Becky finally unearthed the wire brush from
beneath a stack of newspapers. Monster, who had been trailing after her expectantly, began to bounce at the prospect of a
“Shh,” she told him, patting
the rug in front of the couch. Monster eagerly dropped down next to her. Dave
was on the phone with his mother and Becky was trying to be discreet about listening in.
“Yes, Ma,” he said. “I’m
looking after myself. Really! I am. Okay, wait, listen to me! You know what? Last Monday I fell in a river, and on Tuesday,
I sat out in the rain, and I’m not sick! Now what does that tell you?”
Starsky leaned forward in the chair, his free hand talking expressively, despite the fact that his mother certainly couldn’t
see him from her living room in Brooklyn.
Monster flopped over onto his back, shamelessly
bared his stomach, and gave Becky a sloppy open-mouthed upside down grin. He adored getting brushed. The brush may have looked
like an instrument of torture, but it was the only thing that could possibly penetrate his fur. Itching and dry skin were
on-going problems for the dog, whose physiology was better designed for the Arctic than it was for the heat of Southern California.
Starsky sighed dramatically into the phone.
“No, it doesn’t tell you I’m lucky or clumsy or that God protects fools and drunkards. It tells you that
I’m healthy, okay? Really healthy!”
Becky pulled another handful of fur off of
the comb and added it to the pile growing on the rug. Occasionally it occurred to her to wonder whether she could spin this
stuff into yarn. There certainly seemed to be enough of it.
“Yeah, I’ll try and stay that
She smiled at the sulky tone in Dave’s
voice. What special power belonged to mothers that they could bring out the five year
old in any of their children, no matter their age?
“What’s that? Oh. No, no I haven’t
bought one yet, but I’m working on it…”
Becky looked up. Dave’s whole demeanor
had changed in an instant. He had gone on the defensive. His shoulders tightened, and he sounded positively miserable.
Then the voice on the line said something,
prompting another dizzying shift in mood, and now he was shouting happily into the phone. “Huh? You mean it? Really?
Ma, I could kiss you!”
He caught himself, glanced over at Becky’s
curious gaze, and continued in a more ordinary tone. “I mean, if you were here, I could. Right. Well, and when you are
here, I will. In front of everyone, even!”
Monster huffed, trying to draw Becky’s
attention to the fact that she was neglecting his grooming. She absentmindedly gave him a few more strokes with the brush,
but her eyes remained fixed on Starsky.
“I love you, too.” He hung up
the phone, and then whooped joyfully.
“What is it?” asked Becky, smiling.
His good humor was contagious.
“How would you like to wear my grandmother’s
wedding ring?” He didn’t wait for her to answer. “My grandmother was an amazing lady. I’m sorry you
never got to meet her. You know, she used to run a honky-tonk during the Prohibition? She even smuggled moonshine.”
But he wasn’t looking at her. He was
dialing another number. “Hutch, guess what!”
Becky shrugged and contentedly turned back
to the job of grooming her dog. She wasn’t quite sure why obtaining his grandmother’s ring was an occasion of
such joy for Dave, but she certainly wouldn’t mind wearing it. A ring was a ring, after all, and his grandmother did
sound as if she had been an interesting person.
paused, his hand an inch away from Becky’s cottage door, and tilted his head, listening. Yes, he had definitely heard
voices. They must be out in the backyard, which would explain why Monster hadn’t reacted to his arrival. He dropped
his hand and, tucking the report under his arm, headed around the building, following the narrow sandy path to the back. It
was technically a shared yard, but Becky’s neighbor never seemed to use it.
He heard them before he saw them.
“You’re gonna have to move soon,
or I’m going to have one hell of a crick in my back.” That was definitely Starsky’s voice. He sounded very
relaxed and contented. Hutch began to grin.
“You just need to develop some super
stretching powers,” said Becky.
“Mm, you mean like Reed Richards?”
He came around the corner in time to see
Becky nod, the back of her head against Starsky’s chest. They were curled up together on a long plastic lawn chair,
Starsky’s large black and white sweater wrapped around both of them. A small grey cat was draped across Becky’s
ankles and Monster was sacked out on the ground.
“I’ll bet his sex life was pretty
amazing,” said Starsky, apparently having given up for the moment on getting her to move.
“Well, I figure there was a reason
they called him Mr. Fantastic, right?”
Hutch said, “Ahem,” as politely
as he could. Monster lifted his head at the sound and the cat’s ears twitched, but neither Starsky nor Becky heard him.
Their attention was entirely focused on each other. A volcano could have erupted under their feet, and Hutch would have happily
taken bets on whether they would have noticed.
Starsky, to Becky’s obvious amusement,
was mimicking the Invisible Woman, saying, “Deeper, baby, deeper!” This was immediately followed by an imitation
of Mr. Fantastic’s amiably unruffled response, “Okey-dokey!”
Hutch cleared his throat, loudly.
He found the results highly entertaining.
Becky bolted upright, her face flushing bright red. Starsky grunted in obvious discomfort as she scrambled off of him. The
cat, having been unseated, dashed for the bushes, while Monster woofed once in happy greeting and staggered stiffly up onto
“Hutch! Hi, um… Hi!” Becky
stammered. “I was… Would you like something to drink? Beer?”
“Sure,” he said, amicably. “A
beer would be fine.”
Becky disappeared inside with Monster at
her heels, and Starsky glowered at him from the lawn chair. “Thanks a lot, buddy.”
“Superheroes, Starsk? That’s what you talk about?” Hutch hooked a folding chair from behind the picnic table and flipped it around
backward as he sat down. He folded his arms over the back of the chair, the manila folder dangling from his hand.
“Oh, shut up.” Starsky sat up
and swung his legs over the side of the lounger, stretching the kinks out of his back.
Humph, thought Starsky, I
know what’ll wipe that smug look off his mug. “Hey, you wanna talk about talking - did you talk to her?” he asked, putting special emphasis on that last word.
“Huh?” Hutch was lost.
“C’mon, Hutch!” said Starsky,
impatiently. “Did you talk to Dawn?”
“Oh.” He stopped cold, realizing
what his friend meant. “Yeah, I did.”
“Good!” said Starsky, satisfaction
evident in his voice.
Hutch waited, but Starsky seemed content
to simply sit there and smile benignly at him. Isn’t he going to ask what Dawn
Becky came outside, holding two cold beers.
Placing the drinks on the table, she glanced back and forth between the two silent men. She had just made up her mind to speak,
when Mrs. Green called to her from her adjoining back door. She gave them one last puzzled look, shrugged, and went to speak
to the older woman.
“Well?” asked Starsky, finally.
knew he’d ask! thought Hutch
triumphantly. But before he could open his mouth to reply, Starsky nodded his head at the folder in his hand. “Well?
Aren’t you going to tell me what that’s about?”
Hutch floundered, once again finding himself
adrift, unable to keep up with the apparently random changes in topic. He stared blankly at the folder in his hand.
“That is why you’re here, isn’t
it?” asked Starsky, pointedly.
Hutch’s head shot up and he caught
the gleam in his partner’s eye. He’s playing me! “Dirtball,”
said Hutch without rancor. He flipped the folder towards Starsky, so that it slapped into his chest. A few papers fluttered
free as his friend scrambled to grab it.
“That,” said Hutch “is
one of your missing persons. Guy by the name of James Tilley.” He was startled to see how smoothly Starsky retrieved
the papers. His fine motor control had improved markedly over the last couple months, and he wondered if Starsky was aware
of how far he’d come. But the only expression on his friend’s face was the very familiar look of intent concentration
that he always got whenever attempting any of the tasks that used to be automatic. I
wonder if that therapist still has him knitting?
“Right,” replied Starsky. “James
Tilley. A salesman. His wife reported him missing almost two weeks ago, and they found his car ditched just outside of town
last week.” He licked his thumb and flipped through the papers, frowning as he realized that he was looking at a preliminary
coroner’s report, crime scene Polaroids, all of the paraphernalia that went with a report on a dead body. “I’ve
been trying to convince the department to open a murder investigation on this guy, but they kept saying that if there’s
no body, then there’s no crime.” Memories of the man’s wife standing at his desk, insisting that her husband
loved her and wouldn’t have run away, tugged at his conscience. Maybe he should have tried harder, gotten Dobey to pull
some strings, or something.
“Some hunters found remains by the
side of the road and alerted highway patrol the day before yesterday. The Mountain Springs coroner identified the body, thanks
to those dental records you’ve been sending to everyone in the state.” There was pride in Hutch’s voice.
It had hardly been a month since Starsky had taken over the Missing Person’s job, and already his ideas on how things
ought to be run were garnering real solid results.
Starsky was not so pleased. His eyebrows
drew together pensively. “Seriously, Hutch. I think that they ought to treat each missing person’s case as if
it were a homicide, just without a body. I mean, imagine what kind of progress you could make on a case if you weren’t
stuck sitting around on your hands, hoping someone will stumble across the body.”
“Yeah, but most of them aren’t
homicides!” protested Hutch. He couldn’t imagine the manpower necessary to do what Starsky was talking about.
It just wouldn’t be practical.
“Sure, but some of them are. Hutch, we could have been investigating this case two weeks ago, when it was still fresh!” He stopped
suddenly. “Did you say Mountain Springs? Where exactly did they find Tilley’s body?”
Hutch reached over and retrieved the report.
“On the road…” He read the description aloud, his voice trailing off as he finally realized the implications
of that particular location. “Aw, hell, that’s right around where Reg ditched the white van.”
“The time frame’s right, too.”
Starsky reached over and grabbed his knee, intensity in his gaze. “Reg somehow got him to stop, killed him, and stole
his car to drive back to Bay City.
He’s another victim.”
“Hi, Mrs. Green!” said Becky,
as she entered the old woman’s small cluttered apartment. It smelled like dust and potpourri, and there were shelves
of fat Hummel children on every wall. “What did you want to talk to me about?”
Her landlady had a worried look on her face
as she handed Becky a brown manila envelope. “Well, dear, I think this must be yours. But, it’s very strange.”
When the cottage had been subdivided, the
original owners had neglected to put in an extra mailbox. This had never been a problem. Whoever made it to the mailbox first
simply collected the other person’s mail and dropped it off to them as soon as possible. Becky took the envelope and
looked at it. There was no postmark or stamp or name. It wasn’t even sealed. It had to have been hand-delivered. She
turned it over and saw the words, ‘Any time I like,’ printed in neat block letters.
“Weird,” she said. “Why
do you think it’s mine?”
“Well, since it wasn’t addressed
to anyone, I looked inside,” said Mrs. Green. “It’s a lot of pictures. Some of you, and some of what I assume
are your friends. Go on, take a look!”
the silence that followed, they both heard a door slam. Hutch looked up to see Becky leaving her neighbor’s side of
the duplex, an envelope clutched in her hand. Monster whined, easily picking up on her distress.
Starsky sat up and closed the folder, automatically
concealing the grisly photos as she dropped down onto the end of the lawn chair.
“I can’t believe it!” she
exclaimed, just as Starsky asked, “What’s up?”
“Mrs. Green told me she wants to sell
this place!” said Becky, her tone of voice just a note shy of a wail.
“Mrs. Green?” asked Hutch.
“Yeah, Mrs. Green,” said Starsky.
“Nice lady; feeds the cats when Becky’s not around, takes in the mail, bakes us cookies, and also happens to own
both halves of this duplex.” Pulling her into a comforting embrace, he asked, “What do you mean she wants to sell?”
He reached for the envelope, and she surrendered it without any objection. He passed it to Hutch without looking at it, his
attention on the girl.
Becky rubbed her nose with the palm of her
hand, and sniffed. “It’s ‘cause of that letter.”
Hutch looked at the brown manila envelope
with the familiar printing on its back and felt a cold chill run down his spine.
Starsky’s head whipped over at the
tone in his partner’s voice. This time he saw clearly what it was that Hutch held in his hand. “Oh no. No, it’s
not…” He stopped, unable to continue.
Hutch tipped the envelope forward, spilling
the pictures onto his hand. What he saw there made him close his eyes for a moment.
“Hutch?” The distress in Starsky’s
voice was clear.
He looked up at his partner and grinned.
“It’s okay. It’s really okay.” He quickly scanned through the pictures to make sure that they were
all the same. They were. He handed them over to Starsky.
They looked like surveillance photos. They
were shots of the four of them, Hutch, Dawn, Becky and Starsky, sometimes together and sometimes alone, and in various locations.
But they had all been taken from a distance.
They were nothing at all like the first set
Sagging back in the chair, it was a very
relieved Starsky who asked, “Becky, what’s this about Mrs. Green?”
“It’s my fault,” said Becky.
“When I saw those I assumed they were from Reg, and I told her so.” She looked up at Hutch, confused by the emotions
she sensed from both men with regards to the pictures. “I guess I was wrong?”
“No, you were right,” said Starsky
“Then it’s a threat, isn’t
it?” she asked. “He’s saying that if he can take pictures like this of us, then he can get to us any time
“Well, that’s what I told Mrs.
Green, and I guess I shouldn’t have because now she says she’s had enough. She’s had lots of offers on this
place in the past, and her son’s always wanted her to move to Texas to live near family. She says she just can’t go on wondering if some maniac is
going to break in at any moment and murder us all in our sleep. I just got my place back, and now I could lose it again!”
Becky was close to tears.
“Aw, kid…” Starsky held
her against his chest, rubbing her arm with one hand, as he looked through the pictures again.
The cop in him had taken over and he was
scanning the pictures for clues, when he said, “Well, the good news is that, at least this time, he’s had to shoot
from a distance. That shows the changes we made to security are working.” Starsky winced at his choice of words. Thank God he’s only used a camera, so far.
“This time?” asked Becky, slowly.
Starsky suddenly realized what he’d
“That’s what was in the first
envelope, wasn’t it? Pictures. How come you wouldn’t tell me?” There was hurt in her eyes, as she looked
“I…” he stopped. There
was no way he could tell her the truth. Avoiding her gaze, pretending to examine the photos, he said, “I just didn’t
want you to worry.”
“Don’t do that!” she said,
”Don’t keep stuff from me, okay?
I’m not a child. You don’t have to protect me.”
“I’m sorry.” You’re wrong, he thought. I do have to protect you.
She frowned. “Everyone always assumes
I can’t handle stuff, but I’m a lot tougher than most people think. I thought you knew that.”
The disappointment in her voice was clear,
and there was nothing he could say in his defense. He simply spread his palms helplessly and said, “I really am sorry.”
And he was. He was sorry they were even in this whole miserable situation. But he couldn’t tell her that he wouldn’t
do it again, because in all honesty, he knew perfectly well that he would. Given the circumstances, if it were all to happen
again, he would make exactly the same decisions.
maybe he wouldn’t yell at the patrolmen. But other than that…
Becky got up. “I’ll be inside,
if you need me.” She needed space, and time to think.
Starsky turned towards Hutch, wanting his
input, needing his support. But it didn’t look as if Hutch had even been listening to the exchange. He had one of the
pictures in his hand and was staring at it.
The blond head lifted slowly, his expression
pained. “My god, Starsky. What if Reg had a gun instead of a camera? He could have killed any of us, at any time!”
His hand dropped to rest on his knee, and
Starsky saw that the picture was one of Dawn, standing in front of the Pits. He winced to hear his own thoughts echoed so
“It’s not his style, Hutch. This
creep likes to look you in the eye when he kills you. He gets off on fear.” I
know this guy inside and out, thought Starsky. The thought was not a comforting one.
Hutch didn’t seem to want to talk,
so Starsky pushed himself up off the chair and followed Becky into the house. He patted Hutch once on the shoulder as he passed
was lying on the couch, face down. Her chin pillowed on her arms. As he crossed the room he saw that her eyes were clear and
her cheeks were dry. He was relieved to see that she hadn’t been crying.
Brown eyes focused on him and she said, “I’m
Starsky took a deep breath and sat down on
the floor in front of her. He leaned back against the couch and said, “I’m not going to let him hurt you.”
He felt her fingers weave themselves into
his hair. “That’s not what I mean.”
“I’m scared he’s going
to hurt you again.”
Starsky ducked his head. He found himself
struggling against a sudden hysterical urge to laugh. “You’re scared
he’s going to hurt me?”
The hand in his hair tugged gently, and her
voice became indignant. “He already has.”
“I guess so.”
There was a pause and then she said, “I
only just found you. I’m not ready to lose you yet.”
“Aren’t you at all worried about
what could happen to you?” he asked.
“Bad things don’t happen to me,”
she said, with such perfect assurance he could almost believe her. Almost.
She sensed his disbelief in the silence that
followed, and said, “When my library fines are overdue, the librarian always erases them from the file. When I’m
late for the bus, the bus driver always waits. Once, when I got lost downtown, a whole motorcycle gang escorted me home, because
they said it too dangerous for a nice girl like me to be out alone in a bad part of town.”
“You were in that bank robbery,”
said Starsky. “Wasn’t that bad?”
“Not really. I only got a cut on my
hand, and not even a scar. You, on the other hand…”
“I guess my track record isn’t
as good, huh?” He tilted his head back to look at her.
“Nowhere near.” Smiling, she
bent down and met his lips. She kissed him, and then added, “But I’m still mad at you. And I still don’t
understand why you didn’t tell me about those first photos! Weren’t they the same?”
heard Starsky leave, and knew he was going inside to speak to Becky. He felt distantly that he ought to go and see if his
friend needed him, but he was too preoccupied to care. The picture in his hand showed him an image of Dawn that he’d
never seen before. He was looking at her through a stranger’s eyes, and for once, all of her bright-edged toughness
was stripped away. She was just a woman, pregnant and vulnerable.
He’d known all along that she was at
risk. There was nothing new about that, and he thought he’d come to terms with it. The photo in his hand suggested to
him that perhaps all he’d been doing was burying the issue, refusing to face the fear.
does this stuff keep happening to us, huh? Why can’t we just have what everyone else has? A normal life, and kids, a
dog and a house…
Starsky found Hutch out in front of the house,
sitting on the hood of his god-awful ugly Chevy, staring thoughtfully at the cottage. Starsky couldn’t help but wince
every time he saw that car. The only thing it had going for it was the fact that the horn didn’t go off every time you
opened the doors. He was halfway down the walk before his friend looked over at him.
“Are you all squared up with Becky
So, he had heard something of that argument
after all. Starsky shrugged uncomfortably, “Sort of, but…” He paused, needing reassurance that he was doing
the right thing. “Hutch, I just can’t tell her what was in those photos!”
“I know, buddy.” Hutch’s
words were soothing, but he had gone back to looking at the cottage with that thoughtful expression on his face. Starsky looked
at him, then over at the building, and then back at his partner again.
Something was on Hutch’s mind, and
Starsky could only think of one possibility, absurd as it might be. “You’re
not thinking of buying this place, are you?”
“Well, it’s bigger than my apartment.
The kid could even have his own room…”
“And what? Becky and I will pay you
Hutch felt a flicker of apprehension. “No! We’d go into this together. A partnership.” We tried this once before, remember?
“I’m broke, Hutch. I can’t
afford to buy anything with you.”
Hutch studied Starsky’s face, but his
expression was unreadable. “So? We’ll work something out.” This is
still a good idea, isn’t it?
Starsky leaned on the car, his fingernail
finding a patch of peeling paint. “You know, there’s no way in hell Dawn’s ever gonna want to live next
door to me.” The startled look on Hutch’s face confirmed his suspicions, and he added, “You didn’t
even think of what she’d want, did you?”
“That’s not fair!” snapped
Hutch, disappointment sharpening his tone. He’d really thought Starsky would be excited about this idea, but all he
had done so far was pick it apart.
“Sure it is,” said Starsky. “You
thought to yourself, wow, this’ll be great. I’ll get to live next door to my best friend, his girlfriend will
get to keep her house, and my kid can run up and down the beach. You didn’t once think about your wife.” He took
in the hurt expression on his partner’s face and deliberately softened his voice. “You’re going to have
to think about her, if you’re going to have any chance of getting her to agree to your plan. You gotta figure what she’s
going to hate about it, and come up with a counter-argument. Okay?”
Hutch rubbed the back of his neck and stared
at the toes of his boots. “And what about you, Starsk? What do you think?” He held his breath, afraid of the answer.
Maybe this is a stupid idea after all.
A strong arm suddenly wrapped around his
shoulders, pulling him into a rough, affectionate embrace. Starsky nearly dragged him off the car in his enthusiasm, prompting
a startled grin from Hutch. Before he could regain his equilibrium, he found himself held at arms length, eye to eye with
his friend, who was now also grinning widely.
“Hutch, I would love to live next door to you!”
Hutch could decide just how to bring up the idea of buying the house with Dawn, another issue seized his attention and drove
it completely out of his mind.
Starsky, having spent the night reviewing
the file on the Tilley murder was growing increasingly frustrated by the utter absence of leads on Reg. He tracked Hutch down
the next morning and demanded, “Where the hell is he?” As if Hutch would know.
“He’s waiting for something,”
was Hutch’s response, after a moment’s careful thought.
Starsky felt his stomach sink into his toes.
“My wedding. You think he’s waiting for my wedding.”
Hutch wouldn’t meet his eyes. He stared
at the wall, down the hallway, at the empty space between them, anywhere but at Starsky, who finally resorted to grabbing
the collar of Hutch’s jacket, forcing him to face him. “Hey, I’m talkin’ to ya!”
Now Hutch looked at him, anguish written
in every line of his face. “I don’t know, Starsk, maybe…”
“Shut up,” said Starsky fiercely.
Obediently Hutch snapped his jaw closed. Starsky kept his grip on his friend’s shirt, making sure those bewildered blue
eyes stayed focused on him as he spoke. “Listen to me. I know, and you know, that Reg is going to try to pull something
at the wedding. And do you know what that means?”
Silently, Hutch shook his head.
“It means we know almost exactly where
he’s gonna be, and when. We blanket that place with cops. We put patrols on the roads. We’ll finally be able to
get this guy!” The smile that suffused his face was almost blinding in its intensity. “Well?”
Hutch could feel himself smiling in response,
despite the dread in his heart. “You’re nuts,” he said, affectionately.
“No, I’m gonna catch this guy,”
said Starsky with breathtaking confidence. He grabbed Hutch’s elbow, tugging him down the hallway. “C’mon,
we have to talk to Dobey. We’ve only got a week to plan this thing!”