“Nice of you to finally grace us with
your presence,” growled Dobey, without looking up from his desk.
Hutch ducked his head, and regarded his superior
officer warily. He’d expected to be yelled at the moment he stuck his nose into the office. Receiving this weary snarl
instead was unnerving.
Dobey sighed heavily and leaned back in his
chair. “It seems our Bayside Strangler feels we’ve been ignoring him. He’s sent out press packages, including
descriptions of his activities last summer and Polaroids of his latest two victims. The media is going nuts.” His eyes
narrowed at the sight of Hutch’s bruised face. “Tell me you’ve got a lead.”
“I’ve got a lead,” said
Dobey made a surprised, but appreciative,
noise. “Fill me in.”
Hutch gave him a severely edited version
of the morning’s events. He finished up with, “The boys at the lab have the necklace. When they’re done
lifting the prints, they’ll pass it on to R&I to see if we can run a match. I’ve also called the sketch artist,
and we’re going to get together to see if we can come up with a sketch of our redheaded jackrabbit. That should give
you something to throw to the press.”
“Not bad,” said Dobey. “Except
for that very large, Starsky-shaped, hole in the center of your story…”
“Don’t give me that innocent
act, Hutchinson! The two of you are about as subtle as a pair of rogue elephants in a
“I thought the saying was usually a
bull in a…”
“You’re more destructive than
a bull, though you certainly can shovel the -” He stopped abruptly, glaring at the man across from him. “Don’t
you smile at me! What you’re doing is irresponsible. Starsky’s got no business on the street, and you shouldn’t
be encouraging him. It’s bad enough you can’t keep the partners I’ve assigned you. What do you think it’s
going to do to him, if he tries to back you up someday and can’t?”
All humor vanished from Hutch’s face.
“Don’t you think I’ve thought of that, Cap?” He closed his eyes a moment and pinched the bridge of
his nose, before trying to continue. “I know, I know he shouldn’t be…” Finding himself at a loss for
words, he settled for simply repeating helplessly, “I know.” God, if anything
happens to him, it’ll be my fault…
Dobey was taken aback by the intensity of
the anguish revealed in Hutchinson’s
words and expression. When he’d first heard that Starsky was involving himself in the Bayside Strangler investigation,
he’d assumed that the two of them were simply acting out in the stubbornly juvenile manner they’d sometimes had
in the past. He’d expected to hear excuses, not a simple admission of guilt.
Compassion replacing the anger he’d
felt earlier, he asked, “Why?”
Hutch spread his hands, wordlessly pleading
for understanding. “It’s important. Starsky… It was his girlfriend’s roommate who was killed last.
He was looking for her, so he feels responsible.”
Dobey nodded. He knew all of this already,
but it was clear from Hutchinson’s expression that there was more. He waited,
as the other man rubbed the back of his head, clearly not quite sure how to continue.
Finally, Hutch said, “Starsky’s
seriously considering taking Captain Mack’s offer. He’s willing to try and make something out of Missing Persons.”
A broad grin spread over Dobey’s face,
But Hutch wasn’t finished. His discomfort
visibly increased, as he said, “I – I want to work on it with him.”
Dobey leaned back and folded his hands together
over his ample midsection. “Somehow, Hutchinson,”
he said, “that doesn’t surprise me at all.” He examined his detective keenly. “You feel like you have
to catch the Bayside Strangler before you move on. Do you honestly think you can manage that before Starsky’s leave
is up? One necklace is a pretty thin lead…”
“I want to try, Cap.”
“You’re one of my best. If anyone
can do it, I expect you can.” Dobey shook his head, resignedly. “But if I hear one more word about Starsky shaking down informants, or following up on leads…!”
A very relieved looking Hutchinson began stammering out some sort of thanks, but Dobey cut him off.
“What are you standing around for? Don’t you have work to do? Get out of here!”
His eyes on Hutchinson’s swiftly retreating figure, Dobey frowned to himself. He
was going to be sorry to see the man go to another department, but he’d long known that if he ever lost one of the pair,
he would lose the other one in short order. The department no longer supported long-term partnerships. They had been replaced
with rotations of roughly two to three years, preventing the officers from becoming too emotionally entangled with each other.
Starsky and Hutch illustrated perfectly both the advantages and disadvantages of that policy.
wake up.” The familiar voice inserted itself into his consciousness, or rather into his lack of consciousness.
he mumbled, wanting nothing more than to be left alone.
“C’mon. Wake up. Dawn’s
Starsky briefly cracked open one unseeing
eye, “No, thank you.” He tried to drift back into the comfortable darkness, but Hutch’s voice was insistent.
“Hey, buddy. Did you forget about the
Both of Starsky’s eyes flew open, and
he quickly pushed himself up to a sitting position. He was momentarily disoriented to find himself in Hutch’s bedroom.
Hutch saw his friend’s eyes were unfocused,
and he put a hand on Starsky’s elbow as he swayed. “Are you all right?”
“Wow,” said Starsky. “Um…
head rush.” He blinked, squeezing his eyes shut and reopening them repeatedly, trying to focus. Finally, he settled
for rubbing both eyes with the heels of his palms. “Man, I hate those drugs.” This statement was followed by a
jaw-cracking yawn, after which he asked, speaking with quick-fire rapidity, “What time is it? Why am I here? How come
we didn’t go back to my place? I need something to wear. I can’t go in jeans.” He pushed himself up to his
feet, and then stopped again as another bout of dizziness hit him.
“Starsky, slow down,” said Hutch,
rising with him. “It’s only about one and we have plenty of time. I’ve already found a jacket, shirt and
tie for you, but I’m sorry, you’ll have to go in your jeans. You know my slacks are too long on you.”
Vague eyes turned towards him with a frown.
“And we’re here because?”
“I needed to change and shower. You
needed to sleep. It’s closer to the precinct,” said Hutch patiently.
Starsky finally focused on his friend. Hutch
was wearing his going-to-court suit, somber enough for a funeral, but not overstating his connection to the deceased. His
gaze slowly traveled up the long form before finally settling on Hutch’s face. There was a moment’s startled pause,
and then for the second time that day, Starsky began to laugh.
Hutch gave him a look of mildly puzzled irritation.
“What’s so funny?”
Swallowing his giggles, Starsky gestured
at him one-handed. “You are! Have you seen yourself?” Hutch had clearly spent some time in the shower cleaning
up. He no longer looked like a special guest on Fright Night. The blood had been scrubbed off, and his blond hair was neatly
combed. However, the puffy bruises under each of Hutch’s eyes had blossomed into bright shades of purple, shot through
with red, and his nose was only slightly less colorful. The combination of a nice suit and careful grooming together with
the face of a boxer on the losing side of a fight was too much for Starsky.
Hutch scowled, intensifying the effect and
causing his partner even more amusement. “Of course I’ve seen myself! It’s not as if I can do anything about
Starsky stopped laughing, and tilted his
head to one side thoughtfully, eyes shining. “Gee, have you asked Dawn? I’ve heard women have all kinds of stuff
that’s good for coverin’ up facial ble-blemishes…” He lost it again, dropping back down onto the bed
as he howled with laughter.
“Real nice, buddy. I appreciate your
sensitivity.” Hutch threw the jacket, shirt and tie at Starsky. They smacked into his friend’s face. “Get
dressed. When you’re done, you can come and eat some soup.” Without waiting for a reply, he stalked out of the
Starsky pulled the clothes off of his head,
and caught a brief glimpse of Hutch’s stiff back. The sight provoked more snickering, as he dressed. It was all just
Already Becky was finding that some days
were easier than others. Some days she even went for half an hour or more without
thinking about Anna at all, though it always made her feel guilty when she realized she’d done it.
In the headlong rush of helping Anna’s
family with the funeral arrangements, notifying friends who had yet to hear the news, finding beds for mourners arriving from
out of state, sharing reminiscences with everyone whose lives Anna had touched, Becky found that she could even sometimes
laugh about the person Anna had been, without the horror of her death obscuring everything.
But this wasn’t one of those days.
It was the dumb, ordinary little tasks that
were especially hard today. Becky gave the casserole an extra shove, and tried
once more to close the refrigerator door, but it bounced open again. There wasn’t
enough room. Feeling tears of frustration prickle her eyes, she took the casserole
out and placed it on the floor, while she tried to figure out how else she could arrange things in the overstuffed appliance.
Monster wandered over, and nosed the dish
Most of the food came from Mrs. Green. She seemed to believe that any heartache could be fixed through the generous application
of calories. Or perhaps she simply didn’t expect Becky to be able to cook
for herself these days. She was most likely right about that, as left to her
own devices it was entirely likely Becky would have spent the past week subsisting on cold cans of ravioli and peanut butter
There just didn’t seem to be any point
to cooking, when there wasn’t anyone to enjoy the food with you.
Mrs. Green had been supportive in other ways,
too. Becky and Anna had always split the rent evenly down the middle. One of the first things the elderly woman had said to Becky, that first horrible day, was, “Don’t
worry about money, dear. You just put all that right out of your mind for now. We can talk later.”
The old woman understood about loss, and
about being alone, even if she couldn't possibly understand what it was like to lose someone suddenly and violently. Mr. Green’s death, five years ago, had been after such a long illness that she
once told Becky the end had seemed almost a relief.
Becky decided that ketchup and mustard weren’t
things that really needed refrigeration. After all, restaurants left them out
for hours at time, right? With those removed, the casserole could finally be
jammed into the interior of the fridge and the door closed.
Just in time, too. She had to get ready for the funeral.
observed Starsky with some concern. He seemed alert enough so long as he was in motion, but the moment he stopped, he would
start to doze off. Twice he’d nearly fallen asleep over his lunch, and now, not five minutes down the road, his head
was sagging forward onto his chest.
“I’m sorry,” said Hutch.
Starsky startled awake, his head coming up
with a jerk. “What for?”
“You were right. Those pills really
knock you out. I shouldn’t have -” He was interrupted by his friend’s amused voice.
“Nah, don’t worry about it.”
Hutch glanced over at him, “But, maybe
you should have taken just one…”
“Titrate to effect,” said Starsky,
“I don’t know.” Starsky
yawned widely, and shuddered once, before continuing. “I remember the docs saying that in the hospital. I think it means
you give the patient as much of the stuff as it takes until it works. Anyway, right now, I feel pretty good. Tired, and a
little fuzzy, but good. So, I guess that means you got the result you wanted. You titrated to effect, or however th’heck
they say it.”
“Starsky, I’m not a doctor.”
“Yeah, but you do okay.” Starsky
winked at him, good-humoredly. Then he tipped his head back to rest against the seat, his eyes drifting closed again. After
a moment, he added, “You just try too hard.”
Hutch frowned a little at that last statement.
He was trying to come up with proof of the obvious absurdity of the idea, when he noticed that Starsky’s breathing had
slowed and his body was beginning to slump. “Hey, Starsk, talk to me.”
“Hmm?” The eyes stayed closed.
Hutch floundered for a moment, and then seized
on the first thing that came to mind. “Tell me about Becky.” She was, after all, the first woman his partner had
dated since that whole mess with Gunther. He frowned, wondering not for the first time, when life would stop organizing itself
into before and after the shooting.
“Did I mention I’m supposed to
pick her up and give her a ride to the funeral?”
There was long pause, and then Hutch changed
lanes and began working his way across to a nearby exit. “No, Starsky. You didn’t mention that.”
“I knew I forgot something.”
Hutch rolled his eyes.
“I heard that,” said Starsky,
his own eyes still tightly closed.
“Heard what? I didn’t say anything!”
“You’re pissed off, I can tell.”
He paused, and then said, “And now you’re doing that thing with your eyes again.”
“Oh, for…” Hutch stopped.
He took a deep breath. “Okay, so we’re picking up Becky. You said you’re dating her. Is it serious?”
Starsky rolled his head to the side and looked
at him. “Yes… no… I don’t know. It’s not that serious. She’s a nice girl, and she’s
fun to be with, but…”
“But?” Curious, Hutch briefly
met his gaze before turning back to the road.
“But… but, geez, I don’t
know. She’s twenty-four. She’s saving up to go to college and become a vet. She’s smart. She’s sweet.”
Hutch heard the slightly diffident tone on
Starsky’s voice, but he wasn’t yet sure of the cause. He ventured a guess, “Is she your Safety-Date?”
Years ago, when the women had come and gone
with fair regularity in their lives, with airline stewardesses who blew into town for a fun weekend and then were gone again,
and the parties at which you never knew quite who you might end up with, there’d always been the Safety-Date. She was
inevitably a friendly, undemanding girl who expected nothing more than a good time, and who could always be counted on to
be there when you needed a break from the serious relationship stuff.
Starsky’s reaction was immediate. “No!
It’s not like that.” He winced at the idea. You’d have to be the
world’s biggest piece of crud to use a nice girl like Becky in that manner.
“You know, it’s been a while
since I’ve seen you make a serious play for a girl,” said Hutch. He hadn’t wanted to pry, but he couldn’t
help but notice that ever since Starsky had been back up on his feet, he’d been keeping his contacts with women on a
purely casual basis. Even his flirting with the nurses had been markedly low-key compared to the previous times he’d
been in the hospital. In the grand scheme of things, it had been a small concern, but it had been a concern nevertheless.
So many changes…
To Starsky’s ears however, Hutch’s
voice had taken on that superior, faintly patronizing tone that never failed to put his back up.
“Yeah?” growled Starsky. “Says
the guy who woke up one morning and discovered he was married with a kid on the way, an’ wondered ‘how the heck
did that happen?’” He crossed his arms over his chest. “Don’t give me relationship advice, Hutch.”
Hutch made a calming motion at him with his
hand. “Gotcha. She’s not a Safety-Date. She’s also not serious, but you still take her seriously.”
“Yeah,” said Starsky. He paused,
then added, “It’s just that I don’t think she’s, um… you know…”
“You know?” Hutch glanced at
his partner, who was now looking out the window, his jaw tight. It took Hutch a moment, but he suddenly clued in to the source
of Starsky’s embarrassment. “Oh no, she’s not…”
“Well, it’s not like I can exactly
ask her, but, yeah, I think she is.”
“Starsky, you know the rule! Never
date a virgin. They’re nothing but trouble.”
Starsky slumped in the car seat. “But
I like her! I mean… She’s not Terry…”
Hutch gave his friend a sympathetic glance.
“Terry was one of a kind.”
“And, it’s not like it was with
“Which is a good thing,” said
Hutch, firmly. Starsky had fallen hard for Rosie. His relationship with her had been short, but almost brutally intense.
“Well, yeah,” said Starsky, in
reluctant agreement. “I don’t think I’m up to getting my heart ripped out again.” Thoughtfully, he
said, “Becky’s just nice. Normal.”
“And a virgin.”
“I don’t think I wanna talk about
Hutch smothered a laugh, and said, “That’s
probably good, since here we are.” He pulled his LTD to a stop in front of Becky’s cottage.
Monster was throwing himself at the door
by the time they were halfway down the walk. Hutch couldn’t help but move backwards a few steps as Starsky pulled the
door open and the dog bolted outside. It gave Starsky a cursory sniff, and then charged straight for Hutch with a series of
baritone woofs, shoulders hunched aggressively and the hair on its back standing on end.
Hutch froze. He wasn’t normally afraid
of dogs, and their first meeting had gone well enough, but this one was a particularly large and toothy member of the species.
“Just let him check you out,”
said Starsky, grinning. He appreciated having the roles reversed for once, since usually it was Hutch who played all calm
and cool where animals were concerned. Right on cue, Monster stopped barking and began sniffing, his nose pushing insistently
into the fabric of Hutch’s pants.
“Aw, now I’m going to have dog
snot all over my clothes.” Hutch’s disgusted tone of voice was completely undermined by the friendly manner in
which he bent down to scratch the dog’s head behind his ears. There was something very satisfying about sinking his
fingers into that thick plush fur. After a moment, he brought his other hand into play, and gave the animal a thorough neck
rub. Monster closed his eyes and tilted his head back with an ecstatic expression, his rear wagging so enthusiastically, his
tail seemed to be dragging his body with it from side to side. “Hey, he feels just like a…”
“…a big teddy bear,” finished
Starsky, happily. “How can you not love a dog like that?”
The door opened again, and Starsky turned
to see Becky standing hesitantly in the entrance. She was entirely lovely in a knee length black dress with her hair pulled
back, and a coral necklace in varied shades of blue. However, her normally hazel eyes had taken on that particularly intense
shade of green that he now understood meant she’d been crying not long ago.
Starsky stepped up to her and she reached
for him with a sniff, wordlessly seeking comfort. He pulled her into his arms, kissing the top of her head once, before she
tilted her face up and their lips met again. It was a moment before she noticed Hutch standing a little way down the path,
conscientiously petting the dog.
“Hi, Hutch,” said Becky, unconsciously
adopting Starsky’s name for him. “Are you coming to the funeral, too?”
“If it’s all right with you,”
said Hutch, straightening.
Becky winced in sympathy as she caught sight
of his face. “Oh, what happened to you?”
“He courageously bumped his nose in
the line of duty,” said Starsky lightly, ignoring the annoyed glare Hutch sent his way.
“At least I’m not the one prohibited
from ‘operating motor vehicles, heavy machinery, or otherwise engaging in activities requiring mental alertness’,”
muttered Hutch, quoting from the warning label on Starsky’s meds.
Starsky snorted dismissively.
Giving them both a confused glance, Becky
opened the door to her cottage again, and whistled once. “Monster, come!”
Monster ignored her, and remained at Hutch’s
feet, regarding him with sloppy adoration. She sighed and walked over to grab his collar.
Starsky leaned casually on his cane and said,
“I don’t know why you bother. He knows what you want; he just doesn’t feel like doing it.”
“How do you know he knows?” asked
“Watch the dog,” said Starsky.
Looking at nothing in particular, he said, “Walk.”
Monster’s head shot up and he looked
over at Starsky with intent curiosity.
Starsky said, “Leash.”
Monster’s ears flattened and he backed
away several steps.
“Oh, now that was just mean,”
said Becky with a short laugh. Monster had darted forward and was regarding Starsky with an expression of pathetically eager
“Well,” said Starsky, “if
you go get him a biscuit, I think I know how to get him into the house.”
Becky nodded and went back inside, leaving
Monster staring wistfully at the man who had said the magic word. This person now bent down and looked him in the eye, saying,
“Where’s Becky? Huh? Where’d Becky go?”
The dog swung a large head around to look
at the door. Starsky persisted. “Where is she? Where’s Becky?”
Monster began to look a little worried. Giving
Starsky a brief glance, he padded over to the door and paused. Starsky opened the door, still keeping up his questions, “Where
did Becky go?” After a moment’s hesitation, the dog walked inside to search for his owner, checking carefully
around the corner first. Someone critical was missing; finding them was serious business.
Starsky closed the door behind him, and gave
Hutch a satisfied smile. “See? That dog understands everything I say.”
“Does he only find Becky?” asked
“No, he also finds me, and he used
to find Anna.” Starsky’s mouth twisted regretfully. “You have to be careful saying her name around him,
because he’ll run to the window looking for her. It’s hard on Becky.”
Hutch nodded, sympathetically.
funeral was of the traditional variety, with the priest standing at the head of the grave, and several of her friends and
family stepping up to speak. Becky had invited Starsky to sit on the folding chairs with her and her parents, but the first
speaker was not even halfway through a very touching memory before Starsky realized that he was falling asleep. He forced
himself upright, and suppressed a yawn.
After a few minutes of uncomfortable shuffling,
he found himself drifting off again. Fatigue weighed heavily on every fiber of his being, and all he could think of was how
important it was to stay awake. He couldn’t breathe. When he suddenly discovered that he had begun dreaming of not sleeping,
he quietly excused himself to go and stand at the back of the crowd next to Hutch.
His friend gave him a slight frown, wordlessly
asking if he was all right.
“Just peachy,” grumbled Starsky
under his breath. His head was swimming, and he rubbed his eyes one-handed. He had grown accustomed to living with a certain
amount of physical discomfort, not pain exactly but the ever-present sensation of scar tissue tugging and random odd sensations
along his left side as the nerves misfired. One moment he might discover a numb spot, while in the next, he would feel pins
and needles or his skin crawling. At this precise moment, however, he was feeling none of that and the absence of sensation
combined with the drug induced fatigue was making him very edgy indeed.
Anna’s stepsister had taken the podium,
and she was reminiscing how Anna would take her out dancing at the clubs. Dancing,
thought Starsky wistfully. I miss dancing.
He’d brought that up to Hutch once,
early in his recovery, on a night when he’d been attempting to use a six pack of beer to self-medicate away the pain
of a particularly intense therapy session. Starsky had asked him if he remembered Ramon the dance instructor, an undercover
role he’d played more than once. Hutch simply gave him an ironic look and said of all the people he missed in this world,
Ramon wasn’t one of them.
So, perhaps the dancing didn’t matter
to Hutch, or perhaps it did and he simply couldn’t deal with discussing it. Either way, it was another piece gone.
The words of the speakers slid one over another,
melting in the heat of the sun, as the cicadas hummed in the carefully landscaped cemetery. Starsky blinked and rubbed his
eyes again, wondering if it was possible for a person to fall asleep standing up. Trying to stay alert, he began studying
the faces of the people in the crowd around him. The immediate family and friends were seated on folding chairs around the
grave. Becky was holding her mother’s hand, and her father had draped an arm around her shoulders. She glanced back
once at Starsky, and smiled at his reassuring nod.
Around them was gathered a sizable crowd,
including a few reporters who were thankfully staying reasonably low-key. Not everyone here would have known Anna. Some may
have simply shown up to express their regret for the violence that had taken a young woman’s life.
One man’s face caught Starsky’s
attention. He was considerably larger than the others, and stood at the rear of the crowd. He looked to be well over six feet
tall, with a broad, beefy build that no doubt had necessitated the custom tailoring of the moss-colored suit he wore. This
was of less concern to Starsky, however, than the fact that he kept staring at Hutch. It wasn’t a look of recognition,
or guilt, or any other particular expression that Starsky might reasonably expect. It was a look so utterly unreadable, it
sent a chill up his spine.
He elbowed Hutch. When his partner inclined
his head towards him, he whispered, “Hey, who’s the Jolly Green Giant in the back?”
Hutch took a brief glance over his shoulder
and then shrugged. “I haven’t a clue,” he whispered back, before returning his attention to the service.
A little boy had just run around the grave
to offer a box of Kleenex to Anna’s grieving father. The man gathered the child in his arms and briefly wept on his
small shoulder, as the child amiably returned the embrace, an expression of innocent confusion on his face.
Starsky looked back, just in time to intercept
another of those long, unnerving stares. If Hutch didn’t recognize this guy, then he wasn’t anyone they’d
dealt with in a professional capacity. There was no way either of them would forget a mug like that.
he was simply wondering about the bruises on Hutch’s face…?
That would be the logical explanation, but
Starsky had seen enough over the course of his career to know that sometimes instinct overrules logic.
And right now, all of his instincts were
telling him that this guy was trouble.