As they climbed higher into the foothills,
chaparral scrub gave way first to pine forests and then to aspen and oak, interspersed with stands of white birch. Autumn
gold gilded the hills, in striking contrast to the clear blue sky. The air became noticeably cooler and Hutch soon found himself
missing his jacket.
Not to mention there was the problem of his
Magnum being anything but a concealed weapon at the moment.
The tiny towns they passed through changed
character with the landscape. Closest to Bay City were the bedroom communities, suburban spillover,
each of them turning into weekday ghost towns as their entire populaces hit the commuter highways. Further out were the small
farming communities, truck stops interspersed with feed outlets and hardware stores, and the occasional bait-and-tackle shop.
The last community they entered, however,
owed its existence entirely to the nearby private college. A large but tasteful sign near the entrance to the covered wooden
bridge announced it as the Village of Mountain
Springs, presumably because ‘town’ was too pedestrian a description for a place that catered to the privileged
sons and daughters of the wealthy.
The main thoroughfare had been carefully
landscaped in vaguely Hollywood Western style. All of the shops fronting the street had been faced with professionally pre-weathered
wood. Plaques set into the walls announced buildings of dubious historical interest, hearkening back to the days of the Gold
Rush. Telegraph stations and taverns had been replaced with bookstores and coffee shops, antique furniture stores and quaint
“Stop here,” said Hutch, suddenly.
Starsky pulled over automatically, soon spotting
the object of Hutch’s attention. “The Fluff and Fold?”
“A Laundromat by any other name,”
Hutch said, plucking discontentedly at the leg of the sweatpants Starsky had loaned him. “I’m getting back into
my own clothes.”
The building next to the ‘Fluff and
Fold’ boasted a sign identifying it as the ‘Eatery’, which Starsky took as a good sign that there might
be food available for purchase within. “Okay. How about if I pick up lunch?”
“Sure,” said Hutch, shrugging
out of his shoulder holster and stowing it away in the locking compartment under the dash of the Torino. He was intrigued to discover that Starsky had recently restocked all of the emergency
supplies, with the single exception of the shotgun. He probably hadn’t been able to convince Captain Mack of the necessity
of arming the sole detective in the Missing Person’s Department. He had, however, thoughtfully included an extra box
of ammunition for Hutch’s Magnum.
Hutch rather doubted that Starsky was still
sleeping with his gun, at least not with Becky sharing his bed, but he was obviously still feeling the need to take extra
precautions since his encounter with Reg.
Starsky caught his partner’s slight
hesitation and correctly guessed his thoughts. “As I keep telling you, Hutch,” he said with a tolerant grin. “Just
because you’re paranoid, doesn’t mean someone ain’t out to get you.”
Eatery did indeed sell ‘food’, though Starsky would have been happy to take issue with that description of its
product. It was a vegetarian diner without a shred of anything he considered edible in sight. Wheat germ was one of the more
recognizable ingredients listed on the signs. The rest were things he’d never heard of such as spelt and kale and seitan.
Giving the zucchini-lemon couscous a disappointed
glance, Starsky leaned over the counter and tried to attract the attention of the very bored-looking girl reading a book of
Shakespearean poetry in the back.
“Do you want something?” she
asked, looking up with a sigh.
He held his badge up. “I’m Detective
Starsky with the Bay
City police. I’d
like to ask you a few questions.”
Curiosity brightened her expression as she
came over to the counter and glanced at his badge. When she looked up at him again, it was with considerably more interest
than before. “Sure, what’s up?”
Starsky tucked the badge back into his pocket
and fished out the small black and white photo that had come with Elizabeth Malcolm’s file. “Have you ever seen
this woman before?”
The girl pursed her lips in a disappointed
An older woman emerged from the back room,
carrying a fresh tray of something green, black and – to Starsky’s eyes - disgusting. The girl turned around and
said, “Hey, Mona! This cop wants to know if we’ve ever seen this woman.” She stuck the picture in front
of her co-worker’s face as the older woman bent down to slip the tray behind the glass counter case.
Mona gave the picture a brief glance. “Why,
sure, that’s old Seamus’ lover. The Bay City gal… Elizabeth something.”
Paydirt, thought Starsky, happily. “Do you know her?”
“Everyone knows her,” said Mona, decidedly.
The girl took another look at the picture.
“I don’t know her,” she said, her tone clearly indicating that the group of people who knew Elizabeth couldn’t possibly be ‘everyone’ if it didn’t
“I suppose that was before your time,”
said Mona, a hint of patronization in her voice. “You’re, what? A sophomore?”
Starsky could hear clearly the unspoken distance
between them, that of a local resident versus a college student.
“I’m in my third year of English
Lit,” said the girl with a significant look at Starsky. “My name’s Dana and I’ve never been interviewed by a cop before.” Mona may have beaten her in her knowledge of local history, but
Dana was the younger and more attractive of the two, and she was going to make sure Starsky knew it.
Mona sniffed dismissively and tapped the
photo with one red fingernail, giving Starsky an excellent excuse to ignore Dana, who was now leaning on the counter, blatantly
displaying her best assets.
“This gal used to do a lot of hiking
out in the hills,” Mona said. “We thought she was a nature lover. No one guessed it was just an excuse to meet
old Seamus. Heck, we never even saw the two of them exchange a single word! But the whole story came out about five years
ago when they ran off together. It was a big scandal.”
“Do you have any idea where they might
have gone?” asked Starsky. Dana was starting to look bored again.
“Me? No. Why don’t you ask the
younger Seamus? You’ll find him up at the university. He took over his dad’s job just after the old man ran off,”
“Do you know his last name?”
Mona thought about it for a moment. “O’Regan.
Seamus O’Regan. He was Irish right to the roots of his red hair. His son don’t take after him so much. Old Seamus
must’ve married a giant. That boy’s twice his size.”
Starsky suppressed an automatic flinch reaction
to the description of the younger Seamus. It was irrational and he knew it. Still, even as he shook off the unpleasant feeling
that accompanied the word ‘giant’, he found himself missing the reassuring weight of his service revolver under
his arm. He’d have to have another word with his therapist about the possibility of someday re-qualifying on the range.
Maybe it wasn’t as hopeless as the doctors had said. The knitting had been going well, after all. Better than she’d
“So you’re from Bay City, huh?” asked Dana, making one last ditch effort to flirt.
“Is it as dangerous as they say?”
“No, not at all,” said Starsky
blandly. “Mostly it’s just parking fines and jaywalkers. Sometimes if we’re very lucky, we get to bust someone
for public disorderliness.”
pulled the chair up in front of the washing machine and crossed his arms over his chest, prepared to settle in for a long
boring half hour watching the water slosh his clothes around. His leather jacket hung damply over the back of another chair,
having been sponged clean in the sink at the back of the building. The elderly owner was busy sorting dry cleaning, and ignored
The door opened with a jangle of bells and
Hutch looked up to see Starsky enter, one brown bag tucked under his left arm, and another clenched in his teeth. His right
hand was occupied by the familiar cane.
“What did you get for lunch?”
asked Hutch. He reached up and relieved Starsky of the one burden in particular that was making speech impossible.
Starsky placed the other bag on the top of
the washing machine and pulled up a chair next to his friend. “This is your kinda town, Hutch. Would you believe they
went and vegetable-ized a perfectly good lasagna? And they made it with green noodles and put weird cheeses in it, too.”
“Is that what you got me?” asked
Hutch, in happy anticipation.
“No, that’s what I got me. It’s
the only thing that looked even remotely like food,” grumbled Starsky. “I don’t know what you’ve got.
I told the lady behind the counter I had a health food freak for a partner, and she said you’d love that stuff.”
“Oh, well, it smells good.” Hutch
carefully lifted the soggy brown cardboard tray out of the bottom of the bag. “Hey, you see this?” He pointed
at a small green symbol on the side of the tray, and on the paper bag. “These things are all made of recycled paper.”
“Which would explain why they don’t
hold together worth shit,” said Starsky, trying to finish his meal as quickly as possible, before it soaked through
to his pants. He would never have admitted it to Hutch, but the fact of the matter was that the lasagna wasn’t all that
bad, even with green noodles. Mouth full, he said, “So, apparently we’re looking for…”
“…the younger Seamus O’Regan,”
finished Hutch. He wasn’t as concerned about his lunch leaking through the tray, considering that he was still in Starsky’s
sweats, and his own clothes were well on their way to becoming clean again.
“Yeah, how’d ya -?”
Hutch nodded toward the back of the building.
“Mr. Welles owns this place,” he said. “Told me all about this town’s big scandal, five years back.”
“Y’know,” mumbled Starsky,
around a mouthful of lasagna. Nope, not bad at all. “This must be a pretty
sleepy little place, if the biggest scandal they got is their janitor running off with some married lady.”
“Well, it is a Christian College,”
“So?” Starsky thought of the
voluptuous Dana back at the Eatery. “I always thought these places had more scandals, not less. You know, all those
repressed co-eds just dyin’ to bust out…”
Hutch rolled his eyes. “Starsky, you
know you’re not supposed to actually read the articles in those magazines.”
“Don’t deprive me of my illusions,
Hutch. These days they’re all I’ve got.”
Hutch gave his friend a startled glance,
but Starsky was contentedly polishing off his lasagna and did not appear to notice. Oh
right, thought Hutch. That whole ‘saving it for marriage’ thing.
He decided it would most likely be a bad
idea to point out to his partner that this was a scenario he once would have found just as unlikely as the ‘getting
hitched’ one, if not more so.
he must really love that girl.
The college itself was only a few minutes
outside of Mountain Springs. It was a pretty collection of stucco buildings tucked into the side of the hill. Wide stairs
alternated with grassy terraces and wooden planters. Mature oaks were scattered throughout, shedding their distinctive brown
leaves in honor of autumn.
Starsky pulled the Torino up in front of a building with a large plaque out front that announced
it as ‘Administration’. There was a cheerful banner proclaiming ‘Welcome’ strung over the door and,
appropriately enough, the secretary at the office within was more than happy to help them.
“Seamus O’Regan? He’ll
be somewhere on campus. Feel free to look around. You might want to try the Arts Center
first. They were complaining of damaged ceiling tiles the other day. Would you like a map of the grounds?” All Starsky
did was nod, and he was suddenly loaded down with more pamphlets and flyers than he knew what to do with. Hutch extracted
the map from the middle of the pile, carefully not laughing at his friend.
As they exited the building, Hutch shook
the map open and examined it. “I think that’s the Arts building over there,” he said, pointing across the
“Wait up a minute,” said Starsky,
halting beside the Torino. Something was making him uneasy, though he couldn’t
put his finger on quite what it was. Just because you’re paranoid…
“What?” Hutch was already several
steps into the road. He glanced back over his shoulder.
Starsky opened the car door and threw his
handful of flyers into the back seat. He then began rummaging around in the compartment under the dash. He eventually emerged
with two handheld radios. He tossed one at Hutch, saying, “Here. Take that, will ya?”
Hutch fumbled with the map, but managed to
catch the radio before it impacted with the ground. He gave his friend a quizzical look. It’d been years since either
of them had bothered with the radios. Once they’d used them a lot, but time and experience had convinced them that they
were unnecessary. Most of the time, they just knew where the other member of their partnership was and what he was doing.
“I don’t move so fast anymore,”
explained Starsky, hooking his radio onto his belt. If you’re gonna take off suddenly, I want to know where you are.”
He was happily surprised to discover that this time acknowledging his limitations didn’t hurt. It was okay. He could
work around it. He gave Hutch a bright smile, feeling quite pleased with himself.
Hutch shrugged, uncertain of the necessity
but willing to follow Starsky’s lead for the moment. “Okay,” he said as he stowed the radio away in his
coat pocket. He still remembered his failure to check up on the license plate number, and the consequences of that oversight.
There were a fair number of students on the
campus, moving from one class to the other clutching their books, or gathering in small groups. The Arts building was a sprawling
structure and the two men quickly realized that it was going to take some time to cover it. Starsky spotted the elevator first
and offered to take the upper floors.
Stepping out onto the fifth floor, he found
himself looking at a pair of battered work boots braced onto a metal folding ladder in the middle of the hallway. The owner
of the boots was halfway into the ceiling, removing acoustic tile. Pink insulation was stacked in bundles next to him, the
cartoon panther grinning cheerfully from the plastic wrapper.
“Hey!” called Starsky, craning
his head back to look up.
“Hey, yerself,” was the returning
answer. “This better be an emergency.”
“I’m looking for Seamus O’Regan.”
He reached into his pocket for his badge, but it wasn’t necessary.
The man in the ceiling answered amiably enough,
“He just went up to the roof to get another ladder. Should be back any time now; try the west stairwell.” A hand waved in that general direction.
“Thanks!” Starsky took a quick
look around and found the stairwell at the other end of the hallway. He took a curious look at the classrooms as he passed,
but could make little sense of what he saw. It looked as if modern art students had moved past simply painting vases and such.
He caught a glimpse of a girl in a welder’s mask, holding a soldering iron, working on something that was a long way
from anything he understood as ‘art’. It looked more like an incredibly impractical shop class project.
one room that looked interesting. The door was closed and a blind had been drawn across the window. A sign announced the class
within as “Life Drawing 201, Drawing from Live Nude Model, Please Knock.”
He did not knock, but he had a smirk on his
face as he pushed open the door to the stairs. The sound of heavy booted feet on the steps above told Starsky that Mr. O’Regan
was likely on his way down from the roof, just as predicted. He looked up as the man carrying the ladder turned the corner
onto the landing above him.
His greeting died on his lips.
Reginald Malcolm reacted first. He launched
the ladder down the stairs directly into Starsky’s face.
Starsky tried to dodge, his shoulders hitting
the wall, but the corner of the ladder slammed painfully into his side, jolting his still-healing ribs. He lost his footing
and missed his grip on the railing, swinging forward directly into the path of the heavy metal ladder. He grunted as it hit
his back with jarring force, shoving him forward. His legs went out from under him, and he tried to pull into a protective
tuck as he tumbled down the stairs. He hit the floor of the next landing fairly well, taking the brunt of the impact on his
shoulders. Dazed and bruised, but essentially uninjured, he struggled to clear his vision and get his feet back under him.
It was too late. A hand grabbed the collar
of his shirt and hauled him bodily up out from under the ladder. It clattered to the side, sliding down the stairs to the
next level, and Starsky found himself inches away from Reg’s furious face.
“Are you scared yet?” hissed
He was likely disappointed by his captive’s
lack of reaction. At that precise moment in time, Starsky was not afraid of Reg at all. He was trying to make sense of the
man’s unexpected appearance. He felt as though he might still be falling down the stairs, as if the ground was a million
miles away and he had yet to feel the impact of landing. He grabbed at Reg’s forearm and tried to get his legs underneath
him, to brace himself and hopefully to fight back.
Somewhere in the background voices were shouting,
asking questions. Reg glanced over his shoulder and then back at Starsky. “This isn’t how it’s going to
go down. We’re going to do this my way and on my timetable, not yours. Remember that.” The corners of his mouth
drew back in a feral grin. “I’ll make you beg, before we’re through.”
He threw Starsky back onto the stairs and
gave him a final look of contempt, before dashing down towards the ground floor exit.
The impact with the steps drove the air out
of Starsky’s lungs, but even as he rolled onto his side, wheezing, he was fumbling with the radio at his side.
“Hutch! It’s Reg. O’Regan
is Reg. He’s comin’ down the west side stairs, right at’cha.” Out of breath, he let go of the button
and tried to push himself up onto his feet. Someone grabbed his shoulder and he flinched automatically. But it was only a
student, looking worried.
“Hey, mister, are you okay?”
Starsky brushed him off and, grabbing the
banister, stumbled down the stairs after Reg with as much speed as he could manage. His cane was lost, and he lacked anything
resembling grace, but somehow he still managed to keep Reg in sight. The radio crackled to life with Hutch’s acknowledgement.
He was on his way.
Reg hit the ground floor and had just yanked
open the fire exit, setting off a loud alarm, when Starsky arrived at the first floor landing. A third person charged into
the stairwell, colliding with him just as he swung himself off the last step. He would have tumbled down yet another flight
of stairs into the basement, except for the strong hand that seized his bicep and pulled him back.
Starsky grabbed Hutch’s jacket and
pushed him forward, trying to forcibly propel him out the door ahead of himself. “It’s Reg - he’s just left
the building. Get him!” He grabbed onto the railing as once more he overbalanced.
Hutch gave him a wide-eyed glance, and then
he was gone, his long legs eating up the distance with far more speed than Starsky could manage, even with the obliging assistance
By the time Starsky had made his way around
to the front of the building, neither man was in sight. He limped to the Torino as quickly as possible, adrenaline carrying him past the usual limits of coordination and endurance. Once inside the
car, he thumbed the radio again. “Hutch, where the hell are you?”
A breathless reply crackled back. “Parking
Starsky had seen enough of the layout of
the campus to know that trying to follow the gently meandering main road would bring him around way behind anyone leaving
in a vehicle from the parking lot. If he wanted to intercept Reg, he would need to take a short cut.
short cut, such as… Right down those stairs.
He started the engine and hit the gas, trying
very hard not to think about what this was doing to his shocks as he bounced the Torino down the wide stairs. Earl would surely fill him in at length on that topic later. He gave it
as much gas as he dared, leaning from the window and waving the startled students out of his way.
He had several brief glimpses of startled
eyes, and mouths opened in silent ‘oh’s as he passed. Thankfully no one decided to throw themselves under his
wheels, and he arrived at the bottom of the steps without having injured or killed any civilians.
It occurred to Starsky that you knew you’d
been working with a man for far too long when you could hear his voice in the back of your head, yelling at you. He resolutely
ignored his internal Hutch, and wrenched the Torino around into
a tight turn, the rear wheels skidding out behind him, and took another set of steps at speed. These ones were narrower and
he winced as a shaggily bearded youngster was compelled to throw himself over a railing to escape being run over by his car.
Well, it didn’t look like too far of
a drop. And it was onto grass. He probably wasn’t injured, either.
Christians are supposed to be big into forgiveness, right?
One more turn, and then he was bouncing onto
the grass, over a curb, and onto the road exiting the parking lot. Starsky suddenly found himself facing a white panel van,
head-on, and in between them was Hutch, panting, his Magnum in his hand. There was no time to think. The van accelerated towards
Hutch, and Starsky accelerated towards the van. Hutch fired once, shattered the van’s windshield and then threw himself
into a roll to the side.
The white van swerved at the last instant
and Starsky felt it impact with his left headlight. He winced at the sound, feeling it almost as if it were an injury to his
own body. Metal squealed in protest as the van forced its way past, causing the Torino to fishtail towards Hutch. Starsky heard another thump on the right side of his car, and he
glanced over just time to see Hutch pulling himself headfirst through the window on the passenger side.
He was shouting, “Go, go, go!”
Starsky wasted no time in bringing his car
around in pursuit of the white van. He didn’t need Hutch’s encouragement. He’d clearly seen Reg behind the
wheel of the van, his face tight with frustration and fury. The sudden acceleration caused Hutch to fall the rest of the way
into the Torino, his head ending up somewhere beneath the dash. Starsky
paid little attention to his partner’s struggles to right himself, until one flailing boot caught him on the side of
“Sorry,” was the muffled and
unrepentant answer. Hutch kicked him once more and then finally succeeded in clawing his way back up into the seat. He fumbled
with the radio, trying to call in the pursuit. A sudden burst of static cause him to drop the handset with a curse. “Damn
Starsky stayed on Reg’s tail as Hutch
continued to try to get through to the local sheriff. The roads here were too narrow to pull up beside Reg and there wasn’t
enough of a shoulder to risk trying to force him off. The van was traveling at a considerable velocity, but the Torino had more horsepower so staying close was not an issue. The flyers and
newsletters from the university fluttered in his backseat and he suspected more than a few of them escaped out of the windows
whenever he skidded around a corner.
As he drove, Starsky automatically began
sorting out the story. “Elizabeth Malcolm was having an affair with Seamus O’Regan…”
“Maybe having an affair,” said
Hutch, giving the handset an impatient knock against the dash. He tried once again to raise the sheriff, and this time managed
to get three words through to someone at the other end before they were cut off.
“Right,” said Starsky. “Maybe,
because no one suspected it until they disappeared together.”
“And then Seamus’ son shows up
right after he vanishes and takes over his life.” Hutch was trying a different frequency, as he spoke.
“Seamus’ son, who is really Reginald
Malcolm, Elizabeth’s son.” Starsky sounded just as distracted
as his partner. The bulk of his attention was on his driving.
“He’s not Seamus’ son.”
“No, Seamus was probably his first
“Or his second.”
For an instant his focus was broken. Starsky
glanced briefly at Hutch, his mouth twisting. “He killed his own mother, Hutch.”
“I know.” Hutch felt a sudden
twinge of sympathy at the grief he heard in Starsky’s voice. Despite all they’d seen, stuff like this still seemed
to catch his partner off guard. Hutch counted on his cynicism to protect him. Starsky had never developed a cynical side,
and despite all the evidence to the contrary he stubbornly persisted in believing that there were certain things that just
never happened. Pets, children, and mothers never died.
Except, when they did.
A voice suddenly emerged among the static
once more, identifying itself as belonging to the local sheriff’s department, and he refocused on his task. “We’re
Bay City cops, in pursuit of a suspect on River Road by the village of Mountain
Springs, requesting backup, can you manage a roadblock…?”
They were approaching the bridge, the road
widening, and for a brief moment, Starsky entertained a notion of forcing the van off into the river. Unfortunately, he then
spotted a station wagon coming towards them from the other end of the bridge. He pulled behind the van, expecting to have
to wait for another opportunity.
What he did not expect was to see the van
suddenly swerve into the side of the station wagon, forcing it through the wall of the bridge with a crash of splintering
wood and collapsing metal. The car hung for a moment above the river, a woman’s terrified face clearly visible in the
driver’s seat, and a child screaming in the back.
Appalled, Starsky hit his brakes, coming
to a sudden stop just as the station wagon tipped nose forward and fell down towards the river below.
white van continued at speed up the road, vanishing out of sight.