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.
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