It was the sound she made. Just a quiet sob,
hardly audible over the surf, but so wounded that it sent him stumbling down toward the water’s edge with all the speed
his left leg would afford him. Starsky knew that sound well. He’d heard it from a young thief, as he stared at the blood
spreading across the front of his shirt, realizing that he’d been mortally injured by the person he had thought was
his best friend. He’d heard it from the wife of a cop as they stood on her doorstep trying to find some humane way to
tell her that her husband had been killed in the line of duty. And he’d uttered it himself, forgetting the bulletproof
vest, when his partner had taken a sniper’s bullet in the chest.
He couldn’t move fast enough. Her initial
shock had worn off and she was already in motion again, wading into the water, reaching for the limp form washed up against
the shore by the waves. He reached her just as she was bending down, and seizing her by the waist, he threw them both sideways
into deeper water, away from the corpse.
She struggled, and he abandoned his cane
to the waves, wrapping both arms around her from behind. He couldn’t find his footing; all he could do was hold on to
her. He tried say it was all right, even though it clearly wasn’t, but a wave hit him in the face. He spat out salt
water, and shook his head, blinking rapidly, trying to clear his vision.
“Let me go,” she choked. “She
can’t breathe under the water!”
Water and heat had already had some effect
on the body, causing it to swell within its clothing. The movement of the waves caused the arms and legs to swing gently,
creating the illusion of a sort of grotesque marionette. Though the torso itself floated, the head was submerged, the blackened
neck bent at an impossible angle, the long blonde hair repeatedly washing forward across the face only to be pulled back when
the water receded.
“You can’t help her,” gasped
Starsky. He tried to pull them both up onto their feet, but Becky wasn’t cooperating and he had no success. Another
wave hit him, and he started coughing.
Monster stopped barking and waded anxiously
into the water toward them. Starsky grabbed a handful of fur and skin on the dog’s back and, with one arm still wrapped
firmly around Becky, tried to push himself up onto his feet. Monster moved sideways, and he fell again, but into somewhat
shallower waters this time.
“I can’t leave her like that,”
protested Becky, frantically.
Starsky gave up the struggle to stand, and
grabbed her shoulders with both hands, forcing her to turn away from the horror and look at him. “You have to,”
he said fiercely. “This is a crime scene, and I can’t let you contaminate it.” Shocked eyes met his as he
sharply ordered, “Now help me up!”
Obediently, she stood, and he used first
her arm and then her shoulder to stagger up onto his feet. Monster pressed against Becky’s leg with a whine, and then
suddenly turned to dart towards the body in the waves, emitting another series of deep barks.
“Grab that damned dog!” Starsky
shouted, and once again Becky obeyed him, seizing Monster’s collar and dragging him back to where Starsky stood, none
“Anna’s dead,” said Becky.
The bewilderment in her voice was heartbreaking to hear. She was looking at him now as if she somehow expected him to make
it better, to make her words not true after all.
Ignoring the way his left leg was shaking,
bracing his knees against collapse, he reached out and pulled her into an embrace. He felt her trembling in his arms, and
he wrapped one hand around the back of her neck, letting his cheek rest on the top of her bowed head. “I’m sorry,”
he said, hoarsely. “Kid, I’m so, so sorry.”
no longer made any attempt to answer the phone if it rang after she’d gone to bed. She was a very heavy sleeper, and
had a tendency to wake up groggy and irritable. She’d snapped at Hutch a few times on being awoken, only to find herself
later in the day wondering why he was so prickly.
Hutch had discovered from an embarrassed and apologetic Dawn that she genuinely could not remember her words to him on first
awakening, his hurt quickly turned to amusement. He made jokes about how she was most deadly in the morning, and about the
wisdom of letting sleeping girlfriends lie.
At least, he did until the night Starsky
They weren’t married yet. He’d
only proposed to her the previous week, and she still had her own apartment. She liked to sleep on the right hand side of
the bed, so it happened that on the first night she slept over, she was closest to the phone when it rang.
She grabbed it off the cradle and held it
to her ear, only to hear Dave’s sleep-drunk voice mumble, “Hutch, I’m scared…”
Later – too late - she learned that
he was in the midst of a very bad reaction to a new drug his doctor had put him on the previous day. If she’d been fully
awake, she would have reacted differently. However, in her own confused state, her immediate response was to ask sharply,
“What kind of a man calls up in the middle of the night to tell someone he’s scared?”
The phone was yanked out of her hand before
that last word was fully out of her mouth, and she found herself pinned to the bed by the cord as Hutch bolted upright and
began shouting into the receiver, “Starsky! Starsky, are you there? No, damn it, don’t hang up! I’m coming
over!” He threw the phone against the wall above her head, and the look of fury on his face terrified her.
“Don’t you ever, ever, talk to him like that again!”
It was at that moment that Dawn realized
that Ken would never be completely hers. When it came right down to it, if it ever came to a choice between herself and his
best friend, Starsky would win every time. He had staked the first claim to Ken’s heart and, because of him, she could
never be more than secondary.
Fully awake now, she apologized frantically
as he threw his pants on and headed for the door. Something of her sincere distress seemed to penetrate his rage, because
he turned in the doorway and said, “You will not answer my phone again. Do you understand?”
Weak with relief that their relationship
had apparently not ended before it had even fully begun, she nodded. “I understand.”
When morning arrived, she purchased a large
bag of breakfast pastries and headed over to Starsky’s house to try and make amends. It hadn’t gone well. She
hated feeling guilty, which perhaps made her manner somewhat stiffer than usual. Dave, for his part, had only glared at her
from where he lay on the couch, pointed at the door, and snapped, “Get. Out!”
Then she’d gotten angry herself, because
after all, she was only trying to apologize. He didn’t need to be so rude. She thrust the bag of pastries at Ken, tossed
her head, said, “Fine!” and left. She decided she didn’t need to feel sorry for the guy after all, if he
was going to be like that.
On her way back to Ken’s house, she
stopped in at the hardware store and purchased an extra long phone cord, and moved the phone over to his side of the bed.
After that night, Ken always answered his
Which is why, when the phone rang with a
call from the precinct at on Sunday morning, it was Ken who picked it up to
answer it. Dawn merely pulled her pillow over her head in a semi-conscious attempt to stifle any comments she might later
the time Hutch arrived at the scene, the beach had been cordoned off with yellow tape, the body had been drawn up onto the
sand, and the forensics team was all over the place. He found the senior officer present at the scene and asked, “What
have we got?”
“It looks like your Bayside Rapist
just became the Bayside Strangler. Same MO as the last one; broken neck, body clothed…” Gazing down at the forlorn
corpse laying under the tarp by the water, the officer shook his head disbelievingly. “Poor gal. What I wouldn’t
give to catch this guy…”
Hutch knelt and lifted the sheet to check
the dead woman’s neck and arms. She was wearing a halter top, and the distinctive marks of her attacker’s fingers
were livid on her shoulders. She wore no jewelry, or watch, but examining her battered neck, he could see a long scrape where
perhaps a necklace had been yanked off. He gently lifted one her hands to examine it, and found that the knuckles were scraped
and blackened and the fingernails were torn. It was clear that she’d fought hard for her life. Her ring finger was broken,
but her hands were too swollen to be sure if she had once worn jewelry on that hand.
Carefully replacing the sheet, Hutch sat
back on his heels and looked up at the officer standing beside him. “Who found her?”
“Sergeant Starsky’s the one that
called it in.”Hutch glanced up, surprised.Starsky?
“He’s at the witness’s
house right now,” explained the officer.“He wouldn’t let us
send a uniform. He said you’d take her statement.”
“You’ve got a positive ID,”
said Hutch flatly, the pieces clicking into place.That girl Starsky had been
seeing; he’d said something about her living in a cottage on the beach.And
there was that missing roommate of hers…
“Yes, her name’s…”
“Anna Morgan,” said Hutch.
“Uh… yeah.” The officer
looked puzzled. “How did you know that?”
Hutch stood without replying, and headed
for his car with long ground-eating strides.
“Hey,” the other man called after
him, “Don’t you need an address on that witness?” Receiving no answer from the detective, he shrugged and
turned back to survey the crime scene.
A dog began barking steadily from the backyard
of the cottage as Hutch pulled his car up in front. Turning off the ignition, he paused for a moment with his keys still in
his hand. He thought of the girl he’d only met yesterday morning, who’d been so cheerfully optimistic about finding
her roommate. Poor kid…
a crummy kind of world that throws stuff like this at perfectly nice people.
Heaving a sigh, he climbed out of the car
and pocketed his keys. The dog continued to bark, unseen.
The door opened before he was halfway down
the walk and he found himself face to face with Starsky. Hutch’s eyebrows rose as he took in the bedraggled figure in
front of him. Sand clung to most of Starsky’s soggy jeans and shirt, except in the places where they had started to
dry, and there they showed white salt deposits. His hair was tangled, and hanging in ringlets. Instead of his cane, he was
leaning heavily on what looked like a long piece of driftwood.
But for the fact that he was standing in
the doorway of a perfectly respectable little bayside cottage, he could have easily passed for a desert island castaway.
Hutch stopped. Holding up a hand and signaling
to Starsky that he should wait right where he was, he trotted quickly back to his car and popped the trunk open. He found
what he was looking for without difficulty.Closing the trunk, he headed back
up the walk and held the object of his search out to his friend.
Starsky blinked, surprised. “My gym
bag? Why is my gym bag in the back of your car?”
Hutch shrugged. “You must have left
it there.” He gave Starsky a keen look. “You’re wearing my shirt.”
“It was in my closet. And ‘you
must have left it there’ isn’t something I’d expect to find myself saying to most other guys.” Starsky
ducked his head, embarrassed. “I’m sorry for jumping down your throat yesterday. I should have told ya.”
“Don’t worry about it,”
said Hutch, as Starsky stepped back to let him into the house. The fight didn’t seem like such a big deal anymore, especially
considering the larger issues facing them at the moment. “How’s Becky doing?”
Becky had barely made it in the front door,
before literally collapsing in tears. She’d cried hard, and painfully, in Starsky’s arms, but she hadn’t
cried for long. He convinced her to take a shower and he found her some clean dry clothes to change into while he called in
a report. She was now huddled on the couch with a blanket over her shoulders and her hands wrapped around a new cup of coffee.
She stared blankly across the room, seemingly oblivious to the dog, which was now howling and throwing itself bodily against
the back door.
As Hutch closed the front door, Starsky made
his way across the cottage to the back, clearly intending to let the animal inside. Hutch looked at the large head slamming
repeatedly into the door, smearing saliva across the glass, and said, “Um, Starsk, are you sure…”
But it was too late, his friend had already
opened the door and the dog rocketed into the room. It took one turn around Starsky, its tail tucked under, and slammed into
his knees so that he was forced to grab onto the doorframe to save himself from falling. Then it spotted Hutch and charged
forward to halt a few feet from him, growling. He looked at the lips curled back from yellow fangs and stepped back a pace.
“Don’t worry,” said Starsky,
trying to be reassuring. “He’s just a big baby.” He hoped he was right about the animal, but then again you never did know with dogs, did you? But he couldn’t have left it outside, barking its fool
head off, could he?
“Most babies don’t come with
teeth like that,” Hutch’s voice was tight.
Becky finally seemed to realize what was
going on around her and lifted her head. Her voice was quiet as she said, “Monster, come here.”
Starsky wasn’t expecting the dog to
obey the barely audible command, but perhaps this time it heard something new in her voice, because it immediately left off
growling at Hutch and dropped its head to pace back to her. It lay down at her feet, and kept a wary eye on the newcomer.
Hutch found a chair against the wall and
brought it over next to the couch, so that he could sit facing Becky. Placing a hand on her leg, ignoring a warning huff from
the dog, he said, “I’m sorry, but I need to ask you some questions…”
While Hutch was talking to Becky, Starsky
grabbed his gym bag and limped stiffly into the bathroom to change. Even in the summer, the water in the bay was cold, and
his unexpected immersion, followed by a long hike in wet clothes, had undone most of the work he’d done to relax the
muscles which had seized the previous night. He was desperately sore and stiff, and his shoulder felt as if it was on fire.
He closed the toilet lid and sat down with a stifled groan to unzip his bag.
The tennis shoes and cut-off sweat pants
were both a welcome sight, but he grimaced at the long sleeved baseball shirt. The body was cut slim, and the neck was narrow.
It would be a battle getting the thing over his head. However, if he didn’t at least try, Hutch would want to know why,
and then he’d probably try to dress him. Not to mention, Starsky was cold and the thought of dry clothes, however hard
they were to crawl into, was very appealing. So there was nothing to do but try to struggle into the shirt somehow.
He could hear Becky saying, “It doesn’t
feel real. I keep thinking she’s just at the store, or in the other room, and at any moment she’s going to walk
into this room and laugh at me.”
“You’re sure it was Anna?”
“Yes,” said Becky, sounding surprised
that it wasn’t just as obvious to him.
“Did Anna have anything like a necklace
or a watch that she wore every day?”
Becky nodded. “Yes, she always wears…”
She stopped and her face twisted in sudden pain. It took her a moment to continue. “She had a claddagh ring that John
gave her…” Again she stopped. “Oh, I have to call John.”
Hutch took the cooling mug from her and put
it down on the bamboo table near her elbow. She hadn’t drunk any of her coffee. Clasping her shaking hands in his, he
said, “You can call him in a moment. First I need you to tell me some more. What was the ring made of? What did it look
like? Were there any inscriptions on it?”
“I think it was just plain gold. The
usual: two hands clasping a heart and a crown.” She was desperately close to tears. “It was a promise, you know.
Not quite an engagement ring, but more than just something pretty. She called it her pre-engagement ring.”
“Was there anything else she wore regularly?”
“Her mother’s necklace,”
said Becky. “Um… it was a string of green beads. Some kind of stone… Jade, I think. There was a little carved
fish pendant on the end of it. Her mother died when she was really little… Someone didn’t steal it, did they?”
“I’m afraid someone did,”
said Hutch, gently.
“But, why?” Becky’s expression
was uncomprehending. “I don’t understand any of this. How did she drown? She’s a really great swimmer. And
why would someone take her necklace?” She looked into Hutch’s inexplicably familiar face and saw intense compassion
and sorrow written there.
There was no easy way for him to say it.
“Someone killed her, Becky.”
She folded forward with a gasp as pained
as if those words had been a knife in the stomach. He caught her and would have pulled her into an embrace, but her dog pushed
between them and she wrapped her arms around its neck instead, burying her face in its fur as her shoulders shook with silent
sobs. The animal stood patiently and quietly, its eyes expressively sorrowful.
Hutch rubbed her back and looked towards
the bathroom with a slightly puzzled frown. What could be taking Starsky so long?
Giving Becky a final pat, he left her to
her grief. He had his hand raised to knock on the bathroom door when heard a distinctly pained groan on the other side. Pushing
the door open, he found Starsky contorted in a most unusual position, trying to get his shirt over his head without raising
Hutch didn’t wait to be asked this
time. He stepped forward and, taking the shirt from his friend, he stretched the neck and eased it over his head. Then he
pulled it down far enough that Starsky could slip his arm through the sleeve. Even with this help, it was clearly not an easy
task. Starsky was biting his lip, there was sweat on his forehead, and his breathing was labored.
“Buddy, you’re a mess,”
said Hutch, affectionately. “What have you been doing to yourself?”
“I slept on the couch last night, and
then I went for a dip in the bay this morning. Do I get a sermon now?” There was an edge to Starsky’s voice. He
was in pain, but not so much that he could not still feel the humiliation of needing help with such a basic task as getting
his own shirt on.
“No, I typed up the usual one and made
multiple carbons. I’ll just leave a copy in your mailbox the next time I’m in your neighborhood.” Hutch
was trying to lighten the mood.
“Gee, thanks.” Starsky used the
sink to push himself up onto his feet, and turned to face his friend. With intense gravity, he said, “We gotta get this
Hutch didn’t miss the significance
of the plural pronoun. Starsky wouldn’t be allowed to work on the case in any official capacity, but since when had
either of them ever paid much attention to regulations? If there were any fallout from the brass, Hutch would deal with it
when it happened.