed some light on this situation with the man who was following them around."
"Of course. We'll meet in the conference room across the hall," she said, rising and leading the way, unlocking a well-appointed room that looked like an executive board room. "Please wait here, and I'll be back with the girls shortly."
"Wonder how much a year in this place sets you back?" Tanner mused as he ran his hand along the top of one of the fine leather chairs that surrounded the long oval table.
"Jake Miller considered it expensive, so I'd say plenty, given his obvious willingness to spend money," Starsky said, thinking of the elaborate house, three expensive sports cars registered in his name, and the opulence of the house's interior appointments.
"We're going to have to tread carefully with these girls if we want them to talk. They're all going to be afraid of getting in trouble with their parents if they know something about Jessica's late-night excursions or the weird guy they met in town," Hutch said.
"Maybe we should ask Mrs. Walling to wait outside," Tanner suggested.
"Good thinking," Hutch concurred, and Starsky nodded.
A few minutes later, eight teenage girls arrived dressed in various Halloween costumes, and took seats at the conference table, Mrs. Walling standing just inside the door.
"Good evening, ladies. I'm Detective Tanner of the Aspen Hollow Police Department, and these are Detectives Starsky and Hutchinson from the Bay City Police Department. I'm sure Mrs. Walling has talked to you about Jessica Miller's death and informed you why we've called you together. Mrs. Walling, we'd like to ask you to step outside while we talk to the girls."
"Excuse me?" she asked, looking aghast.
"We're going to be asking Jessica's peers to not only discuss her behavior, but to possibly reveal things about their own activities that might help us with our investigation," Hutch explained. "We feel the girls might be more comfortable speaking openly without fear of penalties from the school."
"I will not leave these girls to be questioned by the police without my being present. Girls, if you reveal something that is against the rules in order to help the investigation, it will not be held against you, and you will not be punished for it. However, I must underscore that this in no way should be taken as a relaxation of the rules as they apply to any future activities. Do I make myself clear?"
A chorus of "Yes, Mrs. Walling" and accompanying nodding heads followed.
"You may proceed, gentlemen," Mrs. Walling said, standing with her fingers twined loosely in front of her.
"Thank you, Mrs. Walling," Tanner said. "I'll give you two the floor for now," he said, sitting in an empty chair.
"We're hoping you can fill in some blanks for us," Hutch began, smiling. "Jessica mentioned in a letter to her grandmother a 'psycho-looking guy' that she ran into in town when she was there with some of you. Who else was present for that outing?"
Four hands went up.
"Your name?" he asked the first girl.
"Stephanie Anne Taylor," she said. A pretty girl with blonde hair and blue eyes, she was dressed as a princess, tiara and all.
"I'm Mary Klein," the second girl volunteered. Another blonde, she was a bit taller than the first girl and wore a costume imitating one of Madonna's video outfits.
"Jennifer Halston," the third girl said, smiling. "My dad's the lawyer, not the designer," she added. "He always says that." A redhead with freckles and green eyes, Jennifer had a mischievous grin, and the fact she was dressed as a Leprechaun didn't do much to dispel that image.
"Renee Chambers," the fourth girl said, her expression quite serious. With auburn hair and large brown eyes, she looked striking in the all-black witch costume she wore. "Jessica was a terrific person. I really, really miss her."
"We all do," Stephanie said, nodding somberly. Renee shot her a look that was not lost on the detectives.
"If we all did, we wouldn't be having this stupid party."
"Your classmates planned for this all year, Renee. I'm sure Jessica would have wanted us to continue," Mrs. Walling said.
"Yes, I'm sure she'd have wanted us to have a party and dress up in insipid costumes like a bunch of ten-year-olds while she's lying on a slab somewhere."
"Please forgive Renee's attitude. She took the news very badly," Mrs. Walling said.
"You don't have to apologize for me. And of course I took the news badly. What happened to Jessica was horrible. We should all take that badly."
"If we could go back to discussing the man who was bothering you when you were in town...?" Starsky probed.
"He wasn't a man exactly. He was a high school guy, I'd say," Mary stated. "We'd seen him in town before, but it wasn't until Jessica was with us that he decided to start following us around and trying to strike up a conversation."
"Jessica thought he probably knew about her brother's band, and that's why he targeted her," Jennifer said. "I told her I figured he just thought she was cute."
"Did he threaten her, proposition her, just talk about the weather? What kind of approach was it?" Hutch asked.
"A totally gross come-on. He said he had some great concert tickets and backstage passes to meet Motley Crue. Jessica told him to get lost, and that she'd already met Motley Crue twice last year," Renee said, smiling. "He was, like, speechless."
"Was that the only time they talked?" Starsky asked.
"That was the first time, but after that, we saw him every time we went into town. Jessica complained that she thought he was following her a couple of nights when she snuck out to meet Matt," Jennifer said. "I didn't take that seriously. I thought she was just having a case of the jitters from walking back to the school in the dark by herself."
"Do you girls do that often? Walk back and forth to town in the dark?" Tanner asked. The girls all exchanged looks, even those who hadn't spoken yet.
"It's been done a few times by some girls," Stephanie said, apparently feeling she had artfully avoided self-incrimination in front of the headmistress. "It's really pretty safe. I've never heard of anyone getting hurt."
"So how did this thing with the strange guy and Jessica escalate?" Hutch asked.
"He was always following us, always hanging out where other kids hung out, but always by himself. And always dressed in black. He wore black eyeliner and sometimes black lipstick. Even on warm days, he wore a long black raincoat," Renee said. "He'd make these dorky come-ons to her about getting her in to meet a band, or telling her she could drive his father's Porsche--all kinds of crazy stuff to get her to pay attention to him. The last time we saw him, she got really, really mad, and she spun around and said, 'Why don't you crawl back in your box of dirt and close the lid before you get sunburned, you psycho creep?' It was great," Renee concluded. "He never bothered us again."
"Could you describe this guy, work with a police artist on a good sketch?" Starsky asked.
"No need," Stephanie responded. "Jessica drew him. Unless her brother already came for her stuff," she said, looking at Mrs. Walling.
"No, he hasn't, but Detective Tanner has already searched her room. Did you find a sketch?" Mrs. Walling asked.
"Nothing like that. I found a sketch book, but there was nothing like what you're describing. It was mainly landscapes."
"She might've turned it in for art class," Jennifer suggested. "We had to draw a head-and-shoulders portrait, and it was a really good sketch. Jessica was thinking about turning it in, so maybe she did."
"I could check the classroom," Mrs. Walling offered.
"That would be helpful," Starsky said. "Jennifer, would you recognize the sketch?"
"Why don't you go with Mrs. Walling to track down the sketch while we finish up here?" he suggested. Mrs. Walling gave him a long look, then apparently decided the detectives posed no real threat to her students, and agreed to go look for the sketch.
After Jennifer and the headmistress left, Hutch lost little time posing some additional questions about Matthew Proctor. The girls said he'd only been dating Jessica about a month, since just shortly after she arrived there, but that the relationship seemed to heat up quickly. Jessica had confided to Renee that Matt was going to take her to a concert in LA, and that he had faked a permission slip from Jake to get her out of school, and that Jessica was excited about it.
"This is the drawing," Mrs. Walling announced as she and Jennifer rejoined the group.
"Are you all in agreement that this looks like the guy?" Tanner asked. All the girls looked at the sketch as Starsky held it up, and nodded in agreement.
"We've got a first-rate description and sketch to go by, then," Hutch concluded. "You've all been very helpful. We appreciate your cooperation."
"Do you think this guy did it?" Renee asked.
"It's too early for us to have a real theory. We need a lot more information about him. He's certainly someone high on our list to talk to," Starsky explained.
Jake pressed the button on the CD player, the sounds of Bach's Brandenburg Concerto Number Six filling the bedroom. The new musical gadget was grossly overpriced and would probably go the way of the 8-track, but the sound was crystal clear, and it beat rewinding his tapes hunting for the track he wanted. Dressed in his favorite red silk robe, he was doing all he could to relax but was having little luck achieving any semblance of the peace of mind that had been shattered by his sister's violent death.
He sat on the foot of the bed and rested his face in his hands, letting the utter exhaustion wash over him. Sleep was elusive, and the only time he seemed able to catch a few winks was when he was supposed to be awake. Every time he closed his eyes, he saw Jessica's face. And when he slid into sleep, all he could hear were her screams. Screams he'd never really heard, but that haunted him, nonetheless. Images he never wanted to confront were there, making him face what she had suffered and how she had died.
Civilized barbarism, that's what funerals are, he thought, looking at the papers he'd brought home from their trip to the posh funeral home that would handle Jessica's arrangements. Fancy social arrangements for people to come and gawk at a corpse...making a party out of the most vile and ungodly of occasions. He'd dressed up the horror and tried to make it beautiful with overpriced amenities and a casket that would have surprised Jessica herself with the mere opulence of it. But in the end, it was still horror, and trying to make it pretty was like dressing a hag in a prom dress. You could do its hair and pin a corsage on it and dance with it, but in the end, you'd still have a hag.
Rising and pacing again, he wondered if he was losing his mind. Or if he would finally lose it when the combination of no sleep and the horrible paths his imagination took caught up with him. Looking at the photo on his dresser of Jessica, his grandmother, and himself pierced him like a knife in his heart, but the tears wouldn't come anymore. He was either too exhausted or he'd worn out the tear ducts. Men weren't supposed to cry like girls, so maybe they didn't have the same tear supply women did.
He found himself laughing at that, an insane, almost incoherent chortling, not unlike the babbling of madmen as they pace the floors of asylums in their hospital gowns and little blue slippers.
It was a breath more than a spoken word, something he felt in his heart as well as heard. And the voice was unmistakable.
His voice sounded loud and absurd compared to a whisper that, logically, must have been something in the music playing on his battered psyche.
All he could hear now was the music of the concerto and the underlying silence of the house. His grandmother had been in bed for hours, and he would have known her voice. It was not his grandmother.
"Jessie, please... If you can hear me, let me know. I'm so sorry, Jessie."
He watched, paralyzed, as the paperwork he'd brought home from the funeral home and laid on the end of his dresser swirled in the air like a tornado of paper, finally coming to rest on the floor. His back pressed against the wall, he was transfixed by the sight.
Then, a vivid, blood-red diagonal line crossed the pile of disarrayed papers. Then another, and another, and another, and another until a five-pointed star stood out in stark contrast against the white papers.
"Don't go," the ghost voice whispered, just as everything went black.
TO BE CONTINUED IN PART 2...
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