Sing a Song of Gladness and Cheer
by Theresa Kyle

SHSVS, Episode 804

**********

Hutch woke up, heart racing, panting. Stared into the semi-darkness for a few seconds before, finally, he realized where he was.

In the house--in the bed--he shared with Starsky. Lying next to Starsky, who was snoring softly into a pillow.

Starsky was here. Next to him. Safe.

It'd just been a dream. Again.

He closed his eyes, trying to control his ragged breathing. Subconsciously, he moved a hand to his chest, as if trying to quiet his pounding heart.

He'd thought the nightmares were over. He'd had them periodically after Gunther; they'd stop for a while and then start up again, but when he hadn't had any for almost a year, he'd figured they were gone for good. But here we go again, he thought wryly.

He reached out and touched Starsky, stroking his chest in a slow caress. Tracing the line of scars that were now all but gone, except for a slightly uneven feel if you knew where to touch. And Hutch knew where to touch. Hell, he'd long had Starsky's body memorized, including the scars.

Starsky snorted, then, in the pale half-light of early morning, Hutch could see his eyes open sleepily.

"'Morning," Hutch whispered.

Starsky's lips curved in a drowsy smile. "Feelin' me up, Blondie?" he murmured.

"Just getting fresh."

"Remind me to scream." Starsky moved his face to his and kissed him. The caress ignited Hutch into a suddenly urgent desire.

"Make love to me," he whispered.

Starsky gave him a surprised look. "You're kidding. This early?" he whispered.

Hutch shrugged. "If you don't think you're up to it--"

"Hey! Who's not up to it?" Starsky demanded. He pulled Hutch against him. "C'mere, Blond Stuff."

He kissed him again, and Hutch promptly felt himself approach meltdown. He clung to his partner tightly, fingers digging into his bare butt. "Please," he whispered. "Hurry. Please."

"Okay, okay. Jeez, what's the rush?" Starsky reached for the K-Y on the nightstand and flipped open the cap. "You have a sexy dream or somethin'?"

Hutch closed his eyes. Sexy dream. No, Starsk, no sexy dream. Just a dream I want--need--to forget about. Not answering, he moved a hand between them and grabbed Starsky's half-erect penis, jerking it quickly and expertly into full, hard erection.

Starsky moaned. "Ah...Hutch."

Hutch yanked on his penis a few more times, panting, then whispered, "Come on. Give it to me."

Starsky quickly lubricated himself, then moved his hands under Hutch's thighs. Lifting Hutch's legs up to his shoulders, he positioned himself on top of him. Hutch closed his eyes again, in pleasure this time, at the feel of that hard male body against his--possessing him. Claiming him....

"Take me," he pleaded, his voice almost gone now. "Make me yours."

Starsky rammed in, and Hutch gasped as he clung to him tightly, his heels digging into Starsky's back. Starsky gasped, too, then moaned as he began rocking. And Hutch rocked with him, the friction of Starsky's belly rubbing his cock plus the friction of Starsky's penetrating thrusts unbearably tantalizing. "Harder," he whispered. "Harder...deeper...don't stop."

Starsky rammed faster, his eyes half-closing, then opening again. "Ah, Hutch," he whispered hoarsely. "Darlin'. You feel so damned good...so tight."

Hutch clung tighter. It was coming, like a tidal wave, and he shuddered helplessly as the tumult of orgasm shook him to the core. Starsky followed him a second behind, crying out as his semen shot into him.

Then Starsky collapsed against him, and he was holding Hutch close, kissing him, stroking his face, his chest, his stomach. "My Hutch," he whispered. "My beautiful Hutch."

Hutch was still shuddering. But somehow he forced himself to open his eyes and look into the eyes of his partner, now a definitive blue in the early morning light.

"I love you," he whispered.

"Love you, too." Starsky smiled, touching Hutch's sweat-damp hair. Then he sighed. "Dammit," he said.

"What?"

"'S Monday. That means we can't stay in bed." Regretfully, Starsky pulled himself up. "I'll go take a shower, and you can start the coffee, okay?"

Hutch nodded. Ordinarily he would've argued, made a pointed remark about why did Starsky think he deserved the shower first. But today, he didn't. At that moment, he was too love-drunk to argue with Starsky about anything.

"Okay," he said.

**********

There were still times when Hutch could hardly believe his life was real. Could hardly believe that he and Starsky were really together, were here in their house together, living together--for all intents and purposes, married.

Sometimes, even though they'd been living here in their house for a year now, Hutch would still look out the window at their grass, their trees, the silvery glint of the lake and the swell of the San Gabriel Mountains beyond and feel awed all over again. This was theirs. All theirs.

He wondered if he would ever take any of it for granted. Did other happy people take their happiness for granted after a certain length of time? Or did they always have this awed, kind of scared feeling whenever they thought about their life?

"Hey, what're you lookin' at?" Starsky asked, moving his arms around him from behind and giving him a squeeze.

"Just our lawn. I'm wondering if we should hire a landscaper."

"A landscaper? For what?" Starsky asked, a little indignant. "I may be a city boy, Hutch, but I do know how to handle a lawnmower, you know."

"It was just a thought."

"Well, let's think and eat at the same time, huh?" Starsky released him to pour himself some coffee, and Hutch went to the stove to get their breakfast.

"What the hell is this slop?" Starsky demanded, after they’d both sat down in their breakfast nook and Hutch had put a bowl in front of him.

"It's breakfast."

"The hell it is. It's some kinda dog food."

Hutch sat down at the kitchen table across from his partner. "Starsky, it's just oatmeal with cinnamon and raisins. Perfectly normal food. Now c'mon, let's eat. We have to be at work in forty-five minutes."

"I'm not eating that. It's got little yellow things in it."

Hutch dripped honey onto his oatmeal. "Those aren't 'little yellow things.' They're soy grits. For added protein. Starsky, stop gagging, it's not that bad. Come on, we agreed we'd share the cooking, and I eat your food, don't I? Try it, you might like it."

"I'm not eating anything called soy grits," Starsky said emphatically. "Besides, I don't like hot cereal. It's not natural. Cereal should be cold and crunchy, and have prizes in the box." He shoved the bowl away and stood up from the table. "Where's my Eggos?"

Hutch was exasperated. "Dammit, Starsky, why won't you even taste it?"

"Because I don't feel like starting my work week with a stomachache, that's why. Ah, here they are." Starsky took an Eggo out of a package in the freezer and popped it in the toaster. "Nice, normal food."

Hutch sighed. The road to improving Starsky's junk food diet, he realized, would not be an easy one. "Okay, suit yourself," he said coldly. "Just don't blame me when we're ninety and you're in a wheelchair and have a hearing aid, and I'm still chasing crooks and have all my own hair and teeth. Because if you do, I'll say I told you, Starsky. I told you to eat a more natural diet, and you insisted on lapping up that chemical-laden crap--"

A knock on the back door cut him off.

"Hey, we've got a visitor," Starsky said, pleased that his partner's lecture had been interrupted. "Maybe it's Santa, comin' five days early."

"Santa's not coming for you this year, Starsk," Hutch said as he went to the door. "You've been a bad boy."

Starsky wriggled his eyebrows suggestively. "Hey--when I'm bad, I'm really, really good."

Hutch couldn't argue with that one, so he settled for giving his partner a disdainful look as he unchained the back door and opened it.

The caller wasn't Santa, although it might very well have been his wife--a small elderly woman with pure white hair and hazel eyes, wearing, however, not fur-trimmed red robes but a green velveteen jogging suit. She was holding something wrapped in aluminum foil.

"Are you Mr. Starsky and Mr. Hutchinson?" The elderly woman looked from Hutch to Starsky with apparent approval. "My, you're handsome boys."

"Thank you, ma'am," Starsky said--polite as he always was to women from one to a hundred. "Yes, we're them. I'm Dave Starsky, and he's Ken Hutchinson--well, Hutch."

"It's so nice to meet you. I'm Lila Magoch, one of your neighbors." She pronounced it Mah-gosh, emphasis on the second syllable. "I know it's rather silly of me, but my lawyer told me two policemen had moved into the neighborhood--lawyers are the biggest gossips, you know, they always know everything that's going on--and I thought it would be so exciting to meet the two of you."

"You're our neighbor?" Hutch asked, surprised. He thought they'd met all their neighbors.

"Well, a-few-blocks-away neighbor." She smiled, and Hutch saw she had dimples. "Oh, this is for you." She held out the foil-wrapped bundle, and Hutch took it.

"Thank you," he said, genuinely touched, but a little embarrassed, too. "Ah...thank you very much." He unwrapped it and found it to be a fragrant loaf of dark brown bread, the uneven ridges of the crust attesting to its homemade status.

"It's a loaf of homemade whole wheat bread," Lila Magoch explained, as confidentially as if she were imparting some state secret.

"Hey, that looks delicious. Would you like to come in, Mrs. Magoch?" Starsky asked, pouring on the charm. "I'm sorry we have to go to work in a few minutes, but if you'd like a quick cup of coffee--"

"Or herbal tea," Hutch added, belatedly remembering his manners. "It'll take just a minute in the microwave."

"Oh, no, thank you, maybe I shouldn't, but, well, I suppose a few minutes wouldn't hurt," Mrs. Magoch said. "And please, call me Lila." She bustled in, and Starsky quickly pulled out a chair for her at their kitchen table, then poured her a cup of coffee from their Mr. Coffee.

"Cream? Sugar?"

"Just a dollop of cream, thank you."

Starsky went to the refrigerator, brought out the cream, and added it himself. Then he stirred the coffee and handed it to Lila.

"Thank you so much." She took a sip, and Hutch noticed that her bright red lipstick exactly matched her bright red nail polish. She smiled again, first at Starsky, then at Hutch. "Are the two of you really policemen?"

"Yes, ma'am," Hutch said.

"That must be so rewarding," Lila said. She had a soft, musical voice. She glanced around, taking in their decor--Starsky's traffic light and "Etc" sign, Hutch's Vitamix blender and waterless cookware, the white cupboards and long counters. "Such a lovely kitchen," she said. "And it smells so nice. Is that cinnamon?"

"Yeah, cinnamon oatmeal," Starsky said. "My partner and I believe in eating healthy."

Hutch gave him a look, but Starsky seemed oblivious to it. In fact, Hutch noted, his partner seemed oblivious to everything, even the fact that his Eggo had popped out of the toaster and was now getting cold. All Starsky could do was gaze at their elderly visitor with glowing eyes. Hutch was starting to wonder what the hell was with him. Yeah, Starsky was always nice to elderly ladies, but fawning had never been his style.

"I would have come to meet you boys sooner--my lawyer told me last summer about your moving in--but I spend my summer months in Bermuda," Lila said. "Summers here are so smoggy. I tell you, the pollution in Southern California is getting terrible. When I first moved here, in the twenties, the sky was blue every day." Then she gave a little tinkly laugh. "Oh, dear, I'm rambling, aren't I?" She sipped more coffee. "Anyway, as I was saying, ever since my lawyer told me about the two of you--well, I was just so excited about two real policemen living nearby, just like Dragnet on TV, I knew I had to meet you. To tell you the truth, dears, I'm a terribly nosy person." She spoke, once again, in that soft, confidential tone.

"Hey, you were just being curious about people in the neighborhood," Starsky said. "Normal under the circumstances. And Mrs.--Lila," he gave her a boyish grin, "I'm going to be a little bit nosy myself now. Are you the same Lila Magoch who was Lila Diamond, the movie actress, who later married Larry Magoch, the famous cowboy movie star?"

So that was it, Hutch thought, with some amusement. Starsky hadn't lost his mind after all; he was just star-struck. He started on his oatmeal.

"Oh, my goodness." Lila looked at Starsky with admiration. "You're very quick, young man. I didn't think anyone remembered those old movies nowadays."

"Are you kidding?" Starsky said delightedly. "Anybody who's seen the best silent movies has heard of Lila Diamond. And Larry Magoch was one of the greatest cowboys of all time--right up there with Gene Autry and Roy Rogers. I still watch his movies on Saturday morning TV. Then you are her? Larry Magoch's widow?"

"I certainly am." Lila dimpled, and, without being invited, cut open the loaf of bread she had just brought them and took a dainty bite.

Hutch tried to remember if he'd ever seen Lila Diamond in any old movies, but if he had, he couldn't remember it. He'd seen a few Larry Magoch movies when he was a kid, however. They all had had the same plot: bad guys come into town--jewel thieves, bank robbers, men who conned innocent people out of their houses with crooked dice games, it didn't matter what--and Larry Magoch, with his big white hat and trusty six-guns and beloved horse, Veronica, not to mention his old-fashioned cowboy goodness and fast fists, managed to win the day, with usually time enough left over to sing a song or two about a lonesome cowboy or the beauty of Texas sunsets. Hutch had been bored silly by those plots, even at age ten. But it figured Starsky would love that stuff.

"Oh, man," Starsky said. "This is so cool. Y'know, I still remember seeing you in Insatiable, that great silent from the twenties. You were so beautiful. And when that vampire attacked you, and you tried to fight him off--I was scared out of my gourd. I was so sure he was gonna get you."

"It's so kind of you to remember me. Most people just think of me as Larry Magoch's wife. Including me, I'm afraid," Lila added with another tinkly laugh. "I fear women's liberation passed me by."

"Well, that's natural. I mean Larry Magoch was one of the most famous actors of the thirties and forties, and you were married for--how long? Twenty years?"

"Nineteen," Lila corrected. "We married in 1940, and stayed married until he died in 1959." Her eyes grew sad. "He was still a young man then--only forty-nine. Far too young to have a heart attack, but he'd worked so hard all his life, his heart just gave out." Then her face seemed to brighten a little. "Would you like to see a picture of him?"

Starsky nodded eagerly, and Lila slipped a hand into the pocket of her jogging suit and brought out a wallet. She flipped it open and showed Starsky a photograph in the sleeve usually reserved for a driver's license. "That's Larry and I," she said. Apparently, Lila Magoch, on top of being flawlessly made up even at 8:00 in the morning, was finicky about her grammar. "On our wedding day."

Hutch, moving his chair a few inches to share Starsky's view, thought it was a nice picture. Larry Magoch had been a handsome man, tall, broad-shouldered, and rugged-looking, with black hair and laughing eyes, and the white cowboy hat and cowboy boots he wore with his tuxedo somehow just made him look more dashing. And Lila looked like a doll next to him, with long golden curls and a waist so tiny it almost wasn't there, in a white-lace wedding dress and holding a bouquet of white roses and baby's breath. For some reason the photograph looked familiar to Hutch, although he didn't know why. He guessed he'd probably seen it in a newspaper or magazine sometime and forgotten about it.

"We married under a chuppah, a canopy, you know, with the rabbi reciting the sheva brachos--the seven blessings," Lila rhapsodized. "Although Larry wouldn't wear the kittel--the white robe grooms traditionally wear--nothing could stop him from wearing his cowboy hat, even on his wedding day."

"Wow," Starsky said. "He was Jewish? I never knew that."

Lila looked a little startled, then smiled. "Larry? Oh, no; Larry was a good Baptist from Alabama. I'm the Jew--although not a very good one, I have to admit," she added, a shadow crossing her eyes at that last. Then she looked back at the photograph. "Larry didn't really want to marry me," she said fondly. "He never wanted to marry anyone, even after he became a big star. He'd been alone most of his life--he never knew his father, and his mother died when he was a child--and I think the idea of being with someone, after all those years of being alone, scared him. But he loved me so much he finally gave in."

"He was a lucky guy," Starsky said, his eyes full of admiration as he, too, gazed at the picture. "You were so beautiful. 'Course," he added gallantly, "you're beautiful now, too, but I guess every bride looks especially beautiful on her wedding day."

"You're so sweet, Mr. Starsky. Or is it Officer Starsky?"

"Oh, call me Dave," Starsky said.

"Okay, Dave." She dimpled again as she folded up the wallet and slipped it carefully back into her pocket, giving it a little pat. Then she sipped more coffee. "After he passed away, my friends urged me to date again, but I said no. I said I'd had the best, so where was there for me to go but down? There'll never be another man like Larry, so kind, so gentle, so generous. And I'll tell you something else," she said, and leaned forward, speaking in a soft whisper. "He was a wonderful lover, too."

Hutch felt a little embarrassed--not only by the intimacy of the information from an almost-stranger, but also by the fact that the words were coming from a woman of Lila's age. But Starsky looked pleased at the confidence.

"He must've been one hell of a guy," he said.

"He was the most wonderful man God ever created," Lila said, her voice firm with conviction. "And a great actor, too, although you'd never convince him of that. I don't think he thought of those cowboy things they put him in as very great art. Or maybe he just thought acting wasn't very important work. Not like police work, for example." She looked at Hutch, then at Starsky, with a probing, speculative gaze, and Hutch thought involuntarily: Here it comes, the real reason for this visit. She's going to ask a favor. "I wonder...I wonder if you could do something for me," she said. "If I could ask the two of you a...a question."

"Hey, anytime," Starsky said with a smile, still all charm. "What is it?"

"Well, it's rather a silly question, I suppose. But it's just something I was wondering about. Suppose someone killed someone, but didn't mean to do it. Would that person go to jail?"

Hutch blinked, surprised. But Starsky replied readily.

"If there was evidence he didn't mean to do it, it wouldn't be considered murder, but manslaughter. Whether or not there'd be a jail term would depend on the circumstances, and the judge, but even if the guy did go to jail, it probably wouldn't be for more than five or ten years."

"Unless the victim died during the commission of a felony," Hutch spoke up. When Lila looked at him blankly, he explained, "If someone was in the act of committing another crime at the time. Say, for example, a man was robbing a bank and accidentally killed one of the tellers, or a bystander, that would be considered felony murder, not manslaughter. And that's considered as serious as murder, even if the killer didn't mean to do it. People do hard time for felony murder."

"Oooh," Lila murmured, her hazel eyes showing her disappointment. She hadn't asked her question out of idle curiosity, Hutch realized; this was something that concerned her greatly, and he would guess in some personal way. Although he really couldn't imagine this sweet little old lady committing murder, even by accident. The very idea was ludicrous.

"Maybe if you told us the circumstances, we could answer your question better," Starsky suggested, when Lila said nothing further. "You're talking like a car accident?"

Lila shook her head. "No, no. I mean, no, it wasn't a car accident." She looked from one to the other, once again. "You know," she said, "I really feel as if I can trust you boys. Especially you, Dave. You have such kind eyes. And this is something I would like to discuss with the two of you. I have a lawyer, as I said, but I think policemen know so much more about...about some things." Reluctantly, she stood up. "But I suppose now would not be a good time. I don't want to make you nice boys late for work and get you fired, especially right before Christmas. But maybe you could visit me sometime and we could talk then? I could show you some of my husband's things, too, if you'd like."

"Hey, that'd be great," Starsky said enthusiastically. "You mean you saved some of his old cowboy clothes, stuff like that?"

"Oh, not just clothes. I have a whole room devoted to his things--I call it my memory room." Lila looked around the kitchen, saw a memo pad hanging on the refrigerator with a pencil beside it--Hutch had put it there for making grocery lists--and, tearing off a sheet of paper, wrote a number on it and handed it to Starsky. "There's my phone number. I'm in and out, but my personal assistant is usually there in the afternoons and he can take a message if I'm not there. I think you'll enjoy seeing my husband's old mementoes," she added, smiling. "As I said, I have a room full of them--records, movie scripts, scrapbooks we kept, photographs, his Wingate award--that's the award they give in Hollywood for the most wholesome movie of the year, you know; Larry and I were so proud when he won that."

"Thanks," Starsky said, taking the paper.

"You'll call sometime this week?" Lila asked, her sweet voice gentle but insistent, and Hutch, involuntarily, thought of his old fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Duke, who'd always seemed as soft as a cupcake on the outside, but underneath had a backbone of steel. "I know it's Christmas week, but you won't forget?"

"No, we won't forget," Starsky promised. "It'll be great seeing you again, and your husband's stuff, too."

"Thank you so much," Lila said, flashing her dimples again. "I don't have many visitors these days. That's the worst part of being old--everyone you're close to dies on you. Although I certainly don't feel old, I suppose I am. Did you know I was on the Titanic?" she asked, out of nowhere.

"No, I didn't," Starsky said, sounding awed. "You were on the Titanic?"

She nodded. "When I was a baby. I don't remember it, of course, I was only about a year old, but my mother told me about it. My father was already in America at that point, and we were sailing over to join him. We were in steerage, the cheapest passage, and when we went to get on a lifeboat--there weren't enough lifeboats for all the passengers, you know; in those days, the law didn't require ships to carry enough lifeboats to hold everyone--a man on the deck didn't want us to get on. He said he should be allowed on the lifeboat instead of us since he was a 'paying customer,' and he tried to push us aside. And another man on the deck yelled at him that my mother had a baby, and what kind of cad would deny a mother with a baby a seat on a lifeboat? So my mother and I got on. It was one of the last lifeboats." Lila's hazel eyes looked reflective. "Then my father died in World War I, and my mother died just a few years later in the influenza epidemic. That was why I went into the movies--I had to earn a living. I was only twelve, but they put me in lots of make-up and did my hair up so I could pass for older. They let children work in the movies without supervision in those days. I think that's why Larry and I had such empathy from the moment we met--he had been alone a long time, too..." Her voice trailed off, then the elderly woman seemed to pull herself back to the present. "Well, I shouldn't take any more of you nice boys' time," she said. And then, before either Starsky or Hutch could say another word, she walked out, closing the back door briskly behind her.

Starsky looked at Hutch. Hutch looked back at Starsky.

"Wow," Starsky said. "Imagine, Hutch--we have a real live movie star for a neighbor!"

"She's not exactly a movie star, Starsk. I mean, she made movies, but she wasn't exactly a big star. Her husband was the star."

"Okay, the wife of a movie star," Starsky said, undaunted. "Wow. Larry Magoch. Shit, I never missed one of his movies when I was a kid. We had an old theater that used to show cowboy movies on Saturday; me and the other kids would go and spend the day there, wearin' our six-guns and our cowboy hats, and I swear at least half of the movies were Larry's. They must've made about three hundred of 'em in the thirties and forties. He was a great singer, too; he made at least five or six records. Nobody could sing like him, not even Roy Rogers. He had a sad personal life, though. Like Lila said, he was orphaned when he was just a kid, no brothers or sisters, no family. And then after he married Lila, there was the kidnapping, of course."

"What kidnapping?"

Starsky gave him a look. "You don't remember the Magoch kidnapping? C'mon, Hutch. I mean, yeah, it was a while ago, but you must've read about it. The Magoches had a little two-year-old boy--their only child--who was kidnapped and murdered in 1956. I remember the year because it was the same year I was bar mitzvahed. Everybody was outraged when it happened, even though they later got the guy who did it."

Hutch frowned. So that's where he'd seen that picture before--from reading about the kidnapping. "Oh, yeah, I remember that. The kidnapper's name was Henuber, right? Or something like that."

"Henuber, right. Some creep who just thought he could get hold of some easy money by stealing a famous man's baby. He finally confessed, but not in time to save himself from the gas chamber, the son-of-a-bitch."

Hutch was remembering the case now. It had taken the police months to find Henuber, as he recalled, and for a while no one had thought they would convict him, either, since Henuber had refused to confess and the only real evidence against him had been the ransom money found in his garage. But eventually, after his conviction, he'd written a confession and sold it to some magazine. Hutch frowned again. "Hey, didn't Henuber claim in his confession that he killed the child by accident? I wonder if that's what Lila was talking about, when she asked if someone killed someone by accident would they go to jail. She seemed especially upset when I mentioned felony murder."

"Nah, she couldn't've been talkin' about that," Starsky said dismissively. "Why would she care about that guy now? He was executed more than twenty years ago. More likely a friend of hers got into some kind of jam and she's trying to help. Hey, we should call her tonight so we can go visit her tomorrow. I'd really like to look at her scrapbooks."

Hutch smiled. He always enjoyed Starsky's enthusiasm. "Fine, but maybe first we should go to work, huh? We're running late already, and you know Dobey and his remarks about our keeping 'banker's hours' if we walk in past our due time."

"Yeah, I know. Jeez. It's not like we never work overtime." Starsky grabbed his car keys. "Okay, let's go."

**********

"So what're you gettin' me for Christmas?" Starsky asked. They were in the Torino, having just talked to a witness in a robbery case going to the DA that week.

"Starsky, why do you ask me every year what I'm getting you, when you know I won't tell you because I want you to be surprised?" Hutch said patiently.

"C'mon, Hutch. Christmas is Saturday," Starsky wheedled. "So it's practically here. Can't you give me a hint?"

Hutch grinned to himself. His Christmas present for Starsky was a great one this year, one that he knew would blow his partner's mind, big time: a video tape recorder, a machine that would record TV shows. When they had first been made available to the public in the 1970s, they cost about $4,000; then around the turn of the decade, they'd come down to about $1,000--still too rich for a lowly street cop's blood. But just a month or so ago, Hutch had noticed a local discount house had a VCR for sale for only $400. It would take practically every cent Hutch had in his checking account, and he was probably going to have to depend on Starsky to buy most of the groceries until the next payday, but he didn't care; the look on Starsky's face would be worth it all. Hutch was going to pick it up on Christmas Eve. He hadn't bought it before now because he knew if he wrapped it and put it under the tree ahead of time, Starsky would somehow find an excuse to "nudge" it with his foot, or maybe accidentally tear off some of the paper wrapping, and spoil the surprise.

"Hutch?" Starsky said, plaintive now. "You are getting me something for Christmas, aren't you?"

"Oh, I don't know," Hutch teased. "I thought maybe I'd skip getting you anything for Christmas this year. With all the money we've spent fixing up the house, I'm pretty broke. Besides, I bought you something nice for Hanukkah, didn't I?"

"Yeah, you did," Starsky admitted. As had become tradition, they had exchanged small, practical gifts for Hanukkah, leaving the big gifts for Christmas. Starsky had given Hutch twenty pairs of multi-colored socks, saying he was tired of looking at Hutch's white ones. "And it was a really nice pair of blue jeans, too. How come you always get me blue jeans?"

"Maybe I just enjoy how you look when you have 'em on."

"Yeah?" Starsky cast him a glance. "Maybe tonight you can show me what you mean, huh?"

Hutch felt his heart vibrate at the suggestion--and at the way Starsky was looking at him with those smoldering blue eyes. "Didn't you get enough this morning?" he managed to say.

"Never of you," Starsky said huskily, and Hutch felt his heart race even faster. Amazing, he thought, that after three years of being lovers and a year of living together, Starsky's voice--just his voice--could get to him this way. And those eyes... It was funny. Sometimes, he could look at Starsky and feel just warm affection, the love of a partner, a best friend. And then other times, he would look at him and feel weak inside, weak with desire and longing.

He couldn't resist. He reached out and grabbed Starsky's muscular, jean-clad thigh--forcing himself not to move his hand up too far, because Starsky was driving, but still giving the firm flesh under his hand a slow, sensual rub.

"Watch it, babe. I'm drivin' here. And you don't want me to get in an accident, do you?"

Hutch grinned. "I guess that wouldn't be good, huh? Especially since I don't want to have to fill out that part on the form where we'd have to say the cause of the accident." Reluctantly, he released Starsky's thigh. "So," he said, bringing the conversation back to mundane channels. "Where do you want to eat lunch?"

"Ah...I dunno. How about McDonalds?"

"No way! Plastic, freeze-dried, chemically perverted crap--"

"Forget I asked. Taco Bell?"

"Starsky, when the hell are you going to start eating like an adult?"

"Well, I'm not goin' to some regular, sit-down restaurant where you have to put on a tie, and then you have to sit there for half an hour to get waited on, and wait another half-hour for the food to come. What's with this sudden health food routine, anyway?" Starsky complained. "I mean, there was that goat's milk and desiccated liver slop you used to make for breakfast, not to mention those unicorn toes and hoot-owl's beak dinners you used to cook with Abby, but at least you ate normal food like pizza and beer once in a while, too."

"So what's so weird about wanting to eat healthier? Okay, look, why don't we stop at Max's deli? We don't have to wait or put on a tie there, and he has some great salads."

Starsky nodded agreeably. "Okay, that sounds good. He has terrific sour pickles, too." He reached for the mic to call in the code seven, but before his hand could touch it, it crackled.

"All units, all units, we have an anonymous call on a 415 at 490 Paradise Towers on Bonaventure."

"Oh, great. We're right near there," Starsky said dolefully. "Why the hell do we always get calls at lunchtime?"

"We could always pretend we didn't hear it," Hutch suggested, half-kidding, half-serious.

"Nah, it's just a 415--a disturbance. Shouldn't take too long." Starsky, looking resigned, grabbed the mic and pushed down the button. "This is Zebra Three, we are responding."

**********

Paradise Towers, a condominium complex not too far from their house, looked quiet and peaceful when Starsky pulled the Torino up to the curb. Guessing that 490 would be on the fourth floor, they headed for the elevator, and found, when they got off, there were only two apartments on the floor: 480 and 490.

"Sheesh, whoever lives here has the bucks, big time," Starsky said in an admiring half-whisper. "I'll bet this is one of those places that has free maid service, too. Look at this carpet, Hutch. It must be two inches thick."

"Not to mention the Rembrandt on the wall," Hutch teased. Starsky glanced at the splatter painting hanging next to the elevator, then scowled at his partner.

"Very funny, Blintz." He knocked on the door. No answer. Trying the knob, he found it unlocked. He looked at Hutch.

"We really shouldn't go in without being invited, Starsk," Hutch ventured, thinking of their captain's many lectures on playing it by the book.

Starsky shrugged. "Maybe the disturbance is some innocent little kid, or a lady, bein' attacked. We have to protect her."

Hutch nodded. "Okay. That sounds good. You can tell that to Dobey."

They walked into the apartment slowly, alert for any sound or flash of movement. It was a large living room, flooded with sunlight, and Hutch noticed, with some quick glances, that the decor was expensive but not ostentatious. Oriental rug. Cream-colored modular sofa. Chippendale desk. Marble-topped coffee table. Natural wood bookcase full of books. Oil paintings on the walls. It all looked as clean and orderly as a photo in Better Homes and Gardens, but the silence was somehow eerie.

"Hello?" Hutch said. "Anybody home?"

No answer.

"Not a creature stirring, not even a mouse," Starsky said.

"That's poetic, Starsk," Hutch said. He saw an open door that led into a bathroom--empty--then walked to the next open door and looked in. "Starsk," he said, his voice a little louder than a whisper, but not much.

Starsky walked up next to him--then stopped. "Shit," he said.

"Yeah," Hutch said. He walked into the room and up to the body sprawled on the floor. It appeared to be an elderly woman in a blue dress, lying on her side facing the door, her white hair stained brown-red, her battered face covered with dried blood. There was also a circle of dried blood, almost black in color, under her head.

The woman had been literally beaten to death, her face bludgeoned over and over by some blunt object. Seeing some kind of trophy lying next to the body, its gilt surface coated with blood, Hutch guessed that had been the murder weapon, but it would take the lab boys to tell for sure.

He hunkered down to feel for the carotid artery with a finger. Not surprisingly, there was no pulse. He pulled his hand back, then, a policeman's training, glanced at his watch--1:03 p.m.

"DOA?" Starsky said, standing a few feet away.

"Yeah," Hutch said.

Then, a second later, realization hit him with the shock of a blow: in spite of the blood-soaked hair, in spite of the battered face, in spite of the fact that she had changed her clothes since that morning--he knew who she was.

Starsky caught his breath, and Hutch realized his partner had also recognized her. "Lila Magoch," he breathed. "It's Lila Magoch, Hutch."

"Yeah," Hutch said grimly. "It looks like her."

Starsky pulled his Beretta from his shoulder holster. "I'll check the rest of this place. You stay with her?"

It was a hard-and-fast rule, drummed into rookies, that you didn't leave a dead body after it had been discovered. Still, Hutch didn't like the idea of letting Starsky walk alone through the condo, where a murderer might be lurking. "Be careful," he said, even though he realized, as the words left his lips, how stupid they were.

Starsky just gave him a very faint whisper of a smile. "Don't worry," he said, and left the room.

Hutch looked back down at the body. Skin bluish-purple, lips white, half-opened eyes flattened from loss of fluid, but no signs of even early rigor mortis, and her skin had still been warm to the touch. Hutch guessed she'd been dead maybe an hour or two, but no more than three.

It appeared the blows had been from the front; she had been facing her attacker. Yet there were no signs of a struggle; her neatly shaped red fingernails, the same ones he'd noticed just that morning, were unbroken. Chances were, the attack had come as a complete surprise, that she'd known--and trusted--her killer.

Hutch felt a slickness in the back of his throat, and had to swallow it down. That happened sometimes, no matter how tough you thought you were. You could find a dead body lying in a pool of blood and then go have a beer with your buddies and watch a Rams game...and then, other times, it just got to you. Maybe it was because he had seen her alive just hours before, or maybe it was the obvious ferocity of the blows--he didn't know.

He closed his eyes and, a typical meditation technique, tried to think of something pleasant to divert his thoughts. Ridiculously, the only image that came to his mind was Starsky's bare butt--but it worked. After a few seconds of focusing on that pleasing mental image, the spasm passed and his throat no longer had that tight feeling.

He opened his eyes, let out a breath. Looking away from the corpse, he realized belatedly that this was the room Lila had talked about to them that morning--the room she'd called her memory room, the one she'd dedicated to memorabilia from her late husband's movie career. The walls were covered with Larry Magoch movie posters: The Last Roundup, The Fiery Brigand, No Hope for Harlan. There were also many publicity stills: a photo of Magoch shaking hands with FDR; another of him posing with a child with crutches, a sign over them that read: "March of Dimes"; another of him giving a carrot to his famous horse, Veronica. There was a bookshelf stacked with what appeared to be several scrapbooks; a few records, preserved in what looked like hard plastic sleeves; and a long row of movie scripts. A mannequin stood in a corner, dressed in a complete cowboy outfit, including white ten-gallon hat, jeans, plaid shirt, leather vest, chaps, cowboy boots and lasso; one of Larry Magoch's movie costumes, Hutch assumed. But the predominant feature of the room was a large portrait of the deceased movie star, an oil painting in a gold frame with a gold plaque underneath that stated simply: LAWRENCE MAGOCH, 1910-1959.

Hutch again looked down at the blood-spattered trophy lying next to the body. He didn't touch it, knowing nothing could be touched in the room until the ME and photographers got there, but, by reading from the side, he could see the words, "WINGATE...MOST WHOLE...LARRY." Obviously, Larry Magoch's Wingate award, the award Lila had told them about that morning that was given for the most wholesome movies in Hollywood.

Ironic--the award Lila had been boasting about just hours earlier, the award she'd been so proud of her husband's earning, had been the means of her death.

Starsky came back into the room. Hutch looked a question at him, and Starsky shook his head.

"Nobody," he said. "Nothing out of order, either, and no signs of forced entry. I just called for the cavalry." He holstered his gun, gazing around the room as Hutch had. "This must've been the room she told us about, huh? Her memory room. Shit. I wish she could've showed us this herself."

"Yeah, me, too. You thinking what I'm thinking?"

"That maybe her question to us today had something to do with this? Yeah. Like maybe she knew somebody had killed somebody, and she was going to tell us about it when we came to visit her--but the killer stopped her before she could. Dammit, why didn't I make her tell us more this morning?"

"It's possible the two things aren't related," Hutch suggested, not really believing it even as the words left his lips. "I mean the killer could've been a burglar, or some kind of sicko."

"No, it wasn't," Starsky said flatly. "There's no sign of anybody breaking in, and why would a burglar come in the middle of the day, unless he knew for sure she was out? Besides, look at her. She was facing her attacker when he hit her--all the blows are on her face and the top of her head. But her nails are still long and unbroken. She didn't try to fight him. She knew him."

"Yeah, I came to that conclusion, too. But it's still possible this has nothing to do with what she said this morning, Starsk."

"Uh, huh. Except I don't believe it and neither do you."

Then abruptly, they both heard it: the sound of the front door opening. Swiftly, Hutch drew his gun, Starsky following suit a second after. They knew it was probably the coroner's team, but all seasoned cops knew it was better to be safe than sorry, especially at the scene of a homicide.

When they walked into the living room, however, they found not the coroner's team from the BCPD but a young black man in his twenties, wearing faded jeans and a long-sleeved t-shirt with "UCLA Bruins" on it. His curly black hair just touched his shoulders, and in one ear glinted a gold hoop earring, much like the one Huggy had once worn. His eyes widened when he saw the two armed men, and his hands clenched as if he were preparing to defend himself.

Quickly, Starsky pulled his badge.

"Easy, easy," he said. "We're the police. I'm Detective Starsky, he's Hutchinson. Your turn."

The young man didn't look very reassured by this information. "You don't look like cops," he said.

"Lots of people say that," Hutch said. "But trust me, we are. Mind telling us your name?"

The young man looked at Starsky, then back at Hutch, as if trying to decide what to do. Finally, he apparently decided it wouldn't hurt to at least reveal who he was, because he said, "It's Isak--Isak Wolf. I work for the woman who lives here, Mrs. Lila Magoch. What...what are you doing here? I haven't done anything wrong. Well, unless you count not paying back my college loan yet."

"What kind of work?" Starsky holstered his gun. Hutch, after a second's hesitation, did, too.

"My job title is personal assistant. I run errands, help Mrs. Magoch with her husband's fan mail, balance her checkbook, take care of her car, things like that. I cook, too--it's not in my job description, but she hates to cook. Sometimes I even clean a little, although she has a maid service to do the big stuff." Isak's eyes flicked around the room. "Hey, where is Lila? Is she in some kind of trouble?"

"I'm sorry to have to tell you this, Mr. Wolf," Starsky said gently, "but your employer is dead."

Isak blinked, his face showing no expression for a second or two. Then he said, "That's impossible. She was fine last night. She has a cholesterol level of 190 and her BP is 120 over 80. Heck, she's healthier than I am. You guys made a mistake."

"I'm afraid we didn't," Hutch said. "She was murdered."

The young man's eyes showed his shock. "Murdered? Is this a joke or something?"

"Unfortunately not," Starsky said. "She was killed here, probably just a few hours ago. And I'm sorry, Mr. Wolf, but we're going to need you to identify the body. You think you're up to it? It's not a pretty sight, but it's important that somebody who knows her IDs her."

Isak swallowed. But when he spoke, his voice was steady. "Where...is she?"

"In here," Starsky said.

Silently, the assistant followed the detective into Lila's memory room, then stopped at the sight of the woman's body lying on the floor. His face turned a sickly gray color. "Oh, God," he whispered. "Oh, God...no." He knelt down, reaching out a hand. Hutch opened his mouth to caution him not to touch her, but before he could speak, Isak pulled his hand back without having made contact. He was blinking rapidly.

"Is it her?" Starsky asked, gentle again.

Isak nodded numbly. "Yeah," he mumbled. "It's...it's her."

"Are you sure?" Hutch said. "I know she's pretty battered...."

"I'm sure," Isak said. "She...I've been working for her for a year now; I even spent the summer in Bermuda with her. It's her." He looked up, and Hutch saw the dark brown eyes were filled with tears. "Oh, God, who did it?" he whispered. "Who would do it? Did someone break in?"

"We don't know," Starsky said. "C'mon, let's get out of here." He touched the young man's shoulder.

Isak didn't seem to want to leave the dead woman, but after a few seconds, he nodded again and moved up. "Would...would either of you like anything?" he asked as they walked back into the living room. "Some tea or something?"

If Hutch were a rookie, he might have thought the offer odd; as it was, he knew that people in the presence of a homicide, especially those who had known the deceased, often made trivial or irrelevant comments. He remembered the old man who, when told of the death of his son, had asked that the shoes his son had been wearing be returned to him. "No, thanks," he said for both of them.

"You gonna be okay?" Starsky asked.

"Yeah. I'm fine." Isak bit his lip. "Do you...do you know who she is? Lila Magoch, she was once a movie star, married to Larry Magoch, the famous cowboy."

"Yeah," Starsky said. "We know."

"I just...oh, God, I don't believe it. I've known her only a year. I mean, a year is hardly any time at all."

No time is any time at all, no matter how long, Hutch thought silently. After Starsky had been shot by Gunther's goons, and Hutch had been sure he was going to die, the years they'd known each other had seemed far too short, too. Never enough time....

"Mr. Wolf, we've called for a coroner's team and some lab guys, and they'll be coming soon," Starsky said. "But until they arrive, do you think you could answer some questions?"

"S-sure," the young man said. "Are you...are you sure you don't want some tea?"

"Yeah, positive. Did Mrs. Magoch live here alone?"

"Yes...alone. I don't live here, I just come in every day, usually about one p.m., and leave sometime after dinner, although that's flexible because I'm going to grad school and have classes. She doesn't have any live-in help, just a maid service that comes on Fridays. And she doesn't have any family; her husband's been dead a long time, no children, and she doesn't have any brothers or sisters or anything. I'm her only family, really," he added with a quaver in his voice. Hutch watched him sharply, wondering if he was acting, but he had to admit the guy looked sincere.

"You know anyone who would want to do this to her?" Starsky asked.

"No. Nobody," Isak said. "Shit, man. Who would want to hurt Lila? She never hurt anyone."

"The door was unlocked when we got here," Starsky said. "Did she usually leave it that way?"

Isak's eyes widened. "No, she didn't," he said. "She always kept the door locked. But if you unlock it, either to let somebody in or if you use a key, it stays unlocked unless you think to throw the bolt afterwards."

"Anybody you know of have a key to the front door?" Starsky asked.

"Just me and her lawyer, Albee Smigiel--shit, I've got to call him. The maid service doesn't have one, I know that, and like I said, she doesn't have any family."

"Do you think she would let somebody in, if they knocked?" Starsky asked.

"A stranger, no. No way. Lila's lived in Southern California since she was a kid, she knows all the crazies there are out here. A friend, yeah, but she doesn't have many friends. She often talks about how being the widow of a Hollywood legend makes people feel kind of afraid of her, like she's bigger than life or something." Hutch noticed Isak was still talking about Lila in the present tense.

Starsky looked ready to ask another question when, suddenly, the three of them heard music--a few bars of a song.

"What the hell?" Starsky demanded. "That's one of Larry Magoch's old songs, isn't it? The Last Roundup?"

"Yeah. It's the doorbell. Lila had it made specially; that was Larry's signature song." Isak Wolf was staring at the door, clenching his fists again.

Starsky went to answer. It was the ME and her entourage.

**********

"Mrs. Magoch murdered! You're kidding?" The young woman standing in the doorway was so startled, she almost swallowed her gum.

"No, unfortunately, we're not," Starsky said, putting away his badge.

"How'd it happen? When?" The only other resident of the fourth floor of Paradise Towers--a redheaded twenty-something in electric blue jogging shorts, fuchsia legwarmers, a t-shirt that proclaimed she was a fan of the rock group Asia, and black ballet slippers--looked nervous as she glanced down the hallway, then back at the two detectives.

"We don't know many of the details yet; the body was just discovered," Hutch said. "May we ask your name?"

"Rose. Rose Garland." The redhead took out her gum, apparently deciding that gum-chewing was not appropriate for the occasion. "Garland, like Judy. Are you sure Mrs. Magoch is really dead?"

"Yes, we're sure," Starsky said. "Did you know her?"

Rose Garland shook her head. She was a slender woman, slender to the point of anorexia, but her face was fairly pretty, and her bright red hair--hair so red it reminded Hutch of Linda Baylor's--made her even more striking. Hutch wondered if she were an actress, or a model. "I can't say I really knew her, although we'd talk sometimes. You know, sharing the same floor and jazz, we'd see each other coming and going. Sometimes, she'd bring me homemade bread--her assistant makes it by the truckload--or cookies; her assistant made those, too. Mrs. Magoch couldn't cook worth a hoot herself--Oh, I'm sorry, I guess that's really horrible to say now, huh?" she added, apologetically. "Or sometimes, we'd go jogging together." She appraised Starsky. "Hey, you're really cute for a cop. You like to dance?"

Starsky smiled briefly. "Sorry, I'm already taken."

Hutch broke in. "Miss, if you wouldn't mind, can you think back and tell us if Mrs. Magoch said anything to you in the last few days? Maybe about some problems she was having, or someone who was bothering her?"

Rose frowned, as if in concentration; thinking, for her, was apparently something of a strain. "No, I can't think of anything," she said finally. "Mrs. Magoch kept pretty much to herself most of the time. I mean, she was always polite, saying hi and jazz, but that was about it. Except for the times we went jogging together, but we haven't done that lately. She likes a ten-minute mile, and I'm more in the seven-minute range."

"Me, too," Hutch said before he thought.

Rose looked at him approvingly. "You know, seeing that bod of yours, I could tell you're a jogger," she said admiringly. "You ever been in a marathon? I'm going to Boston next year--I'm training for it now. Running six miles a day."

Starsky spoke before Hutch could respond. "Did you see anyone in the hallway this morning? Coming or leaving Mrs. Magoch's apartment, maybe?"

Rose smiled. "Sorry, cute stuff, but I wouldn't have noticed if the Russians dropped an H-bomb if it happened in the morning. I'm totally not a morning person and I almost never get out of bed before noon. This morning, I didn't get up until about half an hour ago--and I have to be at work at two." She looked at Hutch again, speculatively this time. "How about you, blue eyes? You taken, too?"

"Afraid so," Hutch said. "How about in the last few days? You see anyone going into or leaving Mrs. Magoch's apartment?"

"No. She doesn't have many visitors; like I said, she kept to herself pretty much. Oh, except for that guy last night."

Hutch felt his heartbeat accelerate. Careful not to reveal his excitement, however, he just said, "Guy?"

"Yeah. Some guy visited her last night. A really cute one, too--although not as cute as either of you."

"Tell us about him," Starsky said.

Rose shrugged her angular shoulders. "Not much to tell. I come off the elevator and there's this guy walking out of Mrs. Magoch's pad. She was standing there in the doorway, looking at him, her face really tense and kind of scared. He didn't look scared, though, or mad either, just kind of hurt, or unhappy maybe. And he says to her, 'You haven't heard the last of me.' And she says, 'You come around here again and I'll call my lawyer.' Then she looks at me, and she looks kind of...embarrassed. Like she wished I hadn't seen this. Anyway, she slams the door shut and the guy, not even looking at me, walks to the elevator. And that's it."

"Could you describe him?" Starsky said--also, Hutch saw, keeping his voice casual with an effort.

Rose grinned. "Be happy to, sugar. He was tall and hunky, maybe about thirty, with gorgeous blond hair--not as blond as yours," she added to Hutch. "Kind of a dark gold, and this round face like a cherub, and big brown eyes that could melt the polar ice caps. Except for the hair color, he looked a little like that actor--rats, what's his name? He was in that show Vegas and now he's in Gavilan--you know who I mean--"

"Robert Urich?" Starsky guessed.

"Yeah, that's him. Anyway, this guy looked a little like him, just with lighter hair. Totally awesome. I tell you, I'd fall on my knees for him in about two seconds." She grinned again, flashing perfect white caps. Hutch, remembering what a big deal girls had made of kissing good night on the first date when he'd gone to college, suddenly felt a little old.

"You remember what he was wearing?" Starsky asked.

"Black pants and a leather jacket, I think. And he was carrying a leather bag, you know, those bags that men sometimes carry. It was really big and it was slung over his shoulder."

"About what time was this?" Hutch asked. "That you saw him."

"I'd just come home from my shift, which ends at ten, and I live about ten minutes away from my job, so maybe about ten-ten? I can't say for sure, though, since I don't wear a watch. Watches ruin your tan line, you know. Sorry," she added apologetically.

"Shift? You're a nurse?" Starsky asked.

She shook her head. "Waitress. At the Cat's Meow, that club on LeRoy." She flushed a little. "I know you're probably wondering how a waitress could afford a place like this, but I had an inheritance from my mother a few years ago, and I thought a condo would be a good investment. And the monthly maintenance fee costs less bread than rent on a good apartment. Oh, speaking of bread--if you don't mind, I really should be getting ready for work."

"Okay," Starsky said. "If we have any more questions, we'll be in touch."

Rose gave Starsky a slow, sensual smile as her eyes drifted, for just a second, down to the tight jeans he was wearing, then back up to his face. "I like that idea, sugar," she said, her voice a purr. "Being in touch. Yeah, you do that."

She closed her door, and they walked back to Mrs. Magoch's. "Jeez," Starsky said, "I thought she was gonna eat me alive."

"You go around looking the way you do, Starsk, you have to be prepared to be sexually harassed," Hutch teased.

Starsky gave him a look. "That's right. Blame the victim," he said.

They walked under the yellow tape back into Mrs. Magoch's apartment, to find that the lab boys and the photographer had left. Only Ginny was still there, standing in the living room and peeling off her gloves.

"My guys just wrapped her up and took her away," Ginny said, seeing them. "I hope you didn't need to see her again."

"No, we didn't," Hutch said definitely, and Starsky nodded his assent. "Where's the personal assistant?"

"Wolf? He's in the kitchen, cooking something. Poor guy. I don't think he quite realizes that nobody's here to eat his cooking anymore."

"When can you do the post?" Starsky asked.

"I don't have anybody else in the cooler right now, so I can probably finish before close of business today." Ginny glanced around, her eyes taking in the plush furnishings just as Hutch's had earlier. "Hard to believe somebody could get beaten to death in a place like this, huh? But what the hell, I guess there aren't any safe places anymore."

Hutch felt a chill, remembering what had happened to his partner right next to police headquarters just a few short years before. "Yeah," he said shortly.

Ginny left the apartment, and Starsky and Hutch went into the kitchen. As Ginny had said, Isak Wolf was at the stove, stirring what looked like a pot of milk on a front burner. He looked up when the detectives walked in.

"What are you making?" Starsky asked.

Isak looked back down at the milk, as if surprised it was there. "Oh...this is eggnog. I make it the old-fashioned way, mixing the eggs in the milk and cream and sugar and stirring it slowly on the stove to cook the eggs, then adding the nutmeg and the rum later. Lila really likes eggnog. Last year I made a huge batch, and we sat on her couch on Christmas Eve and watched old movies and got drunk together..." His voice trailed off.

"We're really sorry for your loss, Mr. Wolf," Hutch said.

"Yeah. Thanks." Abruptly, Isak turned off the stove and leaned against the kitchen counter. "Shit," he said. "Life really sucks, doesn't it? She was only seventy-one--that's not old nowadays. And she was healthy as a horse. A real survivor. Did you know she was on the Titanic?"

"Yeah, we know," Starsky said. "She must've been a remarkable woman."

"She was. Oh, I don't mean just because she was a movie star, or because she was married to Larry Magoch. She was just...special, period. She was so nice to people, even fans who bugged her about Larry. I asked her sometimes why she bothered, answering all his fan mail, talking to fans, wearing herself out guest-speaking at classes on movies at the university for no money. But she said she was the keeper of her husband's flame, that it was her duty to keep his memory alive. Maybe...maybe she's happier now, though. She told me once she felt like her life was over when she lost her husband."

"Yeah, it's obvious she really loved him a lot," Hutch said. "Mr. Wolf--"

"Oh, come on, call me Isak. Mr. Wolf sounds like some old guy."

"Okay, Isak," Hutch said, having a weird feeling of deja vu, remembering when Lila had also asked they call her by her first name. Had it really been just that morning? "A neighbor described a visitor Mrs. Magoch had a little after ten last night, tall, thirty or so, blond hair, kind of round face, looks a little like Robert Urich. Does that sound like anybody Lila knew?"

Isak shook his head. "No. She had a visitor last night? That's funny, she didn't mention it when she called me."

"She called you last night?" This was Starsky. "When?"

"I don't know, maybe a little before eleven. She said she just wanted to see how I was, and then she said that she had something she wanted to tell me today, something important."

Hutch, once again, felt that familiar surge of adrenaline. Maybe Lila had told Isak what she'd wanted to talk to him and Starsky about. "Did she say what it was?"

Isak hesitated. Then, reluctantly, he said, "She just said...it was about 'what happened in 1956.' That's all she said."

"Her son's kidnapping and murder," Starsky said.

"Yeah, that must've been it. It was kind of weird. I mean she never mentioned the kidnapping to me before, not once, not even in passing--never even mentioned her child, the one that died. But last night, she said she wanted to tell me something about it. I have no idea what it was, though. I guess I'll never know now."

"What else did she say?" Hutch asked.

"Nothing else. She told me to have a good night's sleep and then she said..." Isak hesitated again.

"What?" Starsky said.

The black man smiled, a little self-consciously. "She just said she loved me. She did that once in a while, would hug me and tell me she loved me. I think she thought I didn't get enough nurturing when I was a kid, just because I told her I was adopted, even though I told her over and over again my parents spoiled me rotten." He sobered. "Hey--you think her wanting to tell me something about that old kidnapping had something to do with what happened to her?"

"Dunno," Starsky said. "Do you?"

"I don't know. It's a little far out to think her child's kidnapping all those years ago would have anything to do with her getting killed now, though. You know what I think? I think maybe that guy who came around last night was a fan--a fan of her husband's, or maybe Lila's. Last night, he comes here to get an autograph or to talk with her about Larry or something, and maybe she said something he didn't like, or something, so today he comes back and kills her. That's what happened to John Lennon, you know--a deranged fan asked him for an autograph, and he gave it to him, and then a little bit later, he went back and shot him."

"It's possible," Starsky said noncommittally. "But not likely. Larry Magoch wasn't John Lennon, or Elvis--he was the lead in a bunch of cowboy movies, not a sex symbol. And Lila made her movies a long, long time ago. Unless, of course, you know of any crazy fans that have written Lila threatening mail or made threatening phone calls, or who've been stalking her. Do you?"

"No," Isak admitted. "But shit, the kidnapping was, what, twenty-six years ago? What could be the connection between that and...what happened today?"

"We don't know," Hutch said. "We're just thinking it's one hell of a coincidence that Lila's talking to you about her child's murder when she'd never mentioned it to you before, and then gets killed herself the next day. Isak, if you don't mind my asking, would you tell us how you got this job? You mentioned you'd gone to college, and you're obviously intelligent. And cooking eggnog and answering fan mail don't sound like much of a challenge for an intelligent man with a college degree."

Isak almost smiled. "Yeah, I guess it does seem kind of strange. Well, believe it or not, she came after me."

"Yeah?" This from Starsky.

"Yeah. I have a BA in journalism from UCLA," Isak explained. "But when I graduated in '76, I found out everybody else had majored in journalism, too. The wake of Watergate, I guess--everybody in the 1970s wanted to be another Woodward or Bernstein. Anyway, journalism jobs were thin on the ground--and the recession didn't help either--so, after a year of looking, I finally gave up and took a job in a paint store so I could pay the rent. Then one day last year, Lila shows up at my door and tells me that she wants someone to write a book about her husband and would I do it, and she'll pay me by the week. It kind of surprised me, since I've never written a damned thing--I mean for publication--but she said one of my former professors recommended me to her. Anyway, I said yes really fast." Another twitch of a smile. "I didn't know who Larry Magoch was then, I'm ashamed to admit, but she didn't seem to mind that."

"Did the book ever get written?" Hutch asked.

Isak's eyes clouded. "N-no. We worked on it for a while, she'd say stuff into a cassette recorder and I'd transcribe the tapes on this word processor she bought me, but after a while I noticed she started making excuses not to work on it. She said it was too painful to talk about all those old memories. She didn't mention anything specifically, but I think she meant the kidnapping. Like I said, she never talked about that--to me or, I think, to anyone. She's never given even one interview about it, to anybody--neither did her husband, while he was alive. Anyway, finally I asked her if she wanted to chuck the project for now, and she said yes. This was last spring, before we went to Bermuda for the summer. Then she asked me if I'd keep working for her at the same wage, as a personal assistant, and I said okay. It's not a bad job. She pays me $15,000 a year--more than I was earning at the paint store--and gives me flexible hours, so I've been able to go to grad school. That's what all unemployed or underemployed college graduates do eventually, you know--go to grad school."

"Ah, Isak, you mind me asking what you were doing this morning?" Starsky said. "Before you came here."

Isak answered readily; either he didn't understand the implication or didn't mind it. "I went to the university to hand in a paper that was late, winter break's just started but I was late getting a paper in, then I went to the campus bookstore and bought some books for next semester. I got home about ten-thirty, I think, and read a few hours. I had to stop to have my car looked at; that's why I was a little late getting here." His eyes went to Hutch, then back to Starsky. "Am I a suspect?"

"Everybody's a suspect right now," Hutch said. It was a standard line.

"Yeah, right. Is that why one of your lab guys asked me for my fingerprints?"

"Standard procedure," Starsky said. "We print the whole apartment, then eliminate the prints of people who live here--or work here."

"And also compare them to the prints on the murder weapon, right? If there are any. Hey, no big deal, I know you always look at the people who are closest to the victim first. But what would my motive be?" Isak sounded more curious than angry.

"We don't have any idea what anybody's motive would be right now," Hutch said. "By the way, we're going to want to look around this place. We don't need your permission since this is a crime scene, but we'd like you to know for your own information. If there's anything here that belongs to you, it's going to have to stay here for the time being."

"I don't have anything that belongs to me here, except some of the food in the fridge," Isak said. "And, hey, look at anything if you think it'll help. There're a lot of papers in the desk in the living room--mostly financial records and letters from fans, but maybe you'll find something useful. Lila always kept the bottom drawer locked, though, and I have no idea where the key is."

"We'll manage," Starsky said.

Isak nodded, then said, "Oh, there's something I wanted to ask you guys. Lila was Jewish."

"Yeah, we know," Hutch said. "So?"

"Well--although she wasn't very devout, I mean she ate BLTs, and she never went to shul or fasted on the holy days or anything--I think being Jewish was important to her, and people in the Jewish faith believe the body should be put in its final resting place as soon as possible. Can her body be released in time for her to be buried tomorrow?"

"That shouldn't be a problem," Hutch said, remembering Ginny had said she'd do the post that afternoon. "Go ahead and make your arrangements. You understand, though, that since this was obviously a homicide, there'll have to be an autopsy."

"Yeah, I understand. That's okay. I mean, I know there are rules against autopsies with some Jews, but I want you to find out who killed her. Well, I guess I don't have any real say in that--her lawyer has power of attorney, not me, but I don't think he'll object either."

"Speaking of which," Starsky said, "where can we find this lawyer guy?"

"Smigiel? He has an office downtown, but you won't find him there. It's Monday afternoon."

"Meaning what?"

"Meaning it's his golf day. He'll be at the golf course."

"Didn't you call him and tell him about Lila?" Hutch asked.

"Of course I called him. But nothing stops him from playing golf on Mondays. Trust me. He'll be there."

Hutch looked at Starsky, who shrugged.

"Okay," he said. "What course?"

**********

Albee Smigiel, the late Lila Magoch's lawyer, aimed his driver and, in a strong, graceful swing, whacked the ball across the wide expanse of green grass. It sailed over a sand trap and landed just a few inches inside the green.

"Good shot," Hutch said.

"Thanks," Smigiel said. He started to carry his golf bag toward the green--scornful, Hutch noticed, of using a cart. He was a small man, no more than 5'4" and scrawny, perhaps in his mid-sixties, with neatly trimmed gray hair and a seamed face as hard as granite. "Now, would you policemen mind telling me why you're here?"

"Mr. Smigiel, your client, Mrs. Lila Magoch, just died by violence this morning," Starsky said. "I'd think it'd be obvious why we want to talk with you."

"Not really." The lawyer was walking at a quick, efficient pace. "We were business associates, not friends."

Cold-blooded bastard, Hutch thought. "So you didn't like her," he said.

"Like her? I neither liked nor disliked her. I was her lawyer and she was my client, period." Smigiel squinted up into the sun. "Dammit, I hate the winter. The sun sets so damned early. What time do you have?"

"A little past three," Starsky said.

"Damn. Well, maybe I can do nine holes anyway."

Starsky and Hutch exchanged glances, and Hutch knew Starsky was thinking the same thing he'd been thinking a minute before: Cold-blooded bastard.

"Tell me, Mr. Smigiel, do you know of anybody who would've had a motive to kill your client?" Hutch asked.

"No. No one," the lawyer said briskly. "I wouldn't call Lila a saint; she was far from that. Well, after all, she'd been a movie actress. But she didn't have any enemies that I know of. She was kind, even to fans of her husband who sometimes could be a bit overbearing. And she was generous, gave regularly to charities, animal shelters, the United Way, B'nai Brith. I never even heard her speak one word against anyone. No one would want to hurt her."

"Well, someone did," Hutch said.

Smigiel let out a snort. "You police have an unerring gift for declaring the obvious. Yes, someone hurt her, but I think it's apparent it was just some thug. Some random intruder bent on stealing some of her valuables, and, when he saw her, panicked and killed her."

"We don't think so, Mr. Smigiel," Starsky said. "There were no signs of a struggle, like there probably would've been if a stranger had attacked her. She also had a good lock on the front door, and it wasn't picked or forced, and neither were any of the windows, not to mention the fact that she was on the fourth floor. Either she let someone in, or they had a key, or she left the door unlocked, but her assistant told us she didn't do that."

Smigiel shrugged.

"How about telling us how many people had the key to Mrs. Magoch's apartment?" Starsky asked.

"Just me and her assistant."

"That's what Mr. Wolf told us, too. Any chance she would've given a copy of the key to anyone else?"

"I suppose it's possible, but very unlikely. Lila was getting older, but she was certainly no fool."

"Yeah." Hutch watched a woman golfer chop up some grass doing practice swings on the next hole. Then he looked back at Smigiel again. "We have a description of a visitor she had last night," he said. "Blond male, about thirty, good-looking, looks a little like the actor who was on Vegas, Robert Urich. Ring any bells?"

"No."

Hutch refrained from saying, Cooperative, aren't you? "Well, we have another possible lead," he said. "It so happens my partner and I saw her this morning--Mrs. Magoch. While she was still alive."

"You saw her?" Was it Hutch's imagination, or did the lawyer seem to tense up at his words?

"Yeah," Starsky said flatly. "She came by our house with some homemade bread. She said you told us we were there--that two cops had moved into the neighborhood."

Smigiel's colorless eyes widened. "You two are the policemen who moved into that old pink house by the lake last year? I'll be damned. Yes, I told Lila last summer, before she went to Bermuda, about two policemen living close by, but I didn't recognize the names when you identified yourselves. Quite a coincidence."

"Yeah," Hutch agreed. "One hell of a coincidence. She comes to visit us and gets killed a few hours later. But there was something else that was strange. She asked us if someone would go to jail if they killed someone but didn't mean to. Kind of an odd question to ask, isn't it?"

Smigiel looked away, squinting down the fairway. "Very odd," he agreed. "But then, Lila was inclined to be eccentric, like all actresses. Look at her keeping that room she called her 'memory room'--packed full of her husband's old junk, even though I've tried for years to get her to donate it to a museum and get the tax deduction. And look at all the time she spent responding to her husband's fan letters. Hell, even her husband's horse still gets fan letters, believe it or not. She and her assistant answer them all."

Hutch looked at Starsky. Starsky looked at Smigiel. "You're evading my partner's question, Mr. Smigiel," he said. "Why would Lila Magoch, a nice lady who looked like she never did anything more illegal than jaywalk, ask someone a question about murder?"

"I haven't the faintest idea," Smigiel said, but Hutch noticed he was still avoiding looking at either of them. "Perhaps she read an Agatha Christie novel or saw something on TV, and was wondering about it. You know how women are--they get fixated on the damnedest things." He put his golf bag down and walked up to his ball.

"We don't think so, Mr. Smigiel," Hutch said. "We don't think Mrs. Magoch was asking that question frivolously. In fact, we think it might have something to do with what happened to her."

"Nonsense."

"You have any idea what she was talking about?" Starsky asked, looking down the fairway and then back at the lawyer. "Like maybe it had something to do with the kidnapping of her son?"

Smigiel shot him a sharp look. "What the hell are you talking about?"

Starsky shrugged. "It's the only murder in her past that we can think of."

"You're grasping at straws," the lawyer scoffed. "For heaven's sake, that was twenty-six years ago, way back in 1956." He walked up to the hole, removing the flag from it and laying it on the grass. Then he walked back to his golf bag.

"Did she ever talk with you about the kidnapping?" Starsky asked.

"Actually, I knew Lila back in the fifties, when the kidnapping took place. But to answer your question, no, we never talked about it, other than my giving her and her husband legal advice after it happened. It was too painful a subject for her." He selected a putter.

"Okay, maybe you'll tell us this," Starsky said. "Who inherits Mrs. Magoch's estate? From the look of her apartment, it looked like she was pretty well fixed."

"Yes, she owned over a million dollars' worth of muni bonds and T-bills, plus the condo, which is worth about two hundred thousand now, I would estimate, due to the booming real estate market here in Southern California." Smigiel seemed much more relaxed now that they'd changed the subject, Hutch thought--or maybe it was talking about money that cheered him. "Not a fortune, certainly, but she had quite a comfortable income from the interest and dividends." He aimed the putter over the ball, trying different angles. "As for who inherits, I suppose I could claim client confidentiality, but it'll come out in a few days in any case. Basically, Isak Wolf and I both get about half a million, and Moonridge gets fifty thousand, with a few smaller bequests to other charities."

Hutch saw that Starsky looked as baffled as he probably looked. "Moonridge? What's that?" Hutch asked.

Smigiel didn't look up from his ball. "Moonridge Animal Park. It's a zoological facility in Big Bear that takes in injured or lost or orphaned wild animals, takes care of them until they can be returned to the wild. You know, raccoons and deer and bears and so on. Lila loved animals. A few other charities are named in her will, as I said, but Moonridge gets the most."

"What about the condo?" Starsky asked.

"That goes to me, I believe."

"Nice windfall for you, huh?" Hutch commented. "Half a million plus a condo."

"I suppose. And I suppose you should be informed that I'll also be collecting a legal fee for probating her estate--three percent. If either of you think that would be worth killing someone for."

"What about Isak Wolf?" Starsky put in. "Would he think half a million would be worth killing somebody for?"

Smigiel looked up from his ball, an icy look in his colorless eyes. "Leave Isak out of this," he said. "He wouldn't kill anyone, let alone Lila. Besides, he doesn't even know about the inheritance. Lila told me she didn't want him to know because she didn't want it to influence their relationship. Now, if I might ask your indulgence, gentlemen. Putting requires the utmost concentration."

Starsky and Hutch obediently fell silent as Smigiel stood over the little white ball, frowning at it as if it were a complex mathematical problem. Then, finally, he gave the ball a sharp, quick tap with the putter. The ball traveled within inches of the cup, then stopped.

"Shit!" Smigiel muttered, looking considerably more upset over his unsuccessful shot than he had when talking about his late client's murder. With a sigh, he walked up to the ball, hit it with the putter, and it went into the cup. He took the ball out, then replaced the flag.

"Three," he said in disgust. "Only one under par. I'll tell you, sometimes it isn't even worth playing this game."

"Mr. Smigiel--" Starsky began.

Smigiel cut him off. "Gentlemen, let's cut the crap, shall we? You want to know if I killed Lila. The answer is no, I didn't. You said it happened sometime this morning, and I spent the entire morning in my office with my secretary, until lunch, which I took at approximately one-thirty p.m." He took out a business card. "Call my secretary at that number to verify it, if you wish."

"Thanks," Starsky said stiffly. "We'll do that."

"Good." Smigiel put his putter and his ball back into his golf bag. "Any more questions?"

The man's cool efficiency annoyed Hutch. "I suppose you would tell us," he said, "if you had any idea who killed your client, even though you weren't 'friends'."

"Yes, I would. If only to divert suspicion from me. But, no, I don't have a clue. I honestly think it was an intruder. You said there were no signs of a break-in, but perhaps some hoodlum, intent on robbing her, managed to talk his way in. Perhaps someone knocked on the door and said he was a fan or collecting for some charity, and Lila let him in. Then, when they got in, they just let her have it."

"Without stealing anything?" Hutch said.

Smigiel waved a hand airily, dismissing the question. "Maybe he panicked, as I said before. Or maybe it wasn't a burglar, after all, but just some pervert. Some sex criminals prey on older women, you know." He picked up his golf bag and started toward the next hole. "Now if you'll excuse me, gentlemen, I really want to finish my remaining eight holes before the sun goes down."

He walked off, and Hutch looked at Starsky, who shrugged.

"Who's that guy who just got the artificial heart a couple weeks ago? Barney Clark?"

"Yeah."

"Well, in my opinion they were wasting their time with him. This guy Smigiel is the one who really needs it."

"Yeah. C'mon, let's go see if we can catch the secretary before she leaves for the day."

**********

"Look, I don't care what the records say, I'm telling you, I am not overdrawn!" Starsky snapped into his phone. "I write down every check and go over every statement you guys send me with a pocket calculator two times, so don't tell me I made a math error. You guys boobed up, that's all. Fix your damned computer!" He slammed down the phone.

"Problems?" Hutch asked politely, sitting at his own desk.

Starsky growled, "I got one of those 'insufficient funds' statements from our bank on Saturday. I thought it was just a mistake and I could straighten it out today, but the bank still says I'm overdrawn. Overdrawn! How the hell could that have happened?"

Hutch grinned. "Maybe all the money you've been spending on Christmas presents and Christmas decorations has something to do with it."

Starsky wasn't amused. "This is serious, Hutch. My records say I have over two hundred in my account, but they're sayin' to me their records show I'm more than a hundred bucks in the hole. They're bouncing my checks all over town and charging me ten bucks each time. Ten bucks for every check! It's not enough they charge huge interest rates and zap you with fees if your checking account goes below a certain balance, now they're fucking us over with ten bucks for every little bounced check--"

"Come on, Starsk, settle down, will you?" Hutch soothed. "We'll go to the bank tomorrow and straighten it all out, okay?"

Starsky looked down at the phone for a few seconds, then looked up. "I need that money to buy your Christmas present, Hutch," he said miserably. "I have it all picked out; I was just gonna pick it up on Friday. But what if the bank won't fix the problem this week? I won't have the money to buy it."

Hutch refrained from telling Starsky the present wasn't important. Telling Starsky presents weren't important would be like telling J. R. Ewing on that TV show Dallas that money wasn't everything. "Hey, don't worry. Like I said, we'll straighten it out."

"Yeah. I just hope we can do it by Christmas," Starsky said. "What kind of Christmas would it be without me bein' able to give my partner a present? At least I already bought everybody else's." He looked over at the pile of papers Hutch was going through. "You find anything in that junk from Lila's desk?"

"Not much," Hutch admitted. He held up a large blue-covered book, its pages now yellow with age. "You ever see one of these?"

Starsky frowned. "No. What is it?"

"It's called a baby book. A book where parents write down things about their baby, the child's weight and height, for example, the day the baby took his first step, his first word, stuff like that. This is the one Lila Magoch kept on her son, Larry Jr., before he was kidnapped and killed."

"Wow," Starsky said, with an impressed whistle. "She kept it all these years?"

"Yeah. Although she probably hadn't looked at it in years. It was in her locked drawer, way at the bottom." He opened the book. "Y'know, Starsk, it's kind of strange. There are a lot of notes in this book about the baby--Lila kept careful records of his growth and progress almost up until the day he was stolen--but there's not one picture of him. There are plenty of places to put pictures, but she doesn't have even one. What kind of parent, unless they're very poor, doesn't take pictures of their own child?"

"Maybe she took 'em out at some point. To give to the police, for example."

"All of them? No, I don't think so. Besides, didn't you notice? There were no pictures of her child anywhere in her apartment. Not by her bed, not in her wallet, not in any of the scrapbooks we looked at earlier. Not even one."

"Well, maybe they never had any pictures taken because they were afraid of exactly what happened--the baby being kidnapped," Starsky suggested. "If it got out what the baby looked like, it might make him more vulnerable to a snatch."

"Well, I could see their not wanting to have photographs available for public consumption, but not having any pictures at all? Even for their own personal, private use?" Hutch demanded. "And another thing, there's a place in the book to put a lock of the baby's hair, and there isn't one. What kind of baby book doesn't have a lock of the baby's hair?"

"Maybe he was bald."

"At two years? No baby is bald at two years, Starsk." He flipped pages. "And here, listen to this. 'Larry, Jr. is so beautiful, I just want to cuddle him every minute. I can't bear the thought of losing him.' She wrote that a week before he disappeared. Coincidence?"

Starsky shrugged. "Maybe premonition. Mothers have that once in a while. But coincidence is more likely. It does happen, Hutch."

"Yeah, maybe," Hutch said. "But coincidences always give me an itch."

"Okay, hotshot, tell me what you think."

"I don't think anything. It's weird, that's all."

"You're weird," Starsky said. "What are you lookin' through that old baby book for, anyway?"

"Because given what Lila said to Isak not twenty-four hours before she was killed, and the question she asked us just this morning, there's very likely some link between her murder and her child's kidnapping. And I'd like to know what it is."

"Yeah, me, too. Y'know, if that guy hadn't confessed twenty-six years ago, I'd be wondering if the same guy who killed her baby also killed her. I mean, it would fit. She gets a visit from the guy who really killed her baby, maybe he confesses or maybe she just figured it out, so he pays her a visit to talk to her about it. He says it was an accident and therefore he won't have to go to jail, but she doesn't know whether to believe him or not. As he's leaving, she threatens to call her lawyer on him. Then she calls her assistant and tells him she wants to tell him about the kidnapping--who really did it--and, the next day, she comes and asks us about it, in hopes that maybe we'll arrest the guy. But before she can tell us the guy's name, he comes back to her apartment and kills her."

Hutch smiled. "I think you've been reading too many mystery novels, Starsky. There are a few holes in that theory. One, like you said, the kidnapper, that Henuber, confessed before he was executed. And two, her visitor last night was only about thirty years old. Far too young to have committed the kidnapping-murder in 1956."

"Oh. Yeah, I didn't think of that."

His partner looked so deflated, Hutch couldn't resist adding helpfully, "Of course, he might've had plastic surgery."

Starsky just gave him a look. "Why don't you go back to readin' your baby book, huh?"

Dobey came out of his office. "How's it going?" the police captain asked.

"Well, we're not sure, Captain," Hutch said. "You want a laundry list of all the negatives we've accumulated so far?"

Dobey grunted. "Sure, what the hell, go ahead. I'm a masochist."

Hutch picked up his notebook. "No prints on the murder weapon, and no prints in the room where she was killed, except hers. No stranger's prints anywhere, just hers and her assistant's. No signs of struggle, no signs of a break-in, no one saw or heard anything in the building, except the woman who made the disturbance call, in the apartment right below Mrs. Magoch's." Hutch noticed he was saying Lila's name and not calling her "the vic," but he didn't correct himself. "She heard a thump sometime late morning, thought it was nothing, then, later on, thought that maybe someone had fallen and broken a hip, so she called us. She wasn't sure of the time, but thinks she heard the noise a little after ten since she'd just finished watching Phil Donahue. Starsk and I went through Lila's apartment but found nothing worth noting. We went through the desk, too, but it was mostly her husband's fan mail and some financial records, nothing relevant as far as we could see."

"What about that locked drawer you told me about?"

Hutch shook his head. "We had our locksmith unlock it, but it was just personal stuff, like her son's old baby book, copies of old tax returns, some jewelry, things like that. Nothing that would indicate anyone wanted her dead."

"Lovely," Dobey said sarcastically. He looked at Starsky. "So, any good news?"

"Lila's neighbor gave us something that sounded like a good lead," Starsky said. Hutch noticed that his partner, too, was refraining from calling her "the vic." "Some guy visited her last night, about ten, a guy about thirty, blond hair. The neighbor didn't know who he was, but she--the neighbor--said Lila looked a little scared when she saw them in the hall, apparently as the guy was leaving. He said he'd come back, and she said if he did she'd call her lawyer, so it was something less than a friendly chat. And Lila's assistant says Lila called him shortly after the visit and told him she had something important to tell him, something about, quote, what happened in 1956, end of quote. That's when her child was kidnapped and murdered. So there could be a connection between the visitor, Mrs. Magoch's son's kidnapping back in 1956, and her murder today."

"Yeah, could be," Dobey said. "Could also all be just coincidence."

"Yeah," Hutch said. "But there's also the fact that this morning, she visits us and asks us that question about murder versus manslaughter." They'd told their captain about that earlier. "And the only murder we know of in her past is the murder of her child twenty-six years ago."

Dobey grunted. "Sounds to me like the best thing right now would be to find that visitor and have a chat with him. Any leads on that?"

"We asked Ms. Garland--that's the neighbor--to come in and look at mug books," Hutch said. "She said she'd come tomorrow before she goes to work. But it's probably a long shot. And neither the assistant nor the attorney recognized him from the description."

"Well, keep looking," Dobey said. "Meanwhile, you got any other good suspects?"

"The lawyer and the assistant both look good, at least superficially," Hutch said. "They both have keys to the apartment, and both have motive--an inheritance of half a million dollars each. And neither has a real alibi. The assistant says he was at the university but was home by ten-thirty, so he could've easily made it to Paradise Towers in time to kill Lila if he'd been so inclined. As for the lawyer, he says he was in his office, but his secretary can't vouch for him for the entire time because she went to the county clerk's office to file some papers and was gone from about ten to eleven."

"The lawyer's my personal favorite," Starsky said. "He's the type who'd batter a nice little old lady to death and then go play a few holes of golf in the sunshine. And he admitted he wasn't crazy about Lila. Problem is, the only motive we know of is the will, and he already has a pretty good wad of his own. R & I says he's worth in the fancy neighborhood of five million dollars."

Dobey grunted again. "I see I should have taken up law as a profession. Funny as hell, isn't it, that those of us who take the criminals off the streets get paid less than the folks who put them back there. What about the assistant, what's-his-name, Isaac?"

"Isak," Hutch corrected, pronouncing it as the young man had: EE-sack. "Isak Wolf. Well, he has a better motive than the lawyer. He's in debt up to his eyeballs from college loans, according to what we found out, and his salary from Lila wasn't much. Maybe he got a good look at her financial status--he said he balanced her checkbook--and got impatient waiting for his inheritance. If he knew about it. The lawyer says he didn't, but Lila could've told him and just not told the lawyer. On the other hand, if he was pretending shock and grief when he saw her body, they were wasting their time giving the Oscar to Olivier."

Dobey sighed. "Well, maybe it's the guy who was visiting last night, after all. Dammit, we've got to wrap this one up fast. The press has been burning up our phone lines wanting to know who did it. Larry Magoch was something of a legend, even if he's been dead for over twenty years, and nobody likes the idea that his widow just got her head bashed in."

"We don't like it much either, Cap'n," Starsky said quietly.

Dobey softened a little. "Yeah. I know you don't. That's really strange that you talked to her just this morning--her coming by your house right before she was killed, too. Do you have any feeling, with the benefit of hindsight, that she dropped by because, knowing you were policemen, she wanted to be protected from someone?"

"No," Hutch said immediately. "At least I didn't get that feeling. I think she came by for just one thing--to ask us that question about murder. Her attorney said he told her last summer about cops moving into the neighborhood, and we checked the dates of her trip to Bermuda--she's been back in the city since September. So why, all of a sudden, did she decide to pay us a visit? I think something just happened to make her need to know the answer to that question--and we think that conversation she had the night before, with that Robert Urich guy, was what made her ask it. But as to what the connection is between her question and her visitor--and to the kidnapping--we don't know."

Hutch's phone rang, and he picked it up and murmured a few brief words. Then he hung up. "Ginny's ready for us," he told his partner.

"Great," Starsky muttered. He hated autopsies. Then, hopefully: "Cap'n, I don't suppose you'd authorize me to get my paycheck a little early this time? I've been havin' trouble with the bank."

Dobey glared at him. "A little early? You just got paid a few days ago, Starsky."

"Yeah, I know, Cap'n, but that went to pay for some repairs on my car," Starsky wheedled. "C'mon. It's Christmas."

"Starsky, unless your calendar is different from mine, you've been aware of the fact that Christmas was coming for quite some time," Dobey said curtly. "You know the rules. No early paychecks." Suddenly he grinned. "Hey, the two of you have several loan sharks as snitches, right? Maybe one of them would give you a good deal on an interest rate."

Starsky smiled weakly. "Right. Thanks, Cap'n," he mumbled, as he followed Hutch out the door.

**********

"She was dead about three hours before we arrived. No rigor mortis, nonfixed lividity, temp ninety-five, cooled off a little but not much." Ginny Simpson, the ME, sounded, as always, somber but efficient. "Meaning time of death was about ten a.m., give or take a half-hour either way."

"That would go with what the woman downstairs said, that she heard what sounded like a body fall a little after ten," Starsky said.

"It also means she was murdered just a few hours after we saw her," Hutch said. "We could've been the last people to see her alive--besides her killer."

Ginny blinked, first at Hutch, then at Starsky. "You saw her before she was killed?"

"Yeah," Starsky said. "We met her before we left for work this morning. She brought us a loaf of homemade bread and had coffee with us."

"Do you know who she was? Lila Magoch, widow of--"

"Yeah, we know," Hutch interrupted. "She told us. So what was the cause of death?" he asked, although he already knew the answer.

"Just like it looks, massive head trauma," Ginny said. "At least five distinguishable blows to the head. First blow--done with the killer facing her--was enough to kill her. The rest was just window dressing."

"Getting his point across pretty clearly," Hutch said grimly.

Ginny nodded. "Whoever did this really hated this lady, no question. He didn't just want to kill her, he wanted to blot her out."

"Left-handed or right-handed?" Starsky asked.

"Right-handed, I'd say. Three of the blows were on the left side of the victim's face, the other two from above. Not much help, huh, since about eighty-eight percent of the population is right-handed?"

"Yeah. And two of our suspects are right-handed, too," Starsky said. When Hutch looked at him, he explained, "You didn't notice? Wolf stirred his eggnog with his right hand, and old man Smigiel putted from his right."

"Well, I guess when you're a member of a minority you notice these things," Hutch teased.

Starsky ignored that, turning to Ginny again. "Would it've taken a really strong person to have inflicted the blows? One of our suspects is kinda puny."

Ginny pursed her lips. "No, in my opinion. I mean, we're not looking for a child or a disabled person here, but any adult of normal strength could've done it, even a woman. The perp wouldn't have to be Arnold Schwarzenegger."

"Who?" Hutch said blankly, and Starsky looked at him again, this time disdainfully. "He's that guy who was in Conan the Barbarian, Hutch."

"Oh," Hutch said. He hadn't seen it. To Ginny he said, "How about the murder weapon?"

"Oh, it was that award, no question. There are several matching indentations in her skull."

"Any signs of sexual assault?" Hutch asked.

"No."

"Thank God she was spared that, at least," Starsky murmured.

"Yeah," Ginny agreed. "Any more questions?"

"Just one," Hutch said. "Looking at the angle of the wounds, would you say that the perp would've gotten splattered with blood?"

"Oh, yeah, he would've been splashed good," Ginny said. "Head wounds bleed a lot, and he--or she--was standing pretty up close and personal. I don't know how he could've avoided getting blood on him. Find some blood-stained clothes, you'll have your man--or woman. You two seen enough?"

"Yeah," Hutch said. He looked back down at the body. No longer the nice-looking elderly lady who had come to their back door with her dimples and a loaf of homemade bread, now just a corpse. He heard himself say, "Did you know she was on the Titanic?"

"No, I didn't know that."

"Yeah. She lost her parents, her child, her husband--and now her own life."

"Some people just seem to attract tragedy, don't they?" Ginny said, closing the drawer. "Well, good luck getting this bastard. There has to be a special place in Hell for people who hurt little old ladies."

As they left the morgue, Starsky said, "Crazy world, isn't it? John Hinckley shoots the president and is found not guilty by reason of insanity and sent to a nice cozy hospital instead of a jail cell. Some wacko bastard poisons Tylenol bottles. And now somebody beats Larry Magoch's seventy-one-year-old widow to death for no reason--and right before Christmas, too."

"Yeah," Hutch sympathized. "You'd think a bloodthirsty killer would be considerate enough to at least wait until after New Year's."

"You're a regular Steve Martin, y'know that? You know, I've been thinking."

"No kidding?" Hutch affected amazement.

"You want to hear this or not?"

Hutch grinned. "Sure. Lay it on me, Gordo."

"Suppose Henuber--the guy who kidnapped the Magoch baby--had an accomplice. And suppose the accomplice was the one who really killed the baby, but by accident. And suppose Lila found out about it, and the accomplice came to her place and killed her to keep her from spillin' the beans."

"That could be. Except didn't Henuber say in his confession that he acted alone?"

"I don't remember. But if he did, he could've lied."

"And how does Lila's visitor last night tie in?"

"Maybe he was a friend of the accomplice, somebody who came to Lila, pleading with her not to go to the cops and reveal the truth. And then, when that didn't work, he threatened her, saying he'd come around again if she talked, so she told him she'd call her lawyer if he did. Hey, maybe it was a woman! A woman helped Henuber do the kidnapping, and this guy is the woman's boyfriend. Younger boyfriend," he added, when Hutch gave him a skeptical look. "Hey, I'm not saying that's what happened. I'm just saying it could've."

"Great. Now how do we find this mysterious woman, Starsk?"

"C'mon, do I have to think of everything myself?" Starsky complained. He stopped at a vending machine. "You got a quarter?"

Hutch sighed and handed one over, and Starsky promptly fed the machine and brought out a Hines root beer. Then they walked into the squadroom and sat down at their desks. Someone was playing a radio tuned to KLOW, and Judy Garland was singing "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas."

Not for Lila, Hutch thought. No Merry Christmas for her.

Starsky gulped his soda, and Hutch, as he watched the bob of his partner's Adam's apple as he swallowed, felt, all of a sudden, kind of...hot. He didn't know why, but that happened sometimes: he would look at Starsky and think how beautiful he was, and feel desire so sharp it was painful. And think, all over again, This man is mine. He belongs to me, with a kind of wonder.

"Hey, it's after five," Starsky said. "Time to go home, huh? Unless you can think of something else we can do here. Hutch?"

Hutch blinked. Starsky's beautiful blue eyes were gazing at him quizzically.

"No, I guess not," he managed to say. "Just give me a few minutes to go through this stuff, okay? I keep thinking there's something I missed."

"Yeah, you and me both," Starsky said, looking at the file on his own desk. "Hey, why don't you order a pizza for us to pick up on the way home? We never did have lunch, and I'm starvin'."

"Yeah, me, too," Hutch admitted. "Okay." He picked up the phone, and, after he'd ordered and hung up, he saw Starsky giving him a fishy stare.

"What?" he demanded.

"What's this 'all cheese' bullshit?" Starsky wanted to know. "What happened to pepperoni?"

"I thought I'd order the vegetarian pizza, Starsk."

Starsky's voice was low and dangerous. "Why would you want to do something like that, Hutch?"

"I was just thinking we should think about becoming vegetarians, that's all." Hutch tried to keep his tone casual and non-threatening. "I've been reading some studies, and they say consistently that vegetarians live longer than meat-eaters."

"Yeah, I've heard that before, but it's all bullshit. Those statistics are because vegetarians are more likely to not be smokers or big drinkers than the general population, not because there's anything unhealthy about eating meat."

"No, that's not true, Starsk. They've proven vegetarianism is healthier by comparing the life expectancies of people in societies that eat a large amount of meat to societies that don't. We have one of the lowest life expectancies of any industrialized nation, did you know that?"

"That's because we have more car accidents and plane crashes and pollution and stress than anybody else."

"Okay, maybe, but it's also all the meat in our diet. I just read this book that came out a few years ago, What's Wrong with Eating Meat?, and it says that Eskimos, who eat a lot of meat, have very low life expectancies. Like thirty or forty years."

"That's because they don't have things like penicillin and proper sanitation, and because lots of their babies die when they're born because they don't have doctors and hospitals to take care of them."

"Then how do you explain people like the Hunzas of Pakistan?" Hutch wanted to know. "They live under pretty primitive conditions, too, but they live to be 110 or more--and guess what? Meat makes up less than one percent of their diet."

"Yeah, but who'd want to live 110 years stuck off in the Alps with no TV, no movies, no cars, and no pinball?" Starsky demanded. "What kind of life is that? I'll bet they don't really live 110 years, either--I'll bet it just feels like 110 years."

"The Himalayas, Starsk, not the Alps."

"So? Mountains are mountains."

Hutch ignored that. "And you should read some of the studies I've read, like this guy, Roland Phillips, did this study of Seventh Day Adventists, that's a religion that promotes vegetarianism. They took about 25,000 people and tracked them for several years, and guess what? The Seventh Day Adventists had half the death rate of non-smoking meat-eaters in the general population."

"Maybe meat had nothin' to do with it," Starsky said. "Maybe it's just goin' to church on Saturday that makes 'em live longer. Well, hey, I already do that, since I'm Jewish."

"You don't go to church, Starsky."

"Yeah, well, neither do you." Starsky opened up the Magoch file on his desk and began to look through it, pointedly signaling the conversation was over.

Hutch, on a sudden impulse, picked up the phone.

"Merrilee? This is Hutch at the BCPD. I wonder if you would do me a favor. I want to know everything there is to know about the Larry Magoch, Jr., kidnapping--yeah, the one in 1956. Books, magazines, newspaper clippings, whatever you've got. Could you get it all together and send it over to the house by messenger sometime this evening? Thanks, you're an angel."

He hung up to see Starsky looking at him. "Merrilee, huh?" he said. "That the middle-aged librarian who thinks you're irresistible?"

Hutch shrugged modestly. "Cute, maybe, not irresistible. But I'd be careful who you call middle-aged, Starsk. You and I could be called that, too, you know."

"Speak for yourself, Blondie. I'm in the prime of life. I guess it's a good idea for us to read up on the kidnapping, but do you really think there's something in the library that'll help us solve a murder that took place seven hours ago, even if they are related?"

"I don't know," Hutch admitted. "But at the very least, it'll give us some interesting reading while we eat our pizza."

"Yeah," Starsky muttered. "Oh, by the way, remind me to stop at a 7-Eleven on the way home to pick up some pepperoni."

**********

Merrilee--a round, rosy woman in her fifties, wearing a Peanuts sweatshirt and ski pants--brought the material from the library herself...in a very large cardboard box.

"I copied all the microfiches of newspaper and magazine articles I could find in our archives, but I could bring you only two books," she told Hutch at the door, her tone apologetic. "Actually, there've been only two books about the Magoch case written, that I know of. Rumor has it it's because Mrs. Magoch put stumbling blocks in front of any writer who wanted to write about it. One book, The Magoch Kidnapping Case, that came out right after her husband died, she bought up all the copies she could find and had them burned. You can find copies through bookfinders occasionally, but they're pretty rare. We didn't have one in our library, but I found out they had one in Simi Valley, so I got them to send it over by messenger. The other book, Here Be Lions, came out several years ago. Mrs. Magoch tried to get a restraining order to stop the book from being written, but the judge ruled against her. But Mrs. Magoch didn't give up. She asked everyone who'd been involved in the case not to talk to the writer, so he had to rely mostly on old newspaper accounts and the trial transcript."

Hutch frowned; that seemed an odd thing for Lila to do. Especially since she had later gone so far as to seek out someone--Isak Wolf--to write a book about her husband. "Do you have any idea why she did that? I mean, why she didn't want those books to come out?"

Merrilee glowed; there was nothing she liked more than talking about books. "Nobody knows," she said. "People have suggested maybe she was protecting her husband. Maybe she thought his behavior during the kidnapping was less than exemplary; he did boss the police around a bit, you know, and screwed up the paying of the ransom. Or maybe the kidnapping was just so painful for her, she didn't want anyone reading about it. Or maybe she just wanted to preserve her privacy; lots of famous people can get nutty about that. My guess is number three, but who knows? Now can I ask you something?"

Hutch smiled. "Sure. I'm not saying I'll answer, but go ahead."

"Are you and Starsky trying to find out who killed Lila Magoch? Everybody at the library's been buzzing about it all afternoon."

"Yeah, we are."

"And you think it ties in somehow to the kidnapping in 1956?"

"I don't know, Mer. Maybe."

"Wow." Her green eyes glinted. "I remember the kidnapping. I was in my twenties then, and nobody talked about anything else for a year. It was the most bizarre case I'd ever heard of. For one thing, the kidnapper, that guy Henuber, had to have been crazy, snatching the baby in the early evening, when people were still up. And why'd he pick Larry Magoch? He was well off, yeah, but he wasn't as wealthy as a lot of the people in Hollywood then. Henuber didn't know him, didn't have any grudge against him that anyone could find out. But, like I said, he must've been crazy. And now some other crazy comes along and kills the baby's mother all these years later."

"Yeah." Hutch was eager for her to leave so he and Starsky could get started reading all the material she'd brought, but he didn't know how to say so without being rude.

"I hope you find who did it," Merrilee said. "I never saw any of Lila Magoch's movies--they were before my time--but I never missed a Larry Magoch picture when I was a kid, and he was wonderful. Maybe he wasn't a great actor, but he had a presence on the screen, you know? And so handsome. Tall, dark, and handsome. Tell Starsky I wish you both luck."

"Thanks, Mer. I'll do that."

She left, and Hutch carried the box she'd given him into the living room. It was heavy, and it hit him that it was going to be a long night.

**********

He leaned back against the sofa, rubbing his eyes. Starsky picked up a can of root beer, shook it hopefully, then, obviously finding it empty, sadly put it down on the coffee table. He helped himself to a Cheese Doodle and crunched it. Hutch looked up at him.

"Hey, Cheese Doodles are health food, Hutch," Starsky said defensively, apparently reading Hutch's disapproval.

"How do you figure that?"

"They've got cheese in 'em, don't they? And cheese is full of calcium and protein and stuff like that."

"Cheese Doodles don't have cheese in them, Starsk. Cheese Doodles have nothing but salt, white flour, and a bunch of chemicals."

"That must be why they taste so good." Starsky helped himself to another one, then took a sip from Hutch's mug to wash it down--and almost did a spit take. "Shit!" he sputtered. "What is this crap?"

"Just soybean milk."

"Soybean milk? How the hell do you milk a soybean?"

The words came out without Hutch's even having to think about it first. "You have to use a very low stool."

Starsky just stared at him. "This's because of that Gandhi movie you went to, isn't it?" he said finally. "That's what's puttin' you on this weird vegetarian trip."

"I'm not saying I'm going to turn into another Gandhi. But it wouldn't hurt you to have an open mind, you know. There've been some really famous vegetarians--Albert Einstein, George Bernard Shaw, Louisa May Alcott, Albert Schweitzer, Buddha, Socrates--"

"Adolf Hitler."

"No, that's a myth that Hitler was a vegetarian. He had digestive problems and went without meat once in a while, but most of the time he ate meat, according to Albert Speer, who was one of Hitler's closest friends. In fact, I've heard stuffed squab was one of Hitler's favorite meals."

Starsky snorted. "Okay, so Hitler ate baby pigeons, and George Bernard Shaw and Socrates ate birdseed. Big deal. That doesn't mean we should do it."

"C'mon, Starsky, why don't you at least think about going vegetarian? At least for a few nights a week?" Hutch coaxed.

"Okay, I'll think about it. But not while I'm eating." Starsky crunched on another Cheese Doodle. "So," he said, "what d'you think?" He gestured toward the pile of material from the Bay City Public Library they'd been poring over for the last four or five hours, now awash with post-it notes they'd used to flag possibly relevant or important details during their perusal. Post-its, Hutch thought, would go down in history as the great invention of the eighties. They certainly made a cop's life easier; he could mark any piece of information in a file and find it at a moment's notice.

"I'm not sure what I think," Hutch said. "But maybe we could summarize what we've found out and then discuss important points?"

"Great, you go first."

"Okay. Stop me if you want to add anything. It's 1956, Ike is president, Mickey Mantle just won the Triple Crown, Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat to a white man on the bus and thereby gave birth to the civil rights movement, and Larry Magoch just made one of his most successful pictures, Hell Bent for Leather. His son, Larry Magoch, Jr., is just a few months short of two years old.

"One Friday night, he and his wife Lila go to see a movie, Bus Stop with Marilyn Monroe, leaving a registered nurse with the baby. It's the first time they've ever left the baby with anyone since he was born so they're both a bit nervous, but the babysitter is an old friend and they plan on being gone only a few hours. They come home about nine o'clock to find the babysitter in hysterics. When the sitter went to check on the baby, shortly before they'd arrived, she found him gone and a ransom note in the crib."

"Which we have a copy of," Starsky said, and picked up a facsimile from a newspaper article. Hutch looked at it, but he'd already read it several times:

Dear Sir!

Your son is mine but unharm and will be released when you pay $100,000 for his return. Get it ready in 50s, 20s, and 100s unmarked bills non-sequential and await further instrutions for delivery.

Do not worry, the gentleman watching over your son is trained in medical. The child is well and will be unhurt as long as you comply stricly.

Do not contact police if you do you will regret it. Do not provock us, we are not kidding. Obey to the leter and you will see your son well and safe again.

Johnson

"So Larry and Lila call the police--disobeying the letter's instructions, but they were so scared they didn't know what else to do," Hutch said. "A lot of newspaper and magazine articles of the era say the police screwed up from the beginning, but they had a lot of good old-fashioned bad luck, too. It was like the baby vanished into thin air. The police raked the county, tracking down even crank calls and letters, but found nothing. The babysitter--their best suspect--came out clean as Ivory Snow, was an old friend of the Magoches and had a lily-white reputation besides. And the police were handicapped by Larry Magoch's fame and all the media pressure. They didn't even have any pictures of the baby to use in their search--apparently no pictures were ever taken of Larry, Jr. They had to go by a description from the Magoches instead."

"They didn't have any medical records either," Starsky said. "Looks like the baby never went to a doctor."

"Yeah. The Magoches apparently brought new meaning to the term overprotective parents, but maybe that's understandable, with both of them being so famous. Anyway, over the next few days, Magoch manages to get the money together to pay the ransom. The police want to mark the bills, but Magoch won't let them. He's afraid the guy who took the baby will find out and kill the child, so they finally just make note of the serial numbers. A week goes by, and the Magoches are frantic--until finally they get another ransom note. The second note tells Magoch to go on a train ride and throw the money out the window after he passes a certain sign. He does this, but he forgets to signal the police first, so whoever picks up the money slips through their net. The money is gone and the baby isn't returned. No more letters either. The whole country is in an uproar.

"Then, two months later, two lovers find the baby's body on a beach between LA and San Diego, half-buried in the sand. Badly decomposed, meaning the baby was probably killed immediately after the kidnapping. Larry Magoch IDs the body as his son's, and, after the autopsy, the baby is cremated at the father's request. And, now that they no longer have to worry about the child's safety, the police go on an all-out manhunt to find the kidnapper."

"You know, I remember reading that bit when I was a kid," Starsky said. "They pretty much tore the city apart. Some people were even arrested, but they couldn't make anything stick until they found Henuber."

"Yeah," Hutch said. "Who they found kind of by accident. Henuber was suspected of being guilty of some burglaries from the year before, and when the police searched his house--they didn't worry about things like warrants in those days--they found the entire $100,000 of the ransom in his garage. There was no doubt it was the ransom money--they checked every serial number. So they arrested and convicted him."

"But Henuber kept insisting he was innocent," Starsky said. "Testified for himself at the trial, even got his wife to testify for him, protested after he was convicted that he'd been framed, that he had never even seen the Magoch baby, and somebody planted the money in his garage. Then, right before his execution, he wrote an article for this magazine called Ticktock--an old magazine like the Saturday Evening Post; it went belly-up in the sixties, but at the time it was really popular--saying he'd done it, after all. Ironically, they gave him the same amount of money for his confession as the ransom--$100,000. There was nothing like a Son of Sam law in those days, so killers could get away with shit like that, profiting from their crimes. Of course, the money went to his wife, since Henuber went to the gas chamber shortly after the confession came out. And that was it. Oh, except he did say in his confession that he'd acted alone, that he had no accomplices, that even his wife didn't know about it. So you were right about that."

"Yeah, although, as you pointed out, he could've lied," Hutch said. "Anyway, the kidnapping pretty much ruined Larry Magoch. He never made another movie, his health deteriorated rapidly after Henuber's execution, and he died of a heart attack in 1959, just as Lila told us. And Lila sold their house and moved to Bay City, and now she's gone, too." He sighed, looking at their pile of papers again. "Hell, everybody's dead. The judge, the defendant, the prosecuting attorney, the defense attorney, the babysitter, Larry, Lila--all gone. If there really is a link between the kidnapping and what happened to Lila Magoch, it's going to be tough to find it."

"Hey, Hutch, how about we call the LAPD tomorrow and see if there are any cops who worked on this case in 1956 that are still alive?" Starsky suggested. "If there is somebody, maybe we could talk to him. Treat him to dinner and flatter him a little, get him to open up about it. Maybe he could give us something that'd be useful. We both know that sometimes the most important stuff about a case never makes it to the newspapers--or the trial."

"Good idea, Starsk. Okay, let's do that tomorrow." Hutch smiled. "Funny."

"What?"

"I was just thinking...maybe twenty-six years from now, some young cops will be taking us to dinner, flattering us, to get us to talk about some of our big cases. Like the Las Vegas Strangler, or Simon Marcus."

Starsky snorted. "There's a cheery thought. Thanks a lot, Hutch."

"You're welcome." Hutch pulled himself up. "Come on, let's go to bed."

"That's the best thing I've heard all day," Starsky said, quickly pulling himself up, too.

**********

Hutch climbed into their four-poster mahogany bed and was immediately taken into strong arms.

"I love you so much," he whispered.

"I love you, too," Starsky whispered back. He kissed him, his lips caressing, then a little harder, more sensual. Hutch clung to him, loving the feel of his partner against him, the brush of his quickening breath against his face, the power of his hard erection as it drove demandingly against his belly.

"Ah..." Hutch sighed.

"You're mine, Hutch," Starsky whispered. His hand moved down Hutch's body, took his penis in his hand. "This is mine, too," he said softly. "All mine."

"All yours," Hutch said, his words hardly more than a breath. He was fast losing all coherence. "Starsky...please...make love to me...."

Starsky looked at him. "You want it that way again? Aren't you still sore from this morning?"

"No. Yes. I don't care," Hutch said, still finding it hard to breathe. "Please...."

"Shh. You don't have to beg." Starsky reached for the lubricant on the nightstand and prepared himself, and Hutch watched him, feeling his fever rise. Just watching Starsky touch himself, bringing that massive cock to full erection with his self-caresses, made him tremble.

"I want you to put it inside me," he whispered, "and never come out. I want you to be inside me forever."

Starsky didn't tease him for that, didn't say anything like, "That might make it a little hard to do our jobs, Blondie." He just murmured, "Yeah, me, too." He moved on top of him, positioning himself, and Hutch, as if following his lead in an old and familiar and well-loved dance, moved his legs up around his shoulders.

"Doesn't this hurt your back?" Starsky asked softly.

"No," Hutch said. It did, a little, but he didn't care about that either. He wanted--needed--to see Starsky's face while they were joined. "Please...."

Starsky kissed him, then pushed up and moved in.

"Ah!" Hutch cried out, clinging to Starsky tightly, digging his heels into Starsky's back. It felt so good. It always felt so good. He loved having Starsky inside him, being joined to him, being closer to him than anyone. There was nothing like this. There was nothing as good as this.

"Hutch..." Starsky panted, pushing harder. Thrusting fast. Hutch closed his eyes again, drinking in the feeling of Starsky deep inside him, taking him, impaling him.

"Never come out," he whispered, like a litany. "Never leave me...please...never leave me."

"Never," Starsky promised, his voice almost gone. "Never, Hutch."

Then they both lost words as Starsky rammed harder and harder and Hutch rocked with him, their bed bouncing vigorously in their frantic dance of passion. Finally Starsky cried out, blinking as he ejaculated, and Hutch, as always, excited beyond endurance at the sight of Starsky climaxing, followed a second later.

They both collapsed, panting, sweaty, and wasted.

Hutch reached up and stroked Starsky's curls.

"You're so beautiful," he whispered, even as he felt himself drift off.

**********

The dream began quietly. They were on a beach, throwing their badges into the ocean together. Then they looked at each other, and Hutch could see Starsky's love shimmering there in his eyes. He hadn't wanted to do it, but he had done it for Hutch because he loved him. Hutch grabbed him in a tight hug, and Starsky hugged him back. Hutch said, "I love you," and Starsky said, "I love you," and it was the first time he could remember the two of them saying it like that--no frills, no embarrassed laughter, no "buts" coming after. He felt so close to Starsky, closer than a friend, closer than even a brother.

Then the scene seemed to shift and change. The roar of the ocean seemed to recede, and the sun became bright, too bright, and Hutch felt himself fall, fall, fall through space. When he blinked, he saw Starsky lying on the pavement, his face pale and lifeless, his blood blackening the macadam.

No!

He didn't know he'd screamed until he woke up and saw Starsky, his eyes wide and anxious, bent over him and whispering, "Hutch. Hutch. It's okay. Wake up."

Hutch blinked several times. Then he said, "Oh, shit." He let out a breath, his skin cold and clammy, his heart pounding hurtfully in his chest, and his testicles contracted up snugly against his body.

"S-sorry I woke you," he mumbled.

Starsky relaxed, but only slightly. "You look like shit," he said. "You okay?"

"Yeah." Shit, he was trembling. "I'm fine. G-go back to sleep."

"Sure?"

"Yeah. I'm fine."

Starsky turned off the light and snuggled back down, pulling Hutch against him. And Hutch, breathing in the soft, sweet smells of his partner's body, felt his heart rate slowly return to normal. It'd been just a dream--Starsky was here, alive, safe in his arms. He reached up and caressed the soft fur of Starsky's chest.

"Mm," Starsky murmured. "Feels good."

Hutch realized only then that he was aroused--painfully, throbbingly aroused. He pushed his hard erection against Starsky, asking a question, and Starsky answered it by reaching down and taking him into his hand.

"God, Hutch, you're so big. I love how big you are." He pulled on him a little, not hard, just teasing. Hutch bit his lip at the exquisite tingle.

"Please," he whispered.

A second's hesitation, then Starsky said, "'M sorry, babe, I'm kinda half-asleep. Rain check? Meanwhile, I'd love to suck you."

Hutch nodded. "Okay," he rasped out. "Yes. Please."

His hand went into Starsky's hair, squeezing tight as Starsky kissed him. Then Starsky moved down his body and, moving his hand back to the base of his erection, took the swollen head into his mouth. Sucking him deep.

Hutch moaned, twitching with the delicious agony. He couldn't believe, sometimes, how good it was, how perfect, feeling Starsky sucking on his dick, squeezing the base as his tongue worked the tip, a finger lightly stroking the sensitive perineum.

"Starsky...please...oh, God," he moaned, over and over. His butt clenched and unclenched, his toes curled up tight, and he could feel his body break out in a renewed sweat--but a good sweat this time. He moaned again, still clinging to Starsky's hair, stroking.

Then he was coming, biting his lip again as he felt his body spasm in the throes of an explosive orgasm...and he knew nothing more for a while.

Starsky was nuzzling him, kissing him, his lips as gentle as butterfly wings. He opened his eyes stupidly.

"Love you, Hutch."

"Love you, Starsk." Groggily he reached for his partner, but Starsky gently pushed his hand away.

"Tomorrow, okay?" he whispered. "G'night, babe."

Hutch felt guilty, realizing he had pretty much forced Starsky to have sex. But then he remembered that there'd been times when Starsky had wanted to have sex and he hadn't, and he'd gone along with it. Maybe that was what marriage was. "Good night," he whispered.

Starsky's lips brushed his once again, then, within seconds, he was asleep next to him. Hutch followed soon after.

**********

"He that dwelleth in the secret place of the most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, He is my refuge and my fortress; my God, in Him will I trust...."

It was one of those chilly wet days that occasionally come to Southern California during the winter months, a cold wind whipping the mourners' clothing as they stood silently listening to the rabbi read the psalm while a light rain fell on the grave, turning the upturned dirt to soft mud. It struck Hutch, with a kind of dull surprise, that today was the first day of winter.

The rabbi--who wore no special robes, only a simple business suit--finished reading the psalm, then spoke quietly to the small group.

"Those who are not Jewish wonder sometimes why we Jews do not put flowers on a grave. Instead, to show our regard for the departed one, we put stones. To many, this might seem harsh, a rather strange and even ugly tribute for someone we loved who is now gone, not as pretty as flowers certainly. But flowers do not last. They die quickly and are a sad reminder to those who have suffered a loss that their loved one also died too soon. Stones, on the other hand, last forever, as long as the earth lasts. We are commemorating our loved one's immortality. And stones have a strong symbolic significance, too; stones are what make up an altar, and it is on an altar that one has communion with God."

Hutch felt uncomfortable, both with the words about death and the needle-fine rain that was dripping down the collar of his jacket. He looked again at the casket lying in the grave, looking so small and defenseless against the elements. It was a plain wooden casket, as was traditional with Jewish burials, and he remembered Starsky telling him that Jews didn't believe in embalming their departed ones, either. They believed that the decomposition of the body was not something to be feared or avoided, but embraced as a natural process. He shivered at the thought, guiltily glad in that moment he was a Protestant.

Starsky, as if sensing his partner's unease, moved a little closer to him. He didn't say anything, not with all the people around, but Hutch felt his partner's shoulder give his shoulder a little nudge. He looked up, and Starsky's eyes smiled into his like a physical embrace.

The rabbi said, "Would anyone here like to say a few words about the departed?"

Hutch looked at the small group of mourners who had come out in the rain to see Lila Magoch laid to rest: her next-door neighbor, her lawyer, her personal assistant, and a woman Hutch recognized as a reporter from one of the tabloids. But none of them responded to the rabbi's invitation.

Finally Isak spoke.

"I didn't know Lila as well as the friends she had when she lived in Hollywood," the black man said softly. "But they're all gone now, so maybe I can kind of represent them. Lila was a great actress--but she was more than that. She was tough and disciplined. She started working at age twelve and that was the end of her formal education, but she educated herself. She disciplined herself to read a book a week, on all kinds of subjects; she even read the encyclopedia. She studied Russian once because she thought Russia would someday emerge as a world power--and it did. She did volunteer work at animal shelters, even cleaning out animal cages. She jogged, even at age seventy-one. She spoke at university classes about her husband because she thought it was important that people not forget him. And she was a survivor. She survived on the Titanic and she survived her baby's kidnapping and murder, and she survived her husband's death when he was only forty-nine, without letting any of it make her hard or bitter. But, most of all, she was a good, kind, generous, sweet person. I feel lucky to have known her."

He stopped talking, either because he was unable to continue, or he just ran out of words. After an awkward silence, the soft fall of rain on the casket the only sound, Smigiel addressed the group.

"Lila and I had our differences over the years," the lawyer said, speaking in a sonorous voice that he probably used for addressing judges and juries. "But the one thing I'll always remember about her is how much she loved her husband. It's a love you don't find much of nowadays--a love that transcended everything else. She told me once she understood what Mary, Queen of Scots, meant when she'd said, referring to her husband James Bothwell, 'I'd follow him to the ends of the earth in my petticoat.' And Larry, who was a friend of mine, told me many, many times, how much her love meant to him, more than his money, more than his fame." He clenched his jaw, almost as if overcome by emotion, then he concluded, "That's what I'll remember most about Lila Magoch--how much she loved."

Another awkward silence fell; then, to Hutch's surprise, Starsky spoke up.

"I didn't know Lila, like most of the rest of you here," he said. "I only met her, in fact, the day she died. But just talking to her for a few minutes, I could tell she was a great lady, one of the great Hollywood ladies you don't see anymore--kind of our own American royalty. She was an American queen. I don't know who killed her, but I'll tell you this, my partner and I are gettin' close. And I promise everybody here we're gonna get him--or her."

After a few seconds of more silence, apparently waiting to see if anyone else would speak, the rabbi said, "This service is concluded," and the small group dispersed. Hutch noticed, before they left, that both Smigiel and Wolf placed stones beside the open grave, very quietly.

Starsky and Hutch headed for the Torino. "So what was that all about, saying we're getting close to finding Lila's killer?" Hutch asked. "You know something I don't?"

Starsky shrugged. "I thought maybe it might make somebody nervous, maybe even make 'em give up and confess."

"Yeah, that's possible," Hutch said sarcastically. "Especially since one of our best suspects isn't even here, and we still don't have a clue where he is." Lila's redheaded neighbor had come to the station earlier that day to look at mug books, but she hadn't found anyone resembling the man she'd seen talking to Lila the night before she was killed. And Hutch considered the composite their sketch artist had done from her description useless, since it looked exactly like Robert Urich. "But maybe somebody will tell him about it."

"Hmph. Very funny," Starsky said.

Rose Garland walked up to them. She was wearing a bright orange raincoat--a little too bright for such a solemn occasion, but maybe she didn't have anything black in her wardrobe. "So how's the case really going, huh?" she demanded. "You have any suspects in custody yet?"

"Not yet," Hutch said, "but we're making progress."

The redhead snorted. "In other words, you have nothing," she said scornfully. "I might've known. You're just going to sit around and eat donuts while a murderer runs loose in our building. You cops are worthless." Apparently, she no longer thought the two of them were cute.

"Hey," Starsky said, trying some of his charm. "We're good for some things. Suppose the murderer came up to us right now, we could protect you."

"Yeah, right," Rose said. "Like the murderer is really going to--" She broke off, staring at something behind them.

"What?" Hutch said, turning his head.

A man was standing about thirty feet away, near the road, between two eucalyptus trees--a tall, round-faced man, wearing a raincoat that looked as battered and shabby as Columbo's, rain glistening on his dark blond hair.

"That's him," Rose blurted out.

"That's who?" Hutch asked.

"The man...the man who was visiting Mrs. Magoch the night before she died," she bleated.

Starsky looked at Hutch, then back at the man. "Hey, he does look like a blond Robert Urich."

"Yeah, he does," Hutch said.

They both headed toward the man, not fast, but the Robert Urich clone noticed their attention and started backing up toward the street. He looked scared. No, Hutch thought, he looked panicky.

"Stop! Police!" Starsky called, reaching to pull his badge out of his jacket.

Hearing this, the man took off at a run, and Starsky and Hutch went into a dead run after him. Hutch, hearing the wet sloshing sounds of the ground under his shoes, found himself hoping he wouldn't slide and fall--not only because it would be embarrassing, but because he was wearing a new suit.

Their fleeing suspect reached his car, but no farther--Starsky promptly tackled him, grabbing his arm and twisting it behind him. "Hey!" the man squeaked--a voice that didn't sound at all like Robert Urich's. "What are you doing? I didn't do anything!"

"This your car?" Starsky asked, looking at the battered Chevy. Hutch noticed a large REAGAN/BUSH bumper sticker on the trunk.

"Yeah, it's my car, so what?"

"It's ugly, that's all," Starsky said. "Let's see some ID."

"I will if you let go of me."

Starsky released him, and the blond man, unhappy but resigned, produced his wallet and pulled out his driver's license. Hutch took it.

"Sam Riordon," he read. "Phoenix, Arizona." He handed it back to him. "Long way from home, aren't you, Sam?"

"I came here for the funeral," Sam said, his voice shaking, either because of the cold and the rain or some other reason. "I just happen to be an old fan of Larry Magoch's, and I wanted to see his wife...well, laid to rest. Is that a crime?"

"Try again, Riordon," Starsky said. "We happen to know you were here in Bay City the night before Mrs. Magoch died, if not earlier."

Sam looked at Starsky, then at Hutch. He swallowed.

"I didn't kill her," he said.

"We didn't say you did," Hutch said. "But we do know you threatened her."

"I didn't threaten her!"

"C'mon, Riordon," Starsky said. "You told her you'd be back, and she said if you did come back she'd sic her lawyer on you."

"That wasn't a threat! I just...t-talked to her, that's all," Sam stammered. "Look, let me go, huh? I don't know anything about Mrs. Magoch's murder."

"So where were you Monday? Say about ten a.m.," Starsky said.

"I was...I was at the university. Looking up some stuff."

"You a professional researcher?" Hutch asked.

"No...no, I'm a vocational counselor, actually. You know, someone who helps people find the right jobs for them. But I'm on a leave of absence right now."

"I don't suppose anybody noticed you at the university, while you were doin' your research," Starsky said.

"Look, I didn't kill her!" Sam cried. "I had no reason to kill her. In fact, I had every reason for wanting her to stay alive. You see, she--"

"What?" Hutch snapped.

Riordon lifted his chin, a gesture that seemed, to Hutch, oddly like that of a suitor just about to declare his love. "She's my mother," he said.

Starsky's eyes widened. Hutch ground out, "Look, Riordon, we don't have time for games. Lila Magoch never had any children except the one that was kidnapped and killed."

"That's who I am," Sam Riordon said. Proud and defiant, although his voice was shaking a little again. "The one that was kidnapped. I am Lawrence Magoch, Jr."

"What about the baby they found on the beach?" Starsky demanded.

"That was...that was some other baby. It wasn't the Magoch baby. I'm the Magoch baby." Riordon's shoulders seemed to slump then, as if he were a marionette with the strings cut. "She was my mother," he whispered. "And now she's gone. She's gone...."

And, incredibly, the big brown eyes filled with tears. Filled up and then spilled over. Standing there crying in the rain, in his shabby raincoat, with no hat and rainwater plastering down his dark gold hair, Sam Riordon didn't look much like a murderer. He looked, in fact, rather pitiful.

"Look," Starsky said, in a gentler tone. "Why don't we go to the station and talk this over, huh? It's nice and warm there. And dry. How about it, huh?"

Riordon just nodded. He reached up and wiped his nose in a childlike gesture. "Okay," he mumbled. "Okay."

**********

Riordon sat in the interrogation room, smoking some low-nicotine cigarette called True--the brand he'd requested when Hutch had offered to get him something from the vending machines. As he lit the cigarette, he held it with his left hand.

"You a southpaw?" Starsky asked casually.

Riordon looked a little surprised at the question, but responded readily. "Yeah," he said. "I was lucky, too, that my teachers didn't try to switch me to my right hand when I was a kid. I've heard some teachers used to do that and it led to all kinds of neuroses. And God knows I'm neurotic enough." His grief and his defiance both seemed to have vanished, leaving in their place a kind of docile sulkiness.

"Okay," Starsky said. "Why don't you start from the beginning. Tell us why you're so sure you're Larry Magoch's son."

"I'm not sure. Not exactly," Riordon equivocated. "It's just something I'm pretty certain of."

"So tell us why you're pretty certain," Starsky said. "Just try not to take all day about it. My partner and I are due for retirement in twenty-five years."

Riordon looked at Hutch as if for help, and Hutch, as he met the brown eyes that Lila's neighbor had said could melt polar ice caps, wondered if Riordon really could be Larry and Lila Magoch's child. There was nothing in his facial features that brought to mind either parent, but of course, lots of people in the same families looked nothing alike.

Riordon, apparently finding Hutch's face as unyielding as Starsky's, sighed.

"Okay," he said resignedly. "Here goes. I grew up in Vermont, a little town called Bridgewater. My father worked operating a ski lift in Killington until he died when I was in college. Then several years later, when I was working in Montpelier, my mother got cancer. I quit my job and moved to take care of her--she was living in Phoenix by then--and, the last time she went to the hospital, she told me that...that I wasn't really her son. She and my father--my adoptive father--were unable to have children, but had been turned down by adoption agencies because my father was divorced. They cared about things like that in the fifties. So they'd arranged for an illegal adoption. Paid money to an unscrupulous baby broker through a guy with underworld connections, a guy my adoptive father'd met in Korea.

"I was really shocked to hear all this--my parents had never told me I was adopted. But I was even more shocked when my mom hit me with the rest of it: that, over the years, she and my father had had suspicions that I was the Magoch baby. Of course I thought it was crazy, unbelievable, at least at first, but she had a lot of reasons that made sense. They adopted me just a month after the Magoch baby was kidnapped. I was the same age as he was--I was two years old then, I'm twenty-eight now--and I was blond like Lila Magoch, but with brown eyes like Larry, which fits the description of the baby the Magoches gave the police. And the guy who sold me to my parents, the one connected to organized crime, was originally from Los Angeles, where the baby was taken.

"My mother told me she and my father thought maybe the man who'd sold me to them knew the gang that kidnapped the baby--probably some Mafia-type gang. Then, when the publicity over the snatch got to be too much, the gang decided the baby was too hot, that it'd be too risky to try and return him. But why not get some money for him instead of just killing him and having to dispose of the body? There weren't any photographs of the baby in existence to worry about, there was no way the baby could be identified except by his parents, and if they sent the baby far enough away, who was to know? So--my parents speculated--the gang went to this guy to help them get rid of the baby, and he went to my parents and...well...sold me to them, probably thinking Vermont was far enough away from Los Angeles to be safe."

"What about the baby they found on the beach?" Starsky asked.

"Oh, that wasn't the Magoch baby," Sam said. "No way. I've read a lot about it since my mother told me this stuff, and it's obvious it wasn't Larry, Jr. The body was more decomposed than it should've been after two months, for one thing--so decomposed they couldn't even tell the sex of the child. And there was no real positive ID of the body, either--like I said, no photographs, no dental records, not even any medical records. As far as anybody knows, the baby never went to a doctor; Magoch didn't believe in them, he said. The only way to positively identify the body would've been fingerprints--the police had lifted fingerprints off the baby's toys and crib after the kidnapping--but the corpse was too decomposed for prints to be taken. So all we really have is Magoch's ID, and I think he said the baby was his only because he was worried about his wife. She had been having a really rough time since the kidnapping--the doctors kept her under almost constant sedation--and I think he wanted her to have some closure. He wouldn't let her look at the body either. So, like I said, the only reason we have to believe the body was Larry, Jr. is Magoch's subjective opinion."

"And what about Henuber? You said the baby was taken by a mob, but Henuber said in his confession he acted alone," Hutch said.

"Oh, Henuber didn't have anything to do with the kidnapping," Sam said, as if any idiot would know that. "He confessed only because that magazine, Ticktock, offered him a wad of cash if he did, and he was worried about his wife and baby after he was gone. His wife was pregnant when he was arrested, you know, and he was really worried about her raising their baby by herself. Anyone who studies the case can tell Henuber didn't do it. It was obviously done by a gang."

"You know," Starsky said conversationally, "I met a guy one time who was sure he was Napoleon. Had some really good reasons for believing it, too. And nobody could ever convince him otherwise, even when they showed him an encyclopedia that said Bonaparte died in 1821."

"Look, I know it sounds unbelievable," Riordon said. "But it's not completely off the wall. Something like that could happen."

"Okay, so your mom thought you were the Magoch baby," Starsky said. "So after she tells you this, you immediately come here to California to talk to Mrs. Magoch?"

"Well...no, not right away," Sam said. "I mean, first I had to bury my mother. And then I...well, I wondered awhile if it was really true. I mean, it sounded fantastic. But it was killing me, wondering who I was, so finally I flew to Los Angeles, rented an apartment, and started gathering and studying material on the Magoch case. Actually, I never wanted to bother Mrs. Magoch at all--that is, until I was sure. But then I...something happened. Like I said, the police took fingerprints in the baby's nursery, off the baby's toys and crib. And I found out the LAPD still has those prints in their old files. Those prints could prove I'm the Magoch baby for good. Could make me sure. Well, I am sure, I guess--pretty sure--but these prints would make me really sure. But the sons-of-bitches wouldn't let me have them. Wouldn't even let me look at them. Even with the Freedom of Information Act, they told me I had to have a signature from Mrs. Magoch, giving them permission to release those prints. Don't ask me why, but laws are never meant to be understood, are they?"

"So you went to visit her," Starsky said. "That's what you were doing there Sunday night?"

"Yeah," Sam muttered. He reached up and pushed some of his still-damp blond hair out of his face. Plainly, he wasn't enjoying this. "I didn't want to go to her until I was sure. I mean, she was a nice old lady and I didn't want to shock her or upset her, but what else could I do? I had to get that waiver signed.

"So, I call Mrs. Magoch on Sunday, saying I represented a charity for lost dogs and would she let me come see her, and she says okay. And I drive here to Bay City that night, taking some of the material I'd accumulated with me, in a bag--to show her I really did have some good evidence that I was the Magoch baby, that her husband had made a mistake ID'ing that corpse. She didn't look very happy to hear what I had to say. In fact, she looked kind of scared, but she didn't look surprised--pretty telling in itself, huh? I think she knew instinctively she was my mother, but she just couldn't admit it. She let me talk. We sat in her living room for maybe ten minutes, and like I said, I showed her some of my documentation, told her some of the stuff I'd uncovered that made it pretty damned obvious Henuber was innocent, that the case against him was manufactured, that the corpse wasn't her child."

Sam helped himself to another cigarette. He took a drag and exhaled deeply.

"Finally, I got into telling her why I was really there--I wanted proof that I was the missing Magoch baby, by comparing the baby's fingerprints the LAPD has with mine. I made it clear I wasn't interested in getting any part of her husband's or her estate, or selling my story to the tabloids or anything like that. I'd even sign a paper relinquishing all my rights if that was what she wanted. All she had to do was sign the waiver so I could get the fingerprints. Just her signature, that's all I wanted! But she said no." He flushed. "She told me I was wasting my time, there was no way I could be her child, and that if she let me have the prints, no matter what they proved, the press would find out and everybody'd be writing about the case again and...and she couldn't bear that. She said she would rather die than have that old case gone over again; those were her exact words."

Hutch flashed a look at Starsky, who raised both eyebrows, his eyes clearly saying, She'd rather die? "So what'd you do?" Hutch asked Riordon.

Sam shrugged. "I just told her that if she wouldn't help me, I'd hire a lawyer to get the fingerprints. And if that didn't work, I'd go to the press, the tabloids, TV stations, whoever'd listen to me, to raise some hell so the LAPD would cough up those prints. And she told me I couldn't do that, that she didn't want any publicity. But I said if it raised a shitstorm of publicity, so what? Isn't it more important that the truth come out? What if I really am your child? What if the state executed an innocent man, a man who never murdered anyone? Don't I have the right to know who I am, and doesn't the public have the right to know the truth? That's when she told me to get out. Shouted at me, actually." He flushed again. "So I left."

"That must've really hurt," Hutch said softly, seeing a motive in the making. "Your mother--or a woman that might've been your mother--throwing you out like that."

Riordon gave another shrug, pretending indifference. "Oh, well, I figured I'd talk to her another time, try later to get her to agree to help me." He lowered the cigarette, staring down at the scarred metal table. "But there won't be another time now." He looked up. "I just wanted to know the truth," he said desperately. "Who I was. Who I am. Was that so much to ask? That she help me find out who I really am?"

"Yeah," Starsky said, his voice silk-smooth. "That's not much to ask. Why was she so afraid of publicity, huh? You have any ideas?"

"I don't know," Riordon said. "But she was afraid. Looked really scared of me, like I'd threatened her, even though I hadn't. I begged, yeah, but I didn't threaten."

"And you had overnight to think about it," Hutch said. "And then the next day, you decided you were going to get those fingerprints no matter what. So you went to Mrs. Magoch's and told her she would help you or else. And when she still refused, you--"

"No!" Riordon cried. "I didn't kill her! I didn't go back there. I only saw her that one time. Is it my fault she got killed the next day?"

"Look, it's understandable you'd lose it," Hutch said sympathetically. "That, after all these months of wondering about your roots, when she refused to help you, you just blew."

"I didn't blow!" Sam shouted. "Look, all I want are those fingerprints! How would killing her get me those fingerprints?" He looked from Hutch to Starsky. "I just want to know who I am," he said, really sounding desperate now. "I didn't want to kill her, or anyone. I just want to know who I am!"

"Look, Riordon," Hutch said. "Maybe we can help you. If you help us."

Sam looked at him, eyes wary but hopeful. "What?"

"Give us your fingerprints," Hutch said. "And we'll get those prints from the baby's nursery for you and be able to tell you once and for all if you're Lawrence Magoch, Jr."

The blond man looked stunned. "You...you would do that for me?"

"If you do something for us," Starsky said.

"What do you want?"

"Give us permission to search the apartment where you're staying," Starsky said. "And your car. We probably could get a warrant, but it'd be a lot faster and easier if you just gave us permission."

Sam blinked. "I don't understand. Why would you want to search my apartment and my car?"

Not too bright, Hutch thought. Or maybe he just doesn't have that kind of mind. "Evidence," he explained. "Bloody clothes, maybe. Our ME told us the perp probably got splattered with blood."

"Oh." Riordon blinked again as he processed this information. "Okay," he said. "Sure. I have nothing to hide. Search my apartment all you want, my car, too. When...when can I find out about the fingerprints?"

"Not so fast," Hutch said. "We'd also like you to meet with one of our polygraph experts and take a lie detector test."

"Lie detector test?" Sam looked surprised. "But those aren't admissible in court, are they?"

"No, not unless both sides agree, but they're still used as an investigative tool," Starsky said. "We can't force you to submit to one, legally, but if you agree, we'll set it up--tomorrow, probably."

"And if I agree, you'll...you'll tell me about the prints?"

"Yep, as soon as we know," Hutch said. "We'll have to get the prints from the LAPD and then have a print man compare them, but we should be able to do that sometime tomorrow." He didn't add that anyone with a little training, including himself or Starsky, could compare two sets of fingerprints with no problem, that they just would need an expert for, perhaps, giving later testimony in court. "But we'd like to do the search right now. Go back with you, along with a few uniforms. How about it?"

"Sure, okay. Yeah, it's a deal. I'm fine with both the polygraph and the search. You say I'll hear tomorrow about the prints?" Riordon was pathetically eager.

"Unless there's some holdup with the LAPD," Hutch said. "But I don't think there will be. They're pretty efficient."

Sam Riordon crunched out his cigarette and stood up. "Okay, then, let's get started."

**********

"Bullshit," the old man growled. "Pure bullshit. There's no way the Magoch kid could still be alive. For fuck's sake, I saw the body myself."

Starsky forced a charming smile. Damn, he's good at this, Hutch thought. Starsky could coax the birds out of the trees if he were so inclined. "We realize this guy is probably a looney tune," he agreed. "But you know how it is when you're working a high-profile murder case. Hell, I don't have to tell you. You have to explore every angle, even if you're pretty sure it's crap."

"Don't I know it. I worked a few cases like that myself." The old man took a sip of his brandy. "But I still say it's a crock of shit. It's like those assholes who claim Marilyn Monroe was murdered by Bobby Kennedy because she was having an affair with him. Hell, Bobby Kennedy wasn't even in Los Angeles when Monroe bought it. I know, I was on the force then. Why're you wasting your time with this fruit loop? Do you think he might've killed her? You said your witness said Lila looked scared when she saw them together."

"We're keeping an open mind," Starsky said. "He's got a good motive, but we didn't find anything in his car or his apartment today when we searched them, no bloody clothes, nothing like that. And our ME thinks the perp was right-handed, and this guy's a leftie. He's agreed to take a polygraph tomorrow, though, and hopefully after that we'll have a better idea."

"Yeah. Hell, maybe he's so crazy he really does think he's the Magoch baby and was mad at Lila for letting him get kidnapped all those years ago, and that's why he killed her. There are all sorts of nuts out there. Well, if he did it, I hope he fries, no matter who he is. When are you getting the prints from the nursery?"

"Tomorrow," Hutch said. "Your old friends at the LAPD said they'd send them by messenger sometime in the morning."

The old cop grunted. "Still bullshit. I knew Lila Magoch, and she was sure as hell smart enough to know her own child, even twenty-six years later. If this nut really was her son, she wouldn't have been scared of him. But, hey, go for it. If you find the Magoch baby, it'll be a big boost for your careers anyway. Like finding Jimmy Hoffa or Amelia Earhart. You'll be legends in your own time."

"Yeah, well, right now we'd be happy just to solve this murder," Starsky said. "Mr. Witby, if you'd just tell us--"

"Uh, call me Mark, okay? After all, we're colleagues, even if I've been retired for a while."

Former Detective Mark Witby took a big bite of his veal parmesan. Starsky and Hutch, when offering to buy him dinner in return for his telling them about his work on the Magoch case, had let him choose the restaurant, and he'd picked an Italian place near the docks called Roselli's. But as Witby enjoyed his veal, and Starsky his spaghetti, Hutch found he had no appetite for his own dish, a Caesar salad. The garlic and pasta smell of the restaurant was too much like the smell of another Italian restaurant he remembered, a smell he associated with paralyzing fear, danger, and the slick feeling of his partner's blood on his hands.

Shit, he thought, with a twinge of black humor. I really am a basket case.

"Okay, Mark," Starsky said, still laying on the charm. "Tell us about the Magoch kidnapping. You were a detective on the case?"

"Yep, and I'd been a detective for ten years--I was in my forties--so I was no rookie. But I admit it, the case had me stumped, still does. It was hinky from the beginning." Witby washed down his veal with more brandy. "Right after my partner and I arrive, we go to the baby's nursery and there's the empty crib, and there's the ransom letter. But the first thing I notice is the baby's bed was made up, like nobody had ever slept in it. I asked Magoch if he'd touched anything in the baby's room, and he said no; ditto for his wife and the babysitter. But a kidnapper who takes the time to make the bed after he steals the baby? Who does that? And there were a whole bunch of other questions I had to ask myself. Like why did the kidnapper come so early in the evening? Why didn't he wait until everyone was in bed? And how did he know the Magoches were going out to the movies that night? They didn't tell anyone, didn't even call the babysitter until late that afternoon. Whoever did this, planned a kidnapping in just a few hours? And why didn't the babysitter hear anything? Why didn't the baby cry? Why didn't the dog bark? They had a Schnauzer, which, as you might know, are damned excitable dogs. Not a peep out of the mutt, according to the babysitter and the neighbors. None of this was ever explained in Henuber's confession, either. Like I said, hinky. And there was something else."

When Witby hesitated, Hutch said, "What?"

"This never came out in the trial, that I remember," Witby said. "But the babysitter never saw the baby that night. She came in to do the babysitting thing and the Magoches were just going out the door. And Mr. Magoch told her the baby was sleeping and would she please not disturb him. That he'd had a cold and hadn't slept very well the last few nights and he needed his rest. He made a real point of it, making her promise. So she promised. And she never did see the baby at all. Now is that strange, or what? A babysitter who never saw the baby she was supposedly sitting? I don't know if that means anything, but it sure as hell hit my hinky button when I heard it."

"We read that some people suspected the babysitter of being involved," Hutch said.

Witby grunted. "Yeah, we did, too, as a matter of fact--just because she was there and said she hadn't heard anything. But she was clean. And Larry Magoch vouched for her. Said she was an old friend of theirs and wouldn't have done anything to hurt their baby. Anyway...where was I?"

"The sitter never saw the baby," Hutch prompted. "And the dog didn't bark and the baby didn't cry. You know, a lot of other people wondered about that. Why the baby didn't cry when a stranger grabbed him."

"Yeah, we thought that was strange," Witby said. "'Course the kidnapper could've put some chloroform over the baby's face, or something like that. That could've even been how the baby died--the kidnapper suffocated him in his crib. The body was too decomposed by the time we found it to conclude a cause of death." He dug into his veal again.

"You didn't have any solid leads for a long time, did you?" Starsky ventured. "To Henuber or anybody else."

"No, we didn't. Not for want of trying, though. We even--and this is strictly between you and me, and I mean it--talked to some of the men in the underworld, if you know what I mean. Organized crime. And we're not talking about those cuddly cute guys in that Godfather movie who went around hugging each other and making spaghetti. These were psychos who'd slice a baby to ribbons and not turn a hair. But even they didn't have a clue as to who did it."

"The Magoches must've been shattered," Hutch said. "When their baby was taken."

"Yeah," Witby said somberly. "Well, Mr. Magoch seemed to be okay. But Mrs. Magoch was really tore up. We didn't talk to her much, but every time we saw her, she was just wearing her bathrobe, walking around hollow-eyed like a ghost. I tried to comfort her, told her we'd get her baby back, but she just looked at me with those big eyes of hers and didn't say a thing. It was like she wasn't even hearing me. I tell you, I was scared for her sanity, and I think her husband was, too. He kept hovering around her, bringing her stuff--hot cocoa, a blanket--like she was an invalid, but she hardly even seemed to notice him. It was like she'd had her heart shot out."

"It must've been even worse after they found the body," Starsky said.

"Oh, yeah. That was bad. I wasn't the one who told her, but I was there. She didn't say anything, but I could tell she was upset. Her husband said he would ID the body; he wouldn't let her do it. But he could only stand to be there about a minute with the body, and I didn't blame him."

"A minute really isn't long to recognize a body," Hutch remarked. "Especially when it's badly decomposed."

"Yeah, it was decomposed," the old cop agreed. "But it was his baby, all right. Magoch said the number of teeth was right, and the size was right, and all a that. Unfortunately, there wasn't much left of the face, though. D'you know, there weren't any photographs of the baby?"

"Yeah?" Starsky said.

"Not even one," Witby said. "Screwy as hell, isn't it? I never heard of anybody not having pictures of their own kid, sure as hell nobody in Hollywood. But they didn't have any. Said they'd been afraid of a photograph getting out somewhere and someone using it to kidnap the baby. Ironic, huh? We had to go by descriptions when we did the APB--blond hair, brown eyes, dimples."

Sure sounds like our boy Sam, Hutch thought as he sipped his beer. Well, they'd know for sure tomorrow. For a few seconds, he imagined the newspaper headlines: BAY CITY COPS FIND MAGOCH BABY AFTER 26 YEARS. He wondered if Witby was right, if it would mean a big boost in their careers. Maybe. Maybe they'd be promoted, get off the street, and Starsky would never be in danger of getting shot again....

Then he saw Starsky looking at him, and he realized he was dropping the ball. Flushing a little, and hoping it didn't show in the dimly lit restaurant, he said to Witby, "Is there any chance Magoch would say the baby was his when it really wasn't?" Then, as Witby scowled at him, "You know, maybe he was worried about his wife, her having a breakdown or something over the baby's kidnapping, and figured the baby was dead by now but they'd never find the body, so if he ID'd this body, maybe his wife would start to get over it."

Witby was still frowning. "I suppose it's possible," he said. "He didn't look very broken up when he looked at the body, I'll tell you that. And I thought that was strange. Hell, when we found the body, a lot of big, tough cops were standing around bawling, including me. But he never shed a tear. I thought then it was just because he was in shock. But...I don't know, I suppose it's possible he lied about it being his child. But why would he do that? And why did he later go down the tubes, if his son wasn't dead? He never made another movie after that baby died, and then he died and she moved to Bay City to get away from all the Hollywood memories, I guess. You ever meet her? I know some cops make a point of meeting all the big celebrities that live in their town."

"We just talked with her once, very briefly," Starsky said.

"She was one hell of a lady. Answered all her husband's fan mail, sent out photographs of him to anybody that asked, gave interviews to any magazine or newspaper that wanted one, as long as they didn't ask about the kidnapping. Keeping her husband's flame alive. That's what some magazine or other said about her one time." Witby sighed. "She was a damned beautiful woman. I know you boys probably don't believe me, you just saw her as some old lady, but she was...she could just take your damned breath away, even when she was in her forties. Her pictures don't do her justice and neither do the movies she was in, but she was the most beautiful woman I've ever laid my eyes on, and that includes Marilyn Monroe, who I saw once at a party right before she died. Let me tell you, in real life Marilyn Monroe was a dog--blotchy skin, over-bleached hair. But Lila Magoch was a beauty."

Sounds like he was in love with her, Hutch thought. But he kept it to himself; it was none of his business.

"Would you like dessert?" the waitress asked.

Hutch shook his head, and Starsky said, "Mark? You want something?"

"Cheesecake, if you got it," Witby said.

"Make it two," Starsky said, and the waitress nodded and left.

"I'm gonna need a bigger size pants when I leave here," the older man complained. "My wife is gonna kill me. She's always at me to eat rabbit food and count my calories on a fuckin' pocket calculator, even if all I have is a breath mint."

"Sounds like my partner," Starsky said.

Mark grinned. "Yeah, partners are as bad as wives, aren't they? Sometimes worse." He sobered. "Anyway, after the baby's body was found, it was hell for three months. We tracked down every lead we could, but nothing. I've never seen more nothing in any case. Then we got a break. We busted this down-on-his-luck gardener, Al Henuber--oh, I guess they call them landscapers nowadays, but in those days they were gardeners--for some burglaries the year before, and found every dime of the Magoch ransom money in his damn garage. Busted the case wide open. The DA took him to court, got a conviction, and that was it."

"What other evidence was there against him?" Starsky asked. "My partner and I have read a little about the case, but to us there didn't seem to be much to convict the guy, besides the money."

"Well, hell, the money was the main thing, but there was also the handwriting of the two ransom notes. One of our experts said Henuber wrote 'em. And there was a witness who said he saw Henuber in the neighborhood the afternoon of the kidnapping, who positively ID'd him in court."

"Witnesses can be wrong, and handwriting analysis isn't an exact science, as we know," Hutch commented. "As I recall, Henuber claimed in court that the money was planted, that he had no idea how it got into his garage. Is there any chance he didn't do it?"

Witby looked at Hutch. But, to Hutch's surprise, he didn't get angry at the implication that he'd arrested the wrong man. "Why d'you think that?" he asked.

"Like we told you earlier, we think there's a chance the kidnapping is somehow connected to what happened to Lila Magoch," Hutch said. "And one possibility is that she found out who really kidnapped and killed her baby--something Riordon said to her might've tipped her off, maybe--and the killer knew that and came to her place the next day and killed her."

The older cop looked at Hutch for a few seconds longer. Then he looked at Starsky. Then he let out a breath and put down his glass of brandy.

"Okay," he said. "I'll level with you two guys. But this is off the record, okay?"

Starsky nodded, and Hutch said, "Okay."

"I mean this is completely off the record, and I'll deny I ever said it if anybody asks me, but...I don't think Henuber did it. I never thought he did it--I mean the kidnapping-murder part. I was shocked as hell when he wrote that confession."

Starsky blinked. Hutch said, "You thought he was innocent?"

"Oh, I didn't think he was innocent of the extortion. I think he did write that second ransom note and try to get money out of the Magoches. But the kidnapping and murder? No."

"Why not?" Starsky asked.

"Some damned good reasons. For one thing, that witness who ID'd him in court was an out-of-work actor who just wanted to get his name in the papers, in my opinion. I didn't trust that flake as far as I could throw him, but the DA used him anyway. For another thing, I didn't think Henuber was smart enough to try to pull something as elaborate as a kidnapping. He wasn't retarded or anything, but he was kind of a simple guy. And, hell, with that carrot-colored hair and freckles, he looked more like Howdy Doody than the perpetrator of the crime of the century. Okay, I know that would sound stupid to a layperson, but hey, we're all cops here, right? And you boys know that sometimes you get instincts about people when you question them, a deep-down gut feeling. Like I met Charles Manson once, and for a week afterward, whenever I even thought about the guy, I wanted to take a shower. He gave me the creeps in a major way. But Henuber wasn't like that. Yeah, he was a thief, and like I said, it's pretty likely he was guilty of extortion against the Magoches, but I couldn't see him kidnapping and killing a baby. He wasn't a killer.

"And there were other things, like the two ransom notes. Like I said, we had a handwriting expert who said they were written by Henuber, but two other experts said the notes were written by two different people, that Henuber wrote only the second one--something that never came out in the trial."

"You mean the prosecution hid the evidence from the defense," Hutch said coldly. "Nowadays, something like that, a lawyer who did that could get disbarred, even brought up on criminal charges."

"Hey, I agree. But we didn't have discovery rules in those days. And in case you're wondering...yes, I told all this to the DA, but he didn't listen to me. He wanted to be governor of California, and he knew this case would make his career, and he wasn't going to let a little thing like the truth get in his way. It probably would've made his career, too, if he hadn't died of lung cancer before he could even start his campaign, the fucking prick. Have you seen facsimiles of the ransom notes?"

"Of the first note, not the second," Hutch said.

"Well, I'll have someone in my old office fax you over some copies of the notes, and you can have one of your own experts check them out, if you're curious. Maybe they were written by the same guy, maybe two different guys, but I have to say, to me the handwriting on the two notes looked different."

"Of course, there's still the fact that Henuber confessed," Starsky said.

Witby snorted. "Yeah, after a magazine offered him a lot of money to do it. Okay, he couldn't spend any of it on death row, but he might've wanted to leave something for his wife and baby. His wife had a baby while he was in jail, and he probably wanted to give them both a chance to start over after he was gone. Which she did, I guess, since she disappeared after he was executed. Rumor has it she changed her name and went with the baby to Europe, but nobody knows for sure. Sometimes I wonder how she spent the money. Blood money, I'd call it."

"Okay, so maybe Henuber was innocent, at least of the kidnapping," Starsky said. "I mean, you were there, you know more than any of these turkeys who wrote books about the case, probably even more than the attorneys who tried the case. So what do you think happened?"

Witby didn't seem to want to answer. Finally he said, "Well--again, I'll deny this if you ever repeat it, but--if the father had been somebody other than Larry Magoch, and if it'd been a less innocent time than the fifties… What I mean is, if this happened today, and the father wasn't a famous cowboy star with a squeaky-clean image, I would've suspected him of some complicity in the case."

"You're kidding," Starsky said, and Hutch knew he wasn't faking his amazement. "You mean you think Larry Magoch might've...might've killed his own child? Then covered it up with a phony kidnapping?"

"It fits the evidence," Witby said soberly. "The made-up bed, the dog not barking, the baby not crying, the babysitter not hearing anything or even seeing the baby that night, the kidnapping happening when the parents were conveniently out of the house. And I told you he didn't seem very grief-stricken, even when he saw that poor baby's dead body. Like I said, I thought at the time it was because he was in shock, but...it could've been for some other reason. Like maybe he was abusing the child in some way--we had child abuse in those days; we just didn't talk about it--and then, when the baby died, he just made up the whole kidnapping thing to cover his ass."

Hutch saw Starsky go pale in the dim light, and wondered if his partner was thinking of his own abusive father. He reached out with his foot and lightly touched the outside of Starsky's shoe with his toe, a comforting little nudge. Starsky looked at him. He didn't smile, but his eyes showed his gratitude.

"None of this came to me at the time, you understand," Witby said. "Larry Magoch was a big star, and, unlike most actors, he had a spotless reputation--no extramarital women, no boozing, no fistfights, no nothing. Did a lot for charity, too, just like Lila did later on. But looking at it with hindsight, I'd say he acted pretty damned suspicious. Not only not showing any grief, not even seeming very distraught--except for worry about his wife--but bossing us all around, telling us how to run the case. None of this came to me at the time; like I said, the fifties was a more innocent era, but now I'd say it looked a hell of a lot like he wanted to confuse the investigation as much as he could, keep us from finding out the truth. Especially when we were getting ready to pay the ransom money. He had a damned hissy fit about us marking the bills, even though we said we'd do it in a way the kidnapper would never notice, that the marks could only be seen under ultraviolet light. It was like he didn't want the kidnapper caught. It would all tie in with his having something to do with the baby's death. Hey, I'm not saying he killed the baby on purpose, or even that he necessarily was an abuser. Maybe it was just an accident and he panicked, not knowing that if he killed the baby by accident he probably wouldn't go to prison."

Hutch felt a chill, remembering Lila's question to them right before she died. Suppose someone killed someone, but didn't mean to do it. Would that person go to jail? Had she been asking because her husband had accidentally killed their child, and she knew she could be held as an accessory for not telling the police? Was that why she'd told Sam Riordon she'd rather die than have the old kidnapping case brought to public attention again--because she was afraid of the horrible truth being discovered?

"Or maybe he was just afraid of losing his fans," Witby added. "Hell, a big movie star accidentally killing his son? Even if the law didn't touch him, no way would anybody go to his movies after that. Look at what happened to Fatty Arbuckle, the great silent film comic--all he did was get accused of rape, and he never appeared in front of a camera again."

"If he did do it, his wife must've known about it," Hutch said. "If your theory is true, the baby was already dead when the babysitter came, and there'd be no way even a devoted husband could keep a mother from saying good night to her baby before they went out, at least not without arousing her suspicions. She knew what he'd done and lied for him, even if she didn't have any part of the kidnapping scheme."

Witby's eyes narrowed. Then he sighed.

"Yeah, I guess she would've had to at least know about it," he said grudgingly. "Maybe he told her they had to do it, to save his career, and her baby was already dead so she thought she might as well go along with it. I think she probably would've done anything he said; it was obvious she adored him. But let me tell you something. There was no way that woman was faking her grief. If Larry did kill his own child, accidentally or otherwise, she had no part in it. I'd stake my life on that. If Larry killed that poor baby, he did it by himself."

The waitress arrived with the two plates of cheesecake, and both Witby and Starsky looked at the plates but didn't touch them. Finally, Witby pushed his plate away and, a second or two later, so did Starsky. Apparently, the conversation about a man possibly murdering his own child had made them both lose their appetites. Hutch didn't blame them. If he'd had any appetite before, he definitely wouldn't have one now. He sipped his beer.

"You really think there might be a connection between Lila's murder and that old kidnapping?" Witby asked.

"Yeah," Starsky said. "We do."

"Well, I don't see the connection myself, but here's a suggestion for what it's worth. How about this guy Riordon isn't the Magoch baby at all and doesn't even think he is, that that was just a story he made up to throw you off track. How about he was there at Lila's apartment that night to blackmail her with something instead. And if Larry Magoch was involved in that poor baby's death and faked the kidnapping to cover it up, and this guy Riordon knew it, or suspected it, or even just thought it was a good theory, and told Lila he was going to tell people--go to the papers, whatever--let me tell you, Lila would've done anything, and I mean anything, to protect her husband's legend. And if that happened--I mean if Lila threatened this guy somehow--maybe he killed her in retaliation, or in a panic. I'm not saying that's what happened. But it's a possibility."

"Thanks," Hutch said, meaning it.

"You're welcome." Witby let out another sigh. "I don't know why I told you guys this now. I mean, I've never told anybody any of this shit about Magoch possibly being involved in the kidnapping before. But I feel like I owe it to Lila. If it's going to help you find her murderer... Let me know if there's anything more I can do for you, okay?"

"Okay," Hutch said, for both of them. "And thanks again."

"You're welcome again." Witby grinned a little. "And thanks for the great dinner. I enjoyed seeing how the two of you work--your partner charming me up one side and down the other, and you, Hutchinson, playing the bad guy, asking the difficult questions. Kind of like my partner and I used to work together, in the old days. You're good, both of you." He stood up. "Got to go to the little boys' room, then we can leave, okay?"

After he left, Starsky said to Hutch, "Are we that transparent?"

"Only to another cop, I guess," Hutch said, not feeling entirely convinced.

"Oh, well," Starsky said. "He did say we were good."

"Yeah."

**********

They were both silent in the car as they drove home. Finally, Starsky broke the silence.

"Hey, I could use a break," he said. "Wanna go play some Ms. Pac-man or Frogger at the arcade? I feel lucky tonight."

"No, thanks." Hutch didn't share Starsky's enthusiasm for arcade games.

"Okay, how about if we go see that new movie, Tootsie, with Dustin Hoffman? I hear Jessica Lange is great in it."

"Yeah, I heard that, too, and I'd like to see it sometime, but another night, huh, Starsk? I'm really wiped."

"Yeah, me, too, I guess." Starsky sighed. "Some weird case, huh? I'd give a year of my life to know what it was Lila was going to tell Isak the day she died, about the kidnapping."

"I wouldn't mind knowing that myself."

"What'd you think of Witby?"

"He struck me as a square guy," Hutch said after a moment. "And he seemed like a good cop. If he thinks Henuber didn't do it, chances are he didn't."

"Yeah. But the rest...shit. I really don't like to think of Larry Magoch causing his own baby's death and then letting somebody else go to the gas chamber for it. I mean, he was an icon, Hutch. Like John Wayne, like Roy Rogers--the all-American hero. I remember reading about him going to schools in the thirties and forties, tellin' kids to be good, to never drink or swear and stuff like that. When he became a big hit in movies, he stopped smoking, and when somebody asked him why, he said it was because he didn't want kids finding out he smoked and then thinkin' it was okay just because Larry Magoch did it. He stood for decency and honesty and--"

"Truth, Justice, and the American Way. I know. But, Starsky, you know lots of famous people have feet of clay. Look at Wally Stone, the brilliant actor who killed off members of his Wolf Pack because he blamed them for being sent to prison. It's entirely possible Larry Magoch had feet of clay, too. And his being involved in his son's death would explain a lot of things--like, for example, Lila not having any pictures of her child anywhere, not even in the baby book."

"You're sayin' she felt so guilty about what her husband did--if he did what Witby said--and how she'd covered up for him, that she destroyed all the photographs of the baby?"

"Yeah, I think it's possible. And guilt would explain why she could never talk about the kidnapping. And it would explain that question she asked us--she was afraid of going to jail for her own son's death, knowing there's no statute of limitations on murder. Suppose this happened," Hutch suggested. "Larry somehow causes the baby's death, buries his body on the beach, and then he and his wife cover it up with the fake kidnapping. Then, all these years later, Sam Riordon shows up. Lila knows he's full of it, that the baby is dead, but she's terrified that the publicity that would be generated by his going to the LAPD, or the papers, or both, might mean someone, maybe some smart reporter, will find out the truth. She panics, thinking she might go to jail for taking part in the cover-up--and, even worse, her husband's good name would be destroyed. She calls her assistant, telling him she wants to talk with him the next day about the case--maybe she wants some advice from a friend, or just a sympathetic ear. And she comes to see us, knowing we're cops, to try to find out if she'll go to jail for her part in covering up her child's death. But before she can talk to us again, or talk to her assistant, Sam Riordon shows up again. She loses her temper and threatens to--I don't know what, but she threatens to do something if he doesn't drop the whole thing, something that's so awful Riordon loses it and kills her. That would fit in with everything we know, wouldn't it?"

"Except Riordon is left-handed."

"Yeah," Hutch said reluctantly. "Although he could've swung backhanded, or maybe he's ambidextrous. Okay, how about this. After Lila talks to us she calls her lawyer and tells him about the fake kidnapping, maybe wanting legal advice. And Smigiel gets so outraged he goes to her place and kills her."

"Outraged why?"

"I don't know. Maybe he was full of righteous indignation and thought he was avenging the dead baby, although I admit that's a stretch. Or maybe he was in love with Lila and in a jealous rage that she'd loved Larry and not him. He did say he'd known them in the 1950s, and maybe his pretending not to care about Lila when we talked with him on the golf course was just an act."

"Or maybe Smigiel's in love with Isak Wolf, and Lila threatened to fire him from his assistant's job, so they both offed her. How 'bout that?"

"Okay, so we still don't have any idea of a motive," Hutch admitted. "But tomorrow we'll find out whether Riordon is the real Larry Magoch, Jr. or not. When we know that, that'll answer at least a few of our questions. At the very least, if we find out the Magoch baby is alive, it'll nix the theory that the Magoches killed their child and faked the kidnapping."

"Yeah," Starsky said. "That'd be good news, anyway. I hate like hell to think about Larry Magoch killing his own baby, even accidentally, and then covering it up and letting somebody else go to the gas chamber. That'd make Simon Marcus look like a Boy Scout."

**********

Hutch woke up abruptly, realizing he was alone--and that he didn't hear Starsky in the bathroom, either. Looking at the clock on the nightstand, he saw it was just a little after 3:00 a.m.

He felt his heart rate step up, wondering if something was wrong--three years after the shooting, he still found it hard to get out of mother-hen mode at times--then calmed himself. Starsky was probably just in the kitchen, having a late-night snack or something. But it wouldn't hurt to check. Pulling on his robe, he walked downstairs.

And found Starsky in the living room, wrapped up in an afghan, watching a black-and-white movie on TV.

"Starsky, are you okay?"

Starsky looked at him. "Oh, hi, Hutch. Yeah," he said. "Just... It was weird, but I woke up thinking I'd heard a baby crying. But there was no baby. So I came down here and turned on the TV, and here's a Larry Magoch movie on. It's called No Hope for Harlan."

Hutch sat down on the couch, pulling on Starsky's afghan. "Hey, quit it," Starsky complained. "I'm freezing, Hutch."

"Come on, Starsky, share. There's more than enough for both of us."

Starsky reluctantly let Hutch have a few inches, and Hutch pulled the afghan over his lap. Larry Magoch, in flawlessly perfect cowboy regalia including a huge white hat, was telling a villain he would never get away with it.

"Wonder if he used bleach on that hat," Hutch said. "Did they have Clorox in the Old West?"

"Quiet, will you? I'm watchin' this."

Hutch watched a few more minutes, but he found the plot boring and predictable, just as he had at age ten. He couldn't deny, however, that Magoch was a very handsome man--and very charismatic. Even with the corny dialogue and the hackneyed plot, you found yourself watching him and caring what happened to him.

The bad guy left Larry Magoch alone and tied up--humbled but not defeated. And of course, Magoch did what any cowboy hero would do in the same situation. He burst into song.

Hutch had to admit Starsky was right--Magoch had a good voice. It reminded him a little of Elvis's. Then he frowned. There was something about that voice that bugged him.

"Nice music, huh?" Starsky whispered.

"Yeah," Hutch mumbled. Dammit, what was it about that voice? Or was he just tired? That was probably it, he thought. He was so spooked by this case he was feeling hinky about everything.

Slowly, he became aware that Starsky, sitting next to him, had moved a hand under the afghan and was rubbing his thigh. Caressing it. He looked up, and saw Starsky was still staring at the TV screen. But his hand was massaging Hutch's leg.

Hutch somehow managed to keep himself from squirming, but it was rough. His penis was getting hard, straining at his robe, and he could feel his pulse pounding down there. He felt weak and shivery.

"You're gettin' hard," Starsky murmured.

"Yeah," Hutch whispered.

"Man, you're so horny lately, babe. Must be all that health food you been eating. Or are you taking vitamins?"

"Yeah. Vitamin S," Hutch said huskily.

Slowly, Starsky's hand moved up and gently stroked Hutch's hard penis through the robe. Hutch bit his lip, but he couldn't resist pushing against the friendly hand. A few panting breaths escaped him.

He cast another glance at his partner, but Starsky was still watching the TV screen as if it fascinated him. Watching TV as he continued to massage Hutch through his robe in a slow, sensual rhythm that made Hutch want to scream.

Finally, Hutch couldn't stand it any longer. "Please," he gasped out, hardly able to push that one word through shaky lips. "Please...."

Starsky promptly reached under Hutch's robe, and Hutch gasped again. He was so hard he was ready to burst.

Starsky didn't tease him any longer. His head dropped down to Hutch's lap, and quickly he engulfed the swollen, throbbing head of Hutch's cock deep into his mouth.

"Oh, God," Hutch moaned, resisting the impulse to grab Starsky's head and push his erection down his throat, not wanting to choke him, but oh, God, it felt so damn good. He closed his eyes, and his head fell back as Starsky's tongue worked its magic on him. His balls ached, his skin tingled, his blood pounded, his cock throbbed....

Then he exploded, crying out, thrusting deep, out of control. Thrusting and writhing helplessly in the grips of a brain-shattering orgasm.

Starsky kissed him. "God, Hutch," he whispered. "You're so hot." He stroked his sweat-damp hair.

Hutch, still weak, moved a hand under his partner's robe, but Starsky pushed it away.

"No. In bed, babe. Need to do you right," he said huskily. "C'mon."

Hutch obeyed.

**********

Starsky stared at the woman. "Oh, God," he pleaded. "It can't be true. Please tell me it's not true."

"I'm sorry, Mr. Starsky," the woman behind the desk said apologetically. She was wearing a faux-pearl necklace and a blue polyester dress, and had frosted hair. "You are overdrawn exactly $163.92."

"Shit. And I have at least three checks outstanding, making about 150 bucks more I'm gonna be overdrawn before long. It can't be, Hutch. It just can't be." Starsky was staring at the computer printout she'd given him. "I somehow forgot to record the check I made out for the repairs to the Torino earlier this month. Five hundred dollars! How could I have forgotten that?"

"It happens to the best of us, partner." Hutch looked at the woman. "Look, Mrs. Farley, my partner and I have had a lot on our minds lately, what with the Christmas season and all. What do you say I just give you a check for the amount he's overdrawn and enough extra to cover his outstanding checks, and you forget about the fees?"

"I'm sorry, Mr. Hutchinson, but it's bank policy to charge for returned checks. He owes us fifty dollars--ten dollars per check."

"Okay, suppose we do this," Hutch said coolly. "You charge him the fifty dollars and we pay it, then we both withdraw our accounts right now. And we also tell the guys we work with--and we're cops; you've heard of the fraternity cops have, we're like one big family, and we'd all kill for each other--never to bank at this bank again. No more checking accounts, no more savings accounts, no more mortgages or loans or money market accounts or retirement accounts or Christmas clubs for any cops in this town, ever again. What would you think of that?"

The woman blinked behind her tortoise-shell glasses. "That's blackmail," she said finally.

"One might say that about this bank, too," Hutch said, still cool. "That it's extortion to charge my partner fifty dollars for one innocent mathematical error. Fifty dollars was what I paid for a month's rent on my first apartment."

The woman took off her glasses and looked at Hutch. Then she looked at Starsky.

"Well, perhaps I've been a bit hasty," she said finally. "Let me go talk to my manager. I'll be right back."

She left her desk and went into an enclosed black glass cubicle, where, supposedly, her manager was housed. The second she was out of earshot, Starsky hissed at Hutch, "Are you crazy?"

Hutch gave him a look. "You referring to anything specific?"

"Threatening a bank, that's what. You can't do that. They'll...they'll call the FBI. Robbing a bank is a federal offense."

"We're not robbing. We're negotiating. Look at us as a modern-day Butch and Sundance."

"Yeah, right," Starsky muttered. "Just remember, when we're in adjoining cells, that this was your idea."

Within moments, Mrs. Farley returned and sat down at her desk. "I just talked with my manager, and he says that, in view of the fact that the two of you have been such good bank customers, the fees could be waived," she said primly, just as if there had never been any question about it. "However, in order to avoid being charged any fees in the future, Mr. Starsky, we suggest you keep your account balanced. And right now, you should deposit an amount sufficient to cover any outstanding checks, as well as the amount you're overdrawn."

Hutch reached for his checkbook. "My account's in this bank, so I assume a check from me would be acceptable?" he asked politely.

"That will be fine," she assured him, apparently not hearing his sarcasm. "Just make it out to Mr. Starsky, and it will be deposited immediately into his account."

Hutch made the check out for $350, to cover all of Starsky's checks, including the outstanding ones, then Starsky endorsed it and handed it over.

"I'll pay you back, Hutch," Starsky said, as they walked out of the bank minutes later. "Fifty bucks a paycheck for the next seven paychecks, okay?"

"Don't worry about it, Starsk. After all, we're partners, right? What's yours is mine and what's mine is yours."

"Well, I'm payin' you back anyway. It's only fair, since it's me that messed up." He looked morose as they climbed into the Torino. "Shit--d'you know what this means?"

"Yeah. It means you're going to be feeling so grateful to me tonight that maybe I'll get some," Hutch said with a grin. "At least, one could hope."

A faint whisper of a smile crossed Starsky's face, then died just as quickly. "I don't mean that. I mean...Saturday's Christmas. And I won't be able to get you that present I wanted to get you. In fact, it means you won't be getting any present from me at all, since I'll be scraping by until my next paycheck now." He stared out at the parking lot. "It was a juicer, Hutch," he said unhappily. "It was a beautiful new Champion juicer, a color they call avocado. The kind I saw you admire in the health food store a couple months ago. You really like carrot juice, and this way, you could make your own every day if you wanted. It makes peanut butter and ice cream, too."

Hutch felt a pang, but quickly suppressed it. The juicer didn't matter; only Starsky's feelings mattered. "It was a wonderful thought, Starsk, and it's the thought that really counts," he said sincerely. "And you can get it for me some other time, if you still want to. Like my birthday."

"That's not 'til next August."

"All the more time for me to look forward to it. Look," Hutch said reasonably, "I can't pay for your present now, either, since that check I gave our friends at Pacific Savings was just a little less than what I was going to spend on your present. So why don't we just forget about giving each other anything for Christmas this year? After all, we have our house, we have each other--what do we need with material commodities, huh?"

"Yeah...maybe." Starsky didn't look entirely convinced. "But, Hutch, this is Christmas. I mean, we should give each other something. But now I just barely have enough to make it 'til next payday."

"Yeah, me, too. But look, Starsk, we could give each other gifts that don't cost anything, if you want," Hutch suggested. "Like maybe you could do the laundry when it's my turn, or I could cook a meal when it's your turn, or something like that."

"But we do stuff like that for each other anyway. I mean, if you don't feel like doing the laundry, I do it. There's nothing very special about that." A pause. "I really wanted to give you the juicer, Hutch."

"I know, sweetheart. I wanted to give you a big gift, too."

"I still can't believe I screwed up my checks. And all because of this car. Shit, maybe this is gettin' to be too expensive to own anymore. I pay more on repairs than I would on car payments. Like you pointed out when we were talkin' to Jake last month, it is pretty old. Maybe...maybe I should call Jake and ask him if he still wants to buy it."

He sounded like a man who had one foot in the grave. Hutch couldn't stand it. Although he could hardly believe the words were coming out of his mouth even as he spoke, he said, "Over my dead body."

Starsky shot him a look of surprise and--yes--pleasure. "What?"

"You can't give up the Torino, Starsky. It's part of you. Part of us. Part of our history together. Okay, maybe someday the time will come when it just doesn't run anymore, and we'll have to give her an honorable retirement. But not until then."

Starsky was too moved to speak for a moment. Then, when he did speak, it was in a hushed tone, as if he were saying a prayer. "Thanks, Hutch."

He put the Torino in gear and squealed out of the parking lot toward Metro, Hutch hanging onto the seat, but--for once--not saying a word in protest.

**********

Lotus, a beautiful Japanese-American woman with long black hair that gleamed like a mirror, looked at the two Xeroxes. Then she looked up.

"Well?" Hutch said.

"Off the record? Two entirely different people wrote these letters."

"Yeah?" Starsky said.

"Uh, huh," the woman said. "Of course, handwriting isn't an exact science, and these are facsimiles, not originals, which I would insist on seeing if I were testifying in court. But I've been doing this for more than ten years, and I'd stake my reputation on this: these letters were written by two different people. The second is a clumsy imitation of the first."

"What's your opinion of the first letter, Lotus?" Hutch asked. "Off the record, still, if you want."

"My opinion?" Lotus touched the Xerox copy with a silver-colored fingernail. "It was written by someone who was quite literate but pretending to be illiterate. Like that word 'non-sequential'--perfectly spelled, even though he supposedly couldn't spell words like 'letter' and 'instruction.' Also, it was written by someone who had read about famous kidnappings of the past. The signature, Johnson--are either of you familiar with the Leopold-Loeb case in the 1920s?"

Hutch shook his head, but Starsky said, "Yeah, I read a little. Teenage thrill-killers in Chicago. Two boys beat a neighborhood boy to death with a hammer, then sent a ransom letter to the parents to try and get some money from them."

"Basically, yes," Lotus said. "In any case, the ransom note they wrote, they signed it 'George Johnson.' It's my guess that's where this letter writer got the name Johnson. And the 'Dear Sir'--that's the salutation from the first and most famous Lindbergh ransom note, complete with the exclamation point. And the word 'stricly' was in one of the Lindbergh notes, too, misspelled exactly the same way, as I recall. Whoever wrote this, in my opinion, had read about these kidnappings and was imitating them."

"In other words, not a gangster, not an experienced crook, but someone who was trying to sound like one," Starsky said.

"Exactly."

"Anything else?" Hutch asked.

"Just feelings. You feel like listening to some hypotheses?" Lotus smiled, showing white but slightly crooked teeth. "I guess you would call it a woman's intuition."

"Go ahead," Starsky said. "My partner and I have learned not to argue with women's intuition."

"Hokay, here goes. This first letter is surprisingly gentle in tone, not threatening at all. Most kidnapping notes promise bodily harm to the victim, even say they'll send severed body parts if the demands are not met. This letter has none of that. The writer, in fact, says over and over again that the baby is well, is unhurt, is in good hands--making me think that maybe the writer was trying to reassure herself the baby was all right, or maybe she wished the baby were all right, if it was already dead by that point. In other words, in my opinion, this letter was written by a woman."

"You're kidding," Starsky said.

"No, I'm not. And," Lotus added, "if this were a current case, I would suggest you take a long, good look at the mother of the child--especially if she reads a lot."

Hutch took in a sharp breath, remembering what Isak had said at Lila's gravesite about her having been a voracious reader. Had Witby been right? "Why?" he heard himself ask.

Lotus touched the copy, once again, with a silver-tipped hand. "That phrase, 'Your son is mine.' Most kidnappers would say 'We have your son' or 'Your boy is in our possession,' but 'Your son is mine'--it's a kind of a semi-Freudian slip. Also, as I said, the gentleness of the letter in general, especially the lack of threat of harm to the child." She smiled again, this time apologetically. "Of course, if I had to testify to any of this, I wouldn't. It's pretty flimsy. But those are my impressions."

"Thank you, Doctor," Hutch said, reverting to calling her by her title. "We really appreciate it."

"Anytime." Lotus stood up. "You feel like telling me what case the notes are from? They look familiar."

"The Larry Magoch case," Hutch said.

Lotus widened her eyes. "That was before my time, but that was a real hot one. Are you re-opening it?"

"No," Starsky said shortly. "All the principals are dead."

"That's too bad. Well, if you find out I'm right and Larry Magoch's wife had something to do with kidnapping her own son, don't tell me about it. I saw a Larry Magoch movie once, when I was a kid in Japan, and he was wonderful--and so handsome. I was in love with him for years afterwards."

She walked out, and Hutch looked at Starsky.

"Fans," Starsky said. "They're everywhere."

"Yeah." Hutch put the Xeroxed ransom notes back in the file.

**********

That afternoon, Starsky walked into the squadroom, and Hutch, who had been going through papers on the Magoch kidnapping from the LAPD, looked up.

"I have some news," Starsky said, not looking very happy about it. He flopped down in his chair across from Hutch and propped his Adidas-clad feet up on his desk. "The hell of it is, I don't know if it's good news or bad news."

"Lay it on me," Hutch said.

"Actually, I have two bits'a news. First of all, Riordon's fingerprints didn't match. He's not the Magoch baby."

Hutch let out a breath. "You're right, I don't know if that's good news or bad news. Although to Sam it'll probably be bad news. Funny, isn't it? He seems like a fairly intelligent guy, and yet he believed this fantasy all this time. Maybe because his mother believed it. Or maybe he just wanted to feel important, feel as if he was something other than just an ordinary vocational counselor from Phoenix."

Starsky shrugged. "People believe what they want to believe. Did you know there's a whole cult of people who believe Elvis is still alive?"

"You mean he isn't?" Hutch pretended shock.

"C'mon, it's true, Hutch," Starsky said seriously. "A lot of people think Elvis didn't die in 1977, just because they don't want to believe the King is dead. Maybe Riordon wants to believe the Magoch baby's still alive, just because he can't stand the idea of a little two-year-old baby being murdered like that. Well, hell, I don't want to believe it happened either." Starsky sighed. "I hope Riordon doesn't cry when we tell him. I really didn't enjoy seein' him cry yesterday."

"Yeah, me neither. So what's your second piece of news?"

"Oh." Starsky flushed a little, as if embarrassed he'd forgotten. "Riordon's polygraph score was plus twelve. The guy who did the polygraph just told me, although we'll be getting a formal report later."

"Good Lord," Hutch said, genuinely impressed. In the scoring system the BCPD used, anything lower than minus six was considered lying; plus six or higher was considered the truth; a polygraph score between minus six and plus six was considered "inconclusive." But in all the years Hutch had been on the force, he could never remember anyone getting a plus twelve, the highest of passing scores.

"Yeah," Starsky said. "So, since he says he didn't kill Lila, odds are pretty good he didn't."

"Great," Hutch said sarcastically. "So where are we now?"

"I guess we're nowhere." Starsky looked at the copious pile of papers on Hutch's desk. "Unless you found something in all that junk the LAPD sent over."

"Actually, I did find out two things," Hutch said.

"Really?"

"Well, nothing that'll really help us with our current case," Hutch qualified. "But two kind of interesting facts about the Magoch case of 1956."

"Lay 'em on me."

"Number one: Henuber was innocent."

Starsky blinked at him. "What? You mean Witby was right?"

"Yeah. And I have to admit, it didn't even take superb detective work. Anyone, even you, could've come to the same conclusion looking at these files."

Starsky gave him a sour look. "Why don't you just tell me what you found out, huh?"

"Well, in my opinion, Henuber wasn't innocent of extortion. I think he was guilty of that, since all the experts in the file agreed he wrote the second ransom letter, and, after all, he had the ransom money in his house. But Witby was right--according to the LAPD's files, at least two handwriting experts at the time agree with Lotus--he didn't write the first ransom letter. Not only that, but that actor who lived in the neighborhood and testified at the trial that he'd seen Henuber near the Magoch house the day the baby was taken--he was lying. When the police first talked to him, according to the police report, he said he hadn't seen any strangers in the neighborhood that day at all--more evidence that was hidden from the defense. The two big pieces of evidence, besides the ransom money, that convicted Henuber--both out the window. But there was one more thing--Henuber had an alibi."

"Are you serious?"

"Yep. Apparently, Witby didn't know about it. It's possible the cop who made the report was threatened by the DA, or someone else in authority, to keep him quiet, or maybe he was just transferred somewhere so no one would find out. But Henuber was with a friend the day of the kidnapping, helping the friend paint his house, and he didn't leave his friend's place until about ten that night, long after the…kidnapping was discovered. The friend died before the trial, but he gave a full statement to the police shortly after Henuber was arrested. It's right here in the damn file."

"Shit," Starsky said.

"Yeah," Hutch said tightly. "My guess is the case wasn't getting solved, the public was crying out for blood, and the DA had to get somebody, and fast, or his hoped-for political career would go down the toilet. So when the police found the ransom money in Henuber's garage, he fabricated or distorted the rest of the case to fit. The son-of-a-bitch bastard. It's too bad he's dead, because I'd love to bring him up on charges of corruption and fry his ass."

"Yeah. Me, too. So what's your second conclusion? Or do I need a stiff drink before I hear it?"

"You'll need a lot of stiff drinks. Here it is: even though our friend Sam's not the Magoch baby, neither was the baby they found on the beach."

Starsky looked stunned. "You can tell that just from those files? How?"

"Because, according to the autopsy, the body of the baby was twenty-nine inches long. But according to Mrs. Magoch's baby book..." Hutch held up the blue-covered book they'd liberated from Lila Magoch's desk. "…which has measurements she took of the baby a week before the kidnapping, the baby was thirty-two inches long."

Starsky blinked. "Oh, man. Three inches' difference. And there's some stretching of bones and cartilage after death, so if there was any discrepancy, the baby would've been bigger after death, not smaller. How come no one ever noticed that before?"

"Probably because no one ever saw Mrs. Magoch's baby book before. But there it is--Henuber wasn't the Magoch kidnapper, and there very well may have never even been a murder. Witby's instincts were right on the money."

"This still doesn't prove the kidnapping was faked, though, Hutch. There could've been a kidnapping; they just never found the real perp. Or the right body."

"Yeah. But from what our friend Witby told us, how nothing in the case made sense from the beginning, and from what I looked at today, I think he was right--there never was a kidnapping. And I think that was why Lila was terrified of any kind of publicity--because she knew it wouldn't take much for someone to find out, or at least suspect, that fact."

"But dammit, Hutch, I still can't believe Larry Magoch and his wife killed their own baby. You think it's possible that even though it was a fake kidnapping, the baby's still alive?"

"I don't see why they would've faked a kidnapping for a live baby. Do you? More likely they just disposed of the body somewhere where no one could find it, and Larry ID'd the wrong baby because he thought it would close the case."

"Yeah, I guess. Shit, Hutch. Why do people do stuff like this? How could he do that to his own baby, even by accident?"

"We're not really sure this is what happened, Starsk. It's all still just theory," Hutch said sympathetically. Starsky hated it when kids got it.

"Yeah. I know. But what you're sayin' makes a hell of a lot of sense." Starsky sighed. "Although we still don't have a clue as to who killed Lila. Hell, we don't even know if the fake kidnapping had anything to do with her murder at all. Maybe Isak or Smigiel got fed up waiting for his inheritance and just happened to kill her the day after she meets up with Riordon. Shit. There oughtta be a law against coincidences happening in a murder case."

"Hey, guys," Lizzie called, and when Hutch looked up, he saw the attractive blonde cop was standing at the doorway. "Some guy is looking for both of you," she said. "Someone named Riordon."

"Oh, great," Starsky said sarcastically. "Our day just improves by leaps and bounds."

"You can tell him we're in here," Hutch said. "We're only in hiding on alternate Wednesdays."

Lizzie called out, "Mr. Riordon, in here." Within seconds, Sam Riordon walked into the squadroom, his fists clenched, his face dark with determination. Apparently, he was spoiling for a fight.

"I've waited all day," he said, his voice taut with anger. "I've waited the whole damned day and you never called me!"

"Mr. Riordon, it's only four o'clock," Hutch said mildly.

"I don't care! I took that damned polygraph, I let you search my apartment and my car, I would've stood on my damned head if you'd asked me to, just to find out about those fingerprints! And I've been waiting all day, afraid to even take a damned leak in case I might miss your call, but not one peep out of the phone except a wrong number! Dammit, you promised to tell me today!"

"All right, all right, sit down," Starsky said.

Sam ignored the offer, glaring from one detective to the other. His fists were still clenched.

"What is it?" he demanded, and his voice quavered, despite his obvious efforts to keep it steady. "Do they match?"

"I'm sorry, Mr. Riordon," Hutch said gently. "They don't match."

Sam looked at him in silence for a few seconds. Slowly his fists unclenched, but there was no expression on his face whatsoever. In fact, Hutch thought his face looked very much like a man's he'd seen in one of his early days as a cop, whose legs had been amputated in a car accident.

"Here, sit down," Hutch said, standing up and helping Riordon to a chair. Sam sat down numbly.

"There's no doubt?" he asked.

"No, no doubt at all," Starsky said, as gently as Hutch had. "Our expert said he didn't think he'd ever seen two pairs of prints less alike."

Sam let out a breath. Then another one. And Hutch, despite his cynicism, couldn't believe Riordon was thinking about his lost chances to be on the Donahue show, or that now he was just an ordinary vocational counselor from Phoenix again. He was only thinking he had almost had an identity and it had been stripped away.

"Mr. Riordon, you're still the same person you were before," Starsky said. Apparently, he was reading the same things in Riordon's face that Hutch was. "This doesn't change who you are, or the fact that your adoptive parents loved you very much."

Sam looked at Starsky. "But who am I?" he said plaintively. "Who am I now? I don't...I thought I knew who I was, and now I don't anymore."

"A lot of us know who our birth parents are, knew our grandparents, know our family tree back several generations, but we still struggle with self-identity," Hutch said. "It can be a long road sometimes, finding out who you really are. But that doesn't mean the search has to be unpleasant. You might find you enjoy it."

Riordon nodded. "And I'm not...I'm not giving up," he said. "Maybe someday I'll find my birth parents, my real ones."

"There are a number of resources around for adopted children looking for their biological parents," Starsky suggested. "There's even a place here in town, called Parentsearch, it's made up of volunteers that put you in touch with genealogical databases and stuff like that."

"Yeah, I've kind of avoided those kinds of places up to now," Riordon said. "I guess I was so sure I was Larry Magoch's son, I didn't want to explore other possibilities. But now, maybe, I'll try them out. There's a good one in Phoenix, where I live; maybe I'll try going there when I get home. That is, if I'm free to leave the state. Am I?"

"Yeah," Hutch said. "You passed the polygraph, so you're no longer a suspect. But we would like a forwarding address, to contact you if anything turns up."

"Oh. Okay." Riordon took a business card out of his wallet and scrawled a few words on the back, then handed it to Hutch. A quick look told him the young man had given him the same address that was on his driver's license, in Phoenix, Arizona.

"Thanks," Hutch said.

Riordon stood up, still looking despondent. Apparently, hearing he was no longer a murder suspect hadn't cheered him at all. "Guess I'll fly back to Phoenix tomorrow, since there's no more reason for me to stay here. Hey, are you any closer to solving Mrs. Magoch's murder?"

"We're making some progress," Hutch said--the same standard line he'd used on Rose.

"I hope you find him. Mrs. Magoch didn't deserve to be killed like that. Well, thanks for everything, and good luck on solving your case."

"Thanks," Starsky said sincerely. "And good luck to you, too."

After he walked out, Lizzie came in, followed by Arturo. "Hey, what'd you do to that poor guy?" she kidded. "He looks like he just lost his best friend."

Hutch said, "We had to give him some bad news--he's not the missing Magoch baby."

"Ah, that's too bad," Arturo said. He knew all about Riordon, Hutch had told him that morning. Then the handsome Hispanic added jokingly, "I was getting all pumped at the idea of being on TV, giving an interview to Dan Rather. 'Yes, Dan, I know Starsky and Hutch, the men who found the famous Magoch baby'."

"That's not even the worst of it," Starsky said. "He passed his polygraph test, so he's not even a good suspect anymore."

"Does that ruin your case?" Lizzie asked sympathetically.

"Nothin' could ruin this case," Starsky said definitely. "It's so fucked up it'll never get unfucked."

"I'm not sure 'unfucked' is a word," Lizzie said.

"Starsky's of the opinion that if Shakespeare could make up words, so can he," Hutch said.

"Well, who can argue with that logic?" Arturo said with a grin. "Oh, hey, before I forget--Carolyn wanted me to ask the two of you to join us for Christmas dinner. She says she worries about you two bachelors starving to death over the holiday, but I think she really just wants you to come by and spoil your godson a little."

Hutch grinned in return. Spoiling Arturo's little son, Kenneth David, was on his top ten list of favorite things to do. "That sounds really great, but Starsky and I have already decided to have Christmas dinner by ourselves this year. Rain check?"

"Sure. How about New Year's dinner instead?" Arturo offered.

"Sounds great."

Lizzie gave both Starsky and Hutch an apologetic smile. "I warned him the two of you would probably want to be alone together on Christmas, but try to tell a man anything," she said. "Hey, merry Christmas, huh? I'm taking tomorrow and Christmas Eve off as a kind of mini-vacation--Lori and I are going up to San Francisco--but the two of you have a great holiday, okay?"

"Yeah, okay," Starsky murmured for both of them, as she and her partner walked out. Then he looked at Hutch.

"You don't think she--?" Hutch began.

"Nah," Starsky said definitely. "No way."

"Minnie knows."

"Yeah, well, Minnie has ESP. Lizzie doesn't." Starsky stood up. "Speaking of which, my ESP is tellin' me it's time to go home."

He walked to the coat tree to pull on his leather jacket, and Hutch found himself enjoying, as he always did, the delectable sight of his partner's round, firm butt under his tight jeans.

Suddenly he couldn't wait to get home.

**********

They were in each other's arms the second they closed the front door. In each other's arms, kissing, struggling to pull off jackets, holsters, shirts, and pants as they still kissed, as they pressed close together, wanting, needing to get closer, ever closer....

They walked up the stairs together, fell onto the bed, naked, still kissing, still pressing close, caressing each other with eager, seeking hands. As if in silent agreement, they didn't reach for the lubricant, they didn't move into position for a sixty-nine, they just went on kissing, went on touching, went on clinging together tightly as they pushed, groped, panted. Still kissing as they brought each other to explosive, simultaneous orgasms.

They fell back, gasping for breath.

"You know something?" Starsky said, after a while. "I think I fell in love with you at first sight."

Hutch cast him an unbelieving look. Starsky grinned a little.

"Yep. The day I first saw you at the Academy I felt something like a jab right to the old solar plexus, just lookin' at you. Before we'd even said anything to each other, I had a feeling you were gonna be important in my life."

"You never told me that before."

"Yeah, well, I guess I never told you 'cause you'd think it sounded stupid. But I think I was in love with you for a long, long time, even though I didn't really realize it until after Gunther. Shit, Hutch, if it hadn't been for me getting shot, we might've wound up just being friends for all our lives. Scary, isn't it?"

Starsky's casual reference to getting shot struck Hutch like a blow. He looked away quickly, but not in time.

"Hutch? What is it?"

"Nothing."

After a beat: "This the same 'nothing' that's causing your nightmares?"

"What nightmares?"

"Oh, come on, Hutch. You're talking to a guy who's been closer to you than breathing for years, who knows you like he knows his own DNA. I know you've been having bad dreams again, more than once, too, even though you won't talk about it."

Hutch felt sudden tears sting his eyes. And he didn't know where the hell they'd come from.

"Hutch...Hutch." Starsky reached out and squeezed Hutch's shoulder. "Hey. It's okay. Everything is okay. What's to be ashamed of, having a few bad dreams? Now why don't you tell me about 'em, huh?"

Hutch kept his face averted. Tears were still stinging his eyelids and he was clenching his jaw, knotting his fists to keep them from falling. "I...the dreams are all different," he mumbled. "Sometimes, I dream that I wake up and you're missing, I run through the house looking for you, and you're nowhere to be found. Sometimes, it's the shooting again. I run around the side of the Torino, and you're lying there, there's blood all over you... I run like hell to cover you, but it's too late. Sometimes, I'm talking on the phone with Dobey, holding that damned ping-pong ball, not wanting to let go of it because it was one of the last things you'd touched before the shooting. He tells me I have to get there right away, and I run like hell again, but...your heart has already stopped. You're gone...I've lost you."

He let out a breath. It seemed to hurt to breathe, like he himself had been shot, or like he'd been beaten up and broken some ribs, and the ribs were stabbing him with every breath he tried to breathe.

"Why do you think you're having those dreams?" Starsky's voice was gentle. "I mean, it's been three years since the shooting, Hutch."

"I don't know." To his embarrassment, Hutch felt a tear tremble at the bottom of his eyelid, stinging, then drip slowly over. It splashed on his face, itching, but he didn't reach up to brush it away; he didn't want Starsky to see him wipe his face. "I had these nightmares for a while--after Gunther--then they stopped, then they started up again and stopped again. And now I'm having them again. But there doesn't seem to be any logical reason for...for why I have them. I guess I'm just...I'm scared shitless of losing you."

"Ah, babe."

Hutch hated the way his voice trembled. "I guess this makes me a real wimp, huh?"

"Hey, you think I never get scared when I think about losing you?" Starsky said softly. "You think I don't have nightmares about that time you were pinned under your car and missing for two days, or the time you had botulism, or that time just a few months ago when Jeanie kidnapped you and tried to get you on the big H again? Shit, Hutch, just thinking about losing you scares the shit out of me."

Hutch looked at him. Then, tentatively, he reached up and touched Starsky's chest. Starsky put a hand over his.

"I guess we're both pretty dumb," Hutch said.

"Yeah," Starsky whispered, stroking his hand. "Pretty dumb."

After a pause Hutch said, "I don't...have those nightmares a lot. Just once in a while."

"I know. Me neither. Just every so often. So I guess we're not doin' too bad, huh, partner?"

"Nah. Not bad at all."

After a few more seconds of silence, Starsky said, "Hey, Hutch, are those nightmares you've been having, about losing me--are they why you've been pushin' all this vegetarian stuff lately? Because you read that study that said vegetarians live longer than normal people, and you think if I go vegetarian I'll live longer?"

"Well...kind of," Hutch admitted, a little sheepishly. "I mean I was thinking it wouldn't hurt both of us to eat healthier. But, yeah, I was kind of hoping if I ate better you would, too, and, you know, you'd live longer."

"For cryin' out loud. Next time, just ask me, huh? And I'll say no and we'll get it over with."

Hutch snorted a laugh. It felt good to laugh, when he'd been close to tears just a minute ago. But then, that was life with Starsky. A roller-coaster ride.

"Let's go to sleep, huh?" he said softly. "Tomorrow's a work day."

"Yeah. Don't remind me," Starsky grumbled. He pulled Hutch against him, holding him close. "You're never gonna lose me, Hutch," he whispered. "Never."

"Yeah," Hutch murmured. "I know."

And that was the last thing he remembered until morning.

**********

It was about 10:00 the next morning when Isak Wolf came by the squadroom.

"Hi, guys," the black man said. Hutch noticed that Lila's former assistant had pulled his curly black hair back with a silver clip--perhaps his one concession to decorum upon visiting a police station. He was wearing jeans and a flannel shirt.

"Hey, Isak," Starsky said. "How are you doing?"

"Okay, I guess. Well, kind of in shock. Smigiel just showed me Lila's will. I stand to inherit about half a million dollars."

"Yeah, he told us," Hutch said. "Congratulations."

"I don't want to be congratulated. I'd rather have Lila alive and nagging me to get the apartment decorated for Christmas and asking me if I'd go have her brakes looked at."

"We know you would," Starsky said quietly. "But we're not allowed to make those choices."

"Yeah, I know," Isak said, also quiet. "Anyway, I'm going back to Smigiel's office this afternoon. He's going to try to help me get a loan based on my inheritance so I can go to grad school next month, since it takes months for a will to get probated. And he's not charging me anything, either. He's being really terrific to me, actually--a lot like Lila was. He told me he feels I'm his responsibility now that Lila is gone." He looked at Starsky, then back at Hutch. "So, I guess this makes me a good suspect now, huh? Since I had a motive. Unless you already know who did it?" he added hopefully. "You sounded pretty confident at the burial service about getting him."

"Yeah, well, Starsky jumped the gun a little," Hutch said. "We don't have a clue."

"Any good leads?"

"Not many that are very helpful," Starsky said. "But trust me, you're not any more a suspect now than you've ever been. And we still think that the kidnapping had something to do with what happened to Lila, which would probably let you out. Are you sure she never mentioned it to you?"

Isak shook his head. "No. Never," he said definitely. "I read up about it a little after I started working for her--just curiosity--but I never mentioned it, and she never did either. I think she wanted to kind of blot it out of her mind."

"But she did talk a lot about her husband," Starsky said.

"Oh, yeah. Quite a lot. She really loved him. She talked about him almost every day, and spent a lot of time in her memory room." Isak sounded a little wistful. "It must be great, to be loved that much. I wonder, sometimes, if I'll ever be loved like that."

"You will," Hutch said. "Sometimes it just takes awhile to find the right one." Somehow he forced himself not to look at his partner when he said that last.

"I hope you're right. Well, I guess I'll be going. Unless you guys want to grill me or something."

Starsky smiled. "Nah, if we want to grill you, we come to your place in the middle of the night and drag you out of bed, so you're completely unprepared. We don't even let you have your morning coffee first."

"You guys are rough." A faint wisp of a smile. "Hey, I almost forgot why I came. I have a favor to ask."

"What?" Hutch was abruptly wary.

"I want to go to Moonridge Zoo up in Big Bear, sometime after Christmas, to tell them about their inheritance. The zoo was very important to Lila, and I'm kind of thinking this is one last thing I'd like to do for her, you know? Anyway, I wonder if you could give me the address. You took all her papers from the desk, including her address book."

"Sure," Starsky said. He started looking through the documents in front of him, a veritable forest of paper. "I have that address book here somewhere."

"Starsk, why don't you just go get the directory for San Bernardino County?" Hutch suggested. "It'll take less time than trying to make order out of that chaos."

Starsky gave him a look, but after a second or two, seemed resigned to the truth of that statement. "It'll just take me a second," he said to Isak, and left to go over to a shelf in the corner, where the phone books for various counties in California were kept.

"You know what you're going to do now?" Hutch asked Isak. "With all that money you're inheriting, you can pretty much do whatever you want."

Isak shrugged, a little sheepishly. "Yeah, I know. But I really don't know what I'm going to do after I finish grad school next year. I've been thinking I'd like to write a book about Larry Magoch, though. Almost nothing has been written about him--Lila stopped people from writing books about him before--but maybe it's time for something to come out. He still has fans, I know that for a fact; he still gets lots of fan mail, anyway. And I still have all those cassette tapes of interviews Lila did for me, when I started writing that book last year. I just wonder if maybe it'd be unethical to use them, since she changed her mind about the book later."

"I'm sure she'd want you to use what she told you in a way you thought was best," Hutch said.

"Well, thanks. That helps a little."

"Hutch, I can't find the fucking phone book," Starsky said.

"Excuse me," Hutch said, and walked over to his partner's side. And of course, he found the directory in about two seconds. When he pulled it out, Starsky glared at him as if he'd been insulted.

"You did that on purpose," he accused. "Hid it from me, deliberately put it out of order on the shelf to make me look stupid, didn't you?"

Hutch started to say something about how he didn't think Starsky needed much help to look stupid…then he heard his voice trail off. Because all of a sudden he was hearing something else. Something that made an ice cube run down his spine.

The radio was playing a Christmas song, a song Hutch recognized from the movie Scrooge. But Hutch wasn't listening to the radio. He was listening to someone's voice, singing along.

Sing a song of gladness and cheer,For the time of Christmas is here. Look around about you, and seeWhat a world of wonder this world can be....

Hutch swallowed, his throat suddenly dry, as he turned around slowly. Isak was sitting on Hutch's desk, quietly singing with the radio as he watched an attractive black policewoman pour herself coffee at the coffee machine.

"Hutch? What is it?" Starsky whispered.

"Nothing," Hutch said. He took the phone book back to his desk and looked up Moonridge Animal Park, then scrawled down the address and phone number on a sheet of yellow foolscap and handed it to Isak. "There you go," he said. "Good luck."

"Thanks. With my car, driving seven thousand feet above sea level, I'll need it," Isak joked. "Well, so long. Let me know if you find anything, okay? And let me know if I can help with the case."

"Yeah, okay," Hutch muttered, watching Isak walk out.

The second he was out the door, Starsky said, "Okay, Hutch, what is it? And don't say 'nothing' again."

"Just a crazy thought I just had. If I tell you, you'll say I'm nuts."

"Yeah, probably. But share your craziness with me, anyway."

"The other night, when we were watching that Larry Magoch movie and he started singing, something about his voice bugged me. And just now I realized what it was. Isak's voice and Larry's sound really, really similar--in fact, when they're singing, they sound almost the same."

"Yeah? I didn't notice that, but then, I don't have a musician's ear. But so what?"

"So...you know how freaky your mind can be when you're absorbed in a case? It just hit me--what if Isak was the missing Magoch baby? What if Larry had an affair with a black woman and had an illegitimate child and then he and Lila took the baby away from the mother, because they couldn't have children of their own...and then Isak's real mother stole him back. And that was the kidnapping."

Starsky gave him a look.

"Hey, I know it's crazy," Hutch said defensively. "But I swear, those two voices sound so much alike, it's eerie."

"So? I've heard loads of nightclub singers that sound a lot like Barbra Streisand or Judy Garland. That doesn't mean they're related."

"I know, okay?" Hutch growled. "I told you it was nuts." He sat down at his desk. Starsky sat down across from him.

Both of them were silent for a few seconds. Then Starsky said, "There's one way to check. We could look at the fingerprints."

Hutch just looked at him. Starsky said, "We know they never found the real baby's body. Our friend Sam isn't Larry Jr., but somebody else could be. And remember, nobody ever saw any pictures of the baby. He could've been black."

"Don't patronize me."

"I'm not. I'm just sayin' my curiosity is startin' to itch, too. So look at the fingerprints already, huh?"

Hutch didn't want to, but he had to admit, the idea was going to bug him until he did. He opened the file and found the two sets of fingerprints. Then he got out a magnifying glass.

Starsky watched him, staying as still as a grave.

Hutch felt his heart start to pound as, to his incredulous amazement, he saw one, two, then three points of similarity. Feeling something akin to a man discovering the fifth Gospel, he counted all the way up to twelve. Then, still not believing it, he counted again.

It can't be. It just can't be.

But it was. Isak Wolf's fingerprints matched the prints of the baby who'd resided in the Magoch nursery in 1956.

Isak was the missing Magoch baby.

Hutch looked up, and Starsky, who knew his partner's face, said, "You're kidding."

Hutch shook his head. "I counted twelve points of similarity, enough for a court of law," he said huskily. "Of course, we'll have to get an expert to tell us for sure, but in my opinion this is a match, Starsky."

"Holy shit."

"Tell me about it."

They stared at each other. Then Starsky said, "But Larry can't really be Isak's father, can he? I mean, I don't really think he had an affair with a black woman and had a baby. For one thing, there'd be records and witnesses, and someone would've unearthed it by now. For another, why would Lila've been so devoted to him if he'd had a baby with another woman?"

"Yeah, I think that's too way-out even for a soap opera," Hutch agreed. "And, as you said, lots of people can have similar voices without being related; that was obviously just some freaky coincidence. But fingerprints don't lie."

"So how could Isak be the Magoch baby? Could he have been adopted?" Starsky suggested. "Isak said he was adopted once--maybe he was adopted by the Magoches, too."

"No, Lila's pregnancy was too well-publicized. I can think of only one explanation for this."

Starsky let out a breath. "You mean, Lila had a thing with a black guy and got...knocked up."

"Can you think of another explanation that makes sense?"

"No," Starsky said reluctantly. "I can't. And Hutch...Lila knew who Isak was, too," he added suddenly, struck by the realization. "Not just because of the inheritance, but Isak said she sought him out, asked him to come work for her. Whether she'd always known, or found out right before she looked him up...she knew he was her son. And she offered him that phony job because she wanted to know him, be close to him, maybe help him finish college. But why didn't she ever tell him who she was?"

"Maybe she was afraid he'd reject her if she told him she'd put him up for adoption when he was a baby," Hutch said. "Or maybe she was protecting her husband. There was still the faked kidnapping to consider. But you know something? I'll bet this was what Lila was going to tell Isak the day she died--that she was his mother. Because Riordon was threatening to hire a lawyer and/or go to the press, and she thought someone would uncover the truth about the bogus kidnapping, and she wanted Isak to hear it from her first."

"Yeah, I think you're right," Starsky said. "Shit. I still can't believe it. Lila Magoch had an affair with a black guy. And then had a baby. No wonder there were no pictures of the baby. No wonder there wasn't a lock of the baby's hair in the baby book. No wonder no one ever even saw their child. They must've arranged the phony kidnapping when they realized they just couldn't hide the baby anymore. But dammit, Hutch, why would she be doing the Big Nasty with another guy? She loved Larry."

"Maybe it was just a moment of passion she couldn't control. It happens."

"She was in her forties, Hutch."

"So what? People in their forties still want to do it." Hutch smiled a little. "And watch what you say, partner. You and I aren't too far from that milestone ourselves."

Starsky suddenly looked stricken. "Oh, God, Hutch, maybe it was rape. Maybe some bastard raped her and got her pregnant."

"Yeah, it's possible. But unlikely. If she'd been raped, why didn't she report it? Or get an abortion? Abortion wasn't legal in those days, but if you were wealthy enough and had the right connections--especially in Hollywood--it wasn't all that hard to get one."

"Maybe she thought there was a chance the baby was Larry's, and didn't realize the baby was the other guy's until after the baby was born. After all, like you said, they didn't try to hide the pregnancy at all. Look at all those newspaper and magazine clippings in her scrapbooks of interviews she gave about being pregnant and how happy she was. Dammit, it had to've been rape. She wouldn't have cheated on Larry."

"Why, just because she looked beautiful in Insatiable? Come on, Starsk. Give it up."

"What? Give what up?"

"Being Lila's champion. Come on, we just found out she rejected her own child, her only son, gave him up for adoption, just because he was black. That's not the act of a very praiseworthy individual."

"But she didn't want to," Starsky argued. "Her husband forced her to give the baby up because it wasn't his, that's all."

"You don't know that."

"Sure I do. Witby told us she was grief-stricken, wasn't she? She didn't want to give up her baby, but Larry made her. Maybe he told her he'd divorce her if she didn't go along with it. I mean, even though Lila hadn't really cheated on him since it was rape, he probably didn't want to see proof of her bein' with another guy in his house every day. And she gave in even though it killed her, because she couldn't live without him. Shit. I still can't believe it. The Magoch baby really is alive, after all."

"Yeah. It's incredible."

"Incredible ain't the word for this case. It doesn't even come close. We have one guy sure he's the Magoch baby and he isn't, and another guy who doesn't have a clue he's the Magoch baby and he is. We have another guy who was executed for murdering a child that's still alive, and a woman who was asking us about murder only nobody was murdered. And then she gets killed by somebody, but we still have no idea who. This whole thing's like a damn Rubik's cube. You know something? I'll bet you a big fat tofu pizza Smigiel knows about Isak. He wasn't exactly sweetness and light when we went to talk to him on the golf course, but he got downright hostile when we hinted that Isak might've killed Lila. And Isak just said the lawyer was bein' real nice to him, sayin' he felt responsible for him, acting protective. The guy knows Isak is the Magoch baby, and I'll bet he knows a lot more."

"Yeah, I think you're right. I had a feeling during a lot of our conversation on the golf course that he was hiding something. But he's never going to tell us what he knows, Starsk. For one thing, there's client confidentiality. But also, I'll bet you Lila was bribing him. He told us they weren't friends, but why did she leave him so much money in her will? It must've been a bribe to keep his mouth shut, even after she was gone."

"Maybe it was a gift of gratitude," Starsky argued. "He could've arranged the whole kidnapping thing himself, made sure her son was adopted by a good family, and she was grateful to him."

Hutch gave up trying to convince Starsky that Lila was something less than a saint. "Well, whatever it was," he said, "ten to one, he knows who Isak's real father was. Chances are it would help us solve this case, too. We've got to find a way to get him to talk if we're ever going to find Lila's killer."

"Yeah. Great idea, Blintz. But how?"

**********

Smigiel and Isak were sitting at the lawyer's desk, talking in low tones. Hutch heard Smigiel say, "The will will probably take eight or nine months to probate, but if you want money before that time, any bank would loan it to you on the basis of your inheritance. I would be happy to arrange--"

"Excuuuuse us," Starsky said, walking in, Hutch following after.

Smigiel was outraged. "This is a private attorney-client consultation!" He acted as if the two of them were violating the Holy of Holies.

"Too fucking bad," Hutch said, and it was not difficult at all for him to sound pissed off. "Time's up, Mr. Wolf."

"What the fuck?" Isak squeaked as Starsky pulled him roughly out of his chair and yanked his hands back to snap on handcuffs.

"Mr. Isak Wolf, you're under arrest for the murder of Lila Magoch," Starsky said in a cold, clipped voice. "You have the right to remain silent. If you give up that right, anything you say--"

"This is an outrage!" Smigiel roared. "Are you crazy? Isak didn't kill Lila!"

"We think he did, Mr. Smigiel," Hutch said blandly. "He had the motive. Half a million motives, actually."

"I wouldn't kill Lila," Isak protested. He was still squeaking. "I loved her."

"We have it all figured out, Wolf," Starsky said. "How you deliberately sought her out, a lonely widow, plannin' on conning your way into her affections at the hope of getting some of her pile. And then talkin' her into leaving you all that money, but she was pretty healthy, so you decided to help things along with a little--"

"No!" Isak cried.

"This is just because he's black, isn't it?" Smigiel demanded. "You can't find the real killer so you latch onto Isak just because he's a member of a minority."

"Why not?" Starsky said, fairly convincingly, although Hutch could tell by his partner's eyes he hated having to pretend to be a racist, even to catch a killer. "What reason would Mrs. Magoch have for hiring a black guy, unless he conned her into it?"

"You...you have it all wrong!" Smigiel cried. "And I'm going to hit the BCPD with the biggest lawsuit for false arrest you've ever seen. Just wait and see."

"Fine, you do that," Hutch said. "The way the civil courts are backed up, it won't see trial for two or three years. By that time, the slippery Mr. Wolf here will be on death row." He nodded to Starsky, who grabbed Isak by the shoulders and started to pull him out the door.

"Stop!" Smigiel yelled. "Wait! I...I..." The articulate lawyer was, for a few seconds, at a loss for words. Then he said, "I can prove it. That Isak didn't kill Lila."

Starsky stopped at the door. "We're listening."

Smigiel looked at Isak with something like regret in his eyes. "I'm sorry, Isak," he said. "I really wanted to tell you this under...under better circumstances." He looked at the two policemen. "The truth is...Isak is Mrs. Magoch's son."

"What?" the young man blurted out.

Smigiel nodded. "Yes, you heard me, Isak. You are the missing Magoch baby."

"This is some kinda joke, right?" Starsky said. "You're tellin' me Mrs. Magoch screwed around on her husband, a guy she practically worshipped?"

"No. She didn't." Smigiel sank back into his chair. He looked apologetically at Isak again. "She was going to tell you this, Isak. She just couldn't think of a way to tell you without...without revealing a secret that she would've rather died than have anyone find out. And neither can I. But it looks like I'm going to have to." He looked at Starsky and Hutch again. "Larry Magoch was black."

Hutch wondered if he looked as stunned as Starsky did.

"I know," Smigiel said, seeing their faces. "It sounds like the headline of a Globe article, doesn't it? 'UFO Spotted over San Francisco; Baby with Two Heads Born in Mexico.' But it's true. Well, actually he was half-black. His mother worked in a factory and was coerced into having sex by her white boss under the threat that she'd be fired if she didn't. It was a good job, at least for a black woman of that era, so she complied. Then, when she got pregnant, the bastard fired her anyway. She went back home to Alabama to have her baby, but after he was born, her parents threw her out because the baby was white--he had black hair and dark eyes, but his skin was light. It was then that she decided her child was going to live better than she did, so she started to tell people that Larry, her baby, wasn't hers. That she was his nurse who used to work for Larry's mother, who had died. Although Larry knew the truth, she convinced him to go along with her story so people would think he really was white, and he'd have a better life. Then, after she died, he went to Hollywood--telling everyone that he'd lost both his parents when he was a kid--and made his fortune as a big cowboy star. He, in the vernacular, 'passed'. And no one ever guessed the truth."

"Oh, my God," Isak said, his voice a croak. Starsky, apparently realizing only when the young man spoke that he was still cuffed, swiftly took out his handcuff key and released him. But Isak still didn't move. He was staring at the lawyer. "How'd you know all this?"

"They told me," Smigiel said. "I knew them back then, and they needed legal guidance. I was the only person they ever took into their confidence. Larry never told anyone else about his heritage--except Lila of course, when she wanted to marry him. He told her he could never get married, and then he told her why--the chances were too great he'd have a child that...that was like his mother. He only agreed to marriage when Lila told him that children didn't matter, that they just wouldn't have children. But they didn't have the birth control pill in those days, and, well, something went wrong. After fourteen years of marriage, they had Larry, Jr.--you, Isak. She told me later that she just couldn't get an abortion--she loved Larry too much--and I guess they both hoped the baby would...look white. After all, it was three-quarters Caucasian. But, to be on the safe side, they arranged for the baby to be delivered at home, and used a doctor from Mexico who didn't speak English. Then, after the baby was born and Larry's fears were realized, they didn't know what to do. So they did what many people do when they don't know what to do--they did nothing."

"You knew about the baby then?" Starsky asked.

"No, I didn't. Not until much later, right before the kidnapping. They hid the baby all that time. Told people he was very susceptible to germs and couldn't be 'exposed' to any outsiders, to explain why they wouldn't let anybody see the baby. Wouldn't allow magazines to take any pictures for the same reason. Then, when some magazines offered to buy their private pictures, they said they didn't want any pictures released of the baby for fear of kidnappers. Of course, they never dared take any pictures of the baby, even private ones. It hurt me that they never let me see him--I was a good friend of Larry's--but then, Larry and Lila were pretty private people, so I thought they were just being overly protective.

"Then, finally, they told me. The baby was almost two years old at that point, and they were starting to worry about things like letting him play outdoors and what if he was seen? And school. He'd be going to school in a few years. They had to think of something. So they told me the whole story, including Larry's background. They wanted me to arrange for an adoption--to find a good home for Larry, Jr. And, fool that I am, I talked them out of it," the lawyer groaned. "I told them the publicity--giving away their own baby--would ruin Larry's career. It was the fifties, the time of the baby boom--babies, family, were taken very seriously then. Any man who gave away his own baby, even to a good home, would have been crucified in the papers. What a damned idiot I was."

"So the kidnapping was your idea?" Starsky asked.

Smigiel looked shocked. "Hell, no! No, what I suggested was that we pay off some doctor who would say the baby had died. It would have cost a fortune, buying off a doctor to sign a phony death certificate and some funeral director to bury an empty casket, but it could have been done. Then they could have quietly arranged to adopt a black baby to take 'their' child's place--who, of course, would have been their own baby. Adopting a black baby wouldn't have exactly been a prime move, career-wise, not in the fifties; I'm sure they would have gotten a lot of nasty letters from bigots, maybe even lost part of Larry's audience, but it could have worked. I had it all figured out. But no, Larry and Lila didn't want to do that. They thought it would be too easy for the truth--Larry's heritage--to get out that way, with so many people having to be let in on their secret. And Larry was afraid the baby might resemble him too much, later. He was absolutely paranoid about anyone finding out he was black. Not that I think that was completely irrational. If that news had gotten out, he would have never been given a job in the movies again. Not in the fifties."

"So whose idea was the kidnapping?" Hutch asked.

"Larry's. He wanted to arrange for the baby's 'death' without having a body, and a kidnapping seemed the best way to him. No funeral director or doctor to bribe, no one had to know their secret but them. I tried to talk them out of it, but I was just pissing in the wind at that point. They were both adamant that this was the only way. So...I gave in. Larry had this quality--I don't know if any of you young men have ever known anyone like this, but there are some people who are so charming, so charismatic, that you're just willing to do anything they want. Larry was like that. Although maybe I'm just rationalizing my own irrational behavior. Who knows? Anyway, Larry talked me into helping them. I managed to find a nice black family in New York, through an intermediary, for the adoption. They didn't know who Isak was, of course; I made up a story about his being the son of an unwed mother. Then, after your adoptive mother flew out of LA with you, Isak, and you both were safely in New York, Lila and Larry arranged the kidnapping themselves. Lila wrote the ransom note, using her left hand to disguise her handwriting, before they left for the movies that night, and they picked an old family friend to baby-sit, someone they knew would follow their instructions not to look in on the baby and find the note too soon, before the 'kidnapping' had time to take place. The whole thing was handled incredibly clumsily--the house being locked up, for one thing, with no signs of it being broken into, they didn't even think to muss up the covers in the crib, and then, of course, there was the babysitter not hearing anything, the dog not barking, the baby not crying. Larry Magoch's reputation was such that nobody suspected him, though, and somehow they pulled it off. And they thought that would be the end of it."

"But Henuber entered the picture," Starsky said.

"Yeah," Smigiel said bleakly. "The damned fool. He didn't know the kidnapping was fake, but when no second ransom note came, he thought maybe he'd hitch a ride on the gravy train. He got a copy of the ransom note, the first one--probably bribed someone in the police department, since the police were withholding details of the ransom note to avoid copycats--and wrote a second note like it. Trying to extort money from the Magoches by pretending to be the kidnapper. The Magoches had no choice but to pay the ransom, of course. Larry tried his best to persuade the police not to make note of the serial numbers, not wanting whoever the extortionist was to get caught, but he was overruled. And Henuber did get caught."

"Lila...she let an innocent man be executed for a crime that didn't even happen?" Isak asked. He looked as if he were in a trance.

"Don't think too badly of her, son," Smigiel said, his tone more gentle than Hutch would've imagined the emotionless lawyer capable of. "They did their best. They tried to persuade the DA to release him, they refused to testify against him, even went to the papers saying they didn't think there was enough evidence against Henuber to convict him. They even wanted to pay for his attorney, but I talked them out of that--said it would be too easy for the money to be traced, and besides, I thought the case was too weak for a conviction. But I was wrong. The public was rabid for blood, and the DA was rabid to be the next governor of California. So Henuber got convicted--and executed."

"Okay, I still don't get it," Starsky said. "How does this tie in with what Lila said the morning she was killed? When she asked us what if someone killed somebody but didn't mean to, would they go to jail? There wasn't any murder; her baby was alive."

"She was talking about herself," Smigiel said tiredly. "I know because she called and asked me that same question, right after she came home from seeing the two of you, I think--although she didn't mention she'd seen you. After Riordon's visit, she was worried that the whole story was going to be revealed at last, with his threat to get a lawyer or go to the press--that it'd be found out that she and her husband, if unwittingly, sent an innocent man to the gas chamber. And she was wondering if she'd go to jail for that."

"But it wasn't murder," Starsky said. "Not legally."

"No, it wasn't, and that's what I told her. But she wanted to be sure of that before she went through with her plans."

"Which were what?" Hutch asked. He couldn't help feeling sorry for the elderly woman, in spite of what she'd done.

"She was going to go to the newspapers and confess everything," Smigiel said. "Not that day, but soon, as soon as she told Isak the truth. Lila said she was sure, with Riordon bringing the case back into the public eye, that it wouldn't take long for modern-day investigators to figure out that the kidnapping wasn't real--and why. But she told me she thought maybe if she went to the press with the truth beforehand, she could soften it a little, make Larry sound less like a villain, less like a father rejecting his own race and his own son just for his career. Like I said, she wanted to tell Isak first, though. She was going to tell him that afternoon."

"Oh, God," Isak whispered. "She was my mother. My mom. Lila was my real mom." He looked at Smigiel, then at Starsky and Hutch, then back at the lawyer again. "And I'm three-quarters white. Shit. So who the fuck am I now?"

"You're still the same man you've always been, son," Smigiel said, and Hutch felt eerily reminded of what Starsky had said to Sam Riordon the day before. "And Lila loved you very much. It almost killed her to give you up. She did it for her husband, not because she was a doormat but because she loved him, but it still killed something inside of her. And I think it did kill Larry, giving you up the way he did. He'd never had coronary problems before, and then all of a sudden, he drops dead of a heart attack just a year after Henuber is executed. I think losing you--and seeing what losing you did to Lila--broke his heart. And Lila never forgot you. After her husband died she even tried to find you--thinking maybe she could do what I suggested at the beginning, adopt you legally. But you had disappeared."

Isak nodded. "Yeah," he murmured. "After my adoptive father died, my mom remarried. And he adopted me as his son, changing my name."

"She re-found you just a few years ago, by accident," Smigiel said. "A friend of the family that adopted you--although, of course, she didn't know you were Lila's--met up with her in Bermuda a few summers ago, and told her your adoptive mother's new name was Wolf. And Lila came and told me, and I dug you up. She was very pleased to find out you lived so close by, and kept tabs on you for a year or so, until finally, she couldn't stand it anymore and decided she had to see you, spend time with you. That's when she came after you to offer you that phony job. It wasn't just because she wanted to be with you, get to know you, either. She wanted you to know all about your father, too. That's why she thought up the idea of you writing a book about Larry--so she could talk to you about your father's background, his life, his career. Well, with you being a journalist it was naturally a good ploy to get you to work for her, but she also wanted you to know about your father, so that when she finally told you the truth, you, maybe, wouldn't hate him but try to...understand. She also wanted to help you, financially, any way she could, to make it up to you a little what she'd done, giving you up when you were a baby. And she was going to tell you the truth someday. She just didn't know how to do it so that you'd understand, and not reject her."

Isak let out a slow, not entirely steady breath. "I think I knew, somehow," he said. "I mean I knew she felt more for me than just an employer. I didn't know why, but...I knew we had something special. We always felt close to each other, even when we argued."

"I wish she had told you," Smigiel said. "And I'm sorry I didn't tell you right after Lila died. Maybe I had this feeling I still had to protect Larry. He was a good friend of mine, you know. I never cared much for Lila, I think she coerced Larry into marriage, and I suspect she got pregnant on purpose, but Larry was someone I...loved deeply. I could never condone what he did, but I loved him--" Abruptly the lawyer stopped, looking from Starsky to Hutch, his colorless eyes suddenly narrowing. "This was all bullshit, wasn't it?" he snapped. "You weren't going to arrest Isak at all. You just did it to get me to talk."

"Yeah," Hutch said evenly. "If you want to bring a lawsuit against us for false arrest, go ahead." He looked at Isak. "Mr. Wolf, I hope my partner didn't hurt you. Sometimes he gets carried away with the 'bad cop' routine."

"No. He didn't. It's okay," Isak said. "You...you guys knew this all along? That Larry and Lila Magoch were my birth parents?"

"No, we've only known a few hours," Starsky said. "Your fingerprints matched the ones taken from the Magoch baby's crib twenty-six years ago."

"Shit," the lawyer muttered, "I forgot about those damned fingerprints."

"You thought you would just keep it a secret forever, didn't you?" Starsky said coldly. "Even if it meant we'd never find out who killed Lila."

"Come on," the lawyer said impatiently. "You must realize by now that there's no connection between what...what happened all those years ago and what happened to Lila now. It was just coincidence that Riordon showed up the night before she died. Unless you think he did it. That Lila told him he wasn't her child and he got so mad he snapped."

"No, Riordon didn't kill her," Hutch said. "We know that for a fact."

"So who did?" the lawyer demanded.

"We don't have any idea, Mr. Smigiel," Starsky said. "We were hoping maybe you could tell us. Like maybe you know of somebody who knew the truth about the kidnapping, besides you, that didn't want the truth to get out--who knew Lila was going to spill the beans and wanted to stop her. Somebody you told in 1956, maybe--or more recently."

Smigiel shook his head. "I never told anyone, not even my psychiatrist. Larry asked me to keep the secret of his heritage, and I did, for twenty-six years. You're wasting your time following this trail, gentlemen. So why don't you just leave and try to find the person who really killed Lila?"

"Thanks for the advice," Hutch said coolly. "We'll keep that in mind." He didn't like Smigiel any more than he ever had, and finding out he'd played a part in the fake kidnapping certainly hadn't increased his affection. To Starsky he said, "C'mon, partner, let's go. I think we're done here."

He walked out, Starsky following.

**********

"You know, I just can't help wondering if maybe Smigiel was right," Starsky said on their drive home. "That all that stuff about the faked kidnapping has nothin' to do with what happened to Lila. You think?"

"I don't know, Starsk. But I do know that you've been talking about the case nonstop since we left work. And tomorrow is Christmas Eve."

"Meaning what?"

"Meaning that I'd like to talk about something other than the job for a few minutes, if you don't mind. Like what we're going to have for Christmas dinner, for example."

Starsky brightened considerably at the mention of food, as Hutch had known he would. "Christmas dinner. Now there's somethin' worth talkin' about," he said enthusiastically. Then, a little tentatively, "Hey, Hutch, you're not gonna insist on any of those health foods, are you? I mean, I really don't want to have tofu burgers and brewer's yeast for a holiday meal."

Hutch laughed. It felt good to laugh for a change, after the tense day they'd had. "No, partner, no tofu burgers. If there's one time of year when you should have what you want to eat, it's Christmas. How about going traditional, with a turkey?"

Starsky thought about it for a minute, then said reluctantly, "No. A turkey is too big for the two of us. We had a turkey at Thanksgiving when I was growing up, and we wound up eating turkey hash and turkey soup for two weeks."

"Something like duck, maybe?" Hutch suggested.

"No, duck is expensive and makes crappy gravy."

"Okay, how about a Cornish game hen?"

"What's that?"

"It's...a game hen, Starsk. A small bird, like a chicken only smaller."

"Can you stuff it?"

"I don't think so. I think they're too small to stuff. But we could buy some Stovetop."

"Oh. Okay. Well, okay, that sounds good. And maybe yams?"

"Sure. And a big green salad."

"And pumpkin pie for dessert? Will you make one of your homemade pumpkin pies, Hutch?"

"Yep. I'll even make it on Christmas Day, if you want, so it'll still be warm from the oven when we eat it."

"Great! And can we put vanilla ice cream on top?" Starsky asked hopefully. "Pie really isn't pie without ice cream."

Hutch had to concede that Starsky had a point. "Okay," he said. "I guess a little sugar won't kill us."

"Oh, wow, Hutch. This is gonna be the best Christmas ever, even without bein' able to exchange presents."

Hutch reached out and took his partner's hand. Held it tight in his.

"Another year together, partner," he said huskily.

"Yeah." Starsky's eyes glowed at him. "And the happiest year of my life, Hutch."

"That's what you said last year."

"That's because every year is happier than the one before."

And Hutch, once again, had to concede that Starsky had a point.

**********

After a stop at Lucky's Market to stock up for Christmas dinner, they went home to a late supper and, as usual, an early bedtime.

Hutch was vaguely aware of having a pleasant dream about lying on a nude beach with Starsky next to him, when he felt something nudging him. He tried to ignore it, but when the nudge became more insistent, he opened his eyes. It was dark--still the middle of the night, he realized irritably. It was Starsky's hand that was nudging him.

"What?" he muttered, closing his eyes again.

"Hutch." Starsky sounded wide-awake. "Hutch, I want to do something."

"I have a headache," Hutch said, trying to bury his face deeper into the pillow.

"No, no, not that. I want to go out. Will you go with me? It's important."

Hutch opened his eyes again, looking at his partner. Then he glanced at the luminous dial of the clock next to their bed. "Starsky, it's a little past two a.m."

"I know, but I can't wait 'til morning. This is really important." Starsky sounded excited.

Reluctantly, the thin threads of his pleasant dream fading into nothingness, Hutch pulled himself up. "What is it?" he said.

"I want to go back to the crime scene."

"What?"

"Just to try something, Hutch. It's less than a mile away. Please."

"Okay, okay," Hutch grumbled, as he climbed out of bed and reached for his jeans, wondering all the while if he was crazy to be listening to his partner. "But this had better be good, Starsk. No, this had better be excellent. This had better be the best fuckin' idea you've ever had."

"It might be, Hutch." Starsky was still excited. "It might be the solution to the case."

Curious now, although still disgruntled about having to get up at 2:00 a.m. and on Christmas Eve, too, Hutch pulled on the rest of his clothes and followed his partner out to the Torino. A heavy coastal fog shrouded the street, and Hutch, feeling the chill seep down to his bones, thought once again that Starsky had better have something good with this, or he was going to kill him.

Minutes later, they were at Paradise Towers. Starsky unlocked the door with the key Isak had given them and they walked in.

"I want you to stay here while I go out into the hall, Hutch," Starsky said, speaking in a low tone, almost a whisper. "And while I'm out there, I want you to talk."

"Talk?" Hutch wasn't tracking too well. Okay, he was a morning person, but 2:00 a.m. was not morning in his estimation--it was the middle of the fucking night. "Talk about what?"

"Anything. A poem, song lyrics, your high school valedictorian speech. Walk through the apartment and say something in a normal speakin' voice. I want to see if I can hear you out here."

Hutch was beginning to get a glimmer. "You think that--?"

"I don't think anything right now. Just do it, okay?"

"Okay," Hutch agreed grudgingly.

After Starsky closed the door behind him, however, he realized he couldn't think of a damned thing to say. He sure as hell couldn't remember his valedictorian speech.

What the hell, he thought, and started to recite the only thing he could think of: the preamble to the Constitution. He walked into the kitchen and began:

"We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America."

Feeling foolish, he walked into the living room and, not wanting to recite the Constitution again, tried a psalm he'd learned as a child in Sunday school:

"The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures, He leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul, He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for His name's sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me...."

His mind went blank after that; although he knew something followed about dwelling in the house of the Lord forever, he couldn't quite remember it. "Amen," he said finally, then walked into Lila's memory room. Avoiding standing anywhere near the still-vivid bloodstain on the hardwood floor, he recited some lines he'd once memorized for a high school humanities class, from Macbeth:

"Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow, creeps in this petty pace from day to day, to the last syllable of recorded time, and all our yesterdays have lighted fools the way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle, life's but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more. It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing."

He stopped. The bedroom and the dining room, he thought, wouldn't be necessary for the experiment; they were in the back of the apartment, and no way could someone in the hall hear anyone that far away. He figured the bathroom was out, too, since it was very unlikely many people would have a conversation there. He walked out the front door.

Starsky was standing in the middle of the hallway, his face blank.

"Well?" Hutch said.

"Not here," Starsky said. "Let's go."

Hutch didn't press it. He didn't say anything in the Torino, either. It wasn't until they were back in their own living room that Starsky said, "I know who killed Lila Magoch."

"The hell you do," Hutch said.

"I do. Only I can't prove it. Hell, we'll be lucky if we have enough even for a search warrant. But I know she did it."

"Rose Garland?"

"Yep."

"You're thinking she overhead the conversation between Lila and Riordon the night before Lila was killed? And something she heard was why she killed Lila the next day?" Hutch didn't even try to keep the skepticism out of his voice.

"Yeah, that's exactly what I'm saying. Okay, Hutch, correct me if I'm wrong. First you recited the preamble to the Constitution, then you did the psalm, right? Was that it?"

"No. I also recited the 'tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow' speech from Macbeth--when Macbeth finds out his wife is dead--while I was standing in the room where Lila was killed. The Constitution was the kitchen and the psalm was the living room."

"Great. Riordon said they had their talk in the living room, so that fits. I could hear every word, Hutch." Starsky was pacing around the room, and Hutch, who felt tired just watching him, sank onto the sofa. Wishing he were upstairs in bed, wrapped around Starsky's warm body, but trying not to think about it.

"Here's what I think happened," Starsky said. "Rose Garland lied. She didn't come home just as Riordon was leaving Lila's apartment, but earlier. She gets out of the elevator and is in the hallway and she hears Lila and Riordon arguing in the living room. And she stops and listens. And finds out, listening to them, that Riordon thinks he's Lila's son, the one that was kidnapped all those years ago, meaning Al Henuber was innocent at least of the murder, since obviously the victim is still alive. She doesn't know what the hell to do, so she just stands there like a dummy in the hallway until Riordon and Lila walk out the door and find her there. She pretends she was just coming home, but she's really shook up.

"Then, the next day, she decides she has to talk to Lila. She lied again when she said she didn't get up 'til afternoon--although maybe she told the truth about not bein' a morning person, she was up early that day, or maybe she lay awake all night. Anyway, the next morning she walks down the hallway and knocks on Lila's door.

"Lila answers, and Rose, too excited to play it cool, asks to come in. Lila lets her in because, after all, she is a neighbor. And then Rose blurts it out. She wants to know the truth--if the Magoches' baby is really alive, if Henuber didn't really kill a baby in cold blood just for a hundred thousand big ones.

"Lila doesn't tell her the whole truth, of course. But I think, since she's already talked to her lawyer and told him she's going to tell the true story pretty soon--to her real son and to the press--she figures it wouldn't hurt to tell her neighbor some of it. So she says something, I don't know what, but enough. Rose finds out Lila and her husband more or less let Al Henuber go to the gas chamber, even though they knew he didn't kill their baby. They knew he was innocent of murder, but they let him die anyway. And she goes berserk. She grabs the Wingate award and beats Lila to death in a fit of rage that's probably been buildin' up her whole life."

Hutch still wasn't tracking well. He could hear the sound of a train whistle in the distance--the only outside sound in that still, damp night. Even the nearby freeway didn't seem to have any traffic at this hour.

"But why? Why did she do it?"

"Because Rose Garland was Al Henuber's daughter."

Hutch just stared at him.

"His daughter?"

"Yeah. His daughter. We know Henuber had a baby, both Witby and Riordon told us that his wife had a child when he was in prison. Who would want Lila dead more than Henuber's daughter, Hutch? Lila sent her father to the gas chamber. We should've thought of this before, find out what happened to that baby--but then, we didn't know that baby would have a motive until today."

"Starsky, it's the middle of the night and I'm still not quite awake. What makes you think Rose Garland is Henuber's daughter?"

"I don't really think it. It's just a theory, that's all. She's the right age to have been born then--in her mid-twenties. And she has red hair, and Henuber was a redhead--remember Witby mentioned his 'carrot-colored hair'?"

"Maybe Rose's hair is dyed."

"Maybe, but if it is, the roots didn't show. You know, I just thought of something else--Rose comin' after us after Lila's burial service, after I said we were close to getting the killer--she came up to us because she wanted to find out just how close we were. I guess we didn't think of that before 'cause right after that, Riordon showed up. Anyway, you wanna hear my big reason?"

"I'm waiting breathlessly, Starsk."

"Okay, here it is--this is what woke me up out of a sound sleep tonight. Henuber was a gardener."

"Yeah, I remember that, Witby told us. But so what?"

"So, Henuber's wife changed her name after the execution; Witby said that was the rumor, anyway. Now think about it. A woman who loves her husband--she stuck by him all through the trial, even testified for him--just had a baby by him, and she's of the generation where women were happy to have their husband's names, that was even part of their identity. Okay, she's being forced to change her name so her child won't grow up with the taint of having a baby killer for a father, but she still wants to keep part of her husband's identity. Wouldn't 'Garland' be a perfect name for a gardener's wife? She even named her daughter after a flower."

Hutch finally got it. "A tribute to her husband," he murmured. "Maybe even a kind of memorial to him."

"Yeah. That's what I was thinking. Rose Garland--gardener. Like I said, that's what woke me up."

"I don't know, Starsk. It sounds really farfetched."

"Yeah, I know it does." Starsky didn't seem daunted by the comment, however. He was still too excited. "But it could have happened, Hutch. Rose could have heard them talking, just like we proved tonight. And you have to admit it's one hell of a motive. Ginny said whoever killed Lila really hated her, and who would hate her more than the person whose father she destroyed? It's a perfect example of that old question you told me one time, the question all good cops ask at the scene of a crime, something about Sonny Bono--"

"Qui bono, Starsk. Who benefits."

"Right, who benefits. Well, who that's still alive would feel happier over Lila's death than Henuber's child--if she found out what happened, that Henuber didn't kill the baby, and Lila knew it and let him go to the gas chamber, anyway? Anyway, tomorrow we can track down Al Henuber's wife and child, and find out what happened to them. And see if I'm right."

"Yeah. It's certainly worth testing as a theory."

Starsky gave him one of his little-boy looks. "You think I'm full of shit, don't you?"

"It's possible. I think that about you on a periodic basis," Hutch teased, then, as Starsky's face fell even further, "C'mon, Starsk, I think it's brilliant. And you're right, it all makes sense. It's about the first thing in this case that does." He covered a yawn. "But right now, if you don't mind, I'd really like to go back to bed. I'm cold, and you know I need to get my eight or I get cranky. Okay?"

"Okay," Starsky said agreeably. "God forbid Ken Hutchinson should get cranky. He might get a line or two in his gorgeous, perfect forehead."

"Oh, shut up," Hutch growled. "I already have a lot of lines, and you know it."

"Not to me," Starsky said.

When they undressed and got into bed again, Starsky seemed to want to make love. Hutch wasn't really in the mood, but decided Starsky probably deserved it, after all the brain work he'd done. They had a quick but satisfying sixty-nine, then fell asleep in each other's arms.

**********

"This is ridiculous," Rose Garland said, looking at the warrant and then at Starsky and Hutch. "Just because I'm unlucky enough to be the neighbor of a murder victim, now you want to tear my place apart?"

"We'll do our best not to mess it up too much," Hutch said.

"This is just, like, totally crazy." Rose looked more exasperated than angry, however. If she was feeling any fear, Hutch thought, she was hiding it well. "I want a lawyer."

"You can call one if you want to, but that won't delay the search. You're not under arrest, so you don't have the right to make us wait until you have an attorney present." Starsky nodded to the two uniforms who'd come in with them, who promptly went into the bedroom. Starsky opened the closet in the living room and started looking through the coats and jackets.

"What are you looking for, anyway?" Rose asked, then added sarcastically, "Maybe I can help save you some time."

"It's written on that warrant," Hutch said. He went to the coffee table and started sorting through the magazines and newspapers, but there was nothing there but some current tabloids, along with a few astrology magazines and a TV Guide. "Murder evidence such as bloody clothes or anything else with blood on it, or any written material pertaining to the Magoch kidnapping that you might've stolen from Lila's apartment after you killed her."

"What? You think I had something to do with Lila's murder?" Rose was incredulous. "Sheesh, all those donuts you guys eat must've fried your brains. Why would I want to kill Lila? Just because she didn't want to go jogging with me or gave me a batch of stale cookies one time?"

"Come on, Rose," Hutch said, not even trying to be patient by this point. "We know who you really are. Our R & I did a check on your mother, Mrs. Marjorie Henuber. After some digging, we found out she'd moved to Maine and changed her name to Garland after her husband was executed for kidnapping and murder in 1958."

"Oh, please. You guys are so out in left field it's not even funny," Rose snapped. "I guess I should know my own mother's name, and it wasn't Marjorie Hen--whatever. It was Violet Garland."

"Yeah, she gave herself a flower name, too," Hutch said. "That was kind of touching, in a way--she had to change her name for your sake, knowing you'd have a tough row to hoe if people found out who your father was, but she couldn't reject him completely. And when you got old enough to hear the story, she told you all about him. How he was railroaded because Larry Magoch and his snooty Hollywood wife wanted a scapegoat for their son's kidnapping--"

"No!" Rose cried. "It wasn't like that."

Hutch waited, holding most of his breath. This was the moment all cops prayed for--the moment when the suspect was caught off-guard and blurted out something, some information, maybe even a confession. But she didn't. Finally, Starsky said helpfully, "So how was it, Rose?"

"I don't have to talk to you," Rose said. "Just do your damned search and then get out of my apartment."

Starsky, finished with the closet, went into the kitchen.

"You really think I'd hide evidence of a murder in the kitchen?" Rose said icily.

"Hey, don't you ever read Ellery Queen?" Starsky countered. "People are always hiding stuff in the refrigerator or the freezer. We were on a case once where someone hid some diamonds in an ice cube tray. Well, they weren't really in the ice cubes, but that's what a little girl told some guys who were threatening her. It's a long story," he added, when Rose just gave him a blank look. He opened the refrigerator door.

Hutch searched through some drawers and, finding nothing, went into the kitchen to help Starsky. "Find anything?" he asked.

"Yeah. This woman has the worst diet I've ever seen," Starsky said. To Rose he added, "Don't you eat anything but Perrier and yogurt?"

"I have to watch my figure," Rose said. "You should see the skimpy costumes we have to wear at work."

Starsky grunted as he inspected the yogurt cartons, one by one. Hutch looked on the counter, but there was nothing on it but a bowl of lettuce and a cutting board with a tomato on it, which Rose had apparently been slicing up for a salad when they'd arrived. He hunkered down to look under the sink.

He saw what one would expect under a kitchen sink: dishwashing liquid, laundry detergent, plastic gloves, sponges, an empty plastic pail, shampoo, but he still looked carefully at each container in turn. He started to close the door--then stopped. The box of laundry detergent was unopened, but it hit him it was large enough to hide something inside.

He brought out the box. It was heavy, he realized. Too heavy to have just detergent in it.

"Starsk," he said.

Starsky quickly moved over to him. "Better get the uniforms in here," Hutch said. "The more witnesses the better."

Starsky went to the bedroom and called to the two men, who came out immediately.

Rose was pale, standing still as a statue as she stared at the box of Tide. "Want to talk to us?" Hutch asked her.

She didn't answer. She didn't even give any indication she'd heard.

Lifting the box, Hutch saw the bottom had been doctored--opened and then carefully taped shut with clear plastic tape. He held the box of detergent over the sink and carefully peeled off the tape, opening the box from the bottom.

Laundry soap inside. A poke of Hutch's finger, however, revealed something solid amid the white flakes. He dumped the soap flakes out into the sink.

Along with the soap flakes, two shoes fell out--white Nikes, maybe about a size six. Nice ones, Hutch noted. They looked new. Well, Rose had said she jogged.

Carefully, he pulled them out from the mound of laundry detergent. They weren't completely white, he noted. One of them was splattered with a brown substance.

He looked up at Rose. She looked a little sick.

"Kind of an odd place to hide shoes, huh, Rose?" he said.

"It's none of your damned business what I do with my shoes," Rose said, her voice quavering despite her defiance.

"It's our business when you kill someone and then try and hide the evidence," Starsky said. "So what happened, huh, Rose? You threw your bloody clothes out after you killed the old lady, but you just couldn't bear to throw out those expensive jogging shoes?"

"No!"

Starsky gestured to one of the uniforms, who handed over two evidence bags. Starsky put one shoe in each bag. Rose watched this, looking even sicker. Finally she blurted out, "I was having my period. That's what happened. I was having my period and wrecked my shoes."

"And you thought maybe if you put them in a box of laundry detergent that would clean them up good, right?" Hutch said.

Rose's lips tightened, and Hutch wondered why he'd ever thought she was pretty.

"Don't worry," Starsky said placatingly. "Our police lab will be able to tell pretty fast what kind of blood it is. And after we type it, if we find out it's Mrs. Magoch's, it's gonna be a little hard for you to explain how it got there if you didn't murder her." He nodded to the two uniforms, who then left.

"Why don't we just wait here and see what happens?" Hutch suggested. "They'll call us when they have the blood typed. Meanwhile, why don't you have your salad? It might be the last good meal you have for a long, long time. Believe me, prison food is not gourmet."

"You don't understand," Rose said.

"You probably shouldn't say anything more. Besides, we know why you did it," Starsky said. "That nice little old lady next door railroaded your father, when she knew all along he was innocent. She even put your mother in an early grave, didn't she, by sending your dad to the gas chamber?"

"No! It wasn't like that," Rose cried. "My mother thought he was guilty. She always thought he was guilty. And so did I. I always thought he'd done it--kidnapped and killed that little boy."

Hutch stood there hardly breathing, and he knew Starsky, next to him, was hardly breathing either.

Words were tumbling out. "And I'm not talking about just his confession, either. My mother told me that one day, before my father was caught, she was searching in the garage for some old rags and found the ransom money in a big wooden box. My father hadn't spent any of the money; he was waiting for the heat to die down. It was all there, every cent. My mother never told him, never told anybody but me later, but she knew long before he was arrested that he was the Magoch kidnapper."

Hutch wondered if he would have to coax the redheaded woman to continue, but Rose didn't seem to need any coaxing. Words were tumbling out even faster.

"I always thought he was guilty, too. You don't understand. You don't know how it was, growing up knowing you had bad blood, knowing your father was one of the worst fiends of the twentieth century. My mother changed our name to Garland after the trial. She picked Garland because my father was a gardener; that way, she could still kind of keep his name. We moved to Maine, the farthest we could get from California and still be in the United States, but the guilt was still there. Always there. I couldn't get close to anyone for fear of their...finding out who I really was. And my mother...I think it ruined her life, too. She felt responsible for the Magoch baby's death, since she'd always nagged my father to earn more money, especially after she got pregnant. She thought it was her fault he'd kidnapped the baby."

Rose let out a breath. "And then...when she died...I inherited the money from her. Money that damned magazine had paid my father, a hundred thousand dollars, for his confession. My mother had never touched it. She'd invested it for me, and by the time she died, it was...quite a bit, due to compound interest. So I used it to come back to California and look up Mrs. Magoch. I knew Larry Magoch had died shortly after my father did, but I'd heard Lila Magoch was still alive. And I finally tracked her here."

"To kill her?" Hutch asked softly.

She stared at him. "No! No, I just wanted to...to get to know her. Be her friend." Her voice was pleading. "I wanted to make amends somehow, even though I didn't dare tell her who I was. All the guilt I'd grown up with...I just felt as if I owed her something after what my father had done, killing her only child...even if all I could do was be her friend. You know what I mean?"

"Yeah," Starsky said. "I know."

She leaned against the kitchen counter, as if indescribably weary.

"I found out she was living here, so I bought this apartment--paid more than it was worth to the guy who owned it before me, so he'd move. And I moved in," she said, almost as if talking to herself. "I tried to get close to her, went jogging with her, asked her over to watch TV. We even went shopping together at Robinson's a few times, but...I don't think she really wanted to be my friend. She didn't really want a woman friend, period; she was the type of woman who only liked the company of men, even at her age."

She sighed, a deep breath that made her chest rise and fall. Hutch couldn't help thinking, as he watched those small but attractive breasts lift and then sink in the pink leotard she was wearing, what a waste it all was.

"And then...that night...I came home and heard her talking with...with that man." Her voice quavered. "I couldn't...I just couldn't believe it. He said that he was her child--the Magoch baby. That Al Henuber had never killed anyone, that he had just written that confession for the money. And this guy sounded really convincing--the things he said about the case--saying how it was obvious, if you looked at the facts, that my father hadn't been guilty of anything more than extortion. And Mrs. Magoch didn't deny what he was saying. She didn't argue with him. Just told him to leave when he said he wanted her to help him find out the truth of the case. He wanted to compare his fingerprints with the Magoch baby's and prove my father's innocence, but she wouldn't let him.

"I tried to get back to my room in time, but I didn't. They both saw me standing there in the hall, and I pretended I was just coming in, that I hadn't heard anything. And I went into my apartment and I didn't hear anything more. But I couldn't help thinking...wondering if maybe he was right. If maybe my father was innocent."

"So the next morning, you went to Lila's to ask her what had really happened in 1956," Hutch said.

"Well, wouldn't you?" Rose demanded. "If you'd lived your whole life thinking you were the daughter of a baby killer, wouldn't you want to know the truth? To have that taint removed once and for all, not just for you but for your father's memory, too?

"But she wouldn't talk to me. Oh, she invited me in, but she was busy straightening up that damned room she'd devoted to her husband's crap. She said she was having company soon, two stupid asshole fans she'd just met who were coming by to see her husband's stuff, and she wanted the room to look nice. I don't know if she even heard me when I tried to talk to her about what I'd overheard the night before. Finally, she just looked at me kind of blankly and said she didn't want to talk about it. Just blowing me off! So I told her."

Rose was shivering now, as if cold, and her face was white as a ghost's. Hutch wondered if she was going into shock, and thought for a brief moment of telling her to sit down. But he didn't want to risk stopping the flow of words.

"I told her...whose daughter I was," she whispered. "And said that I thought I had a right to know the truth. And she...she looked at me with this sick expression...and I knew. I don't know how I knew, but I knew. My father was innocent and she knew he was innocent.

"I demanded to know what had happened, and she...she told me." Still whispering. "She told me everything. She said she and her husband never meant to hurt anyone, but they'd invented a phony kidnapping in order to put their child up for adoption, because the public would never accept Larry Magoch giving up his own child. They'd never dreamed somebody would actually send another ransom note, but when my father did, what could they do? I said, 'Why didn't you say anything at the time? Why didn't you go to the police and tell them the truth after they arrested my father?' She looked at me as if I were mad and said, 'I couldn't do that. It would have ruined my husband's career if people found out what we'd done.' Like his fucking career was more important than a man's life! And then she said, 'And, after all, he did try to rob us.'

"That's when I lost it." Her voice was almost gone now. "Here this bitch, this cunt, had done this, inventing the kidnapping, lying to everyone, then letting my father take the rap, when she knew all along her baby was still alive--and yet she was sitting in judgment on him! She and her husband lived in this beautiful house, had a swimming pool and beautiful clothes and vacations in Europe, but my father had to work fourteen-hour days getting heatstroke from the sun just to keep food on the table. And she was condemning him for stealing! After she had killed my father, just the same as if she'd shot him, before I could even get to know him."

Her voice was shaking, although she wasn't crying. She reached up and pushed back some errant strands of her tousled red hair, then her hands dropped.

"I don't remember grabbing that statue and hitting her," she said huskily. "I know I did, because I remember standing over her and feeling blood on my face, all hot and sticky, and looking down at her battered face and feeling like I wanted to puke. It was bad, worse than anything I could have ever imagined. It's funny, but as much as I hated her, as much as I still hate her, if I could undo what...what happened, I would in a heartbeat. I would even give my life if I could undo it. It was that awful. In the movies when a guy kills someone, he just blows it off. The next minute, he's making jokes with his sidekick or making love to his girlfriend and not even thinking about it anymore, but real life isn't like that. I still feel like puking, just thinking about it."

"I know," Hutch said quietly.

She didn't seem to hear him. "I didn't know what the hell to do. I knew her assistant didn't come in until afternoon, but he could still come by early, he sometimes did. I wiped that award thing off, in case my fingerprints were on it, and wiped the doorknob, too. Then I went back to my apartment, put my blood-splattered clothes in a garbage bag, and took a shower. I really had to scrub my fingernails; they had lots of blood under them. Then I went out and drove around, and finally, down on Sequoia, I found a dumpster and threw the garbage bag in. It wasn't until after I got home that I saw one of my shoes had blood on it. I was so out of it I hadn't noticed before. The blood had dried by then, and I knew the body was going to be discovered any time, so I knew I didn't have time to clean it up, and I didn't know if I could get all the blood out, anyway. But I didn't want to throw the shoes out either, they were brand new and expensive. So I thought I would just hide them until I could figure out what to do. And then, when you came around asking questions, I thought maybe I'd just tell you about seeing that guy--maybe you'd go after him instead of me, and I'd be safe. Maybe--"

Her voice stopped. Didn't trail off. Just stopped.

Starsky, apparently realizing the young woman was out of words, said gently, "Ms. Garland, I'm gonna give you your rights, okay?" He might've been coaxing her off a ledge rather than getting ready to arrest her for murder.

She looked at him as if he had spoken Chinese. Starsky, apparently taking her silence as assent, began, still speaking in a gentle tone, "You have the right to remain silent. If you give up that right, anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to an attorney and to have an attorney present during questioning. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be prov--"

"No!" Rose cried suddenly.

Hutch blinked as, swift as lightning, Rose grabbed the knife on the cutting board and held it up to Starsky's neck. Right over the carotid artery.

Oh, shit. That was all Hutch could think. Oh, shit, oh, shit. He hadn't been expecting it. He'd been tense and ready for anything earlier, when they'd shown up with the warrant, when they'd talked to her about their suspicions, when they'd found the shoes. Even while she was confessing. But when she stopped talking he'd thought she was defeated, wiped out, done. Apparently not.

His hand itched for his gun, but he knew he couldn't draw it. She could slice Starsky's throat in less than a second and he'd be too late. He wondered, in the tumbling thoughts on the frantic gerbil wheel of his mind, how long it would take Starsky to die if she cut his carotid artery with that fucking knife. Not long, he realized. No, death would probably be instantaneous--or as instantaneous as death can ever get.

This was his nightmare coming true. Starsky dying and he couldn't do a thing about it. He was helpless.

Starsky didn't move an inch. His eyes, looking into Rose's, were somber but not pleading.

"Rose, Rose." He spoke softly, like a lover. "You don't really want to do this. C'mon. You'll just make things harder for yourself."

Hutch wanted to talk, too. Use reason on her, say there was no way she could get away with murdering his partner. But he couldn't speak. His throat muscles felt paralyzed. Just like his body. Frozen.

"I have to do it," Rose said. Pleadingly. "I'm not going to prison. I'm not going to bring more shame on my father's name."

Finally, Hutch heard himself speak. Incredible, but true.

"You're the only one who can clear your father's name, Rose," he said.

Rose glanced at him. That was all it was, just a glance, but it was enough to tell Hutch she was listening, at least. He pursued his advantage, talking--like Starsky had--quietly and gently, as if to a skittish horse.

"Only a few people know the truth, Rose. That guy you heard with Mrs. Magoch, he doesn't really know the truth, just suspects it. Mrs. Magoch is dead, so she can't tell anyone. The public at large still thinks your father kidnapped and killed a two-year-old baby, that your father was a monster. And how are they ever going to learn the truth if we don't tell them?"

Rose was looking at him now--her eyes right on his. No longer looking at Starsky. But the knife was still over Starsky's throat; Hutch could see the little dent on Starsky's flesh that showed she was pressing it hard against his skin. Hutch wondered if Starsky could risk trying to knock the knife out of her hand. But, no--by the tense posture of her body, he knew the second she felt him move she would cut that life-giving artery with one fatal jerk of her hand.

"You know he wasn't guilty?" she whispered.

"Yes, we do," Hutch said. Easy, easy, he told himself. "My partner and I know how the Magoches set up the kidnapping, wrote the phony ransom note, arranged to have their child adopted. We know your father never kidnapped or killed anyone, that an ambitious DA railroaded him. We even found out he had an alibi for the night the baby was supposedly taken. But if you don't put that knife down, my partner and I will never say anything. No one will hear the truth, and your father will go down in history as a child killer. All the true crime books, all the history books will say the same thing--'Al Henuber, convicted kidnapper and murderer of the Magoch baby'."

"No..." Rose whispered. For a few seconds she didn't move, and Hutch wondered, his heart hammering loudly in his ears, if she could even comprehend what he was saying.

Then, oh, God, miracle of miracles, her hand--the one holding the knife--dropped. Dropped as if she had suddenly lost all strength in her arm. Starsky, quick as a magician's trick, grabbed the blade out of her hand.

Hutch sagged against the kitchen counter. He, too, felt as if all strength had left his body.

"You'll tell them?" Rose asked Hutch, her voice small and pitiful. It reminded Hutch--without his quite knowing why--of the sad meow of a lost kitten. "You'll tell everyone the truth now?"

Hutch couldn't speak. He couldn't say anything to the woman who had just tried to kill his partner. It was Starsky who finally answered.

"Yeah, Rose," he said, his voice quiet but full of conviction, even as he pulled out his cuffs. "We'll tell them. At your trial."

**********

Starsky was whistling as he and Hutch left the DA's office, obviously in a good mood. The assistant DA had told them they had a good case against Rose Garland, especially since the blood on her shoe matched Lila Magoch's. Even if her lawyer agreed to a plea bargain, the assistant DA told them, Al Henuber's daughter would be in jail for a long, long time.

As he pulled the Torino out into traffic Starsky said cheerfully, "Well, all's well that ends well, huh?"

"Yeah. Right," Hutch said, staring out the window.

After a pause: "Stop it, Hutch."

"What?" Hutch, startled, looked at Starsky. "Stop what?"

"Stop feeling guilty about Rose pullin' a knife on me." Then, when Hutch said nothing more: "C'mon, babe, it wasn't your fault. Neither of us knew she was ready to snap."

"It's not that," Hutch said.

"It's not?"

"No. Well, it's partly that, but mostly it's...Starsky, I froze. Just like that time when we were shot at in the alley and I froze, didn't back you up...and you could've been killed. Because, just like then, I was so scared of losing you, I couldn't move." He looked out the window again. "Because of my fear I failed you. Failed you as a brother cop, failed you as a friend, and I sure as fuck failed you as a partner."

"You didn't fail me as anything," Starsky said gently. "Look, you big blond galoot, you're forgetting a minor detail here--you saved my life today. If you'd tried to grab her, she would've panicked and carved me up like a turkey. But you did just what you should've done, didn't try to rush her, didn't try to pull your gun, just talked to her quietly, pushin' all the right buttons to get her to see that killing me wasn't a smart thing to do."

"But that wasn't...I wasn't thinking, Starsky. Don't you get it? I was too fucking terrified to think."

"So what? That's what bein' a cop is all about, sometimes--acting on your instincts, flying by the seat of your pants. And you did great. Hey, I'm here, aren't I?"

"Yeah. You are," Hutch admitted. But he still remembered how helpless he'd felt. How he'd been able to see nothing but that silver knife blade poised over Starsky's vulnerable, defenseless throat--

"Hey," Starsky said, interrupting his thoughts. "Stop thinkin' about it, Hutch. Just stop thinkin' about it. It's over with. Hey," he added, reaching for Hutch's hand and giving it a hard, fast squeeze. "Your nightmares are just that--nightmares. Not real life. I told you before, you're not gonna lose me. Not ever."

"You can't promise me that. I mean, you can promise never to leave me...but you can't promise you'll outlive me."

"Hey, I figure neither of us is going to outlive the other, that we'll just go out together, like Butch and Sundance," Starsky said. "Or better yet, we'll both live to be a hundred and then one night just die quietly in our sleep--hopefully after havin' had some really good sex."

"At age one hundred?" Hutch said, smiling a little now. Starsky could always make him smile.

"Sure, why not? That'll be well into the next century; who knows what medical advances they'll have then? Maybe a hundred then will be like fifty is now. Look at Joan Collins on that show Dynasty. She's fifty years old and she's a sex symbol. In Lila Magoch's time, a woman was washed up by the time she was thirty."

"Well, I can see you still going at it at a hundred, anyway," Hutch said. "You always were a sex fiend."

"That's why you love me."

"You got it."

Starsky turned into the Metro parking garage.

**********

Isak Wolf was waiting for them in the squadroom--empty now, since it was late afternoon on Christmas Eve.

"Is it true?" Isak asked, not bothering with amenities. "Al Henuber's daughter killed my mother? Smigiel just called me and said one of his golf buddies at the DA's office told him that."

Hutch was amused. On the last day of her life, Lila had said that lawyers were the biggest gossips, and he guessed this proved it. "Yes, it's true," he said. "She confessed--to us--and she'll probably confess again to the DA, after her lawyer arranges a plea bargain. And she'll pay for what she did--not as much as she should pay, but she'll pay."

Isak shook his head. "Unreal," he murmured. "Rose killed Lila. I knew her, you know. I mean, not well, but we'd talk sometimes, and I made bread and cookies for her a lot. Lila and I were always trying to get her to eat more. She always seemed like a nice girl."

"Sometimes, nice people commit murder," Starsky said. "Amazing as that is to think about."

"Yeah, maybe." Isak sighed. "You know, this reminds me of something my grandmother--my adoptive grandmother--once said to me: 'Chickens always come home to roost.' I'm not saying Lila deserved to die, she didn't, but in a way, I can kind of see why Rose did it. By trying to protect her husband, Lila killed Rose's father. She didn't mean to, but she did. And now, all these years later, her chickens came home to roost."

"Yeah," Hutch said. "I can see why she did it, too. But I still don't feel very sorry for her." He could never forget how Rose had almost killed his partner.

"I don't either. I wish I could, but I don't. Because of her, Lila and I both missed a chance to...to talk as mother and son. I wish she'd had a chance to tell me she was my mom, and I wish I'd had a chance to tell her I forgive her for giving me up. But at least we had our year together. I was really lucky to have that. You'll...keep me in the loop?" Isak asked. "I mean, if this goes to trial or if she plea bargains or whatever?"

"Sure," Starsky said. "Meanwhile, why don't you go home and try to have a merry Christmas, huh?"

"I'll try. Actually, I'm going to spend Christmas with my folks. They live up in Oxnard, but they're going to be in LA for the holidays, staying with friends of theirs in West Hollywood, and I'm going to join them. I don't know how much of this I'm going to tell them. I'll tell them everything eventually, but for now...I don't know."

"I'm sure you'll figure out the best way to handle it," Hutch said.

"Thanks," Isak said. "At least this has convinced me of one thing--I'm going to write that book about Larry Magoch. And Lila. The whole thing, from the beginning, including the fake kidnapping. I think the story needs to be told."

"That's terrific," Starsky said sincerely. "I'm sure you'll do a great job."

"You know," Hutch said, "she fought those books being written before because she was afraid of the truth coming out. But right before she died, she realized it was time for the truth to be told, after all. And I think she would want her son to be the one to tell it."

"I hope you're right," Isak said.

"Ah, he's always right," Starsky said with a grin. "Hey, send us an autographed copy when your book comes out, okay?"

"I will. Oh, I almost forgot. I brought you some eggnog." Isak handed Hutch, who was standing closer to him than Starsky, a paper bag. "No rum in it, so you don't have to arrest me for attempting to intoxicate a police officer." He smiled, and Hutch suddenly realized he really was a handsome kid. He didn't really resemble Larry Magoch, except for his voice, but he was easily as handsome as the cowboy star had been. Then Hutch realized something shocking--he was thinking of a guy in his twenties as a "kid."

"Thanks," Hutch said.

"You're welcome. Well, so long...and merry Christmas."

"Merry Christmas," Starsky said.

Isak left and Starsky took the bag from Hutch. He took the lid off the jar of eggnog and sniffed.

"Ah...smells like Christmas," he said as he put the lid back on. "We'll need to get some rum to put in it, though. Eggnog isn't eggnog without it." He put the bag down on the desk.

"You think the kid will be okay?" Hutch asked.

"Yeah, I think so," Starsky said. "Even with his fucked-up father." He sighed. "Really sucks, you know? Larry Magoch was a hero in every movie he ever made, but if he'd been a real hero, he would've just said to the world after his baby was born, 'Hey, I'm black, and so what?' He might've changed a lot of people's thinking doin' that. But he didn't, just to save his stupid career."

"It wasn't just his career," Hutch said. "It was also that he couldn't accept being black. He couldn't even keep his child because the baby reminded him of that part of himself that he couldn't face."

"Yeah," Starsky said. "When you come down to it, he really was a son-of-a-bitch." He sighed again. "Shit. Another one of my heroes bites the dust."

"You've still got me," Hutch said, half-teasing, half-serious.

Starsky smiled. "Yeah, that's true," he said, lowering his voice to that sexy tone Hutch loved. "Thanks for reminding me."

"Anytime."

**********

They had a delicious Christmas Eve dinner of popcorn and eggnog, watching A Charlie Brown Christmas on TV and then opening all their packages from everyone at the station. Arturo had given them a plant, and Lizzie a butterfly sun catcher to hang in a window. And Captain Dobey had given them ties--a yellow and brown one for Hutch, and a red and blue one for Starsky. "Edith probably picked 'em out," Starsky said. "But where are we gonna wear 'em?"

"I guess we'll have to go to one of those restaurants where you have to wear ties," Hutch teased.

"Yeah. Hey, I wonder how everybody'll like our presents."

"I guess we'll find out on Monday," Hutch said. "Hopefully they'll like our gifts as much as we liked theirs."

Funny, he thought then, how they no longer used the words "me" and "my" anymore, but almost always "we" and "our." He wondered when that had happened.

Years ago, probably.

**********

At bedtime, Hutch walked upstairs and found Starsky already in bed waiting for him. When he climbed in, Starsky pulled him into his arms and kissed him, and Hutch kissed back, tasting cinnamon toothpaste and essence of Starsky.

"Jeez, listen to the rain," Starsky whispered. "It's really comin' down. I'm glad we don't have to go anywhere tomorrow."

"Starsky...you're lying in bed here with me."

"So?"

"So, can we skip the weather report?"

Starsky grinned. "You don't think the weather's romantic? I think the sound of rain falling on our roof is kinda sexy."

"Yeah. As long as the roof doesn't leak."

Starsky ignored that. "Hey, Hutch?"

"Hmm?"

"Let's celebrate Christmas Eve by doin' something we've never done before. I mean, in bed. You want to?"

"Starsk, I don't think there's anything we've never done before--oh, wait, yes, there is. We could go to sleep without making love. You want to do that?"

"No, I don't, smartass. C'mon, there must be something we haven't done. Let's try and think of it."

Hutch tried, but he couldn't. They'd tried bondage, they'd tried sex toys, they'd done every position in The Joy of Gay Sex at least once.

"I know," Starsky said. "We could pretend we're Butch and Sundance."

Hutch snorted. "Come on, Starsk. You really think Butch and Sundance got it on? Those two macho guys?"

"Hey, we're pretty macho, too, y'know. And c'mon, they were all alone after Etta left them, in a foreign country where they didn't even speak the language--what else could they do?"

Hutch decided, once again, that arguing with Starsky was a futile endeavor. "Well, whether they did or didn't, I don't feel like pretending to be Butch and Sundance."

"Okay," Starsky said agreeably. "How about Kirk and Spock?"

"Kirk and Spock?" Hutch pulled back to stare at his partner in the semi-dark. "That is really sick, Starsky."

"Ah, c'mon, Hutch. They were best friends, working together in space, no wives or girlfriends--it'd make sense they'd get together, wouldn't it? You have to admit they loved each other. Besides, there was pon farr."

"Pon what?"

"Pon farr, dummy. That's when a Vulcan male goes into heat and has to have sex or he'll die. Jeez, Hutch, didn't you ever watch the show? It's only on about twenty times a day."

"I've seen it, Starsk. I just don't recall ever seeing Kirk and Spock in a clinch, that's all. Sorry."

"You have no imagination. Pretty sad. Okay, no Kirk and Spock. Who d'you wanna be? And don't say anybody stupid, either, like Gilligan and the Skipper."

Hutch sighed, reluctantly coming to the conclusion that if he was going to get laid tonight, he was going to have to go along with what Starsky wanted. Again.

"Okay, okay, we can be Kirk and Spock," he capitulated. "But who's who?"

"Since I picked the couple, you can pick which one you want to be," Starsky said generously. "I guess you'll want Kirk, though, since you told me once you dreamed of bein' a captain back when you were a Sea Scout, right?"

Shit, Starsky remembered everything. "The captain of a ship is a little different from the captain of a starship, Starsk. No, I think I'd rather be Spock--when he's in pon farr." He felt as if he were in something a lot like pon farr at that moment.

"Okay. Spock in pon farr. That's good," Starsky said approvingly. "That'll be really fun."

"Yeah, a blast," Hutch said. "But just remember, Starsky, my life is in your hands."

"You're safe with me, ya big blond Vulcan beauty. Okay, I'll get up and go out, and come back in--"

"What? Why do you have to do that?" Hutch was eager to get with the program.

"So we can both get into our characters, of course," Starsky said reasonably. "Now shut up while I go out and come back in."

He got out of bed and walked into the bathroom, and Hutch stared up at the ceiling, counting to ten. He loved Starsky, but there were times when he drove him nuts. He had to admit, though, Starsky was never boring. He really had to admit that.

Starsky came back into the bedroom, wearing a bathrobe. He sat down on the bed with a worried frown. "Spock, are you all right? You looked a little sick on the bridge earlier."

Oh, shit, Hutch thought. How the hell was he supposed to do this? Well, he could pretend he was undercover, he guessed. Yeah, right. An undercover Vulcan. "I seem to be experiencing some discomfort in my nether regions, Captain," he said.

Starsky just looked at him. Well, too bad if he didn't like Hutch's dialogue--all this shit had been his idea. "What kind of discomfort?" he said.

"I believe I am in pon farr--the Vulcan time when I must mate or die. I advise you to leave, Captain, before I lose control completely and attack you." Shit, he felt like a horse's ass.

"Spock, I'm not going to leave you when you're suffering. Is there anything I can do?"

Yeah, Hutch thought, you can shut up and fuck me. But somehow he stopped himself from saying the words aloud. "Lock me away," he heard himself say. "Lock me away where I cannot harm anyone. I am not to be trusted when I am in this condition."

"But if I lock you away, you'll die. I can't do that to you, Spock."

Staring up into Starsky's beautiful blue eyes, Hutch abruptly found himself unable to wait any longer. He reached up, grabbed his partner, and kissed him hard. Then he yanked him down on the bed and climbed on top of him, kissing him again, pushing off his robe.

Starsky wanted to resist. Hutch could tell he was trying to put up at least a token resistance, the way Kirk (maybe) would have if his best friend suddenly attacked him. But he couldn't. He was as excited as Hutch.

"You're mine, Captain Kirk," Hutch gloated. "All mine. Your beautiful human butt is mine."

"Dammit, Hutch! Stop talkin' and fuck me!"

So much for Kirk and Spock, Hutch thought, amused even in his excitement. He grabbed the lube and somehow managed to oil up, then pushed Starsky onto his belly and shoved his hard dick deep inside him.

"Ahhh..." Starsky whispered, half-gasp, half-moan. "Huuutchhhh...."

Hutch pushed harder, fast moving beyond words, beyond thought as he shoved deeper, deeper inside his lover, lost inside him, possessing him now and for all time.

"Mine," he mumbled. "Mine...."

It seemed like only seconds before his orgasm came, shaking him to the core. He cried out, hearing his voice as if from a distance, vaguely aware of Starsky crying out his completion, too, as if in counterpoint. Then he came to, panting against Starsky's back, gasping for breath like a man who'd almost drowned.

Shit. Had he passed out?

He trembled a little. Starsky, under him, trembled a little, too.

"Hutch," he whispered, reaching a shaky hand around, rubbing Hutch's butt. "God, that was...incredible. You did me fantastic, babe."

Hutch closed his eyes, letting the beauty of that voice wash over him. Babe. He loved that word. Starsky had called him that sometimes even before they were lovers. When he'd found Hutch after he'd been whacked out on Ben Forest's H and had just thrown up all over him. When he'd been sick as a dog from that damned plague. After Gillian had died, when they'd gotten drunk together and Starsky had put him to bed, thinking Hutch had already passed out and couldn't hear him. Babe....

"I love you," he heard himself whisper.

"I love you, too," Starsky said huskily.

A few more seconds passed before Hutch, reluctantly, pulled out, breaking their joining. Starsky gasped a little--he'd said once he'd never really liked that feeling--then lay there quietly while Hutch reached for the washcloth by the bed and cleaned them both up.

Then, for some reason, Hutch looked at the time. He smiled. "Merry Christmas, Starsky," he said.

Starsky snorted. "Merry Christmas, Hutch," he returned, giving him a hug.

Hutch closed his eyes. He didn't really feel sleepy--he felt too good to sleep--but he must have fallen asleep, because he woke up in the morning.

**********

"Hutch? Hutch? You awake?"

"Mmmmffff," Hutch mumbled. He was unpleasantly aware of cold air on his face, also the sound of pounding rain rattling their bedroom windows. But he still didn't want to wake up.

"Babe, c'mon. There's somethin' wrong. The furnace isn't on." Starsky was standing by their bed.

Feeling disgruntled, Hutch opened his eyes. "Maybe it's not cold enough for the furnace to kick on, Starsk," he said, in what he thought was a patient, agreeable tone, considering he'd just been awakened out of a sound sleep--again.

"The hell it's not. It's like fifty in here."

Hutch felt alarm banish his irritation. "Shit," he said. Okay, this was Southern California, so they wouldn't freeze to death even if their furnace was on the blink, but the nights still got cold enough in the winter to require artificial heat. And having a furnace on the blink sounded like a major financial expense--something neither of them could afford right now.

He climbed out of bed and yanked on his bathrobe. Starsky, he noticed, had put on his red long johns and was now tugging on his bathrobe over them. Despite his worry over the furnace, Hutch found himself enjoying the view. Starsky did look so good in his red long johns.

"Maybe it's a fuse," Starsky said, apparently not noticing his partner's lascivious gaze. "Where's the fuse box?"

"You're asking me?" Hutch countered. "How the hell should I know?"

Starsky stared at him. "What d'you mean, you don't know? What kind of homeowner doesn't even know where his own fuse box is?"

"Hell, Starsk, I don't even know if we have a fuse box. And why the hell should I know where it is? This is the first house I've ever owned, remember?"

"Yeah, but you have a college degree." As always, Starsky managed to make the most ridiculous arguments and have them sound almost logical.

"Well, I never took Fuse Box 101. C'mon, let's go look at the furnace."

They went downstairs to look at the furnace, which, predictably, was not running.

"Thermostat's on sixty-five," Starsky said helpfully. "But the temperature is fifty-four."

"Meaning the furnace is busted," Hutch said.

"Brilliant deduction, Blondie. What next? The theory of relativity?"

"No, I thought I'd invent instant beer next. You have any suggestions?"

"I dunno. Who do you call when your furnace is busted?"

"Beats me. The furnace repair people?"

Starsky gave him a look that made Hutch suspect his partner was seriously reconsidering his heretofore exalted view of Hutch's intelligence. "Thanks a lot, Blondie. Should we look in the yellow pages under 'F'?"

"That wouldn't do much good today. I suspect even the furnace repair people aren't making calls on Christmas."

Starsky sighed. "Yeah, probably not. Well, let's worry about it tomorrow. Right now, I could use some hot coffee."

They walked into the kitchen. Hutch measured out some grounds into the Mr. Coffee and flicked the switch to start the coffee percolating.

"Starsk, I have some good news."

"Yeah? What is it?" Starsky was cutting some of Lila's homemade bread for toast.

"The furnace isn't broken."

Starsky shot him a look. "What? How d'you know that?"

"Because the power is out."

Starsky didn't react for a second or two. Then he reached up and flicked on the light switch. Nothing happened.

"Shit," he muttered. "Must be the storm did it, huh?" He opened the refrigerator door, but no light went on.

"Starsk, dammit, close the fridge. The food will spoil if we open it. If you leave it closed, the food should be okay for at least today, anyway."

Starsky obediently shut the door, then his eyes widened. "Food! Oh, my God, Hutch! Our Christmas dinner!" he cried. "Our Cornish game hen! And pumpkin pie! We were gonna cook both of 'em this morning, and now we can't. We won't be able to have any dinner with the power out."

Hutch also felt a rush of disappointment. He'd been really looking forward to a delicious Christmas dinner, and now, unless the power came back on in the next few hours, it was ruined. "Fuck," he said.

"Yeah. Fuck. That's a good summation of the situation, Hutch."

Hutch went to the phone.

"Who're you callin'?" Starsky wanted to know.

"Dispatch. They might have some news on when the electricity is coming back on, or how widespread it is." He finished dialing.

"Police dispatch."

"Hi, Mildred, it's Ken Hutchinson. We woke up this morning without any power."

"You and about ten thousand other people in the city."

"Shit."

"Yeah, no kidding. Apparently, the storm brought down some power lines. Lights should be back on sometime today, though, according to Southern California Edison."

"Any problems? Do you think we need to come in?"

"Not as far as I've heard. Things are pretty quiet here, actually."

"Okay, thanks." Hutch hung up. "Good news--the power should be back on sometime today," he told Starsky. "And it looks like we won't have to go to work, either."

Starsky grunted. "Yeah, great. We don't have to go to work, but we can't have Christmas dinner. We can't watch White Christmas and Scrooge on TV. We can't play Christmas music on the stereo, or look at the lights on the Christmas tree. We couldn't even buy each other presents! What kind of Christmas is this, anyway?"

"Guess we're jinxed," Hutch said. "Hey, why don't I go light a fire in the fireplace? At least then we won't freeze to death. While I'm doing that, why don't you rustle us up some breakfast?"

"With no oven or stove? Shit, we can't even use the toaster."

"Be creative," Hutch said.

He walked into the living room and put a Duralog in the fireplace. After making sure the damper was open, he crumpled up some newspapers and laid them on top, then lit a match. The newspaper burst into bright flames, and a few seconds later, the log began to burn. The warmth felt good.

After closing the screen, he went to the couch and pushed it closer to the fire. Then he went upstairs and brought down two blankets from their bed. On impulse, he also brought down their battery-powered radio--one they kept on hand in case of an earthquake--and set it up on the coffee table. They couldn't play records, but at least they could listen to the radio. He moved the dial around until he found some Christmas music.

Starsky walked into the living room with a tray. "Breakfast comin' up," he said.

"Looks delicious," Hutch said, with only a trace of sarcasm.

"Hey, it's a masterpiece of culinary expertise, considering our situation," Starsky said, setting the tray down on the coffee table. "Behold, a meal fit for a king." He indicated each object on the tray in turn. "Coke--I figured that's almost as good as coffee, since it's got sugar and caffeine in it. Lila's whole wheat bread with strawberry jam, and peanut butter for protein. Annette Funicello says peanut butter has more protein than tuna fish, right? And, for dessert, vanilla Hagendaas ice cream. I figure we might as well eat it before it melts."

"Good thinking, Starsk. And great meal planning, too. You've got all the basic food groups--dairy, protein, fruit, grains, and caffeine." Hutch uncapped his Coke and took a swig. Okay, Coke was probably the most horrible thing you could put in your body, nutritionally speaking, but he needed his caffeine, Christmas or not.

"Wish we could light up the tree," Starsky said wistfully. "Hey, I've got an idea." He went back into the kitchen and came back within a minute with some candles. He lit each one, then set them around their Christmas tree in a half-circle. Then he stood back to survey the effect.

"Hey, Starsk, that looks great. You're a genius."

"Yeah, I know," Starsky said, as he sat back down on the couch next to his partner and pulled the blankets over them both. Hutch leaned against Starsky, enjoying his warmth as well as his presence.

They ate the ice cream first since it was already melting, not bothering with bowls, eating out of the carton with two spoons. Then they started on the peanut butter, eating that out of its container, too, washing it down with cold Coke. All the while enjoying the flickering candlelight, the snap of the log in the fireplace, and the tinny sound of Christmas carols from their battery-operated radio.

This, this is Christ the King,
Whom shepherds guard and angels sing.
Haste, haste to bring him laud,
The babe, the son of Mary.

"The fire feels good," Starsky said.

"Yeah, it does." Hutch reached up and stroked Starsky's hair. Looking at it, he noticed not a trace of gray in the dark, curly strands. Somehow that made him happy.

Noel, noel, noel, noel,
Born is the king of Israel....

Hutch spread some jam on a slice of Lila's whole wheat bread, then held it out to Starsky, who ate it, licking his fingers.

Said the king to the people everywhere:
Listen to what I say!
Pray for peace, people everywhere.
Listen to what I say!
A child, a child, sleeping in the night,
He will bring us goodness and light....

"Starsky?"

"Yeah?"

"I was just thinking, even though we can't exchange presents that cost anything, due to our current financial state, we could exchange presents of another kind."

"You mean like me doin' the laundry when it's your turn? What you said before?"

"No. Like you said, we do stuff like that for each other anyway. But how about something like this--each of us asks the other for something he'd like him to do for him, I mean something that doesn't cost anything."

"Like what?"

Hutch shrugged. "Like...like when we were first partnered and you complained about my smoking, said it bothered you when we were on stake-outs together. So I quit."

"Oh, yeah, that. Worst mistake I ever made," Starsky joked. "That's what got you into health food."

"Or like when you stopped wearing that stupid knit hat because I made so many comments about it."

"Hey! My mother gave me that hat."

"Yeah, I know. But your mother doesn't have to look at you all day and I do."

"Okay," Starsky said after a moment. "So what you're sayin' is, you do something for me and I do something for you. Right?"

"Right. And that could be our gifts to each other."

"Great," Starsky said, and grinned. "Except I can't think of anything I'd want you to do for me, Hutch. I mean, now that you stopped smoking, you're perfect."

"Well, maybe you can think of something if you put your mind to it," Hutch teased.

"Yeah, maybe. Okay, you go first while I'm thinking. What d'you want me to do?"

Hutch hesitated. He wasn't pretending he didn't have anything in mind, because he did. He just wasn't sure how to ask. And Starsky, looking at him gravely, seemed to read his mind.

"Go ahead, Hutch. Ask me."

"You look like you know what I'm going to say," Hutch said.

"Yeah, I do." Starsky sounded resigned. "And it's okay. I mean, I'm willing to try it. If you'll help me. Just don't laugh if I puke, okay?"

"What the hell are you talking about?"

"You're gonna ask me to go vegetarian, aren't you? Give up pizza and chili and eat grass for the rest of my life." Starsky sounded as if he were talking about the worst tragedy imaginable. "But, hell, if it means that much to you, I'm willing to try."

Hutch was touched. In fact, for a second or two, he felt a lump in his throat. "Ah, Starsk," he said softly. "That's so...that's so great of you, you know? But no, I'm not going to ask that. I mean, becoming a vegetarian is a decision an individual has to make for himself. I can't force you into it."

"No?" Starsky looked visibly relieved. "Okay, what is it, then? And don't tell me you're not thinking of something. I know the wheels are turnin' in that big blond brain of yours."

Hutch tried to smile. "I was just going to ask...if...if you would try to take a little better care of yourself," he said.

"What?"

"Well, you know we're going to both turn forty next year. Okay, that's not old these days, but we're not kids anymore, either. And I'd really like it if you'd...you know...try to develop a few more healthy habits. Maybe have some healthy meals with me once in a while, cut down on the visits to Taco Bell and McDonalds, cut down on the junk food and start eating more fruit and vegetables. And...and maybe you could start going jogging with me. We used to jog together at least two or three times a week, but we kind of got out of the habit. I'd like it if we could do it again. If, you know, you would," he added self-consciously.

"Hey, Hutch." Starsky squeezed his thigh. "That sounds great. And, yeah, I'd like to do that, too. Go jogging with you again. And I'll try to eat better. Maybe not a lot. I mean, if there's nothin' around to eat but a corn dog, I'll eat the corn dog. But I'll give it a shot."

"Yeah? Really? You will?"

"Yeah, you dumb galoot, I really will." Starsky smiled. "How's that? You like your present?"

"I love it," Hutch said honestly. "It's the best present you could give me."

"Great. Anyway...it's my turn now, right? For you to give me my present."

"Yeah," Hutch said. He had a sinking feeling he knew what Starsky was going to ask for--that Hutch give up his beloved car and buy some horrible piece of "sculpture" from Merle the Earl. But hell, if it meant that much to Starsky, he'd do it or break his neck trying. "Go ahead," he said, inwardly bracing himself. "What do you want me to do?"

"I want you to marry me."

Hutch found himself staring at him. "What? What do you mean?"

"I want us to be married." Starsky was serious.

"Starsky, we've been living together for a year now. We sleep together every night, we work together every day. How much more committed can we be?"

"I know. But I'm talking about something more than that." Starsky's eyes were still holding his. "You keep thinking you're gonna lose me, that one day I'm gonna disappear--or die. And I told you that I'm scared, sometimes, of losin' you, too. But I was thinking if we were married, maybe both of us would feel a little more like we'd never lose each other. Like we'd be together forever."

"We are going to be together forever."

"I know," Starsky said impatiently, as if that should be obvious. "But, I mean, maybe if we got married, we would really feel it. Both of us."

"You mean...you're talking about us actually getting married? Like going to Canada?" Hutch was incredulous, but he had to admit, a little intrigued as well. "Or go to Van Nuys to that gay Episcopal priest that I hear performs weddings for anyone who asks him, even if they're the same sex?"

"No, no, that's not necessary," Starsky said. "I don't think we need other people to say the words, or for friends and family to witness it, or have a cake or anything. We can just say the words to each other and be just as married."

"Like a private ceremony," Hutch said.

"Yeah, basically." Starsky looked a little embarrassed now. "Does that sound stupid?"

"It doesn't sound stupid at all. Do you want to wear rings?"

"Well, I guess that wouldn't be very practical," Starsky said after a moment. "I mean, people would probably wonder why we were wearing 'em if we did. Maybe later, sometime, we can have rings--or something else, something to symbolize our commitment. But for right now, I think words would be enough. What d'you think?"

"Starsky, I'd be happy to commit myself to you any time, any place."

"How about right now?" Starsky asked.

"Yeah. Right now." Hutch smiled at him. "Who goes first?"

"How about alphabetical? 'H' comes before 'S'."

"Okay." He took Starsky's left hand in his right, lightly stroking the palm with a finger. "I, Ken Hutchinson, take thee, David Michael Starsky, to be my lawfully wedded partner, to love, honor, cherish, and protect him all the days of our lives, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, forsaking all others till death do us part."

Starsky gazed into his eyes for a long moment. Then he put a hand over Hutch's, holding Hutch's hand in both of his, and said, "I, David Michael Starsky, take Ken Hutchinson, the most gorgeous man who ever lived, to be my lawfully wedded partner, to love, honor, cherish, and protect him, in sickness and in health, for richer and for poorer, forsaking everybody else...forever and ever."

They gazed at each other in silence for a few seconds, Hutch thinking he would be perfectly content to look into Starsky's eyes for the rest of his life.

They moved their faces together and kissed. Not a passionate kiss. After a few more seconds, they broke apart.

"Now we're really married," Hutch said. "In every way."

"In every way," Starsky said. He looked somber, but his eyes, as they gazed into Hutch's, were full of love. Not just love. Adoration.

And Hutch realized there was nothing more that needed to be said. Not really. Like many people who had loved for a long time, they had, once again, gone past the need for words.

**********

Now it was Christmas night, and they were again curled up on the sofa in front of the fire, wrapped in their blankets, kissing once in a while. The power still hadn't come back on, but they figured it probably would sometime during the night.

"I guess we should go to bed," Starsky said, not sounding too thrilled at the idea of leaving their nice warm nest, their fire, and their candle-lit tree.

"Yeah. In a few minutes, okay?"

"Okay," Starsky said agreeably.

Hutch smiled against his partner. "You know, Starsk, in all honesty, I think I have to say this is the best Christmas I've ever had."

Starsky grinned. "Yeah, me, too. Why is that, Hutch? I mean, we couldn't give each other presents, we couldn't eat a real Christmas dinner, we couldn't watch Christmas movies... Logically, this should be the worst Christmas of all time."

Hutch gave him a squeeze. "Maybe it's just because, like you said, every year is better than the one before."

Starsky gave him a squeeze back. "Yeah," he said softly. "I think you're right."

**********

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