“Detective Hutchinson, I can’t tell you how much it means to me that you’re here today.” Anna’s aunt pressed his
hand between her own, her eyes glistening with unshed tears. Starsky watched as Hutch bent down to speak to the older woman,
saying something reassuring. Somehow word had got out that Hutch was part of the investigation into Anna’s death, and
consequently, an assortment of her relatives had been coming up to speak with him.
“If you’d done your jobs and
caught the bastard last summer, Anna wouldn’t have had to die!” snapped a young man standing nearby. “I
guess it doesn’t matter so much if it’s just a couple rapes, right? But now that you got a serial killer, suddenly
it means something!”
Reacting instinctively to the anger in the
man’s voice, Starsky stepped forward, his expression dark.
Hutch laid a hand on his arm. “Don’t,”
he said quietly. Starsky glanced at him, and then back at the man. All around them, people had stopped talking, sensing the
Becky intervened, stepping between them and
placing her hands on the man’s clenched fists. “John, they’re doing the best they can…”
Starsky’s initial burst of irritation
dissipated. His eyes met Hutch’s. John. This was almost certainly the man
Anna had been dating. As if to confirm their guess, the young man shook off Becky’s light touch and ran both of his
hands through his hair, a look of raw anguish on his face. “Oh god, Beck. I miss her so much!”
Becky’s face crumpled for just a moment,
before her jaw firmed and she placed her arm around the grieving man’s waist. “C’mon, John. Sit down and
talk to me…” He resisted her urging, turning to face Hutch once more. Starsky caught Becky’s eye, and again
he saw that brief flash of pain quickly suppressed. He understood. She was trying to take care of everyone around her. There
was no time for her to grieve. Not here, not now.
John stepped toward Hutch, his back stiff.
“Just catch him, okay? Just catch him and…” He stopped abruptly, his expression deeply conflicted. “Just
catch him.” He said ‘catch’ as if it were a word with another meaning entirely.
There was no ‘right thing’ to
say in response. The young man’s shoulders slumped and he let Becky lead him away. Hutch tried to follow him, compassion
in his eyes, but he was quickly intercepted by yet another of Anna’s elderly relatives.
Starsky felt a looming presence at his shoulder,
and turned to find that the large man in the green suit had made his way through the crowd and was now standing a step behind
him. His eyes skimmed disinterestedly over Starsky to land on Hutch.
“Detective Sergeant Hutchinson?”
Starsky blinked. Almost as if triggered by
some unknown chemical reaction, the cold eyes warmed, and he found himself doubting everything he thought he’d sensed
earlier. This man was a pleasant fellow who bobbed his head shyly and said, “It’s such a terrible tragedy. A young
life, cut off so soon. That other guy, I’m sure he’s just upset and he doesn’t mean what he said. I know
the rest of us here appreciate everything you and your fellow officers have done in trying to track down this monster.”
He held out his hand, radiating nothing but honest regret and genuine regard, and Hutch shook it, smiling.
But when he turned away from Hutch, his smile
remained fixed in place, and Starsky decided that something about it bothered him after all. That expression looked suddenly
a whole lot less sincere and a whole lot more like smug satisfaction.
Without a word to Hutch, who was, in any
event, well and truly occupied by a small clucking clutch of old ladies, Starsky threaded his way through the crowd, after
the man in the green suit. He was easy enough to follow, standing a good head taller than anyone else. At the edge of the
cemetery parking lot, Starsky halted in the shadow of a small clump of pine trees and watched as the man climbed into a tan
sedan. He made note of the license plate numbers as the car pulled out, and then slowly turned and worked his way back into
He sighed wearily. The drugs should have
been wearing off by now. Were wearing off, if the ache in his side was any indication,
but he was still feeling tired. If anything, he felt more dragged out now than he had at the beginning of the funeral. I wonder how Becky’s managing with John?
“I don’t know, Starsky. That
guy seemed all right.” Hutch was leaning on the side of the LTD. “I think he’s just concerned about what
happened to Anna.”
Despite the fact that he hadn’t known
the girl, the funeral had still been an emotionally draining experience for Hutch. No matter how many of these he attended,
it never got any easier. Memories of those that he’d loved and lost tugged insistently at the edge of his awareness,
and the pain and anger of the mourners weighed uncomfortably on him. He simply didn’t have the energy to worry about
a man he’d never seen before in his life.
Once the reporters left, the crowd finally
began to disperse, leaving a gradually diminishing knot of close friends and relatives behind. After seeing John off with
another of their mutual friends, Becky had tugged on Hutch’s sleeve. When he looked down at her, she nodded at Starsky,
who appeared to be almost asleep on his feet, and said, “I think I’d like to go home now. If you guys want to
wait, I just need to talk to my mom first.”
And so, here they were, waiting in the baking
heat of the parking lot, while Becky searched for her mother. Hutch shrugged out of his jacket and folded it under his arm,
neatly rolling up his sleeves. Minnesota
bred, he could never get used to the idea of September being just another hot month.
He looked at Starsky. His dark-haired friend
was sprawled across the hood of the car, soaking in the sun with his eyes closed and one knee up. His cane lay across his
chest, underneath his crossed arms. Hutch might have thought he was asleep, except for the mumbled reply, “Still smell
somethin’ fishy. Check that plate with th’ DMV, will ya?”
“I don’t recall seeing paranoia
listed among the side effects for your drugs.” Hutch said dryly, as he jammed Starsky’s scrap of paper into his
“Just because a man’s paranoid,
Hutch, doesn’t mean someone ain’t out to get him.”
Hutch spotted Becky walking toward the parking
lot in the company of her mother. He patted his partner on the leg, “Wait here, Starsky, I’ll be right back.”
He thought he heard a chuckle as he walked
away, followed by an indistinct reply. “…jus’ perfectin’ my tan…”
Hutch’s LTD was barely out of the parking
lot before Becky gave vent to emotions she’d bottled up all afternoon.
Starsky looked down at the girl squeezed
into the center of the front seat, between himself and Hutch. “Who?”
“Her mother,” said Hutch, with
a knowing glance at Becky. He’d overheard some of the tense conversation between mother and daughter as he’d walked
up to them.
“Oh,” said Starsky, with a blank
look. “But she seemed like a nice lady to me…”
“She’s not your mother,”
said Becky, darkly.
Hutch carefully hid his amusement, as he
said, “Becky’s mother thinks that it’s not safe for a young lady to be living entirely on her own; especially
considering that there may a serial killer on the loose. She wants her to move back home.”
“Which I am not going to do,”
said Becky, firmly.
“…Or find herself another housemate.”
“It’s not like buying a new puppy!”
exclaimed Becky. Then she stopped, suddenly remembering impassioned vows never to own or love another dog again, because the
old one had been irreplaceable. “Oh, wait. Maybe it is a little bit like that.”
She caught the odd look Starsky was giving
her, and realized how that statement had to have sounded. “I don’t mean… Oh, I just don’t want another
roommate! I don’t want anyone else living in my house, and I don’t want to have to leave my home either. I wish
Anna would come back…” Becky stopped again, as another thought occurred to her. “But, if she did, then I
guess she’d be a zombie and I’d be having the whole Night of the Living Dead experience.”
This last statement was delivered with an
air of such sincere sorrow that Hutch utterly lost his battle to keep a straight face, and Starsky gave an astonished bark
of laughter. Becky looked back and forth between the two of them, blushed, and said, apologetically, “I’m sorry,
I don’t do grief very well.”
Starsky’s arm came around her shoulder
and his hand brushed the side of her cheek, pushing a few stray hairs back from her face. She could hear the amusement in
his voice as he said, “Well, kid, we can only hope you never learn to do it better.”
The radio crackled into life, making them
all jump. “Zebra Three, Zebra Three, respond please…”
Hutch took the call. The code meant nothing
to Becky, but Starsky and Hutch exchanged a concerned glance over her head on receiving the call; a 10-54 was a possible dead
body, and the dispatcher had ended her report on an unnervingly unprofessional note with the comment, “It looks like
it’s another one of yours, Hutch.”
He responded automatically, “This is
Zebra Three, en route to…” Hutch stopped. He couldn’t take Becky to a crime scene, especially not under
these circumstances. Even Starsky’s presence would be problematic, given his current ‘on leave’ status.
“Zebra Three, please repeat your last.”
Starsky said, “My place is almost on
the way. You can drop us both there.”
Hutch nodded, and activated his handset.
“Dispatch, this is Zebra Three. I’m en route to the scene. ETA fifteen minutes.”
“What was that all about?” asked
Becky, uncertainly. There was no way to miss the tension in the air, and she had the sudden impression that her presence in
the car was presenting a distinct problem for everyone.
Then Starsky’s hand squeezed her shoulder,
and he gave her the goofiest grin she’d ever seen him try to pull off. It was as fake as they come, but despite that,
she couldn’t help responding with a smile of her own. “Well, schweetheart,” he said in what she could only
assume was a terrible imitation of Bogey, “it looks like I’m treating you to dinner at my place. I’ll drive
you home later.”
“Starsk…” said Hutch in
a warning tone. “You can’t…”
Starsky’s grin vanished and he shot
him an irritated look. “I know what it says about operating motor vehicles. I also know the stuff’s working its
way out of my system. I’ll be okay to drive in a few hours.”
“Make it a long dinner.”
They glared at each other, constrained from
what they really wanted to say by Becky’s presence between them.
boy, she thought, sinking down into
Finally, unable to stand the weighted silence
any longer, she said, “I’d love to have dinner at your place, Dave. But I’m wondering why you can’t
Starsky didn’t answer. He had withdrawn
his arm and was staring out the window, his chin propped on his forearm and his expression unreadable.
Hutch sighed and said, “We had a busy
morning. He was -”
“- a little sore,” said Starsky,
without turning from the window.
“- just about completely incapacitated,”
corrected Hutch, firmly. Becky felt Starsky’s body stiffen, but he remained silent as Hutch continued to explain. “I
made him take some painkillers and muscle relaxants. That’s why he’s been so sleepy.”
“You know,” said Starsky, tightly.
“I am in this car. I don’t need you talking about me like I’m not here.”
“He saved my life, you know,”
said Hutch, as if he hadn’t heard Starsky speak at all. “The guy who gave me these black eyes - he also threw
me off a catwalk. I got tangled in some ropes and was hanging upside down some forty feet above a concrete floor with my nose
bleeding all over my face. I couldn’t see a thing. I thought for sure I was dead this time.”
thought you were dead, too, thought
Starsky with a pang, remembering his first horrified impression as he’d entered the warehouse. He turned to look at
Hutch, but his friend was speaking to Becky as if she were the only one in the car. The admiration in his voice was plain
“I would have fallen. Those ropes were
slipping every time I moved. But Starsky got there in time, grabbed them, and lowered me down to the ground.” Now, at
last, Hutch turned and acknowledged the other man in the car. “I’m a hundred and eighty pounds, Starsky. I’m
heavier than you. If I’d had to do what you did today, I’d be pretty damned sore, too!”
Starsky inclined his head towards Hutch,
reluctantly acknowledging his point and, if he had to admit it, more than a little pleased to hear the appreciation in his
friend’s words. To Becky he said, “I’m sorry about today. I can’t imagine what your mom must have
A funny expression crossed Becky’s
face. “My mom?”
“Um, yeah,” said Starsky, uncertainly.
“’Cause I’m sure it isn’t good manners to be half asleep in the middle of someone’s funeral…?”
He gave Becky a puzzled look. Her cheeks were turning distinctly red. Starsky glanced at Hutch, but he simply shrugged.
Becky bit her lip, and then said, “My
mother… I guess my mother thinks you’re coming down with a cold, or flu, or something. She said…”
She stopped, her discomfort very obvious to both men.
“What did she say?” asked Starsky,
curiously. Hutch was beginning to grin.
“She told me to take you home, tuck
you into bed, and feed you chicken soup.”
Hutch gave the steering wheel a satisfied
smack. “I think that sounds like a wonderful idea! Don’t you think so, Starsky?” He gave his partner a broad
“No, I don’t!” began Starsky,
indignantly. Then he paused, realizing that Becky was far more embarrassed than that essentially innocent comment should ever
have warranted. He was suddenly concerned about what she might think if he rejected the idea too thoroughly. It wasn’t
as if he wanted to reject her, or anything. He fumbled, trying to explain, “Well, actually, I mean, it sounds nice,
but I don’t need… not to say I wouldn’t like… under different circumstances… um…”
Becky buried her face in her hands with a
Hutch caught Starsky’s eye over the
top of Becky’s head, raised his eyebrows, and silently mouthed, ‘virgin’.
Starsky scowled blackly and reached over
to smack his smirking partner on the back of the head. He did not pull the stinging force of his blow.
Hutch’s head snapped forward and he
protested, “Hey! I’m driving here!”
Becky looked up, puzzled.
Starsky decided to change the subject. “So,
what do you like on your pizza?” It would be best to discuss something innocuous. The
poor kid was so embarrassed. “Mushrooms? Onions?”
“Polish sausage?” suggested Hutch.
“You’re a dead man, Hutchinson!”
squad room was quieter than usual, when Hutch finally walked in. There was a subdued air everywhere in the building, as news
of the latest victim had traveled quickly through the ranks. The MO was almost the same, except that this one had been attacked
in her own home. Eventually, the coroner would be able to tell than the time of her death. The manner was not much of a mystery.
Like the others, she had been strangled.
Most distressing of all, the neighbors reported
hearing some banging and thumping throughout the day, but nothing sufficient to have raised anyone’s suspicions. There
were bruises on her cheeks that indicated she had been gagged. No one wanted to think about how long she might have suffered,
trapped in her home with her killer.
“Hutchinson. My office. Now.”
Hutch had just seated himself at his desk,
and was reaching for the typewriter. Now, he rose and made his way towards Dobey’s office, thinking privately that even
his captain’s usual bellow sounded restrained today, as if in deference to the prevailing mood.
Dobey pushed a file across the desk. “Here’s
some more info on the Bayside Strangler case.”
Hutch picked up the file and began thumbing
through it as Dobey continued to speak. “The prints on the necklace match those on the letters and photos. Unfortunately,
they don’t match anything else we have on file.”
Frowning, Hutch said, “But that redheaded
kid can’t be the killer. Even with the advantage of surprise, he wouldn’t have the size or strength to assault
those women in the manner they were attacked.”
Dobey nodded. “The last body was found
as a result of an anonymous tip to the department’s hotline. Voice analysis would seem to indicate that it belongs to
a young male, perhaps a teenager.”
“So what?” Hutch asked, snapping
the file closed and using it to punctuate his words, “The Strangler’s got himself a press secretary? I don’t
“Hutch, you know what this kid looks
like.” Dobey massaged his temples with his fingers, trying unsuccessfully to ease the tension headache that was building.
“Find him, and you’ll find the killer.”
“Yeah.” Hutch looked at the file
again, as if he didn’t quite know what to do with either it, or himself. “Yeah, I’ll put the word out on
the street. See what I can dig up.” He shook his head, “Dammit, Cap…”
“I know, Hutchinson.” They were all feeling the same thing, even those police
officers not directly assigned to the case. They’d failed. They hadn’t moved fast enough, or worked hard enough,
and now another girl was dead. “So, what are you waiting for? Get out of here and find that bastard!”
the parking lot, fishing in his pocket for his keys, Hutch’s fingers brushed against the scrap of paper containing the
license plate number Starsky had wanted him to check out. He briefly considered going back inside, but then decided there’d
be no harm in letting it wait until morning.
could pander to Starsky’s paranoia another time.