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.
"'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.
"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.
"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."
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?"
"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.
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